We bought what I would consider to be a first generation air fryer a few years ago. It was fine, in that it cooked food crispy and but not particularly quickly, AND it was tiny. You could seriously only fit a couple of chicken tenders in it at a time, and it took 20 minutes to cook them, so it wasn’t efficient, either.
For Christmas this year, we tried again, only with a much bigger 5.7 quart fryer and it is a game changer. On busy nights it pairs perfectly with some frozen, not-the-healthiest-but-mama-doesn’t-have-time-for-kale food (lookin’ at you, Lean Cuisine pizza!)
On relaxing days, I spend hours experimenting with it, frying up all manner of things I wouldn’t have even considered frying.
Why Buy an Air Fryer
What is an air fryer?
At its core, an air fryer is a convection oven, using hot, circulating air to cook your food. The differences are nuanced but important, however.
An air fryer is typically shaped in more of a cone or dome, making the hot air circulate faster. This allows the outside of the food to crisp up while still cooking the inside quickly, preserving the juiciness while adding a perfect crunch. It also cooks faster than a countertop convection oven.
Most of the countertop ovens I looked at cost about twenty percent more than a similarly sized air fryer as well, and I’m not quite sure why. Convection ovens can typically go over the seemingly upper limit of 400 degrees that an air fryer has, but “frying” temperatures are usually between 350 and 400 degrees, so this isn’t surprising.
The best air fryers on the market have broad bottoms, allowing for a maximum amount of food cooked at once while still retaining the “frying” properties they boast. Because of this somewhat conical shape, they tend to take up less space than countertop ovens.
Benefits of Cooking with an Air Fryer
An air fryer cooks food faster than an oven would typically, and because it doesn’t require oil as a cooking medium, the food is lighter calorically and healthier in general.
As I mentioned earlier, you can toss in a layer of frozen chicken tenders, or fries, or whatever else you have on hand and dinner is ready in like 10 minutes.
On the model we have (Magic Chef), the timer is also effectively the “on” switch, so if you set it for 10 minutes, it shuts itself off in 10 minutes. There’s no “oh no I forgot the food” moments where you find that your salmon is blackened a bit more than you’d like; once the timer is up, it shuts off.
Fresh burgers come out juicy on the inside without flipping and splashing grease, and it reheats food more evenly (and pleasantly) than a microwave, though it takes longer.
Consider how microwave-reheated leftovers from a restaurant never taste as good, and you don’t typically want to preheat your oven just to heat up some chicken tenders. An air fryer is like your oven and your microwave had a baby and it was born being better than both of them (in certain applications). Reheating food is one of those applications!
Things to look for in an air fryer
Hands-down the most important attribute – and I cannot overstate this – is the size of the available cooking space. You can really only get the crispy benefits of the air fryer if your food isn’t stacked up on top of itself, so a single layer at a time is what you’re shooting for. This requires a decent sized basket so you’re able to cook quick, large batches. Ours is 5.7 quarts and it’s great for our family of 4, but if you have a bigger family or a party, something even larger might be ideal for you.
Ours is also manual, but there are digital ones out there as well that offer a wide range of preset cooking times and other fun add-ons.
Make sure you get a removable basket as well. Our first one didn’t have a removable basket, just this weird black insert that kinda held the food over the bottom of the fryer but not very well. The one we have now is a removable metal basked that clicks into the base and allows for total air circulation and for drippings to fall completely away from your food.
Finally, consider price when buying one. This isn’t a brand-new technology where higher price commands respect or the latest advancement. At its core, this is a very focused convection oven that fits on your countertop. Our Magic Chef was about $80, and it’s great. The only thing that you really need to pay extra for is a bigger model.
Why does every parent need an air fryer?
You’re still not convinced? Well, let’s recap then:
Cooks food quickly and crispy while retaining juiciness
Economical, especially if you’re considering buying a countertop oven
Heats faster, cooks quicker, and crisps up food better than an oven
Healthier than deep frying by a significant amount
Doesn’t require oil to cook most foods
Obviously consider your needs before picking one up, but if you’re on the fence about buying an air fryer, I hope this helps you see that they’re not a fad kitchen gadget. It saves us time, calories, effort, and money and it will for you, too!
Do you already have an air fryer?
Comment below, I’d love to know YOUR favorite thing to cook in it!
Looking for meal ideas that don’t require an oven? I certainly was this summer when my oven stopped working not once, not twice, but THREE times (seriously don’tever buy Frigidaire products!!)
Luckily my misfortune can be to your benefit as I’ve since compiled some of the best oven-free recipes I used when we had to cook without an oven.
Now maybe you’re thinking “Hello, why not just use your slow cooker all week?” Heh well I kid you not – both our slow cooker and our grill bit the dust during this same week. Needless to say our meal plan did NOT work out accordingly.
Fortunately we did still have an air fryer, our stove top, and our garden fire pit to work with. So without further ado, here are some of our favorite recipes from the “no oven” week.
Oven-Free Recipe Ideas
Of course salads and the like are always an option when it’s too hot to cook in the oven or you just can’t/don’t want to. That said, after a few days, you’ll have to get creative with your salads or you’ll end up burnt out right quick.
Here are a few ideas as to how to freshen up your salads so you can eat healthy without feeling like a goat:
Taco Salads are always a good option! Make it a fun dinner and serve it taco bar style so everyone can pick and choose their own toppings.
Macaroni salad is delicious and if you throw in some ham, it’s a full meal in one bowl!
Chicken or tuna salad are always easy and you can make ’em extra healthy by using lettuce leaves instead of bread.
BLT salads are a staple in our family. We make an easy dressing of mayo + hot sauce and toss that with some bacon, tomatoes, spinach, and avocado. Yum!!
Spiralized Greek Salad with Rosemary Chicken
This salad is not only good for you, it’s super easy to make. You’re basically chopping veggies and grilling chicken. If you don’t have rosemary essential oil, you can always substitute the oil with 2 tablespoons of fresh rosemary.
You could also consider cooking up breakfast for dinner. While you can certainly go the sweet route of pancakes, waffles, or oatmeal jars, there are simple ways to mix it up and have a savory breakfast for dinner.
Cornbread Waffle Tacos
This breakfast-for-dinner recipe can be done in a number of different ways, but I especially loved this recipe from Lexis Rose. Such an easy dinner, the whole family can have fun with it!
If cooking outdoors is an option, use this as an opportunity to cook up a bunch of meat for the week so you can spend less time in the kitchen and more time enjoying your week!
This is a throwback to my days in the Girl Scouts, but foil packs make for a great meal! This is a fun one that again you can tweak to suit your family’s needs – again make it fun and let everyone choose their own ingredients! Personally I love to put about 1/2lb of hamburger, 1/2 can of sweet corn, a few potatoes, and season to taste. It takes about 15 minutes to cook and it’s absolutely one of my most favorite dinners!
Kielbasa and Cabbage
If you have a dutch oven, this is a great one to cook either on your stovetop or on the grill! Chop up a head of cabbage, one onion, a couple gloves of garlic, and add to the dutch oven with two packs of Polish sausage. Let simmer for about an hour or until the veggies are soft. Add in a tablespoon of rice wine vinegar, a tablespoon of spicy mustard, and salt to taste. So good!!
Of course you also always put your trusty slow cooker to use!
Chicken Tikki Masala
We’re huge fans of Indian food at our house, but I love this recipe because it’s not only done in a slow cooker, but it’s a “lighter” version of traditional Tikki Masala in that it uses greek yogurt instead of heavy cream.
Fry something and I’ll almost certainly eat it (except celery, celery is the devil). One of my favorites, though, is veggie tenpura. There’s certainly an art to it, but when done right, tenpura is absolute heaven – clouds and all!
Recipe: Available on Thanks for the Meal – Tenpura
Do you have any ideas on oven-free meal recipes?
I’d love for you to comment and/or link them below!
As a work-at-home mom, I don’t ask for much — just quiet children, a clutter-free work space, a muse that never shuts up…ya know, simple things.
That said, I’ve been blessed with two VERY vocal children, a folding table shoved in the corner of our guest room, and a brain that thinks about sleep more than writing. So rather than dwell on that which I’ll never have, I want to share with you what’s on the top of my gift wish list as a work-at-home mom and why I love them so. I’ve picked out these gift ideas specifically for work-at-home moms, but I’d be willing to bet ANY mom would love them!
Please know that some of these links may be affiliate links, which just means you’ll help fund my coffee habit should you choose to click through and make a purchase.
Oh please, oh please, Santa, bring me a pair of these! It’s so hard to focus on writing a blog post when I can hear my children downstairs begging for attention. Note: Their dad is with them, but they’re like that guy you were into Freshman year of college who only started liking you back after he found out you now have a boyfriend.
I have a regular ol’ boring tripod and it functions fine, but this one looks SO fun!! Not to mention it would make my life oh-so-much easier when I’m trying to do a livestream on my “desk” and I have to put the keyboard on the floor in order to make space.
Remember when I mentioned the whole “sleep vs work” issue? This ring light could fix all of that! Well okay maybe not ALL of that, but hey, it’d at least make the bags under my eyes look a little less frightening for young children.
This one seems weird, I know, but stick with me – I use bulletin board paper ALL the time to map out work plans, goals, blog posts, etc. I can tape it up high enough to keep away from the kids and won’t run the risk of misplacing it. Plus it’s big enough that once you’re done, you can take a picture of it and then toss it to the wolves children to shred. Errr or maybe don’t do that, unless they’re also willing to sweep it up later, which in that case, send them to my house next.
Another great one is dry erase paper – did you even know that was a thing?! It is. And it’s amazing. Find it here.
I am such a huge fan of Blue Apron, especially during the holiday season. Not only do they save you time (no meal planning, no grocery shopping, no worries) but they offer such DELICIOUS options, often times things you can’t get in your area. I’ll never forget one of our first meals from them, it was a breakfast tostada with watermelon radish and oh. my. goodness. It was heavenly and immediately ensured I’d be a repeat customer. Yum.
I could continue on down the list of things you should buy for the work-at-home mom in your life, but I’m confident this will at least give you a decent head start on what to buy. Oh and if you want to buy something for your favorite blogger (that’s me, right?) send it to: PO BOX 694 Springfield, IL 62705 (I’m only like half joking…)
I would love it, though, if you’d comment below and tell me one thing YOU’RE hoping Santa brings you this year!
Creating a healthy meal plan on a budget can be tricky. We so often have the best of intentions: we develop a meal plan(ish), buy our groceries, fist pump when we’re $16 under budget, and then suddenly your two year old is screaming, the baby has a rash, and making that Pinterest-worthy quiche for dinner is the last thing on your mind because McDonalds here we come!!
The guilt of feeding your toddler a Go-Gurt and cheeseburger for dinner doesn’t weigh as heavy as your eyelids from not having slept all week, so you brush it off and pray you get to bed before midnight tonight. You tell yourself you’ll do better next week. You’ll create a better meal plan that is healthy but that allows for some flexibility. This week was just a rough week. Next week will be better…hopefully…
But then next week comes and your budget is all out of whack because you went over your food allowance thanks to one too many “happy” meals and the produce you bought last week is now squirrel food and and AND….
Take a breath. I’ve been there.
Creating (and sticking to) a healthy meal plan can be tough when we’re constantly pulled in a thousand different directions and there’s only so many minutes in the evening to get things done. Fortunately I can help.
A few simple steps can be the key to keeping your family fed and healthy, and your wallet fat and happy.
(Please note this article contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission should you click through. This in no way impacts my recommendation of any products/services.)
How to Meal Plan on a Budget
Take Your Time Meal Planning
“Step 1: My TIME? Did you miss the memo about my lack of time??! Thanks, Amber…”
Stick with me, dear reader. If you’re creating a meal plan just before you go grocery shopping, you’re going to create a panicked, rushed menu that might be short-sighted or be missing key ingredients; suddenly it’s Wednesday, you’re supposed to have lasagna, and you don’t have marinara sauce or noodles.
One of the best ways to start your meal plan is to flip through your local grocery ads. This way you can craft your menu around the great deals being offered on produce or meat that week.
You should also take the time to consider what your kids will actually eat, what’s in season, and what day of the week your grocer creates sale prices. Often you can find meat or produce drastically marked down on a specific day of the week because it’s nearing the end of its shelf-life. This doesn’t mean it’s bad, but just that it’s nearing the time in which it can still be sold.
It’s especially important to keep an eye out for great deals on meat, because that can be frozen and used at a later date, and still picked up for half the cost of what it was just one day before.
Cook Once, Eat Twice
Cooking enough for your family is a given, but if you take five minutes to cook extra of the base ingredients, you can save yourself thirty minutes in the long run.
If you’re cooking a grain like rice or quinoa, or a big pot of pasta, it takes hardly any extra effort at all to toss some extra in and store it individually for a future meal. In fact, to get the most mileage out of the time spent cooking, you’re shortchanging yourself if you’re not getting at least dinner and a lunch out of your efforts.
In addition, cooking a large batch of a grain or pasta on a Sunday will leave you with a base from which to work later in the week for the meals on your plan. This cuts down significantly on the prep work for the weeknights, time far better spent relaxing with your family.
Put Your Leftovers to Work
Beyond simply increasing your portions for future meals, a good meal plan flows together as the week goes on.
Cooking a protein on Monday can mean that Tuesday’s dinner is already prepped. For instance, you can roast a chicken on Monday night then shred the leftovers, toss in some seasonings, and have chicken tacos on Tuesday!
This is a great way to make the most of the leftovers you have, even if reheating leftovers isn’t necessarily your thing.
A dinner meal plan that flows might look like this:
You also want to take into consideration what produce you can cut up ahead of time for multiple meals. For example, we make a vegan bolognese that incorporates a lot of the same veggies that go into korma so I often try to make those meals close together.
Cut once, cook twice!
Shop Locally, Shop Seasonally
I went looking for eggplant the other day and when I finally found it at the local HyVee, it was exceptionally expensive. I swear I just bought one for like $1 the other da….oh, nope, that was three months ago. Heh. Oops.
When I last bought eggplant, it was from the Farmer’s Market when they were at their peak and everyone had dozens of them for sale. When fruits and vegetables are in season, there’s an abundance, and what’s more you can get them from local farmers that are concerned about how they manage their produce. Normally you can count on food that’s not doused in pesticide, or eggs that are free range and fed normal feed instead of industrialized garbage.
Learning to find out what produce is in season is a great way to train your body to enjoying a wealth of different foods, not to mention how much better they taste than the tiny, off-season offerings we have at the stores now. If you’ve shopped for zucchini in the last few months, you know what I’m talking about – they’re tiny! I’ll wait until summer when they’re the size of small dogs and bursting with flavor, not to mention cheaper.
How Big is Your Chest?
Being able to freeze leftovers, extra meat you purchased on sale, or in-season produce can make all the difference when it comes to eating healthy on a budget. Not having enough freezer space can be quite costly, so consider investing in a chest freezer.
If you have the time, canning is considerable work with a wonderful payout, but again, there’s that catch – if you have the time. If you don’t, freezing can be a viable substitute for in-season fruits and vegetables that are plentiful and cheap. Buying in bulk, divvying up into containers or baggies, and then freezing produce is a great way to stretch those dollars.
Similarly, you can buy a lot of meat in bulk from local farmers (we’re talking a quarter of a cow!) for a great price and then freeze it all, using as you need it.
If you’re patient, you can usually find someone on Craigslist or a Facebook resale page selling an old deep freeze for cheap. It doesn’t need bells and whistles; it just needs to get and stay cold.
As I often recommend for many of those who have a harder time sticking to a budget, use cash. Figure out how much you’re going to spend on groceries per week and get to the ATM.
This allows for two things:
1. You can see exactly where your money is going in a way that using a debit or credit card doesn’t allow for.
2. It discourages impulse spending.
Keep a tally as you shop so you know whether or not you can actually afford that sweet treat or a six-pack (no, sadly, I do not count that as an essential!)
Know Where to Cut Back
We used to have a pretty insane food budget per week – $200 for our family of three (at the time). And we’d go over it sometimes! That’s pretty much the definition of insane idiocy!
Knowing we had to cut back (and quick!) we started first by developing a meal plan and tracking where our biggest expenditures were coming from.
Once we had a good grasp on how much we were spending and where we were spending it, we began by cutting it down a bit each week, and as of the time of publishing, we’ve cut it in half.
$75 for (now four) of us is much more palatable. There are still days we go over a bit, because having two little ones is nothing if not busy. That’s ok, though! At least the days of going over $200/week are done and gone.
Here’s how we cut back:
– We started off only cutting $20/week and saw how we had to adjust and what we were comfortable with/without.
– We changed the stores where we bought most of our food. Schnucks became Aldi and believe me when I say we’ve never looked back.
– We improved the quality of the food we eat, and by that I mean we cut out a great deal of the processed foods and replaced them with whole, natural produce, meat, eggs, and dairy that actually left us sated.
– We cut out impulse buys significantly by only using cash to make our purchases. Aldi is a two-fold boon here, because they only take cash or debit cards. It helps with this strategy.
As I mentioned above, we often buy a lot of our dry goods online, such as pasta, flour, and sugar. While your grocer probably has a lot of what you’re looking for, chances are it’s going to be more expensive than you need to pay.
An example of this would be quinoa – we use a lot in our household because it’s incredibly healthy, very versatile, and can be used in a huge variety of applications from savory to sweet, breakfast to dinner. Local stores, if they even have it, usually charge $5/lb+, but on Amazon, I recently bought a 10lb bulk bag for a little over $2.50/lb, and that includes shipping.
Of course you want to see your meat and veggies up close and it’s unlikely you could get those things online at a good price anyway, but buying bulk pantry items from Amazon.com is a fantastic way to stock up without burning a hole in your wallet. Plus they deliver straight to your door! Oh, how I love online shopping…(Don’t forget to use Rakuten and Ibotta to save even more!!)
Trying to cook elaborate meals when you have an infant and a toddler is like trying to catch a bunch of flies when you’re surrounded by bullfrogs; it doesn’t make sense. Your kids likely don’t care what they’re eating, if they’re eating at all, and your spouse is too busy going from odd stain to odd stain, deciphering if they’re spills or spit-ups, to care if your dinner looked amazing on Pinterest.
If you need to make a meal of jarred alfredo and rigatoni, with some frozen broccoli tossed in, then do it. It would only cost about $4 and would easily feed a family of four!
Sometimes you simply want a big salad for dinner, and you know what, that’s great! Salad comes together in minutes, can be full of healthy proteins, fats, and veggies, and can be incredibly cost effective.
My point is that homemade dinners don’t need to be elaborate or expensive. Like ever. Don’t stress about it.
Starting a new week with five new meal ideas, even if they’re simple, is a recipe (haha) for disaster. I’m not suggesting you never branch out to try new foods, but you should always have a good amount of solid, well-liked recipes in your repertoire so that you can pull an old standby out in a pinch. Remember how your older relatives always had actual physical recipe boxes? Use those!!
This also helps you easily gauge what you’ll need for leftovers or a flowing meal plan since you’re already exceptionally familiar with the ingredients and cooking involved.
Visualize Your Plan
Buy a magnetic white board, some wet erase markers, and stick it to your fridge where you’ll see it daily. From there, write down your meal plan so that everyone can see it, you are constantly aware of it, and there’s no surprises.
An added benefit to having it on a white board is being able to erase and adjust as needed. Just like having cash at hand when you go to buy groceries, awareness helps inform every decision you make, from purchase to plate.
This will go a long way to creating savings and efficiency in later meal plans.
Now go meal plan
This post isn’t exhaustive by any means, but it’s a great place to start if you want to cut your expenses and still eat healthy food.
If you focus on eating the majority of your meals at home, meals comprised of whole foods and minimal waste, you can improve your health and the health of your finances.
Remember, we’re not just trying to save money, we’re trying to save time so we can improve the quality of our lives.
How many times have you tried to get your kids to eat healthy……only to have them refuse to eat the meal you worked so hard to prepare?
Getting your kids to eat healthy while staying within your budget is not easy. Getting your kids to LIKE the healthy and budget friendly food is an entirely different subject!
Kid Friendly Meal Ideas
Fear not, we’ve got healthier versions of popular comfort food recipes that children love! You can adapt the recipes by using tofu or chicken, and we have provided non-dairy alternatives as well. Even if you end up using tofu, chances are, your kids may love it so much, it may end up being their new favorite!
You might even find yourself stealing food off you children’s plate! Don’t worry, these low cost high-protein recipes are healthy, budget friendly, and perfect for the whole family!
A word about the recipes and measurements:
While recipes revolve around measurements, don’t worry if you use a little bit more or less of one ingredient. These recipes are adaptable, and you have plenty of options to make it an awesome meal. Substitute the ingredients to your preferences (dairy free and vegetarian options are included below).
In the excitement of cooking, sometimes we overlook abbreviations (this has happened to everyone at some point), so this is worth mentioning, even though you know this – a tablespoon often gets mistaken for a teaspoon, and vice versa. Remember, a tablespoon is abbreviated as “tbsp.” and a teaspoon is abbreviated as “tsp”. Check out the recipes, and pick the ones that work for your family, and you’re good to go!
Before you dismiss tofu, consider this- it is healthy, easy to prepare, and it can conform to any of your favorite recipes, from savory meals to dessert! Tofu chocolate mousse has been a favorite at dinner parties AND with kids. When my nephew had the tofu enchilada casserole for the first time, he loved it! Whether you are trying to use it as a meat substitute, disguise, or healthy alternative, tofu is worth adding to your next meal.
Tofu is less than $2 for a block, and one block can serve 2-3 people. Not only that, tofu is versatile, healthy, and easy to store.
You can use it in your appetizers, main dishes, and desserts. With only 60 calories, 3 grams of fat, and 5 grams of protein per 3 ounce serving, tofu may end up being a staple at your house!
The key to making tofu taste good is to properly season the tofu, use the right accompanying seasonings, and make sure the ingredients complement each other. Because tofu itself does not have much flavor or smell, you have to make sure the other ingredients are flavorful for a balanced meal.
Take a look below, pick out a few recipes your kids will like, and soon, you will be adding these meals, sides, and desserts to your meal planning rotation!
Tofu “Chicken” Fingers And Sweet Potato Fries
Tofu (or Chicken) Enchilada Casserole
Butternut Squash Whole Grain Mac and Cheese
Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes
Tofu Chocolate Mousse
No-Bake Strawberry Cheesecake
Tofu Tenders And Sweet Potato Fries
Remember, you can make this recipe with chicken or tofu. If you’re not feeling adventurous enough to find out whether your kids will eat tofu, stick with chicken. Sweet potato fries add a fun and unexpected twist to the usual chicken tenders and fries meal!
Serves 4 people
1/4 cup Gold Medal™ all-purpose flour OR ¼ cup almond flour
1C plain or Italian style panko breadcrumbs
(1/2 cup parmesan cheese OR ¾ cup roasted peanuts, finely chopped)
1 lb uncooked chicken breast cut into strips OR two 14 oz. packets of firm tofu
3 sweet potatoes, cut into vertical strips
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Cut the uncooked chicken breast into lengthwise strips. If you are using tofu, cut the
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, then spray it with cooking spray, and set aside.
Pour the flour into a shallow dish, such as a plate or shallow bowl.
In another shallow dish, beat the egg and water.
In a third shallow dish, mix the breadcrumbs (or almond flour or peanuts) and cheese.
Place the tenders on a cookie sheet.
Bake 15 to 20 minutes, turning once. While the tenders are baking, get started on the sweet potato fries (step 9). If you are using tofu, be careful when turning. If you are using chicken, cook until chicken is no longer pink in center and coating is golden brown. Once the strips are done, don’t turn the oven off- keep it at 425°F for the sweet potato fries!
If you haven’t already done so, wash the sweet potatoes and cut them into vertical ½ inch strips.
On a separate baking sheet lined with foil, place the sweet potato strips on a separate baking sheet lined with foil. Add 1 tbsp olive oil on top, making sure all sweet potato strips are properly coated.
Arrange the sweet potato fries on the baking sheet in a single layer, avoiding any overlap.
Sprinkle with cinnamon and kosher salt, if desired, or just season with salt, pepper, and your choice of seasoning.
Place the sweet potato fries in the over and bake for 25 so that they have enough space (avoid overlapping).
Bake until crispy. If the edges start to burn, take the fries out of the oven immediately.
Serve the tenders and fries with your favorite dipping sauce.
Cheesy Enchilada Casserole
Most kids love burritos, tacos, and enchiladas- you can’t go wrong with cheesy enchilada casserole.
Serves 4 people
3 cups cooked chicken, diced OR 3 cups diced firm tofu (be sure to press it with a paper towel before dicing)
18- 6 inch corn tortillas
2 cups red enchilada sauce (you can also substitute your favorite red salsa)
4 Tablespoons canned, mild green chiles, diced ( use ½ cup of mild green salsa if you prefer)
¼ cup onion, finely diced
3 cups Mexican blend cheese (you can use a blend of cheddar, jack, and colby- a blend of white and cheddar cheese- as long as you have this ratio, it is flexible)
1 cup black beans (optional)
Preheat oven to 350F.
Place 6 tortillas in the bottom of the baking dish sprayed with cooking spray, slightly overlapping the tortillas.
Top with ½ cup of enchilada sauce, spreading evenly over tortillas.
Top with 1 ½ cups of your chicken or tofu, 2 Tablespoons of onion, 2 Tablespoons of green chiles / green salsa, ½ cup black beans (if you use them) and 1 cup of cheese.
Repeat layer with six more tortillas, sauce, the remaining chicken or tofu, onion, green chiles, corn and another cup of cheese.
Complete the casserole with another layer of tortillas, 1 cup of enchilada sauce, and 1-1.5 cups of cheese. Bake in the oven for 30-40 min. Let stand 5- 10 mins before serving.
This is a healthy and tasty spin on a classic Italian dish- smiling faces and happy tummies!
2 blocks of firm tofu, pressed with a paper towel (two 14 oz. packets)
2/3 cup liquid egg whites or 3 eggs and 2 tbsp water
3 tablespoons parmesan cheese
2/3 cup panko breadcrumbs or almond flour
3 teaspoons dried parsley
1 jar marinara or meat sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
(optional: chopped basil as a garnish)
Preheat the oven to 375F.
Cut the tofu into chunks of your desired size. The larger the piece, the more careful you have to be to ensure it does not break.
Pat it dry with a paper towel to remove excess moisture.
Whisk the egg whites or eggs and water in a bowl.
Combine the dry ingredients (panko, parmesan, parsley, salt and pepper) in another bowl.
Add one pieces of tofu to the egg white mixture, coating both sides.
Next, dredge the coated tofu piece on both sides in the dry ingredient mixture.
Repeat this process until all pieces are fully coated.
Helpful tip: Use one had for the wet ingredients, and another for the dry ingredients.
Once coated, use the dry hand to arrange the tofu pieces on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Continue to repeat the process until each piece of tofu is breaded.
Place the baking sheet with tofu in the oven for 20 minutes. Flip each piece of tofu over and bake for another 20 minutes until golden brown.
Serve with marinara sauce and parmesan cheese. Garnish with chopped basil, if your kids like it!
For a side dish, chop up some veggies or serve with spaghetti pasta.
Butternut Squash Whole Grain Mac and Cheese
3 cups seeded and peeled butternut squash (cut into 1 inch cubes)
1 cup canned chicken or vegetable stock (preferably low sodium)
1 1/2 cups nonfat milk
1 package whole grain elbow macaroni
1 cup extra-sharp cheddar cheese, finely grated
4 tablespoons sprinkle parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons panko or breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tsp. Italian seasoning (oregano, thyme, basil, rosemary)
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 425 F.
In a medium sized sauce pan, sauté squash with olive oil for 6 minutes. Add the stock and milk, and bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to medium heat- simmer for 20 minutes (squash will be tender when pierced with a fork).
Remove from heat, add seasoning, and mash the contents in the pan. Once the mixture has cooled, use an electric mixer or put it in the blender.
Next, bring large pot of water to boil, and cook the macaroni according to instructions (usually about 8 minutes). Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Add squash mixture, cheddar, parmesan to the bowl and combine, be careful not to break the macaroni.
In a medium sized baking dish coated with cooking spray, add the macaroni mixture. Layer parmesan and breadcrumbs on top of the macaroni.
Cover with foil, and bake 20 minutes. Remove foil, and continue baking until lightly browned and crisp on top, 30 to 40 minutes more. Serve immediately.
Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes
1 head cauliflower, stem and leaves removed, cut into small florets OR 2 8 oz. bags of cauliflower florets
1C (8 oz.) greek yogurt
1 cup (8 oz.) sour cream
1 tbsp Italian seasoning (basil, oregano, thyme and rosemary)
¼ cup bacon bits (optional)
¼ cup almond meal
¾ cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
parsley, for garnish
Pre-heat your oven to 425 F.
Cut the cauliflower into florets and remove the stems (if you have the bag of cauliflower florets, skip this step).
Steam the cauliflower or put it in a 2 large zip lock bags or a microwave safe glass dish and microwave for 6 minutes.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, mix the sour cream, greek yogurt, cheese, and spices.
Add the cauliflower and continue mixing until well combined. The cauliflower should be completely blended. (You can also use a blender in small batches, but it will be harder to blend because of the thickness. Also, if you use a blender, you will have to wait for the cauliflower to cool).
Place the cauliflower in a 9 x 13 casserole pan.
Dust the top of the cauliflower with the almond meal and parmesan cheese.
Bake in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the top is nice and toasty brown.
You can serve this as a side with a protein dish, or as a main dish if you serve it with a side salad or chopped vegetables (carrot sticks and celery sticks). Sprinkle with parsley, if desired.
Tofu Chocolate Mousse
Chocolate mousse is a delicious decadent dessert, usually made with eggs, and filled with calories- forget about eggs, complicated folding and the long prep time by making this indulgent yet healthy chocolate mousse that will help your kids be happy and healthy!
Serves 4 people
1C semi sweet chocolate chips (or ¾ cup unsweetened chocolate sweetened with the sweetener of your choice OR ¾ cup of your favorite chocolate bar chopped up)
1/2 cup warmed milk (you can also use coconut milk- the goal is to melt the chocolate, don’t overheat the milk)
1oz finely grated chocolate, or 2 tbsp chocolate chips, crushed in a bag
Microwave chocolate chips in 30-second increments, stirring each time, until melted.
In a food processor, puree the chocolate chips with warmed milk until smooth. Add the tofu, continuing to blend until smooth. The mixture will have a texture slightly thinner than pudding.
Pour the mixture into four serving dishes, and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes. Garnish desserts with finely chopped chocolate or chocolate chips, if desired.
No-Bake Strawberry Cheesecake
Cheesecake is a family favorite for dessert! You have to try this version-easy to make, no eggs, no baking, and less dishes.
Serves 4 people
1 12 oz. package strawberries, stems removed, roughly chopped *
12 ounces softened cream cheese, 1 1/2 (8-ounce) bricks * (see below for dairy-free option)
2/3 cup sour cream (see below for dairy-free option)
**Dairy Free Option**
If you want to go dairy free, omit the cream cheese and sour cream, and use 2 cans of coconut cream, with the water portion removed, and ½ a can of coconut milk- only add as much milk as needed to give the mixture a pudding like texture- be careful, otherwise, it will be watery. You can also use 1 8 oz. container of soft tofu mixed with ½ a small packet of Jello Cheesecake pudding mix
¼ cup sugar OR 6 packets Splenda OR ¼ cup honey (if you have another sweetener you prefer, look up the equivalent of ¼ cup of sugar online
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
12 sheets of graham crackers crumbled with vanilla, sugar, and salt OR ( low carb option: 1 cup almond meal, 2 tsp cinnamon, 2 tbsp coconut oil OR ¼ stick of butter, and 1 tsp vanilla extract)
In a food processor, process the graham crackers until it has the texture of fine crumbs. If you are using almond meal, you can skip this step.
In a medium bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs or almond flour, vanilla, sugar, and salt.
Pour the crust mixture into small ramekins, cupcake tins, cake pan, or a pie pan.
Pat the mixture into the container of your choice until firmly packed.
Roughly chop the strawberries and place in food processor.
Add cream cheese, sour cream, sweetener, and vanilla extract, and process until smooth.
Using a rubber spatula, fill ramekins or pie pan. Garnish cheesecakes with slices of remaining berries. Refrigerate for 15-25 minutes, but even if you don’t, it will still be ready to serve!
Meal Planning for Kids
Once you find a few recipes that your kids like (and your whole family likes), start working them into your meal plan. If you decide to go the tofu route, don’t draw attention to this “new ingredient” until your child gets a chance to try it. Just like us, kids have their preconceived notions of what is “yucky”! Depending on your child, you can be brave and just tell them its tofu up front, or tell them this is a new yummy dish, and watch for their reaction.
What is YOUR child’s favorite meal? Tell us about it in the comments below!