Let’s Start at the Very Beginning… A Very Good Place to Start

verybeginningWhen you read you begin with ABC. When you start eating better food you begin with…. okay, so this would be a clumsy way to continue. But I’ve been inspired to provide a little bit of a get started post by a phone conversation I had yesterday. Someone very near and dear to me was explaining that she had read about the new dietary guidelines and wanted to incorporate more plant-based meals into her dinner plans. The question to me that followed: “So, do you have any plant-based meals that you could recommend?” Ummmmm….. yeah. I do. I have around 200… on that blog… that you tell me you read… never mind. That’s okay. No, it’s really okay, because I don’t think she was actually asking the question that I heard.

What she meant to say was more like: “I know I should be doing something different, but when I start to think about it I draw a total blank because I’ve eaten this way for a long time. When I look at your blog I am totally overwhelmed because I don’t know where to start and I don’t want to do a search and I don’t even know if I like any of these foods. Help.” That’s what she was really saying, so I decided maybe in honor of the recent guidelines and my very dear relative, a primer would be a good idea. So the purpose of this here post is to use the new dietary guidelines as inspiration to start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.

Paraphrasing the recommendations, there are 3 main components:

A)  include more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

B) Reduce your red and processed meat consumption.

C) Reduce your added sugar intake.

There was more information in the guidelines (including some good news about caffeine and cholesterol), but these are the key points – things to add and things to minimize in your diet. I’ve put them in this order on purpose. If you’ve struggled to eat more healthfully in the past, perhaps starting with what you can add – the food you get to have more of allows you to approach dietary change as a positive and exciting thing – a series of culinary experiments instead of a constant discussion about deprivation.

A) Include more plant-based meals.

So the primer for accomplishing this change will be a list of my favorite super easy go-to plant based dishes. These are not the ones I’d necessarily make for fancy company or the ones that I’d make for the joy of spending an afternoon in the kitchen. These are dishes that I believe anyone can make in a reasonable amount of time and most everyone would enjoy enough to make again. Without further ado… here’s your starter kit for plant-based meals.

1. Lentil Casserole: so simple and easy it’s almost ridiculous. So hearty, flavorful and satisfying it’s Miss Picky Pants’ all time favorite dish. That’s right, my picky daughter has a lentil dish as her absolute favorite. It’s that good.

2. Slow Cooker Bean, Corn, and Barley Burritos: Again, it doesn’t get much easier than dumping a bunch of stuff in the Crock Pot and turning it on. All you need to do is add whatever burrito fixings your tribe likes and you’ve got a delicious plant-based meal on the table.

3. Varia-Bowls: This is a little harder to explain as it’s a concept rather than a recipe, but the idea is that you add a bunch of veggies to a grain or a whole grain noodle, add some sauce and yum! We’ve made some suggestions to get you started.

4. Picadillo: This gentler and fantastically flavored Cuban chiii is super easy and a crowd pleaser. Make the lentil version for plant-based yum. Make extra and freeze it for fast dinners.

5. Nutshroom BurgersThese vegan burgers totally surprised us the first time I made them. They are simply fantastic and if you have a food processor, easy peasy.

6. Roasted Butternut Squash SoupI have yet to meet someone over the age of however old my daughter is at the time you read this who doesn’t like this soup. It is simple and fabulous.

7. Slow Cooker Creamy Tomato SoupEasy, delish, comforting, and feels like you’re eating something that MUST be bad for you. Perfect for dipping a sammy or some great crusty bread.

8. Roasted Veggies 2 Ways:  A great way to take advantage of whatever is in season at the moment and make enough for 4 meals. Can we say freezer dinner rescue?

9. Easiest Tomato Sauce Ever with Non-Dairy ToppersEating a plant-based diet doesn’t have to take a lot of time, or even require you to get used to all kinds of new tastes – who doesn’t like pasta for pete’s sake? This gem of a sauce will save you scads of time and please whoever you make it for.

10. Cauliflower Steaks: I know you think I’m nuts, but these are simple and turn out so delicious and elegant that you’ll feel like you’ve done something really special for very little work, and you may just discover you like cauliflower after all.

B) Reduce your red and processed meat consumption.

Well, if you start including meals from the above list you just might have already taken care of this, eh? But let’s be a little more thoughtful about it for just a minute. What you need to sort out is when you are eating red and processed meats. Just to be clear, when we’re talking about red meat, we’re talking about beef. When we talk processed meat we’re talking about A LOT of things: bacon, hot dogs, deli meat, sausages, ham, salami, pepperoni, variations on ham (prosciuto, etc). This list could go on for a very long time, and it’s hard for me to make it for you because I don’t know what you eat. A trick to thinking about processed meat is considering how long something stays good. Most of these things can stay in the fridge for a very long time because of the way that they’ve been processed, because of the ingredients that they contain which are precisely the ones that our leading nutrition experts would like you to keep out of your mouth, at least most of the time. What to do?

The first thing to do is go back and look at that list in the A section – replace a dinner that usually would be red meat or processed meats with one of our plant based winners. Then you’ve killed two birds with one stone (this has always seemed unnecessarily brutal to me, but you get the point). The next thing to do is identify the role that red and processed meat plays in your diet and attempt to cut back and replace it. Family eats a lot of deli meat for sandwiches? There are deli meats that are uncured and contain fewer objectionable ingredients. They are, predictably, more expensive and they WILL spoil, so while they may be a good substitution from a taste standpoint, they’re probably not going to be a complete answer. It might be time to experiment some plant-strong sandwiches (search our recipes for hummus, dips, spreads, and you’ll find a ton of sandwich ideas). Perhaps it’s time for a thermos to bring leftovers from those lovely plant-strong dinners. Reduce the red and processed meat, up the veggies, fruit, whole grains. They go hand in hand.

C) Reduce your added sugar intake.

One of the things that has startled me the most in my own transition to healthier eating is how much sugar I was consuming that I didn’t even know about. Sugar is EVERYWHERE in our packaged food. I’m not kidding. It’s in potato chips. It’s in salad dressing. It’s in prepackaged macaroni and cheese. Deciding to cut out added sugar from your diet is not a small undertaking and could easily become totally overwhelming, particularly if you have neither the time nor the inclination to increase your home cooking efforts. We recommend that sugar cutting be a gradual and targeted endeavor. The first step is to begin to notice how much you are having. Start looking at the labels. Compare the quantities to things that you consider sweet – for example a candy bar. A standard sized Snickers bar has 27 grams of sugar in it. So do many of those convenient cups of fruit flavored yogurt. I’m guessing you weren’t eating yogurt to get the nutritional impact of a Snickers bar… The new nutrition guidelines suggest that individuals consume no more than 10 grams of added sugar per day (that’s twice the amount suggested by the World Health Organization, by the way). That yogurt, and that more obvious Snickers bar, are almost 3 days worth of added sugar.

I can almost feel you shaking your head and losing interest. A life without Snickers bars may not seem worth it. I hear you. What we’re looking at is your overall nutritional profile. In general, how do you eat? These new guidelines, and an increasing number of health practitioners are saying that in general, added sugar is to be avoided and consistent use of it is dangerous to your health. Best way to change that? Baby step your way out of it. Notice when you’re eating it and consciously decide to have less of that item and to eventually replace it with something that is less sweet, and perhaps eventually with something that isn’t sweet at all. Step down that sugar. Let your taste buds have the time that it takes to get used to lower levels of sugar, to appreciate more complex flavors. You’ll be stunned over time as you realize how great fruit is, how you can taste sweetness in nuts and other foods that you never thought of as being sweet before. You’ll be stunned when you do indulge in a super sugary treat to find that you don’t really want quite as much of it as you used to. The world of abundant and fresh food is entirely masked by added sugar. Peel that mask away and delightful surprises await. And yes, you can still have a birthday cake. :-)

So there you go. A primer on Baby Stepping your way to better health designed to help you understand and implement the new nutrition guidelines, complete with a list of 10 plant-strong recipes that you don’t have to do a search to find. You’re welcome. For more information on changing your eating habits, check out our e-book: Baby Steps to Better Health: Winning the Battle with Junk Food for Families and Individuals. For more information specifically on cutting sugar, check out our Sugar Busting series on the blog. Eat well, be well friends.

Weekly Meal Plan 2/23-3/1

The calendar is telling me it’s time to start my seedlings. My frozen fingers are telling me that’s preposterous. I may defy my fingers and begin some of the earliest crops, and those that do well waiting to go in (like peppers). There’s nothing that adds a little hope like a seedling poking it’s head up out of the dirt. Any other gardeners up there afraid to trust their calendars? What I DO know is that it is going to be yet another cold week here whether I start my seedlings or not, so continuing the theme of warm and warming seems like a great idea. Before we know it we’ll be trying to think of cold meals to cool us off… right, RIGHT?! I hope wherever you are the weather is treating you reasonably well and you at least have warming company.

Monday: Slow Cooker Black Bean, Barley, and Corn Burritos, chopped veggies, green salad

Tuesday: Rice Noodles with Fabu Asian Peanut Sauce, peas, and chopped veggies

Wednesday: Spinach Chickpea Burgers, oven fries, Fancy Shmancy Green Beans with Clementines and Pecans, salad

Thursday: Leftover Pot Pie (with burrito filling to make a taco pie)

Friday: Homemade Pizza (roasted artichokes, onions, and sunflower cheese for mine please – yum!)

Saturday: Cashew and Carrot Curry, green salad, sautéed green beans

Sunday: Homemade Pasta with Easiest Tomato Sauce Ever and Nutshroom Neatballs, and Moo-less Flavorful Parmesan Sprinkles

Lunchbox Treat: Intensely Good Banana Bread

Adult Lunches: Potato and Chickpea Soup


Wow am I hungry now. While this posting of meal plans has been great for planning purposes and has DEFINITELY saved me both money and time, it sure does make me hungry while I’m doing it! Time for some leftover pasta! Eat well, be well friends!

New Dietary Guidelines – Who Knew?!

NewsUpdate6As if there weren’t enough people in the world telling you what to eat – you’ve got your parents, you’ve got us… A few days ago, a panel of top nutrition experts submitted their report to the federal government, describing changes that they think would benefit the average American diet. Wait, what?! A group telling the government how they think I should eat – wait, what?! Well just hold your horses if this is the kind of thing that distresses you. These folks are no joke when it comes to nutrition recommendations.

The panel includes Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health; Marian Neuhauser of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA; and Alice Lichtenstein, the vice chairwoman of the dietary guidelines committee and a professor of nutrition science and policy at Tufts University. This is no group of average know-it-alls. When it comes to nutrition, they may actually know-it-all, or at least know that which is already known… The panel took a look at previous nutrition guidelines, pulled them apart, took in all the most recent research and the latest medical findings and you know what they want you to do? Eat more vegetables.

Yep. Eat your veggies people, and not so much of the other stuff, especially red meat, processed meat, and sugar. All that fretting about coffee? Keep your consumption in check and it might actually be good for you. All that worry about cholesterol? Again, stay out of the deep fat fryer and you’re probably just fine. But red meat, processed meat and sugar… yeah.

For the first time this committee looked not at particular nutrients (i.e. Vitamin D) but looked at the benefits and detriments of whole diets. Looking across your days, weeks, and months – what are you eating the most of? They’d suggest veggies, fruits, whole grains as a big part of that answer. Legumes, nuts and seafood also feature heavily as does lower fat dairy (why lower fat if the whole cholesterol thing is not an issue, but I won’t quibble as I don’t eat it). That’s a lot of really good things to eat if you ask me. I think I could live that way. Wait, I think I do mostly live that way. And for me, and I suspect for many other people, it is the mostly that matters here.

Changing the way we eat is often a question of shifting our ratios. Seeing a positive change in eating habits as an act of deprivation is a sure-fire way to experience a great deal of failure and frustration in my experience. Seeing a positive change in eating habits as a shifting of percentages (lowering meat and raising veggies) or as the opportunity to experiment with abundant foods that are new and exciting, now that’s something that motivates, and something that has a better shot of sticking. Here at the pantry we’ve never claimed to have a corner on the market of dietary advice. There are lots of good ways to go about improving the quality of what you eat and improving your health. When you line up all of that expert advice and look for commonality, it starts to look a lot like these recommendations from these very prominent physicians, which oddly enough also sounds a lot like our friend Michael Pollan (Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual): “Eat real food, mostly vegetables, not too much.”

If you’re inspired to get things going, feeling like just maybe you could feel better, we’d really be happy to help (see our E-Book: Baby Steps to Better Health: Winning the Battle with Junk Food for Families and Individuals for details). We’ve thought a lot about food. Actually, we’ve thought an embarrassing amount about food. We’ve changed, and are still changing. You can too, if you want. The great thing about it is you get at least three chances every day to try to get it right. Eat well, be well friends!

More about the panel and their findings here and here.

Weekly Meal Plan 2/16-2/22

I am so blessed. A surprise drop in from good friends, lots of music, lots of play, and now a lovely snow falling in a way that makes me think we might score an unanticipated weekend recovery day with sledding tomorrow. Yay! Bring on the snow gear! Bring on the hot chocolate! Bring on the hot food! There is little better in winter than a bona fide meteorological excuse for eating comfort food. And so we shall proceed this week. Light and refreshing? No – that’s not what we’re shooting for. We want warm, belly filling, and homey.

Monday: Mulligatawny Soup, served with brown rice, salad, and some cooling plain yogurt for the kids

Tuesday: Mushroom Stroganoff over whole wheat noodles (from the The Engine 2 Diet, green salad, wilted mediterranean kale

Wednesday: Slow Cooker Creamy Tomato Soup, Multigrain Bread, sunflower cheese, cut veggies

Thursday: Rockin’ Gluten Free Falafel, whole wheat pitas, sandwich veggies, carrot fries, green salad

Friday: Homemade Pizza, cut veggies

Saturday: Cauliflower Steaks, quinoa, sautéed green beans, salad

Sunday: Homemade Pasta

Hot Breakfasts: Oatmeal (like this one from Bg Sis), Hot & Hearty Quinoa Porridge

Lunchbox Treats: Almond Lemon Jots

Adult Lunches: Picadillo


Yay! A week’s worth of comforting belly warming food and a snow covered landscape to look at while I eat. I hope your meteorological desires are being met and that you are enjoying a warm bowl of yum! Eat well, be well friends!

Hemp and Bean Sausage Patties (GF,V)

Let me just start by saying that in general, I am not a fan of meat substitutes. For the most part I like to create dishes that aren’t trying to emulate something else as I feel that it nearly always disappoints meat lovers and only occasionally really gets the vegetable crowd excited enough to bother. But there does seem to be a trojan horse for this particular problem. If you make something in the form of a patty, the adventurousness and acceptance both seem to increase – veggie burgers, falafel, or neatballs for sandwiches or pasta have all gained acceptance and, more often than not, enthusiasm over here. So when I saw a recipe for breakfast sausage made from beans, masa harina, and hemp, I was intrigued.

What is it that makes breakfast sausage worth emulating? This is a valid question, and an important one when deciding whether or not to bother. Breakfast sausage, for all their greasy yuck (in my non-that much grease loving opinion), have a combination of herbs and spices that really are tasty and it is my opinion that keeping that flavor profile solely for the breakfast table is nonsensical, but we’ll get to that. So, a less greasy plant strong version of that? Yeah, I’ll give that a go.

The result? Delicious, and as I suspected an excellent candidate for moving off the breakfast table into many other parts of the day. We’ve used our nausage patties as the centerpiece of a dinner that also included roasted plantains and sweet potatoes and fresh cut veggies. We had salsa, malt vinegar, and ketchup on the table to scratch any of the varied condiment itches I could imagine. The only thing I would do different the next time I make these babies, is that I would make at least a double batch and freeze the remainder so that they could be served with pancakes some morning. While not difficult to make, they were time consuming and so I would not want to execute these and pancakes at the same time (pre tea cooking must be strategically limited). If you have given up meat but miss breakfast sausage, these are a good fit. If you are trying to eat less meat and are more open to the whole patty concept, these are delicious and very flexible (in use, not in texture because that would be weird and gross).

A nice thing about this recipe, for me anyway, is that I had nearly everything I needed already in my pantry. Only one item was missing… the masa harina. Honestly I know my store carries it, but you know how I feel about dashing out for a single ingredient (and if you don’t know, let’s just say I suffer from a lack of self control at the store so limiting trips is best), especially when I don’t really know what that ingredient is. So I looked it up. Masa harina is a flour made from corn… so far so good. The corn is apparently dried, cooked in water with slaked lime, dried, and finely ground. The limewater imparts a distinctive flavor. And masa harina is more finely ground than corn meal. Okay, so I don’t have limewater and I’m not up to a chemistry experiment in addition to a recipe experiment. My solution? Grab that cornmeal and grind the crap out of it. I used my food processor, but would likely use my Vitamix next time. The only other problem with the recipe was that it requires that you refrigerate the sausage batter overnight… yeah, I may write a meal plan, but THAT level of planning is rare in this house. I added a little more ground corn meal instead to firm the batter up. I’ve also ditched the liquid smoke called for in the original recipe because I don’t regularly cook with it and there are some concerns with the safety of the product. The safety concern for liquid smoke is less, but still apparently present, in smoked paprika I am sad to discover. I actually have smoked paprika, and will use it here, but next time I may switch out the liquid smoke for scotch whiskey (boozy breakfast) and the paprika for a little extra pepper.

Hemp and Bean Nausage Patties (GF,V) - adapted from Spicy Hemp Breakfast Sausages in December 2014’s Vegetarian Times

Spice Liquid

  • 2 T maple syrup
  • 2 T dried parsley
  • 2 T dried rubbed sage (this is KEY, don’t skimp)
  • 2 t garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 t dried oregano
  • 2 t smoked paprika
  • 1 t black pepper
  • 1 1/2 t salt
  • 1 1/2 t dried thyme
  • 1/4 t red pepper flakes
  • 2 c boiling water

Nausage Mix

  • 3/4 c plus 2 T finely ground corn meal (use food processor or power blender)
  • 1 c hemp seeds
  • olive oil for cooking
  • 1 15 ounce can of soft beans (or 1 1/2 c well- cooked from dried; I used black beans here, probably anything well cooked other than chickpeas would work), drained and rinsed

First thing to do is to make the spice liquid – it’s basically like flavor tea. Combine all of the seasonings in a medium sized bowl. Add the boiling water and set aside for at least 5 minutes. While the flavor tea steeps, collect the other ingredients. Place corn meal in large bowl. Place beans in skillet or large sauce pan on stove, but don’t heat. Measure out hemp seeds. Drink some water.

Add 1 1/2 c flavor tea to the beans on the stove. Turn to medium heat to bring to a gentle boil and then simmer, stirring occasionally until liquid is largely evaporated, leaving a thick mixture that looks a bit like refried beans. While they are simmering…

Add 1 cup of the flavor tea to the corn meal and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Add hemp seeds. When beans are done, add to cornmeal mix and stir.

Heat olive oil in pan on medium. Add nausage batter in plops with a large spoon. Allow to cook for a minute or so and then flatten a little with a spatula. Cook about 5 minutes per side or until crispy. Drain on paper towels. Serve wherever you like. Delish!

Weekly Meal Plan 2/9-2/15

I’m told that it was on this day in 1870 that the National Weather Service was established (then called something else and under the war department). While I’m generally glad to have weather forecasting information; today’s forecast does not exactly put me in a celebratory mood. While last winter we had a lot of snow and I confess to having grown weary with the constant uncertainty about the school schedule in that situation, I have come to the conclusion that snow is preferable to the usual mid-Maryland winter weather event offering: wintry mix. While we have rain at the moment, temperatures will drop and tonight we’ll have our beloved Mid-Atlantic travel boondoggle that includes sleet and snow, and over time maybe also some freezing rain. Not quite cold enough for graupel. If you live somewhere warmer, you get rain. If you live somewhere colder, you get snow. Here, we get about 12 variations on slippery snow/rain – let’s call it snain. With the grey skies and no hope of a lovely blanket of snow and sledding, I am quite tempted to take comfort in my non-snow blanket and just hibernate for a few days until the temperatures change again. Comfort food and experimentation might help keep the wheels turning.

Monday: Lentil Casserole (we didn’t have this last week because the stomach bug spread), sautéed green beans, green salad

Tuesday:  Roasted sweet potatoes and plantains (similar to Naturally Sweet Sweet Potatoes), Spicy Hemp Breakfast Sausages, spinach and orange salad

Wednesday: Lentil Bulghur Burgers, roasted potatoes, cut veggies and freezer pickles

Thursday: Korean BBQ Tofu Tacos, green salad

Friday: Homemade Pizza, cut veggies

Saturday: Dinner Out

Sunday: Homemade Pasta, green salad

Lunchbox Treat: Healthy Pumpkin Cookies

Adult Lunches: Cold Kickin’ Soup – no we’re not currently sick, but I think a little immunity boost would do us some good right now.


I feel better already just from talking about all that yummy food. Pair that with another night of good sleep and I’m sure things will seem much brighter. I have been getting more sleep (generally, not necessarily consistently) and I have to say that it’s pretty clear how much difference an extra hour makes for me. It’s easier to wake up in the morning. I’m more productive when I’m awake. I’m more patient and more resilient in the face of a problem. I am working on shoring up my resolve and continuing to eliminate or sideline the obstacles that prevent me from getting enough sleep, interfering with my Year of Well-Being. Hope you are rested and enjoying a sunny day in spirit if not in reality. Eat well, be well friends!

Broccoli Meatballs? Reallly? Yes, Really.

I don’t know about you, but my preparation of, or suggestion of broccoli to the youngest members of our tribe is rarely met with an enthusiastic: “Oooooo broccoli!” I confess I find it hard to understand as broccoli was one of the only vegetables I willingly ate as a child, but I digress. When I make broccoli (despite their admission that my preparations are better than most thanks to this broccoli secret) there is usually at least a few faces that range from disinterest to disgust and either an implied or directly stated requirement that it be eaten regardless of how you feel about it because it’s broccoli. Why should they (and by they I mean all of us) eat their broccoli?

If you’re a data hound looking for reasons to eat broccoli, check this out (lots of graphs for you). If you prefer paragraphs to charts, give this one a go. The long and short of it is that broccoli is one of the richest sources of nature’s good stuff out there. It’s so great it makes the Mayo Clinic’s list of top 10 healthy foods. I’m gonna assume at this point that you at least logically believe that eating broccoli is a good idea, even if it has not been your favorite in the past. I would suggest that this preparation is a winner and just might turn your broccoli feelings on their healthy little hearts.

Vegetarian Times says: “Broccoli Meatballs.” Okay, there’s a lot of problems with that name for a dish. First of all “broccoli meatballs” just sounds weird. Secondly the fact that these little gems are called “meatballs” suggests that they have meat in them, which they do not. Admittedly simply calling them broccoli balls would likely not increase their appeal. Even I, a broccoli lover, am not particularly interested in eating broccoli balls. These little dealios, strange name or no, are really quite delicious, packed with nutrition (they include yet another ingredient on the Mayo Clinic’s top 10 list, almonds), and pretty simple to prepare. So let’s get on with… broccoli balls or bust! Okay, yeah, still no on the broccoli balls.

Broccoli Meatballs (adapted from Vegetarian Times Broccoli Meatballs with Garlic-Tomato Sauce)

  • 4 cups chopped broccoli (original called for just florets, but that’s wasteful, so peel the stems and go for it)
  • 1 c raw almonds
  • 2 t sesame seeds + 1 t salt in a 1/4 c measure – fill the rest with nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1/4 c chopped fresh parsley
  • 11/2 T dried basil
  • 1/4 c chopped fresh spinach (shut the door – it’s another super healthy Mayo Clinic approved food!!)
  • 1/8 t cayenne pepper
  • 2 flax eggs

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease or line a baking sheet with parchment. Steam the broccoli until just fork tender (maybe 10 minutes). It should be bright green and not mushy. Remove from steamer and allow to cool. Pulse almonds in food processor until ground. Place in mixing bowl. Pulse broccoli in food processor until mostly chopped. Add spinach and pulse a few more times and then add to ground almonds. Add all remaining ingredients except for the flax eggs and stir to combine. Add eggs and stir until combined. Shape mixture into meatballs.


We made 12, but I would make more smaller ones next time. You will have to press a little to get them to stick together. Place on baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes or until browning on the outside. Serve wherever you might consider serving meatballs. We had ours in mini pitas (a slight size mismatch there) with some leftover Easiest Pasta Sauce EVER, a salute to my old favorite a meatball sub. Sauteed green beans on the side made it a super green dinner bonanza. Delish! Since then I’ve had the leftovers with pasta, on a salad, and on a bed of rice with more nutritional yeast. All of them were great, so I give this badly named nutritional powerhouse a super Sis Sisters thumbs up! Eat well, be well friends!


Weekly Meal Plan 2/2-2/8

An exciting week here at the Pantry. We’ve been getting some really great feedback on our E-Book: Baby Steps to Better Health: Winning the Battle with Junk Food for Families and Individuals and we are hard at work on the print version. One reviewer asked how many recipes there were in the book and we laughed because we had no idea how many, and it is very many indeed – 190! We had no idea. We really appreciate everybody’s positivity with this longtime venture. We’ll be posting updates on our new Facebook page if that’s something that works for you (just search for Baby Steps to Better Health).With all this excitement and the tasks that go with it, it’s easy to lose track of the mundane task of eating… okay, okay, I never lose track of the eating part, but sometimes forget that I have to prepare all that stuff.

Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to combine my meal planning with a monster of a chore I have to do… cleaning out the cookbook area. The shelves that I have my cookbooks on are in the kitchen, which is where most of our daily activities take place. As a result my cook book shelves have also become the shelves for anything else that doesn’t have a home. They also house my ancient recipe notebooks, in which I’ve stored many recipes pulled from magazines and such and honestly I’ve not looked at them in a long time. I’m hoping to find buried treasures and do a little consolidating. What’s going on in your neck of the woods? What’s on your table?

Monday: Whole Wheat Rotini with Sunflower Cheez, Spinach, and chopped Pistachios (I will post more about this as I think it will be awesome). And yes, we did have pasta last night, but we’ve got one with a upset tummy and this will be easy to customize according to food tolerance.

TuesdayLentil Casserole, Carrot Fries, green salad

Wednesday: Spinach Chickpea Burgers, Cut Veggies, Green Salad

Thursday: Baked Egg Rolls filled with Spicy Asian Lentils (inspired by a cookbook clean out find), snap peas with oranges and pecans, green salad

Friday: Homemade Pizza, cut veggies

Saturday: Roasted Vegetable Chili, Cornbread, green salad

Sunday: Homemade Pasta with Easiest Tomato Sauce Ever

Lunchbox Treats: Nut Butter Bliss Balls

Adult Leftovers: Mr. Little Sis is traveling, so I will have leftovers from all of these dinners for lunch. ;-)


That’s all from blustery Mid-Maryland! Hope your week is exciting and full of delicious flavors. Eat well, be well friends!

Healthy Game Day Snacks

I’m not really much of a football fan. I don’t really even like watching all the stupidly expensive commercials, but give me an occasion to sit with a bunch of friends and have some snacks and a cold beverage and I’m in. While I was walking around the grocery store today, I took a look in the much decorated “Game Day Snacks” aisle. It was remarkably similar to the non game day snacks aisle that is usually, strangely enough, in the exact location, but the big banner and fringy tassels really made it seem like a whole new section (yes, that is sarcasm, see my thoughts on grocery store marketing here). I gathered that what we are supposed to eat on Sunday evening, and by extrapolation at every major televised sporting event is chips, canned dip, frozen pizza and a variety of kinds of chicken wings.

Don’t get me wrong. I can enjoy the flavors of some junk food. Really I can. But I can’t eat it all night without knowing it for at least a day afterward, and truth of the matter is that I don’t really want to do that anymore. I’d like some salty crunchy and some savory, some hand held sociable bites that won’t make me feel like crap. What if there were snacks you could eat with friends that were actually good for you?!

But wait… there are! Here’s our roundup of our own pantry snacks that make great game night fare. I will add that on the whole chip thing, if you are a habit buyer and have been getting some kind of chips since the beginning of time, take a look around that aisle. Near as I can figure there are approximately 3,000 different kinds of chips at the grocery store (I’m including all the cheese puffy type things in that estimate although I suppose they are technically not chips). While you’re looking around, see if you can find a chip that has VERY FEW ingredients. I know they’re out there. Potato chips really require very few ingredients, as do tortilla chips. Check out the label. If you really need some chips, know what you’re getting, get what you’re paying for, which I assume is food, not preservatives or a list of words that really only mean sugar and salt. That’s a good question to start with, actually. Do your chips have sugar in them? Some of them do… There… I’m done with my chip thing. We favor these multigrain tortilla jobbies that I get at Costco (see my Costco list here). Okay, now you’ve got chips covered; what else?

Crackers and Bread

If you don’t need chips for this to be a game, try subbing out some whole wheat crackers. Heck, you may even want to make your own crackers or bread for those awesome spreads. Maybe make some toast points instead of chips! Try these little numbers:


1. Gluten Free Crackers

2. No Fear Homemade Whole Wheat Bread

3. Multigrain Bread

Clearly you must have dip for your chips or crackers or bread!



4. Baja Hummus

5. Sweet Potato Lime Dip

6. Smoky Baba Ghanoush

Done with the mess of chips and dip and now want a handful of something yummy?

Snacks to Eat By The Scoop

7. Movie Gorp

8. Roasted Spiced Nuts

Instead of Frozen Pizza

If the kids have a hankering for pizza when it’s not our homemade pizza night, I often make them a pizza bagel on a whole wheat or sprouted grain bagel – why not make them for a crowd? If you’re looking for a non-dairy alternative to mozzarella – try this one.


9. Soccacia Pizzas

10. Mini sandwiches with Sunflower Cheese and cucumber or tomato slices

11. Chickpea Salad Sammies

Sweet Bites
If you simply cannot be tempted with all this savory stuff, how about a few healthier sweet treats?

12. Brownie Bites

13. Good Neighbor Chocolate Chip Cookies 

14. Nut Butter Bliss Balls

So there you go. A bevy of healthier eating options for whatever you’re doing this Sunday evening. Whatever it is, I hope you have a super time. Eat well, be well friends!

Weekly Meal Plan 1/26-2/1

As we get another week between us and the holidays, the kids’ resolve to detest everyday living is slipping. There have been some admissions of enjoying school sometimes and the occasional act of unexpected graciousness between siblings. As the weeks pass, we are also entering yet another season of activity. Ms. Picky Pants has started a new dance class and the Gentle Giant is poised to start basketball. They are both clamoring for more activities, but I’m holding steady at one. They also get piano at home. And when’s a kid supposed to play with all those great new Legos anyway?! So it’s a contained kind of chaos, which I’ve concluded is the best kind. ;-)

Regardless of what kind of chaos we find ourselves in, however, we still have to eat. At least I do. I’m sure some people can just skip the occasional meal now and then, but unless I’m doing it for a REALLY good reason (and I can’t think of an example), I am not one of those people. So as we sit, waiting for this snowstorm to actually become something, I better get my act in gear and figure out what we’re having. They are out in the centimeter of snow playing. If it does keep up, they’ll be in it tomorrow too, and they will be hungry. What’s the weather doing in your neck of the woods? Are you planning your meals with the weather in mind?

Monday:  a dairy free version of Broccoli Meatballs with Garlic Tomato Sauce (Vegetarian Times), served in whole wheat mini pitas, with sautéed green beans and a green salad

Tuesday: Lentil, Mushroom & Sweet Potato Soup,  No Fear Homemade Whole Wheat Bread, chopped veggies

Wednesday: Chickpea and Cashew Tikka Masala, steamed broccoli, green salad

Thursday: Warm Asian Noodle Salad (a variation on Big Sis’ version), crispy tofu, chopped veggies

Friday: Homemade Pizza

Saturday: Potato Pancakes (a la Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone), homemade slow cooker applesauce, sauteed spinach, green salad

Sunday: Homemade Pasta with red sauce, green salad

Lunchbox Treat: Date Chewies (I’ll share if this works ;-))

Adult Lunches: Leftover miso soup from last week, leftover homemade pizza (yes, It’s DF)


Well, there it is, and I’m pretty sure we even have what we need to do this plan until Thursday or so, so if it does snow more than a centimeter and state of Maryland goes into weather related lockdown we should be alright. Hope the weather is giving you joy, or at least not getting in your way. Have a great week! Eat well, be well friends.