Turning Wholesome Ingredients into Healthy, Convenient Meals
Today’s post is courtesy of Nicole Ledoux, co-founder of 88 Acres, a healthy snack company:
I have always believed a pantry tells you a lot about a person’s eating habits, whether they love to cook, bake, or trend towards spicy ethnic foods or Italian home cooked meals. My pantry reflects my farm foodie upbringing but also how I feed my family with simple, wholesome ingredients that are food allergy friendly.
As co-founder of a healthy food company, I’m always thinking about finding the best quality and most nutritious ingredients for my home and new product recipes. But like every working parent, my time is in short supply. I stock my pantry, fridge, and freezer with staples that can be easily whipped together for healthy, convenient meals. My go-to midweek recipes all share a common theme: minimal ingredients made with whole foods. If I have time to go to the farmers market, I also add local and in-season raw fruits and vegetables.
Feeding my Family Healthy Meals
My basic staples include:
- Whole Grains – I look for whole grains that are full of protein and fiber. Quinoa, brown rice, and oats are all gluten-free, but if you’re not avoiding wheat then there are additional whole grains to choose from such as wheat or barley.
- Seeds – My recipes all feature seeds for healthy fats, crunch, and flavor, as we are a nut-free household. Pumpkin seeds are very versatile along with sunflower and flax. We keep sunflower seed butter on hand for smoothies, sandwiches, and to spread on fruits as an afternoon snack.
- Lean Proteins – While we are not vegans, studies show the benefits of plant-based eating and the FDA recommends a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables. So we switch it up between lean meats such as frozen salmon, chicken, and turkey, and plant protein sources such as lentils and chickpeas. For households with fish allergies, these legumes expand the options for lean protein.
- Dairy Alternatives – I use hemp milk as a dairy, soy, and nut-free alternative, but there are many options available such as rice or coconut milk. I choose hemp for the flavor and protein.
- Sweeteners – My pantry is filled with only natural sweeteners, as close to their raw form as possible. I use maple syrup, agave or honey in my tea and oatmeal, and for baking I use brown sugar.
My fresh and frozen produce staples include:
- Leafy Greens – Spinach and other leafy greens are great sources of iron, manganese, and vitamins C, A, and K. For any diet that might be more restricted, these greens offer wonderful nutrition. I keep a box of baby spinach in my fridge at all times because it’s mild flavored and easy to add to any meal, whether it’s a morning smoothie or evening soup recipe.
- Vegetables – Most weeks I buy fresh carrots and broccoli, which can be added to all kinds of dishes. My infant son Emmett loves sweet potatoes and avocados, so I always have one of them on-hand. In the fall we eat lots of squash varieties while in-season. I also keep chopped up butternut squash and peas in the freezer.
- Fruit – I look for local and in-season items, which in New England summers include blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries. For Emmett, we also buy pears and plums to steam and puree for the week. He’s five months, so soon we will move him on to small raw bites. In the fall, I switch to local apples and cranberries and am hoping Emmett will love them as an applesauce.
3 Simple Summer Dinners
With these staples always on-hand, I have three favorite healthy midweek meals I keep coming back to:
- Grill Night – A favorite in my household is boneless, skinless chicken marinated with maple mustard, accompanied by sweet potato rounds grilled with the skin on, dressed in red pepper flakes, olive oil, and either cinnamon or brown sugar.
- Shish Kebabs – This is a summer go-to because there isn’t a lot of prep work involved. You just chop up a protein and some veggies or even pineapple, add them to a skewer and lightly marinate with whatever dressing or sauce you have in the fridge before throwing them in the oven or on a grill. I usually make my own with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, and chopped up fresh herbs. When I’m short on time, I will buy premade dressings at the store made with a short list of recognizable real ingredients.
- Pesto Pasta – I grow my own herbs in pots on our front steps. I use spinach or kale, and then add basil, garlic, oil, and ground pumpkin seeds for nut-free pesto. Pesto paired with pasta is a great way to get kids to eat their greens.
We are trying to get our son, Emmett, in the habit of eating the same thing as we are. To begin with, we prepare whatever vegetable we are using in our meal in a form that Emmett can eat at his age. We steam veggies in small pieces and blend them into a puree for him. On grill night, we steam and puree sweet potatoes for him and do the same with spinach or any fruit when its part of the meal.
I hope these wholesome pantry ingredients and recipes inspire you to refresh this summer’s midweek meals for your family. I would love to hear how you put your own spin on them.
I’m a new mom to a son, Emmett Red, and a foodie both at home and the office. After a decade in finance, I returned to my roots. I grew up on an organic farm in Western Massachusetts and am wife to a husband with nut allergies. My husband, Rob, and I love to travel the world, hike, and crush it at road races. Unsatisfied with the options for healthy, nutritious snacks that Rob could eat on our weekend adventures, we started making our own snack bars at home. Now we are the proud owners of 88 Acres, an artisan food startup crafting small batch snacks made with simple, wholesome ingredients and free of dairy, gluten, egg, soy, tree nuts, and peanuts. I’m excited to share my experiences balancing owning a business and providing for my son as well as how I navigate cooking for a family with food allergies.
- Family Room blog: Kids’ Grocery List – How to Buy Healthy Food for Children
- E-family news: Tips & Advice for Grocery Shopping with Children
- Parent Webinar: Nutrition Tips & Strategies for Growing a Healthy Eater
- Read more posts about family health from the Family Room bloggers.