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You Can Make Eating Healthy All Week Easy

Bhavna Arora, M.D.

We are back to school and let the craziness begin! There are after school activities, school projects, homework and so much more that takes up our day. As a working mom of 2 school aged girls I know how hectic life can be. So how can you cook dinner every night that is nutritious and flavorful? With some planning and a few pantry ingredients it is possible.

Here’s my secret to reducing the stress of cooking dinner: I do my menu planning on the weekend. This way I know what I am making every day and can do some minor prep ahead of time as well. The weekly menus I make often have a common “base” that I use for 2 or more dishes to keep it easy. This week, the “base” is Masala, a versatile spice blend used in Indian cuisine that I use for a number of dishes. The possibilities are endless! We’ll use it to make turkey chili, chicken curry, baked fish, lentils and to marinate chicken kebobs.

Since I am of Indian origin, I do incorporate a number of Indian ingredients but they are easy to use. This week’s major ingredients include cumin powder, coriander powder, turmeric, and ground ginger and fresh cilantro. All of these have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. They can be bought at your local grocery store or an Indian grocery store, both of which are easily found in the San Fernando Valley. And the best thing about stocking dried spices is that you can use them for a long time.

The goal during the weekdays is not to have perfect authentic foods but rather to make foods that are healthy, flavorful and easy to make.  More importantly, it should be kid and adult friendly. For those of you who love cooking as I do, leave the complicated foods for weekends and other days when you have more time to enjoy that creative process

It is important to introduce children to a range of flavors, textures to broaden their palette ahead of time.  My daughters were eating pureed chicken curry at 9 months of age! You may not want to do it that early but you can still introduce various flavors.  The more variety of ingredients you get comfortable using the more flavor combinations and variety of dishes you can make.  It keeps meals interesting and flavorful for the family!

Involve the children when possible so they can learn.  The more involved they are, the more fun meal preparation is and the more likely they will eat what is made.  You can discuss the nutritional value of foods.  For example, you can tell them lentils and meat are a good source of protein to build muscle; calcium is in yogurt and helps build bones; and carrots have vitamin A to help with their vision. As you cook, they can watch and ask questions. Children are naturally curious and the learning about nutrition and food should start early so you set the stage for a long life of healthy choices.

Ready to make the Masala for our week of recipes? Here's what you'll need:

  • One large yellow onion
  • 1/3  cup of cilantro
  • 2 inch of ginger
  • 1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 4 garlic cloves or 4 frozen garlic cubes from Trader Joe’s
  • 1 tbsp of cumin powder
  • 1 tbsp of coriander
  • 2 tsp of  turmeric
  • 1 tbsp salt

Prepare this on the Saturday or Sunday before you plan to cook the recipes below. Put all the ingredients in a blender. Sautée in 2 tablespoons of canola or light olive oil over medium heat for 5 min and then simmer for an additional 15 min. Store in refrigerator.


Here are five recipes to get you started cooking with Masala. I use frozen garlic cubes from Trader Joe’s for ease.  You can serve stews, chili, lentils with quinoa, brown or white rice. I like to use enamel cast-iron Dutch ovens of varying sizes for stews and curries because it enhances the flavor.

Monday: Butternut squash beef stew or chicken quesadillas/enchiladas

Tuesday:  Turkey chili

Wednesday:   White fish with lentils

Thursday:  Chicken curry

Friday:  Night out or maybe leftovers

Cooking Pearl

Canola & Extra virgin olive oil are a good source of healthy fat and omega-3 fatty acids. Canola oil is easier to cook with since the flavor is not as strong and it does not burn easily at high temperatures like extra virgin olive oil does.

Butternut Squash Beef Stew

Make it easy: You can purchase precut stew beef and butternut squash at the grocery store

Flavor it up: 
Add ¼ cup of chopped sun dried tomatoes, baby spinach.

  • 1 -2 pounds of stew beef cut into 2 inch cubes depending on how much meat you want.  Can sub with chicken
  • ½ cup of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 carton of low sodium chicken or beef broth
  • 1 pound of butternut squash cut in 2 inch squares
  • ½ cup of chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cubes
  • 1 sprig of rosemary and thyme
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsely

Toss the cut beef in seasoned flour with salt/pepper. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a heavy pan. Add the beef and brown. Remove. Add onions and then garlic. Add back the beef along with tomatoes, broth, butternut squash, rosemary, thyme. Add enough broth to cover. Boil and then simmer for 1.5 hours until meat comes apart easily with a fork. Refrigerate overnight and serve Monday. Add parsley when reheating the stew. Remove the rosemary and thyme sprigs prior to serving.

Chicken Quesadillas/Enchiladas

Make it easy: Use prepared rotisserie chicken and take chicken off.  Can simmer in your favorite store bought salsa.

Flavor it up: Add diced jalapeno, chopped cilantro or smoked paprika to the chicken

Braise 2 breasts in chicken broth for 2 hours and then shred with a fork.  (To braise, cover the chicken with chicken broth and simmer)

  • 1/4 cup of diced onions
  •  2 garlic cubes
  • 2 tsp of cumin
  • 2 tsp coriander
  • 1 tbsp of dried oregano
  • 2 cups of baby spinach
  • ½ cup of crushed tomatoes
  • Store bought enchilada sauce
  • Salt to taste

Sautee diced onions for 3 to 4 min until translucent in tbsp. of oil. Add garlic cubes and sautee for 1 to 2 min. Add the crushed tomatoes, spices. Simmer for 5 min. Add the shredded chicken and spinach.  Simmer 20 min on medium low until chicken is moist. Can add additional chicken broth if necessary.

Can use the filling to make quesadillas or enchiladas.

Turkey Chili

Make it easy: If you want to save time during the week, you can make this on Sunday and then reheat it later.

Flavor it up: 
Add white mushrooms. 1 tsp diced jalapeno or 1 tsp chipotle powder for extra heat.  Add 1 tbsp of smoked paprika for an enhanced smoky flavor.

  • 1 cup Masala
  • 2 tbsp Paprika
  • 1 pkg Ground turkey
  • 1 32 oz Low sodium chicken broth
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 can of drained and rinsed black beans
  • 1 can of drained and rinsed corn
  • 1 can of fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 cup baby spinach
  • 1 cup of shredded carrots
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1 tsp salt or to taste
  • 1 tbsp dried oregeno

Brown the turkey in 2 tbsp of oil.  Add 1 cup of masala, chicken broth, 2 tbsp of paprika. Add the beans, corn and cilantro.  You can  add an additional 1 tsp of cumin, coriander and salt to taste to enhance the flavor. Let simmer for 1.5 hours.

Whitefish with Lentils

Flavor it up: Top the fish with store-bought mango chutney or balsamic glaze for a combination of sweet and salty flavor.

Flavor it up:
Add 1 tsp of red chile powder and an extra 1 tsp of minced ginger to the masala. 


  • Fillets of white fish such as tilapia or halibut,  ½ or 1 for each family member
  • 1/3 cup premade masala for each fillet of fish
  • Thinly sliced yellow or summer squash
  • Baby spinach
  • Foil squares large enough for each fillet

Preheat toaster oven or regular oven to 450 degrees.  Season each fish with salt and pepper.  Put some masala on the foil, add the fillet and then place more masala on top.   Place baby spinach and sliced squash on top.  Seal foil loosely around each fish to create a roomy pocket. Bake 10 minutes per inch of thickness of fish at its thickest part (typically 20 to 25 minutes for a 2-inch-thick fish). Remove foil and serve with juices.


  • 1 cup of red lentils
  • 1 cup of the masala
  •  ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • 1 cups of baby spinach
  • 4 cups of water

Sautee the masala for 3 min on medium heat in the pan.  Add all ingredients except the cilantro and cook on stove for 25 to 30 min until lentils are tender.  Add chopped cilantro in the last 5 min of cooking.

Chicken Curry

Make it easy: Make Wednesday & refrigerate. Doing this also improves the flavor!

Flavor it up: Add 1 tsp of red chili powder for spice and/or 1 tbsp of dried fenugreek leaves, “Kasoori methi” (purchased at Indian store)

  • 8 to 9 chicken drumsticks, thawed, washed and skin removed
  • 2 cups masala
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • Low sodium chicken broth

Add masala, chicken and enough broth to cover chicken. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 1 hour on low until chicken falls apart easily from the bone.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add ¼ cup of chopped cilantro when reheating on Thursday.