Photo: Jennifer Causey

Every Sunday, we publish a week of Cooking Light dinner plans filled with our favorite recipes—both from current issues and classics. Each meal is designed to be ready and on the table in about an hour so that you have more time to enjoy the food you’ve prepared and the company of those you’ve prepared it for.

Kimberly Holland
December 29, 2016

If you like having a healthy meal plan but want something customized to your dietary or caloric needs, check out The Cooking Light Diet. It’s a calorie-driven weekly meal plan—breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner—based on your dieting goals and food preferences.

The Plan
Monday: Smoky Hoppin' John and Quick Braised Kale
Tuesday: Seared Cod with Bacon, Braised Fennel, and Kale
Wednesday: Maple-Mustard Roasted Chicken with Squash and Brussels Sprouts
Thursday: Black and Blue Steak Salad
Friday: Shortcut Risotto with Brussels Sprouts
Drink Bonus: Spiked Hot Chocolate

A new week, a new year. If you've been looking forward to January to give yourself and your family a fresh start with healthier dinners, you've come to the right place. I certainly can't deny I indulged over the holidays, so I'm focusing on lighter comfort foods, refreshing salads, and simple sides I can easily pull together after work.

Monday

Have any leftover lucky black-eyed peas? Put them to delicious use in this Smoky Hoppin' John. If you skipped the black-eyed peas in favor of a hangover cure, don't worry, You can use no-salt-added canned peas instead. This is quick comfort food at its finest. Serve with a side of Quick Braised Kale to add a fresh green to your plate. Buy extra kale because we'll need it again tomorrow night.

Photo: Randy Mayor

Tuesday

It’s easy to get your vegetable fix in winter with this simple Seared Cod with Bacon, Braised Fennel, and Kale. First, sear the cod fillets in the bacon drippings to get a good crust, then add back to the pan and cover so they can steam and impart their juices on the vegetable mixture. You can use any flaky fish in place of cod, such as grouper or snapper. We love the colorful pop of multicolored mini peppers, but a red or yellow bell pepper would also work. If you think you’re not a fan of fennel, try it here—the slices will mellow considerably once sautéed and steamed.

Photo: Jennifer Causey

Wednesday

Sheet pan dinners are a weeknight go-to because all the cooking is done for you in the oven. This Maple-Mustard Roasted Chicken with Squash and Brussels Sprouts is no exception. We give the large bone-in breasts a head start in the oven so they will be perfectly cooked by the time the vegetables are done. This cut is also rather juicy; you’ll want to drain off the liquid from the pan before adding the vegetables so they can caramelize evenly. Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, and acorn squash are at their absolute best when roasted. The trick is to cut them into even pieces with a maximum surface area (halves or cubes) so they can benefit from all the direct heat. A sprinkle of hazelnuts is a fine finishing touch, but you can skip it if you like. Save enough Brussels sprouts for Friday's dinner.

Photo: Jennifer Causey

Thursday

The Black and Blue Steak Salad, a combination of spice-rubbed, blackened chicken or steak and crumbled blue cheese, is a staple of the American gastropub menu. Unfortunately, the “salad” interpretation is a bit loose—the lettuce merely a bed for a Flinstone-sized protein serving, the butter-yellow croutons, tons of cheese, and creamy dressing blanketing all. We kept the chargrilled steak, blue cheese, and crisp croutons you love, then topped off with good-for-you avocado and a vinaigrette that complements the vegetables rather than disguise them. A little meat goes a long way: just 12 ounces is plenty to serve 4.

Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Friday

Our simple technique for Shortcut Risotto with Brussels Sprouts yields classic risotto flavor and texture in a fraction of the time. Precooked brown rice simmers with a flour-thickened milk-and-stock mixture, which is boosted with a touch of cream cheese for extra richness. A lovely lemon dressing is drizzled on at the end for fresh, bright flavor, and toasted walnuts add welcome crunch. You can sub vegetable stock for chicken stock for a meatless version; just know that some vegetable stocks are quite dark and might change the look of the risotto. Use any leftover arugula from last night's salad for a simple side. Add any fresh vegetables on hand from the week's meals and a simple vinaigrette.

Photo: Jennifer Causey

Drink Bonus

Because it's the first week back to work after the holidays, and you possibly need a drink as much as I do, it's time for Spiked Hot Chocolate. A hint of peppermint schnapps will give everyone a little pep in their step. Think of it as more of a dessert than a beverage, as this hot chocolate is a bit of a splurge. Canned coconut milk gives it full-bodied richness and makes it an indulgence. Molly explains that the “coconut goes really well with chocolate. And mint, too. So it really brings this hot chocolate together nicely.” A small amount of instant espresso powder intensifies the chocolate flavor; you can omit it, though, if you don’t have it on hand.

Photo: Christopher Testani

Are your ready to start your week off light?

Sign up for our newsletter and get a fresh ideas to supercharge your healthy eating and cooking routine. We’ll deliver Sunday Strategist, plus new recipes and delicious dinner inspiration to your inbox every weekend.