I wrote a post in July about my new dinner plan, which is to “make each day of the week unique”. You can read about it here. I’m excited to be implementing it now that the school year has started and things have gotten pretty busy with sports practices\matches, theater set design, and orchestra rehearsals for my daughter, and meetings for me and my husband. More than ever, I need focus when it comes to meal planning. The premise is to assign each day of the week a theme (Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, etc) so that it’s easier to plan the week’s recipes.
When I was poring over recipes yesterday morning trying to figure out what to make this week, it was so much easier to decide using my new system. I’m telling you, I am really on to something here!
Here is this week’s dinner plan. Thursdays are kind of a catch-all day. We usually have a good amount of leftovers in the fridge, and sometimes we will just fend for ourselves. On Friday, without exception, we go out or order in. The kitchen is always closed. This tradition has been going on since my 13 year old was a baby and I look forward to it every week. On Sundays we get together with our close friends and neighbors for our Crappy Dinner Party which I cannot recommend highly enough.
Next week for “Taco Tuesday” I have promised my family I would make these Pork Carnitas. I made them for a friend on Saturday in my Instant Pot and they were so good (and very easy)!
Most every Sunday I sit down with a mixture of cookbooks, magazines, recipe files and swirling thoughts to try to map out the next week’s dinner menus. I collect cookbooks and recipes the way some people collect baseball cards or coins. I love recipes, I can’t get enough of them, but there are SO. MANY. And when it comes time to figure out weeknight meals I do feel sometimes as though I need a little guidance.
I read a tip somewhere recently to make each day of the week a unique *type* of cuisine to help guide things along. Taco Tuesday is a popular night, but can you really eat tacos every week without someone in your family complaining that they are getting sick of them by month six (I mean, in my family the answer is no, but I realize we don’t represent all families)? So instead of tacos, you could designate Tuesdays for Mexican food night. Rather than it just serving tacos, you could also incorporate an easy pozole , burritos, chilaquiles, make your own Chipotle bowls, etc.
This tip was kind of a big deal for me, and I laid out a plan for our week that I think will work nicely. Every so often, maybe quarterly, I can mix things up a bit so that I have a chance to use all my recipes that I love so much. This plan will work well during the school year, when we are on a little bit more of a regular schedule.
Here’s my weekly plan:
Monday: Meatless Monday (usually a pasta or another grain)
Tuesday: Taco Tuesday (or any Mexican inspired dish like chilaquiles, burritos, or this Easy Posole)
Wednesday: Fish (salmon, poke bowls, shrimp kebabs, etc)
Friday: KITCHEN IS CLOSED, OUT TO EAT
Saturday: John grills or smokes meat
Sunday: Comforting soup or a roast, or any other more complicated, time consuming dish that sounds good
I am really excited about this new approach to planning meals, and I think it’s going to work well for us.
Do you use a system like this? How does it work for you? What are you ideas for days of the week? Please leave a comment below!
I received a lot of feedback and traffic to the blog when I posted the High Protein Smoothie recipe for depression nutrition support. The post seemed to strike a nerve, and it’s no wonder. Depression and anxiety are on the rise. Kids, especially, are suffering at ever increasing rates. According to a New York Times article today: “In 1985, the Higher Education Research Institute at U.C.L.A. began asking incoming college freshmen if they “felt overwhelmed by all I had to do” during the previous year. In 1985, 18 percent said they did. By 2010, that number had increased to 29 percent. Last year, it surged to 41 percent.”
In 32 years, the rate of U.C.L.A. freshman who feel overwhelmed rose by over 200%. This is startling.
I can’t begin to address the issue of depression and anxiety in depth like mental health professionals can. It’s an intricate problem with many factors, and I primarily focus on the nutrition aspect. But, I can say that we as a civilization seem to be moving further away from spending time together in person. People feel isolated and alone. This is one reason why I proposed Crappy Dinner nights, which have taken off like gangbusters and are now a weekly occurrence amongst my friends. Another factor that has been studied is our lack of time in nature. Children are given less time to play outside during school and adults spend most of their days indoors as well (I wrote a post about this, you can read it here).
One thing I know for sure is that our diets, what we eat and drink, is negatively affecting our mental health. Inflammation plays a role in our mental well-being, just as it does with cardiovascular, metabolic, and brain health. When we eat mostly pro-inflammatory foods like highly processed flours and sugars, our brains aren’t being fed what they need to be happy and healthy. Our gut health, which is a key factor in the health of our other bodily systems, is worse for the wear when we eat these pro-inflammatory foods. If our gut microbiota is out of whack, so is the rest of us. You can read about it in the paper titled “The Gut-Brain Axis: The Missing Link in Depression” in Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience. In the conclusion, the authors write: “Poor diet is a risk factor for depression; thus, a healthy diet may prevent depression. Regulation of the gut microbiota using diet, probiotics and FMT may have important benefits for preventing and treating depression”. For those wondering what FMT means, it’s fecal microbiota transplantation, which is a process used for certain gastrointestinal diseases like Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis.
To be clear: I do not believe people who are depressed or anxious can magically cure themselves with diet. If it were that easy, no one would be suffering. But I do believe diet can play a role in mental health and wellness, just as it can when we are battling cancer, heart disease, or diabetes. It’s a piece of the puzzle.
So, my advice to anyone with depression or anxiety is to, little by little if that’s what’s feasible, add in some anti-inflammatory foods to your diet. Try to crowd out the cookies and crackers with whole foods like high quality proteins, fats and complex carbohydrates. These foods will nourish your brain and help reduce inflammation. Use lots of herbs and spices a.k.a. “booster foods”. And please, don’t ever go off any medications or treatments without the express consent from your doctor.
See below for an easy and delicious Ginger Turkey Stir Fry recipe. If it were me, I’d make the brown rice using frozen pre-cooked rice from the grocery store. It saves a lot of time and leaves you one less pot to wash. If you feel like having chicken or beef, use that instead. Opt for high-quality, grass fed meat as much as possible. They are higher in Omega-3 fatty acids.
**I am not a doctor nor am I qualified to give medical advice. Please see a licensed medical professional for any medical concerns you might have.
Yesterday when I was trying to figure out what to make for dinner, I typed in “garlic parmesan pasta” because those were the ingredients I definitely had on hand. I wanted something very simple but still tasty. Everyone likes pasta. Plus it’s wonderful comfort food for a cool fall Monday.
The recipe that I found is a “one pot” pasta recipe which means literally everything goes in the pot, including not just the liquid and the pasta but all the seasonings. You wouldn’t think this would work but I swear on my life it works — and beautifully at that. But you must trust the process.
The one thing I added to this One Pot Garlic Parmesan Pasta recipe is frozen meatballs into the bubbling mixture because I felt like the meal needed some protein, and my 12 year old and my husband love meatballs. So do I, but since I try to stick to a lower animal protein diet, I added some vegan meatballs to mine.
Speaking of changes, I also opted to put the parmesan at the table instead of into the recipe — my daughter doesn’t love a cheesy mess (unless it’s pizza? Sometimes she’s weird) and letting people determine the amount of cheese means less cheese usually gets used. So it’s a win for the pocketbook as well as the overall calorie count of the meal.
So, try this recipe next time you need something super quick, simple and easy to clean up after.
I am blessed to have the most fabulous neighbors. When we moved in almost seven years ago, my immediate next door and kitty-corner neighbors welcomed us with enthusiasm. Since then our families have played together, eaten together, traveled together and spent Christmas Eve together.
However, we are a busy bunch, and it can be difficult to find time when we can all come together. Between high stress jobs, kids’ activities, and family commitments, weeks and sometimes a month or two can go by before we can see one another. For a couple of years we’ve been talking about the concept of the Crappy Dinner Party, wherein everyone pitches in whatever they have in their fridge (no shopping allowed!) and the host family does no cleaning, no fussing and no elaborate anything. The point is to allow us to spend time with one another without stress. I’m happy to say that this Sunday my family hosted the InauguralCrappy Dinner Party. I made some vegetarian tostadas from a meal kit service that I was planning on making anyway. Catherine brought turkey taco fixings that she was making for her family that night regardless and some drinks for the kids. Tom brought gin (because, COCKTAILS) and grapes and veggies. I threw some buttered noodles in there for the kids. We cut up a watermelon. I didn’t even wipe up the crumbs from the dinner table from the previous night BECAUSE CRAPPY DINNER PARTY RULES ARE NOT TO BE BROKEN. We used paper plates (that we composted, please don’t yell!) and it was probably the most relaxed dinner party I’ve ever had in my life. And this was with 6 kids and 5 adults!
Some integral people in my friend zone were missing, as I threw the dinner idea together somewhat last minute. Deanna had to work (so she sent her husband and kids), Shawn and family had plans, and Erika (a new friend to me but a dear friend to my friends so obviously she’s on the list!) couldn’t come, but here’s the thing: now that we’ve started this it’s going to happen more frequently. Once you release the pressure of cleaning and putting together an elaborate spread, it becomes a joy and not a burden. Catherine has already planned the next one at her house.
How do you host your own Crappy Dinner Party? Let me summarize the rules for you:
DON’T CLEAN YOUR HOUSE. Move some piles if they get in the way of eating but otherwise hands off.
NO GROCERY SHOPPING. Make what you have, even if it’s beans and rice.
EVERYONE BRINGS SOMETHING THEY CAN CONTRIBUTE. Even especially if it’s gin.
REPEAT again and again because it’s fun and you realize your friends just want to see each other, even if the house is messy.
Do you have your own Crappy Dinner Party rules? Let me hear them!
The weather took a sharp turn here this week, with temps dropping into the 30’s overnight and 50’s in the day. It’s gorgeous, this crisp fall weather. It’s also that perfect time of the season where the last of the delicious garden tomatoes are at their peak and you just want to use them in everything before the frost comes and it’s too late.
Late summer/early fall tomatoes are perfect on pasta, I think. We love pasta in our house. We eat it about once a week, always with different variations of sauces. Over the years I’ve migrated from making white flour pasta to whole wheat to quinoa/brown rice blend. Recently I’ve started experimenting with legume pasta. I love that it is made with *only one ingredient*. In addition, legume pasta is high in protein and fiber. It’s also gluten-free, vegan, and in the case of Pasta Lensi, also Non-GMO Project Verified.
Pasta Lensi, an authentic Italian pasta company, has been around since 1920. And just this September they launched their line of legume pastas. They sent me three flavors to try, which is fun because I really enjoy trying new things (ask any of my friends, they are constantly hearing me talk about something new I’ve discovered).
This week I made the Chickpea Casarecce.It’s made with flour ground solely from chickpeas. I was told it pairs nicely with chunky sauces so I decided to make Pasta Caprese. Chunky tomatoes, shallots, lemon juice and fresh buffalo mozzarella –what could be better? (Of note: the chickpea pasta is a good source of potassium and iron. Iron is important when you eat mostly vegetarian, and so when you get it from non-meat sources it’s important to pair it with vitamin C. The tomatoes would be perfect for that.)
Sadly, while preparing dinner I realized my mozzarella had gone bad in the fridge. What I didn’t know is that the Chickpea Casarecce would impart a creaminess to the dish, which compensated for the lack of cheese quite nicely. I love that it has 22 grams of protein per 3.5 oz serving. The high protein content easily made up for the lack of cheese or meat in the dish. It also has 12 grams of fiber, which is just about 1/2 of an adult’s fiber needs for the day.
Dinner was favorably received by my family, and for that I am always grateful. My 11 year old gladly ate her whole bowlful. Here’s the recipe so you can try it at home.
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste (I love flake sea salt)
1.5-2 lbs chopped in-season tomatoes
1 pound Pasta Lensi Chickpea Casarecce (or any pasta of your choice)
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup torn fresh basil
Whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, shallot and garlic in a medium bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Gently stir in the tomatoes. Let sit for at least 15 minutes so that the flavors combine. In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook as the label directs. (This pasta, like all the legume pastas I’ve tried, creates a foamy layer on the top of the water. Make sure to use a pot bigger than you need and watch so it doesn’t boil over.) Pour the pasta into a large bowl and spoon the tomatoes mixture on top, then stir to combine. Add the mozzarella and basil, and season with salt and pepper if needed. Garnish with whole sprigs of basil. Serve hot or room temperature.
Please let me know what you think of this recipe! Don’t hesitate to share with with your friends!
*I was provided product and compensated for my post by Pasta Lensi. All opinions are authentically mine.