BY RAYMOND BILL

When juggling a full-time job and a family (especially during a pandemic), one can find it challenging to prepare even the simplest of meals, let alone one within the parameters of a new diet. One of my best time savers is meal prepping, but not in the way one would assume.

I like to have a certain sense of spontaneity when planning my meals. Although one cannot often feed a family on a whim, not knowing what is in their pantry, it can be a real time saver to have certain items prepared in advance. In our house, each week I prepare a large quantity of grains (wild rice, quinoa, brown rice, and barley) and have the grain medley on hand for quick and easy stir-fry dinners, or to mix in with salads for added texture and nutrition. This week we made Stuffed Acorn Squash and the best part of it is that you can make it in as many ways as imaginable. Here is how I prepared ours.

What you will need:

  • 2 whole Acorn Squash
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cups pre-cooked grain medley
  • 16oz package mushrooms, remove stems and quarter
  • Fresh spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small yellow onion and ½ small red onion, diced
  • 1 can cannellini or navy beans, rinsed
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • Fresh thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

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When preparing the grains in advance, follow preparation instructions listed on the package. I like to substitute half of the water with vegetable stock, add sauteed onions, and season generously with salt and pepper.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cut each Acorn Squash down the center from stem to crown and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Lightly brush the open surface of each half with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. If you are limiting your oil intake, this step can be omitted. Place squash halves in the oven on a baking sheet with the open side face down for 40-45 minutes. This will trap the steam inside, cooking evenly and thoroughly.

                While the squash is in the oven, add to a large non-stick pan, olive oil, red and yellow onion, and bell pepper. Sauté over medium-high heat until onions are slightly translucent. Now add mushrooms and canned beans to the pan. I like to add my mushrooms after the onion and bell pepper, so they do not cook down too much but that is a personal preference and not necessary.

Now add your grains to the mixture and sauté together with salt, pepper, and thyme. Once this mixture is hot, turn off the stove and fold in your spinach. The heat from the grains and vegetables will wilt the spinach perfectly. This would be an ideal time to add a touch of crushed red pepper if you like a little heat to balance the natural sweetness of the squash.

For the final step, simply plate the roasted Acorn Squash and fill with the vegetable/ grain medley. What is so great about this recipe is that it is not only easy, but adaptable. Once you know how to prepare the squash, and the grains are on hand, the rest can be changed to fit your taste or preference. Try adding some roasted corn and black beans with jalapeno for a southwest flavor. There are no limits when it comes to eating healthy, plant-based meals.