The Fueling Challenge: The kids need comfort food. I want a huge salad—every day of the week. How do I walk the line?
The Strategy: Cook big batches of both, eat all week.
The Story: I saw all those Instagram photos of kids in their new dresses and new sneakers, kids flashing optimistic smiles and looking like they were about to bound into their first day of school. My kids, shocked out of their summer of pool and soft-serve and sandals, shoved their feet into their sneakers, grimacing as if those new running shoes were binding their toes, and moped their way up the school bus stairs on that first day.
The mom in me drove away knowing these kids would need comfort food for dinner. But the athlete in me knew that what I really needed was a week of clean eating. I had spent the previous few weeks with the kids, on family vacations and at home with them, eating soft-serve and after their bedtime, drinking a nightly beer.
Complicating my meal planning was that my husband was away, traveling for business for the first two weeks of school. In my ideal version of my life with husband on the road, I feed the kids at 5:15 pm, put them to bed at 7 pm, then eat steamed fish and vegetables and rice at 7:30 pm. What usually happens is this: I straggle out of the last kid's room at 7:45 pm chanting, “Go to bed!” And then I am too tired to use a fork let alone steam fish. So I grab a box of Chex, eat cereal by the handful, and then wake up in the morning feeling famished.
No more, I thought! And I hit the grocery store with a plan. I’d cook a double batch of the meatballs and spaghetti the kids had requested. I’d prep enough salad fixings to get me through the week, Chex and stress free.
At the grocery store, I tried to remember that I am my own prep cook. I willed myself to skip the pretty heads of baby Romaine that needed washing and choose a tub of pre-washed baby arugula. I steered myself past the ears of fresh corn and to the freezer to grab a bag of no-prep fire-roasted frozen corn. The enemy of good is better, I thought, imagining those ears of corn rotting in the downstairs fridge. I felt empowered then, empowered enough to skip the beer aisle.
When I got home from the store, I pulled some frozen farro out of the freezer and set it in the fridge to defrost. I made the kids’ favorite meatballs (currently, the recipe from the Bi-Rite Market cookbook for meaty meatballs and the Athlete Food Turkey Meatballs), and Summer Tomato Sauce with Bacon (I have limits and jarred tomato sauce pushes them). I took out my ceramic vegetable slicer and made batches of thinly cut zucchini and cucumbers. I halved and salted some cherry tomatoes from our potted kitchen garden. And I made a seed mix (sunflower, sesame, pumpkin) to add bulk to my salad, which made an interesting if unusual base for those meatballs, night after night.
I started calling this my Meatball Salad and a friend asked for the recipe via Instagram. I hesitated to post it here because the ingredient list is so long. Before you roll your eyes and think, "Yes, yes, that is 1,000 ingredients or may as well be." Remember that your goal is to prep once for several meals. Your goal is not to build the best looking, most perfect salad ever--so leave out what you do not have and sub in whatever vegetables, grains, and seeds you find in your fridge, or at a grocery store salad bar.
The Meatball Salad
In a large bowl, combine all (or whatever you have on hand) of these finxins:
- Pre-washed baby arugula
- Cooked farro
- Frozen-fire roasted corn, defrosted
- Small tomatoes, halved
- Thinly sliced cucumbers
- Thinly sliced zucchini or other summer squash
- Green or yellow wax or rattlesnake beans cut into 1”-pieces
- Sesame seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Athlete Food Sherry Vinaigrette or your favorite salad dressing
- Meatballs (if you dare)