Spinning Leftovers for a Week of Dinners—plus a Lunch

Leftovers are a common problem for solo cooks. Not just extra servings of a dish, but also all the vegetables, seasonings, meat, rice, and other ingredients left over from making the dish.  Making the Sauteed Beet and Snap Pea Salad in the next post, for instance, leaves behind nearly a dozen foods:

The Leftovers List

  • Sauteed Beets

    Sometimes beets are only sold in bunches.  If you don’t need that many for a dish, saute the leftovers for a fabulous salad topper–or mid-afternoon snack.

    One serving of the finished salad

  • Steak strips
  • Couple handfuls of sugar snap peas
  • 2-3 beets from a bunch
  • Beet greens
  • Beet green stems
  • Garlic
  • Cumin dressing
  • Cilantro
  • Limes
  • Rice or quinoa

Problem or Possibility?  All those leftover items in the frig could lead to some anxiety.  “What am I going to do with all of them?  They’re taking over my frig!”  Or those leftovers might become sparks of inspiration for a whole week’s worth of meals–plus at least one lunch:

Lunch the Next Day

  • Leftover Sautéed Beet and Snap Pea Salad with Goat Chevre and Toasted Walnuts
  • Whole Wheat Pita Wedges

Make creative use of leftover salad by serving with a different side and new toppings (substitute another cheese or nut to suit your tastes)

Night 2

  • Sweet Potatoes with Cumin Dressing
  • Salmon with Lime and Cilantro
  • Garlic Sautéed Beet Greens

If it’s too hot for sweet potato fries, microwave then grill wedges and toss with dressing. Grill the salmon, too, and top with lime juice and cilantro. Try sprinkling apple cider vinegar over the sautéed beet greens.

Night 3

  • Early Summer Meal Salad:  Lettuce, Sautéed Beets and Summer Turnips, Spicy Pumpkin Seeds, Garbanzo or White Beans, Cherries or Apricots—plus anything else you have on hand!
  • Lemon Tarragon Vinaigrette (or store-bought dressing of choice, e.g., Drew’s Sesame Orange or Braggs Vinaigrette)
  • Whole Wheat Pita Wedges

For an interesting addition to a salad, cut and saute the rest of the beets, along with some summer turnips, as directed in the Beet and Snap Pea Salad recipe .

Night 4

  • Snap Pea Stir-Fry

    Leftover snap peas make a great snack, or make a quick stir-fry with them. Learn the 10 Steps to Super Stir Fries in one of our classes

    Stir Fry with Snap Peas, Onions, Summer Turnips, Steak Strips and Carrots

  • Leftover rice or quinoa

Use up leftover summer turnips from Night 3’s salad.  Cut them and the carrots into 1/4″ matchsticks. Flash fry steak strips in a separate pan for best results. Combine everything and top simply with soy sauce and San-J Szechuan sauce for a little heat. Serve with rice or quinoa warmed in the microwave.

Night 5—Super Easy Meal

  • Readymade Lentil Soup with Beet Stems
  • Whole Grain Toasts with Chevre and Roasted Peppers
  • Optional Chicken—grilled, rotisserie, deli or sautéed

Relax at the end of the week. Simply slice leftover beet stems very thinly and stir into Amy’s or another favorite lentil soup.  Simmer 5 to10 minutes until tender to taste. Meanwhile, cut whole grain bread into quarters and toast or grill; top with chevre and diced roasted peppers. Serve chicken on the side if desired.

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The Whole Kitchen Way to Wholesome Meals

What is it and why might you care about it?

Allison’s story makes a good illustration of the Whole Kitchen Way (R).  As related in an earlier post, Allison has enthusiastically embraced everyday good eating.  But every now and then she hits the vegetable exhaustion wall.  My advice as a kitchen coach:  take a break and make a super easy meal on those nights.   I even came up with the perfect “take-a-break” recipe:  Creamy Gingered Peas and White Fish, a 15-minute, totally healthful and yummy one dish meal.

Here’s the kicker, though.  The dish can be made in 15 minutes as long as you:

  • keep a freezer pantry stocked with convenient frozen vegetables
  • know to keep frozen fish filets and which ones to stock
  • are familiar with ginger enough to use it as a main flavoring
  • know how to buy and grate ginger
  • have the tool to grate ginger in 10 seconds
  • have that tool at your fingertips by the sink
  • stock limes and fish sauce in your refrigerator pantry
  • stock coconut milk, chicken broth and high-quality soy sauce in your pantry
  • know how to deglaze a pan and not overcook fish
  • have counter space for cooking that isn’t covered with clutter
  • can access ingredients without lengthy searching
  • can quickly lay your hands on cutting board, knife and measuring spoons and cups, and
  • don’t forget to have some whole grain rice left over from the day before.

Did you ever stop to think of all the puzzle pieces that come together to create “the picture” of a healthful meal?”  Most people have only the recipe piece.  No wonder it’s so hard to complete the finished picture and get a good meal on the table.  It’s because we’re working with a half (or quarter) kitchen, instead of a Whole Kitchen.

Get a feel for this Whole Kitchen concept with the articles below:  You’ll find the Gingered Pea recipe, but also  information on planning for this kind of meal, integrating coconut milk into your pantry, confidently using coconut milk and why taking advantage of convenient frozen veggies shouldn’t be a source of nutritional guilt.  Hopefully, you’ll gain a sense of the Whole Kitchen “infrastructure” that, if it’s in place, makes the recipe an entirely manageable, 15-minute undertaking.

Would you like to begin feeling good about the meals you’re making and eating, like you’re doing your body a favor instead of filling it with the highly processed and refined  foods, filled with fat, salt and sugar,then flavored and colored artificially?  We don’t want to eat any more pesticide covered, chemically fertilized, environment-destroying foods.  Are you ready to learn a Whole New Approach to Healthful Meal Making, so you can begin enjoying the meals of your dreams?  The key lies in creating a supportive, Whole Kitchen.  Join me for the next Whole Kitchen Way to Wholesome Eating series, beginning Wednesday, August 11.

Don’t Blame the Vegetables!

They’re Not at Fault for Rotting in the Frig

‘Tis the season of vegetable abundance, and with it comes worry about refrigerator rot as we begin loading up  (and over-loading ) on the fabulous produce coming to market.  As some people joke, don’t let your produce become expensive compost.

Anytime I talk about buying and eating more vegetables, the subject of refrigerator rot surfaces.  Seems there are a lot of dollars going down the garbage disposal, right along with the vegetables they bought.

While people always ask for tips on how to prevent this, one participant at a recent Whole Kitchen class worded the question in a way that got me stirred up.  “How do I keep vegetables from going bad in my frig?” she asked.

Do your vegetables end up as expensive compost?

The good side of me acknowledged this as a completely reasonable question and gave a considered response about the fundamentals of vegetable storage.  Meanwhile,  however, my devilish side was jockeying for a chance to mouth off:  “What?  Are vegetables supposed to last forever?” it fumed.  ” They’re called ‘fresh’ for a reason!  Maybe the problem isn’t that vegetables don’t last long enough.  Maybe the problem is that people don’t eat them up fast enough!”

While I kept that inconsiderate imp in check at the time, I had to admit there was something to its rants.  People faced with a case of vegetable rot are often taken aback.  In a world where most foods have shelf lives measured in half-lives, it can seem surprising if not rude that vegetables would go bad on us.   Surely there must be something wrong with the vegetables or the way they are packaged, right?

No, there is nothing wrong with the vegetables.  They are living, breathing life forms, not processed and packaged products from factories.  As life forms, they experience both a beginning and an end of life, and on the way to the end, they undergo a transformation from vibrant to rotted, just like all living things, including those on the top of the food chain.  (More on this in tomorrow’s post.)

Which brings me back to the snippy conclusion reached by my devilish side :  What if the problem isn’t with vegetables, but with vegetable buyers who neglect their veggies?”

Statistically, only one in ten of us come close to achieving the daily produce recommendations, and that’s only because potatoes are counted as a vegetable!  So it’s not hard to imagine vegetables rotting in vegetable drawers due to simple neglect.  That’s why my vegetable rot prevention advice begins here:  Plan ahead.

  1. Plan Grab a piece of paper, sketch a rough weekly plan and then plop one (or two or three!) vegetables on each day.  At a minimum, simply steam or saute them as side dishes.  For more fun, weave them into pasta dishes, soups, salads or entrees.  Either way, planning makes it 85% more likely that those vegetables will actually make their way out of the frig and onto your plate.
  2. Store Right With that said, we can move on to storage, which is also important.  As a general rule, leave vegetables unwashed, place in loosely closed plastic bags and get them into the frig as soon as possible.  For different vegetables, there are variations on this general rule which can be found in Vegetable a Month online magazine.
  3. Don’t Cave in to Throw Away Mentality After a few days in the frig, you might assume a vegetable is no longer fresh and must be pitched.  Not so fast.  It’s easy to get sucked into our “throw away” mentality, but vegetables last a lot longer than you’d think, especially when purchased very fresh (an automatic advantage of buying local.)  Even though I routinely overbuy vegetables, I rarely pitch anything since they generally last a week to ten days.*  With just a little planning, that’s plenty of time to use them all up.
  4. Stage Usage from Less to More Sturdy Improve your chances of success even more by planning to use the less sturdy  vegetables in your crisper drawers (e.g., spinach, lettuce, zucchini, green beans and eggplant) before the sturdier ones (e.g., cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and peppers.)
  5. Dig Deep for Vegetable Beauty Finally, even if a vegetable escapes notice until past its prime, no need to pitch it.  Simply cut off any bad spots or pull away any wilted leaves and wash well.  Taste to make sure the vegetable hasn’t gone bitter before adding to a dish.  Cooking thoroughly can generally eliminate any possible contamination, but if you have any concern, go ahead and pitch a vegetable.  Health and safety  always trump vegetable conservation.

But what do I make with all those vegetables? Lack of vegetable comfort may be the real culprit to blame for refrigerator rot.  We tend to lack the basic vegetable knowledge that will have us reaching into the vegetable drawer each day with confidence.  That’s where Vegetable A Month comes in.  Each month, learn about a different, seasonal vegetable so you can weave it seamlessly into your everyday life–with all the good energy and wellness that comes with a vegetable rich diet.

Tomorrow:  More on vegetable storage. . .

Vegetable Exhaustion

Investment Thinking + 4 Days of Meal Ideas Put Ease into a Vegetable Life

I suffered a case of Vegetable Exhaustion last night while driving to a friend’s house, loaded with prepared vegetables.  After a nasty ski accident landed her in bed for three months, she readily accepted my offer for a few vegetable dishes.  So I spent the better part of a day making a roasted beet salad, green salad with sautéed mushrooms and onions, Beef Stew with Tomatoes, Turnips and Leeks, and kale salad with golden raisins and almonds.

Beef Stew with Tomatoes, Turnips and Leeks

Find all sorts of great recipes at VegetableAMonth.com, like this Beef Stew with Tomatoes, Turnips and Leeks

“Dang!” I groused to myself on the drive to her house.  “How could it have take so long to make four vegetable dishes?”

On average, I get sucked into these head debates about once each month.  A tipping point is reached, I get overwhelmed and aggravated, and off I go, demanding to know why vegetables take so long.  I’m guessing I’m not alone in these outbursts.  In fact, the time commitment required for vegetable cooking is undoubtedly a big part of the reason only one in ten of us eats the recommended daily servings.

So is there any hope for a peaceful coexistence with vegetables?  There has to be.  Vegetables are far too important (and delicious) to be squeezed out by the clock.  But how to still the discontent and debate provoked by these hard-to-crack powerhouses?

Here’s what calmed me down yesterday:  “Investment thinking,” or taking the long view.  If I limited my view plane to a single day, then of course I spent way too much time on vegetables yesterday.  But if I instead took a long view of things, what seemed like wasted time was magically transformed into an investment with a payoff.

Remember, I had made four vegetable dishes—some in quadruple batches!  Although several servings were going to my bedridden friend, one day’s effort still left me with enough green stuff for three more days.  And truth be told, I didn’t really spend the entire day cooking vegetables, only about three hours.  So a three-hour investment yielded a total of  four days’ worth of lunches and dinners.  Not a bad return!  In fact, that payoff is a lot better option than driving to, ordering and coming home with fast food multiple times.

But I didn’t stop with taking a long view.  Not wanting any of my payoff to go to waste, I also jotted down a quick plan for using everything up to maximum advantage.  Reproduced below, it also gives a few hints for maximizing prep time.  For instance, I actually started the green salad a night before, taking advantage of the extra meal making time made available by having leftovers for the rest of the meal.  See if any of my efficiency tricks can help lighten your nightly meal making load.

Saturday–Start Making Ahead

Dinner

  • Leftover Coq au Vin (a fancy French name for chicken cooked in wine)
  • Leftover Brown Rice
  • Simple Green Salad with shredded Jerusalem artichokes and red peppers, topped with sautéed mushrooms and onions

Notes:  With the entrée and starch already cooked, this was a good night to

  1. cut and wash enough lettuce for several meals,
  2. make enough sautéed mushrooms and onions for two nights,
  3. roast some beets, and
  4. throw a few potatoes in the oven to bake.  Now I had a few “cooked resources” to work with.

Sunday, the Big Vegetable Prep Day

Breakfast

  • Leftover Coq au Vin

Notes:  Eating leftovers again freed up time to brown the meat for Beef Stew with Tomatoes and Turnips and get it into the crockpot.

Lunch

  • Roasted Beet Salad with Apples, Celery and Nuts

Notes:  Because the beets were roasted the night before, preparing the beet salad was easy.  That, in turn, freed up time to prepare the vegetables for the Beef Stew, make croutons to freshen up the salad, and prep a double batch of kale salad plus two batches of kale for sautéing.

Dinner

Notes:   By the time dinner rolled around, the slow cooker stew smelled and tasted divine and a great salad was had by just reheating the sautéed mushrooms and onions and tossing on some fresh croutons.  The payoff begins.

Monday:  More Payoffs

Breakfast

  • Leftover Beef Stew

Lunch

  • Leftover Salad, Nicoise Style, with canned tuna, some of the leftover baked potatoes, chopped apples and frozen petite green beans

Dinner

  • Thai Coconut Soup (Tested the recipe for previous blog.)
  • Brown Basmati Rice
  • Orange Slices

Notes: No problem making a new vegetable soup since the rest of the day has required no vegetable cooking.

Tuesday

Breakfast

  • Leftover Beet Salad

Lunch

  • More Salad, Nicoise Style

Dinner

  • Leftover Beef Stew
  • Kale Salad

Notes: Again, no problem making the kale salad since I’ve had leftovers the rest of the day and the kale is already cut and washed.

Wednesday–Yet One More Day of Payoffs

Breakfast

  • Leftover Kale Salad pumped up with leftover Brown Basmati Rice

Lunch

  • Tomato Basil Soup (Imagine brand)
  • Leftover frozen green beans from Salad Nicoise

Dinner

  • Sauteed Kale with Onions and Garlic
  • Leftover Baked Potatoes with Miso Gravy
  • Baked Apples

Hopefully this “demo” shows how efficient meal making is a sort of “rolling” procedure.  One day’s leftovers lightens the next day’s load enough to make double or triple batches that, in turn, lighten the next day’s load.  Read more about investment thinking and how to ease into the time-saving plan ahead habit, both covered in Take Control of Your Kitchen.

Ready to start living a vegetable life like this?  Check out VegetableAMonth.com, as well as my Twitter column to the left.

Vegetables for a Vegetable Life

Vegetables for a Vegetable Life

What’s for Dinner on Hot Summer Nights?

Put Some “Summer Style” into Your Meals

When the weather turns hot, deciding what’s for dinner can leave you feeling completely cold and clueless.  All our usual standbys seem to lose their appeal in the heat.

The problem may lie less with the weather and more with our mealtime “wardrobe.”  Nobody dons turtlenecks and wool pants to face the heat of summer.  We switch wardrobes for the season!  Likewise, we need to put a little “summer style” into the mealtime lineup when hot weather rolls in.

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While meats go hand in glove with a grill, don't forget about vegetables. I think of the grill as my "summer oven." Whether it's sweet potatoes, zucchinni or asparagus, whatever I might roast in the winter, I grill in the summer, getting the same, tender browned vegetables with a sweetly concentrated flavor.

Beyond Grilling Grilling is the most obvious option, so common in fact, that in some households the stovetop is basically mothballed for the summer.  If you’re ready to expand your summer style beyond the grill, however, there are plenty of other options.  Think *light, *cool and *fresh.

  • Light Instead of those roasts that are so comforting in December, take advantage of the wonderful fresh fish shipped down from Alaska in the summer, like salmon, halibut and cod.  Serve with a fruit salsa or fresh herb pesto.  Maybe even go meatless some nights and combine a couple vegetable dishes and a grain.
  • Light Instead of heavy stews and casseroles, get imaginative with salads.  A bed of lettuce can be the backdrop for a wide range of “accessories,” from proteins like fish, chicken and steak to beans of every color, nuts of every stripe, cheeses of every flavor, fresh herbs and of course, practically any vegetable, either raw, pan-fried or grilled.  Then play with one of the many uniquely-flavored dressings on the market if you don’t want to make your own.
  • Cool When it comes to grain dishes, serve them salad-style rather than as hot skillets.  Cook grains in the morning, cool in the frig all day, then use as a salad base.  Cooled buckwheat, for instance, tastes sweet and nutty.  Combine it with sliced sugar snap peas, sauteed onions and mushrooms, toasted walnuts and roasted red peppers.  Add a simple dressing of olive oil, fresh herbs and lemon juice and you’ve got a refreshing one-dish meal.
Fruit is another stellar salad addition, especially fresh, but dried will work until flavorful fresh fruits come to market.

Fruit is another stellar salad addition, especially fresh, but dried will work until flavorful fresh fruits come to market.

  • Cool Summer is an ideal opportunity to be lazy.  Blame the heat if “all” you get on the table is a sandwich or wrap.  But don’t be fooled; bread and tortillas can easily pack a completely filling, balanced and tasty meal.  Consider even a simple turkey wrap made with a whole grain tortilla, bursting with shredded carrots, red pepper strips, cucumber slices and lettuce.  With or without cheese, it looks like a full meal to me!  Make it even more special with pesto mayonnaise.
  • Cool Or you could skip the bread and tortillas and simply serve up some “cold cuts,” but not the kind with unpronounceable preservatives and colorings in them.  Many stores now carry deli meats that (imagine this) contain just meat flavored only by salt, spices and plant-derived compounds.  (e.g., Applegate Farms Herbed Turkey Breast).  Serve slices rolled with lettuce and tomato inside.  Or serve tofu slices Japanese style, with green onions, soy sauce and sesame seeds.  Or canned canned tuna fillets with light rye crisps and mustard.  Or cold chicken strips dipped in prepared peanut sauce.
  • Fresh Closely related to the idea of cold cuts, finger foods take advantage of the amazing array of fresh fruits and vegetables available in the hot months.  Imagine lounging on the patio in the shade, nibbling on a plate of simply sliced vine-ripened tomatoes, crisp Asian cucumbers, juicy watermelon, and chili-lime corn on the cob?  That’s one of our favorite summertime meals.  For a little more substance, pair it with cheese and crackers, hummus and pitas, nuts or French bread.
  • Fresh Pasta is perfect for summertime, especially in salads.  Hot pasta can be fine, too, just sans the heavy cream and thick tomato sauces.  Instead, combine with fresh vegetables lightly cooked and tie together with light broth-based sauces featuring fresh herbs and olive oil.  Top with a little fresh Parmesan, feta or chevre.  Check out Lynn’s Super Fast Spinach Pasta Dish in the Vegetable A Month Club for a good example–and starting point.  That dish can be creatively modified to showcase practically any of summer’s luscious vegetables.  P.S. Don’t forget to use whole grain pasta.

One final tip:  Don’t wait until 5:00 when you’re driving home in a hot car to decide on dinner.  All these great ideas will vanish like a heat mirage as you just struggle to get home intact.  Take the time now, with everything fresh in your mind, to plan several meals drawing on these ideas.

Mary Collette Rogers, meal planning master, is the author of Take Control of Your Kitchen, the guide to managing our cooking time like a pro.  Find out more about the “Plan Ahead Habit,” the most important piece of a smooth-running dinner operation.

Portrait of Pantry Meals for a Week

So you’re convinced that the pantry is a smart time investment.  Let’s look at how a real life pantry works, so you can begin to see what kinds of things can be bought, successfully stored, then translated into deliciously quick meals.

Key fact to remember:  the pantry is bigger than just a couple cupboards on the back porch where you store extra boxes of cereal and cans of coffee.  Think of the “pantry” as encompassing the frig, freezer and practically every other cupboard in the kitchen.  All these locations can hold foods that can be bought in advance and stored for at least a couple weeks which, by the way, is the definition of a “pantry staple.”

Viewing the pantry in these more expansive terms presents a lot more opportunities.  For me, discovering the pantry possibilities of the freezer has been especially fun.  Year after year, I discover more and more foods that can be successfully and conveniently stored in the freezer to facilitate fast and efficient mealmaking.  I even adopted a deep freezer that a neighbor was discarding a couple years ago and, as you’ll see this in the following table, I draw on it extensively for winter meals:

Day 1

  • Poached Salmon with Celeriac and Pear Mirepoix
  • Wild Rice with Butter
  • Sauteed Green Beans
  1. From the freezer:  salmon, green beans
  2. From the frig:  celeriac, pears, carrots, green onions preserved in olive oil, butter
  3. From the cupboards:  onions, wild rice blend, spices

Day 2

  • Sun-Dried Tomato Salmon Cakes
  • Peas with Butter
  • Leftover Wild Rice
  1. From the freezer:  sweet green peas
  2. From the frig:  leftover rice and salmon, mustard, ketchup, eggs
  3. From the cupboards:  sun-dried tomatoes, breadcrumbs, spices

Day 3

  • Steak with Moroccan Spices
  • Corn on the Cob
  • Cumin Scented Cabbage Salad
  1. From the freezer:  steak, corn on the cob
  2. From the frig:  cabbage, carrots, apples
  3. From the cupboards:  Italian salad dressing, spices

Day 4

  • Carrot Cashew Soup
  • Roasted Potatoes
  1. From the frig:  carrots, celeriac, cashews, bottled ginger
  2. From the cupboards:  garlic, onion, potatoes, spices, chicken broth

Day 5

  • Fish Tostadas
  • Leftover Cabbage Slaw
  1. From the freezer:  white fish, green peppers, red peppers
  2. From the frig:  leftover cabbage slaw
  3. From the cupboards:  tostada shells, salsa, diced chilies, spices

Day 6

  • Spaghetti Squash Marinara with Pesto Gratin
  • Sauteed Spinach with Lemon and Garlic
  1. From the freezer:  pesto, chopped spinach
  2. From the frig:  lemon
  3. From the cupboards:  spaghetti squash, marinara sauce, breadcrumbs, garlic

Day 7

  • Pumpkin and Black Bean Stew with Green Peppers
  • Brown Rice
  • Carrot Sticks
  1. From the freezer:  green peppers
  2. From the frig:  limes, carrots
  3. From the cupboards:  rice, black beans, onions, pumpkin, chilies, salsa, garlic, canned tomatoes

Surprised at how many meals I can make without having to set foot in a grocery store?  And they aren’t just mac ‘n cheese or spaghetti.  They are real, healthful, balanced and interesting meals that are a delight to eat.

Since I always go a week or two between shopping trips (sometimes more), I shouldn’t be surprised that I can eat so well and long from my pantry.  Nevertheless, every time I write things out as in this exercise, I’m amazed at how bountiful a pantry can be.

Ready to begin experimenting with a pantry.  Build one if you’re pantry-less, or if you’ve got a pantry, find out how to make the most of it.   Check out my book, Take Control of Your Kitchen, which explains what to buy and how to store and organize it for easy access, or email to set up some individual kitchen coaching where we focus on setting up a helpful and healthful pantry. Also, check out tomorrow’s blog: How to Stock the Pantry, and you might like to read all the articles in this series:

Invaluable Kitchen Resource Gets No Respect

Remedy for the Post-Vacation Refrigerator Blues

Time Spent Stocking the Pantry Isn’t Wasted, It’s Invested!

How Many Great Meals Are Hiding In Your Pantry?

. . . or Do a Better Job Working the One You Have

Good News:  The Fun of a Pantry Journey Lasts More than an Afternoon

Pantries Save Time, Reduce Stress, Save Money, Produce Intriguing Meals and Maybe Even Lead to Enlightenment

How to Breathe Fresh Air Into Yours

Putting the Comfort and Joy Back Into Holiday Meals

Seven Tips to Tone Down the Stress of Holiday Meals

Isn’t it amazing how the holidays bring out the worst in us—especially family gatherings? No wonder they make such perfect fodder for movies!

While there is undoubtedly a whole passel of psychological triggers that set off the fireworks around this time of year, stress surely exaggerates the display. That’s probably why so many articles address this insidious guest, who can quickly make mincemeat of what should be a happy and comforting time of year.

So in the spirit of happier and saner holiday gatherings, this article series offers a few secrets (seven, to be exact) for toning down the stress around one of the biggest stressors of all: holiday meal making.

Stress-Reducing Secret No. 1: Don’t Get Locked in a “Last-Minute Pressure Cooker” There’s nothing like the last minute when it comes to inducing high levels of stress. It’s a horrible time to do anything, whether writing a term paper or deciding what to eat. The pressure of last minute action shuts down the part of the brain that can calmly and creatively deal with a situation. Instead, we go into survival mode, where the brain focuses solely on how to get out of a jam in the fastest way possible.

Decisions do get made, but the process is hardly fun and the results are usually less than inspired—just the opposite of what we crave at this time of year. Who doesn’t want to flip through some holiday magazines and slobber over the gorgeous pictures of inventive sweet potatoes dishes and to-die-for variations on pumpkin pie? So take the time to enjoy doing that, but not two days before Thanksgiving. Do it NOW!

This is a reminder that, before you know it, Thanksgiving week will arrive along with its attendant panic for non-planners.

Here’s another piece of advice so planning doesn’t become stressful in and of itself: Soften your expectations. In other words, go right ahead and slobber over that inventive sweet potato dish, but then honestly assess whether you have the time, skills and energy to pull it off without undue stress.

Bear in mind that planning ahead can make a lot of things possible that might not otherwise be doable. For instance, many more complex dishes can be made over two or three days if you know what you’re making and you’ve done the shopping.

Even with the best time management, however, a dish may be just too much. So skip it and don’t feel badly for a minute! There are hundreds of great Thanksgiving recipes out there. Find one that will be fun to make, but not overwhelming—or stressful. Alternatively, take a familiar recipe and just “dress it up,” Secret No. 4.

Coming up over the next week:

PLUS!  Want to find, learn and practice some great holiday recipes?  Check out my Healthy and Inspired, Holiday Cooking Classes.  Doesn’t matter if you live near or far, the classes are offered over the phone!  If you live in the Denver metro area, you can join in one of the live classes.  Click here for all the details.

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