Maybe we shouldn't talk about how well unbaked cookies freeze. . .
Want to know something weird about me? Every few weeks, and especially when the seasons change--especially, especially just before school starts -- I feel the need to stock my freezer with food. It's like I have this internal alarm system that's like, "You have to make food for the coming apocalypse in which your freezer will still work and you'll have access to a stove and microwave!" Yeah, I don't get it either BUT it's really convenient for weeknight dinners! So, what do I make?
1. Black Bean Burgers. Confession: I was late to the black bean burger party. I do love the ones from the store, but they're pretty expensive and I tend to go through them pretty quickly. Plus, y'all know I would rather make things at home if I can. When I stumbled upon Jenna's recipe years ago, I was HOOKED. I seriously make these every few weeks and am always running out. First of all, they are pretty cheap---much more so than the pre-made, store bought version. Second, they are insanely delicious -- way better than store bought! Third of all, they're so versatile, which is why they're always gone so fast. We crumble them up for burrito bowls, throw them on top of nachos, add them to breakfast tacos, or just eat them with some avocado slices. I don't think I can recommend a recipe more than this one.
2. Turkey Burgers. Usually I keep the flavoring pretty low key so that they can be more flexible. We eat them straight with avocado and tomato, greek--with olives and tatziki sauce, or we crumble them into pasta sauce for zoodles, or add them to burrito bowls, or even add them to breakfast scrambles. Sometimes I'll make different versions or add basil and they still never stay in the freezer for long.
3. Pesto. If black bean burgers are my number one recommendation then this might be my second. I have always loved pesto but all of the cheese and oil is not loved by my body any more. I thought I'd given up on pesto until this dairy and nut free pesto. Even my husband, who bemoans all things fake cheese and imitation, totally loves this pesto. It is bright, insanely flavorful, and has no dairy and less oil than many versions. You seriously need to try it. Bonus: It freezes super well and there are probably 6 small jars in my freezer. I'm excited just thinking about them.
4. Bars. I love grab and go snacks, don't you? These are the Raspberry Chia Oat Squares I made for our picnic a few weeks ago--they freeze beautifully. Granola bars are totally my thing, too. Texture? Yes. Fruit and nuts? Check and check. Easy to make in bulk? Oh yea. My go to recipes are the Blueberry Oat bars from the Tone It Up nutrition plan and these amazing ones from Smitten Kitchen. I've made them a few times and love them.
5. Energy Bites. These are really very similar to number 4 so maybe that cheating BUT these are smaller which means they're cuter and we can have more of them, win! I like a lot of different versions from ones with protein powder to ones that taste like cookies to ones that are like brownies but they are all easy, made in bulk, keep well in the freezer, and make a great snack.
Some nights I have very specific food desires, where only what I'm craving or thinking about will do and other times I just can't be bothered to expend the mental energy to figure out what I'll ingest that night. Ebb and flow, people, ebb and flow.
So, if you're coming back from the holiday weekend thinking, God, what am I going to make for dinner? and without that mental energy to decide, here are 5 fast, flavorful meals to get you started. These are the ones that are easy and delicious and therefore the ones I make again and again.
1. Burrito Bowls: Quinoa + protein ( usually chicken ) + vegetables ( bell peppers, tomatoes, and avocados ) + salsa + homemade hot sauce (totally optional!) + "sour cream" ( greek yogurt + lime + salt & pepper) = Easy. Fast. Delicious. Done.
2. Stir Fry: The one above is the Thai Coconut Tofu from the Tone It Up nutrition plan, but I also use tofu and frozen vegetables + soy sauce and ginger or a peanut sauce to make a fast, tasty stir fry that's ready in no time. Tofu is often faster to cook than other proteins but of course you could use anything else if you're not as into tofu as I am.
3. Greek Meatballs: Even if you don't obsessively freeze meal items like I do, meatballs are pretty fast to make. Turkey meatballs + tomatoes + avocado + sun-dried tomatoes + kalamata olives ( + feta cheese if you're into that! ) = a fast yet flavorful dinner. If I'm feeling really ambitious I'll put it on top of zoodles ( spiralized zucchini ) or brown rice pasta, and some times I'll even make a take on a tatziki sauce ( greek yogurt + lots of lemon juice + salt & pepper + dill, if I have it) to go with it.
4. Shrimp + Quinoa + Mango Salsa. My husband is usually kind enough to flavor ( salt, pepper, chili power, and sometimes garlic powder seasoning mix ) and cook up some shrimp from the freezer while I make a mango salsa by dicing mango, avocado, some jalapeños ( if I have them ), and some red onion, mixed with a little lime juice. Dinner is ready in about fifteen minutes and I never get tired of it.
5. Turkey / Black Bean Burgers. I usually freeze these to have on hand but, again, even if you're making them that night they are pretty fast. These can be so versatile -- you could make turkey burgers greek like I did with the meatballs or Mexican like I did with the burrito bowl or you could add pesto or go more traditional with some avocado, tomato, and lettuce. Black bean burgers are great on their own, here, or as taco filling or on top of nachos. Both are fast, delicious, and full of protein!
What are your go-to dinners?
One of the main problems with meal prep is how freaking long it can take. In another post about meal prep Sunday I talked about how I make this work for me ( namely T.V. and kombucha ) but the fact is that it doesn't always work for me. For example, after we drove back from Vermont a few weeks ago, I had like two hours to get everything done before I went to sleep and woke up to a new work week. So, a multi-hour meal prep wasn't going to work. Here's what I do when I'm short on time:
1. Use the freezer: When I do have time, usually every few weeks, I make some go-to freezer meals. I'll do another post dedicated to this for more detailed ideas but some constants are turkey burgers, black bean burgers, meatballs, energy bites, granola bars, and pesto. These keep me well stocked when I don't have time to prepare food.
2. Pick up a few essentials: Usually I grocery shop on Saturdays and meal prep on Sundays so I don't have to do everything at once, but on a weekend when I"m traveling I'm forced to do everything on Sundays. So, instead of getting supplies for the whole week, I focus on things I will need to get me through the next few days. Always on my list? Spinach, kale, avocados, quinoa ( if I'm running low ), eggs, yogurt, any frozen fruit I've run out of, almond milk, and some fast vegetables -- green beans, swiss chard, carrots, and broccoli are house favorites. Bell peppers are great too because I can throw them in with anything.
3. Make bulk recipes: When I'm short on time I focus on recipes that don't take much time and can be made in bulk. For example, I can easily double a smoothie recipe and it will take the same amount of time to make a double batch. Then I'll have two breakfasts instead of one in the same amount of time. Another favorite is overnight oats because they keep well and again don't take any more time to make extras of.
4. Keep it simple: Whatever recipes I do make, I try to keep low on ingredients to reduce prep time and to make it easier for the week. I'll do a basic salad and some smoothies because those are fast, have little prep, and keep fairly well.
5. Old Faithfuls: I almost always make quinoa for the week but I especially do for mini-meal prep because it's so easy throw in our rice cooker and then to pair with a protein or toss onto a salad throughout the week. Besides quinoa, I divide the spinach into tupperware for lunch and then keep a bag full for smoothies throughout the week. I also almost always buy yogurt because I can throw it in a smoothie or portion some out on its own for an easy snack. My other favorite, fast staple is homemade trail mix. I always have nuts, dried fruit, and seeds around so I just toss them all into a bowl, mix, and divide into pre-portioned ziplock bags.
6. Buy Carefully: Finally, don't forget that, while it is less cost effective and at times less healthy, many things can be bought for convenience. If you're short on time this week ( or hey, this lifetime ) then store bought granola bars and oatmeal containers are not bad things--as long as you read the ingredients and pick carefully. I love picking up green juices from the store, too, because I rarely take the time to make my own juice ( despite having a juicer ).
What are you meal prepping this week? Any quick meal prep tips?
I don't know about you, but I hate not knowing what's for dinner ( or lunch or breakfast or, uh, snacks ). I'm constantly looking for meal inspiration to avoid this and stay excited about what I'm eating. So, I thought it might be helpful to do some food recaps to give you some healthy meal inspiration. With that said, if you have any doubt about my belief in balanced eating, versus totally clean eating, you can see all of the less healthy meals I had in Vermont, like this amazing muffin.
Most of my meals have been from the Tone It Up nutrition plan since it's the end of the Bikini Series; if this means nothing to you, go ahead and check them out! Basically, Karena and Katrina created a fitness company, Tone It Up, which promotes clean eating --lean proteins, fruits, nuts and healthy fats, and lots of vegetables-- and their own workouts, both free and for purchase. The Bikini Series is their 8 week program, with the idea of getting in shape for summer. ( P.S. This is in no way an ad for Tone It Up. I just love their energy and programs and have had success; I'm also sharing my real life and this is part of what I use as a guide. ) For this challenge, I wanted to focus on balanced nutrition and eating healthy to feel better, which you know is important to me. One of my favorite breakfasts from the challenge is overnight oats. This one is chocolate strawberry and perfect for spring.
I have also been super into fruit salads as snacks since the produce is getting better.
One of my favorite grab and go snacks is a yogurt cup with some fruit and / or trail mix and after our Vermont trip it was the perfect, zero prep go-to. The strawberry rhubarb flavor is amazing and Siggi's is a favorite brand of mine.
I have also been loving this peach and pecan salad with quinoa and balsamic glaze for lunches. #allthefruit.
For dinners, we've been trying to keep it to lean proteins and to make an effort to add more vegetables. I always keep some burgers and pesto in my freezer so this meal was easy to throw together quickly: turkey burger, pesto, quinoa, cherry tomatoes, and freshly steamed rainbow chard and green beans.
Another night we grabbed some fish and quickly cooked it up with some lemon and pesto. At first I wasn't sure I would like the fish + pesto combination but *my husband was right* ( hope he's reading this! ) and it was delicious. We had some roasted asparagus with it.
I've been super into tofu recently. I love that it keeps really well, versus meats or fish, and is easy to quickly prepare. I hated tofu until I learned how to cook it properly, but more on that later! This is a quick stir fry situation: edamame, peppers, broccoli, tofu, cashews, and some homemade peanut sauce. Fast and delicious!
Sometimes you just really need a salad for dinner, right? Right. This one is a play on a mustard chicken salad I'd seen on Pinterest and we'd had earlier in the week. I just switched up a few things and added blueberries. YUM.
Finally, instead of having real fish tacos--fried and encased in a tortilla--I made a fish taco bowl the other night with quinoa, fish ( we used cod ), mango salsa, peppers, traditional salsa, and some "sour cream" --greek yogurt, lime, salt, and pepper. It was flavorful and satisfying and didn't make my stomach hurt, win!
What have you been making recently?
Ice cream has always been one of my all time favorite foods. It is sweet, creamy, and a quintessential part of summer. Plus, it's a mix-in / topping dream, which we all know I love. What's not awesome? How I feel after eating dairy ice cream. A few years ago I developed a lactose intolerance and, while I can tolerate cheese and other dairy in small doses, unfortunately the fat and dairy combo of ice cream is a pretty solid no-go. So, instead of regular ice cream, now my go-to is banana ice cream. At first I was skeptical--is someone really going to convince me that bananas and ice cream are the same thing? But, after trying the banana ice cream from It's All Good, I was hooked. Could I swap out someone's ice cream and make them believe it's the same thing? No, but when I'm craving ice cream this is completely satisfying.
There are so many ice cream flavor combos I love, but whenever it's cherry season I die over anything with fresh cherries so obviously I had to have them in banana ice cream form. I started with frozen bananas and cherries and added in chopped almonds, fresh cherries, and some almond paste (easily found in the grocery store, too). The almond paste is completely optional but takes this over the top with the creaminess and flavor of the sweet almonds, so good!
Banana Cherry Almond Ice Cream
Loosely adapted from It's All Good
1/2 frozen banana
1/4-1/2 C frozen cherries
1/8-1/4 C almond milk (depending on the consistency you want)
1-2 T maple syrup (depending on how sweet you want it!)
Optional: 1/4 tsp vanilla / almond extract (if you want a stronger, less fruit flavor)
Ghirardelli Mini Chocolate Chips
Chopped, fresh cherries
Almond paste / Marzipan
Directions: Place base ingredients in food processor and blend just until ingredients mix together -- make sure not to mix for too long so that your 'ice cream' stays frozen and creamy, not melty. After blending, add mix-ins and then enjoy immediately!
Notes: We put ours into our slushie cup to keep it a bit more frozen for longer but this is totally optional. However, make sure to eat your 'ice cream' quickly as it does not freeze well.
If Memorial Day weekend didn't feel like the start of summer then flipping the calendar to June this morning sure did. What could be more summery than a giant, refreshing smoothie? Not much if you ask me.
I am pretty obsessed with smoothies. They are my go-to breakfast because I love being able to eat them on the go and having something healthy and easy. I almost always add spinach to them too and there's no other way I'd be happy eating spinach for breakfast!
As much as I love smoothies, I wasn't into smoothie bowls at first--are they a dessert or a breakfast? I also thought they were complicated--first you have to make the base but then the toppings, too? Yesh. Have I talked you out of them yet? Well, this was all before I actually tried one. With my first smoothie bowl, I was hooked and, as you can see from the one above, they don't have to be complicated! The one above is just strawberries, protein powder, and some almond milk--plus the fruit on the top--simple!
What really convinced me on smoothie bowls was the texture boost. When I was younger I couldn't do anything that was just a soft, smooth texture--like pudding or uh smoothies--so the addition of texture is a game changer for me. So, as a topping / ingredient junkie I go totally crazy for all of the extras but you don't have to.
For my latest smoothie bowl, I was feeling the cherry-almond combo. If you're like me, you want your smoothie bowl to be a little thicker than a regular smoothie, so add a bit less milk. For me, the toppings are where it's at. For this one I chose some fresh strawberries and cherries, almond butter, toasted coconut, almonds, pistachios, and dried goji berries and cherries.
The smoothness of the base plus the crunch and chew of the toppings? Swoon. I especially love the crunch, chew, and juice of these combos. The best is experimenting to find the toppings you like best and your favorite combos. Plus, food art is the best kind!
What are your favorite flavor combos? Are you a smoothie bowl convert, too?
Cherry Almond Smoothie Bowl
1/2 banana (or mango)
1/4- 1/2 C frozen cherries
1/4- 1/2 C almond milk
handful of spinach
1/4 tsp almond or vanilla extract
Toppings: pistachios, almonds, toasted coconut, goji berries, dried cherries, almond butter, fresh strawberries and cherries.
(image from Cupcake Anonymous)
Most Sundays you can find me in the kitchen doing meal prep for the week. It allows me to catch up on my T.V. shows, prepare myself for the week, and spend time taking care of myself.
Why I meal prep:
From this week's meal prep:
*Mocha Latte Overnight Oats
*Blueberry, strawberry, cashew, quinoa, spinach, and pea shoot salads
*Sliced carrots from the farmer's market
*Trail Mix (walnuts, pecans, almonds, goji berries, dried cherries, coconut, and cacao nibs)
What are you making this week?