After more than a decade running the Optimal Kitchen I think I may have finally come up with what we all actually need to maintain a healthy everyday diet. Even mainstream experts have caught on to the fact that trendy diets and food fads simply don’t work. They are not sustainable. We need to eat whole, primarily plant based food everyday. We can allow ourselves the occasional treat now and again, but be reasonable. This first month is a trial guide and please give me feedback which will allow me to make changes to better suit what you all want.
Feeding ourselves and our families isn’t rocket science but there is so much information, often conflicting, that it is almost impossible to not feel overwhelmed just going grocery shopping. I hope to provide you with a weekly framework to make your life a whole lot easier and more importantly tastier! Some recipes or ideas maybe outside your box but I promise all the recipes are easy, have been tested (not all recipes you find on-line are!) so that they work and taste great. Feel free to tweak recipes if you have food allergies or intolerances, but I do encourage you to try new things, maybe even things you didn’t like in the past.
Since the goal is to make weekly shopping and cooking easy we will aim to share ingredients in multiple recipes so there is little waste. The Optimal Planner also accounts for the fact that most people eat out a couple of times per week, consider these your cheat meals. The planner is based on 3 meals a day because that is what we should be eating essentially. If snacks are a big part of your families diet than those would be additional to the recipes and suggestions in the weekly Optimal Planner.
Breakfast is very different for individuals and is one meal that I find personal tastes and habits play a huge role. There are those who like smoothies, or maybe cereal, or eggs and avocado toast. It is also the meal I find that people eat the same thing almost daily, and you know what that is ok. Personally I am an avocado toast kinda gal and I admit I don’t always eat breakfast and when I do it is usually 4 or 5 hours after I wake up, keep in mind though I am a very early riser and cook for a living so that schedule works for me, but not most. Though I do think many people simply aren’t that hungry first thing, but become ravenous mid morning. Keep this in mind and if this is you, be sure you are prepared. The worst thing is to be hungry at 10am and then just wait until lunchtime at which point you are starving and end up eating way to much and not feeling great for the majority of the afternoon as a result.
Lunch should be your most calorie dense meal of the day, and is where you should consume the bulk of your starchy carbohydrates because you will have all afternoon and evening to use that energy. This is often a hard concept to wrap our heads around because we are so used to having a big meal at dinner. Change is challenging but shifting your caloric load to earlier in the day actually can have a significant impact on your health from promoting better digestion to improved sleep patterns.
Dinner is as much about connecting with our families as feeding them. If your family consists of growing kids, especially adolescents, I will often suggest adding perhaps a loaf of bread or a bowl of pasta or something else to satiate those never ending appetites, but remember just because you are living with growing kids who need a significant caloric load doesn’t mean you do.
The ideas and recipes below are suggestions to help make meal prep throughout the week simple and easy. The shopping list includes fruit recommendations based on grocery store sales and variety. Many of the recipes will leave you with leftovers so you can enjoy multiple meals. It is also much easier to have some kind of theme or region to base recipes on so that you can share ingredients. This week we feature Mediterranean inspired dishes which share some ingredients. It is crucial to remember that eating a varied diet is key to providing our bodies with the nutrients they need to thrive. Fruit is meant for breakfast and snacking. If smoothies are part of your everyday diet use frozen fruit for cost savings and ease, though limit to 3-4 per week and always add some greens and veggies!
Recipes and Meal Planning Ideas:
Breakfast is just the first meal of your day whatever time that may happen. After lots of back and forth about how many times a day we should eat, 3 meals a day is sufficient. If you are genuinely hungry, meaning you tried a glass of water first, have a snack, but this all day snacking is a big part of our struggles with food. Traditional breakfast foods are a completely modern phenomenon and you can eat whatever you want, if you want a salad have one. I often will just have last night’s leftovers. The key to every meal is to have plenty of fiber, from fruits, vegetables, and grains, some protein and a bit of fat, whatever form that takes is up to you.
AVOCADO TOAST, opt for sprouted breads, real whole grain (Dave’s is good) or sourdough
SPINACH, POTATO AND MUSHROOM FRITTATTA
2 cups fresh Spinach
1 cup mushrooms, whatever variety you like
1 cup roasted new potatoes, or some of each
1 large shallot sliced
¼ cup flax meal or oat bran
¼ cup Fresh Herbs, spring chives are a favorite, parsley, thyme or basil
¼ cup shredded cheese, cheddar, mozzarella or even goat cheese (optional)
Oil for cooking
Beat eggs and stir in fresh herbs
In an oven safe fry pan toss in shallots and mushrooms in a bit of olive oil and saute until mushrooms begin to soften and shallots become translucent
Add spinach and potatoes and cook for another minute or two
pour in egg mixture (be sure pan is large enough or put vegetable mixture into a baking dish, be sure it is coated with cooking spray and then add eggs and put directly in oven)
cook for a few minutes on the stove, bringing up the edges, sprinkle on cheese and place in a 375 degree oven until firm when shaken. If pouring the mixture into a baking pan the cooking time will be increased about 8 mins.
Let cool for a few minutes before cutting and serving to allow it to tighten up.
Frittatas are a great way to use up extra veggies, both raw and cooked and still get yourself a solid dose of protein making it and ideal dish for any meal of the day. I often use oat bran or bread crumbs to help bind it and make it a bit more solid, but if you are gluten free you can easily just use potatoes, grated or shredded potatoes are great for this! Simply start with the egg base, keep proportions in line and keep in mind this recipe can easily be cut in half or even quartered,and just as easily doubled, then just go from there. Be sure to cook vegetables, especially those with a high water content before adding to the dish, I guarantee even the barest of fridges can yield some treats that will suit a fritatta.
Aim to have one from each column but by all means throw in lots of mixed fresh herbs and veggies to use up what you have on hand.
SMOOTHIE/SMOOTHIE BOWL, be sure to add greens like spinach or kale and other vegetables like cucumber or celery to cut down on the sugars. Also add some fiber and protein with choices like flax meal, chia seeds, hemp seeds or nuts. If you choose to use a protein powder opt for plant based fiber rich varieties.
Classic 5 minute oats are a great way to start your day because they are high in fiber and protein that work to fuel you and keep you full. Add nuts, berries even some dried fruits for extra flavor and maybe a drizzle of maple syrup or honey for a touch of sweetness
WHITE BEAN AND BASIL HUMMUS (great in wrap with lettuce and tomato, or as a dip for veggies or chips )
½ lb. (1 cup) white navy beans or 1 can rinsed
4 to 5 cloves of garlic
¼ cup basil threads
zest juice from 1 lemon
sea salt and cracked pepper to taste
1.soak beans overnight
2.rinse beans, place in pot and cover with water, cook for approx. 20-25 until beans are tender but not mushy
3.place garlic, basil, lemon zest and juice and beans in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth, when necessary drizzle in olive oil and a bit of water to obtain proper consistency
1 lb of winter greens (kale, spinach, cabbage or a combo)
1 lg can diced tomatoes
1 large can of white beans, rinsed and drained or 2 cups of soaked and cooked dry beans
3-5 cloves of garlic
1 quart vegetable stock
½ cup fresh herbs (parsley, basil, oregano or a combo)
olive oil for cooking
salt and pepper for seasonings
- saute greens in olive oil over med/high heat until they begin to wilt then add the garlic
- once the greens have been reduced to half add the tomatoes and lower heat to a simmer
- add white beans, the rest of the tomatoes and vegetable stock and continue cooking for an additional 10-15 mins until flavors have melded
- season with salt and pepper and then add the fresh herbs before serving.
ORZO TOMATO AND SPINACH SALAD
1 box of orzo
1 pint of cherry tomatoes halved or any tomato diced
several cups of fresh spinach
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup basil threads
2 cloves garlic minced (opt)
sea salt and pepper to taste
- Cook off orzo and run cool water over the pasta to cool it down
- Toss pasta with the rest of the ingredients and serve at room temperature
BEANS AND GREENS
1 box pasta penne, farfalle or whatever type you like
1 15 ounce can white beans beans or chickpeas
a few cups fresh spinach
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil for cooking
fresh or dried basil or oregano for seasoning
¼ cup shredded parmesan, mozzarella or asiago (optional)
sliced black olives (optional)
- Bring a pot of water to a boil and add pasta. Two minutes before pasta is ready, add spinach and then drain.
- Coat the same pot with olive oil and toss in onion, garlic and dried herbs. Sauté until clear.
- Add the rinsed beans to the pan and toss. Put pasta and spinach mixture back in the pot and sauté for another minute, adding fresh herbs and cheese. Stir gently to thoroughly incorporate all ingredients, and serve.
ROASTED CAULIFLOWER SALAD
½ head cauliflower
2 tbs. Olive Oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 tbsp capers
1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, or more to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
- Cut florets into small pieces and toss with half the olive oil and the minced garlic
- Roast in a 400 degree oven for 10 mins. And then remove from oven and using tongs toss cauliflower so it cooks evenly on all sides
- Remove and let cool and then combine with the parsley, capers, olives, left over oil, lemon juice and seasonings, serve room temperature
CAULIFLOWER, POTATO AND HERB PUREE
½ head caulifower
3 medium Red Potatoes
1 tbs. Chopped fresh Rosemary or 1 tsp dried
Parmesan Cheese opt.
Wash potatoes and boil until they start to become tender
Add cauliflower in small chunks and cook until it is soft and potatoes are completely tender
Strain potato and cauliflower and place in a food processor, or use an old fashioned masher and blend until smooth, add oil if necessary
Add chopped fresh rosemary and season with salt and pepper
RIBBON SALAD WITH GARLICKY VINAIGRETTE (RAW/VEGAN)
3 medium sized Zucchini
3 medium sized Summer Squash
1# bag of Carrots, peeled
2 cups Cabbage (green or Savoy) Shredded
4 cloves of garlic
¼ cup fresh parsley
¼ cup other fresh herbs you have on hand basil, cilantro or thyme choose just 1
¼ cup Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
½ cup cold pressed Olive Oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste
- Using a mandolin, or veggie slicer julienne thick threads of carrots and squash
- toss in the shredded cabbage
- in a blender, food processor or with an immersion blender, add the next 4 ingredients and blend while slowly adding the olive oil which will help to emulsify the dressing
- toss the dressing with the vegetables, season with salt and pepper and serve
Now let’s take these same noodles with out the dressing and do something completely different
- Toss in a pan with olive oil and garlic and cook until soft and top with Marinara or a Spicy Puttanesca
- If you have some pesto maybe you froze or a jar in the fridge saute up the noodles in that
- you can even add to some cooked spaghetti for a hearty pasta primavera
1 quart vegetable broth
1 15 oz. can kidney beans
1 cup ditalini pasta or rice if you are gluten free
1 15 oz can chopped tomatoes
1 onion diced
2 celery stalks diced
3 carrots diced
1 zucchini diced
1 tbs. dried oregano
1 tbs. dried basil
olive oil for cooking
salt and paper to taste
- In a large stockpot sauté garlic, onions, celery and carrots until soft
- Add tomatoes, beans and herbs, then cover with broth and bring to a boil
- Add pasta and zucchini then reduce heat and simmer for 10 mins until pasta is cooked
This weeks menu was chosen because many of the items are on special. My fruit suggestions are sale items. I encourage you to buy organic when you can as far as produce but following the dirty dozen is the most important. That said many organics are priced almost as low as their conventional counterparts, example carrots, bananas and sweet potatoes so I encourage you to make those choices, but staying on budget is important as well and any vegetables are better than none. I also realize many people using the planner will still be eating meat and may be supplementing these dishes with chicken and fish which is fine.
There are some basic pantry supplies I assume most have on hand. If you don’t, add these items to your weekly grocery list.
red wine vinegar
dried herbs and spices (oregano, basil, rosemary, crushed red pepper)
4 -5 zucchini
4 summer squash
5lb bag organic carrots (if you shop at Shaws it is a 2lb bag)
1 medium green cabbage
1 bunch basil
1 bunch parsley
lemons (much cheaper in the mesh bags)
large box of organic baby spinach
fresh fruit (cantalope, berries, grapefruits and oranges are on sale)
2 cans diced tomatoes
white bean 1lb dry or 3 cans
1can of garbanzo beans
1 can of red beans
1 box orzo
1 box ditalini
1 box of penne
2-3 quarts vegetable stock
I assume you will need additional items such as breads, tortillas, peanut butter and snacks that your family likes.