The Meal Prep Hack Joanna Gaines Relies on to Feed Her Family (Without Stressing at All)

Joanna Gaines may be famous for her trend-setting taste in interior design, but she’s currently making waves in the culinary world with the release of her first cookbook, Magnolia Table, and the opening of a restaurant of the same name in Waco, Texas. In the cookbook, Joanna writes about the process behind developing recipes—such as her eponymous biscuit recipe—and how she tested her recipes on her four children (she’s currently pregnant with a fifth) and her husband, Chip.

The cookbook is full of Gaines family–favorites that Joanna cooks regularly, but like any mom, she has to work to find enough time to prepare healthy, satisfying meals every night. When Real Simple spoke with Joanna at the launch of Magnolia Table, we asked for her best tips and tricks for simplifying her cooking process, and anyone can use her straightforward advice.

“If you plan in advance, that’s a huge deal for me,” Joanna said. On Sunday nights, Joanna asks each of her children and Chip what foods they are craving that week. She creates a meal plan for the week, writes a grocery list ahead of time, and knocks out all the grocery shopping at once so everything is ready to go when it’s time to cook.

“If I have any extra time, I try to do some of the meal prep earlier, especially on days that I know are going to be longer,” she added. “When I get home, I know I can literally throw everything together.”

Like non-HGTV stars, Joanna also relies on tried-and-true time-saving dishes: “I do a lot of casseroles these days,” she admitted.

Planning ahead is key—frantic last-minute grocery store runs can throw off any evening. “I think the biggest deal is not going to the grocery store right after I get off work,” Joanna said. “That’s just not as enjoyable. If I can pre-plan, if I have everything in the fridge by the time I get home, I actually really enjoy the process.”

There you have it: The simple act of planning ahead can make cooking a fun experience rather than a chore.

You’d Never Know These Black Bean Brownies Were Healthy 

I have a bit of an obsession with finding recipes that sneakily swap in good-for-you ingredients. Chocolate muffins made with beets? I’m there. Blondies with chickpeas baked in? Sign me up. So I was psyched when I came across this black bean brownie recipe on one of my favorite food blogs, Laura Lea Balanced.

The recipe couldn’t be easier: Combine seven simple ingredients in a food processor or blender, dump them in a pan, add chocolate chips (because of course), then bake for 50 minutes. Done.

RELATED: The Ultimate Unbaked Brownies

Even better, the black bean brownies taste like the real thing but pack major protein you won’t even taste. “My inspiration for adding legumes into a dessert came from the most wonderful stand at the Union Square Farmer’s Market in New York City, called Body and Soul Bakeshop,” Laura Lea, who’s also a holistic chef, told me. After tasting their inventive creations—like baked goods made with chickpea flour—she tried her hand at making treats with beans.

“I thought gooey brownies were the perfect vehicle for the creamy nature of legumes and black beans would be best aesthetically,” says Laura Lea, who admits she riffed on other black bean brownie recipes by adding superfoods like almond butter to her version. Also in the mix? Maple syrup, cocoa powder, and vanilla extract that lend rich flavor to the fudgy bars.

WATCH THE VIDEO: How to Make Avocado Brownies with Avocado Frosting

The nutrition nerd in me fell in love with the beany brownies because they tasted decadent but were actually high in fiber, heart-healthy fats, and plant-based protein, meaning they left me feeling satiated instead of craving all the sweets. The toughest part about baking them? Waiting for them to cool (the agony!), then deciding how to enjoy them. 

“My absolute favorite way to eat them is warmed up with a drizzle of almond butter and a scoop of Nadamoo vanilla ice cream, but I’ve also enjoyed them in a breakfast bowl with yogurt, granola, and fresh berries,” says Laura Lea.

Brownies for breakfast? Now that’s my kind of girl. Visit Laura Lea Balanced or see below for the full recipe. Happy baking!

Ingredients

1 15 ounce can unsalted black beans (organic if possible), drained and rinsed thoroughly 

6 tbsp cocoa powder

3/4 cup maple syrup, grade A

2 teaspoons vanilla powder or extract 

1/2 cup unsalted almond butter

1/4 teaspoon baking soda 

1/2 cup dark chocolate roughly chopped (or chocolate chips) 

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and line a loaf tin with parchment paper, making sure there are at least 5 inches of parchment overflowing on each side.
Combine all ingredients except chopped chocolate in a food processor or high speed blender. Puree until completely smooth, scraping down the side as needed.
Empty mixture into a mixing bowl and stir in chopped chocolate/chocolate chips. Turn dough into loaf pan and shake gently to create an even layer. At this point, you can trim back some of the parchment but leave an inch or two overhanging.
Bake for 50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out with only a tiny bit of batter. Remove from oven and allow to cool at least 30 minutes before removing and slicing. If you can wait an hour, the pieces will hold together better.

3 Holiday Treats Packed With Superfoods (Including No-Bake Cookies!)

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When you think about holiday treats, you probably don’t think nutrients—but Christmas cookies, bites, and chocolate balls can be a great opportunity to squeeze in seasonal superfoods! Check out three of my recipes for enjoying a little sweetness bundled with antioxidant-rich, disease-protecting goodness. Each one is plant-based, bite-sized (for built-in portion control), and perfect for sharing. These are all splurges you can feel really good about.

Ginger-Cinnamon Dark Chocolate Balls

Nutrition info: Ginger, cinnamon, and dark chocolate are all potent sources of antioxidants. Ginger and cinnamon are also immune supporters and anti-inflammatory metabolic boosters. Tahini, made from ground sesame seeds, provides copper, manganese, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, selenium, and thiamin. A two tablespoon portion also packs 5 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber.

2 Tbsp. tahini

1 Tbsp. honey

2 Tbsp. raw or non-Dutched cocoa powder

2 Tbsp. almond flour

¼ tsp. fresh grated ginger

¼ tsp. ground cinnamon

2 Tbsp. chia seeds

Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl, mixing until evenly distributed. Pinch off small spoonfuls, and then using your palms, roll into round, even balls; coat half of them in chia seeds.

RELATED: 3 Holiday Cocktails Starring Seasonal Produce and Superfoods

Crustless Pumpkin Pie Bites

Nutrition info: Pumpkin is a nutritional powerhouse. One cup of canned pumpkin puree packs 760% of the daily value (DV) for vitamin A (which is good for your eyes, bones, and immune system); 20% of the DV for iron; 16% of the DV for vitamin C; and 8% of the DV for calcium; plus 8 grams of filling fiber.

1 can pumpkin puree

¼ cup unsweetened coconut milk

¼ cup pure maple syrup

2 Tbsp. almond flour

1 Tbsp. virgin coconut oil

1.5 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

½ tsp. vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in blender until smooth. Spoon mixture into 24 mini paper liners. Bake at 350 F for 40 minutes.

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Sweet Potato Turmeric No-Bake Cookies

Nutrition info: Like pumpkin, sweet potato is loaded with antioxidants and immune-supporting vitamin A, packing 195% of the DV per quarter cup. Turmeric, a root plant in the same family as ginger, has long been used as an anti-inflammatory compound in both Chinese and Indian medicine. Its active ingredient, called curcurmin, has been shown to lower levels of enzymes that fuel inflammation in the body. Curcumin also shows promise as a protector against cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and obesity.

½ cup old fashioned rolled oats

½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut

¼ cup almond flour

1 Tbsp. chia seeds

¼ cup sweet potato puree

¼ cup pure maple syrup

½ tsp. pure vanilla extract

¼ tsp. ground cinnamon

¼ tsp. ground turmeric

1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, and mix thoroughly and evenly. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Using a melon baller or small spoon, place one scoop of batter at a time into the palm of your hand, and flatten with the other hand to shape into flat, round cookies. Place cookies on parchment paper, and store in an air-tight container in the fridge.

Cynthia Sass is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.

We Tried 10 Kinds of Cinnamon and This Is the Best One

Cinnamon isn’t a mystery to most of us. After salt and pepper, it’s probably the seasoning we become familiar with as children, in the form of comforting cinnamon toast, oven-warm cookies, and the warm apple cider that sustains us through the winter months. It’s just… cinnamon, right?

Well, yes and no. All cinnamon comes from the inner bark of trees in the genus Cinnamomum, but it branches out from there. Cinnamomum Verum is sometimes referred to as “real cinnamon,” but other varieties, especially cassia, may be even more familiar to our palates, because that’s what we grew up eating.

So should you spend time and cash seeking out the “real” stuff, and is it palpably better tasting, smelling, and all that jazz? There was only one way to know for sure: via a blind tasting by the Extra Crispy staff, plus a few hardy volunteers from our office mates at Food & Wine. One trip to New York City’s Kalustyan’s market netted us 10 different forms of cinnamon in stick, quill, chip, and powder form, but how do you actually evaluate them side by side? The “cinnamon challenge” technique of taking a spoonful straight to the face was out of the question because that’s stupid, and snorting seemed ill-advised, so we settled on making a tea with the solid varieties, and an ersatz cinnamon and sugar toast with the powder.

The team numerically rated each variety on excellence of taste and smell, as well as giving feedback on how closely it resembled the definitive cinnamon of their childhood canon. Just a few points separated the top couple of contenders, followed by a distinct drop-off to the next tier down, and free-fall to the absolute bottom. And those weren’t even necessarily terrible—just far less potent than their counterparts at the top of the heap.

Here’s how it all shook out.

10. Ceylon Cinnamon Quills

Well, we were warned. The package states that Ceylon cinnamon has a much lower volatile oil content (just one to two percent) than other forms of the stuff, as well as a fraction of the coumarin that brings distinctive flavor to cassia cinnamon and tonka beans, but may be fraught with some health perils. The label suggests that it might make for a medicinal tea with minimal side effects, but really—don’t bother. It would taste like hot water that’s been haunted by a cinnamon stick.

9. Indonesian Cinnamon Sticks

These sticks are touted as “the most familiar” and ideal for cinnamon buns and look like the quintessential hot beverage accoutrement, but the brew it makes is dull as dishwater. It could actually be dishwater for all it resembles the spice you’d imagine warming your stomach and soul on a cold night.

8. Indian Cinnamon Sticks

Dalchini, a kind of cassia, hails from the hills of Kerala and the Malabar Coast. At 2.7 percent, it boasts a higher oil content than those tepid Ceylon quills, and the label suggests that it is ideal in curry, rice pilaf, and biryani. Perhaps only consider it if you like your food to taste and smell, per our tasters’ notes: “medicinal,” and “like a moldy tree that an elephant peed on.”

7. Ceylon Cinnamon Sticks Thin Bark

This’d be your Cinnamomum Verum, “true cinnamon,” or “Mexican cinnamon” (even though it’s native to Sri Lanka) and the label purports that it’s the cinnamon of choice for “dishes which do not have a lot of conflicting flavors.” It’s got a warm, woody, nutmeg-like flavor to it, but I’d be remiss if I did not include Extra Crispy editor Ryan Grim’s achingly specific comment: “Tastes like sad Christmas, like the first one a son didn’t come home after dying in a war, or studying abroad.”

6. Chinese Cinnamon Powder

This lowest-ranked of the powdered cinnamons comes from the bar of evergreen trees in Southeastern China and clocks in at three to four percent volatile oil. It’s got a notable odor—by various accounts “cat boxy,” “earthy,” and “new car smell, like a cabbie’s scent tree,” but doesn’t make much of an impression on the flavor front, other than a kiss of heat that tends to linger.

5. Cassia Chips

Don’t bother baking with these shards of bark, but keep plenty on hand for hot beverage season, because they bring a familiar, full, homey, cider-like note to whatever you’d care to steep them in.

4. Ceylon Cinnamon Powder

I wrote in all caps: “IT’S FINE. EXTREMELY AVERAGE.” and Ryan likened it to the Yankee Candle paradigm of what cinnamon is. It’s the same cinnamon as the previous Ceylon sticks and quills, but the grinding concentrates its flavor into something that approximates the cinnamon of our team’s collective youth.

3. Saigon/Vietnamese Cinnamon Chips

This Central and Northern Vietnam-grown cassia packs four to five percent volatile oil content, spurring a fierce reaction—and plenty of explanation—from the panelists. Per Extra Crispy culinary editor Rebecca Firsker: “Classic! Nostalgia!” Food & Wine’s deputy editor Mel Hansche declared: “This one is yelling at me, ‘I am cinnamon, hear me roar!'” Even Ryan, notedly stingy with the emphatic punctuation, wrote: “Best of the teas. King of the teas. All hail!”

2. Saigon/Vietnamese Cinnamon Powder

“This is my platonic cinnamon, and I want it on my person at all times,” I wrote, and I stand by it. This, too, is a high-impact cassia that just slightly bests its stick counterpart with an even more pungent blast of flavor and scent that more than one tester referred to as “classic,” or likened to the Red Hots candy of their childhood.

1. Indonesian Cinnamon Powder

Korintje cassia nabs the cinnamon crown. It was neck and neck at the end, but this Java- and Sumatra-cultivated spice from the Cinnamomum Burmannii plant edged ahead not due to nostalgia or potency, but rather because its two to three percent oil content allows for a wild, earthy spice to build, but not overwhelm. It’s a sophisticated upgrade from the grocery store shaker stuff, ideal for sweets and meat rubs, and at $3.99 for two ounces (that’s a hefty amount), it’s an affordable thrill you can indulge in every day of the week.

How to Make 4 Classic Summer Cocktails (Including the World’s Best Margarita)

Porch. Lake. Sunset. Cocktail. It’s May, and for worker bees and stay-at-home folks alike, these words start to punctuate our daily thoughts like so many tulips blooming.

You might be in the middle of putting the kid to bed when you start seeing yourself on a beach somewhere, drink in hand. Or perhaps you’re midway through one of those double meetings—one of the endless ones that entail waiting till 2 o’clock to eat lunch. Your colleagues see you gloss over. You see yourself in shades and a sundress, or a seersucker suit. You look so relaxed, in your mind’s eye. How can you get there from here?

For days when you’re in a “Give me bourbon or give me death” state of mind, here are four stellar summer cocktails that always deliver. There’s something for the gin lover as well as the tequila fan. Bourbon fans, you’re covered with a citrusy punch. Tiki types, there’s a frozen rum drink that will tide you over until Jimmy Buffet comes on the radio.

These drinks are on constant rotation—like a lazy 45 on the hi-fi—in homes across America for a reason. 

We’ve provided all the recipes below. All you need to be is thirsty.

Tommy’s Margarita

San Francisco bartender Julio Bermejo dreamt up this clean twist on a drink often muddled, in my humble opinion, by Cointreau or triple sec. Here is a recipe you can memorize for parties: 1 to 2 to 4. That’s one part agave nectar, two parts fresh-squeezed lime juice, and four parts 100 percent agave tequila, shaken until very cold and served with or without salt. It’s fantastic—light, bright, and sweet-tart—and just as tasty as that other dog days go-to, the daiquiri.

Recipe by Julio Bermejo of Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant

½ oz. agave nectar

1 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice

2 oz. 100% agave blanco tequila

Prepare a rocks or cocktail glass with a salt rim.

Shake all ingredients in a shaker with ice until very cold. Fine-strain into a rocks glass over ice (if desired) or into a cocktail glass, neat. Serve.

The Tom Collins

I recently learned that my own grandfather was a Tom Collins man. It’s a comfort to know the predilection runs in the family. Oddly enough, the drink pairs beautifully with deviled eggs, so if you’re thinking about a slightly fancy picnic or potluck, do it up and serve both. Lemon juice, gin, simple syrup and soda water pave the way to glory here. Caution: This one sure goes down easy.

Recipe adapted from St. John Frizell and Fine Cooking

2 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice

¼ cup (2 oz.) London dry gin, such as Tanqueray

2 Tbsp. simple syrup (recipe below)

½ cup (4 oz.) soda water

One orange slice (optional, for garnish)

One maraschino or fresh cherry (optional, for garnish)

Shake lemon juice, gin, syrup, and four or five ice cubes in a cocktail shaker. Strain over ice into a highball glass, top with the soda, and stir. Garnish with the orange slice and cherry.

Simple Syrup

1 cup water

1 cup granulated sugar

In a small saucepan, mix the water and sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Immediately remove from the heat and let cool.

Frozen Piña Colada

Don’t let these outrageously froofy concoctions be indulgences restricted to glam resorts. Make them for yourself when you’re in need of a treat, when you see that your partner needs something profoundly delicious (and ridiculous), or during long, luxurious, beachy afternoons. Do try to find a cherry with which to garnish the cocktail; it helps set the over-the-top mood. And buy extra pineapple and coconut puree so you can make virgin versions. (If children are in the vicinity, they will flip when they see you drinking what looks like the best milkshake ever.)

Recipe adapted from Jeff Bell and PDT and Food & Wine

5 oz. fresh lime juice

5 oz. fresh pineapple juice

3 oz. coconut water

15 oz. chilled white rum, preferably Caña Brava

6 oz. frozen coconut puree, such as Perfect Purée of Napa Valley

3 oz. cane syrup

4 pineapple wedges and 4 cocktail umbrellas (optional), for garnish

Mix lime juice, pineapple juice, and coconut water and pour into an ice cube tray. Freeze until solid, about 4 hours. Transfer ice cubes to a blender. Add the rum, coconut puree and cane syrup and blend until smooth. Pour into 4 chilled double rocks glasses or large coupes and garnish the drinks with pineapple wedges and cocktail umbrellas.

Strawberry-Lemon Bourbon Punch

The love child of strawberry lemonade and a mint julep, this punch can dress up or down. It looks stunning in a cut-glass crystal punch bowl with a lemon-studded ice ring, but it’s just as popular when concocted right in the Newman’s lemonade container and lugged to a picnic. Strawberries and mint are optional with this one, but they do add a lovely springy touch.

Recipe by Alex Van Buren, courtesy of MyRecipes

10-15 cups store-bought lemonade (such as Newman’s Own), or to taste

2 lemons, thinly sliced

375 ml. good-quality bourbon, or to taste

¼ cup fresh mint, plus 2 Tbsp. for garnish (pptional)

½ cup strawberries, hulled and sliced (optional)

Make Ice Ring: Fill a bundt pan or tube pan with approximately two inches of water, depending on the size of your punch bowl. (Make sure the resulting ring will fit bowl.) Add lemon slices and any additional edible garnishes, such as sliced strawberries or whole mint leaves, to float on top. Freeze for at least 6 hours, covered tightly with plastic wrap. When ready to serve punch, set pan, tin-side-down, in sheet tray of warm tap water until it is easy to invert and remove.

Make punch: Combine lemonade, bourbon, mint, and strawberries a large punch bowl. Stir well to mix. Adjust bourbon and lemonade to taste. Carefully set ice ring, lemons-side-up, in punch. Garnish with fresh mint, if desired. Serve.

Alex Van Buren—follow her on Instagram and Twitter @alexvanburen—is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor and content strategist who has written for The Washington Post, Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, and Epicurious.