Whole Wheat Pizza Swirls ~ The Make-Ahead Lunch Box

The Make-Ahead Lunch Box

I’m excited to kick off our new Make-Ahead Lunch Box series with a fun new recipe I recently tried for my family.  We all love these Whole Wheat Pizza Swirls.  Here are my favorite perks to this recipe, and why I think this is perfect for your Make-Ahead Lunch Box:

  • You can make Pizza Swirls ahead of time, wrap them individually, and store them in the freezer until you need them.
  • You can fill the Pizza Swirls with any of your favorite toppings, making this recipe versatile and ideal for accommodating food preferences.
  • These taste great both hot and cold.
  • Pizza Swirls are simple to make.
  • Pizza Swirls are filling and easy to eat.

Whole Wheat Pizza Swirls

1 recipe of Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
1 cup pizza sauce
2 cups shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese
3 Tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
variety of pizza fillings – your choice – like meat, olives, and veggies
2 Tablespoons olive oil (optional)

Mix Whole Wheat Pizza Dough as directed.  On a clean, well floured surface, roll dough into a long oval until it is about 1/4 inch thick.  Spread pizza sauce over the dough.  Sprinkle with cheeses and your favorite pizza toppings.  Roll the dough up, beginning on the long side.  Tuck the ends under.  Place on a cookie sheet.  Spread olive oil over the top if you like.  Bake in a 375° oven for about 15 minutes or until the top is golden brown.  Slice and serve.  Makes about 8-10 Pizza Swirls.

Whole Wheat Pizza Swirls

Bonus Tips:

  • Want to pack these Pizza Swirls to go?  Once the swirls have cooled completely, wrap them individually and place them in an air tight container in the freezer.  Set frozen wrapped Pizza Swirl in the fridge overnight to thaw to pack in a lunch box the next day.
  • Need to eat Gluten Free?  Copy the idea and use your favorite gluten free dough recipe.
  • Tired of pizza?  Skip the sauce and use turkey or chicken with cheese to make Meat and Cheese Swirls.

Great to Serve with Pizza Swirls:

  • Fresh fruit like apple slices, orange slices, peaches, cantaloupe, pineapple, or pears
  • Carrot sticks, sliced cucumbers, celery, or sweet peppers
  • Olives or pickles

I double, triple, or quadruple this recipe so that I can make lots at once to make my getting-ahead efforts worthwhile.  This also means I can make a variety of different Pizza Swirls to have on hand.  Our favorites are:

  • Pepperoni and Cheese
  • Combination (meat, cheese, green peppers, mushrooms, olives)
  • Hamburger and Green Pepper
  • Pepperoni and Olive

What kind of pizza swirls do you think your family will like?  Have any other ideas you feel would be good to serve with Pizza Swirls (especially ideas that will pack well in a lunch box)?

Lasagna Casserole…On the Stovetop

I mentioned here that I’m trying to avoid the oven during these hot summer days.  Later this week, I’ll be making Lasagna Casserole, which is one of our family’s favorite recipes (and one of mine because it’s so easy).

Cook Your Casserole on the Stovetop

But, I don’t want to bake it in the oven right now.  It’s just too hot.

For recipes like this, I “bake” them on the stove top.  Just follow the recipe as normal, but then leave it in the pot on the stove.  Sprinkle cheese over the top and put the lid on.  Let it sit and simmer for a few minutes until the cheese is all melty all over the place, then serve.

This method also works for Cheesy Beef and Rice and Pizza Casserole - and probably a bunch of other casserole recipes you have that are all pre-cooked and then baked for a few minutes.

This summer, skip the oven.  Use the stovetop.  Unless of course you like sweating profusely and passing out.  I’ll use my oven when I absolutely have to.  In the meantime, when I can, I’ll stick to my stove-top.

This post was originally published on June 29, 2009.

Pasta Salad Bar – Easy, Inexpensive, Nutritious, and Cool

pasta salad bar 3

Here you will find one of the coolest (literally) meal ideas for summer.  Here you will see a great way to feed your whole family - even the picky ones.  Here you will experience deliciousness that isn’t expensive, offers lots of nourishment, and is super easy to put together.  Yes, here is a great idea given to me by several readers last summer that I finally tried last week.  Again, I must ask:  Why did I wait so long to try this?

Welcome to our lives, oh lovely Pasta Salad Bar.  We’re sorry we never met before now.  You’ll be a regular visitor at our house this summer.  We will load our bowls full of your goodness, based on what sounds good to each of us at that moment.   You are deliciously fun.

Pasta Salad Bar

How do you put together a Pasta Salad Bar?  Simple.  Just set out everything you have on hand that might taste good in a pasta salad.  This is a great way to eat up leftovers or odds and ends from your fridge.  Here are some Pasta Salad Bar food suggestions:

  • Cooked and cooled whole wheat or brown rice pasta – any shape
  • Chopped sweet peppers
  • Chopped carrots
  • Chopped tomatoes
  • Cooked chicken, tuna, steak, roast beef, or other meat that sounds good
  • Chickpeas or other cooked beans
  • Corn
  • Olives
  • Shredded cheese
  • Favorite salad dressings – we prefer homemade Italian Salad Dressing and Ranch Salad Dressing

Once your food items are set out, simply let everyone fill their bowls with whatever they like.  Stir in favorite salad dressings to make a creamy pasta salad, a tangy pasta salad – or a mixture of both!  (Yep, I like both Italian and Ranch in my pasta salad.)

This meal is extremely filling and hearty.  Oh, and a side of fresh pineapple or chilled watermelon goes great with this.

Ever done something like this before?  What other ingredients do you think you would add to this Pasta Salad Bar?

BLT Wraps – The Perfect Summertime Meal

Nothing says “I’m a humble cook” like shouting really loudly that this is the best recipe you’ll ever eat!  My bad.  What can I say?  There’s bacon in it.  And cream cheese.  The goodness of this recipes has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the amazing mixture of ingredients all rolled up in a tortilla.

This recipe is so easy that my kids made it on their own for our family to eat on Mother’s Day.  These can be made ahead of time – or at the very least, you can cook the bacon and prepare the tomatoes and lettuce so that you can put them together right before serving time.

The best part?  Well…the bacon, duh.  Yeah, but the other best part?  These wraps really hit the spot on a hot day.  There’s minimal cooking involved, so the house won’t heat up.  Serve these with a variety of fresh fruit like pineapple, watermelon, or strawberries.  Set out some sweet peppers, sliced cucumbers, and carrot sticks.  What a wonderful, nourishing meal.

BLT Wraps

4 ounces softened cream cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
8 slices cooked and crumbled bacon
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup shredded spinach, romaine, or green leaf lettuce
3 eight-inch whole wheat tortillas

Mix cream cheese and mayonnaise until smooth.  Stir in bacon crumbles and chopped tomatoes.  Spread mixture onto tortillas.  Sprinkle shredded lettuce on top evenly.  Roll tortillas up tightly.  Cut each into 5 diagonal slices.  Chill until ready to serve.

BLT Wraps

Which do you like better: bacon or cream cheese?  How sweet it is that you can have both in this recipe, at the same time.  :)

Easy Cheesy Bean Dip

Need an easy and filling lunch, dinner, or snack?

No Laura, what we actually need is a complicated recipe filled with weird ingredients that our family will hate.

Okay, fine.  The question above was rhetorical.  Did you know that sometimes I like to be sarcastic? (also rhetorical)

Well anyway, my family loves this recipe and I think yours will too.  It’s great to throw together at lunchtime and serve with organic corn chips and fresh fruit.  Or, you could smear this dip in a whole wheat tortilla and wrap it up to take on the go.  You could take it to serve at a party.  You could make it for a game night.  You could make it for a simple evening meal.  You could make it for breakfast.  Really?  Well, sure, if you really want to.  Would the breakfast police actually show up and arrest you for serving bean dip with your morning coffee?  Don’t answer that.  It’s rhetorical.

Easy Cheesy Bean Dip

Easy Cheesy Bean Dip

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
4 cups refried beans
3 Tablespoons taco seasoning mix
3 cups cheddar cheese, shredded

Mix cream cheese and sour cream in a large bowl.  Stir in refried beans and taco seasoning.  Spread mixture into a 9×13 inch baking pan.  Sprinkle cheese over the top.  Bake in a 350° oven for 25-30 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Serve with organic corn chips and salsa if you like.

What are your favorite quick meals to serve?  (I’d like you to answer that question.  That one is not rhetorical.)

Black Bean Chicken Nachos – A Last Minute Meal

Where does the time go?  My kids are not babies anymore, I’ve been married for almost 20 years, and just last week, I realized that it was almost lunchtime and I had forgotten to put the chicken into the crockpot.  Yes, time flies after breakfast.  And when you’re happily married, raising kids, and all that.

I have no advice on keeping time from moving so quickly.  I can, however, give you an idea for a quick meal for when you haven’t managed to prepare anything in advance.  It all starts with frozen chicken.  This is because not only did you not start lunch or dinner on time, you also forgot to thaw the chicken.  For all of you perpetually prepared people out there, don’t worry – thawed chicken will also work in this recipe.  For the rest of us, we rejoice in the fact that frozen chicken and a cold crock pot does not prevent us from putting a great meal on the table in a short amount of time.

This recipe is a result of me realizing at 11:30 one whirlwind morning that while I had been planning to serve Chicken Tacos for lunch that day, not only was the chicken still frozen, I didn’t have any tortillas prepared or purchased.  Without thinking too hard, I chucked the frozen chicken into a saucepan on the stove, dumped on salsa, and hoped for the best.  I covered the pan and turned the heat on low.  Within an hour, my chicken thawed, cooked in delicious salsa flavors, and was ready for lunch - which we had with chips instead of tortillas.  It turned out so delicious, I decided we would make it this way again and again.  This recipe turned out to be a “six out of six” which means that all six of our family members loved this.   A brainless, effortless, healthy recipe that we all liked?  Score!

Black Bean Chicken Nachos

Black Bean Chicken Nachos

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 cups salsa
2 cups cooked black beans (or one can of prepared beans, if you’ve – you know - not remembered to soak and cook them ahead of time while you were busy not thawing your chicken…)
tortilla chips, cheese, sour cream, tomatoes, and other nacho toppings of your choice

Place chicken and salsa in a medium-sized saucepan.  Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 20 minutes (if chicken is thawed) or 45-50 minutes (if chicken is frozen).  Use a fork and knife to shred chicken and stir it back into the salsa.  Stir in black beans, and continue cooking until beans are hot – about five minutes more.  Serve with shredded cheese and other nacho toppings of your choice.  Scoop up Black Bean Chicken nachos with tortilla chips and congratulate yourself for throwing together such a wonderful meal with such minimal effort.

Then, before you forget, get out the meat for tomorrow’s meals so it can be thawed and ready to use.  Not being prepared certainly worked for this recipe, but let’s not push it.

How to Make Beef Broth

There’s nothing very beautiful about pictures of soup bones and vegetables floating in water.  And yet, here I am again, just like the time I showed you all the pictures of my chicken carcasses.  Some people create adorable collages of their children.  Me?  I spent time yesterday crafting a collage of my beef broth.  Isn’t it precious?  Take note of the fatty bubbles floating along at the top of the jar.  I’m so proud.

Homemade Beef Broth

Beef Broth is as fantastic for your body as Chicken Broth.  There are so many minerals we need that we can get from beef bones, such as calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, sulfur, and potassium – all in their natural, beneficial, and digestible form.  The vegetables you add to the pot of broth are invaluable.  And the best part?  Making homemade broth is one of the most inexpensive ways to provide nourishment to yourself and to your family members.

Look into buying Beef Soup Bones.  There’s still a little meat on the bones (more on that later), but mostly you’re just going to pay a small amount for a package of bones.  Cook those mineral-filled-bones in a pot with water and veggies, and you’ve just created several jars full of nutritional goodness for a very tiny amount of money.

Here’s how I make Beef Broth.  As you can tell from my collage above, my process is very fancy and exact:

1.  Place thawed or frozen beef soup bones into a large kettle or stock pot.
2.  Add, to your heart’s content, chunks of onion, carrots, leeks, celery and/or any other veggie you enjoy in your broth.
3.  Fill your pot with water.
4.  Sprinkle liberally with sea salt.
5.  Cover and simmer pot of water/veggies/soup bones for 4-6 hours.  Or more.  Or less.  Or whatever works for you.
6.  Remove soup bones from pot.  Pull cooked beef off the bones with a fork, and set meat aside for soup or salads.
7.  Blend liquid and vegetables together until smooth.
8.  Allow broth to cool, then refrigerate or freeze until you are ready to use it to make soup, cook rice, or add it to a recipe.

That meat you’ll pull off the bones?  It tastes incredible because it’s right by the bone and has been cooked low and slow.  I love it in chef salads.  I also snack on it as I’m pulling it off the bones.

Why do I blend all the veggies into the broth?  Because after 6 hours of simmering, they are mushy.  When I blend them in, they just become part of the nutritious broth.  Depending on the number of carrots I use, my broth might turn orange.  No matter.  It’s delicious.

Once you’ve made Beef Broth, what can you do with it?  You can use it to make Beefy Vegetable Soup.  You can also use it in any recipe that calls for chicken broth – like my Cheeseburger Soup or Pizza Soup.  Cook rice in broth for extra nourishment and flavor in a side dish – or add that wonderful rice to Cheesy Beef and Rice.  Follow my instructions for Chicken Noodle Soup, but instead use beef broth and the meat that came off the bones for Beef-n-Noodles.

What other ideas do you have?  What ways do you use Beef Broth? 

Isn’t this a wonderful way to be healthy and save money at the same time?!

Pizza Soup

Pizza Soup: One of the best inventions in my kitchen so far this winter.  Not including the Super Creamy Peanut Butter, of course.  I can’t get enough of this soup.  Plus, it’s super easy to make.  I love this!

In a freaky, way less artificial, and way more wonderful sort of way, this soup tastes kind of like Spaghettios.  I only mention this for those mothers who have kids they are trying to break from Spaghettios.  If you hate Spaghettios, trust me, this soup tastes nothing like Spaghettios.  Really.  Okay then.

pizza soup

You’ll notice this recipe is similar to my Cheeseburger Soup recipe.  One night as I was making Cheeseburger Soup, I realized I didn’t have enough chicken broth.  I decided to add some tomato sauce to the soup for more liquid.  Then I added a few different spices and some pasta.  Then I fell in love.  Don’t worry.  I still love Matt best.

Pizza Soup

1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup shredded carrots
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3 cups chicken broth
4 cups tomato sauce
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups milk
8 ounces whole wheat or rice pasta
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup sour cream (optional)

In a large pot, brown hamburger meat with onions, carrots, basil, parsley, oregano, and garlic powder.  Once thoroughly cooked, add chicken broth and tomato sauce, then bring to a boil.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Add pasta, then reduce heat to medium while pasta cooks, about ten minutes.  Add milk, stirring and cooking until bubbly – about two minutes.  Remove from heat.  Add cheese and sour cream, stirring until melted.  Serves 4-6.

Make this dairy free by simply substituting coconut milk and leaving out the cheese.  Add chopped green peppers to the meat, onion, and carrot mixture for a more flavorful soup.

Is it super cold at your house like it is at mine right now?  Soup is rockin’ my world as I work to keep us warm and fed!

Now, Now. Let’s Not Make This Difficult ~ Easy Orange Chicken, A Super Quick, Real Food Recipe

31 Days 300

Why do we make it hard?  Why do we think that cooking healthier foods always takes a long time?  Relax now.  My recipes are all made with real food, and most all of them are very low maintenance.  This Easy Orange Chicken recipe will prove it.

The truth is that eating a real food diet is actually rather simple.  We just have to get the hang of it.  We just have to plan ahead a little bit.  We just have to buy some chicken – at least if you want to make this recipe.  I think I had this dish in the oven after about five minutes of prep time.  That’s faster than making a box of mac and cheese, and I think it goes without saying that this tastes much better.

High Five Recipes

Have you scrolled through all of my High Five Recipes?  If not, you should.  If so, you should again.  They are all high quality recipes which call for five ingredients or less.  We’re talking everything from main dishes, to side dishes, to snacks and desserts.  Real food.  Real easy.  So how about a new High Five Recipe?

Easy Orange Chicken

1 cup orange juice
2 Tablespoons onion soup mix
10-12 chicken legs

Place chicken legs in a 9×13 inch baking dish.  Stir together orange juice and onion soup mix.  Pour mixture over the chicken.  Cover and bake in a 375° oven for 45 minutes.  Uncover and bake for an additional 15 minutes.


Pour orange juice mixture over 6 chicken boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  Bake in a 375° oven for 25 minutes, then uncover and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until juices run clear.

Easy Orange Chicken

During the final few minutes of cook time for your chicken, put together two or three vegetable side dishes.  Brown rice is also wonderful with this chicken.  Your meal will be satisfying, delicious, and you won’t even break a sweat preparing it.

Having homemade MSG-free Onion Soup Mix on hand is always super helpful.  In fact, I encourage you to spend a few minutes putting together several of the seasoning mixes you’ll find on this page.  They save so much time, taste so much better than purchased packets, are much healthier, and save money too!

I hope you’re beginning to see that eating a real food diet really isn’t complicated.  What are your favorite “throw it together” healthy meals?

Cheeseburger Soup – for $1 per person {31 Days of Real Food Reality ~ Day 10}

31 Days 300

It’s a real food recipe that most everyone will love.  It’s full of nourishing goodness.  After all, there’s chicken broth and carrots in it, not to mention delicious beef, cheese, milk, and sour cream.  It’s a full meal all on its own.  Just like all of the recipes I share, this one won’t appear to anyone as “health food.”  It’s simply delicious food.  Comfort food.  And yep, it just so happens to be healthy.

I found that this recipe yielded six hearty servings.  I did the math on it, and can declare it to be a Dollar Menu Dish.  Technically, it cost me just over a dollar per person to feed this to my family.  I decided, eh, it counts.  :)  So what does it mean that this meal costs about a dollar per person?  It means that healthy eating doesn’t have to be expensive!  I love it that there are so many economical ways to feed a family well.

If you don’t mind adding a little extra expense to this soup, and you really want to make it appealing to those among you who just might be afraid of anything healthy – try adding 1/4 – 1/2 pound of chopped, cooked bacon.  Then it becomes Bacon Cheeseburger Soup, and who wouldn’t want to eat that?  By the way: Bacon is real food.  Hallelujah!

Cheeseburger Soup

1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup shredded carrots
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley
3 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups milk
5 cups potatoes cut into chunks
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup sour cream

In a large pot, brown hamburger meat with onions, carrots, basil, and parsley.  Once thoroughly cooked, add chicken broth and potatoes.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium while potatoes cook, about ten minutes.  Once the potatoes are tender, add milk, stirring and cooking until bubbly – about two minutes.  Remove from heat.  Add cheese and sour cream, stirring until melted.  Serve.

Cheeseburger Soup

Looking for more meal ideas that use healthy, real food ingredients and cost less than one dollar per plate?  Here’s what I’ve shared so far:

Have you found ways to keep real food eating within a reasonable budget for your family?