Healthy Living in the North

Foodie Friday: Creating fast and efficient meals for big events

I recently went home to visit family – people who now live far apart from each other, in different corners of the country, and the globe! On this particular visit, my sister and her small children were returning from Singapore, so along with additional family, we were navigating some significant jet lag! Needless to say, we wanted to have hassle free, easy to prepare meals. Also, when you’re visiting family you haven’t seen in at least a year, who wants to spend all that time cooking?

Planning meals for large gatherings (such as family reunions or celebrations) can take a lot of work, and can be stressful! Fear not. Here are some tips that can make meal time faster and more efficient, so you can spend more time visiting.

Tips for preparing big meals:

  • Stick to familiar meals, and keep it simple: for big family gatherings, we often stick to meals we know best. That way, cooking is easy, and less risky! Keeping recipes flexible helps make cooking easier.
  • Meal plan: to prepare for meals the next day, my mom and I would take a moment to plan the night before. This helped us to stay organized and take stock of what we needed to prepare. You can meal plan as far ahead as you need to!
  • Prepare snacks ahead of time: to prepare for our family’s arrival, we made a few key foods ahead of time, including muffins, dipping sauces, and cut-up vegetables. This way, we had some snacks ready for people to munch.
  • Prepare parts or all of the meal ahead of time: it’s often helpful to prepare dishes ahead of time (e.g. lasagna). However, if this isn’t an option, preparing some meal components in advance can help with efficiency. We cook our spaghetti sauce ahead of time. That way, all we have to do is cook the noodles at dinner time, and we can spend the day visiting.
  • Assign tasks: Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Each day we assigned cooks (and dishwashers!) for different meals. My four year old nephew even helped out – he picked the basil for a pesto sauce I made, and helped put the ingredients in the blender (with supervision).
  • Serve foods buffet style: at meal time, food was placed on the kitchen table and everyone served themselves. This allowed everyone to choose from what was provided.
  • Plan for leftovers: consider sending guests home with extra food, freeze individual portions for future lunches, or incorporate leftovers into the next day’s meals.

I made the following recipe while home visiting. It was a hit! It incorporates summer vegetables, is quick to prepare, and is a definite crowd pleaser.

Bowl of lentil sauce.

The lentil and zucchini dish served with toasted bread and cheese. A quick and simple meal for large groups!

Lentil Sauce with Zucchini Noodles

Ingredients:

  • 1-2  large fresh tomatoes (or 1 15oz (475ml) can of diced tomatoes)
  • 1/4 cup hummus
  • 1/4 cup split red lentils
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast (optional, but delicious)
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning (or any standard herbs you like: basil, thyme, oregano, parsley, etc.)
  • 2 large zucchini, spiralized (I use one fairly large zucchini or 2 small ones)*
  • Sprinkle with parmesan cheese (optional)

Note: If you don’t have a spiralizer (which I don’t), you can use a cheese or vegetable peeler to slice the zucchini thinly.

Instructions:

  1. If using fresh tomatoes, cut into chunks. If using canned, add with other ingredients as directed below.
  2. Boil the water in a pot. Add lentils and let simmer for 3 minutes. Add all other ingredients, except cheese. Let pot simmer until sauce is the desired thickness (if you like a thicker sauce, let it simmer a little longer).
  3. Remove sauce from burner and pour over the raw zucchini. Option: you can also cook the zucchini right in with the other ingredients if you prefer cooked zucchini.
  4. Sprinkle on parmesan cheese and enjoy!

This recipe can be served as a meal or as a side dish.

Little girl eating from spoon.

My niece Lilian taste testing. At meal time she enjoyed eating this dish with her fingers; exploring the different textures and colours.

What are some ways that you make large group meals efficiently and less time consuming?

For more zucchini recipes, check out:

For other tips on using leftovers, check out:

Laurel Burton

About Laurel Burton

Laurel works with Northern Health as a population health dietitian, with a focus on food security. She is a big proponent of taking a multi-dimensional approach to health and she is interested in the social determinants of health and how they affect overall well-being, both at the individual and population level. Laurel is a recent graduate of the UBC dietetics program, where she completed her internship with Northern Health. She has experience working with groups across the lifecycle within BC and internationally to support evidence-informed nutrition practice for the aim of optimizing health. When she is not working, Laurel enjoys cooking, hiking and travelling. She is looking forward to exploring more of the North!

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