What nurse doesn't appreciate a home-cooked dinner? It's the ultimate in stress relief and a mighty weapon in the war against fast-food meals. When you're faced with meal prep after a 12-hour shift, though, all those benefits can fade from mind.
It can even be difficult to get out the sheet pan instead of your hiking boots or the television remote on your day off. But some nurses do just that. They're not bragging or superior about it, but they do cook delicious dinners on a regular basis. And like all good nurses, they're willing to share their methods, from must-have ingredients to overcoming boredom and fast-food temptation. Because what good is a fabulous recipe if you aren't motivated to cook?
Here are four recipes from nursing colleagues at different stages of their cooking game, along with some tips for always being 20 minutes from a home-cooked meal when you walk through the door. Maybe tonight's the night you'll quit scarfing down half a bag of chips with salsa and calling it dinner...
Easy Chicken Rice Casserole
Hunter Stanford is a former ER Tech and recently earned his bachelor's of nursing from the University of North Florida. He knows how fast a student's food budget disappears. He's also always been dedicated to eating delicious stuff -- a habit formed growing up in a house with a dad who's a chef and culinary instructor. He loves this recipe from Delish.
"It's ideal for a student because it's a simple mix-and-go that doesn't dirty any extra dishes with pesky prep," he says. "Gather it all in the pan and toss it in the oven. I add chopped celery to give it some crunch, but you can add any vegetable you want for color or texture. The simplicity of the casserole allows for some wiggle room to help clear out anything going bad in your veggie bin."
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for baking dish
- 2 cups white rice
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 (10.5 ounces each) cans cream of mushroom soup
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 large bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley, for garnish
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with oil. Add rice, onion, broth, and soup and stir until combined. Season with salt and pepper.
- Place chicken thighs in rice mixture and brush with melted butter. Sprinkle with thyme and garlic, and season with salt and pepper.
- Cover dish with foil and bake for 1 hour. Uncover and bake 30 minutes more, until rice is cooked and chicken is golden. Garnish with parsley before serving.
Taco Spaghetti Squash Boats
Gwinnett Medical Center-Duluth ICU nurse Rita Pincumbe is an empty nester, but she still helps care for grandchildren who live nearby a day a week, so she looks for kid-friendly meals that adults will enjoy, too. She also puts a premium on good nutrition, since she runs 4 miles five mornings a week to train for marathons. This dinner recipe slightly tweaked from the Well Plated by Erin blog checks all those boxes, and it's simple to prepare.
For the squash:
- 3 medium spaghetti squash — about 2 pounds each
- 3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 3/4 teaspoons ground black pepper
For the filling:
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pound ground turkey or beef, at least 90% lean
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, cored and chopped
- 1 1/2 tablespoons ground chili powder
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 can black beans (15 ounces), rinsed and drained
- 1 can fire-roasted diced tomatoes in their juices (14 ounces)
- 3/4 cup freshly grated sharp cheddar, divided
- Slice squash in halves and scoop out the seeds. Drizzle the fleshy sides with a half teaspoon of olive oil, season and place in a rimmed baking sheet with two tablespoons of water in the bottom. Bake 40-45 minutes at 400 degrees F. Set aside to cool.
- For the filling, saute ground meat, onion, bell pepper, chili powder, smoked paprika, cumin, salt and black pepper in a deep saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally to break up the meat. After five minutes, add black beans and tomatoes. Bring to a boil on high and cook five minutes until mixture is thickened and most of the liquid has cooked off. Add 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese.
- To assemble, shred and fluff the insides of the squash halves using a fork. You want to create a "nest" of spaghetti squash noodles. Divide the taco meat filling between the six squash halves. Place them on a large baking sheet, filling side-up, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
- Bake at 350 for 10 minutes until cheese is bubbly. Let cool for a few minutes, but serve hot, topped with chopped tomato or avocado if you wish.
Bacon and Eggs In Muffin Tins
When North Carolina correctional nurse John Martin wants a quick dish that's still delicious for himself or his wife Beatrice, this is his go-to:
"Put a slice of bacon in a muffin pan, wrapping around the side of each individual spot. Mix one egg like you are making scrambled eggs for each, topping with shredded cheese. Bake until the bacon is cooked. Serve with sourdough bread."
John Martin's Riff on Moo Shu Pork
1 pound ground pork sausage ("I use spicy Italian or sometimes link sausage I break apart and cook.") Add a bag of coleslaw mix and 1/2 cup of hoisin sauce. Mix well as it cooks. Add a bag of snow peas (sliced length-wise) on top. Then, top with spaghetti noodles or butternut squash noodles and mix in 2 tablespoons of chili garlic sauce. Serve in bowls.
Must-haves for quick dinner prep
Martin also explains that part of making dinner happen when you're a busy nurse is stocking certain ingredients that make it much simpler to cook instead of reaching for the takeout menu.
Here's his list of "great items for all kitchens."
- Minced garlic, bottled
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
- Balsamic vinegar ("We get ours by mail from Salumeria Italiano in Boston," he explains.)
- Basic spices like thyme, oregano and paprika, and one or two "special spice blends that fit your tastes."