Another Pilot Meal For Zeb’s 4-Day Trip: Buffalo Chicken Spaghetti Squash Bake
Last week I shared some of the unique and challenging aspects of a commercial airline pilot’s work trip schedule, and how we often meal prep and pack homemade balanced meals to keep my husband from eating out for four days straight. If you’re interested in a little more of the standard (or not-so-standard) lifestyle of this career, definitely check out this post first!
For Zeb’s most recent four-day trip, he requested something low-carb for this week’s meal prep…..maybe our upcoming tropical summer vacation has something to do with that, haha. He would be doing multiple flights a day with nightly hotel stays in Tri-Cities, Washington, Meford, Oregon, and Eugene, Oregon. Not the most glamorous trip route this time.
I took to Pinterest for some low-carb inspiration, found a recipe, and tweaked it a little to make it my own. This trip, I made and packed Zeb a Buffalo Chicken Spaghetti Squash Bake & I kept a container for myself because it was so yummy! I LOVE the flavor of buffalo sauce.
You start by baking a spaghetti squash (which Brynnley kept calling a banana and a ball) and chicken breast. I like to microwave my squash for about 7-8 minutes first to help it cook a little faster, since it does take close to an hour!
In the meantime, you can prep the rest of your ingredients. Thinly sliced celery, diced tomatoes, shredded cheese, crumbled blue cheese, ranch dressing, buffalo wing sauce, and parsley for topping.
Once the chicken is cooked and cooled, dice it up and add it to your mixture. Then use two forks to pull apart the spaghetti squash strands and add them to your large bowl.
Place the buffalo chicken spaghetti squash mixture into a greased casserole dish and bake at 400 degrees for another 20 minutes. You can add more cheese on top if you wish!
Zeb did say that I broke my own rule with this one because it wasn’t as good cold. Luckily he ended each day of this trip pretty early and was able to eat his meal in his hotel room with a microwave.
Buffalo Chicken Spaghetti Squash Bake
- 1 Spaghetti Squash
- 2 lb. Chicken Breast
- 1 cup Celery , thinly sliced
- 1 cup Tomato , diced
- 1 cup Shredded cheddar cheese
- 2/3 cup Crumbled Blue Cheese
- 1 cup Ranch Dressing
- 1 cup Buffalo Wing Sauce (or more, dependent on your taste)
- Parsley for garnish
- Salt, Pepper and Garlic Powder to taste
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, greased. Also grease a 9×9 baking dish and set aside for later.
- Cut the spaghetti squash in half and place both halves face-down on the foil. Place chicken breast next to them.
- Bake until chicken is heated to 165 degrees internal temperature and remove from sheet. Place squash back into oven until it is very soft and tender.
- While squash and chicken are baking, combine the rest of your ingredients in a LARGE mixing bowl: thinly sliced celery, diced tomato, shredded cheese, crumbled blue cheese, ranch dressing, buffalo sauce, salt, pepper and garlic powder.
- Once the cooked chicken has cooled, cut it into bite-sized cubes and add it to the buffalo mixture.
- Once cooked spaghetti squash has cooled, remove the squash strands with two forks and add to the buffalo mixture. Blend well.
- Add the mixture to the greased baking dish and bake for another 20 minutes. Feel free to add cheese on top and continue baking until it browns. I liked to top mine with extra buffalo sauce.
- Garnish with parsley and add a little ranch dressing drizzle, if you so desire!
And there you have this week’s installment of what I meal prepped for my pilot husband! We are going to enjoy our Memorial Day weekend with our first trip to the pool of the year, and I can’t wait! Last summer, we went to the pool quite often and Brynnley seemed to enjoy it but she was only 5-7 months old. Now she’s nearly a year and a half and can run around the splash pad on her own. She LOVES water and insists on sticking herself in front of the hose whenever I’m out watering my garden.
She and I have been taking 2-3 walks A DAY because the weather is sooo perfect and I know hotter days are coming so we are taking advantage while we can.
I have a fun blog post idea planned for later next week so check back soon! Happy Memorial Day Weekend!
Packing Meals For a Pilot + Shredded Chicken Tamale Casserole Recipe
Last week I filmed and shared a little vlog on my YouTube channel that just followed a day in the life with Brynnley and I as Zeb was on a four-day trip. He’s a commercial pilot, so our lifestyle is unique in that he’s gone between 3-5 days a week. That means a whole lot of solo-parenting, and a lot of unique challenges to our family’s schedule. Which is something I thought I could share a little more about here as well!
Until I started dating Zeb, I actually had no idea that pilots spent many nights away from their home. I assumed they had a “route” that they flew back and forth and ended back at home each night. Nope! There’s nothing normal or regular about their schedule! They also do not have a designated “route.” Based on seniority, they can request certain criteria in their flight schedule but very rarely do they fly the same trip twice!
Zeb’s trips can start on any day of the week, including Saturday and Sunday. They can be 2 days, 3 days, or 4 days. Their layover and hotel can be in pretty much any city with a major airport. Sometimes he’s in Burbank, Salt Lake City, and Houston, and other times he’s in Nashville for three nights in a row! Some trips he flies from 5am-noon every day and other trips he’s hanging out in a hotel until 4pm and flying until midnight. It’s ALWAYS different.
One of the interesting aspects that many people don’t think about when it comes to a pilot (or flight attendant) schedule is packing meals and snacks for their trips that can be up to four days long. Most of the airplanes my husband flies actually don’t have microwaves to heat up his meals! He takes a rolling luggage bag and a large cooler bag on each trip. Many days he starts his trip as early as 5am and it might be 12 hours until he can transfer his food into a hotel mini fridge for the evening. So logistically, there are some restrictions to what kinds of food he can take along with him to avoid eating out for all four days. Eating airport and restaurant food is not the healthiest option but it also adds up to so much extra money spent on food!
I don’t mind meal prepping for him so that he has nutritious food to eat on his trip, but it’s taken a while to figure out what types of foods keep well for multiple days in a cooler bag and are something he will actually EAT and not bring back home to dump down the garbage disposal.
This post is only going to contain one recipe that was a hit for his last four-day trip, and I’ll continue to share more as I make them each week! I’ll have to start a new little page on this blog specifically for pilot meals, packing tips, and more about this bizarre lifestyle.
First thing to consider when picking a recipe to meal prep for his trip is that it has to taste good both hot and cold, in case he needs to eat it as lunch or dinner on the airplane and doesn’t have a way to heat it up.
On his most recent trip, I made a shredded chicken tamale casserole that was a hit!
Shredded Chicken Tamale Casserole
- 1 casserole dish , greased
- 1 box cornbread mix (plus ingredients on packaging)
- 4.5 oz diced green chiles
- 2 cups cooked shredded chicken
- 1 cup Monterey Jack cheese
- 1 cup Mexican blend cheese
- 1 cup creamed corn
- 15 oz black beans
- 10 oz green enchilada sauce
- 1 Tbs garlic powder
- 1 Tbs cumin
- salt & pepper
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease a 9×9 casserole dish.
- In a medium bowl, stir together the cornbread mix and the ingredients listed on its packaging. Add diced green chiles, set aside.
- In a separate large bowl, combine the shredded chicken and spices. Add black beans, creamed corn, 1/2 cup Monterey Jack cheese, 1/2 cup Mexican blend cheese, and green enchilada sauce.
- Pour the chicken mixture into the greased casserole dish and spread evenly.
- Pour the cornbread batter evenly over the top of the chicken mixture.
- Bake for 25 minutes. Then add the remaining Monterey Jack and Mexican blend cheeses.
- Continue baking for another 15 minutes until the cheese begins to brown.
- Allow to cool and enjoy! Optional toppings: sour cream, cilanto, salsa, and avocado.
I divided up some big portions into three containers for Zeb to pack along with some Spanish rice, just in case he was extra hungry!
I had one container left at home for myself and can attest that it was yummy hot AND cold, if necessary!
Some snack staples that Zeb also usually packs along are beef jerky, almonds, and a few of my homemade “Cat balls” (peanut butter energy balls). He has unlimited airplane snacks, including whatever is offered to first class, which have actually come a long way from pretzels! Now there are fun options like pistachios, chocolate covered almonds, and Sun Chips. He brings me home some extras sometimes and I never want to eat another Biscoff cookie in my life haha.
Any other fellow spouses of an aviation crew member? Share your favorite meals to pack with me!
A Week-Long Travel Guide to San Juan Island
For regular blog readers, this post will seem redundant from my vacation recap post last year. But I wanted to create a totally separate travel guide in a more comprehensive post for any future travelers!
This is for anyone looking to find helpful tips and links for an amazing trip to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington. Our family of 5 (three generations!) spent eight days here in September 2022 and had a 10-out-of-10 AMAZING time, and I hope to help others experience the same!
If you’ve never seen this Pacific North West scenic setting, this blog post just might entice you to plan a visit. The San Juan Islands have been on my dad’s radar for a long time. On September 20th, he celebrated his 60th birthday and we rang in the new decade with a family trip to his bucket list destination!
We opted to drive the whole way rather than fly to Seattle because we had SO MUCH STUFF to bring with us for our 8 days away from home. We couldn’t even all fit in one car, we had to bring two! Travelling with a baby requires a pack n’ play, mattress, stroller, high chair, car seat, tons of diapers and toys, our big hiking carrier, and so many little things that really add up. We planned on cooking many of the meals in our VRBO house (the kitchen was a culinary dream!) so we also had two coolers and lots of dry goods. The preparation and packing alone took multiple days, as I also had to plan out the logistics of pumping milk and feeding Brynnley throughout the long travel days.
They say that “getting there is half the fun.” Just like their name, they are ISLANDS. So we drove from Boise through Seattle up to Anacortes which took 8 hours. Then we drove our cars onto a massive ferry boat that took us into the Pacific Ocean for about an hour to Friday Harbor which is the port of one of the three main islands. In the map below, Bellingham and Anacortes are in Washington State and Victoria on the left side is in Canada. The islands are right in the middle, owned by the United States.
You MUST book your ferry ticket in advance because they will fill up. You can find a ferry schedule and tickets here: Washington State Department of Transportation.
San Juan Islands are made up of 172 named islands and reefs. However only three islands are served by state-run ferry systems and are the most popular for tourism: San Juan Island, Orcas Island, and Lopez Island. They are known for their unique landscape and abundance of wildlife, including orca and humpback whales which have sightings nearly every day. We stayed on San Juan Island in an incredible rental home right on the water.
There is so much to share about this wonderful area and I’d like to keep it all in one blog post so I will warn you now, this one is lengthy! I’d grab your cup of coffee or glass of wine now and settle in :)
We arrived in mid-September and lucked out with the turning seasons. Some trees were already bright with color and shedding leaves but much of the island remained very green. PNW is known for its moody weather and unpredictable gloominess, but we had pure sunshine and blue skies for 7 out of the 8 days there. (The one rainy day was of course on the date I had pre-booked a private sailboat, but we’ll get to that!)
Our first night, we toured the property, unpacked, got the baby settled into her bedtime routine, enjoyed an easy dinner on the back deck and relaxed. So Monday morning we were ready to explore as much of the island as we could! San Juan Island is 55 square miles and has a population of 7,000.
Our rental home owner greeted us in person to give us a tour of the property and instructions on how to use the included hot tub and kayaks. While he was there, he informed us that there is a private Facebook group that you can request access to where locals post about and whale sightings in real time.
That Facebook group is called Whale Sightings in the San Juan Islands.
We began our day in Roche Harbor for coffee and breakfast next to the marina. We ate at Lime Kiln Cafe, named for the island’s history in limestone quarrying and production. Next we finished our coffees while walking around the marina and admiring the sailboats and yachts. What a lifestyle! From there, we walked around, admiring the cute hotels and restaurants and then touring the sculpture park. 300 sculptures cover several acres of gardens that the public can walk through any time. My favorite was this wooden representation of the orca whales the island is so famous for.
Not too far from Roche Harbor is Lime Kiln State Park which is known as the most notable whale watching spot and also offers tide pools to explore at certain times of the day. There’s also a small lighthouse and some beautiful walking paths around this area. We came once during the day to enjoy the views, and again later in the week first thing in the morning at low-tide to check out the tide pools. Sadly we didn’t spot any whales or colorful crustaceans.
We continued our tour of the island’s perimeter to South Beach where we dipped Brynnley’s toes into the ocean for the first time ever. It was COLD! Brynnley sleeps with a sound machine every night set to “ocean waves” so Zeb pointed out that this should sound like home to her! The beach of filled with drift wood, and my parents collected some to make a Christmas tree-shaped hanging yard ornament.
Close by is one more lighthouse – Cattle Point Light House. I’m not sure you can call .25 miles a “hike” but it was a very hilly and sandy short walk that seriously tested our stroller’s off-roading abilities. Brynnley had just fallen asleep for a much-needed nap so we were determined to push her through whatever terrain we had! The stroller tires left a funny track in the sand and a passerby said they thought there were four odd-shaped snakes on the trail until she saw the culprit haha.
By this point we were all ready for some food and a drink! Our last stop of the day was Friday Harbor, a small town within San Juan Island with tons of cute shops and restaurants.
One thing to note – there are NO chain businesses on the island! No chain grocery stores, coffee shops or convenience stores. Everything is local :) We love that!
We nabbed some calamari and a beverage at Friday Harbor Crab House on their rooftop deck with a view of the port. It was fun to watch the sea planes land right on the water in front of us. We switched spots for our late lunch and walked across the street to Down Riggers which was even closer to the marina.
Tuesday was the big day – the 60th Birthday! The night before, Zeb, my mom and I stayed up to decorate the house and I’m sure my dad had noo idea what we were doing. ;) He was surprised by our matching shirts the next day though that an Etsy shop made to give him maximum attention on our shenanigans that day.
After birthday breakfast on the back deck, we drove to “English Camp.” This requires a tiny bit of a history lesson. In the 1800s, both the United States and Great Britain occupied the San Juan Islands. They divided San Juan Island in half – Great Britain took the north and US took the south. (After touring the island, Great Britain got the better end of the deal here.) Ultimately, we know who won the rights to the land. The camps they held are now national historic parks – English Camp and American Camp. They require a $10 parking pass but are totally worth it! There’s several walking paths around English camp that we did with Brynnley in her stroller. There are still original structures up and some waterfront area that we saw a seal swimming around in and sporadically popping his head up at us.
We came back to this area a couple days later to do a different hike to the tallest point on San Juan Island (700 ft elevation or so) in her Osprey hiking carrier that she loved. The trail was called Mt. Young, and it passes by the English camp’s cemetery for the seven men who died during their occupation. This hike was about 2.25 miles and had a stunning view at the top of the islands and bay and even Victoria, Canada. This is one of the best views you can get on San Juan Island and the hike is pretty mild, so I think it’s a must-do if you are staying here!
Another attraction on the island happened to be just down the road from our rental house – Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm. Many people include this as a stop in their travels, and we were able to walk one mile down the dirt road. The farm is GORGEOUS and the trees were starting to turn colors with rolling hills in the background. These alpacas have it made!
They were so friendly and cute. It’s free to come and roam the property and there is a store on site with different blankets and clothing items made from the alpacas. P.S. I have decided that alpacas look like the result of a camel breeding with a golden doodle. :)
Brynnley was very alert during this stop and loved talking to all of the alpacas who would look her way!
Alright – courtesy pause here to say that if your mug or glass are empty, you might want to go get a refill because we are NOT even close to being DONE YET!
Another fun short hiking option would be the Roche Harbor Trails – a system of 5 trails stemming off from a single trailhead that cover over 6 miles total but contain some loop options that are between 1-2 miles total. I did my research on this one beforehand and knew that one of the trails would connect with the Roche Harbor Disc Golf Course. We packed along my parents’ sets of discs with us and played several holes along our very green and lush walk.
Directly across from the Roche Harbor Trails was one of the best meals we had on the vacation. (We ate so good on this trip, both at restaurants and cooking at home, so it really is impossible to even say “best” here.) My parents made reservations at Wescott Bay Shellfish Co.
This is a really cool atmosphere for outdoor waterfront dining. It is an aquaculture farm/shellfish company, and during the summer season they have “Tide Tables” where they serve BBQ’d oysters with a variety of compound butters and some sides that change with the local farmers crops. I’m a very picky eater and the texture of oysters has always grossed me out, so I planned on trying a polite bite and then making a lunch out of my prosecco and bread…I was pleasantly surprised! BBQ’d oysters with such flavorful butters are a whole different story though, and I ended up loving them so much I ordered another round just for myself! The ambience of being right on the water under the umbrellas of the picnic tables on such a warm sunny day and trying new unexpected foods and flavors was one of my highlights of the trip.
Like I said though, not every day was sunny. We had one gloomy rainy day, and that happened to fall on the day that I had pre-booked a private sailboat tour around the islands. This was mine and Zeb’s birthday present to my dad – we thought it would be fun to have a different perspective of all of the islands, and none of us had ever sailed before. Well, after three hours on the boat I still don’t think any of us can really say we “sailed.”
Even though it was raining and drizzling, there was just NO wind. The sailboat really had no movement unless Captain Ward turned on the motor and scooted us around Friday Harbor. We did get to see a bunch of seals hanging out on some rocks and that was fun, but we never got too far from Friday Harbor and we didn’t get to have much of the new perspective I was hoping for. We were ready to just head back and head somewhere indoors for a late lunch.
That day we ate at the San Juan Island Brewery which had a full food menu and a huge seating area, both indoors and outdoors. We all loved our meals – I got their flatbread special which had whole cloves of garlic (sorry Zeb). I’m not a beer drinker so I had a glass of white wine. We walked a little around Friday Harbor again, but for the rest of the trip that I haven’t covered we spent enjoying our rental house and all it had to offer!
Two kayaks were included with the house, which was really fun to go out into the bay see some of the beautiful homes up close. First I went out with my mom, and we were convinced there was a sea snake behind us but later could see more clearly that it was in fact seaweed. Then I went out again with Zeb and we ventured a little farther to the site of a fishing boat that had sunk a week earlier and was being pulled up by a crane on a barge. It was quite a large operation!
I tried out four different local coffee shops on the island and my favorite was Salty Fox coffee right next to the ferry port at Friday Harbor.
Before we knew it, our eight days in the PNW had come to an end and we were getting ready to take the first morning ferry back to Anacortes.
I created a 20 minute vlog of our vacation for my YouTube channel if you want to see even more detail of the vacation!
What else would you like to know about the island, if you are planning a trip? I’m happy to answer any questions in the comments section!