Cheat Meal: Meatballs and Marinara

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Meatballs and homemade marinara sauce make for a tasty, easy to make dish that packs a nutritious punch.

The cheat in this dish is using pre-made meatballs to save time. Note that the sauce uses chopped tomatoes, not jarred sauce. The tomatoes are more nutritious and the sauce is brighter and fresher when done this way.

  • Fresh, pre-made meatballs; I try to buy grass fed beef for better taste (if you can find chicken, or turkey meatballs and prefer that, just be aware that they will cook faster than the beef!)
  • 28 oz box of chopped tomatoes (I use Pom, which comes from Italy)
  • 2-3 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tbs garlic paste (I buy tubes of Italian-made garlic paste at my supermarket)
  • 1 tsp each, salt and pepper
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 red or yellow pepper, diced
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp parsley flakes (or 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh — preferred, if available)
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 sprig basil, leaves only
  • 4 servings of pasta
Cooking instructions
  • In a large skillet heat oil on high until a drop or two of water “dances” on its surface
  • Add onions and turn down the heat to medium; stir the onions periodically until they caramelize. Don’t rush it — the caramelization adds a nice sweet note to the sauce
  • Heat a large pot of salted water
  • When the onions have started to brown, add diced peppers, garlic paste and oregano to the skillet; cook until the peppers have softened
  • Remove and set aside the onion/pepper mix; preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  • Add meatballs to the skillet and brown on all sides
  • Return onions/peppers to the skillet
  • Add salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and chopped tomatoes to the skillet; ensure that the meatballs are coated
  • Cover skillet and place in the oven for about 20 minutes
  • After the skillet has been in the oven for 10 minutes, add pasta to rapidly boiling water and cook until al dente (about 8 minutes, depending upon the style of pasta used)
  • Serve sauce and meatballs over pasta, tearing the basil leaves and garnishing the dish

Note: do not use a cast iron pan — the acid in the tomatoes will pull a metallic taste into your dish!

Cheat Meals: Simplify Your Dinner Time Routine

“Cheat meals” are a go-to for busy professionals. If you are working long hours, or have a second job and you come home tired, how do you manage to put tasty, healthy food on the table with minimal effort? Here are some tips about how you can shortcut dinner prep without shorting yourself on taste and nutrition.

Core “Cheat Ingredients”:

  • Rotisserie chicken is a go-to “cheat” ingredient. You can use this chicken in entrees, stir frys, soups and salads. Inexpensive, easily available and tasty.
  • Steam in bag” veggies are a great foundation; look in the produce section of your supermarket for a variety of options.
  • Stir-fry beef options; this thin-sliced option is great for stir fry, saute, quick ramen-style soups and more.
  • Make a batch of soup and you’ll have lunch for days! Vegetable soups and chili reheat well; you can add pre-cooked meats to fortify leftovers for a hearty lunch. Your freezer is your friend: when you make batches of chili, soups, etc. — you can stockpile a reserve of great food that is ready to be reheated!
  • Eggs are often overlooked as a dinner-time option. They are versatile, a great source of protein and cook in minutes.
  • Have a microwave? Potatoes are a quick, microwave-friendly option. Topped with leftover meat, cheese or veggies, you can make a quick meal in minutes. Sweet potatoes are a great alternative to white potatoes and add beta carotene to your diet.
  • Pre-made meatballs are available in many grocery stores; broiling these and topping with cheese and fresh tomato slices over fresh pasta delivers a fabulous meal in 15 minutes.
  • Pizza dough is available in many grocery stores; top it with leftovers, or quick “adds” for a tasty, hearty meal in minutes! You can also use store-made dough to create easy calzones; filling them with veggies is a healthy, lower-calorie alternative. You can usually find pre-cut vegetables in the produce section of your grocery store.

Cheat Meal: Rotisserie Chicken Stir Fry with Green Beans

stir fry green beans

Pressed for time? This rotisserie chicken and green bean “cheat meal” can be made in minutes with just a few ingredients.

Rotisserie chicken and green bean stir fry also makes for a nutritious meal: the beans are a good source of vitamin C, dietary fiber, folate, vitamin K and silicon (needed for healthy bones, skin, and hair).

Stir fry green beans
If you prefer, use snap peas in lieu of green beans.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 15 minutes

1 rotisserie chicken
1 medium yellow onion, diced
Cook in Bag” green beans (which should be available in the produce section; use fresh green beans if the bagged variety isn’t available, just be aware that you need to top and tail fresh beans, which adds to prep time)
1 tsp ginger paste (or 1 tsp grated fresh ginger)
1 tsp garlic paste (or 1 tsp minced fresh garlic)
1 tsp each, salt & pepper
2 tbs hoisin sauce
2 tbs low-sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbs peanut, or vegetable oil
1/4 cup dry roasted peanuts (optional)

Cooking Instructions:

  • Pick and shred the meat from the chicken
  • Heat oil, garlic and ginger in wok for 1-2 minutes
  • Add green beans, salt, pepper; stir for 5-7 minutes, until beans begin to soften
  • Once beans have started to soften up, add 2 tbs water and cover wok; reduce heat to medium and let steam for about 4 minutes (check halfway to ensure that they don’t overcook)
  • As soon as the beans are tender enough, add chicken hoisin, soy and vinegar. Stir to ensure that sauce coats chicken and green beans evenly.
  • If desired, add peanuts just before serving for added crunch. Serve over rice.