7-Day Menu Planner

Walnut Chocolate Bliss Balls
(Courtesy of California Walnuts)
Walnut Chocolate Bliss Balls (Courtesy of California Walnuts)

A week's worth of quick, healthful meals for budget-minded families

SUNDAY: Root for your favorite team with Slow Cooker Chili standing by for halftime eating. In a large nonstick skillet on medium, cook 2 pounds lean ground beef 6 to 8 minutes or until no longer pink. Place cooked beef in a 4-quart or larger slow cooker. Add 1 package slow-cooker chili seasoning, 2 (14.5-ounce) cans no-salt-added diced tomatoes with liquid, 2 (14.5-ounce) cans kidney or pinto beans (or combination) (rinsed) and 1 (8-ounce) can no-salt-added tomato sauce. Cover and cook on low 8 hours or high 4 hours. Stir before serving. Garnish with shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream and chopped onions. Add deli coleslaw and cornbread to accompany the feast. Brownies are dessert.

Plan ahead: Save enough chili for Monday. Make Tuesday's Walnut Chocolate Bliss Balls today.

MONDAY: Heat the leftover chili and serve it over brown rice to stretch it a bit. Add a mixed green salad and crusty bread. Serve fresh pineapple chunks for a light dessert.

TUESDAY: Say Happy Valentine's Day to your honey with Turkey Reuben Wraps for a quick weeknight meal. Spread four (8-inch) whole-wheat tortillas with 1 tablespoon Thousand Island dressing each. Top to within 1 inch of edge with 1 ½ cups (6 cups total) fresh baby spinach, 2 ounces (8 ounces total) deli sliced honey-roasted smoked or other turkey breast, 1 ounce sliced (4 ounces total) Swiss cheese and 1 cup (4 cups total) bagged coleslaw mix. Roll tightly. Wrap each in plastic wrap; refrigerate 15 minutes. Cut diagonally in halves. Serve with oven fries (from frozen). Walnut Chocolate Bliss Balls are a simple make-ahead dessert. Process 2 cups walnuts until finely chopped. To food processor, add 2 tablespoons unsweetened coconut flakes, 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, ½ tablespoon coconut oil, ½ teaspoon vanilla extract and 10 pitted Medjool dates; pulse again until mixture forms a thick paste. (Don't process too long, or mixture will become too sticky.) Roll into 16 uniform balls. Roll some of the balls in additional coconut or cocoa powder, if desired. Store in refrigerator or freezer until ready to serve.

Plan ahead: Save enough Bliss Balls for Friday.

WEDNESDAY: Ask kids their favorite food groups, and they'll say spaghetti and pizza, so tonight's Spaghetti Pizza will be a winner. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Break 8 ounces spaghetti into 2-inch pieces. Cook according to package directions; drain. In a large bowl, beat 2 eggs. Gradually add ½ cup milk, 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese and ½ teaspoon garlic powder. Stir in spaghetti pieces. Coat a rimmed 10 ½-by-15 ½-by-1 ½-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Spread spaghetti mixture into pan, building up sides slightly. Bake 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Spread 1 (26-ounce) jar red spaghetti sauce over crust. Spread 2 cups cooked broccoli florets and 1 thinly sliced zucchini over sauce. Sprinkle with 1 more cup mozzarella. Bake 35 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before cutting. Serve with a chopped lettuce salad. Add peaches for dessert.

THURSDAY: For a no-meat dinner, enjoy Polenta Gratin With Mushrooms and Cheese (see recipe). Serve it with a spinach salad with sliced hard-cooked eggs and focaccia. Scoop strawberry ice cream for dessert.

Plan ahead: Save enough ice cream for Saturday.

FRIDAY: You won't care that Skillet Meat and Mashed Potato Pie (see recipe) is inexpensive, because it's comfort food at its best. Serve it with a lettuce wedge and bread sticks. Leftover chocolate bliss balls make the best dessert.

SATURDAY: Our neighbors enjoyed Roasted Cod With Warm Tomato-Olive-Caper Tapenade (see recipe) with us. Serve it with couscous, a bibb lettuce salad and a baguette. Top leftover strawberry ice cream with hot fudge sauce for dessert.


Polenta Gratin With Mushrooms and Cheese

  • 1 (16-ounce) tube sun-dried tomato or regular polenta, cut into ¼-inch slices
  • 1 (8-ounce) package sliced crimini mushrooms
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • ¼ teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/3 cup sun-dried tomato Alfredo sauce (such as Classico)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
  • ¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Heat oven to 450 degrees.

In a 7-by-11-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray, arrange polenta slices, allowing slices to overlap.

Heat a large nonstick skillet on medium-high. Add mushrooms; cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in garlic and salt. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low; cook 2 minutes. Stir in Alfredo sauce and basil. Spoon mushroom mixture evenly over polenta. Top with cheese. Bake 9 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information: Each serving (prepared with reduced-fat cheddar) contains approximately 132 calories, 7 g protein, 3 g fat, 21 g carbohydrate, 15 mg cholesterol, 560 mg sodium, 2 g fiber.

Carbohydrate choices: 1 ½

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Skillet Meat and Mashed Potato Pie

  • 1 ½ pounds meatloaf mix (ground beef, pork and veal)
  • 3 teaspoons dried Greek seasoning, divided use
  • 2 (8-ounce) cans no-salt-added tomato sauce
  • 1 (10-ounce) package frozen peas and carrots (thawed)
  • 1 (25-ounce) container refrigerated prepared garlic (or other) mashed potatoes

Heat a large nonstick oven-safe skillet on medium-high. Add meatloaf mix and cook 8 minutes or until no longer pink; drain. Add 2 teaspoons of the Greek seasoning, tomato sauce and peas and carrots. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Heat potatoes in microwave according to directions. Stir remaining Greek seasoning into potatoes. Heat broiler. Spread heated potatoes over meat mixture. Wrap handle in foil (if necessary). Place skillet under broiler, 4 inches from heat, and broil 2 to 3 minutes or until potatoes are brown. Serve immediately.

Makes 5 servings.

Nutrition information: Each serving contains approximately 348 calories, 33 g protein, 11 g fat, 31 g carbohydrate, 91 mg cholesterol, 571 mg sodium and 5 g fiber.

Carbohydrate choices: 2

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Roasted Cod With Warm Tomato-Olive-Caper Tapenade

  • 1 pound fresh or frozen cod filets (thawed if using frozen)
  • 3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1 cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes
  • ¼ cup chopped kalamata olives
  • 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
  • 1 ½ teaspoons chopped fresh oregano (can use ½ teaspoon dried)
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Rub cod with 2 teaspoons oil. Sprinkle with pepper. Place on baking sheet. Roast 15 to 20 minutes or until fish is opaque throughout (depending on thickness of fish).

Meanwhile, heat remaining oil in medium skillet on medium heat. Add shallot and cook, stirring, about 20 seconds or until it begins to soften. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring, 1 ½ minutes or until softened. Add olives and capers; cook, stirring, 30 seconds more. Stir in oregano and vinegar; remove from heat. Spoon over cod and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information: Each serving contains approximately 151 calories, 19 g protein, 7 g fat, 4 g carbohydrate, 43 mg cholesterol, 262 mg sodium and 1 g fiber.

Carbohydrate choices: ½

Susan Nicholson is an Atlanta-based cookbook author and registered dietitian. She can be reached by email:


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