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!

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!

 

Meal Planning Monday Week 3: Some Fall Foods!

Happy fall y’all!  October has arrived and right on cue, the morning air in Virginia Beach is cool as I meal plan on my screened-in back porch…although I’m sure the reprieve from the heat is temporary. I’m a fall person, so one can hope.  Anyone else?

Another sign of fall? We celebrated Oktoberfest this past weekend (most of which is technically celebrated in September, for the record) with a fun party in our backyard biergarten. This year’s party had about 45 adults and 40 kids running around!  SUPER thankful the weather was perfect since my house would have been CROWDED otherwise.

It’s always a good party when you put your phone down and ignore it for hours!  The down side is I was so busy and enjoying myself that I forgot to take even one photo!  So, here’s the bier tent from last year…

So, I’m especially tired this Meal Planning Monday, but serving you helps motivate me–I really hope it helps you!

And of course, the seasons inspire my meal planning, too.  I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for all sorts of fall foods for my meal plans!

So, we’ll start the week with Oktoberfest leftovers because it’s easy, and then finish on Friday with a pumpkin soup that I have missed. All. Year. Long.

Meal Planning This Week: Fall Foods

Monday (a busy night): Leftover brats (from our Oktoberfest party this weekend), Instant Pot sweet potatoes, and a simple salad

Note: My potatoes have a diameter of about 10 inches, so I cut them in half lengthwise and place on rack with 1 cup water, HP for 18 minutes, NPR 15 min. (For more help, use this IP sweet potato cooking guide.)

Tuesday (a busy night): Slow Cooker Burrito Bowls (served over lettuce and topped with avocado)

Wednesday: Garlic Shrimp with pan-fried zucchini topped with parmesan cheese, and a simple salad

Thursday (a busy night): Leftover Slow Cooker Burrito Bowls (the family never minds these leftovers!)

Friday: Harvest Pumpkin Soup and a simple salad

Buon Appetito! What’s your favorite fall food?

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…

Real Food Picnicking

Today is National Picnic Day! It’s probably no coincidence that National Picnic Day is in April. Spring picnics timed right practically guarantee the warmth of the sun on your face, a soft breeze stirring your hair, the rustling of leaves in the trees, and the fresh smell of new blossoms and cut grass. Mother Nature is rejuvenating herself and it’s hard not to notice and feel inspired!

There is nothing like eating natural (real) food in nature–that’s al fresco dining at its best! My family loved the cultural norms of eating fresh foods “in the fresh (air)” while we lived in Italy, but this time of year always takes me back to Japan. Cherry blossom season in Japan elevated picnicking to an artform–the sake is freeflowing, the delicacies are intricate, and both are to be enjoyed with friends under a canopy of beautiful sakura blooms celebrating the start of spring.

But you don’t have to leave the country to enjoy a spring picnic. Even in your own backyard, your real food picnic can be relaxing and provide nourishment well beyond the food. Because being outside just makes you feel better, doesn’t it? Why is that?! I think it’s partly because being outside makes you feel small in a big world; seasons come and go and weather changes daily and we are not in control. Yet, the fact that many aspects of nature function in an orderly way, without our input, is predictable, and therefore, comforting! Plus there are all those pretty views.

So, a picnic is the marriage of two of my favorite things: being outside and eating real food! But it can be stressful to feel pressured to make fancy foods and to literally haul a bunch of stuff outside to enjoy the meal. It doesn’t have to be stressful, if you keep things simple.

Three Tricks to A Stress-free Picnic

  1. Use real foods you have on hand or items you usually make.
  2. Finger foods are easiest for everyone (and may even eliminate the need for plates and utensils–hey, every day is Earth Day)!
  3. Sometimes you just need to find a different way to transport (i.e., mason jars or skewers) the same easy, real foods you usually enjoy!

Here are some of my favorites:

Real Food Picnic Ideas

Happy picnicking! Grab a blanket and get ready to embrace some serenity today, even if it’s in your backyard or on the floor of your living room (kids love that!)

It’s National Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day–Yet It’s Really All About You!

Did you know dietitians have their own day? Yes, I know, everyone has their own day these days. But truth be told, I don’t really want my own day! In fact, sometimes when I’m meeting a new person for the first time, I hesitate to even disclose that I’m a dietitian–I hate that I’m known as the food police!

Do you work in a profession that slaps a pre-conceived, metaphorical “label” on you the minute someone hears what it is? (Share it in the comments!) But seriously, which other profession does this as much as one that involves food??? I think it’s because everybody eats, am I right?

Don’t get me wrong…I’m not at all embarrassed to be a dietitian.  I worked very hard to become an RD. An RD (or RDN which is the same thing) is more qualified than a “nutritionist”. Here’s what I did to become an RD, if you’re interested:

  • First, you get a 4-year college degree at an accredited university.
  • Then you apply and get accepted and matched to a year-long, unpaid internship program.  (Thanks mom and dad for the support!)
  • Then you study like crazy and pass a national exam on all areas of dietetics, even if you’ll just be specializing in one. (No, I don’t wear a hairnet and don’t ask me about cooking meals in a hospital!)
  • In my case, I chose to also complete a Master’s in Nutrition Communication, to specialize in evidenced-based writing, and food and nutrition marketing.
  • And finally, I also chose to specialize in diabetes by training with patients for 1,000 hours, and then taking a difficult certification exam to be a Certified Diabetes Educator (which I maintain every 5 years by retaking the exam AND completing 75 hours of continuing education credits in the field of diabetes).

No wonder I feel old sometimes! But I love the wandering path my career has taken! I just don’t like to disclose that I’m an RD first thing because it opens up a can of worms when I bring it up in a casual, cursory conversation.

For example, during summer camp drop-off, I felt I had to share with my kids’ camp director that I am a dietitian. In the two minutes it takes to drop off your child in the morning, you may be wondering how it could possibly have come up.

Well, I sent my two kids to camp with one small cooler half-filled with cold packs so that their healthy foods could stay cold. He teased them about their 10-pound lunch and said he was sitting next to them. So, in defense of my kids, I felt the need to explain with a laugh, that I am a dietitian as I started to walk away…

But do you think I could just walk away? I should’ve known I couldn’t just walk away…

He stepped towards me and fired a few loaded nutrition questions one after the other, expecting a short answer to each. “What’s the deal with gluten? What about those flat pretzels? My wife and I really feel better eating those…”

My first thought escaped as a stammer: “Uhhhhh….”

Where to begin!? Do I even want to begin right now??

What I Mean By “Uhhhh…”

  • I hesitate because nutrition science is so complicated.
  • I hesitate because I don’t have time right now, in the spur of the moment…and frankly, I figure you probably don’t either.
  • I hesitate because I need more information from you.
  • I hesitate because I wonder how much you know about the topic already, especially if you think I can answer your complicated questions in passing.
  • I hesitate because I wonder if you are really ready to know the long answer to your question. 
  • I hesitate because I don’t want to burst your bubble or bruise your ego.
  • I hesitate to squash myths with evidence before we have a rapport because you don’t yet know you can trust me as a reliable source of information.
  • The fact is, I hesitate mostly because I’m thinking about you –it’s really all about you, and I mean that in the best possible way!

Don’t Worry, I am NOT the Food Police

My focus really has to be all about you because my experience with food is irrelevant to your journey. I can relate to you without sharing the exact same food struggles, because we are human and we all eat! We are all different and working on different things in our lives, and that’s okay! I don’t think I need to tell you I’m not perfect. It can be assumed–and it might be the only correct assumption you can ever safely make about a person.

Therefore, please do not feel like I’m judging you. I really do not care what you are eating, especially if you don’t ask me for help. Even if you ask me for help and share what you are eating, I’m still not judging you. Sometimes I make choices that are less than ideal and not the healthiest. Everyone does it. It’s called living. And it’s why dieting doesn’t work. There’s no place for guilt or shame in building healthy eating habits. And there’s no place for judgment either.

Sometimes it’s frustrating, but what works for one person may not work for another. I prefer to think that’s positive and even liberating–we don’t have to conform to one way of eating! So, as always, please share your comments and ask your questions here! I’m passionate about helping people know what and how to eat for better health and I’m always happy to respond when I can focus 100% on YOU!