In order to stay motivated in my role as Head Family Chef, I need a break from my kitchen and cooking.
There are two options for making sure I get a well-deserved break:
Go out for a meal.
Prep a meal in advance.
Going out is my favorite way to enjoy a break from cooking. The act of being waited on and cooked for is exhilarating. We budget for a once week date night and occasionally a family night. A local pizzeria, Pizzeria Gregario, is our favorite spot. Greg, the owner, makes everything from scratch (from the sourdough pizza crust to the mozzarella cheese) and sources all the produce and meat from local farms. He’s a rare gem in a land of chain restaurants.
The second option, prepping ahead, has given me life this year. <–Literally, I’ve gained time and sanity. Spending just a couple of hours in the kitchen on a Sunday afternoon, reduces the amount of time I spend in the kitchen throughout the upcoming week. Having just one food category prepped, such as a couple of breakfast foods or a ready-to-go lunch, means I don’t have to spend my mornings or evenings thinking about our next meal. This simple, intentional act has simplified our full lives.
Lately, I’ve been focusing on making lunch for myself during my Sunday prep. The hours between school drop-off and pick-up are limited and incredibly valuable to me (that’s when work, working out, and taking care of personal stuff is accomplished). Not having to think about lunch during the week allows me to focus on my tasks at hand.
In order to simplify my weekly prep, I’ve created a rotational lunch menu. Each month, I work my way through the list, making one lunch per week. Here’s my current rotation:
Chicken, veggie, spinach and quinoa bowls with tahini dressing. This sounds fancy, but it’s so easy to make. The recipe is coming next month.
Caesar salad with shredded or grilled chicken on the side. I skip the croutons for a make-ahead lunch and add rice chips or plantain chips on the side for crunch.
These options are easy to assemble, store well in the fridge for several days, can be portioned out into smaller lunch containers (Prep Natural containers or Mason jars), and keep my belly full until an afternoon snack or dinner.
Today, let’s make the chicken pasta salad. This salad is best stored in mason jars (or tall storage containers, or containers that allow you to separate the greens from the dressing) so the delicate arugula greens aren’t damaged by the salad dressing. I think we all know what happens when a dressed salad sits in the fridge for a day or two…yuck! If you want to enjoy the salad straight from the jar, you’ll want to go with a quart-size jar.
If you’d rather pour the salad into a bowl when you’re ready to enjoy, use an 16-ounce jar (pictured here).
One quick note about the dressing. The olive oil in the dressing will solidify in the fridge (the sign of a good olive oil). I recommend leaving the salad at room temperature for about 30 minutes before you shake or toss it for lunch. This step will ensure that the dressing returns back to a liquid state. Another option is to place the jar in warm water for about 30-60 seconds, particularly targeting the base (the salad dressing layer).
This recipe makes 4 jars/lunches. I like to pair each jar with fruit (apple slices with nut butter, grapes, berries, a banana, etc.) for a complete meal. I’ve found that the salad keeps well for about 4-5 days in the fridge, if the chicken is fresh.
Make-Ahead Chicken Pasta Salad in a Jar
This veggie-dense chicken pasta salad is easy to make ahead for real-food meals on the go.
12 ounces einkorn fusilli pasta (cooked according to directions on package*)
1 1/4 cups cooked and shredded chicken
1 cup sliced black olives
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes (or chopped roma tomatoes (about 3 roma tomatoes))
2 cups baby arugula
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 lemon (juiced)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
4 16-ounce mason jars (or quart-size jars**)
In a small bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients.
Pour the dressing into the mason jars. Add the pasta to the jars, followed by the chicken, black olives, tomatoes, and arugula. If you’re using 16-ounce jars, you’ll need to pack the pasta down in the jars to have enough room for the remaining ingredients. Cover the jars with lids, and refrigerate until desired.
To enjoy, shake a jar to combine the ingredients. Eat the salad from the jar, or pour the contents into a bowl. The salad will keep in the fridge for about 4 days (a salad for each day), if the chicken is fresh.
*Any pasta will work in this recipe. I use Jovial Einkorn Fusilli. Brown rice pasta will work, or a similar gluten-free pasta, if you can’t tolerate gluten.
**The recipe makes enough to fill 16-ounce jars; however, if you want to shake the salad in the jar to combine the ingredients I recommend going with a quart-size jar. An 16-ounce jar will be packed full leaving no room to shake the ingredients. This is okay if you plan to pour the salad into a bowl before enjoying.
I like to cook a whole chicken on the weekend to use for meals throughout the week. Another option is to cook 1-2 chicken breasts, or purchase a rotisserie chicken.
If you want to add additional flavor, and love garlic, add 1-2 minced garlic cloves to the dressing. You could also add some feta cheese to the salad layers.
I like to pair each jar with fruit (apple slices with nut butter, grapes, berries, a banana) for a complete meal. I’ve found that the salad keeps well for about 4 days in the fridge, if the chicken is fresh.
As a child I grew up on casserole meals, which resulted in adult-me having a strong aversion to anything that’s baked and served in a 9×13 pan. Too much of a good thing truly is too much.
Now as a busy mom, I can definitely see the appeal of these one-pot/one-pan style meals. In fact, I’m trying hard to embrace these meals since they’re generally easy to make and result in a bunch of leftovers — both of which I could definitely use more of in life.
Lately, on the weekends, my family has been enjoying Baked French Toast Casserole. This hearty breakfast is the embodiment of everything there is to love about a casserole meal:
Easy to make
Prep ahead friendly
Feeds a crowd (or just a very hungry family)
This particular casserole does require some advance planning since it needs to be made at least 12 hours before baking. During this rest time, the egg and cream mixture is absorbed by the bread cubes. I’ve been preparing the casserole on Saturday night before we go to bed.
On Sunday morning, the casserole bakes in the oven while we get ready for church.
I wanted to share this recipe before Easter (next week), just in case you’re planning a spring bunch. This casserole would be a great addition to any brunch spread, or to a special family breakfast. (This einkorn coffee cake would be another great brunch meal.) The casserole feeds about 6 people, although I think this number could be increased if other foods (such as a sweet and tart fruit salad or bacon) are served with the casserole.
Oh, and one last note: Don’t skip the crumble topping! While the crumble may not appear as much when you sprinkle it on top of the soaked bread cubes, just wait until you pull the warm casserole from the oven. You’re in for such a treat! While the crumble bakes, it crisps up, resulting in a sweet, cinnamon-flavored streusel topping that makes this casserole irresistible.
Baked French Toast Casserole
This overnight french toast casserole is prepped the night before. The next morning just wake, bake, and enjoy your homemade breakfast!
Prepare the casserole the night before you want to bake and serve it.
Butter a 9×13 baking dish very well.
Tear or cut the stale bread into rough, 2-inch chunks and line the pan with the bread.
Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl. Whisk very well. Add the remaining french toast ingredients to the bowl, and whisk to combine.
Pour the mixture over the bread. If needed, press down gently to make sure all the bread is in contact with the egg mixture.
Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Prepare the topping by combining all the ingredients in a small bowl with a pastry cutter or your fingers, until it resembles coarse crumbs. Cover and store in the fridge.
The next morning, remove the casserole from the fridge while the oven preheats to 350F. Tip the pan to one side. If you notice a lot of liquid, drain the excess liquid from the casserole (this varies depending on the bread).
Sprinkle the streusel topping evenly over the casserole.
Once the oven is hot, bake the casserole for 50-65 minutes (depending on the pan used–dark ceramic pans usually require more baking time than clear glass pans), until set. The casserole is done when the center is set.
Let the casserole cool for a few minutes (about 5-10 minutes), then slice and serve with maple syrup (if desired).
*Spelt, all-purpose, or wheat flour may be used in place of the einkorn flour. Oat flour may also work.
If you’ve been around Live Simply for any length of time (or follow me on Instagram), you probably know that I’m passionate about preparing food in advance (AKA: prep time). When I talk about prep time, I’m not talking about spending an entire weekend making “all the things.” What I am talking about is an intentional action of making a couple of foods, during a dedicated time, in order to prepare for the week ahead.
Over the past year, I’ve been in a consistent routine of prepping food on Sunday afternoon. When I first added this activity to my schedule, I made a lot mistakes. These mistakes were important learning lessons. They helped me simplify this time. From these mistakes, I’ve developed a few unspoken rules for my prep time. Well, unspoken until today.
5 Rules to Simplify and Succeed at Food Prep
1. Set intention by consulting your calendar and meal plan.
In order to be intentional about prep time, you’re going to need two things: your calendar and a meal plan. Take a look at your calendar and meal plan, and ask yourself, “What’s the most important food to prep based on my schedule? What’s going to simplify my life this week? What’s going to make the biggest impact?”
If upcoming mornings are going to be busy, prioritize making one or two breakfast meals based on your meal plan. Think about meals that may be served multiple times (pancakes, granola, smoothie packs, etc.). If you notice that what you’ve planned isn’t going to work for your schedule, tweak your meal plan. Make your meal plan–and what you’re going to prep–work for you.
2. Write down your prep plan.
I find that it’s helpful to make a note of what I’m going to prep on the side of my meal plan, or on a note card. This note keeps me focused during prep time. I’ve also found that a written plan helps me establish a good flow for prepping–what to make first, second, and last.
3. Start with a clean kitchen, fridge, and food prep containers.
There’s nothing more discouraging than prepping for an hour or two, and then spending an additional hour cleaning up the mess. To minimize the mess, clean your kitchen before prepping. Clean any dishes sitting in the sink. Clear any clutter (extra knives or food from earlier) from the kitchen countertops. Even better, ask your kids or your partner to help you clean up before prep time begins. A clean kitchen will give you more room to work, keep prep time organized, and minimize the after-prep mess.
Have you ever prepped food for the week ahead only to realize that you’re too tired to actually make your next meal (usually lunch or dinner)? **sheepishly raises hand**
I’ve made this mistake more times than I’d like to admit.
To fix this mistake, I keep our Sunday night dinner simple. We either have soup from the Instant Pot (which can also serve as more prep since leftovers are inevitable), quesadillas, or hamburgers on the grill. Another option is to make prep day a family night out. Go out to Chipotle or your favorite restaurant. The idea is to keep this meal simple so you don’t feel overwhelmed by the idea of preparing and cooking a time-consuming lunch or dinner.
5. Double check your ingredients.
Finally, before beginning your food prep, make sure you have all the ingredients needed to make your recipes (or food components). Also, make sure you’ve defrosted any meat you’ll need (unless, of course, you’re cooking something from frozen in the Instant Pot). I like to sort my ingredients on my counter based on what I’m making (i.e. all the pancakes ingredients together, soup ingredients together). This little step, which takes about 10 minutes, keeps my prep time organized and focused.
Sometimes I find myself in a breakfast rut, particularly on the weekend. Routine is a good thing, but a rut? Not so much. A rut just feels meh.
During the week a meal routine is life-giving. I like to repeat the same breakfasts Monday through Friday: oatmeal (the cold, make-ahead version or the warm, soaked version), eggs and sourdough toast (or occasionally a baked good that’s been prepared in advance on the weekend, such as: muffins, banana bread, pancakes, waffles, etc.), smoothies and sourdough toast, or granola with yogurt and fruit.
Keeping our morning meals consistent and routine has simplified our mornings, reduced my stress (because no one should ever be stressed about breakfast), and reduced the amount of time I spend planning meals.
The weekend, particularly Saturday morning when I’m not visiting the market to pick up my CSA goodies, is when we break our routine and make breakfast meals that require more time and effort to prepare.
This time brings our family together and help us reconnect in the kitchen and at the table. That, my friend, is why intentionally setting aside a day, or multiple days, to slow down and make good food in our own kitchen, is so valuable. Food becomes about more than just feeding our tummies. Food becomes an act of self-care (nourishing our bodies is the ultimate self-care), family-care (feeding the people we love is an act of care and love), and connection (the act of making and eating food brings us together)
I recently shared a photo of one of our weekend breakfast meals, a sheet pan-style potato, veggie, bacon, and egg hash, over on Instagram. A number of reader friends reached out asking for the recipe. I love that you all love good, simple food as much as I do! To honor the many requests, let’s make some hash.
This sheet pan-style potato and egg hash is incredibly easy to make because everything is made, as the name implies, on a single sheet pan. The potatoes, veggies, and bacon roast on the sheet pan until soft and the potatoes are slightly crisp on the edges. The sheet pan is then removed from the oven for just a minute so the leafy greens (an optional ingredient) and eggs may be added. The hash is then returned to the hot oven for another 6-8 minutes, until the egg whites are cooked and set and the yolk is either runny or cooked through, your choice. Easy, right?
While the hash cooks, you’ll have plenty of time to clean up the cutting board, make coffee, and sit and enjoy the weekend morning with your loves.
Sheet Pan Potato and Eggs Hash
Packed with real food veggies and protein, this homemade hash makes for a nutrient-dense breakfast, brunch, or even brinner (breakfast-for-dinner)!
1 cup spinach or kale (roughly chopped (optional))
Preheat the oven to 425F.
Lightly grease a sheet pan so the potatoes won’t stick (I use a spritz of avocado oil spray). Add the potatoes, pepper, and onion to a sheet pan, and toss to combine. Add the salt and pepper, and toss to coat the veggies with the seasoning. Spread the veggies on the sheet pan, and sprinkle the bacon throughout the veggie mixture.
Roast the mixture in the oven for 15 minutes.
Quickly remove the sheet pan from the oven. Use a heavy spoon or spatula to toss the veggies and bacon together to evenly distribute the fat (from the bacon) with the veggies.
Roast the veggies for another 30 minutes, or until soft and slightly crisp.
Quickly remove the sheet pan from oven. Add the spinach and stir in with a heavy spoon or spatula. The heat from the sheet pan will begin to wilt the greens.
Make four wells/nests and crack the eggs in each spot. Reduce the oven to 400F. Return to oven.
Cook the mixture for 7-10 minutes, or until the egg whites are firm and the yolks are slightly runny, or cook longer until the yolks are firm (depending on preference). I recommend keeping an eye on the eggs through the oven door window. Serve warm.
In the past, I could be described as a picky eater. The kind of picky eater that most parents dread. Here are just a few of the foods that I despised and refused to eat…
Beets: It took me nearly 28 years to even try a beet. 28 years! Now, I enjoy beets regularly in a morning smoothie, or even mixed with a leafy green salad.
Avocados: There’s something about the soft texture and bland flavor of avocados that just sends my tastebuds into panic mode. After years of experimenting with avocados, I’ve found that I actually love avocados when prepared in certain ways: mashed with lemon juice and salt and then spread over toast or large rice crackers, made into guacamole, or blended into a smoothie.
Olives: My only exposure to olives as a child was the black olives on the veggie delight pizza my parents would religiously order from Pizza Hut. These tiny circles on top of what should have been so pleasurable a food never sat well with me, so I avoided all olives up until a just few years ago. Now I enjoy olives on salads, as snacks, and add them to savory dinner meals.
The list could go on and on. In fact, at one point in my early adult life I would have been perfectly content to live off white bread, chicken nuggets, and cereal. Oh how far I’ve come! (If you’re a parent to a “picky eater”, don’t give up! Keep serving good food. There’s hope.)
What changed my mind about these foods and many others? What curbed my picky taste? The answer is simple: experimentation
Preparing food at home — and using real ingredients to prepare food — helped me realize there’s more than one way to prepare a particular food. As I learned and experimented with simple food preparation techniques like roasting or adding an acid to food to increase the flavor, my desire to try a variety of foods, prepared in a variety of ways, increased. And you know what? I soon found that I loved many of the foods I once deemed utterly inedible.
I hope this serves an encouragement to you: Don’t be afraid to prepare food in a variety of ways. If you don’t love one method, try another. There are a variety of delicious ways to eat a beet, leafy green, avocado, olive, or whatever food you may not love at the moment due to a one-time experience. Saute, roast, blend, or season and salt those ingredients. Keep experimenting.
Whether you love olives or view them as an enemy, I think you’re going to love today’s salad. That is, if you’re willing to experiment and give it a try.
This recipe uses the technique of roasting to build the flavorful base of potatoes and olives. The high temperature of the oven, along with the oil, salt, and garlic, bring out the best in the flavor and texture in both the potatoes and olives. After roasting the potatoes, olives, and garlic, the still-warm ingredients are tossed with spicy arugula, and acidic and fresh lemon juice and zest.
This warm salad with wilted arugula pairs well with any main protein: chicken, fish, burgers, steak, pork chops, etc. I usually serve the salad alongside a roasted whole chicken for a hearty, low-maintenance dinner.
Warm Potato, Olive, and Arugula Salad
Simple, easy, and made from real food, this side salad will delight your family with its blend of lemon, garlic, and Mediterranean olives.
1 1/2 lbs fingerling potatoes (halved)
3 TB olive oil (divided)
4 garlic cloves (mashed and roughly chopped)
1/2-3/4 tsp salt (*)
1/4 tsp pepper
1 4.6 ounce jar Mediterranean olives (drained and rinsed**)
1 1/2 cups baby arugula
1/2 lemon (juiced)
1 TB lemon zest
Preheat the oven to 425F.
Place the potatoes on a sheet pan. Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the potatoes. Sprinkle the potatoes with salt and pepper.
Roast the potatoes for 20 minutes.
Add the olives, garlic, and remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the potatoes, gently stirring to coat the ingredients in the oil (a metal spatula works well). Return the pan to the oven for 15 minutes, until the garlic is toasty and fragrant, the potatoes are soft, and the olives are warm.
Spoon the potatoes, olives, garlic, and olive oil remaining on the sheet pan into a large bowl. Add the arugula and squeeze the lemon juice over the top. Toss to combine the ingredients. Top with the lemon zest. Serve warm. The arugula will wilt.
*I recommend going with 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and adding more salt once the dish is finished (if desired). Olives can vary in saltiness so it’s always best to under salt at first. I personally go with 3/4 teaspoon of salt.
**My olives contain the pits. This is up to you. Go with the olives you love.
When my family first started our natural living journey, we didn’t have the financial means to purchase lots of different products and ingredients. Money was definitely tight as a single income family. In an effort to maintain both my mental sanity and our financial stability, I had to figure out how to make the switch from toxic products to more natural options. My solution was a simple one: Embrace this makeover as a journey. A slow, steady journey, swapping one product at a time.
I want to help you do the same. That’s why each month we chat about how to practically make the switch from toxic products to more natural products. So far we’ve talked about making the switch to natural toothpaste and dish soap.
Today, let’s talk about a cleaning product that most of use daily in our homes: all-purpose spray cleaner.
Unlike body and personal care products, companies aren’t required to list all ingredients on a cleaning product label. And since cleaning products aren’t ingested, the ingredients are not regulated by the Food & Drug Administration.
Because of this, it can be hard to know what cleaning products are more natural and what products are potentially harmful. The easiest way to determine this is to search for a product’s rating on either the Environmental Working Group’s website or the Think Dirty App (both resources are provided by consumer watchdog groups). I aim for an A or B rating on the EWG site, or a 0-3 rating on the Think Dirty App.
My goal with every “make the switch” chat is to provide you with a list of my favorite products in a particular category. My favorite all-purpose spray cleaner list includes a couple of store-bought products, a couple of online products, and a few homemade solutions. The list certainly isn’t exhaustive, so I also encourage you to use the EWG and Think Dirty resources to do your own research.
Switching to Natural ProductsAll-Purpose Spray Cleaner
Vinegar is an excellent single ingredient all-purpose cleaner that may be used on a variety of surfaces (not granite, marble, or other surfaces that are sensitive to acid). Vinegar is the most cost-effective option on this list. Here’s how to make your own cleaner…
In a 16-ounce spray bottle, combine 1 cup of distilled water, 1 cup of white vinegar, and an optional 15-30 drops of essential oil: lavender, peppermint, grapefruit, orange, or lemon. Seal the bottle and shake to combine the ingredients. Store the cleaner for up to 3-4 weeks. Shake between uses.
Sal Suds is Dr. Bronner’s tougher version of castile soap, although its chemical makeup makes it a detergent, not a soap. Sal Suds is formulated to conquer unforgiving grease and stubborn dirt. I like to combine Sal Suds with vinegar to make an all-purpose spray.
In a 16-ounce spray bottle, combine 1 cup of distilled water, 1 cup of white vinegar, 1/2 tsp of Sal Suds, and an optional 15-30 drops of essential oil: lavender, peppermint, grapefruit, orange, or lemon. Seal the bottle and shake to combine the ingredients. Store the cleaner for up to 3-4 weeks. Shake between uses.
If you’re not a fan of vinegar’s distinct scent, castile soap is another option for a semi-homemade all-purpose cleaner. This is a great option if you’re cleaning delicate surfaces (always spot test first), or just want to avoid vinegar. Here’s how to make your own cleaner…
In a 16-ounce spray bottle, combine 2 cups of distilled water, ¼ cup of castile soap, and an optional 15-30 drops of essential oil: lavender, peppermint, grapefruit, orange, or lemon. Seal the bottle and shake to combine the ingredients. Store the cleaner for up to 3-4 weeks. Shake between uses.
This all-purpose cleaner is available on Amazon or the Truce website. It’s definitely the most expensive product on my list. The cleaner does work very well, which isn’t surprising considering the ingredients: Water, Rubbing Alcohol, Hydrogen Peroxide, Organic Castile Soap, Essential Oils. (You could even use this ingredient list to create a similar cleaner at home.) According to the company, the spray may be used on multiple surfaces… “All washable non-porous surfaces, including: windows, countertops, appliances, walls, floors, tables, chairs, showers, tubs and more. You can even use it as a spot cleaner on soft surfaces such as carpet and sofas.”
If you want a close-to-homemade all purpose cleaner, but don’t want to source or mix ingredients, The Optimist Co. Time to Shine is the next best option. The ingredient list is simple and natural: distilled water, natural castile soap, club soda, essential oil blend of rosemary and mint. A 16-ounce bottle costs $6 and must be purchased through the company’s website.
I also love that The Optimist Co. offers a Make Your Own Cleaning Products Kit for anyone wanting to go the minimal-effort, do-it-yourself route. The kits make for a great gift, too. I gifted the kits to family members for Christmas.
This is my favorite store-bought, ready-to-use spray. It’s easy to find in most grocery stores and inexpensive. The cleaner receives an A rating from the Environment Working Group and a 0 from Think Dirty.
This option isn’t as easy to find as the Seventh Generation spray. If you stumble upon it in your local grocery store or a health food store, I recommend giving it a try.
This cleaner receives an A grade from the EWG, is affordable, and can be found at many different stores (from Walmart.com to Whole Foods). It has a wonderfully subtle orange scent that feels fresh but not overpowering (the trademark of a good, naturally-scented product).
I want to hear from you in the comments section! Tell me what you’re working on swapping in your home, what you’ve already swapped, what you want to swap in the future, and any all-purpose cleaners that you particularly love (or don’t love).
To me, prepping food for the week ahead can feel overwhelming. Just uttering the word prep sends my head spinning in all sorts of tangled directions! “Oh, I should make pancakes, and that granola bar recipe I pinned last week, and waffles, and smoothie packs. What else am I forgetting? Oh, lunch! And freezer meals.” My brain doesn’t automatically want to take the simplified approach to something that should be simple and uncomplicated.
This wanting-to-do-it-all can paralyze me from actually doing any prep at all (or anything in life). Anyone else like this? My perfectionist tendencies always have a way of coming out.
I know that prepping ahead is vital to enjoying real food on a daily basis. Between my work schedule, Dustin’s work schedule, and the kids’ school life, real food must be intentionally planned each week. Adding in prep work helps to simplify the plan — and our lives.
In order to simplify meal prepping, I’m learning to be intentional about this time, just like I’m intentional about my meal planning time. Practically, here’s what this looks this…
Each week, after creating a simple meal plan, I sit down with the plan and my family’s calendar and ask myself: “What’s the most important food to prep based on our schedule? What’s going to simplify our life this week? What’s going to make the biggest impact?” Pausing to answer these questions makes the thoughts of wanting-to-do-it-all fade away. Within seconds, prepping for the week ahead feels doable, approachable, and practical for a weekend afternoon.
If upcoming mornings are going to be busy (Dustin needs to leave early and I’ll be getting the kids up, fed and off to school), I’ll prioritize making one breakfast food that can be served multiple times: pancakes, granola, smoothie packs, etc.
I don’t prep snacks very often. Our snacks are generally very simple: a smoothie, some nuts and seeds, nut butter and apples, or hummus with veggie sticks (Costco sells individually-portioned hummus perfect for school snack). None of these options require any prep (other than chopping a fruit or veggie).
Occasionally, I’ll make a treat that can double as both a snack and a lunchbox treat. By far, my favorite treats to prepare are bites, or balls. I’m sure you can imagine why I’m going with bites here… we’re all mature adults ;).
Today’s bites are pumpkin seed-based. The seeds are blended together with dates, which act as a binder and sweetener. Satisfying fats are added to the seeds and dates (coconut oil and coconut butter) and unsweetened chocolate is added (because, why not?). The bites keep in the fridge, in an airtight container, for about 2 weeks. Yum!
Chocolate Pumpkin Seed Bliss Bites
Packed with pumpkin, dates, and coconut, these plant-based bites provide a real-food treat sure to satisfy any sweet tooth!
1 cup pumpkin seeds (unsalted )
10 medjool dates (pitted*)
4 TB coconut butter (or coconut manna**)
3 TB coconut oil (room temperature)
2 TB cacao powder (or unsweetened cocoa powder)
1/4-1/2 tsp vanilla extract (depending on taste, I like 1/2 tsp)
1-2 pinches salt (depending on taste, I like 2 pinches)
unsweetened shredded coconut (optional )
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Place the pumpkin seeds on a sheet pan. Roast the pumpkin seeds for 10 minutes, until fragrant and toasted.
Pour the toasted pumpkin seeds into the base bowl of a food processor. Pulse the seeds until finely chopped (about 30-60 seconds). Add the dates, and pulse again until finely chopped (another 30-60 seconds).
Add the remaining ingredients: coconut oil, coconut butter, shredded coconut, cacao powder, and salt. Pulse the mixture until the ingredients are well combined and begin to stick together (about 30-60 seconds).
Scoop small amounts of the dough into your hand. Press the ingredients together with your hands to form golf-ball size bites. If the dough feels too dry and it’s hard to form the bites, add a bit of water to the dough (1/2 tsp as needed) and wet your hands with water. Optional: After forming the bites, roll them in shredded coconut.
Place the bites in a storage container, and store in the fridge until ready to enjoy. The bites keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
*If the dates are hard and dry (fresh dates should be moist and soft), soak the dates in a bowl of water for about 30 minutes to soften them.
**Soften the coconut butter in the microwave for a few minutes (or place the jar in a bowl of hot water) if it’s too hard to scoop from the jar.
The bites aren’t super sweet. If you’d like sweeter bites, you can add a few more dates, or add 1-2 tablespoons of honey while pulsing the ingredients. You could also add more flavor to the bites with cinnamon (I would start with 1/4 teaspoon and work from there based on your taste).
Let’s take a break from all the veggie-heavy meals we’ve been making lately (and all the CSA talk — I’ve been quite enthusiastic about that topic lately, see my beet smoothie, cauliflower tacos, and winter slaw recipes if you’ve missed my musings on CSAs). Every so often you just need mac and cheese. Not a hidden-veggie macaroni and cheese, just a good ol’, rich and creamy, comfort-food mac and cheese.
One of the reasons I love our real food lifestyle is the comforting meals I grew up enjoying — like macaroni and cheese — are completely acceptable. Real food isn’t about restrictions, dieting, fancy ingredients, or subsisting off salads and kale. Real food is simply about embracing real ingredients, and learning to prepare these ingredients to create tasty meals.
Here’s how food advocate Micheal Pollan sums up real food, “Real food doesn’t have a long ingredient list, isn’t advertised on TV, and it doesn’t contain stuff like maltodextrin or sodium tripolyphosphate. Real food is things that your great-grandmother (or someone’s great-grandmother) would recognize.”
Isn’t that a freeing thought?
Instead of reaching for the box of instant mashed potatoes, visit the produce aisle and fill your grocery basket with the potatoes. Then head over to the dairy department and look for the cleanest butter option (hint: the ingredient list should only include one word, cream, and possibly salt). Grab some olive oil on your way out, and then head home to make a nourishing bowl of homemade mashed potatoes.
The same goes for oatmeal. Instead of grabbing a flavored package of instant oats, pick up rolled oats, maple syrup, milk, and cinnamon. It doesn’t take long to make your own oatmeal, and the homemade version tastes so much better than the artificially-flavored packages.
And instead of reaching for the mac and cheese box, make your own. And this is where today’s recipe enters our chat…
The Instant Pot (or any electric pressure cooker you choose to use) simplifies the task of making homemade macaroni and cheese. With just one pot and about 20ish minutes (when you factor in the time it takes for the pot to come to pressure), the Instant Pot cooks the pasta noodles, melts the cheese, and warms the cream sauce. No babysitting or continuous whisking and stirring required. Just prep the pasta in the Instant Pot, shred the cheese, whisk the ingredients, and walk away. That’s it!
Making homemade macaroni and cheese in the Instant Pot almost feels too easy or too good to be true (at least that’s what I thought the first time I made this recipe). But the end result speaks for itself: A family-size serving of homemade mac and cheese that rivals any packaged variety. A meal that every family member is sure to love.
Take that, processed food!
Super Easy Instant Pot Mac and Cheese (Pressure Cooker Recipe)
Loaded with freshly shredded cheeses and cream, this simple Instant Pot version of a comfort-food classic whips up in less than 30 minutes. Real food on a weeknight!
4 ounces monterey jack cheese ((or gouda cheese) about 1-1 1/4 cup of shredded cheese)
small bowl (for mixing the cream sauce ingredients)
Add the dry pasta to the Instant Pot. Pour in the water and top with the butter. Lock the lid and set to Sealing.
Set the Instant Pot to Manual, High Pressure for 6 minutes.
Whisk the seasonings (dry mustard, salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic powder) into the cream and set aside. Shred the cheeses and set aside.
Once the time is up, perform a careful quick release. The butter helps to keep the foam down a bit, but you’ll likely have to start and stop the pressure release to keep it from spurting.
Stir the seasoned cream into the noodles.
Add the cheese and stir to melt. You shouldn’t need to turn on the saute function as the pasta should be hot enough to melt everything.
Let the macaroni and cheese rest for 5 minutes before serving.
* I’ve used einkorn and semolina fusilli successfully. The general rule for pasta in the Instant Pot is half the stovetop time, for example: regular old wheat elbow noodles would cook for 4 minutes. The fusilli calls for 12 minutes, so I cook the pasta in the Instant Pot for 6 minutes
** Cream really must be the heavy version used here. Anything else like half and half or milk will be really runny since you aren’t making a traditional roux.
*** The garlic powder might be a tad strong for some people. Try ⅛-¼ tsp depending on taste, or skip it.
That five minute rest time is crucial.
Take into the consideration the fact that cook time doesn’t include the amount of time it will take the Instant Pot to come to pressure.
Last week, I went to my first visit with a local functional medicine doctor. I spent the first 45 minutes of my appointment (which was over 3 hours long) in the nurse practitioner’s office for an initial check-up. Jennifer asked me questions about my stress level, sleep, and diet. My responses were short and to the point, except when it came time to answer the food question.
That question fired me up. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, right?
I started my answer by sharing what my diet looks like (I feel like this requires a lengthy explanation), and then moved on to sharing how I source meat and eggs. This response led to a discussion about my CSA and local farm sources.
At the end of the visit Jennifer thanked me for sharing my food resources with her. I couldn’t help but chuckle at the turn of events and how quickly I went from a quiet patient to showing my true self: an overly-enthusiastic foodie. I’d like to think that my enthusiasm for good food is contagious. (Although maybe contagious is the wrong word to use in a doctor’s office.)
I’ve been so inspired by the local food programs we’ve recently joined (a produce and a meat/egg CSA), that I can’t help but share my enthusiasm with others.
Joining a produce CSA (read more about joining a CSA here) has pushed me beyond my veggie comfort zone. I’ve had to learn how to prepare and enjoy produce I would have otherwise ignored in the grocery store: kholarbi (a veggie I’m currently obsessed with), pea shoots (a new love for sandwiches, stir-fry, pesto, and avocado toast), and more. I’ve also been exploring ways to put common veggies to use in different ways, such as cauliflower in tacos and beets in smoothies.
Earlier this week, I shared one of my favorite ways to use the cauliflower in my CSA box: cauliflower tacos. Today, let’s top those tacos with another CSA-inspired recipe: winter slaw.
This particular slaw is a winter take on my traditional slaw recipe . The addition of hearty winter root veggies adds a slight crunch and peppery flavor. The slaw is easy to make, and may be served in multiple ways: on top of tacos or sandwiches, as a side salad, or add shredded chicken for a main salad.
Since the ingredients are on the hearty side, the vegetables may be prepped in advance for an easy weeknight taco meal (served with tortillas and slow-cooker chicken taco meat or roasted cauliflower) or portioned into containers for a prep-ahead lunch. Make the dressing in advance, too, and keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to enjoy the slaw. If you’re making this slaw as a make-ahead lunch option, I suggest adding shredded chicken, half an avocado, and a handful of tortilla chips to your lunch container for a complete meal.
Winter Slaw with Kohlrabi, Cabbage, Radishes, and Carrots
Absolutely packed with veggies, this nutrient-dense slaw is great over tacos, on sandwiches, or as a side salad.
1/2 head green or purple cabbage (shredded (about 3 cups once shredded))
2 medium kohlrabi (julienne-cut (about 1 cup once cut))
1 cup carrots (shredded)
3 radishes (julienne-cut (about 1/2 cup once cut))
1 cup green onion (sliced)
1/2 cup cilantro (chopped)
1 medium lime (juiced)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 TB honey
1 garlic clove (minced)
1/2 tsp salt ((more to taste, once tossed))
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
In a large bowl, combine the coleslaw ingredients: cabbage, kohlrabi, carrots, radishes, green onions, and cilantro.
In a small bowl or jar, whisk together the dressing ingredients: olive oil, lime juice, honey, minced garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt.
Pour as much dressing over the coleslaw as desired. Toss the coleslaw and dressing together. Serve as a side salad, or on top of tacos or sandwiches.
Serve the coleslaw over tacos, on sandwiches (a barbecue chicken sandwich is divine with this coleslaw), or serve as a side salad. The coleslaw may be prepped in advance and refrigerated (reserve pouring the dressing over the slaw until you’re ready to serve), or served immediately after preparation.
If you’ve been reading the blog or following along with my stories and posts over on Instagram, you’re probably familiar with a CSA. Maybe a bit too familiar. Most of my weekend ramblings on Instagram have something to do my CSA goodies. This has also trickled over to the chats we’ve had on the blog.
A CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program allows consumers to support local, small farms. When you join a CSA, you purchase a “share” of the harvest from a particular farm. Depending on the farm this may include produce, meat, eggs, or even milk. I like to think of this as a partnership between a consumer and a farm. CSA programs can differ, but the most common model requires a member to pay up-front for the harvest that is to come.
A CSA allows us city folks to teach our kids where food comes from and to appreciate the source of our food (a man and/or woman worked hard to grow the broccoli and carrots, and raise the chicken), enjoy the freshest food possible, and directly support the hard-working farmers in our local community.
Joining a CSA has challenged me to find creative ways to prepare and enjoy the new veggies. After all, I don’t want to waste my money or disrespect the farm’s time and effort.
Lately, I’ve been receiving quite a bit of cauliflower in my CSA box.
Just a few years ago I would have turned my processed-food-loving nose up at the sight of cauliflower. At that time, my only experience with cauliflower was in the raw state, which is the absolute worst way to enjoy cauliflower. I didn’t know that the method used to prepare (or not prepare) a veggie could make a huge difference in flavor.
I’ll never forget the first time I roasted a veggie, I believe it was broccoli. I couldn’t believe the sweetness, the delicate flavor, and the crunch that came from simply baking the florets at a high temperature. Learning the technique of roasting — and discovering the flavor roasting brings out — helped me embrace new veggies after that first broccoli experiment.
Today’s recipe uses the technique of roasting to transform not-so-appetizing cauliflower into a main dish that everyone in my family (including myself, a former cauliflower hater) loves.
The cauliflower is tossed with a homemade taco seasoning and then roasted at a high temperature. The end result is a taco-flavored cauliflower that may be used as the main filling for tacos, or as a side for a taco night. Top the tacos with slaw, avocado, and cilantro, for the ultimate veggie-packed tacos. And don’t forget a dab of sour cream.
Sheet Pan Cauliflower Tacos
Veggie-based, real food, cauliflower taco filler. Serve with homemade corn tortillas, on it’s own as a nutritious snack, or with a meal as a side.
1 large head cauliflower (cut into small florets (4-5 packed cups once chopped))
1 1/2-2 TB extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
3 garlic cloves (peeled and minced)
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 lime (juiced)
Preheat the oven to 425.
Place the cauliflower florets on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle the oil and seasonings (chili powder, cumin, oregano, garlic, and salt) over the cauliflower. Toss to combine the ingredients. Make sure the cauliflower has plenty of room on the sheet pan (no overcrowding).
Bake the cauliflower for 35-45 minutes, turning the cauliflower half way through to ensure even baking and crisping, until soft and crisp on the edges.
Remove the cauliflower from the oven, and squeeze the lime juice over the cauliflower.
Spoon the cauliflower into corn tortillas, and serve with shredded cabbage (or slaw), sour cream, avocado or guacamole, lime juice, and/or cilantro. Or, serve the cauliflower as a side dish.