Lazy Dairy-Free Ranch Dip

So this is my LAZY ranch. I’ve got an even better ranch coming up, but this is simple and quick. The most important thing is to read every label. Hidden Valley Ranch packets are not dairy free. Many people do not feel comfortable with store brands of seasoning packets due to concerns of cross contamination. My dairy allergy isn’t life threatening, so I tend to be flexible with cross contamination.

So all you need is a packet of ranch mix with no dairy listed on the ingredients. Our local grocery store carries a version. You’ll also need your favorite dairy-free sour cream substitute. Toffutti is easy for me to find at my local specialty grocer, and so I usually get that. ranch dip

Just make sure you don’t buy the kind with guacamole mixed in. (Oops)

This is crazy simple. You dump the packet into a bowl and then add the sour cream. Mix until it’s smooth.

This dip is absolutely perfect for dipping veggies or chips.

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Breakfast Pizza

This recipe was originally features on Make Mend Grow as a guest blog post.

In this recipe, the eggs make a beautiful binder to hold the toppings on, just like cheese would do. It’s flavorful and can be done with whole eggs or scrambled eggs. My toddler loves scrambled eggs, so that’s what I went with.

The key to getting this recipe right is making sure the crusts of the pizza dough extend high enough to keep your eggs in. Add the eggs slowly to be sure they don’t spill over and keep it just under the top. When the eggs are cooking they expand, and they have the potential to drip over in the first part of cooking. I highly recommend cooking on a tray with edges the first time or two, so if the eggs to spill over, they are caught on the tray, and not on the bottom of your oven.

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough:

1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)

1 packet of active dry yeast for whole grains

1 teaspoons of sugar or honey

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

2 tablespoons oil

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Mix the warm water, dry yeast, and sugar/honey until the yeast dissolves. Set aside on t the stovetop for about 10 minute, until the mixture becomes foamy.

2. In a large bowl, a stand mixer with a dough hook, or a food processor with a dough blade, add the flour, water mixture and the oil. Mix until the ingredients are mixed consistently. The dough should be only slightly sticky. If it seems too wet, you can add a tablespoon extra of flour at a time until it reaches the desired texture. Place in a bowl (I like to lightly grease it with oil), cover it with plastic wrap, and set back on the stove for 15-20 minutes.

3. Once the dough has risen, drop it out onto a floured surface and kneed a few times, adding additional flour as needed to prevent sticking. Roll out into a circle,  until the dough is about 1/4″ to a 1/2″ thick (depending on how you like it). At this point I transfer the dough to a baking sheet. Fold the edges upwards or roll them inwards to create a thick crust so the eggs won’t run out.

4. Place the crust in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.

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6 Tips for an Allergy Free Disney Cruise

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In February my family and I traveled to Miami Florida and boarded our second Disney cruise. It was so nice to have a tropical vacation and leave the single digit weather far behind.

This was my second cruise, and my second cruise since getting diagnosed with food allergies. The first went well, but I felt like I was much more limited than I needed to be in the dining rooms, and ended up eating more at the buffet than I should’ve (for safety sake). Thankfully, my allergies are not currently life threatening.

Below are my tips for a successful trip.

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My family with Donald on Castaway Cay.

 

Tips:

1. Tell them right away.

Call Disney ahead of time. Let them know to put it on your reservation.

When you board you can go straight to a couple of places for lunch. Ask the staff for the choice that will allow allergy friendly choices. Once you’re seated, tell the staff immediately.

At dinner the first night, you’ll meet your servers that will be attending to you the rest of your dinners for the duration of the cruise. Tell them. They’ll remember.

At breakfast and lunch each day, you’ll have different servers (if you’re lucky it’ll be the same as your evening). Typically they’ll ask about allergies before you order, but don’t wait, tell them first. If you are comfortable with your night servers, ask them where they will be the next morning. You can preorder meals. They can give you the menu for the next breakfast/lunch/dinner, and you can figure things out ahead of time. On our first cruise I took advantage of this. This time there were many more options on the menus that were initially safe and only needed to be prepared in a clean area that I waited until the meal to choose.

I personally never experienced an issue with our servers that made me feel unsafe, but if you feel like they don’t understand, ask to speak with the head server.

 

2. Work as a team with the server and chef.

Our first cruise I wasn’t confident about my allergies, and the server didn’t understand what a barley allergy was. He was acting in my best interest, but only served me gluten free foods. This was disappointing when I wanted pasta or couscous, which I knew was safe for me, and he refused to serve it. Better safe than sorry, right?

This time around I was much more confident. It required more speaking with the server and head server, but I knew what to say when they came back with that ticket to talk to me about what I asked for. Even so, you have to be flexible and understanding that they can’t make everything safely. They are very aware of cross contamination, and if there is no way to make something safely, they won’t recommend it.

Currently on the new menus they have icons that identify gluten and dairy free options. I would order those most of the time. However, there were a couple of instances that they couldn’t give me the listed salad dressing. It was listed as part of the DF/GF options, but because of cross contamination and having an actual allergy they erred on the side of caution.

The best part is that they are very cautious. I’d much rather have them be overly careful than not careful enough.

 

3. Don’t eat at the quick service stations.

Really, you probably could, but everything is in really close quarters, and they won’t guarantee that it’s made in a separate area. Why risk it?

This cruise, the lady at the table next to us was upset that she felt awful after eating fries. I had gathered that she was gluten free, and she ended up speaking with the server, head server, and even one of the captain’s staff at dinner that night. They offered apology after apology, and worked her to figure out the cause.

So I’m nosy, and realized that they had been in line with us earlier to meet Goofy, and I saw her eating fries from the same plate as her daughters hot dog. So the fries she had been eating were not only prepared in a non-allergy friendly area, but they were rubbing against a hot dog bun. No wonder she felt awful.

So if you’re cruising with food allergy kiddos, steer clear of these areas if at all possible.

 

4. Don’t eat at the buffet.

My confession: I did. Why? My dairy allergy isn’t life threatening. Gastrointestinal symptoms aren’t comfortable, but a little bit of cross contamination from dairy isn’t going to ruin my trip, or my life. I avoid the items I’m not sure about, and eat the things I’m sure I can have (oatmeal, sausage, bacon, fruit).

The only place to eat allergy safely is the main dining rooms. At the buffets they can make certain things to order, but again they are not prepared on a cross-contamination free workspace.

 

5. Don’t hesitate to ask for something that isn’t on the menu.

The first couple of nights I went without dessert. I don’t need it. By the third night this time around, I was a little disappointed watching my toddler chow down on yet another chocolate coated Mickey shaped ice cream bar. So I asked if there was anything they could make or do for me. I knew it was possible, since they did it without asking on our first cruise, but the staff might not have known that I did actually want dessert. I asked, and I received.

They have a completed dairy free whipped cream (likely Rich Whip), and they made a beautiful parfait with fruit and whipped “cream.” The last night they knew how much I enjoyed the dessert, and made a second amazing dessert. This time it was a flourless chocolate cake with strawberries and more whipped “cream.”

Earlier in the trip they had Ahi Tuna with avocado listed on the menu, but it wasn’t clearly marked as DF. So I asked. They were able to make it safely. It was so good!

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This is not the Ahi Tuna. I do think it had some tuna, with Israeli couscous and topped with shrimp.

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What was left of my whipped “cream,” fruit, and chocolate parfait.

 

6. Enjoy every bite!

Seriously. The food is fabulous. It’s art. They made it special just for you, and they take pride in it. The best thing you can do is enjoy it, and make sure you tell them how much you enjoyed it.

I would love for making allergy friendly foods to be a regular thing, and for the staff not to go out of their way to make me dinner, but they did. All of the staff members went out of their way to make sure that my dinner was just a fabulous as my husband’s. Be humble. Be firm about your allergies, but be friendly. They really do take allergies seriously.

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Flourless and dairy free chocolate cake with strawberries, chocolate sauce, and whipped “cream.” One bite in.

 

Chex Chichen

chex chicken

 

This recipe came about when I wanted to make breaded chicken, but became frustrated when I couldn’t find safe breadcrumbs at the store. Usually I’ll just make my own, but I wanted to make the chicken really quickly and have some kind of flavor added. So I started opening the cupboards trying to find something to use. One of my husband’s favorite dishes at a local restaurant is Cap’n Crunch Chicken. So when I had the cupboard open with a couple kinds of cereal, I saw the Chex. I used Rice Chex for this recipe.

The Rice Chex give a slightly sweet flavor without adding too much.

So I hate cooking chicken. I was never very good at it, and for the longest time it was always slightly raw in the center. I finally figured out what I was doing wrong, and I use a few tricks to stop it from happening. First, I wasn’t cooking it on a high enough heat. The outsides would become done and dry, but the middle was still pink and uncooked. I had to increase my cooking temperature a little to be sure the heat would reach the center of the chicken, but watching it closely enough that it wouldn’t burn on the outside.

My other issue was that I usually left the chicken breast in the form it came in the package. A typical chicken breast has a thick area at the top and gets thin at the bottom. When you cook it as is, it’s really easy to overcook the thin end and not fully cook the thick end. So in order to correct this issue, I buy chicken tenderloins. They’re also breast meat, but they’re a thinner cut. It cooks faster, more evenly, and it’s a better portion size. The other thing you can do is place a chicken breast between two sheets of parchment paper and pound away. That takes too much time when you only have 2o minutes to make dinner.

Third trick to making sure it’s done? A meat thermometer. This thing is a lifesaver. Try not to use it too much, as every hole you put in lets the juices out. However, using the thermometer helped me figure out how to have a better awareness of the signs that it’s done.

chex chicken prep 1

So the first thing I do is open the chicken. I trim the fat and any ligaments that are visible. If you want to make it without eggs, be sure to rinse the chicken with water first. It’ll help the Chex stick. When I made it this time I did both without and without eggs. Both turned out really well. I found that the Chex did stick a little better with the eggs, but it wasn’t a significant difference.

chex chicken prep 2

Put about a cup of Chex in a sealable sandwich bag and smash them as best you can. I either use my hands or call my toddler in the kitchen to take care of it for me. Crack an egg into a shallow dish and place the cereal into another. Dip the chicken in the egg, and then into the cereal. Push it firmly into the cereal and then turn and push firmly again.

Place the chicken in a pan that has been preheated over medium high heat and sprayed with non-stick spray or use a teaspoon of your favorite oil. Cook each side for 4-5 minutes until internal temperature reaches at least 165 degrees.

 

Chex Chicken

Serves: 4-6

Time: 20 minutes start to finish

 

Ingredients:

1 cup Chex Cereal

1 egg (optional)

4-6 chicken breast tenderloins or 2 chicken breasts, pounded to about 1/2″ thickness

1 tsp oil or non-stick cooking spray

 

1. Put the cereal in a sealing sandwich bag and smash into pieces. Add the cereal to a shallow dish.

2. Crack an egg and lightly scramble in another shallow dish.

3. Dip the chicken in the egg and coat both sides. Then place the chicken into the cereal. Firmly push down to help the cereal stick to the chicken. Flip and firmly press down again.

4. Place the chicken in a large skillet, with 1 tsp. of oil or cooking spray,  over medium high heat. Cook chicken 4-5 minutes each side, or until meat thermometer reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

Tips: Leave the egg out if you want. The cereal may not stick quite as well, but then it’s safe for egg allergies.

I highly recommend using a meat thermometer. It’s the best way to be sure the chicken is fully cooked.

This is not a good recipe to make ahead. The cereal gets crispy during cooking, and does not reheat well without drying out or getting soggy.

 

Nut Butter Protein Bars

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Last year my husband and I joined a gym, and he started participating in a weight loss program. One of his biggest mistakes with working out and eating healthier was not having breakfast. He would do great with lunch and dinner, but wasn’t really consistently losing weight. Until he added in breakfast. I found this recipe by Oh She Glows: Peanut Butter Protein Bars and immediately fell in love with it.

The only issue I found was that it didn’t make enough, and when I doubled the batch, the consistency changed and I ended up with dry bars. Also, no chocolate.

So I doubled and modified to find the best fit with the least amount of sugar since my husband has been diagnosed with diabetes.

 

oatmeal processor
First, you’ll put the 3 cups of oats in a food processor. Blend until it’s a consistent flour like texture. A few bigger chunks are fine. Pour that into a big bowl.

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Add all the dry ingredients and mix. Then add the rest of the ingredients. You can use a big spoon but I find this is another recipe that does best when you use your hands. This way you can feel how dry the mixture is and when to add more dairy free milk.

About the nut butter: My husband is a huge peanut butter fan, so that is what is pictured. However, the recipe is just as good with almond butter, sunflower seed butter or cashew butter.

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Once it’s become slightly less sticky and will stay in a ball, transfer it into a 9 x 13 pan sprayed with non-stick spray or lightly rubbed with coconut oil.

No-Bake Nut Butter Bars
Time: 20 minutes
Serves: 12 bars

Ingredients:
3 cups of oats
1 cup of protein powder (we use vanilla flavored chia plant based protein powder)
1/2 cup peanut butter cheerios (optional)
1 1/2 cups peanut or other nut butter
1/4 cup honey or maple syrup (we now use sugar free syrup for this recipe)
4 tablespoons almond, rice, or cashew milk (more if necessary to achieve correct texture)

1. Blend the oats in a food processor until the they are mostly a flour consistency.

2. Add the oats, protein powder, and cereal and mix.

3. Add the nut butter, honey, and almond milk and stir with a large spoon or your hands. If the mixture is still dry, add extra milk a tablespoon at a time.

4. Press mixture into 9 x 13 pan. It can be cut immediately but cuts even better when allowed to refrigerate for an hour first.

5. Cover 9 x 13 pan OR place 1-2 bars each in snack size bags and put them in the fridge. Then you can take them out as needed, and will be more likely to grab them instead of a processed packaged snack in the cupboard.

Tips:

You can line the pan with parchment paper before you add the mixture. This makes it really easy to remove them from the pan.

Slow Cooker Sweet & Sour Beef

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This is not the prettiest dish, but I promise it’s worth giving it a shot. It’s sweet, slightly tangy, beefy goodness. The toddler in this house loves this.

It was inspired by a dish my husband’s mother used to make. Every time he would tell me about the sweet and sour beef, I pictured the sweet and sour sauce you find at Chinese restaurants poured over chunks of beef. Gross. So it took me about 9 years of hearing about the sweet and sour beef before giving him a chance to explain what it was.

It’s a tomato based sauce, with some brown sugar, vinegar and carrots cooked with the beef. His mom always served it over pasta, but I’m sure it would also be pretty tasty next to some caked potatoes or mashed potatoes. The best part? SLOW COOKER. I can put everything except the pasta in and it’s ready when we get home from a busy day.

 

Sweet & Sour Beef in the Slow Cooker

Time: Prep – 15 minutes, Cook Time – 6-8 hours in the slow cooker, 10 minutes for noodles

Serves: 6

 

Ingredients:

1.5-2 lbs of beef – multiple types of cuts work well, including pre cut steak for stew, round roast, chuck roast (not ground)

4-5 carrots

1 medium onion

1 – 15 oz can of tomato sauce (organic, no salt added)

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon tapioca starch

1 box of your favorite pasta (shown with regular wheat spirals, also great with quinoa pasta, chickpea pasta)

 

1. Cut the beef into around 1″ cubes. Don’t be fancy, it’s all going to fall apart once it’s cooked. Chop the carrots into about 1/4″ slices. Or however you like. Chop the onion into small pieces.

2. Put the beef on the bottom of the slow cooker, add the tomato sauce, brown sugar, and vinegar on top. Don’t worry about mixing too much. Sprinkle the onions and carrots on top. Put the lid on a set for 6-8 hours (6 hours high, 8 hours low).

3. During the last 15 minutes of cook time, start cooking the pasta according to the box’s directions.

4. When the beef is cooked tender and falls apart, add the tapioca starch to the crock pot and stir it up. Leave on low for a couple of minute until the mixture thickens.

5. Spoon the pasta onto the plate and spoon the beef mixture over it. Enjoy!

 

Tips:

If you don’t have tapioca starch you can use corn starch instead. Or regular flour. Anything that’ll absorb some of the liquid to thicken it up. Add a teaspoon at a time until you get the desired thickness.

Cheap cuts of beef are perfect for this recipe, since the vinegar and the length of cook time softens the beef really well.

Don’t add any extra water to the crock pot. The beef will let some juices out and the tomato and vinegar provide enough liquid.

You really can put the stuff in any order in the crock pot. I like the vegetables on top so they get steamed. Some people like them on the bottom so they keep the meat off the bottom of the crockpot.

 

* You may notice that some of my recipes are gluten free, and some aren’t. If you’re wondering why it is because I am only allergic to barley. I can have wheat. So regular pasta is safe for me because it’s typically made from only wheat. I like to dabble with completely gluten free recipes too, so most recipes have a gluten free option. For more information about barley allergies, see the link at the top of the page.

 

Three Bean and Pepper Salad

I started making this when my husband was wanting to start eating healthier and getting more vegetables in his lunch. This was a big deal because most of his co-workers were eating out on a daily basis. My husband enjoys vegetables, but prefers a variety of flavors. So after finding some ideas online, I created my own version of a bean salad. It’s colorful, flavorful, and pretty quick to prepare. Once prepared, I place it into single serving sized containers and place them in the fridge, so they’re quick and easy to pull out and pop in a lunch bag.

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First you’ll cook the green beans. If you buy fresh unpackaged green beans, make sure to pull or cut all the ends off of the beans prior to cooking. Chop them into 1-2″ pieces, and slide them into boiling water. When I buy the prepackaged fresh green beans I just cut them into pieces.

While the beans are cooking for about 5-8 minutes, I take that time to cut up the rest of the vegetables and prepare the beans. Cut up the yellow and red peppers, into small even chunks. Cut up an onion into small pieces. Open two cans of different types of beans, and rinse them well. Drain the green beans when they are fork tender, and return them to the pan. Add all the other vegetables. Add 1 tbsp of vegetable oil and 1 tsp of Italian seasonings. Mix or toss well.

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Bean Salad:

Time: 20 minutes

Serves: 6-8 servings

 

Ingredients:

 

About 3 cups of green beans, ends trimmed and chopped into 1-2″ pieces

2 bell peppers – one yellow, one red

1 medium onion

2 cans of beans – I like to use cannellini beans and kidney beans

1 tbsp liquid oil of your choice

1 tsp of mixed Italian seasoning, or a sprinkle of oregano and thyme

 

1. Bring about 4 cups of water to boil in a large pan. Add the cut green beans into the water and cook for 5-8 minutes, until they’re fork tender. Drain and return to the pan.

2. While green beans are cooking, cut peppers and onion into 1/2″ or smaller pieces. Open, drain and rinse the cans of beans. Rinse them well with hot water.

3. Add peppers, onions, oil, and seasonings to green beans. Mix or toss well to coat evenly with seasonings and oil.

 

Tips:

We split this into serving size containers to make them easy to put into lunch boxes.

Crock Pot Chicken

I love to eat chicken,  but I hate cooking chicken.  It’s usually over or undercooked.

Working full time makes having fresh food more difficult, since by the time we get home we are all tired and hungry.  Food needs to be ready fast.  This is why I started cooking my chicken in my crock pot.
I love crock pot recipes, but there are some recipes that just can’t be entirely made in the crock pot.  The beauty of cooking the chicken in the crock pot is that it’s hot and ready to serve as soon as you are ready. I can spend 15-20 minutes making a side or sauce and my chicken is waiting for me as soon as I need it.

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This is so easy.  I like to rinse and trim the chicken and plop it into the crock pot. Many people like to place vegetables under the meat so the meat is off the bottom,  but I like if the chicken develops a little bit of a brown to it.
I add my desired seasonings to the top and a teaspoon of my favorite oil drizzled on top. Set the crock pot and come back later.

Ingredients:

1-3 lbs of boneless skinless chicken breasts or chicken breast tenderloins
1 teaspoon of your favorite oil
Salt, pepper,  rosemary or cumin to taste. I use rosemary for chicken pot pie and cumin for any chili or Mexican recipe.

Cook time:
Tenderloins – 4 hours on high,  6 hours on low
Full breasts – 6 hours on high,  8 hours on low

When it’s done it’ll be cooked through and tender. Fall apart tender.  This is perfect for BBQ pulled chicken.

Tips:
You can do this with a whole chicken, or boned breasts or thighs. I recommend reducing the temp and time for the boned meats, because they have so much more fat and juice to them, that they fall apart more quickly, and you don’t want to lose the bones.

Tiny Tastes Blog Hop Week 2 & Bean and Corn Chili over Spaghetti Squash

This is week number 2 of Tiny Taste’s Blog Hop. This week’s topic is: 

Share some unique ideas for fun and nutritious foods that are simple enough for young children to help make in the kitchen. Also, your tips to help kids want to taste new things!

1

Lily helping1My three year old is really into helping me cook right now. She loved it between 18 months and 2 years, and went several months without it. Last week she started asking me if she could help me cook again.

We have what’s called a Learning Tower in our kitchen. It’s the perfect height (adjustable) to get kids right up to the counter. It makes it really easy for her to help me. The hardest part for me has been figuring out what steps and items she can help with, since she’s not old enough to help with anything on/near our stove. (Our Learning Tower is kept against the counter opposite of the stove for safety.)

The key to getting our toddler to taste new things, has been to back off. It’s been the hardest concept to follow through with because she’s only in the 3rd percentile, and we want her to eat and grow. However, the harder we push, the more she shuts down.

We started solid foods around 6 months of age, and we followed a modified version of baby led weaning. So we let her feed herself whole foods from a very young age. This allowed her to control what was going in her mouth, and let me see what she enjoyed and what she didn’t. She loved steamed broccoli, peanut butter anything, noodles, beans, and meat. This kid loves meat. She loves meat and carbohydrates so much that she rarely has interest in vegetables.

Overall, I’m very lucky with how well she eats, but she needs more vegetables. So in our house, we AREN’T sneaky. I will NEVER hide vegetables. Why? Because she knows. She knows it tastes different. She knows it smells different. She also hates when things are mixed up. Then she doesn’t trust what I give her. She would start looking for the hidden vegetables in dinners she usually enjoys.

I don’t hide anything. I tell her each ingredient. We will sit at dinner and she can ask me what each part of the chili is, and we tell her. She picks around some things, and then eats what she likes, and sometimes tries something new. No pressure, no emphasis on any ingredient. Just discussion.

The other key has been having her help me cook. She gets to touch all the ingredients when we put them together. This was a recipe we made together last week. It was pretty easy because there were a lot of cans and ingredients that needed to be added together. Instead of adding them into the pan on the stove, I had her add them into a big bowl on the counter that she could stir. Also I made spaghetti squash and let her scoop out the insides.

The  recipe originally came from a diabetic cookbook, but as usual I had to remake it to remove the dairy and/or barley, and add beans because my toddler loves beans. So if you don’t love beans, you can leave them out.

Bean and corn chili final Ingredients:

1 lb lean ground beef (sirloin or 90/10)

1 medium spaghetti squash

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 medium carrot, shredded (optional)

1 small zucchini, shredded (optional)

1 15 oz can of reduced/no sodium great northern beans (drained and rinsed)

1 (15) oz can of reduced/no sodium corn (drained and rinsed)

1 small can of diced green chilis

1 (15 oz) can of reduced/no sodium diced tomatoes

1 (15 oz) can reduced/no sodium tomato sauce

2 teaspoons chili powder

Time: 30 minutes

Serves: 4

1. Cut the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise. Put 2 tablespoons of water in each “corral” in the squash. Cover the top of the squash with plastic wrap and place in the microwave on high for 12-16 minutes until soft. Let it cool in the microwave for 10 minutes before handling.

2. Brown the ground beef with the onion in a dutch oven or large pot over medium heat. Near last couple minutes of beef cooking, add shredded veggies if desired. Drain the fat from the beef.

3. Drain and rinse the beans and corn. Add all the cans into the pot with the beef. Stir and heat over medium heat until bubbly and thoroughly heated.

4. Remove the spaghetti squash from the microwave. Scrape the seeds into the trash, then gently scrape the insides into a bowl. I like to fluff the squash with a fork, and the place it on the plate. Ladle the chili over the squash and serve warm.

Tips:

This is another recipe that is great reheated, so it’s perfect for cooking ahead.

Feel free to use fresh ingredients instead of canned. I don’t prefer cans, but they save a LOT of time. Make sure to get the kinds that have no sodium added.

 

Planning Ahead – Meal Planning Edition

fridge title after a cooking session

What our fridge typically looks like after an afternoon of cooking and meal prep.

This is step two in our weekly routine. First is the starter grocery list of all the items we need to replenish. Sometimes I use what we have to inspire ideas for the next week. I should do this more often, but frequently I start with a craving for something and that inspires the rest of the week’s plan.

We used to only plan for dinners, and include an idea of what we might do for lunches. That becomes a problem when you’re tired in the evening and half asleep in the morning. Breakfasts get skipped and lunches are eaten out. Now we plan for every meal. This also has helped control our grocery budget and reduces or eliminates the leftovers being thrown out.

If you like to coupon or shop sales, start your meal plan based on what meats or main food items are on sale. I don’t do this, mostly because we buy a lot of our meats in bulk. The other thing I highly recommend, is to do the meal plan only a day or two before shopping, and only do the shopping the same day or the day before you cook. You want your ingredients to be fresh, and you don’t want to use up what you bought on last minute cooking.

So meal plan, shop, and then cook. For my schedule, I meal plan on Friday-Sunday because I like to leisurely decide what we might have and spend time finding recipes. If I leave meal planning until we are at the grocery store it doesn’t go well. I forget items, buy too much of something and not enough of another, and end up with at least one additional grocery trip, which I hate to do when my schedule is busy.

Sunday is shopping and cooking day for me. My husband is able to entertain and corral the toddler long enough for me to have a good chunk of uninterrupted cooking and meal prep time. Usually I spend about 2 hours in the kitchen, but that gets me 5 weeknight dinners, breakfast for my husband, and fruits and vegetables completely prepared for the entire week. You’ll hear more about prepping and making multiple dishes at a time in future posts.

Once you know what you want for dinners, look at the serving size of the recipe or how many family members you’d be able to feed with the ingredients listed. With two of us and a toddler, I typically make recipes that serve anywhere from 4-6 people. I split up the dish when I serve it (or meal prep it) into individual serving size containers and that is either a second night of dinner or a lunch. If you plan to take leftovers as lunches, that will allow you less prepping and buying of lunch supplies.

individual serving sizes

An example of individual serving sized leftover containers.

So I make 3-4 dinner recipes a week, planning to have leftovers for dinner at least one evening.

Example:

  1. Monday: General Tso Chicken – Serves 4, but we only use 2 servings for dinner.
  2. Tuesday: Street style pulled pork tacos = Serves 4-6, again we only use 2-3 servings for dinner.
  3. Wednesday late night: Leftover night. We sometimes all have the same thing, but because they’re all packaged in individual servings each person can pick their favorite.
  4. Thursday: Chicken Fried Rice – Serves 4, used 2 servings for dinner.
  5. Friday: This is traditionally our night to eat out. However, for planning sake we’ll say Pulled Pork with BBQ sauce. Made 2 servings only with leftover pulled pork.
  6. Saturday: Chili- a batch typically serves 8, so we would eat that for dinner two nights in a row.
  7. Sunday: Leftover chili.

Lunches are planned for two people with the small child getting her preferred sandwich type as her main lunch with an occasional leftover thrown in.

  1. Monday:
    1. Me: Salad and leftover from Sunday.
    2. Hubby: Leftover from Sunday, bean salad and fruit.
  2. Tuesday:
    1. Me: Salad and sandwich.
    2. Hubby: Leftover General Tso, veggie and fruit.
  3. Wednesday:
    1. Me: Pulled pork taco leftovers and veggies.
    2. Hubby: Leftover General Tso, veggie and fruit.
  4. Thursday
    1. Me: Big chicken salad.
    2. Hubby: Sandwich and vegetables, cracker and peanut butter sandwiches.
  5. Friday:
    1. Me: Leftover chicken fried rice.
    2. Hubby: Pulled pork sandwich, veggies, and yogurt.
  6. Saturday:
    1. Salads for both of us after the AM gym.
  7. Sunday:
    1. Sandwiches for both of us after grocery shopping.

Breakfasts are pretty easy and I like to keep it simple, so we usually have the same thing every day.

  • Me: Overhard eggs and toast, fruit.
  • Hubby: Egg White & Veggie Cups
  • Weekends: Occasionally pancakes or waffles, occasional breakfast meat,

So for groceries I would need:

  1. Chicken for 3 dinners
  2. Beef for one dinner
  3. One pork loin
  4. One loaf of bread
  5. One container of egg whites
  6. One dozen eggs
  7. Brown rice (this is something I typically keep stocked in the pantry)
  8. Beans (pantry item) Two cans of low sodium kidney beans, one can of black beans. (BB for tacos, KB for chili)
  9. Carrots (both for in the chili, and to divide up into serving sizes)
  10. Tomato sauce (pantry item)
  11. Stewed tomatoes (pantry item)
  12. Fresh lettuce, usually one small tub of prewashed organic spring mix
  13. 1-2 Fresh tomatoes (for salads, tacos)
  14. 1-2 Cucumbers (one for salads, one for snacking)
  15. 3-4 sweet bell peppers (for chili and for veggie lunch snacks)
  16. Whatever berries are the cheapest or on sale, one small container of blueberries, one to two raspberry containers and a container of strawberries. (for fruit salad for breakfasts/lunches).
  17. One mango (because yum)
  18. 100 calorie packs of guacamole, or an avocado (for tacos)
  19. Dried peppers for General Tso’s (pantry item)
  20. Green onions – 1 bunch
  21. Masa harina – pantry item
  22. Lime – one for tortillas
  23. Frozen mixed vegetables in steamer bags. Two this week, one for Chicken Fried Rice and one to go with pork, or just because you’re hungry.
after grocery shopping

Getting ready to prep!

Anything that is marked as a pantry item is something that I typically stock up on when it’s on sale. So I don’t buy it only when I need it, since it has a decent shelf life.

I promise it looks harder than it is and once you get the hang of it, it gets way easier. The hardest problem we have with meal planning is actually picking what we want for dinners.