"If you know dinner is going to be successful, that takes away a lot of the stress." - Allison Fishman, Cooking Light contributing editor and author of You Can Trust a Skinny Cook, Montclair, N.J.
After more than a year of coaching Cooking Light readers as they took on each of the 12 Healthy Habits challenges, Allison came to appreciate the snowball effect making one healthy change can have. "All the people I worked with quickly realized that by setting reasonable, doable goals, you end up doing more than you had planned."
It may be refreshing, then, to know that someone who is highly skilled in the kitchen believes in going easy on cooking expectations. "One of my favorite things to say is don't cook every single night of the week," she says.
Embracing her own advice, Fishman cooks from scratch Monday, Tuesday, and Sunday. The rest of the week she gets creative—making use of what's in the fridge, having a smorgasbord night, or recruiting someone else to cook. "It's an ideal way to eat homemade food most nights and simultaneously deal with the time crunch so many of us face."
- Cook smart on the weekends. "Stew, chili, soup—anything packed in moisture—has a good shelf life. So when you have more time to devote to cooking, like on the weekend, make a big batch and eat it throughout the week."
- Rethink leftovers. "Right now I have a really great Moroccan stew in the fridge. As we reheat it, it goes from a stew consistency to soup. That got me thinking, and I decided to roast a piece of fish and pour the stew on top like a sauce. There is no shame in evolving a dish in that direction."
- Make extra and freeze. "If you're cooking a casserole like mac and cheese, make it for 12, use two casserole dishes, and freeze one. I do the same with meat loaf and meatballs. Enchiladas and lasagna are also great for this. That way, you've cooked once, but you get two or more home-cooked meals."
- Share responsibility for putting dinner on the table. "One of my online clients, who has a 5-year-old and works about 60 hours a week, instituted 'Man-Made Mondays.' Monday is her husband's day off, and one day, she said, 'Guess what? Momma's not cooking on Monday!' Each week, she gives him a recipe, pulls out the ingredients so he doesn't have to hunt for them, and dinner is his job."
- Find a go-to source for recipes. "Find a source you trust, whether it's your best friend or the Barefoot Contessa. Many of my clients love the Superfast recipes in Cooking Light because they take 20 minutes, have few ingredients, and are not intimidating—and they know they're going to taste good. If you're going to make the effort, you shouldn't have to worry about whether your recipes will work. That eliminates extra worry and guarantees your effort will be rewarded."
- Three words: bagged prewashed greens. "I can't stand washing spinach or arugula. It's superlazy for me to admit that, but I always have a clamshell of prewashed baby spinach or arugula on hand so salad meals come together quickly. For example, if you come home from a dinner out with half a steak, or if you grill an extra one, toss it with greens and vinaigrette, or make it into a Thai beef salad."