Credit to Jill Conyers for the beautiful picture and Dreena Burton for the recipe.

What's on the menu this week?

Rosalie’s Finger Food tray

Baked Potato Bar (gluten-free)

Smoky Vegan Chili

Green Bean Fettucini with Cashew Cream Sauce

Peruvian Quinoa Stew

Whole Bowl

Day one- Rosalie's Finger Food Plate

This is a concept more than a recipe.  My wife and kids are way more likely to be on board when they can choose freely and eat with their fingers.  This week the centerpieces were sauteed asparagus (finally in season!) and Crunchy Dill Chickpea Pancakes.  I know, they sound bizarre.  They were fantastic though; even the kids went after them.

We filled out the spread with veggies, some smoked fish (omega-3s for the kids) and cheese (from pasture-raised cows).

Advance Prep–  We had some leftover cashew cream ranch dressing, so I didn’t make the garlic-lemon aioli that the pancake recipe called for.  Whatever sauce you’re using, making it on a prep day is a good idea.  If you’re doing the Whole Bowl this week too, the Tali Sauce you’ll be making is great for dipping veggies, so making that in advance helps this meal too.

Day two- Smoky Vegan Chili
Recipe link

Simple but delicious, healthy and filling.  Whenever possible, use soaked and rinsed dry beans in place of canned ones.  This helps keep away the gas and makes it easier for your body to get the nutrients out of the beans.

If you want to add something to fill things out, or to get kids more excited, these polenta croutons are great.

Both of these recipes come from Dreena Burton’s “Plant-Powered Families” book, which I highly recommend.  Even if you aren’t interested in veganism, your kids would do well to eat lots of veggies.   Vegan recipes are great ways to do this.

Advance prep–  You’ll want to soak and sprout your beans in advance.  If you have a instant pot, the chili recipe is easy to convert, and you can start things in the morning

Day three- Baked Potato Bar
There’s no recipe to pass on for this one, other than how to bake a potato (easy to find online).  We did two russets and two sweet potatoes.  “But aren’t potatoes unhealthy?” you may be asking.  The short answer is no.  The longer answer is: it’s not the fault of potatoes that we usually insist on deep-frying them or smothering them in butter and sour cream.  That last part is a caveat to everything that comes next in this meal.

When you choose your dressings for the potatoes, feel free to use butter and sour cream, but don’t go overboard with them.  We also used hemp seeds and leftover chili from the day before.  The chili added a lot of flavor and is quite healthy.  With kids, try using just enough of the butter/sour cream to get them excited to eat these guys.

Advance Prep-  No need, unless you’re planning on using a homemade sauce.

Day four- Green Bean Fettucini and Cashew Cream Sauce
We decided to try out a couple of things on this one.  Rosalie is trying out a gluten-free life, so she picked up these noodles (we didn’t pay the absurdly high price on the link btw).  The nutritional profile is pretty fantastic and the flavor is fine.  The texture?  If you’ve found yourself thinking “I wish these noodles had the texture of soft sponges”, these will be your favorites.  They’re not going to win any blind taste tests.  If you’ve been desperately missing wheat products like Rosalie, that alone might make these into favorites.

For the sauce, I made this cashew cream sauce, with a couple of adjustments: apple cider vinegar instead of white wine, a little extra yeast, and rooibos tea in place of hot water.  Holy smokes was it tasty!

Advance Prep-  You don’t need to make the sauce in advance, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.  The cashews should be soaked in advance, but if you forget (like I did), soak them in hot water for 10 minutes instead.

Day five- Peruvian Quinoa Stew
Recipe Link

This one is tastier than the name would indicate.  Rosalie is unenthusiastic about these healthy stew recipes I’m always trotting out, but she always likes this one.

Following the directions as given on the recipe will probably give the best results, but I couldn’t say for certain.  I’m lazy and I love my instant pot, so I don’t cook the quinoa in advance.  Instead, I saute the onions and carrots, then add the dry quinoa (with two parts water for one part quinoa), stock, spices and tomatoes.  Set the instant pot on high pressure and cook for 8 minutes with natural pressure release.  Add the peppers and zuchini and put the lid back on.  Let the residual heat cook them for 5-10 minutes and voila!

Advance prep  If you’re using the recipe as directed, you’ll need to make and cool the quinoa in advance.

Day Six- Whole Bowl
This one is a shameless rip-off of a local food-cart dish; the Whole Bowl.  The dish is so good that it’s their only offering, and they’ve gone from one cart to 12 locations in three cities.  Yes, it’s that good.

Here’s the ingredient list.  Choose your amounts to your own tastes.  The secret is in the sauce.  I don’t know if this version is what they use at the restaurant, but it’s really, really, really good.  Pro tip- I’ve tried this sauce with four different types of beans, all of which taste fine.  The only difference is in the color of the sauce.  For me, if I’m making black beans anyway, I might as well just use those in the sauce.

Advance Prep  You’ll want to soak and cook your beans in advance.  You’ll be using a few in your sauce, which is good to make in advance too.

Day seven- Wildcard
It’s your thing!  Do what you want to do!

If you have kids, you might do what we do: give them a chance to choose a meal.

Using a Prep Day

You don’t need to use a prep day, but if you find yourself struggling to find time to cook, it’s worth trying.  To do it, set aside 60-90 minutes on an off day.  Put on some music, a Netflix comedy show or documentary, or whatever else calls out to you.

1) Soak your beans the night before.  Drain, rinse and cook.  If you don’t have an instant pot, this is a good reason to get one: soaked beans cook very quickly.

2) Cut and roast any ingredients that will need more than 20 minutes to cook on meal day (sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, etc.).  Bake at 400 for 30ish minutes, until fork soft.

3) While these are cooking, go through your recipes and chop all the veggies in advance.  Bag them up and put them in the fridge.  The exception here is white potatoes; they will not keep well, even for a few hours.

4) If you’re making your lunches in advance, cook any grains and whatever veggies are going to be a part of this.  When everything is ready, box them up so they’re ready to go.

5) Make your sauces and store them.

6)  Prep whatever non-meal items you’ll be eating this week.

7) Pat yourself on the back for making it easy to eat healthy all week.

Lee's verdict

Finger Food Tray- A little heavy on the cheese, but he did great.  He ate a few carrots, some other veggies and he loved the pickle pancakes.  Thumbs up

Baked Potato Bar-  Lee ate a sandwich at the neighbors house before dinner, so this never had a chance. Thumbs down.

Chili–  I don’t know what the problem was here.  This one is easy to like, Lee just wasn’t in a mood to eat. Thumbs down.

Green Bean Fettucini–  He did pretty well here.  The sauce outperformed the noodles. Thumbs unenthusiastically up.

Quinoa Stew– This one was my fault.  I forgot to add the broth concentrate to the recipe.  Salting it afterwards wasn’t enough.  Ah, the precariousness of feeding a first-grader healthy foods. Thumbs down. 

Whole BowlAn easy yes; Lee has always like Whole Bowls.  Thumbs up.

Raleigh's verdict

Let’s keep this simple.  Raleigh has declared a war on dinner, unless it’s served 7pm or later.  This war will be fought alongside his war on quiet, war on shoes, and war on screen-time limitation, but with no less enthusiasm.  He’ll eat the ingredients in the kitchen while prepping dinner, and woe to the person who tries to stop him.  But dinner itself?  That’s where he climbs, badgers and generally lowers my will to live.  Feeding him later was working well for a while, but that only works if we delay eating too.  Otherwise he insists on being at the dinner table, though he has zero interest in eating anything but blueberries.   Sigh.

There was one success this week though.  Finger foods went over well, as long as we remembered to call them snacks.  His cousin came by at one point, saying “Oh, you’re eating your dinner.”  Raleigh looked at me with an accusation of betrayal in his eyes, but he took a few more bites.