Week of Thanksgiving: Meal Planning Monday Week 10

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.

Thanksgiving Abundance

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,
  • traditional stuffing,
  • mashed potatoes,
  • 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)

Roasted Turkey

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.

Random tangent:

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!

Meal Planning This Week

Monday (a busy night): Cauliflower Fried Rice with Chicken

Tuesday (a busy night): Shepherd’s Pie (working on a recipe with ground beef, mushrooms, beef broth, veggies and garlic mashed potatoes)

Wednesday (traveling): Dinner at Mom’s when we arrive (or I would plan on leftovers from Shepherd’s Pie)

Thursday:  MOM’S THANKSGIVING FEAST!

Friday: After-Thanksgiving Creamy Turkey and Rice Soup (no photo yet, but here’s the recipe. “What can I say, except you’re welcome?!”)

Buon Appetito!

Cooking Down: Meal Planning Monday Week 9

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!)

Tuesday (a busy night): Leftover Instant Pot Balsamic Pork Tenderloin, creamed spinach (with frozen spinach), and leftover roasted root vegetables

Wednesday: Slow Cooker Whole Chicken (from the freezer) with Seasoning Salt, caprese salad with fresh mozzarella (from my The Neighborhood Harvest delivery), and whole green beans (from the freezer)

Thursday (a busy night): Brunswick Stew (from the freezer)

Friday: Slow Cooker Chicken Fajitas (from the freezer), served over lettuce and topped with shredded cheese, chopped avocado and sour cream

Buon Appetito!

Easy, Real Comfort Foods: Meal Planning Monday Week 8

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!

A hearty beef stew, like my mom used to make
An Italian Tuscan bean soup that reminds me of friends we met in Japan and our time in Italy
A Mediterranean frittata that reminds me of my Greek heritage

 

 

 

 

 

And my version of a chicken pot pie that my friend Kathy shared after the birth of my second daughter on Nov. 12th, 11 yrs ago

Meal Planning This Week

Monday (a busy night): Instant Pot Beef Stew (leftover from Sunday)

Tuesday (no school, but a busy night): Instant Pot Tuscan Bean, Vegetable and Bread Soup (adapting this recipe to make a bread-free version)

Wednesday:  “Brinner”–Mediterranean Caramelized Onion, Zucchini, Tomato and Feta Frittata 

Thursday (a busy night): Leftovers (Tuscan soup)

Friday: Chicken Pot Pie (with a single top crust)

Buon Appetito!

Halloween: Meal Planning Monday Week 7

Not gonna lie, barely holding it together this Monday. Thus, the late evening Meal-Planning Monday post. But trust me, Halloween meal planning is worth the wait!

Monday has gotten away from me, but it sure was productive, which is good.  I really needed to kill it today! Because the week is only getting busier as the days go on.

  • Tomorrow: oldest daughter’s turning 13!
  • Wednesday: Halloween festivities!
  • Thursday: major house cleaning (see Friday) and recipe development projects.
  • Friday: video interview in my home for a military professional spouse project.

So, I had to get a plan together quickly to–you guessed it–prevent chaos.  I hope these meal plans spark some festive or seasonal ideas and help you stay sane, too!

Meal Planning This Week

Monday (a busy night): Instant Pot White Chicken Chili (a new real-food, gluten-free, dairy-free recipe; to be posted soon!) Tip: I made this at 2pm and kept it on warm until 6pm.

Tuesday (a busy night and my oldest’s birthday dinner request): Mom’s Pot Roast (bonus my mom’s visiting to make it for us), Instant Pot mashed potatoes, and green beans.

Wednesday (Halloween): Chili at my neighbors; I’m bringing a large simple salad to share and one of my many festive real-food Halloween treats–not sure which one yet!

Thursday (a busy night): Leftovers!

Friday: Instant Pot Lemon Chicken Piccata with roasted winter vegetables (I’m working on developing a new winter vegetable recipe collection for OnTrack Diabetes; if you like plant-based eating, you may want to check out the easy vegan recipes I recently developed for them!)

Buon Appetito and Happy Halloween!

Digging Deep: Meal Planning Monday Week 6

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.

I can reuse recipes, or peruse Pinterest (Try this Healthy Recipe Board). But whatever I do–I cannot bear the idea of scrambling last minute.

So, this is what I came up with for the week. I hope it helps inspire you to maintain some order while feeding your family some nourishing easy, real food.

New Fashioned Meatloaf

Meal Planning This Week

Monday (a holiday): New-Fashioned Meatloaf (doubling recipe to bring a freezer-friendly meal to a friend traveling for a funeral), mashed potatoes, and green beans

Tuesday (a busy night): Dinner (pizza) out at the Elementary School’s Roller Skating Party

Wednesday: Instant Pot French Dip Sandwiches (recipe to follow) and salad

Thursday (a busy night): From the Freezer: Slow Cooker Chicken Burrito Bowls 

Friday: Baked Salmon with Dill Butter, Butternut Squash Gratin (Doubling recipe to bring a batch to a neighbor’s Oyster Roast on Saturday), and roasted broccoli

Butternut Squash Gratin

Buon Appetito!

One-Parent-is-Away Meal Plans: Meal Planning Monday Week 5

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.

Thursday (a busy night): Leftover night

Friday: Homemade pizza night (with whole-wheat flatbread and Califlour crusts)

Buon Appetito!

Flexible Meal Plans: Meal Planning Monday Week 4

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!

Meal Planning This Week

Monday (a holiday): Blue Cheese Bacon Burger Salad

Tuesday (a busy night): Baked Salmon with Dill Butter, Roasted Asparagus, and a simple salad

Wednesday: Baked Acorn Squash with Sausage Stuffing, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, and a simple salad

Thursday (a busy night): Instant Pot Chicken and Wild Rice Soup and a simple salad

Friday: Leftover soup and salad (TGIF!)

Buon Appetito!

 

Week 2: Meal Planning Monday

Happy Meal Planning Monday!

It’s that time again–time to get easy, real-food meals planned to stay sane this week…through the rest of September.

I, for one, am taking it one week at a time. We survived our first full week of school last week (it was delayed with 4 days off school, thanks to Hurricane Flo.) Of course, this week promises to be just as busy. So, bring on the slow cooker and Instant Pot meals!

If you don’t have an Instant Pot, don’t worry. Most Instant Pot meals can be slow cooked and vice versa. If you have both, decide whether you want to be fixing the meal early in the day or later in the day.

Personally, I also don’t like to slow cook in my Instant Pot, because, for whatever reason, it is a lot slower than my slow cooker. So, since I am accustomed to my trusty slow cooker, I’m not parting with it–even though I have an Instant Pot and my slow cooker handles have fallen off and the lid has been replaced once). It has earned its keep.

Hoard kitchen appliances much? Maybe…but only the useful ones. Haha.

Meal Planning This Week:

Monday (a busy night): Fresh-caught grilled tuna (from a neighbor), Asian peanut cole slaw, and brown short-grain rice (I’ll post a recipe/photo of the cole slaw on the recipe page after tonight!)

Tuesday (a busy night): Slow Cooker (or Instant Pot) Meatballs with Spaghetti Squash (you can use zoodles or pasta, if you prefer.)

Wednesday: Dinner at church and then packing 30,000 meals for Rise Against Hunger (I would otherwise be making enough meatballs to have leftovers.)

Thursday (a busy night): Sheet Pan Italian Sausage, Pepper and Zucchini Bake

Friday: Trying out these vegan, gluten-free Spicy Chickpea Veggie Burgers (from Running on Real Food) with Roasted Vegetables (I will separately roast eggplant and tomato, so eggplant gets nice and crispy!)

Buon Appetito! As always, please leave your comments or questions. Did you try any recipes from last week? Do you have any special requests or dietary restrictions you need to work around? Let me help!

Meal Planning Mondays Start This Week!

Weekly meal planning is near and dear to my heart. You’ve heard me say I feel strongly about the meal-planning process, and you can read more about my tips for meal planning in this post.

So, meal planning for dinner is something I do pretty regularly, although never 100% of the time.

But when I don’t do it, I always regret the chaos that ensues. I’m left scrambling during the busiest time of day (3 to 7 pm for me) to make sure what I’m eating and feeding my family is as nourishing as possible. Can you relate?

You could say there are two kinds of people in the world (actually, I think this trick works for most topics, LOL):

  • those who have realistic menu plans, and
  • those who don’t (meaning, either they’re not realistic OR they didn’t bother at all!)

I care about you, so I’d really like us to be in the “realistic menu plan” camp together–which is why I’m always talking about my easy, real food recipes.

But even as an RD, it’s still hard to pull meals together every week, so I’ve decided to share my personal weeknight meal plans with you on “Meal Planning Monday.” I don’t want you to follow it exactly, but rather use it as a tool (along with my recipes) to get ideas for planning your own easy, real food weeknight meals.

Bonus: sharing here will help keep me on track for my own family!

Meal Planning This Week:

Monday (a busy night): B’s “Gonna Get Through This” Chili (from the depths of the freezer, found thanks to Hurrican Flo!)

Tuesday (a busy night): leftover Brunswick Stew from the weekend, and a simple salad

Wednesday: Simple Salmon Cakes with Tatziki, and a simple salad

Thursday (a busy night): a Tofu Stirfry (sorry no recipe yet, creating a new recipe and testing it on my family!)

Friday: Homemade pizza with Califlour Foods plain crust (sampled these crusts at the AADE Conference–yum! And no, I don’t get any financial compensation!)

Buon Appetito! And don’t forget to let me know which recipes have inspired you in the comments! Next week I’ll be sure to include an Instant Pot and/or Slow Cooker option…

Patriotic Red, White and Blue Real Foods

When you’re searching for festive holiday foods, the Internet (Pinterest) is full of creative hacks, but most festive recipes contain a variety of processed foods full of artificial colors, preservatives and flavors.  Fourth of July food inspiration is no different–you won’t find too many easy, patriotic red, white and blue REAL FOODS for you to enjoy with your family…

Well, I like to play with my food as much as the next mom (maybe more since I’m a dietitian), but I prefer to work with nature’s ingredients as much as possible.  I think it can be even more creative and just as fun!  And it’s certainly healthier for everyone involved.  That’s why I am sharing several of my favorite patriotic foods with you this Independence Day.

Yes, some are treats and some even contain sugar, but a non-diet approach works best when it includes the freedom to enjoy treats at times!  (Click on photos to link to recipes.)

Happy 4th of July! May you feel nourished every day by the things that matter most, including freedom, gratitude, and time spent with friends and family around a table of good food!

Almond Flour Gluten Free Waffles with Red, White and Blue Fruit
Almond Flour Gluten Free Waffles with Red, White and Blue Fruit
Patriotic Seven-Layer Dip Flag
Patriotic Seven-Layer Dip Flag
Red, White and Blue Flag with Roasted Vegetables and Mozzarella
Patriotic Red, White and Blue Roasted Vegetable Flag with Mozzarella Cheese
Strawberry, Banana and Blueberry Fruit Flag
Patriotic Fruit Flag
Patriotic Red White and Blue Wine Spritz
Patriotic Red, White and Blue Wine Spritz
real fruit snow cone syrup
Real Fruit Snow Cone Syrup (No Artificial Colors)