In the (Lunch) Bag: Lentil Chili & Sweet Potato Mash

It may still be summer according to the calendar, but it sure feels like fall here in Atlanta. The windows are open and the shorts have been exchanged for jeans. Something about the cooler days made me crave the fall associations with all things chili. Since I had some lentils in the pantry (and all of the cookbooks are packed), I decided to go with this recipe from the Whole Foods Recipes App.

Look at those beautiful fall colors:)

Look at those beautiful fall colors:)

A brief aside on this app. I love this thing. No, I mean really love. You can search for recipes by ingredient and special diet (vegan, gluten free, low sugar, etc.). This makes it invaluable after a haul from the farmer’s market. Gluten free zucchini side dish, you say? No problem. There are many from which to choose. I also love that, even being associated with Whole Foods, the recipes are generally entirely non fussy. Simple even. We’re talking a one pot stop. Enough about the app, let’s get to the food:)

I’m going to give you the recipe as it is in the app and then I’ll tell you how I tweaked it!

Lentil Chili

8 cups low sodium veggie broth

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 red pepper, chopped

5 cloves garlic, cup ’em up fine

4 tsp chili powder

16 oz brown lentils

30 oz diced tomatoes (no salt added)

1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

Bring 3/4 cup of the broth to a simmer, add the onion, pepper and garlic and cook until translucent (about 8 minutes). Add everything else except the cilantro, bring to boil and then simmer, partially covered, for about 30 minutes, until the lentils are soft. Remove the cover and cook another few minutes, stirring in the cilantro at the end.

I used three peppers all together – red, orange and yellow because I love me some peppers. I used 1/2 brown lentils and 1/2 red, since that’s what I had. The red tend to mush a bit more, but really, who cares? I reduced the broth a bit since my pot was about to overflow. Didn’t seem to be a problem.


The sweet potato dish is one of my own invention. Peel some sweet potatoes and cut them into 1″ chunks. Add to boiling water until they are soft, about 10-15 minutes. Drain and then mash with cinnamon, 2-3 scoops vanilla protein powder and a little almond milk, if needed. I had two clementines left over from last week, so I decided to squeeze their juice into the mix. Yum. I like to top each serving with a few walnuts for some crunch.

And, drumroll please…

The finished lunch, all packed and ready!

Even the low light gives the feeling of fall!

Even the low light gives the feeling of fall!

The only thing that would make this better is some Sunday afternoon football. Soon enough:)

In the (Lunch) Bag: Ginger Stir Fry

It’s been a good start to the school year, but it is sure difficult adjusting to the new rhythm. I always find it challenging to get enough sleep during transition times and this one is maintaining that tradition. Even though I didn’t stop counting sheep (okay, reading) until almost midnight, my body thought that it was wise to be up at 5:00. Apparently, my body needs some reeducation:)

It was interesting coming up with my recipes for the week. There were no produce sales at the store (other than corn) and I knew that I would not have the opportunity to go by the farmer’s market. Since we are moving in a few weeks, I decided to use almost-empty packages as my inspiration. I figure it’s easier to eat it than move it! Additionally, I knew I wanted something vegan this week to balance out all the cheese from last week.

pretty colors:)

pretty colors:)

I found a bottle of gluten free soy sauce in the fridge with only a few tablespoons left. I immediately knew what I wanted to make: stir fry. Not just any stir fry, but one that is influenced by a conglomeration of Amy’s brown rice and stir fried vegetables frozen dinner and the tofu gingerine from my favorite Thai restaurant (seriously, let me know if you’re in the north Atlanta area and I’ll hook you up with the best Thai ever!).

Ginger Stir Fry

Marinade: 3 garlic cloves, crushed, 2 tsp shredded ginger root, ½ tsp red pepper, ½ cup Braggs liquid aminos or soy sauce (gluten free, if needed), rice vinegar to fill container

Stir Fry:

coconut oil

2 packs extra firm tofu, drained, pressed and cut into cubes

2 cloves garlic

2 tsp shredded ginger root (or more…I like lots of ginger!)

1 red onion, chopped

1 package mushrooms, quartered

2 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers, sliced

1/2 head cabbage, chopped

1 lb asparagus, cut into 1” pieces

1 head broccoli, cut into florets

It's not bird. And it's certainly not a plane. Yup, it's tofu!

It’s not bird. And it’s certainly not a plane. Yup, it’s tofu!

Marinate the tofu overnight.  Drain the liquid (and reserve) and cook in a large saucepan with a little coconut oil until browned. Remove and set aside.  Using the same saucepan, add the garlic, ginger, and onion and cook until softened.  Add the remaining veggies and some of the residual marinade and cover, steaming until soft, stirring occasionally.

Steamy goodness

Steamy goodness

Serve alone or over rice.

The quantities and types of veggies here are easily adaptable. I frequently use a whole head of cabbage (because it’s cheap!) and I love to add lemongrass and/or bok choy when I can get it. When fresh peppers or asparagus are too expensive, I substitute frozen.

Whenever I have more fresh ginger than I will use in the next week or so, I cut it into 1″ chucks (I don’t even bother to peel) and put it in a bag in the freezer to be used for smoothies. One of my favorite is a ginger peach cobbler recipe!

Ready for the lunch bag

Ready for the lunch bag


Add a protein shake and some clementines and I have a healthy lunch packed with vitamin C to ward off the germs the kiddos are bringing in!

In the (Lunch) Bag: Mac & Cheese, Please

It’s back to school week which means I need recipes that are as easy to eat as they are to cook. Mac and cheese fits the bill perfectly; it’s easy to make (especially using my shortcut), pretty high in calories (even with my tweaks) and can easily be inhaled even during the craziest of days (which is pretty much every day during the first week of school!). Plus, it is a perfect comfort food when you’re feeling frazzled.

This mac and cheese benefits from the addition of butternut squash. The vegetable adds fiber, vitamin A and a great earthy flavor all while reducing the calories. Here is the “real” recipe which calls for the dish to be bakes in the oven, giving it that awesome crispy brown edge.

Squash Mac & Cheese

2 packages frozen butternut squash, fully thawed

2 tablespoons vegetable broth

1 tbsp butter, softened (optional)

1 1⁄2 tbsp flour (I use gluten free)

salt, pepper, garlic to taste

3⁄4 cup skim milk

2 cups reduced fat extra sharp cheddar shredded cheese

10 oz pasta, cooked according to package (I use gluten free)

Place thawed squash, broth, butter, flour, and spices into a food processer or blender until smooth. Mix in milk, cheese, and cooked pasta by hand and place in a 13 x 9 pan. Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake another 5-10 minutes. 

Easy, right?

Well, not easy enough for me this week. There is a quick and dirty method of preparing this that tastes just as awesome even though it doesn’t have the crunchy brown bits. 

Wanna know the secret?

1) Spray a large slow cooker with cooking spray. Put all of the ingredients in the pot (you don’t even have to thaw the squash or cook the pasta first!). You will need to increase the liquid so that it fully covers the pasta. I usually end up using 14 oz of broth and 16 oz of milk.

I used Cabot's 50% sharp cheddar this time. I just broke it into chunks by hand.

I used Cabot’s 50% sharp cheddar this time. I just broke it into chunks by hand.

2) Turn the slow cooker on “high” and walk away.

3) Stir the pot every 30 minutes or so until everything is melty and soft.

Melty and soft:) Notice that the squash gives it that nice orange color even those I used white cheese!

Melty and soft:) Notice that the squash gives it that nice orange color even those I used white cheese!

4) Unplug and unwind:) 

All packed and ready for action!

All packed and ready for action!

I paired the mac and cheese with some sliced tomatoes and a nectarine (both in season and on sale). It’s rare that I don’t have any greens in my lunch, but I’ll make up for that with breakfast and dinner. Also, since this meal is high in dairy products, I won’t eat much else in the way of dairy over the week. It’s all about balance, baby.

Let the crazies begin. I got this!