"Comfort food" is trendy beyond the chefs' menus, and it doesn't always mean haute cuisine. For some chefs, the craving for comfort food is street falafel or greasy Chinese; for others, burgers, fried chicken or a late-night slice. Generally these cravings fall into two categories (and most likely both): self-indulgent and quick. The "how fast can I shovel this into my mouth" mentality is because we're hungry, exhausted and wired. Yes, that combination is possible.
It sounds crazy but most chefs don't cook when they get home from work. They order in, microwave or eat simply. It's not uncommon to see tons of delivery menus and nothing in the fridge. Those farm-to-table chefs also aren't afraid to disband their missions and indulge in the fried, frozen or dare-I-say slightly processed foods now and again.
There are the rare few that enjoy cooking after a day of work (guilty, party of one?) but "cooking" usually involves assembling, plating storebought goods or combining storebought items with simply prepared food. Think Sandra Lee (yes, as I mentioned there are cocktails involved): semi-homemade. This could simply mean reheated roasted vegetables with a couple slices of bread and cheese or oatmeal with chia seeds and dried fruit. Even an assortment of olives (storebought, of course) and scrambled eggs counts as an organized meal in my mind.
Dinner is a chef's "working meal" but for the up-and-out-early executive maybe breakfast is where you struggle. Swamped with lunch meetings and no time to eat? The same principles apply whether you're at home or the office. Check out my tips below for late-night, early morning or eating in a pinch.
1. Find prepared foods that work
Sometimes frozen food gets a bad rap. You want to prioritize portion control, "comfort food" without a fast-food nutrition label and easy meals. Jimmy Dean's creation of Beyond Breakfast products are the perfect late-night meal or lunchtime grab that hits all the requirements. Want to take it a step further?
2. Pair easy-to-make food with storebought essentials
A microwaved or reheated meal pairs easily with bagged lettuce spritzed with lemon juice and olive oil. Incorporating frozen vegetables like peas or edamame before reheating elevates a bowl of leftover noodles. Or add protein to a prepared sandwich or slice of pizza by adding a poached or sunny-side-up egg.
3. Prepare ahead of time
In a restaurant it's all about the prep. During service no one is cutting onions or washing lettuce, they're executing. The same works in a home kitchen; a little work up front makes for easy fast or grab-and-go meals. Buy frozen fruits and vegetables (believe me they are good for you because they're flash frozen right at their peak), purchase bagged lettuce or stock your fridge with essentials such as eggs, pasta and long-lasting produce such as carrots, potatoes, under-ripe avocados or apples. Having these on hand makes eating, grabbing or preparing faster.
4. Make a meal out of one item
Eggs, sweet potatoes, oatmeal and whole grain toast are examples of a base item that anything can go on, in or under. Eggs can be prepared countless ways and then topped. Microwave and then stuff a sweet potato with anything on hand. Oatmeal is a vehicle for sweet or savory (bacon, dried fruit, cheese, etc.). Mashed avocado on top of whole-wheat toast is a foodie's dream. Use what you have on hand to make a meal of these base foods.
5. Make a completely storebought meal look restaurant worthy
Believe it or not, assembling is simply "plating" at home. Arrange a cheese plate for one after a late night or for your desk lunch. Pair with a nutty and whole-wheat bread, a small jar of honey or grainy mustard. Olives are the new potato chip, but good for you. If you have a "salty" palate, satisfy those late-afternoon cravings with an olive or two. Better than potato chips and not-yet-happy-hour satisfaction. Combine dried fruit and cold edamame for a salty-sweet snack. Take pride in what you're making and eating, even if you didn't make it.
Disclosure: This post is part of a collaboration with Jimmy Dean and SheKnows.
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