As primary meal planner and cook for my family of varied tastes and diets, I often feel like the ambassador to the UN. By that I mean the culinary demands of one are in conflict with those of another more often than not. Food diplomacy is among my many roles.
Let’s begin with my kids.Though both like vegetables, one insists they be served raw (and absolutely no onions!) while the other only wants them sautéed. (And don’t forget the onions!) One thing they do agree on is pasta and breads, both of which they love. Up until a year or two ago, we had many pasta-based dinners. And then my husband began a gluten-free diet. The diet has been great for his turbulent tummy but challenging for my meal planning.
And me? I am trying to stick to lean meats for health and environmental reasons. How do I get everyone to eat a square meal without needing to cook four different dinners at the same time?
Though not always possible, being creative with food substitutes helps me in this endeavor. I have figured out a few tricks and recipes to make the puzzle simpler.
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1. I make ahead a large batch of pasta that I can use for two purposes. One of my kids likes to take pasta in a thermos for lunch. I can then use some for a spaghetti dinner on a different night. My main meal preparation on our “spaghetti night” consists of me steaming a spaghetti squash and making a homemade marinara sauce. The kids will eat the leftover spaghetti with the fresh sauce while my husband and I eat the substitute spaghetti squash with the sauce over the top. I am hoping someday the boys will also substitute with the healthier spaghetti squash but for now everyone is getting something that provides sustenance.
2. Soon before John gave up gluten, I found a great recipe for a kale and Italian sausage pie. I used a frozen pie crust with the recipe. Now, I make a batch of roasted red potatoes to replace the pie crust. I mix the sausage and kale filling with the roasted potatoes before throwing them in the oven to complete the baking process. Yes, I do reserve part of the finished product before throwing goat cheese in with the rest in order to avoid a revolt from the younger half of the family. I have also begun substituting chicken sausage for pork sausage for a healthier meal. (See recipe below.)
3. Our kids have surprised us with some of the things they will eat. John started a tradition with my youngest son awhile back. They would get up every Saturday morning and make pancakes together. John had perfected a homemade recipe that they would make in large batches. They kept the premade mix in a recycled ice cream tub in our pantry. After skipping several weeks of eating the pancakes, John decided one weekend to swap regular flour for a gluten-free alternative. They happily discovered that pancakes made with gluten-free flour are delicious too.
4. I quietly began substituting ground turkey for ground beef in several of our tried and true meals. I expected protest from my kids, but I don’t even think they noticed. This works for many meals including tacos, spaghetti sauce, meatballs, chili and shepherd’s pie.
5. Our family does a lot of outdoor grilling, summer and winter. With that piece of chicken, fish or pork, it is natural to include a side dish or two. Though I haven’t completely eliminated pasta and breads from the menu, I have expanded my vegetable offerings. Last fall, I started a roasted vegetable dish that is a fabulous side or could even stand by itself. With its beautiful variety of colors, I coined it Roasted Rainbow Veggie Mix. (See recipe below.)
With farmers markets and vegetable garden season around the corner, it is time to explore more vegetable possibilities. I plan to substitute some of the traditional autumn vegetables such as squash and Brussels sprouts for fresh spring vegetables such as fennel and asparagus in my rainbow roast.
As the old adage goes, you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but meal planning with food substitutes takes us a little bit closer.
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Sausage, Kale and Roast Potato Hash
• 1 tbsp butter
• 3 tbsp olive oil
• 1 tsp salt
• 2 cups onion, chopped
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• 1/2 - 1 lb. Italian chicken sausage, chopped to small pieces
• 1 bunch kale, stemmed and roughly chopped
• 1/4 cup white wine
• 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
• 2 tsp rosemary, fresh or dried
• 1/4 - 1/2 cup goat cheese
• 3 cups diced red potatoes
1. Toss potatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tsp salt, ground pepper and rosemary. Transfer to shallow pan and roast at 425 degrees for about 40 minutes or until soft and lightly browned.
2. Heat remaining butter and oil in large skillet. Cook onion and garlic until soft. Season with salt and pepper. Brown sausage. Transfer to a plate. Drain all but small amount of oil from pan. Add kale. Pour white wine over kale. Cover and cook 3-5 minutes until kale is wilted.
3. Mix potatoes with sausage, onions and kale. Add basil and goat cheese.
4. Turn down heat and return mix to oven for 10 minutes.
Photo by Keenan Loo on Unsplash
Roasted Rainbow Veggie Mix
• 1/2 pound red potatoes, diced
• 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, halved
• 1/2 pound butternut squash, skinned and diced
• Several large carrots, chopped in large chunks
• 1 sweet onion, diced
• 2-3 tbsp olive oil
• 1 tsp salt
• Ground pepper
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• A handful of fresh oregano, basil or parsley or whatever you have on hand or in your garden
Toss vegetables with olive oil. Mix with salt, peper, garlic and other herbs. Roast at 425 degrees for about 40 minutes or until soft and lightly browned.