When looking ahead to a full week of quarantine cooking, a little inspiration can be helpful! Whether cooking for one, two or a larger family, the following seven recipes will cover most of your bases in a deliciously healthy way!
Few of us ever imagined we’d be living through a pandemic that required social distancing and limited trips to the outside world. I’ve always been one to make several small runs to the grocery store and various markets over the course of a week, so paring down to one big trip has taken some effort.
I’ve talked to many people who’ve managed to stretch their grocery runs to once every two to three weeks. It’s impressive.
Whatever the frequency reduction, most of us have inevitably found ourselves rummaging into the depths of our pantries and freezers, making more substitutions than usual, or simply doing without. Sometimes we are forced to “experiment,” and happily, these risks and are often rewarded with newfound combinations that really work.
Necessity, as they say (and sometimes desperation!), is the mother of invention, right?
At the same time, you may have noticed that classic comfort foods taste better than ever. If you’re like me, you may have also whipped up a pan (or three) of brownies and have found plenty of ice cream on those sometimes-bare shelves.
But we can most definitely balance some of the inevitable quarantine indulgences.
Heading into a new week with a handful of reliable recipes that rely on pantry and freezer staples, which can be enhanced with minimal fresh ingredients, can be really helpful.
To help us make good choices (and perhaps deliver a welcome dose of variety to our kitchen tables), I once again enlisted the help of Cheryl Herold, a registered dietitian for Penn Medicine. Cheryl culled through my recipes and assembled a meal plan based on overall health appeal, taste and accessibility of ingredients.
Cheryl has also provided clear nutritional details and, whenever possible, has added modifications for readers who are cooking for someone with hypertension, high cholesterol, and similar dietary needs. By combining her medically-based suggestions with the substitutions I often provide, we are hoping to create an even more complete resource on which readers can rely.
Happily, Cheryl is familiar with my recipes, having cooked many of them herself. She has also been sharing some favorites from her own arsenal of wholesome recipes with me. In turn, I have been testing them and pondering which may have the broadest appeal to my readers.
For the record, she has not steered me wrong yet. I even got my family of meat-loving boys to rave about a tofu-based dish. (They said it tasted like chicken!) Stepping outside of our comfort zone can be fun and rewarding at any time, but my family agreed this is especially true during a quarantine!
Both Cheryl and I currently have more than the usual number of mouths to feed under roof, so like you, we have been busier than ever in our kitchens. It’s an ideal setting, however, for testing new recipes, so stay tuned.
So which recipes would Cheryl, a registered dietitian with years of experience working with patients in a hospital setting, choose－and why?
1. Cannellini Tomato Soup… with Grilled Cheese Croutons or Dippers: The unexpected addition of a simple can of cannellini beans provides protein and added creaminess when pureed into the soup－and one ever knows it’s there. When served with grilled cheese croutons or dippers, what kid (or adult) wouldn’t love it? Plus it’s easy to make with basic, inexpensive pantry items.
Cheryl said she loves how the cannellini beans give this soup a creamy thickness. Not only are the beans fat-free, they are high in protein and fiber and are also an excellent source of folate, iron, and magnesium. Add in the tomatoes, and you’ve got a healthy dose of vitamin C, potassium, vitamin K, and the antioxidants lycopene, beta carotene, naringenin, and chlorogenic acid, all of which has been found to have many health benefits and may help prevent disease.
Nutrition Information: Makes 6 servings. Calories Per Serving 222, Total Fat 5 gm, Saturated Fat 1 gm, Cholesterol 2.5 mg, Sodium 1300 mg, Total Carbohydrates 40 gm, Dietary Fiber 11 gm, Protein 11 gm.
Cheryl’s Nutrition Tips: Watching sodium intake? You can reduce the sodium in this dish by not adding additional salt during cooking and thoroughly rinsing the canned beans. Also use low-sodium chicken broth. Helpful hint: low-sodium and reduced-sodium can have two separate meanings. For the biggest reduction, read the label and look for less than 140 mg sodium per serving. With these modifications the sodium count would be reduced to 600 mg per serving.
2. Budget Sushi Bowls (with canned tuna): This fun dinner makes it easy to eat well on a shoestring budget. The flavor-packed meal relies on canned tuna, a pantry powerhouse, which also makes these speedy bowls ideal for those who prefer to avoid raw seafood.
Tuna is an excellent source of protein as well as omega 3 fatty acids, which are essential fatty acids that our bodies cannot make on their own, so we must get from food sources. Omega 3 fatty acids have been found to have numerous health benefits, including lowering cholesterol, decreasing inflammation and decreasing the risk for diseases such as heart disease, certain cancers, and even mental illness.
Tuna is also a powerhouse of nutrients including potassium, zinc, selenium, vitamins B and C, and antioxidants. Choose canned tuna packed in water instead of oil to save on added fat. One word of caution, tuna contains mercury, which is harmful especially to unborn children and young children, but can cause nervous system damage in adults as well. To safely get all the benefits of tuna without the risk of too much mercury, the FDA recommends limiting canned light tuna to one serving 2-3 times a week and canned albacore tuna to one serving per week.
Buying tip: I like to buy the 5-ounce cans of Wild Planet, Skipjack Wild Tuna, which is sustainably pole and line-caught. Additionally, skipjack tuna is a smaller fish than albacore (considered “light”), and as such, contains less mercury.
Nutritional profile: Makes 2 Servings. Calories Per Serving: 450, Total Fat 15 gm, Saturated Fat 2 gm, Cholesterol 38 gm, Sodium 640 mg, Total Carbohydrates 55 gm, Dietary Fiber 10 gm, Protein 26 gm
Cheryl’s Nutrition Tips: You can reduce the sodium in this recipe by using no salt added/low sodium canned tuna or by rinsing the tuna in water before preparing. You could also try using ¼ teaspoon kosher salt in the homemade guacamole recipe, if using. Store bought guacamole may change the sodium content, as the amount of added salt is often higher.
3. 5 Can Weeknight Chili: A great bowl of chili is just minutes away thanks to a handful of economical pantry ingredients. Top with a simple sprinkle of cheese or load it up with chopped avocado, crushed tortilla chips, minced onions, etc.
Cheryl mentioned that chili is one of her go-to foods, and she likes that it can be made with several substitutions and/or additions of vegetables such as chopped green peppers and canned or frozen corn. It’s also easy to make, highly satisfying, and loaded with nutrients including protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Helpful hint: I made this chili earlier this week and then used the leftovers for Chili Stuffed Potatoes the following night. As easy as it is, this meal always makes my family happy.
Nutritional profile: Makes 6 Servings. Calories Per Serving: 410, Total Fat 18 gm, Saturated Fat 7 gm, Cholesterol 57 mg, Sodium 1200 mg, Total Carbohydrates 38 gm, Dietary Fiber 13 gm, Protein 24 grams
Cheryl’s Nutrition Tips: Canned goods can be high in sodium, however you can modify this recipe by using no-added-salt (or low-sodium) diced tomatoes and also no-added-salt canned beans. You can also rinse regular canned beans to remove some of the added salt or rely on dried beans. Additionally, if you are looking to lower your fat intake, ground turkey is lower in fat and saturated fat than ground beef. The nutritional information using no-salt-added tomatoes, beans, and ground turkey is: Calories Per Serving 325, Total Fat 9 gm, Saturated Fat 2 gm, Cholesterol 53 mg, Sodium 600 mg, Total Carbohydrates 38 gm, Dietary Fiber 13 gm, Protein 25 gm
4. Oven Baked Brown Rice: Earthy mushrooms meet convenient pantry ingredients, transforming basic brown rice into a special side dish. As an added perk, the foolproof method of preparation virtually guarantees perfectly cooked rice every time.
Savory mushrooms add a flavorful, almost meaty, touch to this brown rice dish. And did you know that there are over 100,000 species of mushrooms? Only a fraction of them, however, are part of our diet. For this recipe, you may use anything from basic button mushrooms to baby bellas and oyster mushrooms－or even a wild blend.
Research suggests mushrooms have several potent physiological benefits on our health, including decreasing inflammation, helping control hypertension, blood sugar regulation, and possible anti-cancer effects. Add in some vitamins and fiber from the brown rice, this dish is a healthy, plant-based option.
Nutrition Information: Makes 4 servings. Calories Per Serving 175, Total Fat 11 gm, Saturated Fat 2 gm, Cholesterol 2.5 mg, Sodium 615 mg, Total Carbohydrates 16 gm, Dietary Fiber 2 gm, Protein 4 gm
Cheryl’s Nutrition Tips: You could cut back on sodium by using low-sodium chicken broth for 170 mg sodium per serving. You could also try reducing the olive oil to 2 tablespoons to lower the fat to 7 grams total fat and 1 gram saturated fat. This change would also reduce the calories to 150 per serving.
5. Amish Baked Oatmeal: This wholesome family favorite can be prepared in advance and tastes a lot like a cinnamon oatmeal cookie. I typically take a minimalist approach, but the recipe is easy to customize through the addition of raisins, nuts, etc. If doubling the recipe, use a 9×13 baking dish, adding a few minutes to the cooking time as needed. You can also use the baked oatmeal for easy fruit and yogurt parfaits, which you can create without a recipe or use the one I include.
In choosing this recipe, Cheryl told me that oatmeal is one of her absolute favorite breakfast foods and is a staple in her home. She mentioned that this nutritional powerhouse is loaded with soluble dietary fiber, which studies have shown lowers “bad” cholesterol, or LDL, and prevents heart disease. Soluble fiber also aides in digestion and helps relieve constipation. Oats are also loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols. Oats are also one of the only foods that contain a powerful antioxidant group called avenanthramides, which may help lower blood pressure and decrease inflammation.
Nutrition Information: Makes 6 Servings. Calories Per Serving using whole milk 350, Total Fat 14 gm, Saturated Fat 6 gm, Cholesterol 88 mg, Sodium 310 mg, Total Carbohydrates 55 gm, Dietary Fiber 4 gm, Protein 9 gm
Cheryl’s Nutrition Tips: If looking to reduce fat and sodium, you may use skim milk, ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and 2 tablespoons unsalted butter for 300 calories per serving, 8 gm total fat, 3 gm saturated fat, 73 mg cholesterol, and 215 mg sodium. (Note: a reduction in butter may cause a slightly dryer end result, so if you try, take care not to overcook. You could also replace it with mashed very ripe banana or unsweetened applesauce.)
6. Vegan Curried Vegetable and Chickpea Stew: You may choose among three cooking options when preparing this deliciously hearty, plant-based soup that satisfies even the most diehard meat eaters. The big yield is perfect for meal prep and tastes great all week long.
Cheryl thinks this vibrant stew is a delicious way to boost your daily vegetable intake, as it contains a whopping 5 different vegetables. (Tomatoes are technically a fruit, but they are a nutritional powerhouse). Most of the ingredients are pantry stable, and the fresh items are not highly perishable, meaning they can be stored in your crisper drawer for at least a week. Alternatively, frozen vegetables can be used for some of them.
Nutrition Information: Calories 275, Total Fat 11 gm, Saturated Fat 5.5 gm, Cholesterol 0 mg, Sodium 950 mg, Total Carbohydrates 40 gm, Dietary Fiber 10 gm, Protein 10 gm
Cheryl’s Nutrition Tips: Canned coconut milk can be very high in total fat and saturated fat. Consider using light coconut milk and stay away from coconut milk beverages in cartons, which can have a lot of added sugar and other flavorings, which you don’t want in this soup. For the canned items in this recipe, you may choose no-salt-added products to keep the sodium content lower. If you are on a low-sodium diet, you could try using 1 teaspoon of salt to further reduce the sodium in this dish. Nutrition information with these tips: Calories 240, Total Fat 7 gm, Saturated Fat 2 gm, Cholesterol 0 mg, Sodium 470 mg, Total Carbohydrate 38 gm, Dietary Fiber 10 gm, Protein 10 gm
7. 3-Ingredient Protein Cookies: An ideal way to use overripe bananas, these wholesome cookies mix up in a minute or two in a single bowl, and a variety of optional add-ins allows them to be customized according to personal preference.
Peanut butter, oats, and bananas are three of Cheryl’s favorite foods－and mine, too! Happily, these super easy cookies are packed with protein from the oats, peanut butter and protein powder (or peanut butter powder, as either may be used). The oats provide a hearty dose of soluble fiber, vitamins and antioxidants, and the banana provides fiber and potassium, to name just a few of the main nutrients. I also like that these customizable cookies are a practical way to make use of overripe bananas and a fun project for children.
Nutrition Information (with Bob’s Red Mill’s vanilla protein powder): Makes 8 Cookies. Calories Per Cookie 85, Total Fat 1.2 gm, Saturated Fat 0 gm, Cholesterol 8 gm, Sodium 7 mg, Total Carbohydrate 15 gm, Dietary Fiber 2 gm, Protein 4.5 gm
Cheryl’s Nutrition Tips: Powdered peanut butter or a plant-based protein powder allow for a vegan version of this cookie, and the former supplies healthy monounsaturated fat. Calories per cookie with peanut butter powder: 75, Total Fat 1 gm, Saturated Fat 0 gm, Cholesterol 0 mg, Sodium 18 mg, Total Carbohydrate 15 gm, Dietary Fiber 2 gm, Protein 3 gm.