cooking and meal planning

7 Creative Ways to Use Your Instant Pot

The Instant Pot is all the rage for busy home cooks! Today I’m sharing 7 creative ways to use your instant pot beyond the usual soups, meats, beans and grains. Also just a heads-up that there are affiliate links in this post meaning, at no cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. Thanks for reading!

7 Creative Ways to Use Your Instant Pot

What’s the Deal with the Instant Pot?

I think it’s pretty well established that the Instant Pot has turned into somewhat of a cultural phenomenon in the last few years. Even if you don’t own one, most of us can attest to their insane (seemingly overnight?) popularity. The sheer volume of recipes on Pinterest is crazy. Every time I search for something, I swear an IP variation pops up too!

I love the instant pot for simple and fast weeknight cooking with minimal cleanup (i.e. one pot meals). For example, you can throw in frozen chicken breast, a couple of cans of tomatoes, beans and broth plus seasonings and vegetables of choice and make a solid soup in less than 30 minutes. The saute feature allows you to get your onions and garlic started before dumping everything else in without having to dirty another pan, which is pretty cool too.

I’ve mentioned this before, but the IP also makes cooking for a crowd a breeze because you can perfectly cook large cuts of protein in a fraction of the time that you can in the oven or crock pot. I’m talking shredded, fall apart style Korean Beef or Carnitas as the perfect centerpiece for a BYO taco bar.

If you follow a plant-based diet, there are plenty of options for you too! A friend of mine recently recommended this Thai & Butternut Curry and it was another winner. Additionally you can use it for large batch dried beans which is great because honestly, I never think about soaking and prepping them in advance so I much prefer making them in an hour, pressure cooker style.

When I was writing this post, I remembered that I actually made an Instant Pot video tutorial last year for a cooking challenge that I facilitated. Check it out below if you’re interested in a more visual explanation of how the IP works or feel intimidated by all of the settings and buttons - I cooked a small batch of brown rice in this one.

Creative Ways to Use Your Instant Pot

All of the examples I mentioned above are pretty mainstream uses for the Instant Pot but did you know there’s a ton of creative, more non-traditional ways to use it too? I wanted to round up seven creative recipes (that I’ve found) to use the Instant Pot to share just how versatile it is. Many of these I’ve tried, some not. Hopefully this list gives you some new ideas and inspiration!

Hard-Boiled Eggs (Omnivore’s Cookbook)

These have become somewhat of a weekly staple in my house. I prefer my eggs on the jammy side, so I follow the 4-minute version and they turn out perfect every time and are SO easy to peel. Let me tell you, hard-boiled eggs were always so frustrating for me until I discovered this method. I’m not sure it was the altitude or what, but every time I made them on the stove they would be either impossible to peel, overcooked or a combination of the two. This method is quick and hands-off!

Cinnamon Roll French Toast Casserole (Fit Foodie Finds)

This French toast casserole recipe involves placing an oven-safe bowl on the trivet inside of the Instant Pot so that steam can cook it on all sides - genius! Just to clarify, the trivet is a small metal insert that’s included in the box for when you need to lift ingredients off the bottom of the pot.

I love this dish for brunch entertaining because it’s unique, but simple to throw together and really delicious. It’s a crowd-pleaser!

Coconut Milk Yogurt (Stephanie Lee Nutrition)

I have to admit that I haven’t ventured into the yogurt-making setting yet but this coconut milk version is really intriguing! There’s a yogurt button to make the whole process faster and smoother than trying to figure it out on your own. This specific recipe is great for anyone who needs to/chooses to avoid dairy (plus less expensive than buying from the store).

Instant Pot Coconut Milk Yogurt

Sweet Potatoes (Sweet Peas and Saffron)

Baked sweet potatoes are a great staple to batch cook and keep handy for quick lunches and dinners throughout the week. You can stuff them with all of your favorite fillings (actually, here’s three ideas!) for a super satisfying 15-minute meal or mash the inside for a side dish. Using the instant pot cuts down the cook time by about half and frees up your oven for other items, which is especially helpful if you’re making these as part of your weekend meal prep routine.

Peach Jam (Marisa Moore Nutrition)

This simple jam recipe will definitely happen in my house once peaches come back into season later in the summer. In the meantime I may even try it with frozen peaches to see if it works since those are always available.

I’m always looking for new ways to incorporate Colorado peaches into just about everything (I’m kind of obsessed actually) and this comes together in just 20 minutes! In addition to spreading on toast, I can see this being a great way to add flavor to grilled fish and chicken. And how amazing is that color?

Instant Pot Peach Jam

Chicken Pho (Nom Nom Paleo)

HELLO. Did you know that not only can you cook an entire chicken in the IP, but you can then take it one step further and turn it into a delicious pho? This was actually one of the first recipes I attempted when I bought mine (ambitious? yes.) and it turned out great, although it’s definitely on the more time-intensive side than the others on this list.

Compared to traditional, “simmer on the stove all day” pho it is faster. Just note that the total time listed is 1.5 hours because you first have to cook and shred the chicken, then do a second cook.

Raisin Bread (The Foodie Dietitian)

Last but certainly not least, I am really excited about this raisin bread by Kara aka the Foodie Dietitian!

While this raisin bread doesn’t use the Instant Pot for the actual cooking process (you’ll need the oven for that part), it creatively utilizes the yogurt function for the rise which is so clever and something I would never think to do.

I’ve not tested this yet, but it’s on my list because it looks insanely delicious with butter slathered on top and there isn’t any kneading required, which cuts down on a step and saves time. Shortcut homemade bread? I’m in.

Instant Pot Raisin Bread

Which Instant Pot Model Should I Buy?

Now if you don’t currently own an Instant Pot and are interested in purchasing one, this is the one I have and love.

It’s a good size and has all of the features I’ve needed at a really affordable price point. I’m not sure if it’s temporary, but the price is actually significantly lower now than it was when I bought it.

Many people don’t realize, but this is actually a 7-in-1 appliance so in addition to the pressure cooker setting, it can also be used to cook a variety of ingredients with several different methods. If you do end up purchasing it, I hope you love it as much as I do!


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Make Your Own Starbucks Protein Bistro Box

DIY Starbucks Protein Bistro Box

Afternoon Snacks & Iced Coffee

When I was still working in an office, I would bring my coffee, lunch and snacks for the day instead of eating out about 95% of the time. Not a shocker, this is a huge money-saver for anyone looking to cut back on spending and a great way to cut back on food waste and eat your leftovers. I digress.

Every once in awhile I would venture out for an afternoon snack (especially on nice weather days when I wanted an excuse to get outside) and the one place that was walkable was a small Starbucks down the street. They had a couple of options like yogurt, popcorn, chocolate-covered nuts and bananas. Nothing special, but something I could make work if I got an afternoon iced coffee out of the deal.

Then they started serving something called a “protein bistro box” that had a hard-boiled egg, apples, grapes, cheese, a pita bread of sorts and some peanut butter. I loved this idea in theory; if you’ve been following me long enough you know I’m a fan of snack pairing and “snack lunches”. The first time I tried the bistro box though, I ended up being totally underwhelmed - it just lacked flavor and was kind of blah.

Even though I mostly work from home now, I thought it would be fun to put my own twist on the bistro box and freshen up the ingredients. These would be a great addition to your weekend meal prep. The best part is, you can buy whatever looks good so you never get bored of the same old stuff.

DIY Starbucks Protein Bistro Box
DIY Starbucks Protein Bistro Box

How to Build Your Own Starbucks Protein Bistro Box

Before I get started let me just clarify there really is no “right” way to do this. For inspiration, here’s a rough idea of what to pick up from the store for a colorful and satisfying box:

  • Fruits & vegetables

  • Mini pita, whole grain crackers or chips

  • Eggs, hummus, favorite deli meat (I would avoid anything smoked, because the potent flavor will probably make everything in the box taste smokey)

  • Cheese (I love Babybel because they are wrapped, portable and full of flavor)

  • Optional: nuts or trail mix, chocolate, dried fruit, and maybe even a tea bag

Just set up an assembly line and start dividing things between your favorite food storage containers. I love these Pyrex ones because they don’t stain, they’re dishwasher safe, clear (so I can easily see what’s inside) and also have the lids that lock on for an airtight seal. I’ve slowly been transitioning to pyrex over the years and getting rid of my dingy plastic containers. Such a great investment!

I only had one hard-boiled egg left when I made these, so one of them has a side of roasted red pepper hummus. I grabbed a disposable salad dressing container from the grocery store salad bar but you could also use a parchment baking cup or small condiment dish to keep dips and spreads separate.

Make Your Own Starbucks Protein Bistro Box

Upgrade Your Protein Bistro Box

  1. I used berries and orange slices instead of apples because I’m not a fan of the packaged, pre-sliced apples. They tend to lose flavor and start to brown fast once you cut them. Use any seasonal fruit that you like!

  2. I more “medium-boiled” the eggs and topped with Everything-But-The-Bagel seasoning. I know the overcooked hard-boiled eggs are probably a food safety precaution but I like mine to be more on the jammy side. If you haven’t tried EBTB seasoning on your eggs, highly recommend!

  3. I went with a seedy cracker over the pita bread for more crunch. This brand was new to me and I’ll definitely be buying them again. I loved that they had really good texture and 3 grams of fiber per serving.

  4. Lastly, I added some vegetables for more nutrition and variety (and because that’s one of the the things I do best 😂)

Cost Comparison

The Starbucks version is somewhere between $4.50-$5.50 based on the information that I found online (dependent on location). I wanted to calculate the cost of the one I made at home for the sake of comparison and here’s what I came up with. I broke it out into cost per serving for each ingredient.

  • Crackers $0.56

  • Orange $0.36

  • English cucumber $0.25

  • Red bell pepper $1.00

  • Egg $0.22

  • Hummus $0.30

  • Cheese $0.80

Total cost per one box = $3.49

Dang those bell peppers! The cost isn’t of the made-at-home one isn’t much lower because I used the red bell pepper and they are pricey (this is the cost I pay for wanting colorful photos).

If you left the bell pepper out or swapped in something like celery sticks or carrots, the total cost would be about half of the store-bought version and since you can make several in a short amount of time I would say that’s a win!

The only thing missing is that iced coffee but I’ll save that tutorial for another post.

DIY Starbucks Protein Bistro Box

Note that there are affiliate links in this post meaning, at no cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. Thanks for reading!


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Top Ten Most Popular Posts of 2018

I can’t believe I’m already sitting down to write another one of these posts. It seems like a month ago I was writing my top posts of 2017 and looking back on it makes me realize how far I’ve come in just one year. Yes, I get totally nerdy and over-analytical when it comes to stuff like this.

Blogging can be hard sometimes. It’s this weird balancing act of wanting to create something that resonates with readers and provides a lot of value while also writing about topics that light you up personally. Sometimes those things are not one in the same.

In reflecting over the past year I think I’m finally starting to find my groove and creating higher-quality work that feels good to me and also performs decently well. I was lucky enough to be featured in several national publications this year which means more eyes and and a wider reach. You can see a list of those publications here!

Now for the part you really want to read, my top ten blog posts of 2018 based on number of page views in Google Analytics!

Top Ten Blog Posts of 2018 on LeanneRay.com

10. Blueberry Farro Salad with Creamy Fresh Herb Dressing

This is one of three recipes on this list in which tahini is a major ingredient - does that speak to my favorite pantry staple of 2018?! This wholesome grain salad makes for a delicious light lunch (or dinner side) and I love the mix of textures and contrast of flavors.

9. Some Thoughts on Alcohol + Mocktail Ideas

Alcohol is one of my favorite topics because it’s one that many people struggle with when trying to make some healthy lifestyle changes. In this post I shared some newer research along with how I usually approach questions about alcohol fitting into a healthful eating plan. Read to the end for some non-boring mocktail ideas too!

8. How to Make Kombucha at Home

My friend and fellow-dietitian Maria wrote this guest post and it was hugely popular! Kombucha is certainly having a moment and I think many people are intrigued that you can make it at home. Have you tried it?

7. Perfect Roasted Vegetables + 5 Ways to Use Them

This might be the most practical post on the list! I’m a huge fan of roasting vegetables because they can be repurposed in so many ways (read: you aren’t eating the same thing for three nights in a row). Check out this one for some creative ideas.

6. Spiced Chickpea & Kale Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Tahini Sauce

This post actually talks about three different ideas for stuffing sweet potatoes (a favorite throw-together meal in my house) with a full recipe for the one named in the title. The texture and flavor pairing is unreal.

5. Maple Tahini Snack Balls

This might be the recipe I personally make most often from the blog. I’ve passed these out at several events in the last year because they are the perfect combination of salty and sweet, are simple to make and a nice change from your usual snacks (I love them pre-early morning workout).

4. How Much Protein Do You Really Need?

There’s a lot of information floating around about protein, so I wanted to set the record straight on how much most people actually need along with what foods you can eat to meet that need. This was a great kick-off to my protein at breakfast challenge back in September.

3. The Easiest Mason Jar Sangria

This recipe is so easy and makes summer entertaining a breeze. The storage container doubles as the glass and it uses ingredients that you’ll actually want to keep on hand (aka no Brandy).

2. Spring Strawberry Salad with Orange-Champagne Vinaigrette

This salad is a must-make once you see strawberries starting to come back into season in the Spring. I love this one for an Easter dinner, but really you can make it all summer long. The ingredients are simple and the homemade dressing really takes it over the top.

1. Breakfast-Worthy Apple Crisp

Oh, the apple crisp! This is my {super delicious} take on apple crisp that is lower in added sugar and higher in fiber from oats, whole wheat flour, walnuts and flax. Because of these add-ins I refer to it as “breakfast-worthy” because I use this as more of a snack than a dessert. You should too! Give it a try and let me know what you think.

As always, thanks for reading and I hope you keep coming back for more! I want to keep making the blog bigger and better in 2019 and I can’t do it without you. Have something in specific you want me to cover? Let me know in the comments and I will do my best to make it happen!