The simplest of ingredients meet a flavor-packed sauce for a prep-ahead meal that’s destined to become a weeknight favorite!
In the latest installment of Fountain Avenue Kids, high school senior Kenny Jackson-Kiefer is taking over the kitchen, demonstrating a dish that checks all his boxes – high in protein, easy to make in advance, and delicious!
Kenny is one impressive high school senior. He studies hard (with straight As and an induction into the National Honor society to prove it), hits the gym most days, and has a wide range of hobbies, including ornithology (the study of birds).
Kenny, who was adopted when he was 16, was recently accepted to Washington College, earning himself a full scholarship (!!!), and amidst it all, he takes time every Sunday to meal prep his school lunches.
I first met Kenny when I volunteered to teach a cooking class to the boys at Bench Mark Program. Kenny’s adoptive father, Will Kiefer, founded the Bench Mark Program as a college senior in 2014 in order to provide more opportunities for under-served youth in our community.
In Will’s words, “We started offering free personal training services to youth identified as ‘at-risk’ by local high schools and community organizations. It wasn’t long before we learned that the gym was more than a place for physical exercise. It was a safe, positive space to teach hard work, goal setting, and grit. And because we established a strong foundation through weightlifting first, our students responded positively to our mentorship.”
Fast forward to 2023: The organization recently moved to a larger space (with a kitchen!), has added programs for girls, and has a staff of 20. After starting with an average of four boys per day, Bench Mark now sees upwards of 50 kids every day, who make use of the gym, academic help, and career counseling. Bench Mark also stresses leadership skills and has developed a path for students to become mentors themselves. After 5 years in the program, Kenny became one such peer leader.
Like many high school seniors, Kenny is on the go from early morning until bedtime. One of the many things he learned at Bench Mark was the importance of good nutrition and proper fueling. As a weight lifter, Kenny knows protein is important for muscle recovery, but he also understands the value of a varied diet that includes whole grains, colorful produce, and healthy fats.
School lunches have often been underwhelming in the flavor department and not filling enough for Kenny either. Rather than complain, he began preparing enough lunches for the school week every Sunday. His standard lunch includes roasted sweet potatoes, brown rice, and roasted chicken. He throws a yogurt, granola bar, and cashews into his lunch box to round things out.
Excited to mix things up, we talked about other meals that could easily be prepared ahead and packed into containers for the week. For its ease of preparation, great flavor, and filling protein, the following ground beef and broccoli recipe rose to the top.
Though you could use a favorite store-bought stir fry sauce, the homemade recipe comes together quickly with pantry staples and will keep in the refrigerator for a month or more, making it a great candidate for doubling. (The recipe as written will yield enough for two stir fries, unless you like lots of extra sauce for the rice.)
As an added bonus, the recipe is flexible. While we kept things simple with ground beef and broccoli, I often add onion and sliced red bell pepper. Mushrooms, snap peas, carrots, and pretty much any vegetable you enjoy is fair game. Just start with the vegetables that take longer to cook and add the quicker cooking veggies accordingly.
Similarly, ground turkey may be used instead of ground beef, or you could use a pound or so of sliced chicken, flank steak, or shrimp.
This ground beef and broccoli recipe is a speedy, family-friendly weeknight meal, although Kenny likes to meal prep it to take for his school lunch. Beyond the great flavor, he appreciates that this meal provides protein, complex carbs, and his favorite vegetable – broccoli!
Helpful stir fry hints:
For the greatest control over cooking, I like to stir fry the vegetables first, removing them to a plate when done. (If going heavy on the veggies or cooking several different types, you can do this in batches.) Then I follow up with the protein.
Then, when the stir fry sauce is added, it deglazes the pan and allows you to incorporate any crusty bits from the meat into the sauce. (The technical name for those crusty bits is fond, and they are full of flavor.) When cooking the protein first, this crusty layer can easily burn unless a good bit of extra oil is added.