Busy Schedule — Easy Meals

By Mariella Funk, Certified Chef
Nutrition Education Director
Operation Food Search

Fall is a busy time of year. Many people are rushing around between work and extracurricular activities, going to school or picking kids up from school. Ever feel like making dinner is a chore? That putting a healthy meal on the table after getting home is the last thing you want to do?

With a little planning and light prep work, not only can you have a healthy, home-cooked meal most weeknights, prepared in a short fraction of time, you may find that you spend less money on groceries and have less food go to waste. Following, are a few simple steps to save time and money while feeding yourself and your loved ones.

First, plan your meals. This may seem intimidating, but if you just focus on dinners and plan for at least one night of leftovers and one night for takeout, you only need five meals. Here are a few tips to help you come up with a week’s work of dinners:

Choose two family favorites.
Choose one new recipe (Pinterest is a great source of inspiration!).
Make one night a clean out the fridge and pantry night.

Make one night a freezer meal, pre-made from a previous week (don’t forget to pick one of this week’s meals to double the recipe to put in your freezer for a future week).

Second, make a grocery list. Look at store circulars to see what’s on sale and make substitutions when possible using sale items. Compare recipes for the same or similar ingredients so you can buy some items in bulk.

Third, review your recipes for all the preparation steps. Once this is done, all you’ll have to do is assemble and cook on meal night. Some steps that you can do in advance include: grating cheese; cooking any pasta, rice, beans, etc.; chopping onions, carrots, zucchini, and celery; and cooking meat. Divide all of your prepped ingredients into separate containers and organize according to what recipe you’ll be using. Arrange the items in your fridge so you can easily gather them when you are ready to cook.

And finally, prepare your meal. Simply pull out all of the equipment and prepped and non-prepped ingredients and spices; assemble; cook and enjoy!

Here’s an easy to prepare recipe to add to your weekly lineup, and it freezes well, too!

Serves 6 – (1-1/4 cups per serving)

  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 whole bay leaves
  • 3 medium onions
  • 2 medium celery stalks
  • 1 medium green, red, yellow, or orange bell pepper
  • 2 medium cloves garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon canola oil
  • 4 ounces ground turkey
  • 2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, no salt added
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper


  1. Cook rice according to package directions. Set aside
  2. Peel, rinse, and dice onions. Rinse and dice celery and pepper. Peel and mince garlic.
  3. In a large pot over medium-high heat, heat oil.
  4. Add onions, celery, pepper, and garlic to pot. Mix well. Cook until veggies are soft, about 5 minutes.
  5. Add ground turkey. Cook until turkey is cooked through, about 5 minutes more.
  6. Add tomatoes and their juices. Bring to a simmer.
  7. Add spices. Stir to combine. Cover and reduce heat. Cook at a low simmer for 15 minutes.
  8. Add cooked rice to the mixture. Stir to combine. Add more water or broth, if needed. Cook over low heat to blend flavors, about 5–10 minutes more.
  9. Remove bay leaves and serve.

With a goal to end childhood hunger, Operation Food Search’s fall programs include:
Cooking Matters® – A series of courses taught to adults, kids and families by our staff chef, dietitians and nutritionists, with assistance from dietetic interns, and volunteer chefs and culinary instructors on meal preparation, grocery shopping, food budgeting and nutrition. Participants in the six-week, hands-on program learn how to shop for, cook and eat healthily and affordably, graduating with the skills and knowledge to maximize their food resources, make healthier food choices for themselves and their families, and prepare balanced, delicious meals.

Operation Backpack – This program supplies kids with food for the weekend – the fuel they need to flourish! Students pick up their food-filled backpacks at school at the end of the week and return them empty on Monday, starting their week nourished and refreshed so they’ll be hungry for learning!

Please make a donation today at www.OperationFoodSearch.org and be part of the solution to end childhood hunger!