“There is a beauty to simple food, and your body thanks you for it,” says Richa. Her belief is that the food made with real ingredients tastes superior and lighter and makes you more energetic. Richa loves to cook, especially exploring and experimenting with new type of produce. Her biggest drive to make her own meals is to have complete ownership of what she is putting in her body.
Richa Sardana/Biology Post-doctoral Researcher
How many hours do you work (on average) on weekdays/weekends?
55-60 hours (weekdays)/2-3 hours (weekends)
Are you food choices & preparation influenced by any food philosophy, person, or books?
Growing up in India, my mom cooked fresh meals. Eating fresh produce bought the same day was such an intrinsic part of our lifestyle that I never appreciated its importance until I moved to the US. Life as a graduate student was so busy that there were periods of time when I cooked little, which resulted in either missing meals or eating mostly at cafes on campus. But I always felt this approach was not sustainable or realistic. And more importantly, my body deserved to be treated well. I also took up long distance running around the same time and felt it was important to eat healthier and balanced meals. I would sometimes stop by the farmers market in Austin and loved the option of buying local and fresh produce. But my love for Farmers markets really evolved when I moved to California. There was a local Farmers market in the parking lot next to our neighborhood Trader Joe’s. So every Sunday, we would walk down to the Farmers market- buy fresh produce and prepared food for brunch and then buy other groceries for the house from TJ’s. Initially it was fun, but the food also tasted so much better (made from fresh ingredients) that I did not feel like going back to packaged food. This rekindled and reinforced my love for fresh food. I really feel very strongly about eating home-cooked meals using fresh produce and supporting locally-grown foods. To that end, during June-November, I get my vegetables, fruits, and bread from local CSAs (also see: Five Reasons to Join a CSA). I also shop at the local co-op, GreenStar and Wegmans. During the winter months, I try to include fresh and seasonal veggies as much as possible in my cooking; although, it is not always possible. I love to have fun with the new types of fruits and veggies I get in my CSA share; therefore, a lot of my cooking is experimental and simple.
How do you fit cooking into your daily schedule?
Since I have little time during the week, I do bulk cooking on the weekend–either Saturday or Sunday. Both Sid (Richa’s husband) and I cook together to make it more manageable and quick. It takes both of us around three hours to cook, where we make 2-3 dishes, enough for weekday dinners and my lunches. I also make homemade granola in bulk about every three weeks.
Breakfast: On weekdays, we have granola with milk. On weekends, we would sometimes make something Indian–poha (beaten rice pilaf) or sabudana khichdi (tapioca dish cooked to the consistency of slightly wet pilaf) or grilled cheese–and always have it with chai (Indian tea). Our breakfasts tend to be light.
Lunch: Sid usually eats weekday lunches out. I used to eat my lunch out as well. However, going out to buy lunch always felt like a hassle. Cafeterias tend to be very busy and crowded around lunch time, the portion sizes were usually too large and it was not possible to control all the ingredients in the meal. So I have been taking homemade lunches for the past year. I experienced two positive things out of it: one, I have complete control over how much and what I eat and second, it saves time and I can take 30 minutes out of the busy day to eat lunch with a co-worker. It has almost become a ritual now, which energizes me well for the rest of the day. On weekends, we cook fresh lunch both days or sometimes eat out.
Dinner: Dinner on weekdays is usually pre-prepared (on weekends) that literally takes a few minutes to heat up. If we run out of leftovers, I would make a simple dinner with whatever is in the fridge or eat out. I usually stock up on seasonal produce, which helps me put together a quick meal. On weekends, we cook fresh and eat out one dinner at a favorite restaurant.
Snack: I usually don’t buy or make snacks. But I try to come up with small snacks sometimes, especially if I am experimenting with a fruit or veggie. For example, once I got quince (fruit) in my (CSA) fruit share, which I had never tried before. Raw quince is a green-yellow fruit which turns into a resplendent red upon cooking. I experimented with a recipe to make quince paste that tasted delicious on crackers with cheese. And it comes in handy as a small snack when we are waiting for the food to be ready or on weekends.
Pre-prep: I sometimes soak lentils and beans on Fridays to cook during the weekend.
How much time do you spend per day on average on preparing meals including cleaning?
How many grocery trips do you do in a week? How much time do you spend per trip?
Do you pre-plan your menu before you go to the grocery store?
What are your favorite places to eat?
We usually go to local restaurants that serve fresh and flavorful food. My favorites are Hawi Ethiopian, Ithaca Farmers Market (in season), Bickering Twins. Sometimes I order Parathas (an Indian veggie-stuffed flat bread) from New Delhi Diamonds.
What is a favorite dish you like to make?
TLC Observation: What makes Richa’s meal preparation sustainable?
Here are some observations from Richa’s meal-preparing practices that provide actionable insights for making healthy meal preparation sustainable:
Teamwork: Richa and Sid try to make most meals together. Not only does shared responsibility make the cooking workload lighter, it also creates a resonance between partners and increases the appreciation for the effort that goes into cooking.
Simple and spontaneous menu: Richa’s mantra on eating home-cooked meals while being crazily busy is to cook as simple as possible. To achieve that, she also has ingredients that don’t need pre-preparation. For example, she always has some canned beans at home to put together a quick meal with vegetables.
Make cooking fun, creative, and adventurous: Richa loves cooking. Not only because it is a means to feed the body, but it also gives her an opportunity to experiment with and invent new flavors by combining different fresh and packaged ingredients. Therefore, she approaches cooking not as a drudgery but a fun-filled adventure.
- Bulk cooking: if your weekdays look like 12+ hours a day, cooking a few simple dishes on weekend for weekday lunch/dinner is a good way to save time and energy during the weekdays.
- Online grocery shopping: Often times, driving to a grocery store accounts for majority of grocery shopping time. Therefore, identifying ingredients that can be shopped online can save time
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] We would love to feature your picture, but if you are camera shy, we can also share the photo of your favorite recipe that you like to cook.
Richa Sardana--this month's guest on Busy People Cook series--shares her recipe for Homemade Granola.
- 7 cups old fashioned rolled oats
- 1 cup walnuts (chopped)
- 1 cup dried fruits
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1/4 cup butter (salted variety)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tbsp ginger powder (optional)
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
- 1 overripe banana (thinly sliced, optional)
- 1 tbsp cacao nibs (optional)
- 2 tbsp dark chocolate (pieces)
- 1 tbsp ancient grains** (optional)
Preheat oven to 400°F (~205°C).
Grind about 1/3-1/2 of the oats (about 3 cups) in a blender to a flour like consistency. This will help in binding the granola clusters together. If you don't like granola chunks or clusters, you can skip this step.
In a large bowl, mix the oats (whole as well as the ground), ginger powder and cinnamon.
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine maple syrup, honey, butter and water. Heat until the butter has completely melted. Add vanilla extract. Pour this over the oats and stir to mix well. Let stand about 5-10 minutes.
Spread the mixture over a large baking sheet. Spread thinly sliced banana evenly over the mixture. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven, mash the bananas to help dissolve and the break the clusters into smaller clumps. Bake for another 15-20 minutes.
Remove from oven. Stir to mix. Spread nuts, berries on top of the mixture. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven, the granola should be nice and golden brown. Sprinkle the seed mix, cacao nibs and dark chocolate morsels. Let cool completely and store in a covered container at room temperature. Enjoy!
*I use a mix of cherries, blueberries and raisins
**I use a mix of millet, red quinoa, amaranth, chia & flex seeds