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  • by Lisa Rice, HC

Easy Weeknight Meals

One of the most frequent struggles we all have in common is trying to get an easy, nutritious and delicious meal on the dinner table. Who has time? Whether you’re working all day, keeping up with the kids’ schedules, juggling family responsibilities, or going to school we can all relate to the desire for meals that are convenient and stress-free to get on the table.

Fast food companies, chain restaurants and marketers take advantage of our full plates (pardon the pun!) and make it easy to drive-through, order in and pick up to go – everything from burgers, to pizza to greasy Asian take-out. The temptation is everywhere. The problem is, these foods are often filled with unhealthy fats, loaded with salt, sugar and artificial and calorically dense ingredients. Eating these foods is contributing to heart disease (still the number 1 killer in the U.S.), type 2 diabetes and an epidemic of obesity. And it’s not just the cost of health that adds up, but the cumulative financial burden of eating out as well. There’s got to be a better way!

One of the healthiest and potentially simple solutions is to prepare our own food at home. It’s the best way to eat fresh food where we control the ingredients - and we are not talking TV dinners! Where do we begin?

First off, keep it simple. Secondly, keep a well-stocked pantry and freezer with healthy, easy to prepare items that don’t require a ton of prep and cook time.

Fresh produce is great, but don’t overlook frozen vegetables which are just as nutrient dense and easy to grab in a pinch. We love frozen broccoli, kale, spinach and corn. Dried beans are super nutritious and low cost but low sodium or no-sodium canned beans are a pantry staple like black, kidney, lentils, garbanzos and pinto to name a few.

Also whole grains like quinoa, brown rice and farro are easy to batch cook from scratch but can now also be found pre-cooked in shelf stable packs and in the frozen food aisle. Nuts, seeds, condiments and seasonings are a very important component of assembling a tasty meal – basil, oregano, cumin, chili powder, nutritional yeast, garlic pepper are just a few of our favorites. Dried pastas and jarred or canned marinara sauce will always provide an easy and satisfying dinner and is typically a family favorite!

Try and choose a whole grain pasta which contains more nutrients and fiber than a refined white version. There are so many varieties nowadays like whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa and even chickpea and lentil pastas. Another popular option and a great way to add even more nutrient dense veggies to your meal is Zoodles (made from spiraled zucchini or squash). We like to combine Zoodles with whole grain pasta to feed a crowd! But pick your favorite and go from there.

Here are 3 Pasta Recipe Options:

Pasta Broccoli Bolognese

1 package brown rice pasta (we like Tinkyada or Jovial brands)

1 package broccoli florets (or 1 head cut into bite-size pieces) or bag of frozen

1 jar of oil-free pasta sauce like 365 fat-free marinara or Engine 2

1 cup or 1 can cooked lentils

Optional: 1/4 cup sliced kalamata olives

Optional: 1/8 cup capers, rinsed

Optional: 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil, chopped, torn or chiffonade

1/2 cup loosely packed fresh oregano, chopped

Parma or nutritional for garnish

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add pasta and set timer to one or two minutes before indicated instructions (for example, if it says 10 minutes, set the timer for 8).

Meanwhile, heat a wide pan and add your sauce to heat. Add lentils (and olives and capers if using) simmer on low.

When pasta is about 1-2 minutes from being done (almost but not yet to the texture you like) add the broccoli to the pot and stir. Cook 1-2 minutes until pasta is done and drain. Add drained pasta and broccoli to pan of sauce and stir to coat noodles. Stir in fresh herbs to wilt and garnish with a sprinkle of Parma or nutritional yeast.

*Parma is plant-based parmesan made from nuts, seeds, nutritional yeast and salt and is found at Whole Foods Market. You can also make your own by pulsing a combo of 1/3 - 3/4 cup nuts and seeds like walnuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds with 2-3 T nutritional yeast, 1/2 tsp garlic granules and sea salt in a food processor or blender until crumbly like a Parmesan.

Get Your Greens On Pesto

2 cups lightly packed basil leaves

1 cup baby spinach or kale

2 garlic cloves

½ cup pine nuts, walnuts or pistachios

2 T nutritional yeast

½ an avocado, pitted and peeled

1 T chickpea miso

Juice of 1 small lemon

Fresh ground pepper

Pulse everything in food processor until broken down but having a little texture. Cook pasta as above and save a little pasta cooking water. In a large bowl, stir pesto into hot pasta and veggies adding a little of the pasta water to smooth out and help the pesto stick.

Cashew Cream Sauce

1 ½ cups raw cashews

3 cups low sodium vegetable broth

1 cup chopped onion

3 garlic cloves

2 T nutritional yeast

1 tsp salt

Soak cashews in warm water to cover for 3 hours or overnight and drain. In a saucepan combine broth, onion and garlic, bring to a simmer and cook 5-8 minutes until soft. Transfer to blender with cashews, nutritional yeast and salt and blend until smooth. Stir into hot pasta with vegetables.

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