Your "What's for Dinner?" Survival Guide

It’s the age old question that everyone is faced with on a daily basis. It’s the ‘What’s for dinner?’ question. When your fridge is stocked, no problem, but when you kinda need to go to the store, but you don’t feel like going and you just want to eat at home? That can be tricky...but DOABLE!

The other night I was in this predicament. So, what did I have to start with? Well, half a rotisserie chicken, 13 corn tortillas and a can of black beans. I thought, ooh...enchiladas, but I didn’t have any enchilada sauce. I did a little research for a vegan queso and I was able to pull off my own vegan queso sauce. It was made with cashews!

I simply ground the cashews in a food processor until it became nut butter. Then I added nutritional yeast, cumin, garlic powder, olive oil and sea salt. Next, I added enough hot water to make a good queso was super smooth! Most recipes called for chili powder or chipotle in adobo sauce or salsa or hot sauce, but I didn’t include those personally as they can be inflammatory for our family.. Nutritional yeast is a great alternative to cheese that has a really nutty flavor. It’s a deactivated form of yeast and comes in powder form. If you are not familiar with nutritional yeast, click here for a great article by Ocean Robbins with the Food Revolution Network.

I cooked the black beans by starting with onion and garlic. I try to add as many veggies as I can to something like enchiladas, because you can get away with it with kids! (I use any chance I can to hide veggies, especially leftover roasted veggies!) I added diced carrots, leftover roasted cauliflower and frozen corn as well. I then added the rest of the rotisserie chicken that I shredded with a fork to the bean mixture to heat through. Rolled that in the corn tortillas and poured the vegan queso on top and it was a hit!

So, just when you think you have nothing for dinner, take an inventory of what you ‘do’ have and you’d be surprised what you can come up with and where you can fill in from what you’ve already got! I always have some main staples on hand like any kind of nut, but specifically, cashews, almonds and pistachios. They are so versatile and can be a great base for what I need, like a sauce, or even for crunch in a salad or ground into flour for baking. I also have a few grains on hand mostly all of the time like gluten free oats, quinoa and brown rice. Beans and lentils are a MUST! From refried beans for taco Tuesday or added to a quinoa salad, to enchiladas and veggie burgers, beans take the cake! Lentil or chickpea pasta and pesto make for a great, quick weeknight meal with whatever veggie you have on hand like broccoli, cauliflower or green beans. Toss with chicken or turkey meatballs or sausage. Bone broth is always stocked, so I can make a quick soup either from scratch or with leftover roasted veggies.

So what about some other scenarios, like:

‘We’re stuck at a soccer tournament and we didn’t plan ahead, what do we eat?’

OR ‘We’re on a road trip, where do we stop?’

OR ‘I want to eat out, where do I go?’

If you can plan ahead, that is best, as you can pack some sandwiches, salads, nuts or trail mixes (those are so fun to make with the kids) and your favorite healthy bars, as well as fresh fruit, like clementines or grapes or even hummus and veggies. But, if that didn’t happen, that’s ok! You can usually find a health foods store near you nowadays and stock up on healthier alternatives, like the foods mentioned above. A health foods store is a great alternative to fast food and they always have a single portion section or food that is already prepared and packaged individually for quick access or a bulk section to make your own. Or you can find healthier options at sandwich places and have your sandwich wrapped in lettuce or go for a salad. If you go for a salad, try to stick with the dressing on the side preferably one made with oil and vinegar, like balsamic or Italian, as the heavier, creamy dressings have a lot of fat (most likely the wrong kind of fat), calories, salt and sugar. You’d be surprised how good a plain salad is with a few squeezes of lemon, too!

Try to stay away from fast food alternatives where nutrition is not the priority. But, I am a firm believer that we are ALL human and can’t do this all of the time, so feel free to splurge and let yourself have something you don’t normally have and make it a deserve it! Take charge of your own health and make it a point to seek out the healthier alternatives whenever possible. And if all you have available is the gas station, well, believe it or not, that can work as well. I have seen healthier alternatives to soda and that triangle cheese sprayed chip, like popcorn, granola bars, cold-pressed juices, smoothies, sparkling water and fresh fruit. Whatever kind of food place it is, just make the priority to go for the healthiest, most nutritious, closest thing to whole food, as you can. You’ll feel empowered with each new step toward wellness, because the more you do it, the more you want to do it!

Restaurants are the same strategy. Go for the healthiest, freshest food possible. Believe it or not, we went to Cracker Barrel a few weeks wasn’t my choice! Not my favorite by any means because it’s stick-to-your-ribs down-home cooking, which means heavy and I don’t want to feel heavy when I leave there. My old 20 something self would have had a veggie plate with mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese! But, I thought, well, I want to spend time with my family for a family meal, so I’m gonna make the best of it. I still got the veggie plate, but opted for steamed broccoli, kale and brussel sprout salad and a baked sweet potato. It was great! You have to be able to be out in the world and go anywhere and find something healthy! You just have to know what to look for. Whole foods, consisting of salads, smoothies, lean cuts of meat like chicken or turkey, quinoa, hummus, veggies, veggie burgers, sweet potatoes, soups or beans.

The point is to make sure you’ve got a few go-to staples at home for a quick and easy solution, you know what your options are for on-the-go and you could most likely come up with a great meal at your local restaurant. I realize that going out to eat means you don’t know where your food comes from, unless you are at a farm to table restaurant. So, making a decision with that in mind means you can look for the safest food options, do some research and take ownership of your choices. Find out where their food comes from, how it’s handled and make it a priority when you go out to go to those diamonds in the rough, local eateries that really care about this stuff! And the fact of the matter is, we are going to find ourselves in a situation whether at home, on the go or at a restaurant, where good, healthy choices are right there in front of you, you just need to know what to look for! Feeding your body the nourishment it needs with whole foods will leave you feeling healthy and satisfied and it will show in the manner in which you hold yourself, your smile, your will exude sunshine! It’s what your body craves, it’s what your body knows, feed it well and let your body do its job! So, hey, I have to ask ‘WHAT’S FOR DINNER?’

Lori Jones and Cortney Baker are the Co-founders of The Wellness Ocean, a health and wellness consulting business here in Austin, as well as a website with weekly blogs, recipes and recommended products. Their passion for health and wellness came out of their own unique wellness journeys but were brought together when our standard American diet and Western medicine was no longer an option for them. With the belief in the body’s ability to heal itself through education and empowerment around what you put in your body, on your body and in your home environment, came a movement they want anyone and everyone to have access to. They offer one on one support and guidance with food and skincare labels, healthy swaps, ways to ‘healthify’ your favorite recipes, personal pantry and grocery visits with you, and so much more. It is their mission to educate others how to care for the bodies they were blessed with to prevent or reverse disease, for the better of our ourselves, our children, our society...our planet! Check them out here to learn more about their FREE 30-minute consultation and all they have to offer!

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