How to Make a Simple Side Salad and Why You Should Make One with Dinner Tonight

Use this easy formula to make simple side salads that will add color, texture, and flavor to your dinners.

The post How to Make a Simple Side Salad and Why You Should Make One with Dinner Tonight appeared first on Budget Bytes.

I’m sure we’ve all seen the memes about buying a package of spring mix just so we can throw it away at the end of the week, completely untouched. And I’m sure we’ve all been able to relate. But I hate wasting food, so I wanted to share my formula for making a simple side salad and why you should make one with dinner tonight (and most nights). Because side salads are very underrated and often over complicated. So let’s break it down.

Overhead view of a simple side salad with artichokes in a white bowl

Why Simple Side Salads Are Awesome

Simple side salads have become one of my favorite quick side dishes to make with dinner because…

  • The light texture and zingy flavor of the dressing can really lighten up a heavy meal (like pasta or casseroles)
  • They take five minutes to assemble
  • They’re a great way to use up leftover vegetables in your fridge
  • They add so much color, texture, and flavor to your plate
  • They instantly make your meal feel “put together”
  • It’s an extra dose of vegetables!

My Formula for the Perfect Side Salad

I think the biggest mistake when making side salads is overthinking them. Keep it simple, use as few ingredients as possible, and don’t spend more than five minutes on it. Because if you do, you’ll probably just end up avoiding making the salad altogether, and that’s when your spring mix ends up in the trash without ever making it to your plate.

So, to prevent over thinking your salad, use this formula:

Greens + one vegetable + dressing + topper

That’s it. That’s all you need. Now let’s go into more detail on each of those elements.

A fork taking a piece of Baked Pizza Chicken from the plate with chicken, garlic bread, and salad.

1. The Best Greens for Side Salads

There are a lot of options for salad greens out there, but for simple side salads I like to go with a green that is light, delicate, and that has a lot of color and texture. So that means that my favorite is spring mix or baby greens. Of course you could use anything from kale to spinach, or even finely shredded cabbage.

Just don’t use iceberg because while it does have texture, it’s totally lacking in the flavor and color department. It’s better suited for situations where it is utilized solely for its texture.

Spring mix in a bowl

How Much Salad Greens to Use

Remember, this is a simple side salad that will be served as an accent to your dinner, so you don’t need a lot. You’ll only need one large handful, or about one ounce, of greens for each serving.

How to Keep Leftover Greens

Since you’re only eating a little bit at a time, you’ll want to keep the rest of your greens fresh so you can make side salads for the next few days. But since that’s a subject large enough for its own article, I’m going to just give you a link to someone who’s already done the research. This article from The Kitchn compares three methods for keeping greens fresh, and they got great results!

2. Add A Vegetable (or Two)

This is the part of the formula where it’s easy to get out of control, but I’m here to tell you that you only need ONE vegetable to make the salad really good. Sure, if you have some leftover vegetables in your fridge that need to be used up, add them in there! But plan for one and call it a day. Here are some vegetable ideas for your side salad:

  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumber
  • Red Onion
  • Bell Pepper
  • Zucchini or Yellow Squash
  • Carrot
  • Sweet Corn
  • Radish
  • Mushrooms
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Olives
tomatoes added to the salad greens

You can also add fruit to your side salad. Here are some fruits that are awesome in salads:

  • Avocado
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blackberries
  • Mangoes

3. The Best Dressing for Side Salads

As with the salad greens and vegetables, you can technically use any salad dressing for your side salad, but my dressing of choice is a simple vinaigrette.

You want the dressing to just lightly coat or “kiss” the salad greens in your side salad, so a thicker or heavier dressing like ranch or blue cheese would be too heavy and overpower the salad. The acidic nature of vinaigrettes also provides that “light” element to your plate, which is really important when balancing heavier main dishes.

Bottled vs. Homemade Dressing

Side salads are one of the few occasions where I prefer a bottled dressing to homemade. Bottled dressing lasts longer in the fridge than homemade, so it’s nice to just have a bottle on hand that you can use a tablespoon or two of at a time without having leftovers go to waste. Look for a red wine vinaigrette, champagne vinaigrette, an Italian dressing, or a non-creamy Caesar dressing.

If you do want to use a homemade dressing for your side salad, check out my Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette, Tomato Basil Vinaigrette, or a classic like the Homemade Italian Dressing used in this Pizza Pasta Salad.

Dressing being poured over the side salad

How Much Dressing to Use

The goal for the side salad is to have your greens just kissed with the lightest hint of dressing. This keeps the salad light and fresh, and doesn’t overpower the flavor of the greens, or steal the show from your main dish.

Drizzle only about ½ Tbsp dressing for each serving and toss the salad until everything is lightly coated. Make sure to wait to dress the salad until just before serving so the greens don’t go limp.

Salad Toppers

This is the fun part. I like to add one final topper to the salad that will add just a touch more texture and flavor. You just want to add a little pinch of your topper to each serving after tossing with the dressing. The dressing will help your topper “stick.” Here are some ideas for salad toppers:

  • Freshly cracked pepper
  • Flakey salt (like Maldon)
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Feta cheese
  • Toasted breadcrumbs
  • French fried onions
  • Nuts or seeds (walnuts, pepitas, sunflower seeds, etc.)

Here are the side salad combos pictured above:

  • Spring mix + tomatoes + vinaigrette + freshly cracked pepper
  • Spring mix + artichoke hearts + vinaigrette + Parmesan
  • Spring mix + cucumber + vinaigrette + flakey salt
  • Spring mix + red onion + vinaigrette + feta

What is Your Favorite Side Salad?

Let’s crowdsource some more easy side salad ideas! Leave a comment below with your favorite side salad ingredient or combination so we can all have new side salads to try every night of the week!

The post How to Make a Simple Side Salad and Why You Should Make One with Dinner Tonight appeared first on Budget Bytes.

How to Make Riced Cauliflower

Homemade riced cauliflower is quick, freezable, and less expensive than buying it pre-made from the freezer aisle. Storage, uses, and more.

The post How to Make Riced Cauliflower appeared first on Budget Bytes.

Riced cauliflower, or “cauliflower rice,” has become so popular over the past five or six years. So popular, in fact, that it’s become a staple in the freezer aisle of most major grocery stores in the U.S. While it is convenient to buy frozen bags of pre-made cauliflower rice, it’s also really easy to make at home from fresh cauliflower, so I want to show you this quick technique. It can help you shave a few dollars off your weekly food budget, especially when cauliflower is on sale!

Overhead view of a bowl of riced cauliflower with a red spatula in the side

What is Riced Cauliflower?

Riced cauliflower, also known as cauliflower rice, is simply cauliflower that has been chopped into tiny rice-sized pieces. Many people use this as a low-carb alternative to rice, but it’s so versatile that it can be used many other ways as well.

How to Use Cauliflower Rice

The most basic preparation of cauliflower rice is to just sauté it in a skillet with oil or butter, then add the seasonings of your choice. It’s really that simple. But riced cauliflower also makes a great bed for bowl meals, you can stir it into rice pilafs to up your vegetable intake, you can add it to stews, stir it into casseroles (it almost disappears!), stir it into your morning oats, or even blend it into a smoothie (recipe for that coming next week).

It’s one of those ingredients that once you start adding it to things you begin to see all the other millions of ways it can be used.

Freeze Some for Later

The best part about making your own riced cauliflower rice is that you can freeze it for later and just use a little here and there as needed. I’ll include instructions for how I freeze cauliflower rice in the step by step photos below. I usually use riced cauliflower straight from the freezer. It thaws and cooks through in a skillet in just a matter of minutes!

Do I Have to Use a Food Processor?

There are several methods for making riced cauliflower (knife, box grater, etc.), but I find using a food processor the fastest, easiest, and least messy. I’m limiting this tutorial to just showing the food processor method because the other methods either require a lot more work or a lot more cleanup, making them not quite worth doing yourself (in my opinion, anyway). If you want to see some of the other methods, check out my friend Jessica’s post about How to Make Cauliflower Rice 4 Ways.

How to Make Riced Cauliflower – Step by Step Photos

Stem and leaves removed from cauliflower head

Step 1 – Clean the Cauliflower

Remove the leaves and stem from the cauliflower. Make sure to rinse the cauliflower well and then let as much water drain off as possible. The less wet the cauliflower rice is the easier it will be to freeze without it making large clumps.

Cauliflower chopped on a cutting board

Step 2 – Chop Cauliflower

Chop the cauliflower into one to two-inch pieces. This helps the cauliflower move around more easily in the food processor, which will result in a more even texture of your cauliflower rice. If you have a smaller food processor you’ll want your pieces to also be smaller.

Cauliflower in the food processor

Step 3 – Fill the Food Processor

Add the cauliflower chunks to a food processor, only filling it about halfway, working in two batches if needed. Again, you want the cauliflower to be able to move freely within the food processor, or else you’ll end up with finely minced cauliflower on the bottom and large, unprocessed pieces at the top.

close up of minced cauliflower in the food processor

Step 4 – Pulse the Cauliflower

Pulse the cauliflower in the food processor until the cauliflower is minced to your desired size. Stop occasionally to scrape down the sides if you need to. When deciding how small you want your riced cauliflower, keep in mind that smaller pieces cook a little faster but also disappear into recipes more. If you plan to use it like rice you may want slightly larger pieces than what is shown in the photo above. I like to use mine in smoothies, so smaller pieces work a little better.

How to Store Riced Cauliflower

cauliflower rice in a freezer bag

You can refrigerate the riced cauliflower for one to two days, but keep in mind that it does let off gas like any cruciferous vegetable, so it can get stinky quick. I prefer to freeze mine. To freeze, simply scoop it into a freezer bag, spread it out flat, and then place it in the freezer. The flatter the better because it’s easier to break it up into pieces if it’s frozen in a thin layer.

Frozen cauliflower rice in a freezer bag

Here is what it looks like after it’s been frozen (and I’ve used some of it). You can see that some of it does freeze in larger chunks, but it’s fairly easy to break up into crumbles. Again, the less water on the cauliflower the easier it is to break apart when frozen.

You can keep the riced cauliflower in the freezer for one to two months.

Cauliflower rice in a skillet with a spatula

And then I just use it straight from the freezer into my recipe (in most cases). It thaws and cooks through in a matter of minutes! (shown here being prepped for Southwest Cauliflower Rice)

Cauliflower Rice in a measuring cup

How Much Rice Cauliflower Does it Make?

The volume yield for making your own cauliflower rice will obviously depend on the size of your head of cauliflower, but I got about six cups out of one medium head of cauliflower. And just to compare prices, one head of cauliflower is $2.49 at Kroger right now (or $0.42 per cup), but frozen riced cauliflower is $3.49 per bag (or $0.93 per cup).

So is it worth it to DIY your cauliflower rice? That’s up to you. But at least now you know how and can make the choice!

The post How to Make Riced Cauliflower appeared first on Budget Bytes.

How to Freeze Kale

Learn how to freeze kale (or spinach) to reduce food waste and always have prepped kale on hand to add to your favorite recipes.

The post How to Freeze Kale appeared first on Budget Bytes.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever let a bag of greens go bad in the back of your fridge. 👋😬 I know I’ve been guilty of that. But guess what? You can freeze kale (and bagged spinach), so you can keep it on hand without it getting all gross and stinky in the back of your refrigerator. It’s incredibly simple to do, but if you’re new to freezing vegetables make sure keep reading to understand how to make the best use of your frozen kale (or spinach).

A freezer bag of kale spilling out onto a marble surface

Why Freeze Kale?

As I mentioned above, freezing kale is a great way to reduce your food waste because it can be hard to eat an entire bunch or bag of kale before it starts to get slimy. A lot of times I’ll freeze half my kale as soon as I get home from the store, just to make sure I don’t forget later and to make sure I freeze it while it’s the most fresh!

And since you’ll need to prep your kale before freezing it, it’s a great way to consolidate your kitchen work and make cooking faster and easier later. Once the kale is prepped and frozen, it’s ready to toss into any number of recipes later without any further work.

How to Use Frozen Kale

The most important part about freezing kale is understanding what recipes you can use it in later. Frozen vegetables generally get a little softer after freezing and thawing, so I don’t suggest using the frozen kale in a salad or any recipe where you want it to have the same texture as fresh kale. Frozen kale also tends to be quite delicate when frozen, so it can break into small pieces easily, which also makes it less ideal for salads. For this reason, I also wouldn’t recommend it for kale chips, where you’d want large pieces.

Frozen kale is great to use in any recipe where the kale will be sautéed or added to a hot liquid, like a soup or stew. And because it thaws so quickly in the hot pan, you don’t need to thaw before adding it to your recipe. Here are some great examples of recipes where you could use frozen kale:

Frozen Kale is also great for adding to smoothies! Just go ahead and toss a handful into your blender with the rest of your fruits and vegetables!

How Long Does Frozen Kale Last?

Frozen kale will slowly dry out in the freezer over time, causing the flavor and texture quality to decline. For best flavor and texture, I suggest trying to use your frozen kale within a few months.

How to Freeze Kale:

Okay, this is kind of a no-brainer, but I’m going to offer a few helpful tid bits with each step…

1. Prep Your Kale

Make sure you fully wash and chop your kale before freezing, so it’s ready to go straight into your recipe from the freezer. I buy bags of pre-chopped kale, but I always give it another wash and pick out any larger pieces of stem. If you’re buying a bunch of kale, remove the stems, chop it to your desired size, then give it a good rinse.

Chopped kale in a colander

2. Pack the Kale

After rinsing, make sure to let the kale drain well, then just place it in any air-tight freezer safe container. I prefer freezer bags because they lay flat and don’t take up a lot of space in the freezer. Avoid packing or squishing the kale too tightly in the container so you can easily grab a handful or two at a time later, instead of having a large solid block of greens that you can’t break apart.

kale in a freezer bag that is labeled and dated

And, as always, make sure to label and date your container! This will help you use frozen goods in a timely manner and will help prevent those mystery containers in the bottom of the freezer.

3. Cook the Kale

When you’re ready to use your frozen kale, it can go straight from the freezer into your recipe. Because the kale is so thin, it thaws almost instantly when added to a hot pan or soup. So easy!

Sautéed Kale in a skillet

And that’s it! So easy, but so easy to overlook. So I hope this simple tutorial inspires you to freeze some of your next batch of kale, and saves you some dollars!

Want More Freezer Tips?

Check out these other ingredients that I like to save in the freezer:

The post How to Freeze Kale appeared first on Budget Bytes.

Top 20 Recipes of 2020

It’s that time again! The time of year where I round up the top 20 recipes from the past year. Instead of picking the most viral or most visited recipes of the year (because algorithms can be deceiving), I’m rounding up the recipes that I found to be the most delicious. These are the recipes […]

The post Top 20 Recipes of 2020 appeared first on Budget Bytes.

It’s that time again! The time of year where I round up the top 20 recipes from the past year. Instead of picking the most viral or most visited recipes of the year (because algorithms can be deceiving), I’m rounding up the recipes that I found to be the most delicious. These are the recipes that I don’t want you to miss! So if you haven’t tried one of these 20 recipes yet, make sure to put it on your list!

Let’s go!

Top 20 Recipes of 2020

Overhead view of a pasta salad with title text in the center

A bowl full of Roasted Broccoli Pasta with lemon and feta and a black fork on the left side

Roasted Broccoli Pasta with Lemon and Feta

Roasted Broccoli Pasta with Lemon and Feta is an incredibly simple pasta dish with big flavors. An easy, fast, and delicious weeknight dinner!
Go to the recipe >>>

Roasted Broccoli Pasta with Lemon and Feta – This dish is simplicity at its best. You only need a few ingredients to make this pasta, but the flavor totally pops. 


Three glass meal prep containers with rice and Smoky Roasted Sausage and Vegetables

Smoky Roasted Sausage and Vegetables

These Smoky Roasted Sausage and Vegetables are an easy sheet pan meal with a smoky homemade vinaigrette that gives an extra blast of flavor.
Go to the recipe >>>

Smoky Roasted Sausage with Vegetables – I was all about the sheet pan meals this year. This one boasts a super delish smoky vinaigrette to drizzle over top of the roasted vegetables and sausage, which totally takes it to the next level. Serve it over rice to soak up every last drop of that delicious drizzle.


Close up overhead view of a roasted cauliflower taco bowl topped with cilantro lime ranch and a black fork in the middle

Roasted Cauliflower Taco Bowls with Cilantro Lime Ranch

These light and flavorful Roasted Cauliflower Taco Bowls have tons of color, flavor, and texture to keep you coming back for more! Great for meal prep!
Go to the recipe >>>

Roasted Cauliflower Taco Bowls – There’s something about super colorful meals that make them even more delicious, and these cauliflower taco bowls are a great example. So much color, texture, AND flavor in one bowl. 


Two bowls of chunky ham and bean soup with chunks of bread on the side

Chunky Ham and Bean Soup

This incredibly easy and deliciously chunky Ham and Bean Soup features a medley of colorful vegetables, browned ham, and plenty of hearty white beans.
Go to the recipe >>>

Chunky Ham and Bean Soup – Bean soups usually require hours of soaking and simmering, but this super hearty ham and bean soup gives you all the cozy-comfy vibes in way less time. Stock your freezer with this one so you can reheat a bowl of comfort any time! 


A plate full of Salisbury Steak with Mushroom Gravy, mashed potatoes, and green peas.

Salisbury Steak with Mushroom Gravy

Homemade Salisbury Steak with a rich mushroom gravy is a quick, simple, and hearty weeknight dinner that will fill even the biggest of appetites!
Go to the recipe >>>

Salisbury Steak with Mushroom Gravy – Try not to think about TV dinners from the 80’s when you make this because I promise this Salisbury Steak is soooooo good! That gravy is everything.


Close up side view of chicken Parmesan meatballs on a pile of spaghetti with sauce

Chicken Parmesan Meatballs

This simple recipe for Chicken Parmesan Meatballs is an easy weeknight dinner win! Swap out any ground meat you have for a quick and delicious dinner.
Go to the recipe >>>

Chicken Parmesan Meatballs – These actually made me like ground chicken. That says a lot. ;)


Close up side view of a bowl of Broccoli Cheddar Chicken Salad

Broccoli Cheddar Chicken Salad

This chunky chopped Broccoli Cheddar Chicken Salad is a great fresh salad that can be eaten on its own or turned into several different easy lunch ideas!
Go to the recipe >>>

Broccoli Cheddar Chicken Salad – This simple salad was the runaway hit from 2020. It’s like, “I can’t stop eating this” good and the best part is that it holds up well in the fridge so you can keep eating it for days. 


One slice of chocolate depression cake or "crazy cake" viewed from the side, a glass of milk in the background

Chocolate Depression Cake (No Eggs, Butter, or Milk)

This unique Chocolate Cake recipe, popularized during the great depression, is rich and chocolatey without the using any eggs, butter, or milk!
Go to the recipe >>>

Chocolate Depression Cake – This type of eggless, dairy-free cake has been around since the Great Depression and it proved to be just as useful in 2020, while we once again experienced grocery shortages. But honestly, it’s easy and delicious at any time!


A loaf of yogurt banana bread on a wooden cutting board, a few slices scattered, one smeared with butter

Yogurt Banana Bread

This super moist banana bread recipe uses plain yogurt to keep the bread soft and tender with less butter or oil. Add walnuts or even chocolate!
Go to the recipe >>>

Yogurt Banana Bread – Banana bread is great and all, but yogurt banana bread is like 💯. The rich and creamy yogurt really takes it to the next level. 


Close up of broccoli being dipped into comeback sauce

Comeback Sauce

This creamy, tangy, sweet, and savory Comeback Sauce is great for dipping, drizzling, smearing, and smothering all of your favorite foods. 
Go to the recipe >>>

Comeback Sauce – I lost count of how many times I made this incredible sauce this year. It’s so good on EVERYTHING. Fries, roasted vegetables, sandwiches, chips, and more. 


Blackened salmon with zucchini on a plate with a black fork on the side

Blackened Salmon with Zucchini

Blackened salmon coated in Cajun spices, cooked to perfection in butter, and paired with simple sautéed zucchini makes a simple but delicious dinner!
Go to the recipe >>>

Blackened Salmon with Zucchini – Blackening seasoning is magic. That is all. 


Close up of a bowl of Summer Sweet Corn Salad with a wooden spoon in the middle

Summer Sweet Corn Salad

Colorful summer vegetables, creamy avocado, pasta shells, and a homemade lemon vinaigrette make this light and fresh Summer Sweet Corn Salad.
Go to the recipe >>>

Summer Sweet Corn Salad – This one is my new favorite way to eat fresh summer sweet corn! Those fresh little kernels give you a pop of sweetness in every bite. If we ever get back to having potlucks in 2021, make sure you have this salad bookmarked! 


Overhead view of a bowl of broccoli cheddar soup with saltine crackers

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

This super easy Broccoli Cheddar Soup is chock full of colorful, chunky vegetables in a rich and cheesy broth for a totally meal-worthy soup.
Go to the recipe >>>

Easy Broccoli Cheddar Soup – CHEESE LOVERS PAY ATTENTION. This soup is so thick, lush, and cheesy! And it has just enough vegetable action to balance that cheesy goodness. I’ve been making this one on repeat and I don’t get to do that with many because of how many new recipes I have to test and photograph. 


Side view of a skillet full of Cajun Sausage and Rice

Cajun Sausage and Rice Skillet

This easy Cajun Sausage and Rice Skillet is the perfect easy and filling weeknight dinner, packed with plenty of smoky-spicy flavor!
Go to the recipe >>>

Cajun Sausage and Rice Skillet – This recipe like a quickie jambalaya for people who don’t have time to do it the traditional way. Rice cooked with a whole heap of herbs and spices, plus smoked sausage to make everything super flavorful and rich. I just love everything about this recipe. <3


Sheet pan roasted kielbasa potatoes and green beans with a spatula

Sheet Pan Kielbasa Potatoes and Green Beans

Sheet pan meals don't get any easier or more delicious than this Sheet Pan Kielbasa Potatoes and Green Beans dinner.
Go to the recipe >>>

Sheet Pan Kielbasa Green Beans and Potatoes – As I mentioned above, I was very into sheet pan meals this year. This sheet pan meal is the EASIEST of all sheet pan meals. Even with just SIX simple ingredients, this meal has tons of flavor. LOVE IT.


Overhead view of one bowl of french onion soup with a spoon and fresh thyme on the side

French Onion Soup

French Onion Soup requires time and patience, but the incredible soul-warming flavor and low cost make it a meal that is worth the wait!
Go to the recipe >>>

French Onion Soup – While I love quick and easy recipes, some recipes really do require you to take your time and go slow. French Onion Soup is one of those, but it is so worth every minute. I would eat this soup on a weekly basis if I could. 


wild rice stuffed acorn squash close up from above

Wild Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash

Wild Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash makes a great vegetarian (or vegan) Thanksgiving main dish, or a delicious dinner for any chilly fall evening!
Go to the recipe >>>

Wild Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash – I originally developed this recipe to be a vegetarian main dish option for Thanksgiving, but it’s really so good that I would eat it any day of the week. Bonus: the filling for the squash is incredible on its own and would make a great side dish to any dinner.


Sheet Pan Cranberry Chicken Dinner on a plate, viewed from the side

Sheet Pan Cranberry Chicken Dinner

This Sheet Pan Cranberry Chicken Dinner is an easy and flavorful weeknight dinner that requires very little prep and cleanup!
Go to the recipe >>>

Sheet Pan Cranberry Chicken Dinner – Sheet pans for the win again! The cranberry balsamic glaze is what makes this meal. It has only three ingredients but is so rich and vibrant. You might start making it to drizzle over all of your other meals!


Overhead view of marinated cauliflower salad in a white serving bowl

Marinated Cauliflower Salad

Marinated cauliflower salad is full of crunchy and colorful vegetables marinated in a homemade Italian dressing. Perfect for meal prep!
Go to the recipe >>>

Marinated Cauliflower Salad – Colorful, fresh, flavorful. I LOVE this crunchy vegetable salad. It’s another “refrigerator salad” that you can keep on hand for lunches or snacks throughout the week. 


A bowl of tomato lentil sup with bread on the side

Tomato Lentil Soup

This tomato lentil soup is full of vegetables and herbs for a simple, flavorful, and warming winter soup. Makes great leftovers!
Go to the recipe >>>

Tomato Lentil Soup – You can’t go wrong with a soup that is this tasty, this inexpensive, and is freezer-friendly. This is what Budget Bytes is all about!


So what do you think? Do you agree that these are the best 20 recipes from the year? Is there one that was a home run for you? Share your favorites in the comments below!

 

The post Top 20 Recipes of 2020 appeared first on Budget Bytes.

5 Kitchen Tools I Can’t Live Without

The five most versatile, most used kitchen tools that I can’t live without, plus tips for using and buying.

The post 5 Kitchen Tools I Can’t Live Without appeared first on Budget Bytes.

It’s always been my philosophy to keep my kitchen equipment basic, with as few single-purpose tools and appliances as possible. But there are a few kitchen tools that go above and beyond. They’re multi-purpose items that are absolutely invaluable in my kitchen, and they get used almost every day. I want to share this short list of essential items with you because they’re a great place to start when you’re a beginner cook, and if you’re an experienced cook with tons of kitchen tools and gadgets, maybe this will help you simplify. ;)

If you want to read the full post about all of my kitchen equipment, check out Kitchen Basics – Tools and Equipment for a Well Equipped Kitchen

This post contains affiliate links to products I use and love. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Thumbnails of kitchen tools with article title overlay

P.S. I saved the best for last, so don’t skip the end! And make sure to share your most used, can’t-live-without kitchen tools in the comments below. Are you ready? Let’s dive right in!

1. Dutch Oven

Why I Love It

I was a little late to get on the Dutch Oven bus, but once on board I don’t know how I ever cooked without one! A Dutch Oven is a heavy duty pot with a tight fitting lid that can be used both on the stove top and in the oven. The thick walls, usually made with cast iron, make the vessel durable and provides super even heating for your food. Buy one Dutch Oven and you’ll have it for life!

How I Use It

Because this piece of cookware can be used both on the stove top and in the oven, it is probably one of my most widely used pieces of cookware. On the stove top it’s great as an all-purpose soup pot, but the super even heating it provides also makes it ideal for one-pot style meals. No more cooked rice in the center and crunchy rice around the outside! The superbly even heating also makes this pot a great choice for deep frying, where keeping a consistent oil temperature is key.

Dutch ovens are also great to use in the oven because of their size and, again, the amazingly even heat. They’re great to use for roasting and braising meat, like pot roasts or roasted chickens. The thick walls of the Dutch oven also mimic the thick crock of a slow cooker, so many slow cooker recipes can be converted to the oven by using a Dutch oven (here is a conversion chart). Dutch ovens also make the perfect steam-filled environment for baking fresh no-knead bread. You’ve got to try it!

Buying Tips

Dutch ovens are usually constructed of cast iron, but many are also coated in enamel for easy cleanup and care. While some fancier Dutch ovens can cost hundreds of dollars, there are definitely budget-friendly models available. I have this Amazon Basics Enameled Dutch Oven, which cost less than $50, and I love it so much that I bought a second one! Lodge also makes a really affordable non-enameled cast-iron Dutch oven that is very affordable, but the bare cast iron surface will require a little more care.

All three (!!) of my Dutch ovens are 6-quart size, which has worked out perfectly for the types of recipes I make—big batches of soup, beans, large roasts, and whole loafs of bread. Smaller Dutch ovens are available, but you can usually use the larger ovens for smaller recipes just as well.

2. Sheet Pans

Why I Love Them

Because roasting vegetables is my life! Haha, just kidding, sort of. Without sheet pans I wouldn’t be able to make at least half of the recipes that I cook. Baking things in the oven on a sheet pan is one of the easiest ways to cook, and even after you become a very experienced cook, you’ll return to your trusty sheet pan time and time again for its simplicity.

How I Use Them

Sheet pans, or baking sheets, are great for baking cookies, roasting vegetables, making entire “sheet pan dinners“, baking pizzas, freezing ingredients without clumping, baking fries or chicken nuggets, cooking bacon, making granola, baking bread, and the list only goes on from there. I’d seriously be lost with a set of sheet pans!

Buying Tips

Sheet pans can be made with several types of material, and it’s important to know the difference between them when buying.

  • Aluminum: aluminum baking sheets are lightweight and durable, but aluminum can react with some acidic ingredients, like tomatoes, so you’ll want to always be sure to use parchment paper or a silicone mat.
  • Stainless steel: stainless steel baking sheets are prized for their durability, non-toxic, and non-reactive material, but they are slow to heat and cool, and can weigh a bit more. This surface is also not non-stick, so again, make sure to use parchment paper or a silicone mat.
  • Non-stick: non-stick baking sheets are quite common for non-commercial use. The non-stick coating can scratch, so make sure to avoid using metal utensils with these baking sheets. The darker color of the non-stick coating also tends to brown the bottoms of cookies and other baked goods faster, so keep that in mind.
  • Enamel coated: enamel coated baking sheets have a glossy enamel coating, which is naturally non-stick. They’re lightweight, easy to clean, and can be visually appealing, but the enamel coating can scratch and crack if you tend to be rough with your bakeware.

Sheet pans also come in a variety of sizes. Commercial baking sheets are often listed as full (26″x18″), half (18″x13″), or quarter (13″x9″). A commercial half sheet pan would be considered a large sheet pan for home cooking. Sheet pans sold for home cooks often just have the dimensions listed alone. I highly suggest buying a set of three sizes when just starting out, so you can have a sheet pan for every need.

3. Cheese Grater

Why I Love It

Oh the humble cheese grater. So unassuming, but oh so very useful! I love this simple tool because it’s so versatile, yet so simple, so there are no complex mechanical parts to break. It saves me time with chopping and helps me sneak more vegetables into my meals.

How I Use It

I suppose I should stop calling it a “cheese” grater because I use it for so many more things than just cheese! Instead of finely chopping vegetables, just run the vegetables across the surface of your “cheese” grater to get an almost minced texture. I most often grate carrots, zucchini, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and beets. Fine-holed graters are great for garlic and ginger. I also use my graters to zest citrus fruits, and grate frozen butter when making biscuits and other flakey baked goods.

Buying Tips

Graters come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but I suggest getting at least two sizes: large and small holes. You can either buy these as separate hand-held graters, or as one box grater than has multiple surfaces. I tend to like the single graters because I find them easier to clean, and if one is in the dishwasher, the other may still be clean and ready to use.

4. Small Blender

Why I Love It

My small, single-serving blender is a surprise winner in my kitchen. I originally bought my little single-serving blender for making smoothies, but over the years have pulled it out of my cabinet for so much more. It’s small, so it doesn’t take up a lot of cabinet or countertop space, it’s easy to clean (mine can go in the dishwasher), and it’s inexpensive.

While my small blender was a cheap-o $15 dollar model that definitely didn’t last forever, I love it so much and find it so useful that each time it wore out, I repurchased it (two times over about 8 years).

Funny story: one day I convinced myself that I needed a “real” blender so I went and bought a fancy and expensive Ninja. I used that thing maybe two times and then kept going back for my little $15 wonder. :)

How I Use It

My little mighty blender does just fine for smoothies, but don’t expect Blendtec or Vitamix level results. In addition to smoothies, I use my little blender for whipping up homemade salad dressings, dips (although it’s not great for super thick dips like hummus), sauces, and puréeing other ingredients, like beans. It’s just perfect for small jobs where you don’t want to deal with or clean a giant 9 cup blender with scary sharp blades.

Buying Tips

I can only vouch for the Hamilton Beach model that I have owned, which also doesn’t seem to be available on Amazon for its normal $15-$20 price. You can get this model at Target, Walmart, or probably any other major home goods store.

As an alternative to a small single-serving blender, an immersion blender will probably accomplish many of the same small tasks and can boast a few more uses (like blending soups right in the pot), but they do tend to be about double the price.

5. Chef’s Knife

Why I Love It

I saved the best for last! My chef’s knife is like an extension of my arm. It’s a general purpose kitchen utility knife that I use almost exclusively when cooking. In fact, I probably will never buy a full set of kitchen knives because this is practically the only knife I use (aside from a bread knife and the occasional paring knife). Chef’s knife are big and sturdy enough for large jobs, but small enough to be nimble and allow for a working at a quick pace. I absolutely, without a doubt, would not be able to function in my kitchen without it.

How I Use It

The long, broad, slightly tapered blade of a chef’s knife is great for slicing, chopping, mincing, julienning, carving, and more. If you’re not sure what type of knife to use for your task, a chef’s knife is a safe bet. Avoid chef’s knives for small jobs, like peeling or scoring, boning, or fileting.

Always make sure your chef’s knife is clean and sharp to avoid slips and injuries. Always wash by hand and avoid the dishwasher, where it can get dinged up and dulled. Keep your chef’s knife in some sort of knife holder or magnetic strip, again to avoid rubbing on other items and unintentionally damaging the blade.

Buying Tips

Much like Dutch ovens, chef’s knives can range in price from very cheap to very expensive. I’ve used the cheapest of the cheap chef’s knives up to some very pricey “fancy” knives, and I will say that they all get the job done. My favorite chef’s knife that is the perfect balance between budget and quality is the Victorinox Fibrox 8-inch Chef’s Knife, and this is what I am currently using daily in my kitchen. I also own a Shun 8-inch Chef’s Knife that I won in a raffle, and while it is very pretty and has superb craftsmanship, I don’t find that it performs any better than my Victorinox. In fact, I prefer the weight balance of my Victorinox.

Chef’s knives come in several different lengths, materials, and weights. It’s important to choose a length that is appropriate for your hand size. With my petite hands, an 8-inch knife is perfect and allows for great control and agility. If you have larger hands, you may prefer a 10 or even 12-inch chef’s knife. If you’re serious about your knives, I suggest visiting a cutlery store where you can pick up and feel the knives in your hand and choose one that feels comfortable and natural to you.


So that’s it! Those are the five most used items in my kitchen! What are yours? Share your favorite kitchen tools and gadgets, plus how you use them, in the comments below!

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The Bagel Lunch Box

Here’s another quick lunch box idea (or meal prep breakfast idea) for you! While this one isn’t completely no-cook because it contains a hard boiled egg, it is still a super easy no-reheat lunch box that you can take to work, school, or on the road. This Bagel Lunch Box includes a mini bagel, some […]

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Here’s another quick lunch box idea (or meal prep breakfast idea) for you! While this one isn’t completely no-cook because it contains a hard boiled egg, it is still a super easy no-reheat lunch box that you can take to work, school, or on the road. This Bagel Lunch Box includes a mini bagel, some of my favorite Scallion Herb Cream Cheese, a handful of vegetables that go oh so well with the flavored cream cheese, and a simple hard boiled egg. It’s super simple to put together, but it makes life so much easier when your mornings are busy. Just grab a lunch box and go!

Three glass meal prep containers in a diagonal line filled with the bagel lunch box items

About that Cream Cheese…

I included my Scallion Herb Cream Cheese in this bagel lunch box because it has so much flavor and really adds a nice element of interest to the meal. If you don’t want to make this cream cheese you can use plain cream cheese or use a store-bought flavored cream cheese. Another nice option is to use plain cream cheese, but then bring some Everything Bagel Seasoning with you to add some extra flavor.

Other Lunch Box Add-In Ideas

If you want to substitute any of the ingredients or add to this lunch box, here are some good ideas of things that would also match well:

  • Smoked salmon
  • Carrot sticks
  • An orange, tangerine, or cutie
  • Grapes
  • Deli ham
  • Alfalfa sprouts

Where Did You Get Those Containers?

The divided glass meal prep containers and the small metal cups were both purchased on Amazon (links in the bottom of the recipe card below). 

Three bagel lunch boxes lined up in a row

 
Three bagel lunch boxes lined up in a row

The Bagel Lunch Box

This Bagel Lunch Box is an easy and affordable grab and go breakfast or lunch idea, perfect for work or school.
Total Cost $5.32 recipe / $1.33 serving
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4
Calories 307.18kcal
Author Beth - Budget Bytes

Ingredients

Scallion Herb Cream Cheese

  • 4 oz. cream cheese $0.60
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley $0.06
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro $0.04
  • 1 green onion, sliced $0.11
  • 1/16 tsp garlic powder $0.01
  • 1/16 tsp salt $0.01
  • 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice $0.02

Lunch Box Ingredients

  • 4 mini bagels $1.52
  • 4 large eggs $0.92
  • 1 cucumber, sliced $1.29
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes $0.75

Instructions

  • To hard boil the eggs, place the eggs in a sauce pot and add water until the eggs are covered by one inch. Place the pot over high heat and allow the water to come up to a full boil. When it reaches a full boil, turn off the heat, place a lid on the pot, and let the eggs sit in the hot water for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, transfer the eggs to a bowl of ice water to cool.
  • To make the scallion herb cream cheese, combine the cream cheese, parsley, cilantro, green onion, garlic powder, salt, and lemon juice in a bowl. Stir together until evenly combined.
  • Place one bagel in each lunch box along with ¼ of the cucumber slices, ¼ of the grape tomatoes, ¼ of the cream cheese (1 oz.), and one hard boiled egg. Refrigerate up to five days.

Nutrition

Serving: 1lunch box | Calories: 307.18kcal | Carbohydrates: 30.6g | Protein: 12.98g | Fat: 15.1g | Sodium: 420.95mg | Fiber: 420.95g

How to Make the Bagel Lunch Box – Step by Step Photos

Place Eggs in Ice Bath

To hard boil the eggs, add the eggs to a sauce pot and add enough water to cover them by one inch. Place the pot over high heat and allow the water to come up to a full boil. Once boiling, turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let the eggs sit in the hot water for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, transfer the eggs to an ice water bath to cool.

Scallion Herb Cream Cheese Spread mixed

To make the scallion herb cream cheese, combine 4 oz. cream cheese, 1 Tbsp chopped parsley, 1 Tbsp chopped cilantro, one sliced green onion, 1/16 tsp (or one pinch) garlic powder, 1/16 tsp (one pinch) salt, and ½ Tbsp lemon juice in a bowl. Stir until everything is evenly combined.

One bagel lunch box in a glass meal prep container

Place one bagel, one hard boiled egg, ¼ of the sliced cucumbers, ¼ of the tomatoes, and ¼ of the cream cheese (1 oz.) in each lunch box. Refrigerate up to five days.

The post The Bagel Lunch Box appeared first on Budget Bytes.

How to Freeze Bananas

I was freezing some of our brown bananas the other day and decided to take a few snapshots of the process and do a quick little “How to Freeze Bananas” tutorial. Why? Because while a lot of people know you can make banana bread with brown bananas instead of letting them go to waste, you […]

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I was freezing some of our brown bananas the other day and decided to take a few snapshots of the process and do a quick little “How to Freeze Bananas” tutorial. Why? Because while a lot of people know you can make banana bread with brown bananas instead of letting them go to waste, you don’t always have time to make banana bread right when the bananas are ready, and sometimes you don’t have enough bananas all at one time. Freezing your overripe bananas will help you reduce your food waste even further, and makes sure you have ripe bananas on hand all the time for things like banana bread, smoothies, and more.

Two brown bananas on a marble surface with title text at the top

Can I Freeze the Bananas Whole?

You may be asking yourself, “Can I just toss the banana in the freezer, peel and all?” and the answer is yes, but that’s not the best way to do it, IMHO. While you can freeze a whole banana with the peel, the banana becomes very soft after thawing, making it very difficult to peel without making a mess. Just go ahead and peel it first and thank yourself later.

I also prefer to slice my bananas before freezing, instead of freezing the whole peeled banana, because it makes them easier to measure (thaw only what you need), faster to thaw, and easier to blend into a smoothie.

How Long do Frozen Bananas Last?

Frozen bananas will continue to brown in the freezer, just at a much slower rate than on the counter top. I find that they’re best when used within 3 months of freezing, but your milage may vary. To make sure you’ve got plenty of ways to use those frozen bananas before they get too brown and shriveled, I’ve got several recipe ideas for you listed below.

What Kind of Container Should I Use?

I like to use zip top freezer bags because they can hold a varying amount, I can remove as much air as possible, and it’s easy to write the contents and date on the front. If you prefer to not use plastic, you can freeze your bananas in glass meal prep containers or glass jars and simply add some freezer tape or a freezer label for writing the contents and date. Always write the contents and date on your frozen goods! :)

Frozen banana slices in a labeled freezer bag

How to Keep Frozen Bananas from Turning Brown

Bananas continue to turn brown in the freezer, just like they do at room temperature, but at a much slower rate. To slow the browning almost to a halt, you can dip the frozen banana slices into lemon juice before freezing, but that’s just waaaaay too much work, IMHO. Instead, I freeze the banana slices as-is, and just make sure to use them within a few months. Nothing lasts forever and you’re already extending their life a lot by freezing them.

How to Thaw Frozen Bananas

You can use the frozen bananas in recipes while still frozen (see list below) or thaw and mash them before adding to a recipe. To thaw the frozen bananas, simply leave them out at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Or, if you froze them in a freezer bag, you can drop the freezer bag (still tightly closed) in a bowl of warm water for about 10 minutes. 

Thawed frozen bananas will let off some liquid. You’ll want to stir this liquid into the bananas as you mash them. Mashed bananas are often used in recipes to add moisture, so you don’t want to lose that liquid that seeps from the bananas as they thaw.

What Can You Make with Frozen Bananas?

You can make so many yummy things with your frozen bananas! Here are some ideas:

Uses for frozen bananas (not thawed):

Uses for frozen bananas (thawed and mashed)

 

How to Freeze Bananas

A simple, step by step tutorial on how to freeze bananas for user later in banana bread, smoothies, muffins, and more.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Freeze Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 10 minutes
Author Beth - Budget Bytes

Ingredients

  • 1 brown banana or more
  • parchment paper
  • baking sheet
  • freezer safe containers

Instructions

  • Peel the banana(s) and cut them into ½-inch thick slices.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the banana slices on the lined baking sheet in a single layer. Freezing the bananas individually first helps prevent them from sticking together in one large clump when frozen.
  • Freeze the bananas for 1-2 hours, or until solid, then transfer to an air-tight, freezer-safe container, like a freezer bag, glass meal prep container, or glass jar. Label the container with the contents and date.
  • For best results, use within three months.

How to Freeze Bananas – Step by Step Photos

Sliced bananas on a cutting board next to banana peels

Peel your banana(s) and slice into ½-inch thick slices.

banana slices on a parchment lined baking sheet

Line a baking sheet with parchment, then lay the banana slices on the lined baking sheet in a single layer. Freezing them individually like this first prevents them from sticking together in one large clump in your container later. Transfer the banana slices to the freezer and freeze for 1-2 hours, or until the slices are solid.

Frozen banana slices in a labeled freezer bag

Once solid, transfer the banana slices from the baking sheet to an air-tight, freezer-safe container, like a freezer bag, glass meal prep container, or glass jar. Keep frozen up to 3 months for the best quality.

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The Peanut Butter Lunch Box

Continuing on with the series of no-cook lunch boxes, I bring you The Peanut Butter Lunch Box! This one is so simple, yet I may have enjoyed this one the most out of all the lunch boxes I’ve prepared so far. I don’t know if it was the sweet-salty combo, or maybe it was just […]

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Continuing on with the series of no-cook lunch boxes, I bring you The Peanut Butter Lunch Box! This one is so simple, yet I may have enjoyed this one the most out of all the lunch boxes I’ve prepared so far. I don’t know if it was the sweet-salty combo, or maybe it was just nostalgia (for about two years straight in elementary school I ate peanut butter apple sandwiches for lunch), but every day I looked forward to this lunch box! So, if you’re a fan of peanut butter sandwiches, but want to change things up, give this peanut butter lunch box a try!

Three glass containers lined up with peanut butter apples, celery, pretzels and dates.

What’s in the Peanut Butter Lunch Box

Peanut butter is the focus of this lunch box, with both sweet and savory side items that are all delicious dipped into the creamy peanut butter. For my peanut butter lunch box I added pretzels, apple slices, celery, and dates. If you can’t eat peanut butter, this lunch box would be just as good with any other nut butter you prefer (almond, cashew, sunflower, etc.).

About Those Dates…

If you’ve never eaten dates with peanut butter before, prepare for your mind to be blown! Medjool dates are rich, sweet, sticky, and taste a little bit like caramel, so it tastes like you’re eating caramel with peanut butter! It’s the perfectly rich and sweet natural dessert.

You’ll find Medjool dates in the produce department of most major grocery stores (scroll down to the photos below the recipe card to see what type of container they come in). They usually have a small pit inside, but they are easily pulled open with your fingers, and then you can simply remove the pit before smearing that creamy peanut butter all over the date.

How to Keep the Apple Slices Fresh

As most people know, apples begin to brown after they are sliced in response to exposure to oxygen. This brown color is a simple chemical reaction and does not indicate that the apple has gone “bad.” To help slow the browning, keep the apple slices bunched closely together to reduce the exposure to oxygen on the cut surfaces (see photos). You can also sprinkle a little lemon juice over your apple slices to further slow the browning, if you prefer. Even without lemon juice, my apple slices only browned a very small amount over four days in the refrigerator.

What Containers Do You Use?

For this lunch box I used a set of divided glass containers that I purchased on Amazon (linked below in the bottom of the recipe card). The dividers don’t go all the way up to the lid, so they don’t keep liquid items separate, but for solids or super thick stuff like peanut butter, it works just fine. 

A single peanut butter lunch box with peanut butter on a Medjool date and a pretzel dipping into the peanut butter

 
Three glass containers of the peanut butter lunch box lined up in a row

The Peanut Butter Lunch Box

This peanut butter lunch box is an easy no-cook lunch idea for school, work, picnics, or road trips! No reheating needed!
Total Cost $4.57 recipe / $1.14 serving
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 0 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Servings 4
Calories 572.68kcal
Author Beth - Budget Bytes

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup peanut butter* $1.49
  • 60 mini pretzels $0.26
  • 2 apples $0.78
  • 8 Medjool dates $1.33
  • 4 ribs celery $0.70
  • 1 tsp lemon juice (optional) $0.01

Instructions

  • Wash and slice the celery into sticks. Slice each apple in half, remove the core, then cut into slices. Sprinkle the lemon juice over the apple slices to slow browning, if desired.
  • Add 3 tablespoons of peanut butter to each container. Add about 15 pretzels to each container, along with ½ an apple, some celery sticks, and two dates. Enjoy immediately or refrigerate up to five days.

Notes

I used natural style peanut butter, but you can use whichever type you prefer, or another type of nut butter.

Nutrition

Serving: 1lunch box | Calories: 572.68kcal | Carbohydrates: 80.15g | Protein: 14.53g | Fat: 25.65g | Sodium: 517.13mg | Fiber: 9.93g

The Peanut Butter Lunch Box – Extra Notes

Cored and sliced apples

I used Granny Smith Apples for this lunch box, but you can use any variety of apples you like. I included ½ an apple with each box. Slice the apples in half, then remove the core (I used a sharp measuring spoon, but you could use something like a melon baller as well). Slice each apple half into slices. Keeping the slices close together prevents oxygen exposure, which will slow the browning. You can also sprinkle a little lemon juice over the slices to further help slow the browning.

Medjool date container

Medjool dates are usually sold in a container like this, but sometimes I see them sold loose by the pound, which is really nice when you only need a few! I see them at just about every grocery store now, so they are widely available. You’ll find them in the produce department, usually not refrigerated.

Open Medjool date

To eat the dates, simply pull them open with your hands. They are soft and sticky, so they pull open very easily. You’ll find a small pit in the center (you can see the pit on the left side). Remove the pit.

Date half with peanut butter

Smear a little peanut butter on each half of the date and enjoy! This combo is super rich and sweet, so you’ll only need one or two! Enjoy!

Three peanut butter lunch boxes in glass containers

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The Cheese Board Lunch Box

Continuing on with my no-cook lunch box series, today I bring you The Cheese Board Lunch Box! This one goes out to everyone who is perfectly happy nibbling on a charcuterie board for dinner, instead of as an appetizer to dinner. 😉 Just be careful, this lunch box is going to tempt you to drink […]

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Continuing on with my no-cook lunch box series, today I bring you The Cheese Board Lunch Box! This one goes out to everyone who is perfectly happy nibbling on a charcuterie board for dinner, instead of as an appetizer to dinner. ;) Just be careful, this lunch box is going to tempt you to drink a glass of wine with lunch!

Four glass meal prep containers filled with the cheese board lunch box

Where Are the Vegetables??

I know, I know. I’m usually a vegetable-with-every meal type of person, but I think it’s entirely possible to have a cheese board lunch box and still keep balance in your day. Try eating a veggie heavy breakfast bowl, like my Vegetable Breakfast Scrambles, and make sure you include a veggie heavy dinner, like a stir fry, soup, or meal-worthy salad. Or hey, you can always just pack a side salad to go with this box for lunch. :)

What Else Can I Add to My Cheese Board Lunch Box?

As with all of these no-cook lunch box ideas, this Cheese Board Lunch Box is very flexible! Here are some other items you can include with or in place of any of the ingredients I put into my box:

  • Pickles
  • Grapes
  • Apple slices
  • A small container of your favorite jam
  • A small container of jam
  • A small container of pesto
  • Olives
  • Almonds
  • Dried cherries or cranberries
  • Sliced bell peppers

Other Meat Options

I used salami in my cheese board lunch box, but there are so many options with this one. You can use other cured meats, like prosciutto, capicola, soppressata. If all of that is too fancy or too hard to find, regular deli meat is just as great in this box! Roll up the slices into little “cigars” to make the presentation extra pretty and you’ll still feel like you’re eating an extra special lunch.

Wrap the Crackers for Freshness

To keep your crackers nice and crunchy, you’ll probably want to wrap the crackers in an extra fold-top sandwich bag or waxed paper to keep the moisture from the other ingredients out. I didn’t do this (because I’m lazy) and my crackers got a little soft, but I still enjoyed the box quite a bit over the next four days.

What Containers Do You Use?

These containers are made by Pyrex and are my favorite meal prep containers. While they’re not divided, the single compartment makes them very versatile. Also, the lid is simple, snaps on, and has no moving parts to break. There is a link to these containers in the bottom of the recipe card below. 

Overhead view of one Cheese board Lunch Box with a cracker stacked with cheese and salami.

 
Four cheese board lunch boxes lined up in a row

The Cheese Board Lunch Box

This easy no-cook lunch idea is perfect for the cheese lovers of the world! The Cheese Board Lunch Box makes a meal out of savory nibbles.
Total Cost $7.45 recipe / $1.86 serving
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 0 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Servings 4
Calories 638.5kcal
Author Beth - Budget Bytes

Ingredients

  • 8 oz. cheese $2.12
  • 4 oz. salami $1.99
  • 20 crackers $0.74
  • 16 dried apricots $1.40
  • 1 cup walnuts $1.20

Instructions

  • Slice the cheese. Wrap sets of 5 crackers in fold-top sandwich bags or waxed paper.
  • Divide the cheese salami, wrapped crackers, dried apricots, and walnuts between four containers. Refrigerate until ready to eat, or up to five days.

Nutrition

Serving: 1box | Calories: 638.5kcal | Carbohydrates: 24.63g | Protein: 26.95g | Fat: 48.95g | Sodium: 901mg | Fiber: 4.03g

How to Make The Cheese Board Lunch Box

Packages of ingredients for the cheese board lunch box

These are all the ingredients I used for the cheese board lunch box (this is all from ALDI). You can use whatever type of cheese or crackers that you like. I chose sharp cheddar and got a box of assorted crackers. Check the list earlier in the post if you want ideas for other items to include.

Four cheese board lunch boxes lined up in a row

Slice the cheese and wrap groups of five crackers in a sandwich baggie or waxed paper (I skipped wrapping my crackers). Divide all the ingredients between four containers.

Four glass containers of the cheese board lunch box staggered

Refrigerate your cheese board lunch boxes until you’re ready to eat, or up to five days! Enjoy!

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5 Templates for Easy Vegan Dinners

The older I get the more I love meals where I can just throw whatever I have into one pot, bowl, or skillet. I’ve noticed that these “easy dinners” usually fall into five distinct categories: stir fries, bowl meals, curries, soups and stews, or salads. It doesn’t matter what ingredients you have on hand or […]

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The older I get the more I love meals where I can just throw whatever I have into one pot, bowl, or skillet. I’ve noticed that these “easy dinners” usually fall into five distinct categories: stir fries, bowl meals, curries, soups and stews, or salads. It doesn’t matter what ingredients you have on hand or what you happened to get at the farmer’s market or in your CSA that week, you can usually toss just about anything into one of these easy vegan dinners.

And guess what? If you have some family members who are vegan and some that aren’t, it’s super easy to cook a meat on the side and add it to individual portions of any of these meals!

Collage of six easy vegan dinners with title box in the center

 

Stir Fry

Stir fry is the ultimate use-whatever-you-have meal. All you need is a hot pan, a few handfuls of vegetables or proteins, a simple sauce, and some noodles or rice to spoon to soak up all that delciousness. Ultimately, the stir fry is all about the stir fry sauce. Check out these simple vegan stir fry recipes to explore some different simple stir fry sauces: 

A bowl of Spicy Coconut Vegetable Stir Fry ready to be eaten.

Spicy Coconut Vegetable Stir Fry

This rich and spicy coconut vegetable stir fry is adaptable to whatever vegetables are lingering in your fridge, making it a great sweep the kitchen recipe!
Go to the recipe >>>

Spicy Coconut Vegetable Stir Fry

Eating a large plate of Salad Bar Vegetable Lo Mein

Salad Bar Vegetable Lo Mein

When you need dinner to be fast, easy, and satisfying, this Salad Bar Vegetable Lo Mein is your answer. It's as simple and satisfying as it gets!
Go to the recipe >>>

Salad Bar Vegetable Lo Mein

With just a few ingredients you can make these easy and delicious Mushroom Broccoli Stir Fry Noodles for a fast weeknight dinner. BudgetBytes.com

Simple Mushroom Broccoli Stir Fry Noodles

With just a few ingredients you can make these easy and delicious Mushroom Broccoli Stir Fry Noodles for a fast weeknight dinner.
Go to the recipe >>>

Simple Mushroom Broccoli Stir Fry Noodles

Pan Fried Sesame Tofu with Broccoli

This Pan Fried Sesame Tofu is seriously crispy and drenched in a tangy sesame sauce. Broccoli florets and cooked rice make it a meal.
Go to the recipe >>>

Pan Fried Sesame Tofu with Broccoli

Vegetable Stir Fry Noodle Bowls - Budget Bytes

SNAP Challenge: Vegetable Stir Fry with Noodles

This colorful vegetable stir fry with noodles is packed with vegetables and drenched in a salty sweet sauce. Fast, easy, and customizable.
Go to the recipe >>>

Vegetable Stir Fry with Noodles

 

Bowl Meals

The “bowl meal” formula is easy. Base (grain or greens) + protein + vegetable(s) + sauce. Every bowl is a complete meal, no need to plan side dishes. And an added bonus: bowl meals are great for meal prepping, so tomorrow’s lunch is covered! Here are some of my favorite vegan bowl meals:

Sweet Chili Stir Fried Tofu Bowls

Sweet Chili Tofu Bowls are an easy, fresh, and flavorful vegan weeknight dinner, packed with vibrant colors and flavors. Perfect for meal prep!
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Sweet Chili Tofu Bowls

These rich and spicy Coconut Jerk Peas are super simple to make and pair brilliantly with a sweet and vibrant pineapple salsa. BudgetBytes.com

Coconut Jerk Peas with Pineapple Salsa

These rich and spicy Coconut Jerk Peas are super simple to make and pair brilliantly with a sweet and vibrant pineapple salsa. 
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Coconut Jerk Peas with Pineapple Salsa

Sesame Tempeh Bowls being eaten with chopsticks

Sesame Tempeh Bowls

These Sesame Tempeh Bowls are a great vegan alternative to sesame chicken and only take about 20 minutes to make. An easy fast vegan meal prep! 
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Sesame Tempeh Bowls

Broiled Balsamic Vegetables with Lemon Parsley Rice

Broiled balsamic vegetables top a vibrant and fresh lemon parsley rice to make this light and healthy dish. Works great as a side or a light meal. 
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Broiled Balsamic Vegetables with Lemon Parsley Rice

These vegan Soy Marinated Tofu Bowls are full of rich flavors and plenty of texture to keep your taste buds happy and your belly full. BudgetBytes.com

Soy Marinated Tofu Bowls with Spicy Peanut Sauce

These vegan Soy Marinated Tofu Bowls are full of rich flavors and plenty of texture to keep your taste buds happy and your belly full. 
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Soy Marinated Tofu Bowls

Chili Garlic Tofu Bowls

Chili Garlic Tofu Bowls are a fiber and flavor filled healthy lunch that you can pre-pack for your week ahead
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Chili Garlic Tofu Bowls

These Sweet Potato Grain Bowls with Green Tahini Sauce are prefect for meal prep and bursting with color, texture, and flavor! BudgetBytes.com

Sweet Potato Grain Bowls with Green Tahini Sauce

These Sweet Potato Grain Bowls with Green Tahini Sauce are prefect for meal prep and bursting with color, texture, and flavor!
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Sweet Potato Grain Bowls with Green Tahini Sauce

 

Curry

Curries are another “it’s all about the sauce” meal. As long as you have a delicious curry sauce, you can pour it over any vegetable or protein and your meal is going to be awesome. I like to make my curries with either a tomato based sauce or a creamy coconut based sauce. Both varieties are super easy, flavorful, and versatile! Try these simple vegan curries:

A hand dipping a piece of naan into the Creamy Coconut Curried Lentils with Spinach on a plate with curry roasted carrots

Creamy Coconut Curry Lentils with Spinach

These rich, creamy, and earthy Coconut Curry Lentils are an easy and delicious vegan option for dinner or weekly meal prep!
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Creamy Coconut Curry Lentils with Spinach

These super fast Curried Chickpeas with spinach are packed with flavor and nutrients, vegan, gluten-free, and filling! Plus they freeze great! BudgetBytes.com

Curried Chickpeas with Spinach

These super fast Curried Chickpeas with spinach are packed with flavor and nutrients, vegan, gluten-free, and filling! Plus they freeze great!
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Curried Chickpeas with Spinach

Two bowls of chana saag with rice, next to the skillet and a piece of torn naan

Chana Saag

Chana saag is a creamy chickpea and spinach curry that comes together quickly, is full of warm spices, filling, and vegan! Perfect for meal prep!
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Chana Saag – Chickpea and Spinach Curry

Slow Cooker Coconut Curry Lentils

Slow Cooker Coconut Curry Lentils are an easy, hands-off, fiber filled, freezer friendly vegan dinner. 
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Slow Cooker Coconut Curry Lentils

 

Salad

Salads aren’t just for side dishes! Pile ’em high with lots of vegetables and whatever protein you prefer, and you’ve got a filling meal with more color, flavor, and texture than most people get in one day. Get creative with your salad greens, too. In addition to the traditional mixed greens, spinach, or Romaine, you can also build a great salad on kale, cabbage, or parsley. Beef up your salad by adding a grain or a handful of nuts for extra filling power. Try these meal-worthy vegan salads: 

Four glass containers with Roasted Vegetable Salad and three dressing containers

Roasted Vegetable Salad Meal Prep

These Roasted Vegetable Salad Meal Prep boxes are an easy, no-reheat, plan-ahead lunch option that will help you get your daily vegetables!
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Roasted Vegetable Salad Meal Prep

Overhead view of Lemony Artichoke and Quinoa Salad in a bowl with lemon wedges and a fork.

Lemony Artichoke and Quinoa Salad

This Lemony Artichoke and Quinoa Salad is a light and refreshing summer salad that holds up well in the refrigerator and is perfect for meal prep!
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Lemony Artichoke and Quinoa Salad

Peanut Lime Dressing being poured onto a bowl of Cold Peanut Noodle Salad

Cold Peanut Noodle Salad

This Cold Peanut Noodle Salad with homemade peanut lime dressing is the perfect meal prep for summer! No reheating necessary.
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Cold Peanut Noodle Salad

This Roasted Cauliflower Salad combines sweet roasted red onions, spiced chickpeas, tender cauliflower, and a tangy lemon tahini dressing. BudgetBytes.com

Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Lemon Tahini Dressing

This Roasted Cauliflower Salad combines sweet roasted red onions, spiced chickpeas, tender cauliflower, and a tangy lemon tahini dressing.
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Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Lemon Tahini Dressing

This Apple Dijon Kale Salad is tangy, sweet, and crunchy with Granny Smith apples, walnuts, raisins, and a homemade Dijon vinaigrette. BudgetBytes.com

Apple Dijon Kale Salad

This Apple Dijon Kale Salad is tangy, sweet, and crunchy with Granny Smith apples, walnuts, raisins, and a homemade Dijon vinaigrette.
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Apple Dijon Kale Salad

A bowl of Roasted Cauliflower and Quinoa Salad on a teal napkin.

Roasted Cauliflower and Quinoa Salad

This Roasted Cauliflower and Quinoa Salad holds up well in the refrigerator for days, making it perfect for meal prep or brown bagging your lunch. 
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Roasted Cauliflower and Quinoa Salad

 

Soup & Stew

Soups and stews are the cold-weather counterpart to my big ol’ summer salads. They’re always very quick and easy to make, they don’t require any difficult cooking skills, and they are so flexible. Plus, because they’re usually large-batch recipes, they’re great for busy people. Soups and stews make great leftovers and often freeze well. So if you’re a busy bee but want to still eat meals full of flavor and texture, check out some of these vegan soups and stews:

Overhead view of a pot full of vegetable barley soup with bread on the side

Vegetable Barley Soup

Loaded with colorful vegetables and filling pearled barley, this Vegetable Barley Soup is a healthy, freezer-friendly staple recipe for winter!
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Vegetable Barley Soup 

A hand scooping up a spoonful of Vegan West African Peanut Stew with Rice

Vegan Peanut Stew

With a rich peanut and tomato sauce, sweet potatoes, collard greens, and crunchy peanuts, this Vegan Peanut Stew is comfort in a bowl! 
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Vean Peanut Stew

Overhead view of secret ingredient tomato soup in a white bowl with black rim, and a black spoon.

Secret Ingredient Tomato Soup

This super thick, warm, and comforting tomato soup has two secret ingredients that make it rich and delicious without any dairy. 100% vegan!
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Secret Ingredient Tomato Soup

Close up overhead view of a bowl full of vegan creamy mushroom ramen with chopsticks lifting some noodles

Vegan Creamy Mushroom Ramen

This incredibly simple Vegan Creamy Mushroom Ramen is a rich and flavorful 15 minute meal that only requires a handful of ingredients! 
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Vegan Creamy Mushroom Ramen

A bowl of Rosemary Garlic White Bean Soup with two pieces of toasted bread and a black spoon in the middle.

Easy Rosemary Garlic White Bean Soup

This incredibly easy Rosemary Garlic White Bean Soup takes only eight simple ingredients to deliver a bowl full of rich, bold flavor.
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Easy Rosemary Garlic White Bean Soup

A rich and hearty medley of vegetables, lentils, and herbs makes this freezer-friendly Vegan Winter Lentil Stew the perfect cold-weather comfort food. Budgetbytes.com

Vegan Winter Lentil Stew

A rich and hearty medley of vegetables, lentils, and herbs makes this freezer-friendly Vegan Winter Lentil Stew the perfect cold-weather comfort food. 
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Vegan Winter Lentil Stew

This Slow Cooker Vegetarian Lentil Chili makes a huge batch, is packed with flavor and nutrients, and can be made for only about 5 dollars! Budgetbytes.com

Slow Cooker Vegetarian Lentil Chili

This Slow Cooker Vegetarian Lentil Chili makes a huge batch, is packed with flavor and nutrients, and can be made for only about 5 dollars! 
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Slow Cooker Lentil Vegetarian Chili

Chunky Lentil and Vegetable Soup

This Chunky Lentil and Vegetable Soup is packed with hearty flavor, texture, and good-for-you vegetables! 
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Chunky Lentil and Vegetable Soup

The post 5 Templates for Easy Vegan Dinners appeared first on Budget Bytes.