One of my favorite kitchen challenges, is coming up with recipes using what I have left in the fridge by
the end of the week. NERD Alert! I know. I think of it as my own personal weekly episode of Food Network’s Chopped. I have to use what is in my fridge and make dinner for the judges. In this case, the hubs and a hyperactive baby.
My challenge guidelines include making a well balanced meal with at least 1 veggie and some protein that will be approved by the hubs and can quickly come together with a 5 month old in the kitchen with me or more often than not, on me, meaning baby carrier.
One of my favorite go-to meals is a Cheesy Quinoa Bake. Think of it like a Mac and Cheese subbing the mac with quinoa. It’s the perfect way to use up left over veggies mixed with protein packed quinoa and a melty cheese sauce. The kind of meal that comes together quickly, saves beautifully and is deliciously healthy.
Quinoa. That strange sounding grain that you hear about but have not tried yet. Let me tell you it is truly a miracle grain. Its nutty, versatile, healthy and packed with protein. One cup of this super grain packs 24g of protein! That’s more protein than you get in chicken or eggs. Forget the muscle milk.. For a full comprehensive and super impressive list of quinoa health benefits, visit The 27 Science-Backed Health Benefits of Quinoa by Well-Being Secrets. So good!
Next, the veggie(s) and meat if you feel so inclined. This is where you can let your creative juices go wild! Add meat, don’t add meat. Add one veggie, add lots of veggies. And of course end with the cheese sauce. Et voila! The options are truly endless.
Here are some of my favorites from around the web:
- Broccoli and cheese (DamnDelicious)
- Mexican Chicken (PinchofYum)
- Turkey and spinach (Epicurious)
- Spinach and artichoke (TwoPeasandTheirPod)
- Buffalo chicken (HalfBakedHarvest)
On this particularly busy night of running around like a crazy person packing up for a long trip, this cheesy quinoa bake was a life saver. Especially since I needed to use up everything in the fridge before leaving. So I raided the fridge and decided on chicken, a bunch of leftover spinach and gruyere/cheddar cheese. These 3 ingredients made a SMASHING dinner according to my two judges of course. And to top off the meal’s awesomeness, we had some gooey cheesy leftovers that I was able to freeze for future lunches.
If you are looking for a fast easy healthy dinner that your family will actually love (cheese sauce!!!), this is the recipe for you!
Cheesy Chicken and Spinach Quinoa Bake
Serves 8 or you can make it for a smaller group and save the leftovers, YAY!
Make this meal vegetarian by omitting chicken 🙂
- 1 1/4 cups quinoa (cooked according to package instructions)
- 4-5 boneless chicken thighs (2-3 skinless chicken breasts work well too)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup warm milk (I used 2%)
- 2 dashes freshly grated nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- 1/2 cup gruyere cheese, shredded
- 2-3 cups of fresh baby spinach chopped roughly chopped
Start by preheating oven to 350° F.
Cook quinoa according to package instructions and set aside. While quinoa cooks, add a bit of olive oil to a pan and grill the chicken for 6 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Once cooked, chop chicken into cubes.
In a medium saucepan melt 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add flour and whisk continuously until it becomes a paste or a roux. Slowly whisk in milk.
Once combined increase heat to medium/high and bring to a boil whisking the whole time. Stir in the nutmeg, salt, gruyere cheese and 1 cup of cheddar cheese and turn down heat to low. When the cheese sauce is smooth remove saucepan from the heat.
In a large bowl mix together the cooked quinoa, chicken, cheese sauce and spinach.
Transfer the mixture into a casserole dish (I used an 8×8 but a cast iron would work well too). Top with remaining 1/2 cup cheddar cheese.
Bake on 350°F until bubbly, about 15-20 minutes.
Warning before you take the first bite… it will be cheesy and HOT HOT HOT.
Notes: This is a great meal to make ahead of time and either bake before you need it or you can bake the whole thing and reheat before you eat. You can also freeze the whole meal for leftovers. I love making this for the hubs when I am out of town and portion it off in individual Tupperware for him to take to work for lunch. It reheats great in the microwave at work or at home in the oven covered in foil at 375°F until warm and bubbly (20-25 minutes).