LET’S EAT: Post-grad approved meals for life and work

Hi, nice to meet you — I’ve been a proud member of the Clean Plate Club™ for almost 23 years, and there’s really no other way to say it: I love food. 

One of the biggest changes I’ve experienced since graduating college and moving to the city is the responsibility that is cooking all my own meals. Living in a city where each street corner is its own culinary adventure — from steamy bowls of ramen to food truck countertops clad with fluffy pita — coming home to a Tupperware container of quinoa that’s seen better days isn’t always the most thrilling thing in the world.

However, I’ve really begun to lean into cooking as a fun way to start each day, and a kind of therapeutic activity at the end of the evening. I have a newfound appreciation for my weekend grocery store trips, and brainstorming my meals for the upcoming week is a creative exercise in its own right. So, here I am — sharing some of my food findings with the world.

My eating philosophy

I stopped eating red meat when I was younger because I simply didn’t enjoy the taste of hamburgers or steak. Today, I very rarely eat poultry but still occasionally eat seafood and dairy. When I’m buying groceries and cooking for myself, I follow a mainly plant-based diet, thanks to lots of guidance and inspiration from my mom, also known as Heidi Cooks Plants, who is an expert in plant-based nutrition.

I try my best to eat greens — plus lots of colorful vegetables and fruit — on a daily basis. Contrary to some diets that call for cutting out carbs or starchy foods completely, I feel my best when eating a good variety, and I make a lot of meals with whole grain carbs, potatoes, brown rice, and quinoa.

Being in an NYC apartment means making do with a less-than-spacious kitchen, but I’m lucky to have room to keep some pantry staples on hand at all times — like black beans, chickpeas, whole wheat pasta, and even some frozen veggies that are good in a pinch. I also am never without a jar of peanut butter, dark chocolate, and fruit.

Sure, sometimes the 70% cacao chocolate just isn’t doing it for me, and I go out for ice cream. Or I buy the Trader Joe’s crackers that end up being so good that I eat basically half the box in one sitting. Or if I’m out with friends, we get a slice of pizza that *isn’t* made with vegan cheese. That’s normal and OK, and life is about balance.

Whew — that was a lot. Without further ado, here are some of my go-to, easy, tasty meals that anyone (see: anyone!) can whip up, no matter your level of kitchen expertise.

Breakfast

Blueberry, banana and peanut butter smoothie

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This trusty combination makes for a delicious and filling smoothie. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Handful of spinach
  • Frozen banana cut into slices or chunks
  • About 2/3 cup of frozen blueberries
  • Two spoonfuls of all-natural peanut butter
  • 1-2 tablespoons of chia seeds
  • A drizzle of maple syrup
  • Fill the blender with almond milk (or milk of your choice) — the milk should go to about the top of all the ingredients (or less if you want a thicker consistency)

Blend together, taste, and fall in love — and be prepared to never buy an overpriced Juice Generation smoothie ever again!

Overnight oats

For the past few months, I have loved making overnight oats. While eating oatmeal in the traditional, warmed way is also a tasty and filling breakfast option, I love the convenience of overnight oats. Plus, soaking oats overnight can apparently have some health benefits. According to Bob’s Red Mill, oats that have been soaked overnight “help starches break down and reduces the natural phytic acid, which helps your body utilize the oat’s nutrients much more effectively . . . and makes them easier to digest.” 

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Here’s how I make my overnight oats:

  • Fill half a mason jar, or about 1/2 cup, with oats
    • I use rolled oats, but you could use old fashioned oats, steel-cut oats, or whichever kind you like — just not instant oats.
  • Add a few pieces of frozen banana
  • Add a handful of frozen blueberries
  • Add a spoonful of chia seeds
  • Top with a drizzle of maple syrup
  • Fill about half of the jar or more with unsweetened almond milk, or milk of your choice

Leave in the fridge overnight, and enjoy in the morning!

Weekly bagel

Not every day warrants a fruit- or spinach-filled breakfast — and that’s where *drumroll please* the weekly bagel *applauds!* enters the scene. I’m fortunate to live steps away from some of the most delicious toasty rings of bread, and I definitely don’t take that for granted.

My go-to bagel order is as follows:

  • Whole wheat everything bagel, toasted
  • Tofu cream cheese, preferably with vegetables or scallions (Note: Even my boyfriend likes tofu cream cheese, so that’s pretty much the only endorsement you’ll ever need.)
  • Onions, tomatoes, and sometimes lettuce

My favorite bagel spots are Bagelsmith and Bread Brothers (both in Williamsburg, Brooklyn) and Tal Bagels, which has multiple locations in Manhattan. But I don’t discriminate, so please share with me your bagel recommendations.

Lunch:

Packing lunch doesn’t end when you finish school.

In the name of making healthy choices during the workday — and not dropping $15 on an overpriced salad filled with dry kale that everyone is probably just pretending to enjoy, anyway — I try to make a few meals on Sunday that I can pack for lunch during the week. Here’s one of my favorites.

Hearty quinoa bowl

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These containers may not look the most artistic, but when you whip out one of these on-the-go bowls from the work refrigerator, you’ll be the envy of the office. This one is pretty self-explanatory: just cook quinoa (or brown rice, if that’s more your speed), add a green of your choice (I love steamed broccoli!), and any other vegetable you enjoy. I like adding roasted potatoes of some sort — sweet or golden are my favorite — but you can really customize this kind of lunch to your tastebuds.

Top with a homemade dressing, like this peanut dressing from my mom, Heidi Cooks Plantsor try one of Trader Joe’s many dressings and dips. My mom inspired me to buy the Cashew Fiesta Dip from TJ’s, and it’s so good, I could probably eat it plain with a spoon.

Dinner:

Tofu stir fry with cashews

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Here’s you’ll need:

  • Package of tofu
    • My recommendation: Trader Joe’s Organic Firm Tofu
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Peppers or other vegetables
  • Cashews
  • Teriyaki sauce — can be homemade, or (in the words of Ina Garten) store-bought is fine.

Drain or “press” the tofu for 30 minutes to an hour before cooking it. You can read how to do that here.

Then, cut the tofu into chunks. Chop the garlic, onion, peppers, and any other vegetables you’d like to add. Heat the pan and add the cashews, garlic and onion, then slowly add all the other mix-ins, including the tofu. Then, add the sauce, and stir everything together until the tofu has soaked up the teriyaki. To be honest, I haven’t quite mastered making tofu perfectly crispy, but if you have an air-fryer, that might be the perfect way to cook it up.

Pizza, minus the grease

Who said pizza can’t be healthy-ish? Definitely not me, because this is one of my favorite easy dinners to whip up. I recently (if I do say so myself) discovered the perfect ingredients to craft my ideal homemade pie.

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Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Whole wheat pizza crust
    • This one from Whole Foods is one of the best ones I’ve tried. It actually gets slightly brown and crispy! Trader Joe’s also makes a great sprouted whole grain crust.
  • Pizza sauce
  • Cheese of choice, or supplement with nutritional yeast
  • Veggies of choice
    • I kept it simple with mushrooms, onion, and garlic
  • Spinach to add before digging in

This plus a bottle of wine? Say no more.

Cauliflower and mushroom tacos

This is a slightly recent addition to my repertoire, inspired by a visit to The Little Beet restaurant in Chicago, where I had a similar dish (though it was on an actual porcelain plate and was way more sophisticated-looking than my rendition).

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I cooked up cauliflower and all the veggies, adding garlic and dashes of cumin and chili powder for flavor. Then, it was as easy as dumping the vegetables from the skillet into the warmed corn tortillas, topping with spinach, and digging in.


Whether you’re a college student wanting to branch out of the Pinterest dorm room recipes you bookmarked a year ago, or someone who simply wants to add some more variety to your plate — I hope you enjoyed this food diary-of-sorts!

Find even more recipes at Heidi Cooks Plants, and let me know if you tried anything I mentioned above.

Until next time,

Darcy

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