I have two main strategies for providing consistently healthy meals:  simplicity and creative use of leftovers. I don’t usually have time to spend an hour preparing a complicated, involved meal, especially when I try hard to make every single meal homemade and healthy. Instead, I have learned how to always make extra of everything and turn leftovers into the next interesting meal. Nothing dulls an appetite like having to stare at the same soup several nights in a row.

Noodle bowls are an excellent example of how these two concepts work in my life. I always have noodles and vegetables available and miso broth is easy. The only item that may take a bit of time is the fried tofu or tempeh. Often, I will make a batch of tofu or tempeh over the weekend and have it available for school lunches, either plain, added to sushi rolls or a grain salad. It also makes a lovely addition to this noodle bowl, and helps save time.

Pretty much any long noodle will work for this dish:  udon, gluten-free pasta, spaghetti, ramen. I start with fresh or use leftovers. You can rinse leftover noodles in warm water to soften them or just place them in the soup bowl and pour the warm broth over them.

Similar ingredients can easily be turned into minestrone soup, as well. Switch out the long noodles for shorter ones, leftover beans for the tofu and add a few chopped tomatoes along with a variety of vegetables. If you have some leftover pesto spoon some on top. Serve with a slice of hearty bread. See how it works? You now have two separate meals for dinner this week.

Noodle Bowl
Serves 4

1 serving cooked noodles per person, I usually cook up the whole package
6 slices of firm tofu, pressed and pan fried, then cut into triangles or fingers (recipe below)
1 head broccoli, florets cut into bite size pieces and stem peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 carrot sliced into thin half moons or into carrot flowers
a handful of thinly sliced red cabbage
a couple of red radishes, cut into small matchstick
2 scallions, thinly sliced, for garnish
1 sheet nori cut into short, thin strips, for garnish

4 cups water
4” piece of wakame or alaria (sea vegetable)( don’t sweat this if you don’t have it, but if you can get some it’s a great way to add minerals)
3 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked and sliced (opt.)
2-6 tsp good quality miso, the amount depends on how strong your miso is and who you are serving, you want the broth to be strong enough to add flavor to the noodles and vegetables

Make the broth by placing the water, wakame and shiitake mushrooms in a medium size pot. Bring to a simmer and let cook for 5 minutes. Remove the wakame and chop small then place back in pot. Place the miso in a small bowl and add some of the broth to it. Mix well and add back into the pot. Let simmer gently for a few minutes. Remove from heat.

In another medium size pot, add water about halfway. Bring to a boil and add a pinch of sea salt. While the water is at a low boil, blanch broccoli, broccoli stems, carrot, red cabbage and radish separately until crisp tender, about 10 seconds. Spread out on a plate to keep from cooking further.

Assemble the bowls:  Place a serving of noodles on the bottom. Add the vegetables and tofu on top. Pour broth over the top and garnish with scallions and nori strips.

This recipe is very flexible depending on the preferences of different family members. Each member gets the base of noodles and broth and can then choose the toppings.
Any natural, low-sodium broth may be used. I frequently use miso with wakame because it adds beneficial probiotics and minerals.
Other kid-friendly vegetables that are great in this recipe:  green beans, blanched young turnips, kale, green peas/snow peas, bean sprouts, bok choy, nappa cabbage.
Tempeh can be made in a similar way as the pan-fried tofu, except that tempeh needs to be steamed for 20 minutes first to make it completely digestible.
About miso:  South River and Miso Master are both decent quality and not hard to find, both chickpea and sweet rice miso are lighter and probably make a good starting point, if you are already familiar with miso feel free to use any variety you like.

Pan Fried Tofu

1 package firm tofu
high heat oil, like grapeseed or avocado oil (can also be fried oil-free)

Wrap the tofu in a clean towel and place a weight on it for at least 20 minutes to help press the liquid out. This makes it easier to pan fry. After pressing, slice the tofu into half inch slices. Heat a cast iron skillet on medium heat and add a thin coating of high heat oil. As soon as the oil is hot enough (the tofu sizzles lightly when placed in the pan) add as many slices of tofu as will fit comfortably. Allow a little room between slices. Pan fry each side until it looks golden brown and lifts up easily. Let the tofu sit without touching it until it is ready to turn. If you try to move it too soon it is more likely to stick. When each side is golden brown, remove to a plate lined with paper towels and sprinkle with a small amount of tamari. When cool, slice into squares, triangles or fingers.