Sheet Pan Meals

Sheet pan meals are super easy and will consistently turn out incredibly delicious roasted veggies! One common complaint I receive from clients is that they just don’t want to munch on raw vegetables all day (often referred to as “rabbit food” or “bird food” with a deflated voice that all too well matches their sad face when describing their traumatic experiences of raw tasteless veggies). I can’t blame them. I mean, who wants to chew on bitter broccoli until your teenage case of TMJ flares? Not me.

Now that I am a mom, and especially being a single mom, I appreciate more than ever the quick tricks to really delicious meals (and I mean restaurant quality food that makes me think I could EASILY compete with Chef Alton Brown). Anything that allows me to spend less time ignoring my 2-year-old (“ohhhh, sounds great love! Wait, what did he say?”) and more time sharing good moments with him while I can, is a win in my mind. Enter: the sheet pan. Next to my Instapot, this is one of my favorite and well used kitchen cooking items. Sheet pans have been around since the mid- to late-1800s (https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_309559) and traditionally (in America, anyway) are used in baking of things such as cookies, scones, and even flatbreads. Recently, they have picked up steam as the star in one pot type meals.

Sheet pans can and do buckle or warp in the oven. Recommendations from chefs and culinary scientists say to load up the pan evenly with food to weight it down and warm it slowly to prevent buckling. Personally, I don’t like the taste of the end product as much when it is slowly heated. Also, there are some safety concerns to consider with this approach and sheet pan cooking in general below:

  • Do not load the pan full of sauce. This can be dangerous! These pans not only tend to buckle, which could lead to you needing to spend the following next day cleaning up an oven spill that sent your whole apartment building running when the fire alarm sounded, but they also have a low lip which means when you remove it, the contents can easily slosh around. Kitchen burns are very serious and can endanger a child or pet and send you to the hospital. If you want to make one-pan-meals that include sauces, keep a rectangular cake pan that you only use for savory foods in your rotation. Or use granny’s old hand-me-down cake pans of all shapes and sizes!
  • Use both hands and two oven mitts when removing these pans. They are large and the contents will likely slip around when moved.
  • Don’t ever let your little ones participate in this portion of the meal cooking. In fact, I have my little one stand about 5-6 feet away and just watch during the opening and food loading/unloading in the oven.
    • For children under 1 year, you’ll likely have them in a highchair already, so keep it far enough away that any spills/splashes cannot reach them.
    • For children 1-2 years that you have helping using standing learning towers, ensure the tower is secure and out of splash reach. Always teach your little ones not to lean over these towers to inspect your performance, as some of these can tip over.
    • If in doubt about safety, it is best to keep them on the other side of the child safety gate.
  • Otherwise, your little ones can tear, shred, or even chop (with supervision) away at many vegetables you plan to bake!

Ideas for sheet-pan-meals are abundant on the internet. While many of them seem amazing and tantalizing, the reality is that the most likely meals we will make on a regular basis tend to hit on a few important points:

  1. They will be meals that we find manageable to make quickly.
  2. They will include ingredients we buy often (but not too many ingredients).
  3. They will make enough for leftovers that taste great.
  4. They will be affordable.
  5. They will allow for variety in serving options.

For our household, our go-to family sheet-pan-meals include:

  • Roasted veggies for easy ramen and macaroni bowls.
    • For example, we love roasting green onions, mushrooms, and kale for ramen bowls and tomatoes, onions, and julienned squashes for macaroni bowls.
      • To complete the ramen bowls we add tamari, coconut aminos, ginger syrup, rice wine vinegar and toasted sesame seeds.
      • To complete the macaroni bowls, we add vegan shredded mozarella (optional, but if you do use purchase low-fat which is best for metabolic function vs. high fat cheeses; avoid coconut alternatives), balsamic vinegar, and fresh basil.
  • Roasted veggies for sandwiches.
    • Here your options really are endless. Popular options are zucchini, mushrooms, tomatoes, bell peppers, romaine lettuce, and onions. While some might experiment with eggplant, bok choy, brussels sprouts, asparagus, and even cucumber!
    • Serve in hamburger or sub buns, pita pockets, tortillas, or plain sliced breads. For added taste, use frozen bread that you rub raw garlic on and toast up in the oven with your veggies. This will create a yummy no-fat garlic bread as your base.
    • Stick to the foods you know your family loves when pressed for time and experiment when you have the time.
  • Roasted tomatoes for homemade pasta sauces.
  • Scones and fruit pockets (like homemade Nutri Grain bars or Pop Tarts) for breakfasts, teas, snacks.
  • Veggie burgers.
Sheet pan meal in progress. You can cook in stages to help the vegetables all reach the desired texture at the same time.

A note on fat. When it comes to the most healthy way of eating, it really is a whole-food plant based diet, but one that is low in fat and not high in protein (though adequate at a moderate level; https://www.vrg.org/nutrition/protein.php). When I finally had come to the point in my career that I “knew” enough about a true healthy diet, I could totally comply with all the other requirements but it took me some time to come around to the whole low-fat addition. I mourned, and mourned, and mourned! I just LOVE fats! But if I am honest, incorporating the low-fat option was the only thing that returned my metabolic function to a healthy level and the fat my body lost was IMPRESSIVE! I wish that I had not been so stubborn and had implemented a lower fat intake YEARS ago to achieve these health and weight loss results. Don’t worry, you will get enough fat for your body’s needs by just eating a variety of whole plant foods and even having your beloved nuts, nut butters, some oils, and avocados once in a while; just don’t do it daily. We are really talking about limited any added fats anyway, not necessarily about cutting out high-fat foods such as avocados and nuts. In terms of the culinary approach, however, people are always so lost when it comes to cooking and worry their food just won’t taste the same. Use water or broth just as you would oil and you will be surprised at how little you really needed those low nutrient oils to begin with!

The brilliance of a sheet pan meal, is that the space on the sheet pan allows you to cook enough for up to 6-8 in less time than it takes in other smaller cooking pans but without requiring all the hassle of grilling. The taste is also unbeatable! To get that grilled taste without having to expose your children, pets, and neighbors to the smoke is incentive enough. Lastly, these roasted veggies can be cooled and then blended in your food processor or high-powered blender (or even immersion blender) to make some of the MOST DELICIOUS quick sauces you will ever taste. You can blend up any veggies you make and use them to:

  • Cover pastas.
  • Dress veggie bowls.
  • Use in wraps.
  • Mix with hummus to add variety to sandwiches and veggie dips.
  • To puree and freeze for future use in a variety of meals or as meal starters.

Really, you have an endless amount of options when it comes to sheet pan meals, so get to it! See my post on reducing food waste for more ideas on how to repurpose leftovers as new meals or for freezer stock for future use.