A Facebook friend of mine asked me today how to add variety to her goal of feeding her busy family healthy food. Here’s my response, formatted for clarity:

Breakfast

Baking whole grain muffins in advance and then freezing them works well. I strive to make batches of 24, and favorites include banana chocolate chip and fig/goat cheese. I generally use 2/3 white whole wheat flour and 1/3 AP for other muffins, which gives a really mild whole grain flavor.

Lunch

Make tuna salad or tempeh salad in bulk and keep it around for the week for sandwiches.

Dinner

  • Pan-sauteed fish (or fish in a foil packet) with microwave steamed vegetables.
  • Whole grain pasta and sauce
  • Burgers (grass-fed is actually really healthy)
  • Main dish salad
  • Roasted chicken (takes an hour, but very little prep),
  • Nachos (which works great for using any meat leftover from another prep–just put it on chips, add some beans and cheese, and put in the oven for 10 minutes on foil).

I realized after dinner tonight, though, that personal experience might provide a more realistic portrayal of how our family eats

The plan–solidified at 4:45 pm or so–was to make curried tempeh mango sandwiches. Jonathan had a haircut appointment at 4:30, and I picked up the ingredients afterwards at Whole Foods. As I was reviewing the recipe on my smartphone, though, I noticed that it said the flavors were best melded “overnight.” When I got home, I realized that barely flavored tempeh would not work well for family dinner.

We had a few heads of romaine hanging around, and I wondered on the drive home how to use them. Salad with chicken? A bit boring. Lettuce wraps? New Creations ground pork was in the freezer, so it might work.

This recipe seemed to fit what I had on hand the best, but I didn’t have shallots, fresh ginger, water chestnuts, brown sugar or oranges (okay, it was a bit of a stretch). So I got to work on prepping and figuring out substitutions.

Did I mention that Jonathan had homework and was tired as it was already 5:30pm? He wanted to get his homework over with, and I said he could just do the math (language arts wasn’t due until Friday) as we were starting late.

I sauteed onion instead of shallot, then added red pepper and then pork. I also added sauerkraut from the fridge as some other web recipes called for cabbage. Jonathan was becoming frustrated with story fraction problems, so I told him to take a break and watch TV (he decided on Mythbusters).

The sauté was going well, except I figured I should reduce the hot pepper for family consumption. Fresh lime plus triple sec seemed a reasonable orange juice substitution, and I put in ginger syrup I made for cocktails (plus some powdered ginger) in lieu of fresh.

At this point Jonathan decided to finish his homework as he felt bad about having given up earlier.

While working through fractions using scrap paper ripped in half, I added the sauce, let it reduce and tried the pork. There was definitely something missing. Part of me wanted to scrap the dish and go out, but should a tired marathon runner give up halfway? I added more sauerkraut, the sriracha and a bit more sugar, then realized that diced apples would make a great crunchy substitute for water chestnuts. In the end, everything came together well.

Jonathan was not quite done with his homework, but Sarah came in from her home depot errands at this point and worked with him on the final four digit addition / subtraction problems at the end. And he didn’t eat much of the pork as I’d been feeding him snacks shortly beforehand to help him power through his math.

Asian / German Lettuce Wraps
(that taste mostly Asian)

FOR THE MEAT FILLING :
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/3 medium onion, diced

1/3 cup red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup sauerkraut

1 garlic clove, minced
2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 lb ground pork

1 apple, diced

2 tsp. Sriracha sauce

SWEET / SPICY SAUCE:
2–3 TB fresh squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup sugar plus 1 TB molasses (or 1/4 cup brown sugar)
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 TB ginger syrup (or another 1/4 tsp. ginger)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce (or 2–3 TB regular)
2 TB triple sec

Large Lettuce leaves

Sauté first two ingredients together, then add pepper and sauerkraut and sauté for a few minutes. Add garlic, and then, when fragrant, add pork and hot pepper. Sauté until pork in browned.

Whisk together sauce ingredients, then add to hot pork. Cook until boiling, then add apples. Reduce, then add sriracha. Serve in lettuce leaves.

I feel a bit weird posting this recipe, because the point of this post is not recipes; rather, it’s figuring out how to feed your busy family with what’s in your fridge/freezer. I often stock them with whatever sounds good or is fresh, then try to figure out a meal.

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