Color & Control:

Meals Made Simple


Prep-free Cooking Saves Time and Energy

How many evenings have chronic pain, physical limitations or fatigue prevented or discouraged you from cooking a tasty, healthy meal for yourself or your family? How many times have you turned to processed, microwaveable and costly take-out dinners?

I live with chronic pain, and faced similar challenges. However, I’ve found a way to enjoy wonderful meals with little effort and big rewards. Hooray for prep-free cooking!

This method of cooking eliminates cutting and chopping of all kinds without the use of processed foods or fancy equipment. It is simply a matter of substitution. This means using ready-to-use foods, especially fresh and frozen vegetables, lightweight non-stick cookware instead of heavy stainless steel, and plastic bowls instead of heavy glass or wooden ones. The benefits include more energy and less pain without compromising flavour or nutrition.

To help you learn how to incorporate ready-to-use foods, I have two delicious recipes for you to try. Let’s start with traditional chili con carne. Note the use of ready-to-use chopped frozen vegetables, ground spices and no cutting/chopping of any ingredients.

Writer Linda Maran enjoys nutritious meals with help from ready-to-use foods.

Writer Linda Maran enjoys nutritious meals with help from ready-to-use foods.

Chili Con Carne

3 tablespoons (45 mL) olive oil
1 to 1½ pounds (500 to 750 g) lean ground beef or ground turkey
1 12-ounce bag frozen chopped onions
1 10-ounce bag frozen minced peppers
1 16-ounce can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon (15 mL) chili powder (more if desired)
1 teaspoon (5 mL) ground cumin
Dash of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon (0.5 mL) oregano
1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) dried basil
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained

Add oil and meat to a lightweight non-stick pot. Cook meat until no longer pink in colour. Add remaining ingredients except for kidney beans. Cook for one hour over low heat, stirring occasionally. Add kidney beans during last 15 minutes of cooking. Remove bay leaf and discard. Serve chili over instant rice or with store-bought cornbread or corn chips. It’s especially rewarding on chilly nights!

Prep-free salad

This next recipe uses a variety of fresh produce with no cutting or chopping.


1 package of ready-to-eat lettuce blend
1 cup (250 mL) washed grape or cherry ripe tomatoes
1 cup (250 mL) ready-to-use baby carrots
Several radishes from a bag, washed
½ cup (125 mL) olives of choice, from jar or can.
½ cup (125 mL) ready-sliced fresh onions (found in produce section)
½ cup (125 mL) ready-to-use shredded cheese
Olive oil or salad dressing of choice
Croutons (if desired)
Toss all ingredients together and enjoy!

Note: All ingredients are optional. Use whatever ready-to-use fresh vegetables you like best. Try a salad of romaine lettuce, grapes and nuts. If you don’t eat cheese, try shredded ready-to-use coleslaw instead. Experiment and have fun!

If you’ve enjoyed these recipes and would like to pursue prep-free cooking further, look over the following list of ready-to-use foods. It’s amazing how many options are available at supermarkets to make prep-free cooking doable and convenient.

FRESH PRODUCE: Cherry or grape tomatoes, baby whole carrots, shredded carrots, bagged radishes, grapes, cherries, berries, sliced or chunks of fresh pineapple and melon, sliced or chopped fresh onions in containers, baby Yukon gold or red whole potatoes, Brussels sprouts, packages of ready-to-eat cut salads, shredded ready-to-use coleslaw, baby spinach leaves, arugula, endive, packaged sliced mushrooms.

FROZEN: Ready-to-use pizza crust; frozen packages of chopped onions, chopped and sliced peppers, peas, chopped spinach, sliced carrots, corn and stew vegetables; frozen fresh basil (wash and freeze in a re-sealable plastic bag); ground meat and stew meat; chicken parts and cutlets; frozen fish fillets and shrimp.

REFRIGERATED: Packages of shredded, pre-sliced and crumbled cheeses of choice, mozzarella balls, fruit yogurt, low-fat whipped cream, tortilla wraps.

ON THE SHELF: Cans of chickpeas, black olives, beans, tuna and tomato sauce; boxes of instant rice, couscous, pasta and croutons; cartons of chicken, beef and vegetable broth; bottles of olive oil, canola oil, vinegar; jars of Spanish olives, sliced pickles and roasted sliced peppers; containers of sun-dried tomatoes and nuts, slivered and ready-chopped (great additions for ready-to-eat salads); graham cracker pie crusts and tart shells; dried fruits such as raisins, figs, apple rings and dates.

SPICES AND HERBS: Garlic powder, onion powder, onion flakes, dried basil, dried oregano, dried parsley, ground cumin, ground chili powder, crushed red pepper flakes, ground coriander, curry powder, ground turmeric, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, ground nutmeg, Italian seasoning, lemon pepper, BBQ seasoning, spice/herb blends such as Mrs. Dash, salt and pepper.

COOKWARE: A large, lightweight, nonstick skillet and a lightweight pasta pot with a basket insert (makes cleaning easy and is less tiring to lift); large plastic salad bowls, plastic containers with lids (lighter and easier to manage than glass or wooden salad bowls).

PANTRY ITEMS: Aluminum foil to line the stove burners and oven to avoid a mess; resealable plastic bags for storing ready-to-eat washed produce such as carrots, radishes and grapes, as well as drained canned olives, drained chickpeas, leftover tomato sauce, broth and fresh herbs.

You needn’t buy everything – just take one of your own recipes to the supermarket. See how many ingredients can be substituted with prep-free ones. For example, if you’re making a spinach salad with sliced apples, use fresh baby spinach leaves, which require no chopping; buy dried apple rings, which require no slicing; and top with healthy slivered almonds and dressing. For coleslaw, buy packaged fresh ready-to-eat slaw rather than a head of cabbage. Bake precut chicken or burgers in a toaster oven. For an easy breakfast, try yogurt with fresh or frozen berries and granola, drizzled with honey, or top ice cream with frozen berries for dessert.

Soon it will be second nature to cook with less preparation. Happy cooking!

Linda Maran is a writer of fiction and nonfiction who hopes to make a difference, one word at a time. She divides her time between Brooklyn and Maplecrest, N.Y.


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