With grocery prices at record highs, we’ve put together a guide for a week’s worth of healthy meals

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There’s no getting around this simple and unpalatable fact: It’s pretty stressful to go grocery shopping these days.

Thanks to the skyrocketing cost of inflation — which climbed to a 40-year record high of 9.1% in June compared to last year — food has never been more expensive.

The price of pantry staples such as bread and cereal has jumped nearly 14%, according to the Consumer Price Index, and dairy products are not far behind, costing an average of 13.5% more than a year ago. The price of meat, poultry, fish and eggs will also leave a shopper reeling from sticker shock, and don’t even get me started on what a bag of Lay’s potato chips will set you back these days. (A 13-ounce bag costs $5.49 at Target. Target!)

As the PG’s food editor, my job is to cook — a lot. And while I try (really) hard to choose recipes that are as easy for the average cook as they are inspirational and great tasting, it’s gotten considerably tougher in recent months to also make them 100% affordable. Having raised five kids, including three always-hungry sons, I know firsthand how expensive three meals a day can be for a family in good economic times. I can’t imagine doing it today, especially when the cost of everything else we need on a daily basis is rising, too.

The challenge

Yet I’m also a problem-solver who has penny-pinched at meal time for decades. So I decided to make myself this challenge: Prepare a week’s worth of meals for a family of four, completely from scratch, for around $200.

Why that number? The USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program currently allots $215.10 a week to a four-person household to cover the cost of groceries necessary to provide a “healthy, budget-conscious diet” under its official Thrifty Food Plan. I wanted to know what that would buy you in Pittsburgh and whether you could make three squares a day taste good on a budget.

To accomplish that goal, I set some parameters. I’d do one marathon shopping session to save on both time and the crazy cost of gas. And I’d do so at a discount grocery to assure I was getting the most bang for the buck: Aldi, a deep-discount chain famous for having rock-bottom food prices.

A receipt shows the final tally at Aldi, for more than 80 ingredients, was $198.14.

The final tally at Aldi, for more than 80 ingredients, was $198.14. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

Aldi is able to keep prices low in part because it avoids expensive brand names that rely heavily on advertising and marketing. The German chain, which counts some 2,200 stores across 38 states, including more than 30 in southwestern Pennsylvania, also is dedicated to creating cost savings that it can pass on to its customers, like making shoppers pay to use carts (which incentivizes their return) and provide their own bags.

“Other retailers may lure people with deals on several items each week,” said Aldi Saxonburg division vice president J.R. Perry in an email, “but our customers can count on Aldi savings on their shopping trip in every aisle, every day, no coupons or gimmicks needed.”

Still …

I’m not going to lie. Even with all my experience and excess storage (I have two refrigerators and a huge walk-in pantry), coming up with a grocery list and nutritious recipes to feed a family of four for an entire week wasn’t easy. It certainly took time, along with some math skills to break it all down and figure out what ingredients were as affordable as they were easy to prepare for the average cook — and what had to be left off the list.

I started by sleuthing my local Aldi to see what things cost in general and also what was on sale that week. After noting prices for staples, including milk, meat, cheese and produce, I came up with a menu for each day of the week, wrote out the recipes, and then made a detailed ingredient list for each of the 20 dishes (Sunday only had two because it involved brunch.) Then it was back to the store to shop, with me adding up every single item as it went in my cart on my phone’s calculator to make sure everything totaled $215 or less.

To my surprise — and delight — my bill was $198.14. And that included a brownie mix, a fresh pineapple, English muffins, green chile salsa, a box of (real) Corn Flakes and some chocolate-covered almonds I tossed in the cart on a whim because they were so cheap. I had so much, I had to supplement the four reusable bags I’d brought with three 12-cent paper bags sold at checkout — and still ended up under budget.

Menu planning

For advice on how to devise a healthful menu before that marathon shopping trip, I turned to cookbook author and registered dietitian and nutritionist Ellie Krieger. Kelsey Hutter, a registered dietitian with Allegheny Health Network, also weighed in.

Meat, even at Aldi, can stretch the budget, so both suggested building at least a few recipes around plant-based proteins such as tofu, peanut butter, lentils, or canned or dried beans, which are nutrient-rich and full of heart-healthy fiber and antioxidants.

“I would look at all different varieties and go with what’s on sale, and then substitute them in a dish” like chili or burgers, Krieger says.

Eggs are another good budget item — especially for breakfast — along with frozen vegetables, which, because they’re flash-frozen at harvest, are just as healthful as fresh cooked (although the texture may be different), says Hutter.

Frozen fruit, which makes superior smoothies and is wonderful on top of yogurt, is another smart buy. Not only is it much less expensive than fresh, but also it reduces waste because it’s not going to rot when you forget about it in your refrigerator.

Something as simple as brown rice is perfectly nutritious as are oats and canned fish. Krieger, for instance, likes to use canned tuna in water for sandwiches and tuna in oil for salads “because I can use the oil in the can as my dressing.”

Pasta is another great choice that’s shelf stable. Pair it with a homemade sauce made from canned tomatoes or toss it with frozen veggies for a quick and low-cost stir-fry. Also, grains like rice can help stretch out a meal.

“You have to change your mindset that ‘healthy’ is expensive, so why bother,” says Krieger. “You just have to be strategic about it.”

Gretchen McKay's meal plan.

Meal planning is an important part of staying under budget. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

Shopping tips

Take an inventory of your pantry and fridge before shopping so you don’t end up buying what you already have.

Make a grocery list — and stick to it. You’ll be less likely to waste money on something that looks good in the store but you’ll never use, says Hutter.
Choose store brands over name brands, which are almost always priced higher. And always check price per ounce when comparing prices.

If you insist on fresh, choose vegetables and fruits that are in season. They’re typically cheaper and often come from local farms. Minimize waste by buying root vegetables such as sweet potatoes and carrots and leafy veggies such as cabbage, which have a long shelf life.

Study the store circular before making your list and take advantage of what’s on sale. The week I shopped at Aldi, for instance, a pint of blueberries cost just $1.69, so I added pancakes to the menu.

Plan some meals by creatively cooking once and serving the leftovers in another dish. I served a big pot of beef and bean chili in bowls one night for supper and inside flour tortillas with cheese the next day for lunch.

Never shop when you’re hungry (it leads to impulse buying) and, above all, know your budget and shop appropriately; fail to plan and you’re really planning to fail, says Krieger. “You have to know what you can [afford to] spend.”

As for me? I was lucky to have both easy transportation and enough storage space to do all my shopping in one fell swoop. But even if you have to break the week’s grocery shopping up into two or three trips, discount grocery stores like Aldi still make it worth it. The most expensive thing on my list was 2½ pounds of hamburger for $9.70.

Admittedly, many of the meals we offer below are pretty pedestrian. A few, like one morning’s bowl of yogurt with fresh fruit and another’s banana smoothie, aren’t so much recipes as helpful suggestions for starting the day right. And I had to make a couple last-minute substitutions when I couldn’t find certain ingredients. A planned lasagna, for instance, turned into a rigatoni bake because Aldi doesn’t carry lasagna noodles; I also had to sub saltine cracker crumbs for panko.

But they are homemade using scratch ingredients, which is always a good thing, and a few are actually tasty enough to want to share. It’s hard to turn down a slice of a fresh-baked Dutch baby pancake and the same with a sheet pan full of Sichuan-glazed meatballs with charred, roasted broccolini.

Yes, it’s tougher than ever to eat well while stretching those mealtime dollars. But with planning and persistence, it’s not impossible.

Gretchen McKay: gmckay@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay or IG @pittsburghpgfood.

Design and development: Tyler Pecyna/Post-Gazette

Sunday brunch

Broccoli and Cheese Frittata

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A frittata is an egg-based dish similar to an omelet, only it’s finished in the oven. The perfect dish for Sunday brunch, this one gets heft from broccoli and cheese.

For potatoes

1 pound small (1½-2 inches) red bliss, Yukon Gold or other waxy potatoes

Olive oil

Kosher salt and pepper

Italian seasoning

For frittata

2 tablespoons butter

2 cups fresh or frozen (thawed) broccoli, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

8 eggs

½ teaspoon each salt and pepper

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

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Preheat oven to 425 degrees, making sure there are two racks in place.

Halve the potatoes and place in a large bowl. Drizzle with oil, season with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning, then toss to combine. Spread potatoes onto a parchment-lined cooking sheet, and roast 20-30 minutes, or until crispy and tender.

While potatoes are roasting, prepare frittata. In a large oven-proof, nonstick skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add broccoli and cook, stirring occasionally, until broccoli is tender, 3-4 minutes. Stir in garlic, and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly, until fragrant.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, ¼ cup water, salt and pepper until blended. Stir in cheese.

Pour egg mixture over broccoli mixture, stirring gently, and cook over medium heat until eggs begin to set. (Occasionally lift edges of frittata to allow uncooked mixture to go to the bottom.)

Place skillet in oven and bake until frittata is set, 8-10 minutes. Slide frittata onto cutting board, cut into wedges and serve.

Serves 4.

— Gretchen McKay

Sunday dinner

Easy Meat and Cheese Rigatoni

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Pasta is inexpensive, and easy to prepare. Served with a homemade meat sauce, it’s everyone’s favorite.

For sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil or butter, plus more for pan

½ onion, peeled and chopped

1 pound ground beef

Salt and pepper

28-ounce can crushed plum tomatoes

2 tablespoons tomato paste

Red pepper flakes, to taste

For pasta

15-ounce container of ricotta

2½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

1 large egg, beaten

16-ounce package rigatoni

¼ cup grated Parmesan

Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish, optional

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Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch baking with oil or cooking spray.

Heat olive oil or butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 4 minutes. Add ground beef and cook until beef has browned, about 5 minutes, crumbling it with a spoon as it cooks. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then drain excess fat. Stir in tomatoes and tomato paste and a pinch or two of red pepper flakes. Stir well to combine, then set heat to low and allow sauce to simmer.

In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, 1 cup mozzarella and the egg, then set aside.

While sauce is simmering, cook pasta noodles al dente according to package directions. Rinse well under cold water and drain.

Prepare pasta: Spread 1 cup sauce onto the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Top with ⅓ of the cooked noodles, ½ of the ricotta cheese mixture and ½ cup mozzarella cheese. Repeat with a second layer. Top with remaining noodles, more sauce and remaining ½ cup mozzarella. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top.

Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes or until brown and bubbly. Let cool for 5 minutes, then serve.

Makes 8 servings.

— Gretchen McKay

monday breakfast

Overnight Oatmeal

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Oatmeal is one of the most nutritious breakfast foods. This recipe is prepared the night before, so it’s ready to go in the morning.

2 cups whole rolled oats

2 cups milk, or more as needed

2 teaspoons maple syrup

Pinch of cinnamon, optional

Pinch of sea salt

1 cup blueberries, sliced strawberries and/or banana, for topping

Granola, for topping

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In a large bowl, combine the oats, milk, maple syrup, cinnamon (if using) and a generous pinch of salt. Stir and chill overnight.

In the morning, scoop the oats into a bowl and, if desired, stir in more milk for a smoother consistency. Top with fruit and granola.

Serves 4.

— Gretchen McKay

monday lunch

Tuna fish sandwiches

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Canned tuna is a healthful food rich in protein and vitamins.

2 6-ounce cans tuna in water

¼ cup mayonnaise or more to taste

¼ cup chopped sweet or dill pickle

¼ cup chopped onion

1 large stalk celery, minced

Salt and pepper

4 rolls or 8 slices of bread

Handful of potato chips, crushed, plus more for serving

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In large bowl, combine tuna, mayonnaise, pickle, onion and celery. Stir to mix well, season to taste with salt and pepper, then fold in potato chips.

Serve tuna salad between two slices of bread or in a roll, with extra potato chips on the side.

Serves 4.

— Gretchen McKay

monday dinner

Beef and Bean Chili

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This chili is even better the next day rolled with cheese into a burrito.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

1 large bell pepper, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound ground beef

Salt and black pepper

¼ cup chili powder or more to taste

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 large can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, with juice

2 15-ounce cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained

2 cups beef broth

Grated cheese and chopped scallions for garnish

Saltine crackers, for serving

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Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until translucent, about 6 minutes. Add green pepper and garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add beef and cook until brown, about 6-7 minutes minutes, breaking up with back of a spoon.

Add chili powder, cumin, paprika and oregano, then mix in tomatoes with juices, beans and broth. Bring chili to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes, skimming any fat that rises to the surface.

Ladle chili into bowls and garnish with grated cheese and scallions. Serve with crackers.

Makes 8 cups.

— Gretchen McKay

tuesday breakfast

Blueberry Pancakes

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Pancakes for breakfast. Need we say more?

1¼ cup flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1⅓ cups milk, mixed with 1 tablespoon vinegar

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 pint blueberries

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In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, and baking powder and soda. Make a well in the middle, then stir in soured milk, beaten egg and vegetable oil. Gently fold in most of the blueberries.

Heat a lightly oiled griddle or nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. (A drop of water should sizzle in the pan.) Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately ¼ cup for each pancake. Cook until surface of pancakes has some bubbles and a few have burst, 1-2 minutes.

Flip carefully with a spatula and cook until browned on the underside, 1-2 minutes more. Transfer to a baking sheet or platter; cover loosely with aluminum foil and keep warm in oven. Continue with remaining batter. (You’ll have 12-16 pancakes.) Serve warm, with butter and maple syrup, if desired, and remaining blueberries.

Serves 4.

— Gretchen McKay

tuesday lunch

Leftover Chili Burritos

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Burritos make a great grab-and-go lunch, and when they’re made with leftover chili, they’re also quick and easy.

2 cups leftover beef and bean chili, warmed, divided

2 cups cooked rice, divided

1 cup shredded cheese, divided

8 flour tortillas

Tortilla chip and salsa, for serving

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Warm the tortillas in the microwave for 1 minute. Spoon ¼ cup chili, ¼ cup rice and 2 tablespoons cheese in top third of warmed tortilla, fold over the ends of the tortilla, and then roll up. Repeat with the rest of the tortillas.

Serve with chips and salsa.

Serves 4.

— Gretchen McKay

tuesday dinner

Greek-style Chicken with Potatoes

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Lemon zest, briny olives and feta give this easy sheet pan dish a burst of Mediterranean flavor.

1 lemon

2 teaspoons oregano, divided

2 garlic cloves, minced

½ teaspoon salt, divided

¼ teaspoon pepper, divided

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

4 pieces bone-in chicken thigh

1 pound baby potatoes, halved

2 large bell peppers, seeded and cut into wedges

⅓ cup olives

⅓ cup crumbled feta

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Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Finely zest the lemon. Combine lemon zest, 1 teaspoon oregano, garlic, ¼ teaspoon salt, ⅛ teaspoon pepper and 1 tablespoon oil in small bowl. Rub spice mixture all over the chicken and underneath the skin.

Place potatoes and pepper on a sheet pan. Drizzle with remaining olive oil and squeeze about 1 tablespoon lemon juice on top. Sprinkle with remaining 1 teaspoon oregano, ¼ teaspoon salt and ⅛ teaspoon pepper and toss to coat. Distribute the vegetables around the pan, then nestle the chicken pieces on the pan among the vegetables.

Cook until the chicken is cooked through with an internal temperature of 165 degrees and the veggies are tender, about 30 minutes. If the chicken is cooked before the vegetables are done, transfer to a plate, cover with foil to keep warm and allow the vegetables to cook a bit more.

Serve sprinkled with olives, feta, the remaining lemon juice and more oregano to taste.

Serves 4.

— Adapted from “Whole in One: Complete, Healthy Meals in a Single Pot, Sheet Pan, or Skillet” by Ellie Krieger (Lifelong Books, 2019)

wednesday breakfast

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie

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Packed with nutrient-rich ingredients, smoothies take just minutes to make and are a great way to get kids to eat fruit.

2-3 bananas, cut into chunks

2 cups milk

½ cup peanut butter

1-2 tablespoons honey

2 cups ice cubes

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Place bananas, milk, peanut butter, honey and ice cubes in a blender. Blend until smooth, about 30 seconds. Divide into 4 glasses.

Serves 4.

— Gretchen McKay

wednesday lunch

Spinach & Egg Rice Bowl

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If you don’t have sesame oil in your pantry, vegetable oil works fine in this recipe. Also feel free to substitute your favorite veggies.

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil, divided

2½ cups cooked rice

½ teaspoon salt plus a pinch, divided

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

2 8-ounce packages baby spinach

1 tablespoon lime juice

4 large eggs

1 ripe avocado, sliced

1 cup julienned carrot

½ cucumber, thinly sliced

2 scallions, thinly sliced

4 teaspoons Sriracha or hot sauce

Limes, for garnish

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Heat 1 teaspoon sesame oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add rice and sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until crispy, about 10 minutes. Divide among 4 shallow bowls.

Add the remaining 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and ginger to the pan. Add spinach, in batches, and cook, tossing until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in lime juice and ¼ teaspoon salt. Divide among the rice bowls.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in the pan. Crack eggs into it and cook until the whites are set and the edges are crispy, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining pinch of salt. Place an egg on each rice bowl. Top with avocado, carrots, cucumber slices, scallions and Sriracha.

Serves 4.

— Adapted from eatingwell.com

wednesday dinner

Veggie Noodle Stir-Fry

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Spaghetti doesn’t just call out for red sauce — It’s also great in an Asian stir-fry featuring frozen veggies.

For sauce

¼ cup soy sauce

¼ cup water

2 tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more to taste

1 tablespoon cornstarch

For noodles

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

12-ounce bag frozen mixed vegetables

2 scallions, sliced on the diagonal

2 garlic cloves, minced

8 ounces spaghetti, cooked

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Make the stir-fry sauce first. Combine the soy sauce, water, brown sugar, sesame oil, garlic, ginger and cornstarch in a small bowl. Set the sauce aside.

Make noodles: Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat. Once the oil is very hot and shimmering, add frozen vegetables and stir-fry until they are just tender, about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and scallions and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add cooked spaghetti and toss to combine with vegetables. Pour in the soy sauce mixture, letting it bubble and simmer. Continue stirring the noodles and vegetables for 3 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed.

Serves 4.

— Gretchen McKay

Thursday breakfast

Fruit and Yogurt Bowl

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So easy, so delicious.

3 cups vanilla or plain yogurt

2 cups mixed berries of choice (such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries)

½ cup granola

Honey, for drizzling

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Divide yogurt among 4 bowls. Add berries on top, then granola. Drizzle with a little honey, if desired.

Serves 4.

— Gretchen McKay

Thursday lunch

Crunchy Curried Chicken Salad

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For a gluten-free lunch, serve chicken salad on a bed of lettuce.

¼ cup mayonnaise

¼ cup plain Greek yogurt

2 teaspoons curry powder, or more to taste

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound chicken breast, roasted and chopped

3 scallions, white and green parts, chopped

½ large green apple, such as Granny Smith, diced

⅓ cup raisins, soaked in hot water to soften

¼ cup toasted sliced almonds, optional

Handful of fresh, leafy lettuce

8 slices bread

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In a medium bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, yogurt and curry powder. Add a generous pinch of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Taste, then adjust seasonings.ir until well combined. (If the salad isn’t creamy enough, add a little more mayo or yogurt.) Fold in raisins and toasted almonds, if using. Stir to combine well.

Serve chicken salad tucked between two slices of bread as a sandwich or spooned on top of fresh mixed greens as a salad.

Serves 4.

— Gretchen McKay

Thursday dinner

Tuna Noodle Casserole

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Tuna noodle casserole is an American classic. This recipe includes cheese and a cracker topping for extra oomph.

Nonstick cooking spray

12-ounce bag egg noodles

16-ounce can oil-packed tuna (I used tuna packed in water)

10-ounce package frozen peas, thawed and drained

3 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided

1 tablespoon butter

1 small onion, finely chopped (about ½ cup)

1 celery stalk, finely diced (about ½ cup)

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon dried thyme

1½ tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, quartered

¼ cup all-purpose flour

1½ cups chicken broth

2 cups whole milk

1½ cups cracker crumbs

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

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Preheat oven to 30 degrees. Coat a 13-by-9-inch casserole dish with cooking spray.

Cook the noodles in salted water until al dente according to package directions. Drain and rinse the noodles in cold water to stop them from cooking. Once cooled, pour the noodles into a large bowl and add tuna, peas and 2 cups of the cheese. Toss to combine.

In large skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add onion and celery and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, add thyme and continue to cook until onion and celery are translucent, about 2 more minutes. Add Worcestershire sauce and stir it in, then sprinkle the flour over the entire skillet.

Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until flour is incorporated into vegetables, with no lumps. Add broth and stir to scrape up any brown bits. Slowly pour in the milk, stirring constantly to combine. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring, until the mixture has thickened and is reduced by ½ cup, about 8 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Pour the vegetable sauce over the tuna-noodle mixture in the bowl and mix to combine. Immediately pour into the prepared casserole dish.

In bowl, toss cracker crumbs with remaining cheese. Stir in olive oil. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the casserole. Bake, uncovered, until the casserole is bubbly and top is golden, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve piping hot.

Serves 8.

— Adapted from “Mr. and Mrs. Sunday’s Suppers” by Lorraine Wallace (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015)

friday breakfast

Scrambled Eggs with Veggies

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Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet and relatively inexpensive per serving. They’re best made in a nonstick pan.

2 tablespoons butter

¼ cup sliced fresh mushrooms

¼ cup chopped onions

¼ cup chopped bell peppers

1 large tomato, chopped

8 eggs

¼ cup milk

Buttered toast, for serving

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Heat butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, onions, peppers and tomatoes. Saute until onions are transparent and veggies are tender.

Whisk together eggs and milk in small mixing bowl. Add egg mixture to vegetables, stir to combine and cook until eggs are set (they should be soft and slightly creamy). Serve immediately, with buttered toast on the side.

Serves 4.

— Gretchen McKay

friday lunch

Sweet Potato Chipotle Tacos

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Forget Tuesdays — tacos are delicious every day of the week. This vegetarian recipe features roasted sweet potatoes and black beans.

2 medium sweet potatoes, cubed

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tablespoon chopped chipotle in adobo sauce

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon cumin

1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped


1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained

8 hard taco shells

1 cup shredded Mexican-style cheese

Sliced avocado, for serving (optional)

Sliced jalapeño, for serving (optional)

½ cup plain yogurt, mixed with juice ½ lime, for garnish, optional

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Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Place the sweet potatoes in large bowl and toss with olive oil, garlic, chipotle in adobo, paprika and cumin. Add chopped pepper, then season generously with salt.

Arrange seasoned potatoes and peppers in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake 30 minutes, or until the veggies are tender and beginning to char on the edges. Remove from the oven and set aside while you gently warm the black beans in the microwave (about 20 seconds).

Line up taco shells on a sheet pan or in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, then warm in oven for 5 minutes. Divide the black beans and roasted veggies among each taco shell and top with cheese, and sliced avocado and/or jalapeño, if using. Drizzle yogurt on top, and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

— Gretchen McKay

friday dinner

French Bread Pizza

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Better than the stuff in the box and definitely cheaper.

For sauce

1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 medium cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Pinch red pepper flakes

Kosher salt

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and split in half

1 teaspoon sugar

For pizza

1 loaf French bread, about 17-inches long, 4-inches wide

¼ cup olive oil

8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese

¼ cup finely shredded parmesan cheese

Sliced pepperoni or vegetables, for topping

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Prepare sauce: Process tomatoes and their juice in food processor until puréed, or purée with immersion blender until there are no chunks. Set aside.

Combine oil and butter in medium saucepan and heat over medium-low heat until butter is melted. Add garlic, oregano, pepper flakes and a large pinch salt and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, onion halves and sugar. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to lowest setting (bubbles should barely be breaking the surface), and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half, about 1 hour. Discard onions and season to taste with salt. (Sauce will keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed 18-by-13-inch baking sheet with aluminum foil (for easy cleanup).

Cut French bread in half evenly lengthwise to create two long portions. Cut each portion in half and place on baking sheet.

Brush both sides with olive oil and bake in preheated oven until just crisp, about 4 minutes. Remove from oven and spread about ¼ cup pizza sauce on each piece (more if you like saucy pizza). Sprinkle evenly with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, and add any toppings.

Return pizza to oven and bake until cheese is fully melted, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.

— Adapted from seriouseats.com

saturday breakfast

Dutch Baby with Apples

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This large, fluffy pancake is baked in the oven. Best served with a sprinkle of confectioner’s sugar and fruit, in this case sauteed apples.

3 tablespoons butter

3 eggs

¾ cup all-purpose flour

¾ cup milk, heated 20-30 seconds in microwave

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Pinch salt

Confectioners sugar, for dusting

For topping

1½ tablespoons butter

2 large apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons brown sugar

½ teaspoon cornstarch

Pinch of cinnamon

Confectioners sugar, for dusting

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Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Put the butter in a large ovenproof, nonstick sauté pan and place in the oven.

Meanwhile, in a blender, combine the eggs, flour, warm milk, sugar, vanilla extract and pinch of salt, then blend on medium-high speed until uniform and well mixed.

Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven. (The butter should be melted.) Swirl the butter around the pan to coat completely, then pour the remaining butter into the batter and pulse to blend. Pour the batter into the hot pan and return the pan to the oven. Cook until the pancake is puffed in the center and golden brown along the edges, 20-25 minutes.

While pancake is baking, prepare apple topping. In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add sliced apple and stir until they are fully coated in the butter. In small bowl, combine cornstarch with 2 tablespoons water then stir slurry into the apples, along with a pinch of cinnamon. Stir to combine, and keep warm.

When Dutch baby is finished baking, remove the entire pancake from pan using a spatula, and allow to cool for a few minutes on a rack. (This allows the steam to escape without condensing along the bottom and rendering the pancake soggy.) Slice the pancake into 8 wedges on a serving platter or cutting board, dust with confectioners sugar and serve with cooked apples.

Serves 4.

— Adapted from foodnetwork.com

saturday lunch

Spicy Pinto Bean “Loose meat” Burgers with Tomato Salad

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For burgers

1 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed, patted dry

½ cup crushed tortilla chips

2 tablespoons chopped onions

3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon cumin

¼ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 burger buns

Shredded lettuce, sliced tomato and sliced onion for topping

For salad

2 vine-ripened tomatoes

¼ cup crumbled feta

Olive oil

Balsamic or red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper

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Drain and rinse the pinto beans, then spread onto a paper towel-line sheet. Gently pat dry.

Place tortilla chips, dried pinto beans, onions and cilantro to a food processor and pulse 3-4 times.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, garlic powder, cumin and salt. Add the flour mixture to the food processor and pulse 5-6 times until combined. (The mixture might look dry, but it will hold together when packed.)

Prepare salad: Cut tomatoes into chunks and place in bowl with feta cheese. Drizzle with a little olive oil and vinegar and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then set aside.

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the pinto bean mixture and cook for 4-5 minutes until brown and crispy. Divide among 4 buns and top with lettuce, tomato and onion and serve with tomato salad.

Serves 4.

— Adapted from iheartvegetables.com

saturday dinner

Sheet Pan Sichuan Meatballs with Broccolini

PG tested

Brushed with a spicy-sweet Sichuan glaze, these meatballs are cooked alongside broccolini for a complete meal.

For sauce

⅔ cup ketchup

¼ cup Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons rice cooking wine

2 tablespoons honey

4 teaspoons soy sauce

1½-inch piece ginger, peeled, finely grated

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For meatballs

1½ pounds broccolini

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

2½ teaspoons salt, divided

Crushed red pepper flakes, optional

1 pound ground turkey

1 large egg, beaten to blend

4 scallions, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely grated

2-inch piece ginger, peeled, finely grated

⅓ cup cracker crumbs

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cooked rice, for serving

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Make sauce: Mix ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, wine, honey, soy sauce, ginger and pepper in a small saucepan. Measure out ¼ cup mixture into a small bowl; set aside for glazing meatballs later. Bring remaining mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally and reducing heat if needed until sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Transfer sauce to a small bowl.

Place a rack in upper third of oven; preheat to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Trim broccolini stems and cut florets into 2-inch pieces. Toss on prepared baking sheet with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon salt and a few pinches of red pepper flakes (if using). Push to the edges of baking sheet to create a space for meatballs. Brush space with remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil.

Mix ground turkey, egg, scallions, garlic, ginger, panko, sesame oil, pepper, remaining 1½ teaspoon salt and ¼ cup water in a medium bowl. Using wet hands, form into 12 1½-inch meatballs. Arrange on baking sheet; brush with some of the reserved glazing mixture. Bake until meatballs are cooked through, 14-18 minutes. Remove from oven; heat broiler. Brush meatballs with remaining glazing mixture; broil until broccoli is charred and meatballs are browned in spots, about 5 minutes.

Spoon meatballs and broccolini over rice in bowl. Drizzle with sauce and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Serves 4.

— Adapted from epicurious.com