Pasta and Vegetable Gratin and Side Salad

I have been serving one vegetarian meal a week for the last few months. In the beginning, my kids were asking, “Why?”  (Meaning, why would I serve a meal with out meat?!)  I explained the benefits to their bodies and their planet.  They looked at me like I was crazy but indulged me and now they are getting used to this routine. They don’t ask where the meat is.  They are actually enjoying the vegetarian dinners and tonight was another win.  Pasta Vegetable Gratin is a healthy twist on mac n cheese that will have your whole family smiling.

My dinner prep began by making the pasta.  As the pasta cooked, I moved to the frozen broccoli (because it was easier than cutting fresh broccoli), cooked it in the microwave and cut it into very small, maybe even unrecognizable, pieces.  Next I warmed the frozen peas in the microwave, diced the yellow squash, and set the veggies aside.

When the pasta was done, I drained it and placed it in a lightly sprayed roasting dish, adding the peas, broccoli, and squash on top and mixing them into the pasta.  Lastly, I sprinkled the cheese on top and lightly stirred into the pasta.

Then it was time to make the sauce. First I melted the butter in the sauce pan. Then I stirred in flour for about a minute and then added the milk.  After bringing the mixture to a boil I mixed in the parmesan/manchenga cheese and the spices, and poured it over the pasta.

Due to an cow’s milk allergy in my house I used coconut milk drink instead. (This is not coconut milk that comes in a can. This is called coconut milk drink – it is an alternative to cow’s milk and comes in a shelf stable container and is usually displayed near the milk.)  It is a great alternative and doesn’t have a “coconut” taste.  However, it is a bit runnier than regular milk.  I should have added less. The recipe calls for 2 1/4 C of milk.  When I make this again and use coconut milk drink, I will only use about 1 3/4 C.

Cooking Frozen Broccoli

Making the Pasta

Chopped Broccoli and Peas

Mixing Vegetables into Pasta

Sprinkling the Cheese

Casserole Ready for Oven

I baked the casserole for 30 minutes and served.

Pasta and Vegetable Gratin and Side Salad for 4

The Verdict

Pasta and vegetable gratin is a winner! My son rated the dish a 9.5, my husband a 10 (and he likes his meat…) and my toughest critic, my daughter, rated it a 9.  The flavors blend nicely and the coconut milk drink just blended right in. I forgot to put the breadcrumbs (no surprise…) on top but everyone liked it just the same.  It would probably enhance the flavor so if you are not opposed to gluten, add the bread crumbs when you make this vegetarian dish that non-vegetarians will love!


Pasta and Vegetable Gratin and Side Salad

Serves 2 Adults and 2 Kids for 2 meals or 1 meal and lunches

Pasta and Vegetable Gratin with Side Salad


16 oz. penne pasta

1 yellow squash, diced

1 bell pepper, diced

2 scallions, finely diced

1 C frozen peas

1.5 C fresh or frozen broccoli

1 clove garlic, minced

1 C sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1 T butter or plant-based margarine

1 T unbleached flour

2 1/4 C milk or 2 C coconut milk drink (original flavor)

1/4 C grated parmesan (cow’s milk) or manchenga (sheep’s milk) cheese

1/8 t nutmeg

1/4 t dill

1/2 t salt

1/4 t paprika

pinch cayenne pepper

pepper to taste

2 T bread crumbs


1. Cook pasta al dente. Pour into shallow baking dish.

2. Stir all vegetables, including garlic. into pasta.

3. Sprinkle cheese on top and lightly mix in.

4.  Melt butter in sauce pan.  Stir in flour, let bubble and whisk until it turns beige.  Stir for about a minute.

5.  Add milk. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.

5. Remove from heat and stir in cheese and spices.

6. Pour sauce over pasta mixture and stir slightly.  Sprinkle on bread crumbs.

7. Bake 30 minutes or until bubbly and brown on top. Consider baking the yams for tomorrow at the same time.

8. Serve and see if you miss the meat in this hearty vegetarian dish!

Pre Prep Opportunities

1.  Cook pasta ahead of time and store in refrigerator.

2. Dice all vegetables ahead and store in the refrigerator or buy pre chopped.

3. Prepare recipe through step 3 and store in refrigerator until ready to make the sauce.

Meatloaf w/ Ground Chicken and Beans, Broccoli, Tomato

This recipe serves 2 Adults and 2 Kids for 2 meals. Meatloaf sandwiches, are in you future! YUM!)

Growing up, meatloaf was a regular part of our dinner rotation.  It was comfort food that only got better when the leftovers reappeared in a meatloaf sandwich.  I have reinvented “Mom’s meatloaf”, lightening up on the amount of beef used and replacing it with ground chicken, and a garlic-bean paste. If you don’t eat beef, replace the beef with ground turkey or more ground chicken.  If you don’t like garlic, use more onion or add shallots for more flavor.  This recipe is quite forgiving so you can improvise based on your preferences and what you have in the fridge and pantry – chopped bell peppers, tomatoes, bread crumbs, etc.  Or you can keep it just the way it is – simple and tasty!

Yesterday, I had made the bean paste that required for the meatloaf.  You don’t have to make it ahead of time, but I had a minute and “crossing things off my list” always makes me feel good.

I believe things happen for a reason, and I was pleasantly surprised when my son commented on how good things smelled in the kitchen. On a whim, I warmed up some of the garlic-bean paste and spread it on some teriyaki rice crackers for his afterschool snack.  He LOVED it and asked for more! A healthy and delicious snack!  (Keep that idea in your bag of tricks!)

Dinner prep was easy tonight.  I pre-heated the oven to 350 and quickly put the beef, chicken, and garlic-bean paste together and formed a loaf.  (My son had some more of the garlic-bean paste on crackers today just before I put it in the meatloaf mixture…) I put it in a lightly sprayed loaf pan, topped it with tomato paste, and popped it in the oven.  I cut a tomato and portioned it across the plates.   My broccoli was already cooked from the night before so I just had to warm it up just before I took the meat loaf out of the oven.

Meatloaf with Ground Chicken in Loaf Pan

As the meatloaf cooked, I drove a quick carpool and worked with my daughter on a project she is doing for school.  The aroma filled the house and everyone was asking when dinner would be ready.  My daughter was only too happy to set the table and we sat down to eat!

The Verdict

Two thumbs up!  My daughter, the ever-critical judge, gave the meatloaf a 10!  My son gave it a 9, and my husband a 10.  I thought it was delicious and began dreaming of the meatloaf sandwiches that were in my future!


1 15 oz. can or other shelf stable container of White Beans

½ of a 15 oz. can or other shelf stable container of Black Beans

5 Cloves Garlic, minced or pressed – include the garlic membranes if pressing

1 lb. Ground Chicken*

1 lb. Ground Beef*

1 small onion, diced – or purchase pre-chopped onion

5 oz. of tomato paste (buy smallest can and use it all)

Olive or canola oil spray

1 Bunch Broccoli**

1 t Salt

1 T Basil

1 T Oregano

1 T Minced Onion

1 Tomato

*You can substitute turkey or pork for chicken and beef – be sure to modify your shopping list accordingly.

**If you made all the broccoli yesterday, you have saved yourself some time. Just warm it up for today!


Ahead of Time:

Mash white and black beans with 5 cloves of minced or pressed garlic (throw in garlic membranes if pressing).  Store in fridge until ready to use.

Side Bar:  Snack opportunity!  Warm a small portion of bean and garlic mixture and spread on rice cracker or other cracker.  My son loves this as a snack on teriyaki rice crackers!

Pre-heat oven to 350

  1. Lightly spray loaf pan with olive or canola oil.
  2. Mix bean-garlic mixture, ground chicken, ground beef and diced onion in a bowl.
  3. Form mixture into a meatloaf shape and put in loaf pan.
  4. Top with tomato paste.
  5. Pop in oven for 1 – 1.25 hours, until meatloaf starts to pull away from pan.  (Like in baking)
  6. Wash and slice tomato, portioning across 4 plates.
  7. Wash broccoli and cut into small florets.*
  8. Sprinkle with 1 t Salt, 1 T Basil, 1 T Oregano, 1 T Minced Onion.
  9. Catch up on the mail, help kids with homework, drive a carpool, call your mother – you can relax for a while!

10. Place broccoli in oven for about the last 5 minutes of the meatloaf’s bake time, stirring broccoli around just before you take the meatloaf out.

11. When meatloaf starts to pull from the sides of the pan, remove from oven – let rest for 5-10 minutes.

12. Remove broccoli from oven after about 10 minutes, when broccoli stems can be easily pierced with a fork.

  1. 13.  Portion meatloaf and broccoli and serve!

14. This is not the way your mother made meatloaf, but it is really delicious!

Pre-Prep Opportunities

  1. Put the meatloaf together ahead of time, place in loaf pan and store in fridge until ready to use.   All that is left to do is pop it in the oven.  Because it will be cold, you might consider putting the meatloaf in the oven earlier – during preheating.
  2. Wash and cut the broccoli up to two days before.

*If you made the broccoli in yesterday’s meal, skip broccoli preparation steps.   You just have to warm it up!

Sept 26-29 Weekly Menu and Master Shopping List

Sept 26-29 Weekly Menu and Master Shopping List

It’s feeling like autumn and I am looking for warm recipes that meet the healthy, delicious, fast criteria that Busy Lives Healthy Eats is built upon.  I love to: cook once and “reinvent” the second meal; and pre-prep so that the amount of work required during dinner prep, which is often jumbled with carpools and homework, is minimal.  This week, all the recipes are new to me.  I have never prepared them.  I thought this would be a good test as many of the recipes I make would be new to you if you made them.  So be forgiving as I share my experiences of the week with these new recipes!

Weekly Menu:

Monday: Tomato-Herb Chicken, Broccoli, Fruit

Tuesday: Fish with Fall Harvest Red Grape Salsa, Peas, Side Salad, Fruit

Wednesday: Braised Chicken Gumbo, Side Salad, Fruit

Thursday: Mexican Vegetable Soup with Crushed Tortilla Chips and shredded cheese

 Give credit where credit is deserved:

Monday’s recipe is a slight variation of a recipe I found on  I was particularly excited when I saw their “reinvention” of the meal, which is the Braised Chicken Gumbo that is on my menu for Wednesday.  So thank you EatingWell!

Tuesday’s recipe features a “fall salsa”. While the rest of the meal is not new – we have cooked plenty of fish – I was looking for a fall flavor topping.  Better Homes and Gardens featured this fall salsa that looks amazing.  Stay tuned…

Thursday’s recipe comes from “Quick Vegetarian Pleasures”, a cookbook that I have had for over 15 years.  I have had great luck with several recipes of these recipes, and even used their Split Pea Soup recipe as a base for my variation last week. The additional twist is that I plan to make this a crock pot recipe.  Their recipe is cooked on the stove.

Master Shopping List

For 2 Adults and 2 Kids



3.5 lbs. Boneless skinless chicken breasts

1.5 – 1.75 lbs. fish – I will see what the prices are and what strikes me


Greens – for lunch and dinners

4 Red Onions

8 Cloves garlic

¼ C Fresh chopped parsley

2 Bell peppers, at least one red

3 Carrots

3 Medium zucchini

1 Head Broccoli


1 C Seedless red grapes, halved

5 Pears

Other based on what is in season in the store

Dry Goods

1 t Dried thyme

1 t Fennel seeds

1 t Fresh ground pepper

1 Bay leaf

3 C Low sodium chicken broth

8 C Low sodium vegetable broth

1 T Lemon Juice

2 – 28 oz. Can tomatoes, or tomatoes in other shelf stable package

1 ½ t salt

1 T Olive oil or canola oil

2 T flour

1 C Cooked rice

1/8 t cayenne pepper

1 T Balsamic vinegar

1 t Ground cumin

1 15 oz. Can kidney beans


Corn tortillas



Shredded Cheddar Cheese (optional – for the Mexican vegetable stew)



1 C Sliced Okra

2 C Frozen corn kernels

1 Bag Frozen peas