Sometimes you just need options. And flexible ones. By now even if you’ve tried some of my recipes, you may have noticed it’s not ideal following someone else’s (my) meal plans! I actually feel strongly about why you should meal plan for yourself.
You are not me. We are not the same. And that is ok. I don’t provide meal plans for you to mimic week after week. Rather, I hope you look at my meal plans to get recipe ideas and to make real food a priority and a weekly habit.
This week is a short meal planning week for me because my kids and I are leaving Thursday to visit my sister in D.C. and tour the White House, the Capitol and the FBI building (where she works).
So, instead of showing you what I’m eating (nothing spectacular, mostly leftovers from the weekend)–I’m giving you some of my most popular easy, real food recipes in these five categories: Instant Pot, Slow Cooker, Ground Beef, Vegetarian, and Fish.
Last night was the first night of Hanukkah. You may know I’m not Jewish, but I do love eating my way around the world and enjoying traditional foods of other cultures. I think it’s the best way to get to know people who are different than ourselves while relating–because in many ways we are the same.
Whatever our culture, we all have values and beliefs that are important to us…and we all eat. It makes the world feel a little smaller when we are able to respect others’ values and beliefs even if we don’t share them. (As the original melting-pot culture, we could do this more often!)
And when we show interest in others, share a table together, and try new things, we are making ourselves vulnerable and well, life meaningful!
Frankly, sometimes what we eat isn’t even all that different–I find that so comforting! Or maybe it’s just the carbs…but take bread, for example. I love how many cultures have some version of a food that is traditional and similar, yet different.
Pita bread (Greek or Middle Eastern),
the spongy (Ethiopian) flatbread called injera
and of course, America has corn bread…or Wonder bread (kind of embarrassing, but it’s probably most representative of our culture)?
Well, then there’s also Jewish challah bread. My daughter has a new friend from school who is from Israel, and her mother shared this delicious freshly-baked loaf of challah with me last Friday! And these new friends also invited us into their home this week to share a meal to learn more about how they celebrate Hanukkah…such a generous invitation and I am really looking forward to it!
Of course you may have noticed I don’t eat a lot of bread because I try to avoid overly processed and refined carbohydrates. So when I do, it has to be worth it…this is worth trying and I’m hoping I have time to make French toast out of it for “brinner” (breakfast for dinner) on Friday (because my kids have been asking for French toast for a while).
But if you don’t have time for breadbaking this week, try these easy salmon potato cakes! The are a new, higher-protein take on potato latkes, a traditional Hanukkah food. Latkes are fried traditionally to commemorate the miracle of a one-day supply of oil lasting 8 days. So, these are still pan-fried in olive oil, because they taste best that way! But they come together quickly with canned sockeye salmon and you can use frozen hash browns if you like (I prefer fresh, but if I don’t have time I use Trader Joe’s brand because they are preservative free).
Ah, Thanksgiving 2018 has come and gone and now it’s Cyber Monday. If you’re too busy shopping online today (or just living your regular life) to plan this week’s meal–let alone cook–here’s hoping you still have leftovers. But if you are sick of turkey leftovers or even the turkey-stuffing-cranberry sandwiches (my favorite), creative leftovers can make you extra thankful…for the Thanksgiving meal that keeps on giving throughout your busy work week!
I am weirdly satisfied when I am able to use up foods I have in the fridge. Is that a dietitian thing?! Or can you relate? Here’s my thinking:
Part of it is about making the most out of the meal to use up natural resources (i.e., the turkey and the vegetables).
Of course I’m also happy to create more meals from one holiday meal to stretch out the food savings.
But mainly I find it rewarding to create new meals–that my family members love and look foward to–out of tired, boring leftovers.
So, this week’s Meal Planning Monday inspiration is creative leftovers. Feel free to leave a comment about how you love using up your turkey and leftovers!
Meal Planning This Week
Monday (a busy night): Leftover Shepherd’s Pie (Gluten Free)–a new recipe! I froze half of this pie I made last week, but you could also use up leftover mashed potatoes and/or vegetables with this recipe.
Tuesday (a busy night): Leftover After-Thanksgiving Creamy Turkey and Rice Soup (new instructions for Instant Pot turkey bone broth!) Usually my husband makes this soup the Friday after Thanksgiving, but I waited till I got home to make it on Sunday so I could use my Instant Pot to speed up the broth step (while also being able to leave the house–win-win!)
Wednesday: Instant Pot Chicken/Turkey Enchilada Casserole Use turkey if you have it, or chicken. You make the meat filling and enchilada sauce for this casserole in the Instant Pot and then assemble it into a casserole. It can be made ahead; just keep it in the fridge till you bake it. Leftovers freeze well, too.
Thursday (a busy night): Chicken/Turkey Pot Pie This is a family favorite with chicken or turkey and even when we don’t have leftover cranberry sauce, we serve it with the pot pie–a guilty pleasure! I feel a little better only using one crust on top.
There are two kinds of people in America. Those who stay home this week and have to clean house, host guests and cook a feast…and those who have to travel, but don’t have to clean or cook!
I’m not sure which is worse. I’d say it depends on which day you travel and how far you’re going! Of course, both are good problems to have…
While my husband is deployed on a humanitarian mission this holiday season (aboard the USNS Comfort hospital ship in South America and Central America), it’s never been more evident to our family that we have too many blessings to count! However, being able to travel to my mom’s this week is definitely one of them.
We have lived overseas many years (seven) and we haven’t always been able to spend holidays with family. But for the 4th year in a row we are close enough to drive to my mom’s and that is a gift! Mostly because she’s family and we love her. But also because she makes an awesome Thanksgiving meal! And even though my trip likely will take longer than the usual 4 1/2 hours on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving…I’m super thankful I don’t have to clean my house or cook; it’s definitely a mini vacation for me!
Our Thanksgiving Food Traditions
My mom makes the full spread:
a roasted turkey,
from-scratch gravy from the drippings,
candied sweet potato halves,
mashed rutabaga (but we always call it turnip for some reason),
steamed green beans (for something green), and
creamed onions. (I remember being surprised when I learned my husband’s family also had this tradition, but I believe it is a New England thing.)
And then we always have the choice of whole berry OR jellied cranberry sauce (but only from the cans! Are you “team Ocean Spray” or “team homemade”? LOL)
Since we’ve been married, my husband started a new tradition for our family making a delicious spiced pumpkin pie and a heaping apple crumb pie. (I’m not a pie person, but the apple pie is especially amazing…not that you need help finding amazing desserts!) He’s not a baker, but the nostalgia of his grandmother’s holiday pies were his inspiration. (And conveniently enough after he perfected the recipes, somehow I’m the one who makes them most years…)
But my favorite of his creations is his After-Thanksgiving Creamy Turkey and Rice Soup. He loves using up “the rest of the turkey” and creating another hearty meal so much that he doesn’t mind spending Friday afternoon cooking while my sister and I usually visit an annual holiday craft fair. Several more blessings in all of that! (This year, I will be enlisting my girls’ help!)
Pre-Thanksgiving Meals: K.I.S.S.
Did you know that the K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) acronym originated in the Navy in 1960? Not sure if that explains a lot or begets more questions…but gotta love the Navy! And I am a fan of keeping things simple.
Back to my point:
For those of you cooking and even for those of us traveling, usually Monday through Wednesday before Thanksgiving needs to be E-A-S-Y! Pace yourself. Think minimal thoughts. Don’t be an overachiever on the pre-game meals! But as always, you don’t have to cut corners with processed foods to have convenient meals either. As inspiration, I usually try to use up things I have in the fridge before a big holiday and in this case, branch out from poultry!
Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you slow down to enjoy your family, your food and your good fortune. I’m grateful for your support and honored that I’m able to encourage you in your healthy lifestyle efforts!
Are you a moody eater? I am–and honestly it makes meal planning extra challenging sometimes! But my freezer is full and it’s time to focus on “cooking down.”
Hoard much? I don’t know about you, but every now and then I need to reorganize the freezer and make a list of what needs to be used up. I keep the list on a white board on the fridge, which helps hit me over the head with it. Sometimes (most times) I need that…
If you’re not familiar with cooking down, you can read more about it in this post. Chances are you do it already, but if you don’t, check out my tips to get you started!
In a nutshell:
Cooking down is using up what you have on hand to minimize waste while still preparing easy, real food for your family.
So, this week’s meal plans are inspired by my need to:
prepare mostly from-scratch easy, real food for my family (as usual),
cook down and make room in the freezer,
catch my breath from the “birthday sweeps,” and
brace myself for Thanksgiving and the holiday season!
Meal Planning This Week
Monday (no school, M’s birthday): Out for a sushi birthday dinner (fitting for my daughter who was born in Japan!)
Well, in case you were worried about me…I made it through my hectic week and I can honestly say that dinner never caused me stress, because I had a realistic plan. Well, that…and the fact that I had other people making dinner a couple of the nights. Heh. Back to reality this week.
But despite a loud sleepover birthday party with eight 7th graders Saturday night, my Sunday was relaxing enough to figure out the week’s meals. Winning! For now…but I’m definitely in the mood for some easy, real comfort food this week!
What Is “Easy, Real Comfort Food”?
The holiday season is here (as indicated by the arrival of Starbucks’ holiday drinks on Nov. 2, and no I haven’t had one yet)! And so is some cooler weather (in Virginia anyway)–so, bring on the easy, real comfort foods!
You know “comfort foods,” but you may not know “easy, real comfort foods.” I’m talking about foods that are:
easy enough to make during the week,
made from real food, not processed foods,
warm and hearty for the chilly weather,
and particularly nourishing to your body and soul.
Maybe you’ve eaten particular comfort foods throughout your childhood. Perhaps you ate a particular comfort food only one time, yet associate it with the memory of something positively wonderful in your life. It could be that you associate particular comfort foods with a particularly challenging time in your life. Or it’s possible you associate particular comfort foods with the seasons.
Either way, I believe comfort food is an integral part of life’s ups and downs–events or temperatures! But when did “comfort food” become synonymous with “guilty pleasure”?
Here’s the thing:
You don’t have to overindulge in overly processed foods to thoroughly enjoy your food. Easy, real comfort foods are guilt free, wholesome and real-food based, but most importantly they are easily enjoyable.
So, my meals this week include some of my favorite easy, real comfort foods that I hope you will try!
Ugh, I really don’t feel like meal planning today! Can you relate? We had a busy weekend with camping and birthday parties, and I have a busy week full of my projects and the kids’ activities. (And did I mention it’s just me and the kids?) Plus I’m feeling like I’m all out of meal planning ideas. Yes, it happens to dietitian bloggers, too. But…when I really stop and think about the alternative (not meal planning), I am always convinced to dig deeper.
Meal planning takes on a whole new vibe now that my spouse has left for an 11-week deployment on the USN Comfort Hospital Ship. I don’t mean to say it’s easier, just different because my audience has shifted a little. Usually, I cater to our adult tastes and preferences and the kids are along for the ride. But when B is gone, I realized today that I try to use meal planning as a way to bring some control to my kids’ lives, by allowing them to choose some of their favorite dinner options. (Within reason, of course!) And they seem to appreciate it. That’s what inspires this week’s One-Parent-is-Away Meal Plans.
And BTW, you don’t have to be military to appreciate that family meals can be a source of comfort, predictability and normalcy for kids!
Sometimes my kids’ choices are a little higher-carb than I typically prefer. For example, I did already promise them brinner (breakfast-for-dinner)–which means homemade pancakes or waffles–so you’ll see that on the menu below for this week.
But surprisingly, many of their favorites are some of my healthy favorites. For example, tonight they requested my Slow Cooker whole chicken sprinkled with homemade seasoning salt. I plan to roast a kobacha squash we picked up this weekend at the farm market after visiting the pumpkin patch. We’ll also have miso-roasted Brussels sprouts (because, shocker, we didn’t get around to eating them last week!)
The kids are handling the deployment like pros so far. Yes, maybe because it’s only the first week and we’re lucky we’ve only had one other long deployment in the past 13 years!
But we realize it could be a lot worse. So, we approach each day the only way we know how. We focus on and appreciate our family’s usual traditions (food-related or otherwise), which comfort us and sustain us one day at a time.
Meal Planning This Week
Monday (a holiday): Slow Cooker whole chicken with homemade Seasoning Salt (no other ingredients needed), roasted Kobacha squash and miso-roasted Brussels sprouts (recipes coming soon to the Recipe page!)
Tuesday (a busy night):Chicken Parmesan, fressh mozzarella caprese salad and roasted zucchini
Wednesday: Brinner (breakfast for dinner): I’m excited to finally try these Spelt Waffles created by my RD friend, Maria at Halsa Nutrition! I’ll serve them with a quick fresh fruit salad.
Maybe you consistently make meal plans. But do you always stick to them? Well, I feel now is a good time to let you know–at week four of my Meal Planning Monday series–I do NOT often stick to my meal plans. Realistic flexible meal plans are the key to stress-free weekday meals.
Life happens. You need to be flexible. Changing your meal plans is fine and to be expected!
It’s always better to have a flexible meal plan that you can change than to have no plan at all.
Last Week’s Flexible Meal Plans
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday went according to plan. (I can usually hold things together for three days!)
But we planned a last minute family photo shoot for Thursday evening (before my husband deploys this week for about 3 months). Although we planned on leftovers, at 6:45 pm when we finished up, we were hungry and decided to go for sushi.
Why? Because he’ll be stuck on a ship with limited food options AND because it sounded better to me than reheating and cleaning up. Win-win!
So, I moved Thursday’s leftover burrito bowls to Friday night’s menu.
But then on Friday…my lovely good friend of a neighbor next door surprised us with a tray of homemade chicken parmesan. This is actually one of my favorite meals ever; I always requested it as my birthday dinner from my mom growing up!
Hmmm, pop that pan in the oven to melt the cheese (while I open a bottle of wine) or reheat leftovers? No brainer.
So, the leftover burrito bowls got pushed back again and made for a great weekend lunch (and I had even put some in the freezer for a weeknight meal in the near future). Nothing was wasted, so I feel absolutely fine about the changes.
Truthfully, changes happen almost every week. But I continually try to plan meals that are flexible enough to allow for the inevitable change of plans. So, please don’t worry or give up if that happens to you, too!