By: Madeleine St. Marie

As a graduate student, I don’t have a lot of time. My 50-mile commute to school doesn’t help matters much, either. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come home after a nice long drive (complete with sitting in 101 northbound traffic) and just didn’t want to do anything, especially if that “anything” involved cooking myself something to eat.

I’m guessing there are lots of people like me, even if they aren’t graduate students: people who find that, when they finally get home after a long day, they don’t really feel like cooking. However, these people might possibly be hungry, or will get hungry before they recover from the daily grind. These people, like me, might eye the pizza delivery brochure or the In ‘n’ Out down the street with slightly stronger than ravenous desire.

Now, I am not going to be the person to tell you that cheating every once in a while on a food plan is a bad thing. I think it’s a hugely necessary part of maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle. But when you’re in a time crunch, I can guarantee that the first thing to go will be your meals. “Oh no,” I’ll say, “I need to get to class at 10 am and I didn’t have time for breakfast! I guess I’ll just hit the drive-thru…” Or I’ll get home, flop down on the couch and say, “Man, that was a long day. I’m starving.” And then I’ll pause, look at the kitchen and go, “I wonder how late that Chinese place is open.”

This becomes a pattern when my time becomes a limited resource. (That or, as I discussed last time, not eating enough, which can also fuel binging because you’re so ravenously hungry that you will most certainly eat that Double Double and animal style fries, thankyouverymuch.)

But of course, yes, there are ways in which to counteract this cycle of eating crappy food, and it involves two of my favorite culinary tools: the casserole dish and the crock pot.

The trick here is that when you cook with either of these tools, you’re not aiming for a single serving meal. You’re trying to make a meal that will have ample leftovers that you can store in your freezer or refrigerator for later use. Ideally, you can pop them in the microwave or on the stove when you had a long day or are too tired to cook after a workout. In general, you can store frozen items for up to 3 months, and if you get the right recipe, it’s bound to be infinitely tastier then any TV dinner you can buy from the freezer section of your friendly local supermarket.

Stacey has two recipes from her Recipe of the Week blog that are perfect timesavers during the week. The first one is a Gluten and Guilt Free Vegetarian Lasagna. This dish normally serves 4 people, so if your household would exhaust that number, you can easily double the recipe to make more servings to save for later. Stacey told me that the recipe tastes even better the next day because the ingredients get a longer chance to marinate together.

The second recipe is a Bean Chili that is both vegan and gluten free and serves 6 to 8. The recipe itself doesn’t call for a crock pot, but it’s easily modified to work with one (I seriously love my crock pot, so much so that I’ll probably have to devote an entire blog post to it sometime soon). You prepare the veggies as you would normally, softening them in a pan. But after that, you dump everything into your crock pot. Set the crock pot on low for 4 – 6 hours, and voila! Chili. The beauty of the crock pot is that you can do all this and then leave it alone to go run errands. Depending on the recipe, you can even throw a few things together before you go to work, and then come home to a simmering pot of deliciousness.

By planning ahead, even if it’s just during the weekend, and making the most out of leftovers from healthy dishes, you can avoid total takeout meltdown during the workweek. That Double Double is great every once in a while, but if you want to protect your waistline (and your pocketbook!), learn to love your leftovers.