Even the most accomplished home cooks among us can sometimes hit the kitchen version of writer’s block. Or sometimes, after a long day of work or play, the inspiration just won’t arrive come dinnertime.
So what’s the right move when you’re stuck in a rut, or staring into the pantry or fridge with no clear ideas? Sometimes, the best thing to do is take a little direction from an outside source. One way we like to approach dinner when we’re not ready to go all-in on an elaborate recipe is to use MyPlate for some structure.
This is the current USDA nutritional guidelines, an evolution of the food pyramid you may remember learning about in school. MyPlate, which has been around since 2011, is the official symbol of the five food groups, and provides a visual representation of what to include in a well-balanced, nutritionally sound meal. The biggest wedges on the plate go to vegetables and grains, followed by protein and fruit, with just a little dairy, as well.
For those evenings when you want a healthy meal, but the creative well is a bit dry, here are four dinner ideas using MyPlate as a guide — think of it as your own personal dinner cheat sheet!
Chilled Soup-less Veggie Ramen + Baked or Grilled Tofu
This unique noodle dish is a fresh take on a health bowl, with ZENB Spaghetti and a rainbow of veggies in a savory Asian-inspired sauce. It’s got the fruit, vegetable, and grain categories of MyPlate all taken care of, and a simple side of tofu brings some protein to the party!
Just make a double-batch of the sauce for the noodles, which includes pantry staples like tamari, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and maple syrup. Slice the tofu into your preferred shape, and use some of it to marinate it for an hour or so. Then bake or grill the tofu until golden and crispy, and toss the rest of it in the sauce. Add a drizzle of sriracha if you like some heat!
ZENB Vegan Tahini Mac & Cheese + Simple Slaw + Bean Salad
If you think the best part of a BBQ is the sides, this fun meal is for you! Start with a super-simple mac-and-cheese recipe, using ZENB Rotini and an uber-creamy tahini sauce. To complement that main, finely shred or chop a small head of red or green cabbage and dress it with vegan mayo, white wine vinegar, salt, pepper and fresh herbs.
Then, pop open a few cans of beans and rinse and drain them. Toss them with some diced red onion and halved grape tomatoes, and dress with your favorite bottled dressing, or a lemon vinaigrette (basically 1-to-3 ratio of lemon juice to olive oil) with sea salt and lots of cracked black pepper.
ZENB Spaghetti Carbonara + Roasted Broccoli or Broccoli Rabe + Balsamic Peaches
Carbonara is the chicest lazy dinner in existence. It’s so creamy and luscious, but takes so little effort! Our version takes all the guesswork out of the technique: Combine cooked ZENB Spaghetti with crisped-up pancetta and splash of pasta cooking water, then stir it in a mixture of eggs, egg yolk, Parmesan, and pepper, to get that signature glossy sauce.
With the grain and protein taken care of, you just need a few more plants to round out the plate! To make roasted broccoli or broccoli rabe, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Farenheit before you do anything else. Toss the chopped veggies in plenty of olive or avocado oil and salt, then roast for about 20 minutes, or until tender and a bit crisp. Once slightly cooled, sprinkle with lemon juice, crushed red pepper flakes, and more salt to taste.
For an on-theme fruit side, slice up a few ripe peaches and drizzle on a touch of balsamic glaze, a touch of flaky salt, and a few torn basil leaves.
ZENB Miso Butter and Corn Rotini + Chicken Drumsticks + Spinach Strawberry Salad
Umami rich and summery, this pasta dish magically transforms six ingredients into a crave-worthy meal with ZENB Rotini! We’re willing to bet that miso butter will be one of your new favorite ingredients to play with (try it on salmon!), and it works so nicely here playing off the sweet, toasty flavors of fire-roasted corn — either frozen or grilled can be used.
To make it a MyPlate meal, add some roasted or grilled chicken drumsticks sprinkled with your favorite dry rub and a pretty salad of fresh spinach and sliced strawberries. Because the pasta is already creamy, go with a lighter dressing, perhaps using a fruit-infused champagne vinegar and walnut or hazelnut oil.
Whether you’re cooking a leisurely weekend meal or something quick on a busy night, the ZENB recipe collection is full of delicious dishes to try. For more cooking hacks, kitchen tips, and dinner ideas, explore our blog, and follow ZENB on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.