What are Strava athletes Liz and Aaron Barcheck having for dinner? Chances are, like most busy athletes, they haven’t even thought about it yet. Aaron’s day is often filled with the activities of an entrepreneur, founder and lead builder at Boulder-based Mosaic Bespoke Bicycles and newly acquired Spectrum Paint and PowderWorks. Meanwhile, Liz is at school wearing multiple full-time hats; librarian, educator and programming pioneer. In her free time, she’s a local influencer in the Boulder cycling community, team manager for the two Mosaic-sponsored cyclocross teams – Team Small Batch and Singlebarrel – and avid rider. With what hours are left in the day, these two prefer to spend it on their bikes leaving little time to be creative in the kitchen.
So, yeah, about dinner.
Meal planning can easily fall off the radar when days get full. “We do eggs, toast, coffee in the morning… even though an occasional donut is for sure a part of my meal plan,” says Liz. “Working in a middle school, I usually don’t take a formal lunch break so I eat on the go. Aaron doesn’t take much of a break for lunch either, it’s hard (impossible?) to eat while he’s building, welding, or painting. Both of us are more concerned with convenience over quality during work. We definitely don’t prepare much for breakfast or lunch, but we try to have a good dinner when we eat at home. Aaron’s the head chef in our household!”
If the Barchecks’ can find time to cook during their hectic weeks so too can you. The biggest challenge they found was being prepared and having the groceries to support their healthy desires. “We struggle with keeping our fridge stocked with food beyond the essentials and often don’t plan too far in advance because we never know if we’ll be home for dinner. Often we end up at a social event after work or stopping for a quick meal on the way home instead of cooking” says Liz.
We fill our weekends with fun and work so we don’t set aside routine time to grocery shop, so it often feels like our meal plan is at the bottom of our priority list. And, with one car we’re always negotiating who will stop at the store.
What if everything in the pantry could be combined to make quick, nutritious meals that don’t require much brain space to prepare? Actually, it can be done. I recently challenged Liz and Aaron to try a “10 Ingredient Meal Week.” I gave them an express-lane-sized basket of seasonally and inter-changeable items (quinoa or brown rice! Peaches or apples!) and empowered them to shape the list to their tastes, time commitment level, and the season. Each item can be used in a variety of ways, and so I also armed them with some rough recipe ideas, all quick concoctions that work for breakfast, lunch or dinner. None of the recipes were earth shattering (scrambled eggs!) and didn’t require any special techniques, tricks or equipment so this wasn’t a cooking lesson. But the list did give them “a new, easy look at cooking,” reports Liz.
None of the ingredients are new to us, but the combinations and flavors are. I’ve never thought of putting a peach in a salad, for instance, but it’s tasty and different.
Sometimes you hack it.
First, it assumes that you keep a few basic items in your pantry already. Second, it assumes that you’re creative, bold, and looking to shape up your regular real-food routine. Lastly, the rough recipes are all designed so that you take a bit of time cooking roughly once a day. If you’re making up quinoa bowls for dinner, take a few extra minutes to put some aside for lunch. I suggest making a big batch of quinoa at the beginning of the week, and maybe even chopping up vegetables and fruits and cooking up a lean protein to have and pull from all week.
Try it out yourself.
3. Feta or goat cheese
4. Peaches or plums (or apples in season)
5. Tomatoes or radishes
6. Salted pepitas
7. Chicken or tofu
9. Salad greens
Assumed pantry ingredients:
Salt + pepper
Honey or maple syrup
The “Rough” Recipes…
Avocado Toast: ½ avocado mashed with olive oil and lemon juice, spread on two pieces of toast and sprinkled w/fresh cheese, pepitas, salt and pepper to taste
Scrambled Eggs + Greens: Whisk eggs with a bit of yogurt, salt and pepper. Serve with toast and greens lightly dressed in olive oil, lemon and slices of peach or plum
Quinoa Porridge: make the quinoa in a rice cooker or stove top the night before. In the morning, warm the quinoa w/a bit of milk and maple syrup or honey. Top with slices of peach, toasted pepitas and a sprinkle of salt.
Avocado Smoothie: in a blender or food processor, combine ½ avocado w/a handful of kale or greens, ½ peach, ½ cup of water, ½ cup yogurt, ½ cup of ice, a couple of squeezes of honey and juice of ½ lemon. Blend until drinkable. *Add shredded coconut to your shopping list to sweeten it up.
Lunch and Dinner ideas:
Kitchen Sink Salad to Go: in a glass jar, fill the bottom with quinoa and top with your favorite ingredients – peaches, radishes, avocado, and chicken or even a poached egg. Drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Choose Your Own Bruschetta: chopped tomatoes and peaches or plums into small chunks, mix with a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Serve atop toasted bread drizzled with olive oil and top with feta or goat cheese and a sprinkling of pepitas. *Add basil to your shopping list and finish with a little flurry of chopped leaves.
Poached Egg and Quinoa Bowls: in individual bowls, combine a couple of scoops of quinoa with 1-2 poached eggs (use this microwave recipe if you’re unsure!) a handful of greens, and whatever strikes your fancy. Try to put something from each of these categories in your bowl for best taste:
-salty: salt, pepitas
-sweet: honey, fruits
-soft: eggs, avocado, peaches, tomatoes, feta
-crunchy: pepitas, sliced radishes
-basic: olive oil, avocado, yogurt
Try a few flavor combinations to find your favorite. Be creative!
Summer Cobb Salad: in a big bowl, combine salad greens, sliced tomatoes, sliced avocado, feta cheese, hard boiled eggs, chunks of chicken or tofu, and a sprinkling of quinoa and salted pepitas. Cut up slices of bread into chunks, toss with olive oil and toast in the oven until crispy for croutons! Season w/salt and pepper.
Avocado and Tomato Sandwich: Simply add sliced tomatoes, greens, and avocado between slices of toasted bread, add a dash of olive oil, salt and pepper. *Add bacon to your shopping list and make it a BLTA.
Avocado Cream: combine two avocados, pitted and sliced, in a blender or food processor with ½ cup yogurt, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Blend until smooth, then transfer to a bowl. Top with salted pepitas or serve over quinoa bowls, or even as a salad dressing.
*Weeknight Tacos: Add corn tortillas and cilantro to your shopping list and make these by combining chopped tomatoes or peaches with slices of avocado, scoops of quinoa, chopped baked chicken and a sprinkling of cilantro. Serve with a bit of your favorite hot sauce lurking in the fridge…
*Chocolate Pudding with Avocado: if you have a little vanilla in your pantry for baking, and some unsweetened cocoa powder you can make this sweet treat. Combine two avocados (pitted and sliced) in a food processor with a teaspoon of vanilla (if you have it), ¾ cup cocoa powder, ¾ cup maple syrup or honey, ½ teaspoon kosher salt and ¼ cup milk in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth, serve immediately (makes roughly 6 servings!)
The best news about the 10 Ingredient Meal Week?
“As busy as we are, we’re both concerned about our health, and athletic performance…this approach have helped us feel great without thinking too much about food (which is just not something we’ve prioritized in our busy-ness).” says Liz. Proof that, eating well doesn’t need to be a new hobby.