Better Junk Food through Science

As you may know, I do the soccer-dad thing really badly. I do okay as a stay-at-home Dad—except that I always seem to be behind on the housework. But I am so glad I don’t own a minivan! I don’t know how I would cope if I had to cart the neighborhood kids around everywhere. Just dealing with my two plus one or two more (the most that can fit into our old Saturn sedan), just that overwhelms me sometimes. I tell my Beloved to take the car to work, in part because the alternative would be for me to spend 3 hours total driving her back and forth to work. But the real reason is because if I don’t have a car, I can’t be expected to taxi anyone anywhere!

I carry the really-bad-soccer-dad image into the kitchen, where the first thing you’ll notice is that I’m always behind on doing the dishes. The second thing you’ll notice is better-than-average junk food. I love to cook sometimes-elaborate meals, but I rarely have the time or energy. I do, however, throw together simple snacks (usually using prepackaged ingredients) with minimal preparation.

Ramen & Veggies

One of my favorite variations on a cheap classic, ramen noodles. Put a handful of frozen veggies into the boiling water and par cook for all but 3 minutes, then add the noodles. My favorite combinations:

[*] Assumes corn cooks in 3 minutes, and veggies and broccoli cook in 6-7 minutes. Check package for recommended cooking times, then subtract 3 minutes, so that the veggies cook for the total correct time and the noodles cook for 3 minutes.

Frozen Burritos

Frozen burritos are also a junk-food staple in our house, the kind of burrito that you microwave on high for 2 minutes— Or according to my recommendation, 1 minute per side.

The kids are happy just to microwave and eat, but I love adding tomato sauce, salsa, or cheese. Or even a little cumin inside (because I love cumin). For a crappy beef burrito covered with melted cheese, microwave on high for 1 minute, flip, sprinkle on grated cheese, and microwave for another minute.

Frozen McDonald’s Cheeseburgers

And since I’m talking about frozen beef-and-cheese snacks, I might as well mention this one, which a bachelor friend of mine discovered during our younger years. Not a combination like the others on this page, but unusual enough.

Buy a bunch of McDonald’s cheeseburgers for a dollar apiece (or whatever they go for), bring them home, and throw them in the freezer. When you want one, microwave on high for a minute, flip it over, and microwave for another minute (a minute per side, 2 minutes total, just like a frozen burrito). Yum.

EZ Homemade Salsa & Nachos

Corn chips and salsa is an old family favorite. While salsa does come in jars, it’s pretty expensive (considering the cost of the ingredients), and I think most brands of salsa get boring pretty quickly. So I’ve developed a quick & easy homemade salsa (which the kids don’t go for so much, but it satisfies my cravings and those of the Missus).

Start with a can of petite-diced tomatoes (with or without jalapeños), and mix in one or more of the following:

They say you should let the salsa sit for a while in the refrigerator to let the flavors merge, but I find that I can enjoy it almost immediately after mixing… and I often end up making enough to leave some in the refrigerator until later. The simplest variation of this is just a bowl of plain petite-diced tomatoes with several dashes of hot sauce, a fine and simple salsa (especially if I have tomato cravings, probably because I’m low on potassium).

The corollary to salsa is, of course, nachos: Throw some yellow (or white) corn chips on a plate, and top with salsa (optional) and grated cheese. Microwave a minute or two, until the cheese melts.

(I find that the cheapo store-brand corn chips work perfectly well for this application, by the way. So I don’t bother to pay the premium for name-brand in this case.)

Mashed Potatoes or Stuffing, & Gravy

I’m talking about instant mashed potatoes (from potato flakes), instant stuffing, and canned (or jar) gravy. My daughters don’t care for instant mashed potatoes, and I usually don’t care for stuffing. But between the lot of us, we finish off them both. A simple, classic side-dish turned into a snack.

Prepare just one or two servings in the microwave, following the directions on the package. Top with gravy from a jar or can.

(One of these days, I’m going to try to make potatoes au gratin in the microwave with grated cheese. Haven’t gotten there yet.)

Microwave Baked Potato

Of course, if you hate potato flakes (like my daughters), you can prepare a baked potato in the microwave fairly quickly and easily.

Wash & scrub a medium russet potato to remove any dirt or schmutz on the skin. (That itself may disqualify this one from being a true junk food.) Poke the skin with a fork, and microwave on high for 7 minutes. Split and top with butter, sour cream, bacon bits, or whatever you like on your baked potato.

Cereal & Ice Cream

I used to do this more when I had ice cream in the house. I rarely have it in the freezer, because it disappears so quickly—and that can’t be good—that I don’t even bother to buy it anymore. But when we do have ice cream, I love to top my dry cereal with it, with milk, not all the time but as a dessert or other special treat. This of course is another classic, which I didn’t invent.

What are your favorite junk-food combinations?