As a working single mom, I sometimes get envious of celebrity families who have a private chef at home preparing healthy meals. Ah! Must be nice to come home and not be in a mad rush to make something (anything) for dinner – and of course keep it healthy! Plus, who can afford to eat out (or order in) every night? Except maybe Angelina & Brad or Will & Jada – or any other rich ‘n famous family. But, for most of us, including myself, home-cooked meals are a budgetary must.
There is a solution! Celebrity chef Brooke Peterson, who stars in the Food Network’s ‘Private Chefs of Beverly Hills’ and has catered parties for Ryan Seacrest and Randy Jackson, serves up some cost-friendly/time efficient advice to putting dinner on the table.
This is a must-read for any parent! Brooke serves up wise words and tasty recipes.
Q: What are the biggest challenges for parents to make healthy meals on a budget?
T-I-M-E!!! I do this for a living and I am still overwhelmed by my own to-do-list on daily basis. I am a big believer in cheating, short cuts, and getting a head start. I think if you can get a couple of little tricks down, a healthy home cooked meal is not out of the question… heck you might even have time for a Momtini after you get the kids to bed if you play your cards right!
A: Here are a few great tricks of the trade:
- Buy your chicken in bulk in the freezer section (it’s much less expensive) and bake it all on Sunday night. You can use it all week and it will save you tons of time on the weekdays when you are struggling to get a cup of coffee made much less a meal!
- Prep EVERYTHING when you get home from the grocery store. When I was growing up my Mom used to do this on Sunday nights - it’s easy because in most houses everyone is home on Sunday and can make it into a fun family evening. Give everyone in your family a job - one person chops, someone cleans, another bakes - you get the drill.
- Soup is an inexpensive way to feed everyone and the perfect time to get your vegetables in. It is also a great thing to keep in the freezer for nights when you just can’t be bothered.
- Your Mom was onto something with that whole ‘Crock Pot’ thing! Trust me, One Pot meals are going to be your new best friend- just throw a ton of veggies, a protein and your favorite light sauce into your Crockpot in the morning and by dinner time you’ve got a meal and the energy left to eat it.
Chinese Chicken Crockpot
What you’ll need
5 tsp soy sauce
1 bag of chicken breast strips
2 cups orange juice
3 tbsp of peanut butter
1 bag of Asian style frozen veggies
In a large bowl, mix the chicken, orange juice, soy sauce and peanut butter. Dip the spoon in oil before you scoop out the peanut butter this will make it much easier to slide out. Transfer the mixture into the Crockpot and cook on medium heat for 3 hours. Add the frozen veggies 10 minutes before you are ready to serve.
Double it! When you cook, make a ‘Mary Kate’ for dinner and an ‘Ashley’ for later. Put it in the freezer or keep it in the fridge and serve it the next 48 hours.
Q: What are some affordable healthy foods that are easy to work into dinner menu?
A: Here are some of my favorites when the thought of cooking another chicken makes you want to double down over a plate of Taco Bell.
- Watermelon is high in fiber and contains plenty of water. Add it to salads, smoothies, or just eat the fruit.
- Cinnamon helps reduce blood sugar and boost weight loss. You can add it to any fruit and make it an instant dessert.
- Pumpkin seeds are the new super seeds, they are naturally anti-inflammatory, aid in depression, protect the prostate, and increase libido. You can toast them and add to almost everything!
- Turkey Bacon is a better choice if you absolutely must have bacon.
- Egg whites are high in protein and low in calories. You can add them to salads; make egg white and veggie omelets, etc. It will give you plenty of energy and fill you up.
- Pork Tenderloin is low in fat and full of flavor. You can grill it and serve with fresh vegetables or your favorite sauce.
Q: Some folks think cooking from scratch takes more time - true or false?
A: I am not going to fill up already stressed out parents with the notion that cooking from scratch is something that they can just whip up. Try keeping it simple. Fresh ingredients are sometimes better left without a lot of fuss. Here are a few recipes:
Chicken and Roast Vegetable Salad with Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette
What you’ll need:
1 bag of mixed greens
1 cooked chicken breast, cut in slices
1 cup of asparagus tips
1/2 cup corn
1/2 cup roasted red peppers
1/2 cup of mushrooms
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the asparagus, corn, and mushrooms on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle a little olive oil over them and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bake for about 15 minutes turning every once in a while to make sure they cook evenly. The roasted red peppers are easy to find in the market and usually come in jars, cans, or they also have them at the deli counter. In a bowl combine the mixed greens, the roasted vegetables and grilled chicken.
For the Dijon Vinaigrette:
In a small bowl whisk 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard, 1/3 cup of red wine vinegar, 2 table spoons of olive oil and a splash of fat free half and half. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle over your salad.
Lemon Dill Salmon
What you’ll need:
2 salmon fillets
2 tbsp butter
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the salmon on a sheet of aluminum foil and fold the sides. Place 1 tbsp of butter over each piece of salmon, whole springs of baby dill and chopped dill (the heat will release all the flavor of the herb), and using a fork and twisting squeeze a half lemon over it, and then sprinkle with garlic salt. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes and serve.
I love this for getting kids to drink water at dinner time instead of soda. I call it the ‘coke killer’.
Fill an ice cube tray with water half way and add any of the following to brighten up any drink!
Q: How about dessert? Is that a no-no on a healthy-minded dinner?
I don’t think anything is a no-no! Watch your portions and realize everything is choice … Here is a good rule:
You only get 1 bad move a day. If you want dessert don’t have a cocktail. If you have a drive thru lunch, make sure to have a healthy dinner. You are a grown-up and this is not “The Biggest Loser.”
For more fun/healthy food advice, check out Brooke’s blog at