Picnics and potluck dinners are not complete without pasta salad. Filled with sweet grapes, crunchy pecans, and a light dressing, this version saves you calories without sacrificing flavor. You can substitute your favorite pasta for the orzo, or use brown rice or whole grain couscous.
Yield: 8 servings
Preparation time: 15 minutes
2 cups cooked orzo pasta
1 cup halved seedless red grapes
1/4 cup chopped unsalted pecans
3 green onions, whites and greens thinly sliced
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp low-fat Greek yogurt
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Combine the pasta, grapes, pecans, and onions in a medium-sized bowl.
In a small dish, stir together the mayonnaise, yogurt, red wine vinegar, sugar, salt, and garlic powder. Stir well, until the sugar begins to dissolve.
Pour the dressing over the pasta and stir to coat all of the ingredients. Refrigerate 30 minutes before serving.
Nutrition information for one serving (about 1/2 cup): Calories 99; Total Fat 3.3 g; Saturated Fat 0.3 g; Trans Fat 0 g; Cholesterol 1 mg; Sodium 85 mg; Carbohydrate 15.7 g; Fiber 1 g; Sugar 4.3 g; Protein 2.2 g
Under 200 calories per serving and a good source of fiber, these filling muffins make a great on-the-go breakfast. This recipe uses fresh, sweet dates and shredded carrots to cut down on the amount of added sugar. Unsweetened applesauce eliminates the need for oil while keeping them tender and delicious.
Tips for the cook: The coconut topping goes well with the carrot, but it is optional. You can bake the muffins with no topping at all, or substitute the coconut with heart-healthy walnuts or sunflower seeds for crunch.
Yield: 6 muffins
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Baking time: 20 minutes
10 fresh dates (such as Medjool dates)
1 cup shredded carrot (about 2 small carrots)
¼ cup raw sugar
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
½ tsp vanilla
2 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
1 cup white whole wheat flour
2 tbsp unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut
2 tbsp raw sugar
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 6-muffin baking pan, or half of a 12-muffin pan with olive oil or non-stick cooking spray.
Add the dates to a small food processor and pulse until finely chopped. You can also chop them finely with a knife. Add the dates to a large mixing bowl.
To the mixing bowl, add the carrots and the raw sugar. Stir the mixture, breaking up the dates so that they are evenly distributed throughout the shredded carrot. Stir in the egg and applesauce, mix well. Add the vanilla.
Next, stir in the baking powder, cinnamon, and salt until the ingredients are combined. Slowly stir in the flour, just until all the ingredients are incorporated.
Transfer the batter to the prepared muffin pan. Fill each of 6 muffin slots with about ½ cup of the batter.
In a small bowl, stir together the coconut, sugar, and cinnamon. Top each muffin with about 2 teaspoons of the mixture. Gently press it into the batter so that it sticks to the muffin top as it bakes.
Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of each muffin comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes. If necessary, slide a knife gently around the outside edge of each muffin to loosen it, and then remove the muffins from the pan and transfer to a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Nutrition information for 1 muffin: Calories 197; Total Fat 2.7 g; Saturated Fat 1.2 g; Trans Fat 0 g; Cholesterol 60 mg; Sodium 301 mg; Carbohydrate 39.2 g; Fiber 4 g; Sugars 22.8 g; Protein 5.3 g
Peas are a source for plant-based omega-3 fatty acids as well as manganese, folic acid, fiber, and vitamin B6. In this recipe, fresh peas are quickly blanched to retain their crisp texture, and then mixed with a seasonal pesto made with basil, green onions, and walnuts.
Yield: 4 servings
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 5 minutes
20 large, fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 green onions, white and green portions chopped
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
2 cups fresh spring peas
In a small food processor, add the basil, garlic, onions, walnuts, and cheese. Pulse four to five times, until the basil and vegetables are chopped. Pour in the olive oil, and add the salt and pepper. Pulse until all ingredients are finely chopped and resemble a spread. Set aside.
Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a medium-sized sauce pan. Meanwhile, prepare a medium-sized bowl with 3 cups of ice water. Once the water in the saucepan boils, add the peas and cook for 60 seconds.
Remove the peas from heat, and drain them through a colander. Transfer the peas quickly to the cold water for 30 seconds. Pour the peas back into the colander to drain the cold water.
Transfer the peas to a medium bowl and add the pesto. Stir to coat the peas in the pesto. This dish can be served warm, room temperature, or cold.
Nutrition information for one serving (1/2 cup): Calories 178; Total Fat 12.2 g; Saturated Fat 2.9 g; Trans Fat 0 g; Cholesterol 2 mg; Sodium 112 mg; Carbohydrate 12.2 g; Fiber 4.2 g; Sugar 3.8 g; Protein 6.3 g
Planning healthy meals for your week doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Incorporate some of these ideas for make-ahead meals that will help you put nutritious food on the table despite a busy schedule.
Pot of Beans
If you use a slow cooker, there are few meals simpler than a pot of beans. Soak 1 pound of black beans in water overnight. Then add the beans, 6 cups of water, 3 cloves of minced garlic, and a small diced onion to your slow cooker. Cook the beans on high for 5-6 hours or low for about 8 hours. Add seasonings such as cumin, basil, chili powder, and salt to taste.
Fully cooked beans can get mushy after being frozen so remove any you plan to freeze about 1 hour before the beans are done cooking. Beans can be served over brown rice, as a filling for tacos, or topped with an egg for breakfast. Puree the beans and add your favorite spices for a vegetable dip, or use the puree to thicken and flavor soups and pasta sauces.
Roasted and Sauteed Vegetables
Broccoli and cauliflower florets can be roasted on a baking sheet for 20 minutes in a 425 degrees Fahrenheit oven. Use them as a side dish, or serve them with quinoa for a full meal. Leftovers make a healthy pizza topping, or reheat the broccoli and cauliflower with vegetable stock and puree for a filling soup. Bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms can be sauteed to make vegetable fajitas. Use leftovers as a filling for calzones or omelets, or in a pasta salad.
Lean Ground Meats
Save money by purchasing lean ground beef, chicken, or turkey in bulk. Use a portion for a meatloaf on the weekend. At the same time, make some into patties or meatballs to freeze for easy burgers or pasta on a busy night. Cook the rest in a skillet and refrigerate for 2-3 days or freeze portions for up to 2 months to use in tacos or for chili.
Whole chickens can be roasted in the oven, grilled, or for much less hassle, use the slow cooker. Rub the skin of a 3 ½ to 4 pound whole chicken with your favorite spices. Arrange 2 quartered onions and 2-3 peeled cloves of garlic in the bottom of the slow cooker. Place the chicken (breast side up) on top, cover with the lid and cook on low for 4 to 6 hours, or until the meat begins to fall off the bone. Once the chicken has cooled, shred the meat using two forks (and clean hands). Divide the meat into portions that you can refrigerate or freeze. Shredded chicken is great to have on hand for quick chicken salad sandwiches, wraps, pot pies, fried rice, soups and stews, and Mexican dishes like nachos, tacos, or quesadillas.
When stored in a glass baking dish or disposable baking pan, casseroles can go from freezer, to oven, to table for an easy weeknight meal. The tricky part is making healthier versions without high-calorie and high-fat cream sauces, cheeses, and meats. (Our Sweet Potato Lentil Shepherd’s Pie is a great option for a healthy casserole.)
Keep in mind foods such as eggs, cooked white potatoes, lettuces, cooked pasta and rice, and milk or cream based sauces do not freeze well. When you are ready to use your casserole, thaw it overnight in the refrigerator or take it straight from freezer to oven. You will need to increase the baking time by 1/3 to 1/2 the time called for in the recipe. Test the internal temperature with a meat thermometer to ensure it reaches at least 165 degrees.
Oatmeal for Breakfast
Oatmeal is a healthy breakfast that can be made ahead for the family to enjoy all week. For 8 servings, combine 2 cups of steel cut oats with 8 cups of water in the slow cooker and cook on low for 4 hours. Divide the oats into single-serve storage containers for the refrigerator or freezer. Nuts and dried fruits can be added during the cooking process, or you can leave the oats unflavored and add fresh berries, nuts, seeds, honey, or maple syrup when you reheat them. Add about 1 tablespoon of water or milk before reheating to give the oats a smoother, just-cooked consistency. (Try our Almond Cherry Steel-cut Oatmeal.)
Many canned soups have over 800 milligrams of sodium per one cup serving. By making your own soup with fresh ingredients, you eliminate the preservatives and control the added salt that contribute to high sodium content. Stir up a pot of this quick soup on Sunday, and enjoy it for lunch throughout your week.
Tips for the cook: Add the salt a little at a time, and take a taste after each addition. You might find you like the flavor of the soup with even less salt than called for in this recipe. The low-fat milk offers just a touch of creamy consistency to the finished soup, but feel free to omit it.
Yield: 6, 1-cup servings
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups chopped broccoli florets
5 small, red or white-skinned new potatoes, cubed (peeled or unpeeled)
1 quart no-salt-added chicken or vegetable stock
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup low-fat milk
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium high and add the onion and garlic. Cook for about 2 minutes, until the onions begin to soften and turn translucent. Add the broccoli and the potatoes. Cook about 1 minute more.
Pour in the stock. Bring the soup to a low boil, and then reduce the heat. Allow the soup to simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the broccoli and potatoes are tender.
Use a potato masher to gently mash up some of the potatoes and the broccoli in the soup.
Stir in the fresh dill and milk. Add the salt and pepper. Serve warm.
Nutrition information for 1 cup (made with no-salt-added chicken stock): Calories 141; Total Fat 2.7 g; Saturated Fat 0.8 g; Trans Fat 0 g; Cholesterol 1 mg; Sodium 482 mg; Carbohydrate 27.7 g; Fiber 3 g; Sugars 4.6 g; Protein 6.8 g