Dinner drop-off: Sweet potato, coconut, and red lentil daal

I’m in the season of life where everyone is having babies. The season where happy hours often include holding a friend’s baby in one hand and a cocktail in the other. The season where multiple friends at a time are down for the count with morning sickness.

While it feels a tiny bit bittersweet for the spontaneity of childless years to be leaving my friend circle, it mostly feels exciting. I love babies, and I love seeing the strong, awesome women I hold so dearly with their little ones.

Today, I want to share with you my favorite way to support the new mamas in my life: bring them a meal! This idea isn’t innovative or difficult or expensive, but it’s something I wish we all did more of. When a friend is in need, whether that’s because they’re struggling or celebrating, feed them!

Honestly, you don’t even have to enjoy cooking for this to work. Bringing your friend’s favorite takeout is probably just as welcome as a homemade meal. When you bring them food, any food at all, that means they don’t have to worry about the chore of making dinner, even if it’s just for the night.

When you bring a new mom dinner, sometimes you have to carry strange bags into the office. 

I’ll be sharing a series of these recipes that work well for the dinner drop-off in the coming months. These meals have to fit several criteria: 1. Cozy and simple, 2. Store and reheat well, 3. Walk the line between healthy and indulgent.

My best tips and tricks for meal delivery success:

  • All-disposable everything. When you’re bringing a friend a meal, it’s likely because the rest of their life feels overwhelming. Don’t give them the additional task of remembering to return your casserole dish. I am usually a stickler for glass storage and reusable containers, but this is an exception. I have a few Rubbermaids that I am not attached to, and I just tell the recipient to pass that container along as needed. If a gallon ziplock will do the job, use one.
  • Check in about food preferences. If you’re not sure if your friend has any allergies or aversions, just ask. Especially if you’re making food for a newly pregnant and possibly nauseated friend or a nursing mom. I usually send a text or email like this: “I want to bring you dinner Wednesday evening. Are there any specific foods you’re avoiding?”
  • Give a heads-up. Since the idea of this good deed is to take the weight off your friend’s shoulders, let her know a day or two ahead of time what you’re thinking. That way she doesn’t spend any time stressing about what’s for dinner that night — she knows she has a delivery from you on the way.

The meal I’m sharing today, a simple lentil daal with sweet potatoes and green peas, is a favorite at my house. It’s spiced and flavorful, but not spicy; it’s hearty, but not heavy. It freezes well in case your friend can’t use the meal right away. I brought it to a friend and her husband earlier this week with brown rice, garlic naan, and chewy blondies with chocolate, coconut, and pecans.

Sweet potato, coconut, and red lentil daal

Serves 2 hungry adults for 2 meals

I know that this dish isn’t authentic. But it’s wholesome, hearty, and has all the coziness of chicken noodle soup.

Ingredients:

Medium yellow onion, diced

Coconut or olive oil

Four cloves of garlic, minced

Tbsp fresh ginger, minced

 

Tbsp yellow curry powder

½ tbsp turmeric

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp cardamom

1 tsp salt (more to taste)

 

3 medium sweet potatoes, chopped into small cubes

1 c red lentils

1 can full-fat coconut milk

1 cup water (more to add if daal gets dry)

 

1 c frozen green peas

  1. Heat a large pan over medium-high heat (I use my cast iron skillet). Once hot, add a couple tablespoons of your chosen oil. I use a combination of coconut and olive. When the oil is melted/hot, add the onions. Sautee until golden brown, up to ten minutes.
  2. Add garlic and ginger. Sautee for 30 seconds, or until very fragrant. Lower heat to medium.
  3. Add spices, and — stirring constantly — toast for one minute. I add more coconut oil at this step if the pan looks dry.
  4. Add sweet potatoes, lentils, coconut milk, salt, and water. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 30-40 minutes. Stir occasionally, ensuring that the lentils don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. If the lentils or sweet potatoes need more liquid to cook, add about a cup of water halfway into the cooking time.
  5. Once the potatoes are fork-tender, stir in the green peas. Allow to simmer for five more minutes to warm the peas through.
  6. Serve with brown rice, naan, or both if you need extra comfort. Sriracha and cilantro are welcome compliments.

Heavily adapted from this recipe.

Note on rice: for the best reheating experience, spread still-hot, freshly cooked rice in a flat layer (like on a big baking sheet) until completely cool. Then store and refrigerate. The rice will reheat in individual grains, not as a big clump.

One Month Vegan: What I’m Eating and What I’ve Learned

As of Tuesday, my husband will have been eating vegan and gluten-free for a whole month. The reasons why are complicated and health-related and none of your business 😝, so let’s get to the real question: WHAT THE HELL DOES HE EAT?

Lots of chickpeas, really. Also, did you know brown rice pasta tastes basically the same as regular pasta? I’m finally figuring out tofu, so that’s been fun.

Even if this diet doesn’t end up doing the trick for Grant’s allergy problems (which I alluded to here), I’m really enjoying learning new techniques and trying new things. Once it’s consistently warm outside, I can’t wait to check out some vegan grilling options. (Not sure what those will be. Eggplant? Tofu planks? Hit me up if you have ideas!)

Once we decided to give vegan a try, I started reading. Before, when I had served G meatless meals, he had a hard time getting full. I think some of that may be psychological and based on expectations of what a meal should be, but I was legitimately concerned about getting enough protein into his diet.

Well, guess what? Vegan diets are, like, super full of protein. Lentils and quinoa and nuts, oh my.

My initial research was fueled by this cookbook ⬇⬇⬇, which I’ve had for a long time, but hadn’t done a whole lot of cooking out of. Isa has stews, pastas, sandwiches, salads, everything.

Meal planning in bed.

I read the whole thing like a novel, earmarked a bunch of the recipes, and I’ve been aiming to make one each week. Our very favorite so far has been lentilroni (another blogger made it here). It’s kind of like canned beefaroni (I always preferred the ravioli). But instead of weirdly textured “ground beef,” there are lentils, and pureed cashews make the sauce creamy and delicious. (I also forgot to soak the cashews the first time I made this, and it didn’t matter at all. I ground them to a powder in my food processor, and they incorporated with the vegetable broth perfectly.)

Minimalist Baker is another plant-based inspiration. Her roasted garlic mac and cheese is incredible.

One cannot live on peanut butter sandwiches on super-expensive gluten-free bread alone, so here’s a by-protein breakdown of what we’ve been eating (and really enjoying (mostly)).

PINTO OR BLACK BEANS

I made a big batch of pintos in my slow cooker, stuck most of them in the freezer, and now they’re ready to pull out for burrito bowls or taco salads at any time. Beans and rice is also an easy, simple meal, especially so with avocado and hot sauce.

TOFU

Whenever I’m at an Asian restaurant, I almost always order tofu as my protein. The crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside texture is so delicious, and I know that texture is accomplished with lots of oil.

A good runner-up tofu prep – and one that’s healthier and easier to make at home – is baked in a hot, hot oven. I press extra-firm tofu for at least 90 minutes to get excess water out, cube it, toss it in cornstarch, soy sauce, and olive oil, and bake it for 25 minutes at 425, tossing the tofu halfway through.

Crispy tofu, broccoli and tomatoes, and this creamy coconut turmeric rice. We topped it with bottled carrot-ginger salad dressing.

This method is easy, quick, and the resulting crispy tofu soaks up any sauce you drizzle on it. I’m partial to a homemade teriyaki or a citrus vinaigrette.

LENTILS

I’ve taken to making a batch of green lentils over the weekend to have on hand when we need a protein. I’ll stir them into salads or serve them with leftover grains and roasted vegetables.

CHICKPEAS

Hummus is a regular in our house, vegan diet or no, but I’ve learned some new ideas. Hummus pasta is my new Friday night too-tired-to-read-a-recipe meal. Boil pasta in well-salted water. Saute onions, garlic, and big handfuls of fresh spinach. Reserve a mugful of the pasta water and drain. Add half a container of hummus to the saute pan. Heat until creamy, adding splashes of pasta water as needed. Add drained pasta and stir. It will be so creamy, and it really scratches that mac and cheese itch. I add lots of red pepper flakes to serve.

We’ve also been eating chickpea scrambles a lot. Saute onions, garlic, and whatever veggies you’d like, add drained chickpeas. Smash them up a little and let them sizzle for 5 or so minutes, adding paprika, salt, and pepper to taste. Serve with salsa and roasted potatoes on the side.


What’s true regardless of which vegan protein you pick: there is little flavor in these plant-based options on their own. They all can take a lot of salt and a lot of hot sauce. They’ll also meld super well with whatever sauce you choose. On my list for this week is tofu cubes in BBQ sauce with corn, sweet potatoes, and broccoli. Maybe some fresh pineapple for a “Hawaiian” vibe?

I don’t think we’ll be eating vegan forever. G really likes and misses chicken, and you all know how I feel about a whole roasted bird. But I think we will stick to the routine of more meatless meals. It’s heart-healthy and planet-healthy, and a bag of lentils is a hell of a lot cheaper than a package of chicken.

What are your favorite plant-based meals?

Meal Planning 101

Here it is, guys: a crash course in meal planning. This is what saves me time, money, and extra pounds every week.

Healthy eating means something different to everyone. To me, it means vegetables at most of my meals, grains at just a few of them, and plenty of protein. Convenience foods and restaurant meals — especially in the Midwest, where there are just fewer options — don’t easily facilitate this.

Time and expense are big, totally valid barriers to eating healthfully. Learning to plan meals and prep food ahead of time? Game changer.


BARRIERS

Eating nutrient-dense meals is important, and the cheapest way to do that is to make the meals yourself. While swinging through the McDollar menu drive-thru on the way home may be cheaper than grocery shopping and cooking, the calories you’re consuming are totally empty. Buying a kale and romaine salad with chicken, chickpeas, bell peppers, and avocado could easily be $8-12. You can make it at home for WAY less money. You just may have to eat it for a few days in a row to use up all the ingredients.

Eating healthfully is more expensive. It just is. I talk about this issue here, but processed food is full of sugars and starches because those ingredients are dirt cheap. Leafy greens and lean proteins are costly, especially when compared to the $1 frozen T.V. dinner.

I am so fortunate to be able to afford nutrient-dense food. This does not escape me. Not everyone can budget for seven salads a week, because seven sandwiches will be cheaper.

Making a thoughtful grocery list can save money, as can shopping around to find the cheapest place for your staples. I rely on Aldi, a bargain grocery store, and have saved so much money shopping there.

Classic Caitlin meal prep: a big batch of chili or soup that will only taste better as it sits in the fridge. (This is sweet potato, black bean, and quinoa chili from What's Gaby Cooking.)
Classic Caitlin meal prep: a big batch of chili or soup that will only taste better as it sits in the fridge. (This is sweet potato, black bean, and quinoa chili from What’s Gaby Cooking. All ingredients from Aldi.)

Time is another factor in eating healthfully. It takes longer to grocery shop and cook than it does to eat in the cafeteria at work or hit Chipotle on the way home. I choose to spend multiple hours on the weekend planning, shopping, and prepping food for the upcoming week. I enjoy this, so it doesn’t often feel like work (although sometimes it does).

By carefully planning my meals, making an intentional grocery list, and keeping essentials on hand, I’m able to make (mainly) wholesome meals for G and I for the whole week.


SOLUTION

Meal planning can be overwhelming and intense the first few times. It’s full of a dozen little mental calculations: how much rice do I need? Do we have eggs? What about bananas? Which nights am I working late?

I was terrible at first: buying too much, planning to make dinner every night of the week (ha!), forgetting to plan something for breakfasts or snacks.

What follows are the details of how I meal plan. Everyone does this process differently, and a million little factors determine what will work best for you. How many people are you cooking for? How many times do you eat out each week? Do you mind leftovers?

To help you answer those questions, I’ve made a meal planning worksheet. The instructions for use are at the bottom of the post, and you can download the worksheet here.

meal-planning


MY MEAL PLANNING ROADMAP

Friday: Over lunch, I plan meals for the upcoming week, Saturday-Friday. I save complicated or time-consuming recipes for the weekend and rely on old faithfuls and no-recipe meals during the week.

I also give thought to lunches and breakfasts. Grant leaves for work very early, so I pack breakfast and lunch for him every day. If I don’t plan ahead, it’s easy to run out of food mid-week.

By Friday, I typically have a pretty good idea of what our calendar looks like for the upcoming week (happy hours, doctor’s appointments, whatever), so I can plan around that.

Saturday: I review the meal plan I made the day before, check my fridge and pantry for the ingredients I need, and add what’s missing to my grocery list. I use this app. I don’t 100% love it, but it gets the job done. Similar items, like freezer and produce, sort by color-coding, and you can create different lists for different stores (Aldi, Hyvee, Trader Joe’s).

Quantities are one thing that really screwed me up when I first started meal planning. I never bought the right amount of produce — always too much or too little. Now, I have it down. Since I know that I eat one romaine heart for lunch every day, and Aldi sells romaine hearts in packs of three, I should buy two packs. Easy peasy.

I go shopping at Aldi first, getting as much as I can there. I follow up at Hyvee, which is on the way home, and grab the one or two things I can’t get at Aldi. This varies from week to week, but is usually a specialty item, like Larabars or kombucha.

When I get home, I immediately do some prep. I open packages of meat and divide them into fridge and freezer packs. If I need one pound of ground turkey for the coming week, but bought a three-pound pack, I’ll freeze two pounds and put the remaining pound in a container in the fridge.

Other examples of quick prep that I do at some point before Sunday evening: make big batches of rice or quinoa, freeze brown bananas for smoothies, chop squashes and other hearty vegetables, roast and shred chicken, make soup in the crockpot, and mix dry ingredients for oatmeal.

Prepped ingredients smiling at me.
Prepped ingredients smiling at me.

I put everything in glass containers (I have these), so I can see what’s in the fridge when I open it.

Planning our meals and prepping food on the weekend is the only way I can make meals after work while also leaving plenty of time for after-work plans, T.V. time, and more.

My commute takes about 45 minutes, and knowing what I’ll be making for dinner once I get home calms my mind and allows me to unwind more quickly. My non-office time is sacred, and I want to get the most out of the hours before bed. 

This may seem like a lot of work at first, but it runs like clockwork once you’ve practiced a few times. Some of you probably think I’m crazy for devoting this much time/energy/thought to meal planning, but to each their own, dudes!


MEAL PLANNING WORKSHEET

The worksheet has three sections: planning notes, days of the week, and extras. They can be used any way you please, but I’ve listed some ideas below.

Planning Notes:

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I thought about making my handwriting *perfect*, but that’s just not realistic.

I use this space to map out what makes the week unique. Some questions I think about:

How many people am I feeding at each meal? My answer is almost always two, but sometimes we’ll have family over or Grant will be away for a meal.

Which meals am I packing to eat away from home? Lunches for work? Breakfast to eat after an early-morning exercise class? Healthy dinner before a cocktail party?

What do I want to snack on?

Which nights will I rely on leftovers? If I’m getting home late, or if there’s a T.V. show on I do NOT want to miss the beginning of, I’ll often plan to eat leftovers. That may mean that I double a recipe I’m making the night before, or I’ll plan on eating hummus, crackers, and veggies for dinner.

What’s the weather going to be like? Do you want to grill or eat soup?

Are there ingredients I need to use up? Leftover veggies from the week before? Meat that’s almost been in the freezer for too long?

What are my nutritional goals for the week? If the week before has been full of wine and cheese, I’ll plan a very veggie-heavy week of meals.

Days of the week:

img_4470
Link to the Cheez It-flavored roasted chickpeas here. 👅

I note what’s for dinner each night, accompanied by any relevant notes or reminders.

Extras:

extras

Here’s where I note which snacks are easy to grab and what quick lunch and breakfast options there are. Some examples: cans of tuna and garbanzo beans for topping salads, hummus and rice crackers, nuts, smoothie packs in the freezer, and baked sweet potatoes.

Happy planning! Comment below or tweet/snap/email me if you have questions or comments! My contact info is here.

Summer Meal Plan // 4

I got back on the meal prep train this week, and it made a huge difference in my after-work frame of mind. When I’ve planned and prepped ahead of time, cooking can be relaxing, even if I come home from work super-hungry. It’s when I don’t have a plan that I spiral into a hangry snack attack monster the second I walk in the door.

Having a plan was extra-necessary last Friday.

Friday: I got home from work starving, but had done some brainstorming on my drive home, and walked into the kitchen with a plan: saute all the veggies in the fridge (which ended up being a pound of baby bella mushrooms YUM) with garlic, onion, and red pepper flakes, toss with linguine, slightly smashed white beans, and vegan parm (My boyfriend has a dairy allergy, for those of you that don’t know). I added frozen green peas to the pasta at the last minute and served it with broiled salmon.

It was on the table in thirty minutes and it was the perfect Friday meal: quick, didn’t require a trip to the store, and a little fancy-tasting. I ate it with a side of Real Housewives.

Saturday: I’ll often make a big meal for lunch on the weekends with the intention of leftovers carrying us into workweek lunches. I made my own riff on this awesome street chicken and rice recipe from BuzzFeed. I served the chicken and rice with shredded romaine and sliced yellow tomatoes on the side, and instead of the yogurt sauce, I thinned hummus with cashew milk and red wine vinegar.

For dinner, I had a ✨magical✨ slice of pepperoni pizza at Pizza Bar. (Also, I ate this pizza before I saw 98 Degrees perform. Yes, you should be jealous. They were incredible.)

Sunday: For lunch, I had the most delicious salad I have ever eaten. Promise. Romaine, green onion, avocado, yellow tomatoes, nectarine, pistachios, pepitas, leftover salmon, and balsamic vinaigrette.P1000057

My sister and I tag-teamed a taco bar dinner. Ground turkey, black beans, flour tortillas, and all the extras. She made brown butter blondies that KILLED. I brought this single-serving flourless peanut butter cookie for G, as brown butter is one of those things that doesn’t have a dairy-free alternative.

Monday: After a heavy weekend (hello pizza, tacos, and dessert), I wanted to start the week with lots of veggies.

I made corn and zucchini chowder (subbed the half-and-half for full-fat coconut milk and smoked paprika for the bacon), grilled chicken breasts, and sliced cantaloupe.

Tuesday: leftovers! I was exhausted after a stressful day at work, and G didn’t get home until 7:30 or 8, so it was seriously the best feeling to have a fridge full of prepared food that I could just reheat.

Wednesday: I made Potsticker Noodle Bowls from Iowa Girl Eats, and, wow, it was yummy. I used brown rice noodles and ground turkey instead of ground pork.

For a side, I roasted cauliflower and okra until they were brown and crispy, and whisked mayo, sweet chili sauce, and chili garlic sauce together for a dipping sauce. I found a red bell pepper in the depths of the produce drawer and sliced that up too. That sauce, though, was the real star. G stirred some into his noodles.

🌟Hot tip🌟: When I really have my planner hat on, I’ll prep the kitchen for dinner in the morning: group ingredients together in the fridge and lay out the pans and dishes I’ll need. It probably doesn’t save me a lot of actual time, but it streamlines the process in the evening, which I usually need post-commute.

Meal prep tip: In the morning, gather all of the ingredients for dinner together in the fridge. For more, visit TheFruitfulBlog.com

Thursday: I went out with some girlfriends for sushi and drinks, but wanted to be sure Grant had Thursday dinner and Friday lunch, so I made this tandoori quinoa and chickpeas in the morning before work. It was so quick, maybe 30 minutes, and a lot of it was simmer time. I ate breakfast and enjoyed my coffee while it finished.

Breakfasts: Breakfasts were good this week, you guys. (Besides the usual Ezekiel toast and green smoothies, which were obviously tasty.)

Sweet potato “oats”: On Sunday afternoon, I shredded a few raw sweet potatoes in the food processor. In the mornings, I threw a big handful of the shreds, cashew milk, and half a banana into the microwave for five minutes, then topped the bowl with sliced banana, hemp hearts, coconut shreds, jelly or honey, nuts, etc, etc, etc.

Banana-egg pancakes: Yep, just mashed banana and eggs whisked together and fried up like pancakes. I’ve made these forever, but I tried this recipe, which adds almond meal and baking powder to the egg and banana. These ingredients added a little more structure.

Lunches: leftovers and salads, nothing too exciting, except for a perfect farm stand cantaloupe.

Have a good weekend, friends!

What did you eat this week? Any recipes I need to add to my rotation? Are there other things I could share to make these posts more useful?

For seasonal meal ideas from The Fruitful Blog, click here!

Summer Meal Plan // 3

I missed out on my normal weekend grocery shopping and meal prep this week, since we were out  of town until past my bedtime on Sunday. I felt off-balance all week because of it, but I made it through. Barely.

Saturday and Sunday: Junk, junk, and more junk in Breckenridge! My friend Nichole and I tag-teamed a homemade dinner Saturday evening, though: baked salmon and trout, balsamic sauteed Brussels sprouts, and a risotto with white wine, garlic, and onions. I didn’t use a recipe for the risotto, just stirred my little heart out until it was creamy and delicious. Let me know in the comments if you want the basic proportions and method I used.

Monday: I went grocery shopping after work since we got home so late on Sunday. Hot tip: I made the grocery list before we left for our trip. #lifesaver

After the store, I made Chicken Tinga Tacos from How Sweet It Is. So much flavor and so quick. I served the chicken in blackened corn tortillas with mashed avocado and pico de gallo (with garden tomatoes!). On the side, we had seared bell peppers and canned refried beans. I didn’t use a recipe for the pico, per say, but The Pioneer Woman’s recipe is a great one to learn the ingredient proportions. (Holy vintage Pioneer Woman photos, guys.)

Tuesday: Leftovers

Wednesday: Our favorite daal with sweet potatoes and green peas. I use this yummy recipe, but sub 2 cups of the water for a can of full-fat coconut milk. YES, full-fat. It’s worth it. We had quinoa and watermelon on the side. And, no, daal is not pretty, but it gets the job done.

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Thursday: Leftovers again! I went to a happy hour after work with the goal of not ordering any food. I would like to report that I was successful — but I did make a quesadilla when I got home. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

Breakfasts: Lots of Ezekiel cinnamon raisin toast with nut butter and green smoothies. I did make eggs for myself once or twice (and served them on an Ezekiel English muffin with leftover tomato sauce from the chicken tinga. *party horn emoji*).

I made extra quinoa Wednesday night, so G and I both had breakfast quinoa Thursday morning. There are several ways to make this, and I definitely took a shortcut: adding cashew milk, mashed banana, nut butter, and fruit, then stirring and microwaving. Like oatmeal, but more protein.

Lunches: The regular: salads with leftover protein for me, dinner leftovers for Grant.

See you next week for a better-planned meal plan! I considered not posting this week’s, since it was so sparse. But I think it could be helpful to see what a week with less planning and less prep work looks like — we still ate well, but with a little more weeknight stress for me.

If you need more seasonal meal inspo, check out other summer meal plans here and here.

summer meal plan 3