Celebrity chef Vivian Howard is nationally known for elevating traditional Southern dishes and showcasing North Carolina’s food history. At her restaurant Chef & the Farmer in Kinston, Howard focuses on creative cooking inspired by the state’s ingredients and traditions. On her PBS show A Chef’s Life, viewers see Howard as a chef leading a busy farm-to-fork restaurant, but also as a daughter, wife, and mother to six-year-old twins.
When Howard isn’t working long hours at Chef & the Farmer, she’s filming for PBS, traveling for cooking/speaking engagements or testing new recipes for her restaurants. (Howard also owns The Boiler Room in Kinston and newly opened Benny’s Big Time Pizzeria in Wilmington.) With such a hectic schedule, focusing on healthy, fresh meals for her family can be tough. Fortunately, Howard found time to talk with Blue Cross NC about some tips on finding time for meal prep and using basic herbs and spices to jazz up go-to meals.
Making the Most of Your Weekends
“I stay pretty busy during the week, so Sundays are my meal prep days. Since food is my job, I may do things a little different than most. I’ll cook a big pot of soup that has lots of leafy greens and some type of protein. I’ll blend in beans to make the soup rich and creamy. Or, I’ll make a pot of lentils and rice, and my husband will eat that with a poached or fried egg to make it heartier.”
Roasting vegetables is one of the easiest ways to prep a large amount of food at once. Howard continues with some of her children’s favorites, “my children like Brussels sprouts and broccoli, so I’ll roast enough to last us through the week. I also cook salmon – a few servings worth – to eat cold on salads or with avocado. One more family favorite is spaghetti, so I’ll make a sauce that can be used for sloppy joes or on noodles.”
Anything that you can prep in large amounts and use as a base for different flavors throughout the week will work. Howard suggests keeping food in the refrigerator no more than five days.
Keep it Simple, Change it Up
“If I do prep food on the weekends, I always make a staple that can be eaten warm or cold and with a variety of seasonings. If I’m roasting or searing meat, I only use salt. Pepper and other spices can burn over high heat, and I want to keep the flavors pretty basic so I can season meals differently throughout the week.
Sometimes I’ll roast a whole chicken on a Sunday, and we’ll eat that for dinner. Then I’ll make chicken salad with the leftovers. The same with a flank steak – I’ll sear that for dinner one night and use what’s left to make an Asian-style steak salad.
I always try to think of a bean or grain that can be cooked easily and added to dishes throughout the week. We generally always have a pot of beans in our refrigerator, and those can be a base or a side with many meals. Similarly, with roasted vegetables – those are great reheated as a side but can be eaten cold with dips as a snack.”
Stock up on Spices
The easiest way to refresh a favorite recipe is to switch up the seasonings. Vivian suggests a few specific ingredients that can totally change the flavor profile of a dish.
- For Asian dishes, Vivian recommends that you keep soy sauce, sesame oil and rice vinegar on hand. Those three simple ingredients can really transform something that tastes plain or too American. Sesame seeds are a nice addition, too.
- An Indian-inspired meal needs curry powder, lime juice, and coconut oil – it’s a completely different flavor blend that really surprises some people.
- The ingredients for a Mexican meal are readily available in most supermarkets. Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, lime juice, and cilantro can update chicken, pork or beef for tacos, salads or bean bowls.
Vivian Encourages You to Start Small
“For beginners who might be intimidated by prepping a week’s worth of meals, try making snacks first. Since our whole family enjoys roasted vegetables, I’ll roast asparagus, broccoli, mushrooms and any other seasonal produce. We always have hummus on hand so we can have healthy, filling snacks rather than make something quick that may not be as nutritious.
Planning and prepping meals in advance saves time and stress during the week, and it’s easier to eat healthy when meals are premade. Vivian also recommends visiting a local farmer’s market for seasonal produce – it supports the local economy and may inspire some creative, new meals.”
Do you want to ask an expert? Access nutrition counseling services by calling the number on the back of your member ID card or use “Find A Doctor” to locate a provider. Download this easy Meal Planning Calendar to help you stay on track.