Archive for Lunch

Snowed in for The Week – Winter seasonal recipes

It looks like I owe you readers (particularly those in the Northeast) an apology, because I think I jinxed things with this week’s theme. “Oh, hey, it’s the middle of winter,” I thought, “Let’s do another winter seasonal recipe week.” And just a few days later…

Miles on top of Mount Snow

Was it the siren song of dark, leafy greens, one of the staples of mid-winter seasonal eating?

Or the lure of the hearty taste of roasted root or cruciferous vegetables, tossed with crunchy sunflower seeds?

Whatever brought it calling, the blizzard’s sweep through our north-of-Boston town sure provided me with a timely backdrop for this week’s recipe theme.

I first tried out the roasted cauliflower, beet and greens salad pictured above after my husband earmarked it in the recent Nutrition Action issue. It’s a classic combo of those dark greens and root vegetables that are key to many winter seasonal recipes – salads, stews, pasta dishes and more. But this time of year, there are also great ways to make use of the bright, crisp citrus fruits that thankfully become plentiful.

I’ve rounded up a week’s worth of recipes that showcase winter’s surprisingly tasty variety. You should try them once you’ve dug the car out of that 5-foot snow drift:

  • Roasted cauliflower and arugula salad from Eat Life Whole (here)not the actual recipe I made, which has not yet been posted to Nutrition Action’s website. But if you omit the cheese and add in some cooked, diced beets, this is the same basic idea.
  • Turkey stew with root vegetables from Simply Recipes (here)
  • Winter pasta salad from The Daily Green (here)
  • Citrus curried couscous with brussel sprouts from Cooking Light (here)
  • Winter vegetable curry from The Food Network (here)
  • Skillet gnocchi with chard and white beans from Eating Well (here)I think I’ve featured this before, but it’s certainly tasty enough for two mentions
  • Snap pea, grapefruit, maple and nut salad from Lunch Box Bunch (here)

Re-Chewing Week: Curried lentil shepherd’s pie

The Chew recently asked Cooking Light Blogger’s Connection members to take on a holiday challenge:

“Select one of the tasty recipes or cute craft ideas from The Chew, and make it your own by adding 1-3 different changes to the process.”

We had Edible Ornaments, Chocolate Pumpkin Pie, Holiday Apple Brown Betty and more to choose from, but my eye was drawn to Christine’s Shepherd’s Pie. Simple, hearty and tasty, shepherd’s pie has only one drawback from my perspective: the meat. So I decided to tweak the original recipe to make it vegetarian-friendly, and came up with curried lentil shepherd’s pie.

It only took a few simple alterations: 1) de-meat the recipe by swapping in lentils and taking out beef, beef broth and Worcestershire sauce; 2) spice things up with curry and garam masala; and 3) top the whole thing off with sweet potatoes for some added flavor and color.

The result is a sweet-and-savory dish that will welcome vegetarians to your holiday table (or at any time of year a warm hearty meal is in order!).

Curried lentil shepherd’s pie

Adapted from Christine’s Shepherd Pie recipe on The Chew

(6 servings, approx. 340 calories each)

1 cup dry black lentils
4 cups water
1 tsp curry powder
3 medium sweet potatoes
3 Tbs butter, divided
1 ½ tsp garam masala
1 red onion, chopped
½ pound sliced mushrooms
1 bag frozen peas and carrots
Salt, pepper and garlic powder, to taste

Preheat oven to 400F degrees.

Cook the lentils: Combine the lentils, water and curry powder in a pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 20-22 minutes. Drain water and set aside.

Cook and mash the sweet potato: Peel and cut the sweet potatoes into 1-2 inch chunks. Boil in salted water for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain the water, then combine potatoes, 2 Tbs butter and garam masala in a large bowl. Mash until smooth.

Sauté the vegetables: Heat 1 Tbs butter in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Add the onion and mushrooms, and cook for 8-10 minutes. Add the bag of peas and carrots and cook until defrosted. Add salt, pepper and garlic powder, to taste.

Put it all together: In a large baking dish, combine the lentils and cooked vegetables. Smooth the mashed sweet potatoes over the top, then rough up the surface with a fork. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes. If you want a nice browned top, finish under the broiler for 1-2 minutes.

Junior Week: Feeding 2 kids or 2 thousand? They all need fruits and veggies

“Junior Week” usually focuses on my attempts to feed my son, Miles, something resembling a healthy, balanced diet. In this series, I’ve curated recipes meant for home preparation, and intended for feeding a handful of people. But today I got to see what it means to prepare nutritious food for way more than a handful of kids – more like hundreds, or even thousands – in a culinary training for school food program staff in the Dover-Sherborn school system.

I’ve been lucky recently to work as a graduate assistant for the John Stalker Institute of Food & Nutrition at Framingham State University, creating and managing their social media presence. Usually that means I’m blogging, tweeting or Facebooking on behalf of JSI, but today it meant seeing where the blade meets the cutting board in their Back To Basics – Fruits & Veggies training.

Chef Tracey Burg (an RD) led the group through a workshop that helps school nutrition programs boost the fruit and veggie offerings in their foods, to help meet USDA standards while enticing school-age Produce Phobics to eat what’s on offer. The group chopped, peeled, boiled, baked, pureed and folded several USDA- and kid-approved recipes, all of which incorporate important nutritious fruits or vegetables.

Lemon zest broccoli

One of the newest and most popular recipes were sweet potato and chickpea “Tasty Tots,” the Popular Choice winner in the recent Recipes for Healthy Kids challenge put on by Let’s Move and USDA. I haven’t tried them out at our house yet, but you better believe those little guys are going to make an appearance on a certain 6-year-old’s plate very soon.

Whether you’re feeding 2 or two thousand kids, these inventive, tasty and nutritious recipes featured in the JSI training are definitely worth a try:

  • Tasty Tots from Bellingham MA Public Schools (here)
  • Roasted vegetable wrap, from NFSMI (here) – page 21 of the pdf
  • Spicy apple topping, from NFSMI (here) – page 23 of the pdf; great for topping pancakes!
  • Seasonal fruit salad with honey mint dressing, from NFSMI (here) – pages 32 and 36 of the pdf
  • Kung Fu carrots, from Millbridge (NC) Elementary School (here)
  • Mandarin salad, from JSI (here)
  • Carrot and raisin salad, from NFSMI/USDA (here)

Now, many of those recipes are scaled for a whole lot of servings, so you may need to bust out the calculator and downsize them a bit. But make sure you’ll still have enough to serve on your own lunch line, because they’re all worth sampling.

The Missing Week: Magnesium’s turn in the spotlight

There are several rockstar nutrients – calcium, vitamin D, iron, vitamin C – who can’t seem to share the spotlight with the rest of the cast. But somewhere a few steps off the red carpet, there’s a lesser known but hard-working mineral that deserves some attention: magnesium.

This salad will make a lot more sense after a few paragraphs.

Magnesium keeps bones strong, helps nerves zzzzap like normal, and is needed for a few other minor tasks like, oh, keeping your heart beating. (Lots more info here) But apparently that isn’t glitzy enough for the average eater, because nearly half of people age 1 and older have inadequate intakes (pdf).

Why? Well, our love of refined grains may be one culprit – wheat’s germ and bran are rich in magnesium, but those get stripped out when processed into flours and such. Green Veggie Phobia is another contributor, because if you aren’t eating your greens, you’re not getting the magnesium-rich chlorophyll.

I think we all agree that we like non-brittle bones and still-beating hearts, so what should we eat to get more magnesium? In general, whole grains, vegetables (especially the green ones), legumes, seeds and nuts are the way to go.

And that brings us to the salad I tossed (har) together that boasts several magnesium-rich foods on the marquee: garam-masala-roasted cashews, curried black lentils, and spinach, along with sweet potato and a simple dressing. Not only does this salad have a sweet and spicy crunch, but it delivers approximately half the magnesium required daily by the average adult.

The salad recipe follows below, and here’s a few additional ways to add more of the magnificent mineral to your meals:

  • “Good morning blend” yogurt parfait from Rodale (here)
  • Poached egg with walnuts and spinach from Cooking Light (here)
  • No-bake molasses, dates, seed and nut bites from Oh My Veggies (here)
  • Jumbo prawns with balsamic-orange onions from Eating Well (here)
  • Grilled halibut with roasted tomatoes from Rodale (here)
  • Papaya avocado salad from Eating Well (here)

Spiced cashew, curried lentil and sweet potato salad

(4 servings, approx. 460 calories each)

1 cup cashews (unsalted)
1 Tbs garam masala
3 Tbs orange juice, divided
½ cup dry black lentils
2 cups water
1 tsp curry powder
2 medium sweet potatoes
6-8 cups fresh spinach
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs apple cider vinegar

Roast the cashews: Heat the oven to 250F. Mix the cashews, garam masala and 1 Tbs orange juice in a bowl. Spread the cashews on a foil-lined baking sheet, and bake for 40-45 minutes, stirring once or twice during that time.

Cook the lentils: Combine the lentils, water and curry powder in a pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 20-22 minutes.

Cook the sweet potato: Pierce each sweet potato several times with a fork. Microwave each for 3 minutes on one side, then flip and microwave another 2-3 minutes.

Mix up the dressing: Whisk together the olive oil, apple cider vinegar and remaining 2 Tbs orange juice in a small bowl.

Put it all together: Divide the spinach among four bowls. To that add ¼ cup of the roasted cashews, one fourth of the cooked lentils, ½ of a sweet potato (sliced/cubed), and ¼ of the dressing (roughly 1.5 Tbs).


Don’t Snow on my Chili Week

I didn’t really need any prodding to try out Cooking Light’s roundup of their 30+ best chili recipes. I’ve been anticipating the inevitable late autumn cool-down that would sweep aside “enh, I don’t need a jacket” and replace it with “a hot bowl of something sure would warm my blue-tinged fingers right about now.” And chili can be a pretty nutritious hot bowl when you’re packing it with lean meats and/or powerhouse beans plus several different types of veggies.

So I bookmarked the list, and got to work mixing up hearty ingredients with complex spice mixes for the smoky slowcooker chili (which I then fed to omnivore Tim, who liked it).

I also served up a Moroccan vegetarian version of chili which, despite not including any actual conventional chili powder, had plenty of tangy, cumin-infused, flavor mixed into the pleasing mix of just-crunchy-enough vegetables and soft cooked chickpeas.

But juuuuust to make sure I appreciated the impetus behind this chili exploration, Mother Nature showed up just today with a timely reminder that “bowl of warm stuff” weather wasn’t impending – it was here.

Yes, ok, got it! Sheesh, couldn’t even let me finish cleaning up after Halloween, huh?

Well, no matter, because I feel pretty well-prepared, chili-wise, thanks to the CL roundup. If you want to have a look at the week’s worth of recipes that especially caught my eye, don’t wait too long because the snow’s already upon us!

  • Moroccan chickpea chili (here)
  • Smoky slow cooker chili (here)
  • Three-bean vegetarian chili (here)
  • Chipotle chocolate chili (here)
  • Chicken green chili with white beans (here)
  • Black bean and chorizo chili (here)
  • Quinoa and roasted pepper chili (here)


Lunch Week: The kids are alright, now what about you?

Many people, in these waning days of summer, are worrying about the return of the lunch box routine. But after you’ve cut up the carrot sticks, bagged up the Pirate Booty, and tightened the Thermos lid, what the heck are you going to eat?

Please don’t tell me you’re just going to coast on all the planning you did for the kids. People, do not let me catch you calling the last string cheese and a peanut-free crispy rice bar a Grown-Up Lunch. You can get away with that when you’re 6, and again for a brief time as an undergraduate, but not anymore.

And there’s no reason you’d have to. Every food-and-nutrition entity this side of Teh Internets has some sort of 10/21/25/50/Bazillion AwesomeHealthyTastyCheapEasy Lunches list that offers a seemingly endless supply of ideas and directions. You’ll find a bunch on Pinterest. There are plenty from food and health sites like these here, here, and here, or the 57.6 million other hits I pulled up on Google.

So rather than shovel the last of my son’s trail mix into my face, I gave a few recipes from Cooking Light’s 22 Healthy Lunch Ideas a whirl. I swapped in some blue cheese instead of gorgonzola in the beef and orange-slice sandwich (pictured earlier) and fed it to my husband, who liked it despite it being a little dry (possibly the result of letting a vegetarian try to cook steak). We both sampled the Asian green bean salad, doubling up the servings to eat it as a main dish. That’s one big bowlful of veggies and sesame-oil flavor, my friends, and easy to make up a batch for lunch-time leftovers.

Want to satisfy the Big Kid palate with some quick-prep, nutrient-dense and calorie-light lunches? Here’s a week’s worth from the CL list that I thought looked especially good:

  • Beef, gorgonzola and orange sandwich (here)
  • Asian green bean salad (here)
  • Mr. Stripey tomato, arugula and pancetta sandwich (here)
  • Curried chicken salad with apples and raisins (here)
  • Southwestern chicken pasta salad (here)
  • Brunswick stew (here)Fun fact: the original version of this calls for squirrel meat. So, there’s that.
  • Spelt salad with white beans and artichokes (here)

If you just can’t break out of back-to-school mode, I’ll at least allow you to write a note on your napkin, congratulating yourself for placing second in the all-district spelling bee with “syzygy.” Just promise me you won’t pair any of these with a juice box.


The Week, Jr., heads to camp (and so does his lunch)

When the school year ends, the days heat up and many a parent is so excited that it also means the end of lunch-packing season. We guardians of growing scholars all get some enjoyment from fortifying them. But meticulously filling the ol’ lunch box with healthy, travel-worthy and kid-approved foods, night after night (or frantic two-minutes-until-the-bus morning after morning) can wear on anyone’s last nerve after 40-odd weeks.

So we enjoy a respite from the lunch box. Until, that is, summer day camp rolls around and you’re back with your head in the poorly stocked fridge, wondering whether a baggie of coconut shavings can pass for a snack (answer: not really).

That’s where I found myself, anyway – unprepared and slightly unwilling to face the return to duty. But the additional challenge of packing peanut-free everything spurred me to do a little recipe and menu hunting, and I thought there may be a few other back-to-packing guardians who could benefit from what I found (after the jump).

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