Time for a Meal Makeover: My New Fast Food

01/14/2011 03:17 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Meg Wolff One-legged, two-time survivor, healthy cook

It's so easy to quickly forget about our earnestly made New Year's resolutions, isn't it? The ones related to eating healthier seem especially easy for a lot of people to let go of.

"It's been a long day at the office -- let's just order a pizza." "It's too hard to make something healthy. Ben & Jerry's, here I come."

But for me, eating healthy is a way of life. I choose something healthy for every meal, no matter what. I don't say this in any kind of holier-than-thou way -- it's just the way it is for me.

It's partly knowing that had I not transformed my diet 12 years ago, there's no way I'd be alive now, writing this article. I know that sounds dramatic, but I was dying of breast cancer, after trying every conventional means to get better, including a mastectomy, chemo and radiation treatments.

I regained my health only after replacing the junk I was eating with a diet based on whole grains, beans and vegetables. I have good, healthy food to thank for my life, so for that reason, I continue to eat good, healthy food.

But that's not the only reason. Along the way, I surprised myself by actually loving healthier foods. I realize a lot of you will doubt this, but I honestly wouldn't return to my junk food ways even if I could. I greatly prefer this way of eating.

Admittedly, when I started to follow a plant-based diet, I was sometimes overwhelmed by the amount of time I spent preparing and cooking healthy meals. So I do get it when people feel like they don't have enough time to eat healthy.

However -- and this is a big however -- I've found so many ways to make healthy cooking easy, and quick, over these 12 years.

Like anyone, I don't want to spend my whole life in the kitchen. But, for me, simplifying is also a necessity. I lost my leg to bone cancer 20 years ago and have ongoing issues with my prosthetic leg. For the past couple of years, I've been mostly operating on one leg and crutches. So I quite literally (and figuratively) understand people feeling like they're on their last leg, with no time or energy!

For lots of reasons, I'm all about simplifying. January is a great time to make over how you think about preparing healthy meals.

It really can be super simple. It just takes a tiny bit of creativity.

For example, I've been on kind of a chickpea kick lately, which is a good thing. Chickpeas are loaded with calcium and fiber. So I decided to create a very simple, 15-minute meal around them.

I first put a couple of servings of quinoa on the stovetop to cook. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a very quick-cooking whole grain that is an excellent source of magnesium which helps relax the body.

I then put some leftover vegetables -- in this case, chopped carrots, rutabaga and turnips, -- in a sauté pan, added a can of drained chickpeas, a few Indian spices, and a big bunch of fresh, chopped parsley and let simmer a few minutes.

My husband Tom chopped up some fresh kale, and sautéed it with a few chopped cloves of garlic and olive oil (I might instead sometimes use sesame oil) in a separate pan.

By the time we were done preparing the veggies, the quinoa was ready -- all told, no more than 15 minutes. Really! I spooned out servings of quinoa onto plates, topped with my veggie-chickpea mix, then added the side of kale.

Simple, delicious, healthy. Who says healthy eating has to be time-consuming and complicated? It doesn't have to be -- not by a long shot.

In this recipe below, to make fast and easy you can do one of the following. Instead of the fresh potato, portabella mushrooms and carrot, use leftover vegetables of any sort. No leftovers, try an assortment of frozen veggies. In place of the kale use frozen spinach (or this can be omitted!). Anything works!


Indian Chickpea Mix
1 onion, diced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
Two 15-ounce cans chickpeas
1 Maine-grown red potato, sweet potato or rutebega, diced small to cook fast
6 baby portabellas, quartered
2 carrots, sliced or diced
1/4-1/2 cup of tomato paste (I sometimes use 1 cup of leftover mild salsa)
Spices: 1/2 teaspoon each of garam masala, coriander, chili powder, cumin and 1 teaspoon curry powder
6 leaves of curly kale, sliced thinly
Optional: juice of 1/2 lemon

Saute the onion or garlic in sesame or other oil on a medium-high flame for 2 minutes. Sprinkle on salt while onion is cooking.

Add 2 cans of chickpeas (including the liquid), carrots, diced potato, mushrooms and tomato paste or salsa and spices. Bring to a low boil. Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until vegetables are soft.

Add kale, cover and cook for 5 more minutes. Turn off heat. If you're adding lemon juice, add it now and stir in.

Makes 4 servings

Would you consider making this recipe? What are your fast, but healthy go-to dishes? I'd love to hear about your favorites here in my comments section.

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