Un Fancy Grains

There are two main types of grains that we love to eat in our house: brown rice and quinoa. They are both delicious, whole grains so they provide long lasting energy without blood sugar spikes and drops. They aren’t the fastest grains to cook up on a busy weeknight however, so here are the ways we “hack” cooking these grains so we can enjoy them regularly without a huge time investment.

The first easy grains hack we use is the simplest: We always have a couple healthy varieties of pre-packaged options on hand. These can be reheated in 3 minutes or less as a quick side. I use these options when we are having a “takeout effort” kind of night (the ones where I have less than 15 minutes to get dinner on the table). When choosing “instant” options, it’s important that you pick items that have high quality ingredients. Make sure that they do not contain a lot of vegetable oils (soy, corn, safflower, etc.) and are preferably organic. Read the labels carefully!

The next level for cooking grains is to make pre-soaked quinoa. This will cook in about 15 minutes, so it is pretty easy to incorporate in on a weeknight, but requires a little bit of pre-planning. In the morning before you leave for school/work, you place the dried quinoa you will be cooking in a container and cover it with water. You can then leave this soaking in the water until dinner time (in the fridge covered if fine). When you are ready to cook, you drain the quinoa with a strainer and add it to your pan. Add 2C of liquid for each 1C of dried quinoa and bring to a boil. Once the pan in boiling, turn the heat to low and cover the pot. The quinoa is done when the liquid is absorbed.

You can use plain water, chicken or beef stock, vegetable stock, or even coconut milk to cook your quinoa. Whichever liquid you use will give some extra flavor to the grain. You can also season the quinoa with any of your spice blends after it is cooked. Mix it up so that it doesn’t get “boring” and so that it matches whatever style of protein you are making for the night!

The last option that we like is brown rice. We always use brown rice instead of white because it is a whole grain and has a lower Glycemic Index (GI) than white rice. This means it will help to keep your blood sugar steady rather than change it drastically. Brown rice takes the longest to cook (up to 45 minutes) so you will need to plan accordingly if making it from scratch.

The “hack” that I like to use with brown rice is to cook a large batch of it using a rice cooker. I then save half or 2/3 of what we cooked for use later in the week (reheating it for the win!) It keeps in the fridge for 5-7 days when cooked. You cook brown rice with the same 1:2 ratio as the quinoa (one cup of rice to 2 cups of liquid).


Un Fancy Roasted Veggies

Roasting veggies is definitely a family favorite and can be the key to learning to like a LOT of vegetables that you thought you hated. Often when we were kids, we may have been served veggies that were boiled, steamed, or overcooked. They don’t take great that way! So we go through life thinking we hate zucchini when really, we hated how it was prepared. Learning to roast veggies could be the game changer your family needs to start eating more of these nutritional powerhouses.

The hardest part about roasting veggies is getting them cut into pieces that are the “right” size for roasting. You want to make sure that your veggies are cut into bite sized pieces. This helps them to cook faster and makes them easier to serve. Some vegetables are generally easy and quick to chop up (like zucchini and summer squash), some are easy but not as quick (like brussels sprouts and carrots), and others can be more challenging (like sweet potatoes and inter squashes). There are a couple of ways to approach this: if you have time to pre-cut your veggies on a day off definitely do that (they will keep for 5 days in the fridge) OR go ahead and buy the pre-cut veggies from the store.

Another great option for roasting veggies is to get frozen veggies. Yes, FROZEN. A lot of people shy away from frozen vegetables thinking that what is in the “fresh produce” section is better for you, but this is not necessarily the truth. Frozen vegetables are picked when they are ripe and frozen right away, which preserves their nutrient content. A lot of the time, the fresh produce in your store was picked when it was still green and ripened using gas on the shipping trucks/vessels on it’s way to the store. This means it can have fewer nutrients than the frozen veggies! (This is particularly true if you life in the icy north in the winter time.)

The general veggie roasting recipe is as follows: Preheat the oven to 400F. Place 2 lbs of chopped veggies into a large bowl (if using frozen veggies, you can put them in the bowl still frozen). Toss the veggies with oil (we like light olive oil for this, but also use avocado oil and extra virgin olive oil sometimes as well). Spread the veggies out of a cookie sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper or a spice blend of your choice. Place in the oven until they begin to brown slightly.

TADA! That’s it. I made a chart below with some suggested cooking times for different types of veggies. Additionally, if you are cooking a chicken recipe with the veggies at the same time, it’s ok to cook them at 375F (it just takes a little longer).

  • Asparagus – 20-25 minutes
  • Brussels sprouts – 30-35 minutes
  • Butternut squash (cubed) – 20-25 minutes
  • Cauliflower – 30 minutes
  • Red potatoes – 30-35 minutes
  • Sweet potatoes – 25-30 minutes
  • Zucchini/Summer squash – 20-25 minutes