Recognized as one of the top 100 pediatricians in the Bay Area during 2014-17, Anika chooses no other alternative (such as eating out regularly or pre-prepared processed food) to home-cooked meals for her family. Despite being a busy physician and mom, she readily invests time and energy in cooking “meals from scratch” for the family.
How many hours do you work (on average) on weekdays/weekends?
30 hours during the week/4 hours weekend including being on call.
Are your food choices & preparation influenced by any food philosophy, person, or book?
Growing up in an Indian family, I was inspired by my mom, who cooked a lot of Indian food from scratch including homemade snacks and sweets. As an adult, I am inspired by various family and friends including my sister-in-law Garima and my friend Rosita, who owns a Nepali restaurant in Seattle. Rosita prepares foods from scratch for home as well as for her restaurant. A lot of awareness about making healthy food choices came from my medical school education and residency training. There I learned how genetics and lifestyle both are important in determining our overall health and diseases. I have a strong family history of diabetes and so during residency I decided to stop drinking soda or sugary drinks. That was 20 years ago and so far I don’t have diabetes. Little changes we make at a young age have a positive exponential affect in the long run. This is what I tell my pediatric patients. So a combination of positive role models of family and friends and my education motivates me to regularly commit time and energy toward cooking healthy meals at home. For example, I make my own pizza/pasta sauce and try to avoid processed food as much as possible. I am also not a big fan of canned products as they are processed and do not taste fresh. I also like to include a lot of seasonal and locally-sourced vegetables in my cooking.
How do you fit cooking into your daily schedule?
Breakfast/lunch: I wake up early in the morning and head to the kitchen. The morning cooking entails making a big breakfast for everyone and lunch for my two kids. On the days I work long hours, I also do dinner prep in the morning. Weekday breakfasts may include oatmeal, eggs, yogurt with granola, fruit and yogurt shake and there is always cut up fruit. For school lunches I generally make cheese and bean quesadilla, cream of wheat uttapam, or sandwiches. Again they always get fruit with their lunches. Srinath and I pack our own lunches and usually take leftovers. Sometimes we also eat out for lunch.
Dinner:The days I work long hours, my dinner prep starts the night before. For example, for taco night, I soak the beans a night before and then I prepare the beans in the morning while making breakfast. For pizza night, I pre-prep the sauce either on the weekend or a night before and make the pizza dough in the morning. Both days, Srinath puts the dinner together, which due to pre-prep takes only 30 minutes in the evening. On the shorter working days, I cook the dinner in the evening. It’s usually Indian dals and curries, Asian stir-fry, quick greens (kale or spinach) and cheese enchilada, or soup. After cooking the same recipes over and over again, it takes a lot less effort in making them. This is why I avoid cooking a new recipe on a weekday.
Snack: I usually buy energy bars (such as Cliff bars) as on-the-go snack. They work great if the kids have sports practice. I also make a batch of whole-grain muffins or cookies for one week. I also keep fruit stored on the counter-top to eat as anytime snack.
Prep time: Prep time usually means making fresh pizza sauce and dough ahead by a day. Also I soak my beans and grains the day before. In general soaking beans and grains is healthier in terms of making the foods more digestible and clean of toxins. I usually don’t make large batches of food. That means less fresh to me.
How much time do you spend on average on preparing meals including cleaning?
Weekdays: total of 2.5 hours per day—1.5 hours in the morning and about 1 hour in the evening (including cleaning). Weekend: 2-3 hours per day if trying a new recipe.
Do you pre-plan your menu before going grocery shopping?
I don’t pre-plan menus as I have pretty much the fixed menu every week. I usually have a list of items before going main grocery shopping. When I try a new dish on a weekend, I would make a trip just then if I don’t have something in my pantry.
How many trips and time/trip do you spend on doing grocery?
I do my big grocery shopping not on weekends as I am often on call, but on a weekday I don’t work. I usually make a back-of-the-envelope grocery list after checking my pantry and refrigerator. On my main grocery trip, I stay focused on my list and spend 30-45 minutes. If I need something for my weekend recipe trial, I just get it at that time.
What are your favorite places to eat?
We eat out once a week: on weekends. We as a family like to explore new restaurants. Personally, I like to check out the restaurant menu online before choosing to eat there. I try to find a balance of healthy and tasty. Some of our favorite restaurants are Lilly Kai (Chinese), Samauri (Japanese), Vege grill, and Tamalpie (Italian).
What is a favorite dish you like to make?
My favorite cuisine is Mediterranean. I like to make my own falafel balls and have them with homemade hummus and vegetables in a pita bread.
TLC Observation: What makes Anika’s meal preparation sustainable
Here are some observations from Anika’s meal-preparing practice that provide actionable insights for making healthy meal preparation sustainable:
Team work:While Anika cooks most of the meals, Srinath helps by cooking breakfast on weekends and putting dinner together on Anika’s two longer working days. He also help on weekdays with non-cooking chores in the kitchen. Of course, Srinath’s contribution of finding and buying new cookbooks, which ensures diverse and tasty recipes on the table, is invaluable.
Awareness about eating healthy: Anika, primarily through her medial training, has high awareness about eating healthy. She prepares most meals from scratch, using dry grains (compared to canned). She also prepares many sauces (pizza/pasta) from scratch as well. Fruits are ever present during breakfast and snack time and meals are very much veggie-centric.
Learn cooking: As Rome was not built in a day, Anika learnt her cooking over a number of years through a number of influences—family and friends, reading a lot of recipes in cookbooks and the Internet. “It requires a lot of patience, but it pays off big time,” says Anika.
Finding joy in trying a new recipe: Anika tries a new recipe when she has more time at hand and finds it an enjoyable experience. If everybody in the family likes the recipe, it slowly becomes part of the regular menu. Therefore, investing time in looking at cookbooks/blogs/Internet with recipes that align with your food philosophy and practice can offer new recipe ideas that may become part of everyday cooking.
Cooking per the work schedule: Anika has created a meal-preparing schedule that works in lockstep with her working schedule.
Fixed menu: this is the biggest time saving factor. Making a new recipe takes time.
Cook the same recipe every week: after making a recipe multiple times it cuts down on the mental as well as the physical cooking time. It becomes an easy routine, much like brushing teeth.
Staying focused in grocery store: Grocery-shopping time can easily balloon out of proportion. Staying focused on her list while doing grocery saves time.
Pre-Prep a night before: Soaking beans and making pizza sauce in advance helps in getting the dinner on table on time despite a busy schedule.
Busy People Cook:
This “once a month” feature gets a glimpse into the lives of people who are busy, working full time often raising kids, but still make time to prepare healthy meals. If you would like to share your meal preparation practices/philosophy in the “Busy People Cook” section, please write to us at [email protected]
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- 1 cup garbanzo beans (dried, can sub with 16 oz. can of garbanzo beans)
- 1 onion large, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1 tsp ground coriander seeds
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 2 tbsp flour (can be either all-purpose flour or garbanzo bean flour for gluten-free option)
- 1 tsp salt or to taste
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 cups fresh parsley finely chopped, can sub with fresh cilantro
- 2 cups avocado oil (or any other)
Place dried chickpeas in a bowl, covering with cold water. Allow to soak overnight. Omit this step if using canned beans.
Drain chickpeas and process in a food processor with enough water to make the batter soft and not crumbly. It should be a thick paste. Put aside in a bowl.
Next food process the garlic, onion, parsley until fine. Combine chickpeas, garlic, onion, coriander, cumin, salt and pepper in medium bowl. Add flour. Mix well. Form the mixture into small balls, about the size of a ping pong ball. Slightly flatten.
Fry in 2 inches of oil at 350 degrees until golden brown (5-7 minutes). Serve hot with pita bread and salad. Enjoy!
Protein: 3gSodium: 401mgPotassium: 196mgFiber: 2gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 1685IUVitamin C: 27.8mgCalcium: 46mgIron: 2.3mg