There are days when all you can manage for dinner is a convenience meal. This is not something to feel bad about! People often say things to me like, “Wow, how do you have time to make home cooked meals all week long?” And the answer is: well, this is kind of my job. But when my job wasn’t writing about the food I cook, you better believe there were a lot of frozen pizzas and boxed quinoas being served up in our household. I’ve always loved cooking, but not many people can pull off a home cooked meal 7 days a week.
Boxed quinoa, rice, couscous, and other grain side dishes can be easily turned into healthy, filling vegetarian main dishes. Of course, you want to start with a tasty boxed side–there are some that are made with MSG, unpronounceable ingredients, and massive amounts of sodium. Avoid those! I bought this Pereg quinoa, mostly because I love the box (I am shallow like that), but also because of the minimal ingredients.
Add a protein.
I added black beans to this particular mix because I had some in the freezer. Beans and edamame are always a good addition–a can of beans or a cup and a half of cooked dried beans is a good amount. They can be stirred in after the cook time is done. I’ve also used sautéed or baked tofu, tempeh, seitan, and crumbled Field Roast sausages. Nuts work sometimes too!
Add some veggies.
Got some frozen veggies in the freezer? This is a good time to use them! I used corn. You can stir them in 2-3 minutes before the cooking time is done. Some fresh veggies, like onions and mushrooms, should be cooked separately and stirred in after the boxed side is done cooking. Broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus can be tossed right into the pot with the side dish mix; they’ll need 3-5 minutes to cook.
Add some greens.
Even though I’m not a big fan of spinach, I stirred about a cup of it into this quinoa after it was done cooking. The heat from the quinoa wilts the spinach. Arugula can be stirred in after the cook time is done too; kale and other tougher greens will need to cook with the grains for 3-5 minutes.
Amp up the flavor.
This quinoa mix wasn’t very flavorful, so I added caramelized onions and smoked paprika salt. Other possibilities: olives, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh herbs, flavored salts, roasted red peppers, and cheese. Remember to work with the flavors in the boxed mix, not against them! If you have a sun-dried tomato and basil flavored rice, add some fresh basil, not cilantro. These can all be added after the boxed mix has finished cooking.
I try to make sure that each serving is about 500 calories after everything I’ve added, which, to me, is a full meal. Is it the most beautiful, impressive meal I’ve ever served? Um, no. But it’s quick, easy, and much more filling than simply making this boxed quinoa and serving it with a few pieces of frozen broccoli on the side.
Do you have a favorite way to take a packaged food and make it into a complete meal? Share it in the comments below!