Author Archives: Candie

Thanksgiving Tips and Tricks

Thanksgiving Tips and Tricks

Thanksgiving for most is a day of relaxing and eating yourself into a food coma but for those of us responsible for preparing that gust busting meal it can be anything but relaxing. For the home cook producing 5-7 dishes plus dessert in a single meal can be very overwhelming but it doesn’t have to be. All it takes is some planning, advanced preparation and some tips and tricks from the pros will not only make your meal preparation simple but also improve the quality of your dishes.

Where to start? I start at least a week before Thanksgiving by choosing what dishes and desserts I want to serve. Print those recipes out, I suggest writing them out on a recipe card so they are more convenient then a pile of papers while your cooking. Take those recipes and create a shopping list for yourself. Make sure you are meticulous with this because the last thing you want to do is have to run out to the store at the last minute when the stores are just insane. Once you have your menu selected you will need to analyse your selections and determine which of those dishes or parts of those dishes that you can prepare the day before and in what order they need to be prepared so that you have enough oven space and time to get everything done in time for the meal.

I unthaw my turkey the day before Thanksgiving by placing it in a sink filled with cold water and then leave the tap on a bare trickle. This keeps the water moving and cool which will unthaw the turkey faster than just a still body of water. Is this safe? Yes it is as long as the water stays cold and you move it to the refrigerator as soon as it feels flexible and pliable. I also brine my turkey because the flavor and moisture levels are markedly better than a non-brined turkey. I will put the turkey in the sink in the morning and by late afternoon it is ready to be placed in the brine and refrigerate overnight.

Another turkey tip is to make sure you pull your turkey out of the refrigerator about 2 hours before cooking. You need to let it come up close to room temperature and allow the skin to really dry so that it will cook evenly and the skin will be crispy. If you take your turkey directly from the the refrigerator to the oven or fryer it will increase the cook time and cause some parts of it to overcook while others struggle to reach temperature.

If you want your roasted turkey to have a rich mahogany color than you should dry the skin well and then brush or rub it wil melted butter. Basting while the turkey is cooking is good but make sure you stop basting about a half hour before the end of cooking time so that the skin can crisp back up again.

Most dressing and casseroles can be made ahead of time and refrigerated overnight. Reserve any toppings for just before you place the dish in the oven so that they will brown properly. If you don’t want to make them the day before then you should cut up your ingredients and have them ready to prepare the finished dish without having to pull out your cutting board.

Desserts should be prepared the day before and their flavor will benefit from the chance to relax meld when they are covered and refrigerated overnight.

Your turkey stock should be made the day before because it takes 4 hours at least to make a good pot of basic stock. I feel this is one of the most important part of meal preparation because your gravy and stuffing or dressing require a really good stock for full flavor. I purchase turkey necks, wings and or legs and give them a light sear in the stock pot before adding water. See my Basic Stock recipe for the best professional technique for a good stock.

Finally if you make your own gravy then there are two ways to thicken them either with a rue of flour and fat or a cornstarch slurry. If you use a rue or flour to thicken your gravy make sure you give it at least 45 minutes to simmer because otherwise it will have a raw flour flavor. I can vouch that this really does make a big difference in the flavor. When you use a cornstarch slurry you need to make sure you don’t use to much because it will turn your beautiful gravy into a lump of brown jelly. Slowly drizzle in the slurry and stir and it will reach full thickness within a few seconds if the gravy is at a medium simmer. I suggest you add a bit and stir and give it a bit to see the thickness before you add anymore slurry. If you want to boost flavor you can use cool turkey stock as your liquid for the slurry.

If you have any questions or suggestions let me know! I will be posting suggestions while I cook today on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

 

 

Basic Stock

Basic Stock

Basic Stock

Cook Time: 4 hours

Yield: 1 Gallon

Ingredients

  • 8 lb. Bones
  • 1/2 lb. Onion, quartered & peeled
  • 1/4 lb. Carrot, peeled, rough chop
  • 1/4 lb. Celery, rough chop
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 3-4 Parsley stems
  • 1 tsp Peppercorns, cracked
  • 1-2 Sprigs of Thyme
  • 5 qt Water, cool

Instructions

  1. If you are making chicken or pork stock then the bones are firsh blanched to remove blood and impurities so that you end up with a clearer better tasting stock. To do that cover the bones with cool water and then bring the water up to a simmer and wait for the water to turn from pink to a light grey. As soon as the water turns grey drain the bones and rinse well. Now your bones are ready to start the stock.
  2. Place bones and measured water into a pot big enough to offer a couple inches of space for the additional ingredients and protects you from boiling over. Bring the water to a boil over high heat and immediately lower the temperature to low so that it a very low simmer that is just lightly bubbling occasionally. Start tracking time once you hit a boil.
  3. After 3 hours of simmering add your Onion, Carrot and Celery which is also known as a standard Mirepoix and the Bay, Parsley, Peppercorns, and Thyme which is also known as the Sachet E'pice. Cook for an additional hour then drain through a fine mesh strainer into either a metal container that can be placed in an ice bath to chill for future use or another pan for immediate use.

Notes

Stock is not salted because it is used for bases for other dishes and it is best to wait and salt those dishes as they are made so that the end product does not end up over salted.

http://www.culinarycafe.com/2016/11/23/basic-stock/

Pecan Pie

Pecan Pie

Rating: 51

Prep Time: 0

Yield: 8

Pecan Pie

This recipe for pecan pie is very basic but absolutely decedent. I suggest serving it with a bit of whipped cream to cut the richness.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 unbaked 9" pie shell
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cup pecans
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F,
  2. Beat eggs, vanilla, sugar & salt. Add butter & syrup & mix in pecans.
  3. Pour into crust
  4. Bake 40-45 minutes in pie shell.
http://www.culinarycafe.com/2016/11/22/pecan-pie/

Lion House Rolls

Lion-House

Lion House Rolls

These tender buttery Lion House rolls are like the combination of a croissant and the standard parker house dinner roll.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 2/3 cup nonfat instant dry milk
  • 2 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 5-5 1/2 cups flour (you can use all-purpose or Biscuit flour)
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted, plus softened butter for brushing on top after the rolls are baked

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the water and the milk powder and stir to dissolve the milk. Add in the yeast and a tablespoon or so of the sugar and allow the yeast to bloom for 5-10 minutes. Add in the remaining sugar, salt, butter, egg and 2 cups of the flour.
  2. Mix on low speed until all of the ingredients are wet, then mix on medium for 2 minutes. Stop the mixer and add 2 more cups of flour, mix on low until combined, then on medium for 2 minutes. The dough will be getting stiffer at this point. Continue adding flour, ½ cup at a time, until the dough is soft and tacky, but not sticky.
  3. Place the dough in a greased bowl and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm spot until doubled in size.
  4. Sprinkle a work surface lightly with flour. Divide the dough in half. Roll out one half of the dough into an 11x14-inch rectangle. Brush the top of the dough with half of the melted butter. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough in half horizontally right down the center. Slice the dough into rectangles about 2x4" big. If you hold your hand out so that your hand forms an "L" shape, it can help to be your guide for sizing.
  5. Roll or flip the rectangles, buttered side in, and place on a greased baking pan with the end resting on the baking sheet. Repeat with the second half of the dough.
  6. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled.
  7. Preheat the oven to 375F. Uncover the rolls and bake until they are browned and cooked through, 15-20 minutes. Brush with softened or melted butter while they are still hot.
http://www.culinarycafe.com/2016/11/21/lion-house-rolls/

Sweet Potato Casserole With Praline Topping

Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet Potato Casserole With Praline Topping

Rating: 51

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Yield: 6

If you make this Sweet Potato Casserole for a family dinner make sure you take a couple copies of your recipe because people will ask for it.

Ingredients

  • Cooking spray
  • 1 (5-ounce) can fat-free evaporated milk
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 medium sweet potatoes, roasted and peeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup stick margarine, melted
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Combine first 5 ingredients in a small bowl, stirring to form a streusel. Set aside.
  3. Mash your sweet potatoes in a large bowl. Stir in 1 cup streusel, granulated sugar, vanilla, egg white, and milk. Spoon into a 2-quart casserole coated with cooking spray; top with remaining streusel. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes.
http://www.culinarycafe.com/2016/11/20/sweet-potato-casserole-with-praline-topping/

How to make Thanksgiving Dinner without breaking a sweat

cooked-turkey-1

I have been cooking Thanksgiving dinner for my extended family for almost 20 years. Not all of those dinners went smoothly. Like the year I forgot to make the mashed potatoes or the year I forgot the rolls in the oven and turned them into bricks. I have picked up so many tips and tricks over the years that now making Thanksgiving is simple and easy. With just a little prep a day or two before Thanksgiving you can actually enjoy the holiday alongside everyone else.

First thing I do every year is look at my menu for the day. Mine was based on what my family served when I was a kid and updated slightly with a deep fried turkey and my own spins on the old recipes. You don’t cook this menu more than twice (Thanksgiving & Christmas) so it is ok to have the exact same thing because your family will not get tired of it. I admit my Thanksgiving dinner is lacking in vegetables but my family gets at least one or two servings of vegetables with every normal meal so I don’t feel bad about not serving them on this special occasion.

My traditional Thanksgiving menu consists of –

Deep Fried Turkey – This is a must and this recipe can also be used on a hardwood smoked turkey for more juicy results.

Giblet Cream Gravy – I actually withhold the giblets from this recipe and use them in my dressing recipe.

Sage Turkey Dressing – This recipe is one that has been in my family for as long as I can remember and is my favorite. My dirty little after Thanksgiving treat is to take cold slices of this and make sandwiches out of it.

Sweet Potato Casserole with Praline Topping – If you make this Sweet Potato Casserole for a family dinner make sure you take a couple copies of your recipe because people will ask for it.

Decadent Mashed Potatoes – These are the best mashed potatoes ever. Being part Irish they make me proud.

Lion House Rolls – These tender buttery Lion House rolls are like the combination of a croissant and the standard parker house dinner roll.

Cranberry & Mandarin Orange blend – A can of whole cranberries and a can of Mandarin oranges mixed together and chilled.

Pecan Pie – This recipe was the most sought after pecan pie recipe on the web for years.

Sour Cream Apple Pie – Some people are prejudiced against sour cream so just say its apple pie until after they have taken their first bite and then they will be in love.

Hot Mulled Cider – Family members show up and look for this first thing because it is so good.

First thing to do while planning out your meal preparation is to go down the list of ingredients you need for each dish and make sure you either have them or they get on your shopping list. Double check the items you think you have because half the time I think I have them but I really don’t because one of my kids have done away with them recently. Make sure you get extra turkey parts like wings or legs to make your turkey broth because I find you don’t get enough flavor from just a neck and giblets and once in a while those are missing from your turkey. This was a tough lesson learned one year when the turkey was missing its giblets and my local grocery stores were all either closed or out of turkey parts.

The nice thing about this menu is that you can either make ahead or have most of the preparation done the day before Thanksgiving that way you are mostly just waiting on things to cook. This lets me actually enjoy some time with my family instead of rushing around the kitchen. The first thing I do each year is get my turkey in its brine. They can set in the brine for up to 48 hours but I prefer right around 24 hours. This lets me get my giblets out of the turkey also so I can make my turkey broth. You can either use a pressure cooker to make your turkey broth or you can cook it low and slow so you can all the flavor and gelatin out of the bones. I like to brown my turkey bits before boiling them so that the flavor is richer. I also like to include a half an onion, celery, a carrot and a clove of garlic along with some herbs like thyme, sage and a tiny bit of rosemary. Don’t waste fresh herbs on this. The dry stuff will turn out just as well. Once your broth is done strain it well and save all the meat and giblets for either your gravy or your dressing. Refrigerate and remember to remove the solidified fat from the top before you use.

I will usually make my pies one or two days ahead of time that way they get proper time to cool. Make sure you hide them well because hungry children are known to steal entire pies. I also put my cans of mandarin oranges and cranberries in the refrigerator at least a day ahead of time that way I can just throw them together at the last minute without worrying about chill time.

While I am waiting on the broth I will throw my sweet potatoes in the oven on a aluminum foil lined baking sheet at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes or throw them in the pressure cooker for 15 minutes. Make sure you peel them right away after you take them out of the oven because they will just slide out of their skins. It will be much harder after they cool. I just throw them in the refrigerator until I am ready to put together the casserole. While I am waiting on the potatoes to bake I chop my onions, carrots and celery for my dressing.  If you are making rolls you should have your dough made and refrigerator proof it overnight. This makes it quick to get them done the next day and it also improves the flavor.

Once all that preparation is done you are ready to relax and rest up for Thanksgiving morning. Some key tips for Thanksgiving morning is to have a prep list for yourself so you don’t forget anything. Mine looks something like this.

1. Remove these items from refrigerator

  • Dough
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Turkey Broth – Remove the fat right away
  • Turkey – 1 to 1 1/2 hours before you plan to cook the turkey

2. Make Sweet Potato Casserole

3. Make Dressing

4. Prep Turkey for Frying then fry – Dry well and rub with olive oil, salt and spices

5. Form Rolls and let rise

6. Make Mashed Potatoes

7. Make Gravy

8. Bake Rolls

9. Make cranberry and mandarin mix

Tips for the turkey which are true for both a roasted or fried turkey. Make sure you take your turkey out of the refrigerator early enough so that it comes up to close to room temperature before you bake it. This will help it to cook more evenly and will make it more juicy. The key to the juiciest turkey is the brine ahead of time which imparts the moisture and flavor throughout the bird and not just where you injected it. The last thing to remember is to always let your bird rest tented in foil for about 10 minutes after you remove it from the oven or fryer. This lets the moisture redistribute and will keep it from gushing out everywhere when you cut it instead of remaining in the meat. Turkeys that are brined and rested properly will be moist and juicy even as a leftover.

I hope these tips and tricks will help you to not only have a more delicious dinner but one you can enjoy from beginning to end!

 

 

My Must Have Kitchen Christmas Gift List

I have an over accessorized kitchen. It is hard to find a appliance or gadget that I don’t have because I collect them obsessively. I spend hours and hours in the kitchen and I love to do out of the normal type of dishes or preparations. I have put together my list of kitchen Christmas gifts at some great holiday bargain prices!

 

 Pepper Mill

If you aren’t grinding fresh pepper in your food you are missing out on the incredible flavor of freshly ground pepper. This grinder has a ceramic grinding mechanism which means it will last a long time and you can use it for both salt and pepper. Another great ideas is putting your favorite dried herbs in one of these and grinding them on demand to release more essential oils.

OXO Pepper Mill

OXO Pepper Mill

 Electric Pressure Cooker

I often wish I had two of these because I use mine constantly and could do double duty with two. I make fast delicious bone broth, make ham and bean soup in less than two hours from scratch or just steam sweet potatoes into fluffy, moist, deliciousness. The use for this pressure cooker is endless and you will never file it away in the cabinet.

Instant Pot

Instant Pot

 

 Knife Sharpener

The one thing that I cannot stand is a dull knife. It is amazing what a difference it makes using a finely honed knife versus a dull one. I know you probably have a steel but a steel only removes rough spots from the blade and does not actually sharpen the blade at all. If you haven’t had your knives sharpened in the last 6 months than you are suffering through dull knives that make everything you do more difficult.

 

Diamon Sharpener

Diamon Sharpener

 Immersion Blender

The tool that the infamous “Two Fat Ladies” dubbed this tool the kitchen vibrator, is my favorite tools when making sauces and soups. Transferring hot liquid to a blender to smooth soups is a messy and dangerous adventure that can be avoided entirely with this little beauty. This also lets me use vegetables to thicken my sauces without dirtying my blender. I think everyone should have one hiding in their cabinet.

Immersion Blender

Immersion Blender

Sous Vide

This tool is a busy cook’s best friend. You put together your meal in vacuum bags and set the temperature and time on your machine and go conquer the day. All you do it maybe give your meat a finishing sear and your perfect meal is complete.

I have my eye on a Mellow when they come out because it just looks and sounds too cool.

Anova Sous Vide

Anova Sous Vide

 Nespresso Espresso Machine

I know you don’t directly cook with an espresso machine but you do make beverages that are necessary for me to have a fruitful day without ripping anyone’s head off. I am not always a fan of espresso but I have found that I can rely on Nespresso pods to always be delicious!

Nespresso

Nespresso

Interested in other items that I think are worth having in your kitchen? Check out my Amazon Store.

 

10 Things to Keep in Your Kitchen to Make Cooking Easy

 

Make Cooking Easy
Whether you enjoy cooking or not, it’s one of those necessary parts of life. Having a well-stocked kitchen can make the whole process more enjoyable and efficient. When you have a kitchen that’s organized and full of the right tools and ingredients, you can always make a delicious meal without having to spend the time on a 5 o’clock run to the grocery store. Here are ten important things every kitchen needs.

1. Pasta or Rice
Keeping pasta on hand means you can have a filling meal on the table in under 30 minutes. Whether you make stovetop mac and cheese or simple spaghetti and marinara sauce, you can feed a lot of people with a single box of pasta. If you avoid gluten, choose rice or alternative pasta instead.

2. Frozen Veggies
Frozen veggies are less expensive than fresh and higher in nutrients because they’re picked at the peak and frozen immediately. Keeping vegetables on hand means you always have a side dish, and you can even make a quick main course of stir fry.

3. Measuring Cups
Having a good set of measuring cups is essential for any kitchen. Choose a durable material such as stainless steel or pyrex and make sure the markings are permanently etched rather than painted on so they won’t fade or disappear.

4. Eggs
Keeping eggs (or egg substitute) on hand gives you a multitude of options for every meal. Omelets, scrambled eggs, frittatas and quiche work equally well at any time of day and are fairly quick and simple to make. You can also make hard boiled eggs to keep in the fridge for a healthy and protein-packed snack.

5. Frozen Meals
Whether it’s a frozen pizza from your favorite brand or a homemade enchilada casserole, a frozen meal is a perfect solution for those nights when you just don’t want to cook. You’ll save the hassle and expense of ordering takeout and get dinner on the table quickly.

6. Slow Cooker
A slow cooker is one of the most versatile kitchen appliances. There are new models that even function as pressure cookers as well like the Instant Pot, which I use almost daily. This tool lets you prep your meal in the morning and cook it all day even when you aren’t home so it’s perfect for people with busy lifestyles.

7. List of Go-To Recipes
Take stock of your usual cooking routines and write up a list of your favorite go-to recipes. I use the mobile application Cozi to not only store my recipes but help me make my shopping lists and plan my meals. Keep all the ingredients on hand and you’ll always have an easy option for dinner even if you haven’t meal planned or grocery shopped in a week.

8. Good Knives
Knives are no place to skimp when it comes to quality. A good knife can last a lifetime when cared for properly. Look for high-quality materials and choose knives individually rather than in a set. Most cooks really only need two or three good knives and it’s best to pick styles that feel comfortable to you. As a chef I find that there are really only two knives that you need in your kitchen and a good knife sharpener because those knives if kept sharp may last you a lifetime. I suggest a good chef’s knife, pairing knife and a 3 stage sharpener.

9. Sandwich Fixings
A sandwich is another great go-to meal. Whether you like a loaded club sandwich or a simple grilled cheese, there’s something magical about the combination of bread, condiments, meat and cheese. Choose good-quality sliced bread and fillings. Don’t forget the seasonings and condiments. Healthy HamptonCreek flavored mayo is a great way to add extra flavor to your sandwich without overloading on cholesterol or artificial ingredients. Add a piece of fruit to your place and you have a complete meal in no time at all.

10. Good Cookware
You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on a shopping spree at the fancy kitchen store, but every kitchen should have a few high-quality pots and pans. A large nonstick skillet, covered Dutch oven, a small saucepan and a stockpot will give you the ability to make just about any recipe. If you enjoy cooking, you can expand your collection to include cast iron and specialty pans.

A well-stocked kitchen makes cooking easy and can give even novice cooks inspiration. Keeping your pantry stocked with ingredients such as rice and pasta means you can make a meal quickly, especially with eggs and some vegetables from your freezer. Keep a frozen pizza or casserole on hand for those nights you just don’t feel like cooking and make good use of your slow cooker. Invest in quality knives, measuring cups and cookware. Choose high-quality sandwich ingredients to keep on hand for another quick, healthy meal option and enjoy knowing you can put dinner on the table easily.

 

Mediterranean Basmati Rice Bowl

Mediterranean Bowl

Mediterranean Basmati Rice Bowl

Serving Size: 4

This Mediterranean Basmati Rice Bowl is an extremely simple dish to make and a perfect for a hot Summer day.

Ingredients

    Shirazi Salad
  • 2 cups Persian Cucumbers, cut into 1/4" cubes
  • 2 cups Tomatoes, seeds removed, finely chopped
  • 1 cup Red Onion, diced
  • 4 tbsp. Flat Leaf Parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp.Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Yogurt and Cucumber Sauce
  • 2 cups Plain Yogurt
  • 1 cup Persian Cucumber, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. Dried Mint
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1 cup Feta. crumbled
  • 1 lb. Ground Lamb
  • 2 tsp. Greek Seasoning
  • 1 tbsp. Red Wine Vinegar
  • 4 cups Basmati Rice, Prepared
  • 1/4 cup Fresh Mint, chiffonade

Instructions

  1. To make the Shirazi Salad mix together in a bowl 2 cups cucumber, tomatoes, red onion. Then add parsley, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste then set aside.
  2. To make the Yogurt and Cucumber sauce mix together in a bowl yogurt, cucumber, dried mint then salt and pepper to taste then set aside.
  3. Brown your ground lamb with Greek seasoning. Add red wine vinegar once the meat is browned and drained then stir to lift as much fond (browned goodness) off the bottom of the pan as possible.
  4. To plate this dish fill your bowl half full with rice and then top with the shirazi, yogurt Cucumber sauce and browned meat. Garnish with Mint chiffonade.
http://www.culinarycafe.com/2016/07/27/mediterranean-basmati-rice-bowl/

Busy Moms – Getting a headstart on school lunches

School Lunch

I know Summer isn’t close to over yet but my life is extremely busy right now attending the Culinary Institute of America here in San Antonio and working part time. On top of both of those my hubby has been gone on business more weeks than not so I am juggling 3 jobs as full time parent, student and a part-time job. I need to plan everything I can out ahead of time to make the best use of my limited time. The reason I have to worry about school lunches is that my kids have become very mindful of their food and school lunches quality is at an all time low. The current attempts to provide “Healthy food” without actually going back to cooking at the schools again is very misguided. Until that gets sorted out and my kids are willing to eat the food again I need to help them pack healthy lunches they will eat. Unfortunately today everything is more complicated than it was when we were kids. This guide will give you a few hints and tips for successful school lunches.

Start By Checking With the School About Restrictions

Before you begin purchasing items, check with your child’s school to determine if they have any restrictions. Some school districts prohibit nut-based foods and other high-risk allergens to ensure no allergic students are accidentally exposed. They may also restrict which types of containers your child can bring meals in. Some even prohibit certain foods deemed unhealthy.

Purchase Your Supplies

Once you know what is and isn’t acceptable, you can purchase supplies. Buy each child a sturdy, reusable lunch bag. If you can, get one that includes an ice pack. Without the ability to keep food cold, your child’s options will be severely limited. Don’t forget zippered bags for storing food, plastic containers, and silverware.

Plan the Entrees

The main component of your kids’ lunches will be the entrees. If you can, find recipes that allow you to make and freeze lots in advance. It will be a great timesaver during those busy weeks of work, school, and extracurricular activities. There are plenty of options. For something easy, purchase some mini tortillas, your child’s favorite lunchmeat, cheese, and veggies, and make wraps. You could also make and freeze mini pizzas made on whole wheat crusts with pepperoni, vegetables, and cheese. Do you need a vegetarian option? Bake and freeze corn and zucchini fritters and include dipping sauces.

Choose Two or Three Sides Per Lunch

The next component of a healthy lunch is healthy sides. Go basic by purchasing and cutting up fresh fruits and vegetables and sending them in snack baggies, or create a treat by making healthy chips and dip. Slice zucchini, sprinkle it with parmesan, and bake until crispy or sprinkle apple slices with cinnamon and bake. Include ranch dressing made with Greek yogurt or vanilla yogurt for dipping. If you’d like to add something more unique and filling, try a bean and cheese salad or make healthy “macaroni” and cheese out of cauliflower.

Decide on Drinks

In some cases, it may be easier to give your kids milk money and let them choose their own drinks at school. If this isn’t an option for you, you could send milk in a thermos or choose something else altogether. In addition to basic bottles of water, you can try flavored waters or infuse your own water with fresh fruits and send a thermos of it in your kids’ lunches. Do your children love their sodas? Make your own with soda water, mint, and lemon, or purchase carbonated flavored water as a healthier alternative.

Include Extra Snacks

Because so many schools have an overabundance of students with little space for mealtime, many students find themselves with short lunch periods or eating early in the day. For this reason, many schools or individual teachers now allow students to bring snacks for the afternoon. If your school district allows this, don’t forget to pack a bit extra. Sometimes a student has to bring enough for the entire class. If it’s your turn to bring snacks for the week, try easy items such as popcorn, sunflower seeds, or granola bars. Don’t forget to ask about allergens you should avoid.

Don’t Forget Dessert

A school lunch just doesn’t seem complete without a dessert. Try sending dried fruit or their favorite yogurt or sugar-free gelatin. You may also consider making banana, blueberry, or strawberry muffins with chocolate chips in them. You can make these in advance and freeze them for later use.

If you don’t have time to make an entire recipe from scratch, find a gluten-free option at the grocery store for a healthy alternative. hamptoncreek produces and sells four traditional cookie dough flavors that you can simply spoon onto the cookie sheet and bake. Do them the night before school or make several batches at once for convenience.

Once you’ve created a list of ideas and decided what you’ll make in advance and what you’ll buy as convenience items, you can head to the grocery store. Don’t forget to check the sales ads and coupons to see if you can save money in the process.

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