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COVID-19 Dinn-ovation: Making Convenience Foods Better!

I’m hearing and reading about a mini-explosion in the popularity of already-popular convenience foods in the kitchens of COVID-19 home isolaters. I imagine that, like the virus, this is a second or third wave of popularity for these ‘instant’ wonders since the pandemic was officially declared earlier this year…

Home Made Ramen Bowl -

Whatever, I’m also seeing debates about whether these foods are actually healthy for folks to rely on if they – the folks – aren’t big on cooking and are taking the latest round of lock downs seriously. I refer to the ancient and venerable go-to meals millions of college students from 70s through the 2000s have relied on to slake their hunger pangs, when empty stomachs called: Instant Mac and Cheese and Instant Noodle Bowls.

Mac and Cheese has a long history…

Well, at least here in the West, where I remember guys (mainly single guys) buying the iconic Kraft Dinner (KD) product by the case as far back as the 1970s to get the best possible price (sometimes as low as $0.49 per box). And they ate the stuff, day and night, for days on end.

I also know Moms who have gotten frustrated to the point of near madness by the stubbornness of kids of all ages who demanded the quick, Cheesy dish over and over again, in spite of the fact that something more complex and arguably more satisfying was available. Not open for argument is the ‘fact’ that KD may not be the healthiest thing in the cupboard. And that concerns Moms and Dads who want the best for their kids. But it’s easy to enhance the stuff and make everybody involved happy. And remember: KD is now ‘clean’ – no added colours, flavours or preservatives. That alone is a major step ahead.

Give the addicts a healthier fix

Well, here’s a simple way to give the addicts their fix’. Just take a census of leftover supper ingredients in your fridge and some additional key ingredients you should always have in the house (see yesterday’s post). And be ready to add selected groupings of complementary goodies to your KD.

For example, any leftover, fully-cooked root veggies and meats can be added as simply as cutting them in bite-sized pieces, and dropping a few pieces of each on top of each bowl of hot-and-ready Mac and Cheese. Then fold the additions into the M&C. Add some Toasted Bread Crumbs or extra Shredded Cheese on top of it all, and garnish with a sprinkle of diced Scallions. Re-heat in the microwave if needed for a minute or two, then serve piping hot. Add Salt and Pepper as needed.

Something a little more interesting

A do-it-yourself version of the equally iconic Instant Ramen or Rice Noodle Bowl is as easy as buying a big bag of what ever instant Noodle you favour next time you’re at the Asian Grocery – or even your fave well-stocked neighbourhood supermarket. Pepare the bowl by adding a nice handful of the dry Noodles and a dessert spoonful of Miso, the universal Asian fermented Soy Paste flavour base. Pour boiling water over and stir until the Miso is dissolved.

Then dress it up with a splash of Light Soy Sauce, Thai Fish Sauce, Hot Chili Oil or whatever to add colour and flavour. Slice your larger pieces of leftover Veg and Meat into thin slices, which will be much more chopstick-friendly (assuming your family likes to use chopsticks). You can also add small cubes of Tofu (Soy Bean Curd) if you like. I always add a sprinkle of crispy Fried Noodles plus a good spoonful of diced Scallions as top-dressing for Noodle bowls, and to add extra flavour and texture.

Making your own Noodle bowls is a lot cheaper then relying on ready-made ones, the flavour is customizable, and the overall dish is fresher and healthier. And ‘home made’ Noodle Bowls should not take too much longer to make then prepared ones. Do NOT add any salt until you taste the finished product. The Miso, Soy and/or Tofu will bring a fair amount of Salt (and/or MSG) with them…

My take

This is, as far as I’m concerned, the only way to make these ages-old heat-and-go mini-meals. And never lose sight of the fact that they can be made fresher and healthier than their commercial counterparts. No added flavours or colours, and you control the Salt. What could be better?

~ Maggie J.

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