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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Foodie Friday: Make zoodles with your summer harvest!

It is the peak of summer! Now is the time when you have the best selection of fresh and vibrant fruit and vegetables in the grocery store, farmers market, or in your own gardens.

One vegetable that you likely have more of than you know what to do with is the almighty zucchini. Gardeners, like I aspire to be, who grow zucchini learn to become very creative with their bounty, or try to pawn off the squash on their friends and family. When I lived in Vancouver, I had a small garden plot as part of a community garden and I loved growing and cooking with zucchini. Just check out these beauties!

Zucchini and tomato

Zucchini plant
Zucchini is a good source of fibre which helps lower blood cholesterol, control blood sugar levels, and keeps you regular. Like all vegetables, zucchini is also a good source of vitamins and antioxidants. Specifically, zucchini contains carotenoids: lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene, which may reduce the risk of some cancers, heart disease, and eye disease through their protective effect in the body. In the recipe below, adding avocado to the pesto sauce adds an extra boost of antioxidants and fibre and also replaces some of the olive oil.

If you grow or buy zucchini, or are one of the lucky recipients of this delicious vegetable, below is a great way to use them and get at least two servings of vegetable in. Round out the meal with a grilled chicken breast and some crusty garlic bread.

Zucchini noodles with chicken breast

I’d love to get some new ideas of what to do with all the zucchini that is in its prime, so please leave a comment to share how you use it!

Creamy avocado basil pesto with zoodles (zucchini noodles)

Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients

  • 5 zucchini, large
  • 1 avocado, pit removed
  • 15 basil leaves, fresh
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper, ground
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 tbsp olive oil, extra virgin
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • 2 tbsp parmesan cheese

Instructions

1. Julienne zucchini lengthwise by hand or with a mandolin. You can also use a vegetable noodle-making gadget to make long spiral noodles- or ZOODLES!

Zucchini noodles in a bowl

2. Place zucchini noodles in a colander with 3/4 tsp salt. Let sit for 30 minutes and drain liquid.

Bowl of zucchini noodles

3. In a blender or food processor, mix together avocado, basil, 1/4 tsp salt, pepper, garlic, 2 tbsp olive oil, and lemon until smooth.

4. In a sauté pan on medium heat, heat 1 tbsp olive oil and add zucchini noodles. Cook for 2 minutes. (You can also leave them cold for more crunch). Note: I chose not to cook the zucchini this time, which made life a lot easier in this heat wave we are having!

5. Add sauce and parmesan cheese to the pan and coat the zucchini noodles. Heat through.

Zucchini noodles with parmesan cheese

6. Serve and enjoy!

Zucchini noodles with pesto

Erin Branco

About Erin Branco

Erin is a dietitian with Northern Health's clinical nutrition team at UHNBC. Erin has a passion for growing and cooking food as well as teaching patients, clients and families about incorporating a balanced, wholesome diet into a healthy lifestyle. In her spare time, you can find her cooking up a storm, writing about food and nutrition, and growing vegetables at her community garden. During her dietetics internship, Erin explored the north from Fort St. John to Haida Gwaii, learning about clinical and public health dietetics with many adventures along the way.

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