Roasted Acorn Squash Soup

When the temperature starts reading in the single digits, there’s no doubt that it’s soup weather. This roasted acorn squash soup is great because it makes use of winter squash, of which we have an abundance. But winter squash is also great because it keeps forever, so we don’t feel a whole lot of time pressure to use it.

Will the Kids Eat It?

One of them will! Our youngest really loves just about any soup we make him, and we’re thankful for that. The other two are at least very creative with their soups, as our tablecloths will attest. It’s a losing battle to get them to not make a mess with the soup they’re not eating, but it’s one I still can’t help but fight. One of these days I’m going to get them to try soup, any soup, and they’re going to apologize for the years of resistance. I swear this will happen.

Roasted Acorn Squash Soup

Ingredients:

1 large acorn squash
2 Tbsp vegan butter (or regular butter, if that’s your thing)
1 red onion, sliced
1 large apple, cored and sliced
2-3 cups vegetable stock

Preparation Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until nice and soft. Set aside to cool. Melt the vegan butter and sauté the onion until starting to turn brown. Add in the apple and cook until the outside of the slices are starting to caramelize. Add in the squash flesh and stock and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the flavors are blended. Puree. (If you have a vitamix, just stick everything in there and throw it on the soup setting.)

Packaging Directions:

We like to use Mason jars to package leftovers as much as possible. They’re the workhorses of our kitchen. We split the soup up into 16-oz pint jars and refrigerate. When packing for lunch, we put one serving of soup with one quarter cup serving of sweet and spicy pumpkin seeds.

Meal Planning – Write It Down

At the beginning of the year you may see journals and planners in the aisles of Target. You may wonder, ‘In this age of digital wonders, who on earth is still buying a paper journal?’. The answer, for the purpose of meal planning, is me. On a related note, before Christmas we saw some Teletubbies merchandise at Target and wondered who was still buying that. The answer is my mother-in-law, as I am now painfully aware from the sounds coming from the kids’ room. They got four talking Teletubby dolls for Christmas and our son decides nightly that he actually hates them and wants them out of his room.

Journals: Your Best Friend for Meal Planning

Anyway, back to this whole journal thing. Every year I buy a planner because the day I don’t write down what we’re supposed to eat is the day I decide we have nothing in the kitchen and stuff my face with every kind of junk. We’re more lenient on the weekends, but during the week our meal planning falls apart if we don’t write it down. I write down everything we should have with us in our lunch bags, everything we should eat at home, and what the kids should have. A typical day might look like:

Us: Breakfast: Oatmeal

Lunchbag:  crackers and hummus, leftover chili, apple, pear, energy ball

Dinner: Stir fry (Vegetables, tofu, noodles, peanut sauce)

Kids: Breakfast: Oatmeal or frozen waffles

Lunch: Peanut butter sandwiches, apple sauce, pretzels

Dinner: Stir fry, grapes

Meal Planning Journal

If the kids don’t eat what we send them, daycare will give them chicken nuggets, so we try to send something they’ll eat. For dinner, however, they have to have some of what we’re having. The only exception is if I’ve made something spicy, in which case we make a modified version. Like on taco night, they still get a tortilla and a less spicy taco filling. We always give them fruit at dinner and they can have seconds of that.

Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin Seeds

These sweet and spicy pumpkin seeds are a favorite in our house. They can be sprinkled on soups and salads or just eaten as a snack. A lot of times I make them as a garnish and end up eating at least half as a snack while cooking. They’re that good. Double or even triple the recipe for extra deliciousness.

Most of the time we wind up buying pre-made snacks at the store and portioning them out ourselves. This works pretty well for the most part, and we wind up with tasty stuff like granola and dried chickpeas and crackers. But we’ve also started making a bigger push to make our own snacks. These sweet and spicy pumpkin seeds are healthy and delicious and quite unlike most of the snacks we can get at the store.

Sweet and spicy pumpkin seeds

Ingredients:

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 Tsp ras al hanout
1/4-1/2 Tsp salt, depending on how salty you like them

Preparation Directions:

Toast the seeds in a dry pan for about a minute, then add the rest of the ingredients. Stir to mix and stir occasionally. Once the sugar is melted, pop seeds in a bowl lined with wax paper. Try not to eat all of them immediately.

Packaging Directions:

If you’re making these for snacks through the week, you’ll probably want to at least triple the recipe. Once they’re done, split them up into small snack cups or sandwich bags in quarter cup servings. If you’re like me, you’ll end up with fewer servings than you expect because you’ll be unable to resist snacking as you pack.

Creamy Roasted Mushroom and Eggplant Risotto

If given the choice, I would probably never voluntarily opt to eat mushrooms or eggplant. Neither has ever been a favorite of mine. Jocelyn, however, is a big fan of both, so we’ve had to learn to compromise. In practice, that compromise looks a lot like me eating a bunch of mushrooms and eggplant. When I heard that she was planning to make an eggplant risotto topped with roasted mushrooms, I adopted my bravest fake smile and nodded in what I fear was not a very convincing manner.

But guys, get this: eggplant risotto with roasted mushrooms is good. Like, super good. The mushrooms are crispy and the eggplant puree is mixed in with the risotto and it’s creamy and delicious. Some nutritional yeast gives the whole dish an umami kick. I suppose I should really rethink that aversion to mushrooms and eggplant, because this dish is one of my favorites now.

Creamy Mushroom Eggplant Risotto

Ingredients:

1 medium eggplant
1 head of garlic
6 oz mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
5-6 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup white wine
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast

Preparation Directions:

Preheat the oven to 450° F. Lightly score the eggplant and pop in the oven along with the garlic. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until everything is nice and soft. Set aside to cool. Meanwhile, toss the mushroom slices in 1 Tbsp of the olive oil and a little salt and roast while you make the risotto.

Heat the stock in a small saucepan on medium high heat. Once the eggplant and garlic are cooled, peel and puree with a couple ladlefuls of stock. Heat the other Tbsp of olive oil in a heavy pan and sauté the shallots until golden. Add the rice and toast for about a minute. Pour in the wine and cook until absorbed. Add the stock a little at a time and stir as the rice absorbs it. Stir in the veggie puree and once the rice is cooked through and creamy, toss in the nutritional yeast. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Packaging Directions:

This one’s pretty easy. The only trick is to pack the mushrooms separately to preserve maximum crispiness. Pack the leftover risotto into 1 cup containers and split the remaining mushrooms into the same number of containers. Take and enjoy!

Meal Planning and a Fool-Proof Make-Ahead Breakfast

January 2018: Meal Planning Month

This year instead of making a long list of resolutions at the beginning of the year, we’re sharing a different goal each month. Each month we’ll share the tips and tricks we learn on the way as well as some recipes to go with each theme. This month we’re going to get better about meal planning. Our meal planning game has definitely improved a lot since last year, but there’s still room to get even better. We want to eat better to keep up the health goals we’ve achieved over the last year. We also want to save money. Meal planning helps with both of these things.

This month we’ll be posting recipes as usual, with ingredients and directions for making the dish. We’ll also be posting directions showing how we pack up leftovers to make healthy meals a snap throughout the week.

One of our favorite breakfasts to make ahead, especially in the winter, is slow-cooker oatmeal. It’s super easy, fast, and lasts for 2-3 days depending on how many children are in the mood to eat it.

Meal planning - Slow cooker oatmeal

Ingredients:

1 cup steel-cut oats
4 cups water
1/3 cup almond milk (coconut milk is also delicious)
1 Tbsp nut butter (we used cashew)
Chopped fruit (this time we’re using kiwi; you can do one kind or a combo of different fruits)

Preparation Directions:

Pop the oats, water, and almond milk in the slow cooker. Set on low for 8 hours. Go to sleep. Wake up and top your delicious oatmeal with nut butter, fruit, and anything else you want, with kiwi and cashew butter we added a little maple syrup. In the summer we love to do berries, almond butter, and granola.

Packaging Directions:

For later in the week, package the leftover oatmeal in 1 cup or 1/2 cup portions. Place a tablespoon or two of nut butter in another small container and some chopped fruit in one more container. Pack a portion of oatmeal, a portion of nut butter, and a container of fruit into a freezer bag until you’ve portioned out all of the oatmeal. Then you have all the components for a delicious breakfast whenever you want it.

Keeping as Healthy as Possible Through the Holidays

This is undoubtedly the hardest time of year to keep up a healthy diet. It would be that way no matter what, with foods getting heavier in the winter, holidays coming up, people dropping baked goods in the work break room, etc. We’ve also got three birthdays in the span of a week and a half in December, so we’ve got to throw birthday cakes and special meals (read: pizza, always pizza) into the mix. When it comes to staying healthy, we’re starting from a pretty huge deficit. Here’s some things we try to do to stay as healthy as possible.

1) Don’t sweat it too much

This may seem counterintuitive, but I think the more you worry about whether you’re doing it all right, the better chance you have of doing it all wrong. Accepting that there are going to be some slips gives us license to focus on the things we can do better at going forward, rather than beating ourselves up for having slipped up in the past. I know I’m going to have a cupcake and some pizza at my son’s birthday party, and that’s ok. It’s a special occasion, and I don’t have to officiously refrain from treats to prove my commitment to health.

2) Don’t let occasional slips justify further slips

We’ve all been here, right? Maybe we’re having a busy morning and we run to the drive through instead of making a healthy breakfast. After that, the decision to have gotten an unhealthy breakfast means the day’s already written off, so why not grab some fast food for lunch and take out for dinner? Maybe we haven’t all been there. But I know I go there sometimes. My mind is always looking for excuses to get treats. These excuses seem reasonable to a mind that’s just looking for any reason to get some unhealthy food in me, but seem laughable afterwards. So we try to make sure to pack lunches in advance, have easy on the go breakfast options available at home, etc. We want to let ourselves know that there is always an easier option than forgetting all of our own rules.

3) Keep eating a ton of vegetables

Whatever else, just keep putting a ton of vegetables in everything. If nothing else, they’re super good for you, and you’ll feel better about yourself for having eaten them. Even if we’re making a heavier dish, we’ll usually try to load it up with some extra veggies. It helps make more servings of the meal, and each serving is a bit healthier than it would otherwise be.

4) Be that guy: leave cupcakes in the work break room

Don’t be afraid to leave sweet treats in the work break room. Turnabout is fair play. If Kevin from Accounts Receivable can leave a whole damn box of truffles on the table where you have to prepare your lunch, taunting you, mocking you, then you can bring some pirate cupcakes from your son’s birthday party to sing their siren song to Kevin.

A Reminder to Practice Kindness

The other night we were out running errands and we got a little peckish. We decided to stop for dinner at a new pizza place. It was pretty casual, seat yourself, and honestly, we’ve taken our kids to much less casual places and not had a problem. We’ve been taking the kids out with us since they were tiny babies so they know how to behave. Even now that they’re out of high chairs, they know not to get up and run around and yell and scream. Occasionally we bring coloring books or things to keep the kids occupied, but most of the time they’re just happy to chat. As we sat down, a couple at the table next to us rolled their eyes, mouthed “Three kids?!?!?” to each other, and walked away to another table.

Small Cruelty Can Have a Big Impact

So I spent what was supposed to be a nice meal completely miserable. I committed the unforgivable sin of taking three kids out in public instead of just locking ourselves away until they’re 18. I snapped at the kids more than usual because I was obsessing over any infringement on perfect behavior, which was completely unfair to them. They weren’t on their best behavior, but they were sitting reasonably quietly and not running around or screaming. They didn’t ruin anyone’s meal or hurt anyone.

I get that kids aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s fine. I don’t think everyone should have kids. Some people aren’t meant to be parents and that’s fine. Some people don’t want to be parents, and that’s fine too. People don’t have to take their kids out either, if they don’t want to. You know best what works for you and your family. That’s the thing. These people don’t know us, and they don’t know our kids. All they know is that we’re a slightly bigger than average family and felt that that gave them permission to judge us cruelly and openly.

Kindness Matters, and It Has to Go Two Ways

Mom-shaming is hurtful, and there’s no reason for it. We’ve become a society full of people super eager to judge parents at every turn. Let’s be real: we’re all just doing our best to raise good kids in a tough world. We should all cut each other some slack and try every day to be a little kinder than the day before, or at least a little less judgmental.

We all judge other people. None of us can help doing so. But we can control what we say to people, with our words or our looks. We can extend understanding to people who may be having a tough day. A kind look, a held door, a smile, these gestures are small and easy, but they can help make people feel better as surely as a snide remark or a pair of rolled eyes can make them feel worse.

Keeping Healthy Through Changes

We’ve been absent from the blog a bit more than we’d like lately, and for that we apologize. We’re just ramping up into the busiest season of the year. Over two months we’ve got Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and 3/5 of the birthdays in our household. Jobs have been busy, with long hours and long commutes. Our older kids have developed the habit of waking up in the middle of the night to sleep in our bed.
What better, we decided, than to add a fourth child to the mix?
That’s right, as of mid-June or so, we’re upgrading from a family of five to a family of six! We don’t yet know if the baby is going to be a boy or a girl. Watson insists that we name the baby Cup (we’re trying to work with him on that). By this time next year the kids will outnumber us two to one.
This has presented us with some interesting food challenges.

1) How to stay healthy on a pregnancy diet

Now that Jocelyn’s pregnant, she’s had higher calorie intake needs and also high calorie cravings. We don’t want her trying to lose weight, but we also don’t want pregnancy to be an excuse for her to stop eating healthy. I also don’t want to let Jocelyn’s pregnancy be an excuse for me to gain weight. That has happened in each of her other pregnancies. It’s a lot more common than I would ever have anticipated.
To fight back against this, we’ve tried to make our lunches more modular. We still take the same thing, but Jocelyn takes an extra snack or an extra piece of fruit. Everything is packaged into individual servings, so we can just grab and go. This has definitely helped. We’ve also tried to be more laid back about eating out since it’s been so busy. We don’t want to force things and get stressed and fall off the wagon completely. Instead we splurge just a little bit here and there by getting some pizza, or going to Panera. It sure beats running ourselves ragged to make food at home every night, no matter how hard. Since we stay reasonably within our bounds when eating out, it’s easier to come back to earth once we reset.

2) How to work around food aversions

The more difficult problem is working around Jocelyn’s food aversions. She’s had trouble with strong flavors. There are things we’ve stocked up on that are no longer any good for her, and we’re scrambling to find replacements. This morning I packed some falafel-spiced crunchy chickpeas as a snack. They’ve long been a favorite of ours, but Jocelyn smelled them and couldn’t handle the spices. The good news is there’s more for me (seriously, they’re delicious), but we have to work to find snacks she can stomach.
The tougher food aversion problem is figuring out how best to work with all of the ingredients in our Hungry Harvest box. This is a nut we haven’t always cracked successfully, but we’re working on it. Food aversions can be swift and severe, and we can never predict what they’re going to be. In those cases, we’ve got to be adaptable. Either we preserve the offending foods, or prepare them so I can eat them and Jocelyn can stay away. It’s a challenge, and it keeps us on our toes.

3) How to make sure kids eat healthy (or at least try healthy foods…or at least have healthy foods sit in front of them for a while)

Finally, we’ve been working hard to teach our kids how to eat healthy. We could feed them chicken nuggets and grapes every night and they’d be happy, but they wouldn’t be learning about new wonderful foods from all around the world. The problem is that at their ages, they’re almost never actually ready to try new wonderful foods. It’s a struggle to get them to try food they’ve already tried and liked, let alone to try new stuff.
We don’t want to instill any kind of neuroses around food, so we don’t require that they clean their plate to be excused. We do make sure they know the dinner we make is the dinner they get. They don’t get special accommodations. If they go to sleep and wake up hungry an hour later, they can have some of the food they refused. It can’t be an excuse to eat the food they wanted in the first place. So far this has been broadly unsuccessful, but these things take time.
We’ve been more lenient with treats, especially since we’re overflowing with the Halloween surplus. They don’t have to finish their whole dinner all the time to get a treat. Usually we just make sure they try a bite or two of the new stuff on their plate before they get one. We want to leave open the possibility that they might just really not like something, at least for now, and reward the willingness to explore and be adventurous with their taste.

Getting the Most Value from Your CSA Box

Like everybody who gets home deliveries of fruits and vegetables, we’ve sometimes had a tough time figuring out how to make sure we use up everything from our box and waste as little as possible. Here’s a few tips that have helped us figure out how to get the most out of our box.

1) Prioritize

Take a look at your box and see what you need to use right away and what can wait a couple days. Root vegetables, winter squash and apples always last a good while. We’ve found that pears need to be eaten pretty quickly. Stuff like salad greens aren’t going to stay good for too long. Front load your week with the stuff that needs to be used right away to make sure you don’t have to toss it.

2) Invest in some plant-based cookbooks

Even if you don’t eat all vegan all the time, these cookbooks often have tons of new ideas for using vegetables that you may not have thought of. Discovering sweet potato enchiladas has literally changed our lives. They’re often indexed by ingredient or cooking method, so we’re always finding new and creative ways to use even old and familiar ingredients.

3) Prep early

At the beginning of the week, chop up veggies for salads or snacks, roast some sweet potatoes, etc. Have everything ready so there’s never an excuse for not eating your CSA goodies, even on the busiest day. Doing this has helped us almost always resist the temptation to go out for lunch at work.

4) Have a wilted veggie plan

For us, this is vegetable stock. Wilted kale, squishy carrots, as long as it isn’t rotten or moldy, it goes in the pot and adds to tons of delicious recipes throughout the week. You can even freeze it for later. You can use it in place of meat stocks to adapt non-vegetarian recipes into vegetarian versions, too!

5) Adjust your box size to fit your lifestyle

We keep an eye on our grocery bill and if we’re subsidizing our csa with a particular type of produce, we adjust our box accordingly. Currently we get two boxes, usually one with mixed fruits and vegetables, and one all vegetable. This fits our mostly plant based eating style and allows us a good bit of freedom in what we eat. I always know it’s been a good week when csa day comes around and there’s nothing in the crisper.

In Conclusion: Be Organized, Be Realistic, and Branch Out

Getting boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables every week has been really great for us. We eat a ton of healthy food, and we’ve discovered a lot of stuff that we love, even though we once thought we hated it (I’m looking in your direction, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts). We do a fair bit of planning and prepping on the weekends, but just having some standard fallback plans has helped immensely. Get yourself a go-to salad recipe that can be adapted easily. Find a root vegetable soup that’s quick and easy and tasty. The easier you make it to eat everything in your delivery, the greater the chances nothing will go to waste.

Healthy Meal Prep – Mix & Match Lunch Salads

Here at Our Chaotic Kitchen, we’re all about healthy meal prep ideas. When we’re doing our weekly meal prep, we prioritize vegan recipes, since we’re all about those vegetables. We also like to keep things gluten-free if possible. Nobody in our family has gluten sensitivity or intolerance, but we want to be inclusive to those who do. Finally, we want to do what we can to make our weekly meal prep as easy as possible.

Healthy Meal Prep: The Foundation of a Healthy Week

This week we got a surplus of greens from Hungry Harvest*, so we knew we’d have to make ourselves some salads. We wanted to make sure we stayed within our healthy meal prep guidelines, but we also wanted to find a way to not eat the same exact thing every day. This mix-and-match solution was easy and fun!

*The link above is a referral link. If you click it and order, you and we each get $5 off our next order, so everybody wins!

The base of each salad is the same: diced cucumber, diced cubanelle pepper, shredded hearts of romaine, and sliced grape tomatoes. Cucumbers and peppers sit at the bottom of each quart jar, so the lettuce doesn’t get soggy. The tomatoes get their own quarter pint jars. Each salad then gets a topping and dressing of its very own! We decided this week to make two different types of salads.

A good supply of mason jars is the cornerstone of healthy meal prep

Falafel and Beet Hummus Salad

We had some leftover beet hummus in the fridge, so we used the rest of it as a dressing. We’ve written before about our love of easy falafel patties, and they seemed like just the right thing to spruce up this salad. The result is a beautiful, vibrant salad full of Middle Eastern flavor. Here’s a quick recipe for easy falafel patties using chickpea flour.

Ingredients:

1 cup chickpea flour
3/4 cup water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 Tsp baking soda
I Tbsp ras al hanout
1 Tsp cumin
1/2 Tsp salt

Directions:

Mix all of the ingredients together into a thick batter. Heat some olive oil on medium high heat. Once hot, place heaping tablespoon-sized dollops of batter into the oil. Fry evenly on both sides, about 3-4 minutes per side, until golden brown.

Taquito Filling and Black Bean Dressing Salad

We made taquitos this weekend for some tasty lunches this week (recipe to follow!), and we had some leftover filling. The filling was made from cauliflower rice, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and taco spices. It made an ideal topping for a Mexican-inspired salad! We used the black bean dip that we made to go with the taquitos as a base for the dressing.

Healthy Meal Prep Can Be Easy Meal Prep

The important thing here is that we didn’t have to go far out of our way to make delicious, healthy salads for the week. We just made smart use of foods we already had around. Maybe you don’t like hummus or black bean dip or falafel. That’s fine! Sometimes keeping things healthy is all about keeping them easy, so that we have less excuse to slip up. So go ahead and use whatever leftovers you’ve got in your fridge to make a lunch salad more fun!