Tag: meal planning

Quick Meal Prepping

Quick Meal Prepping

Quick Meal Prep
meal plans

The weeks are flying by here in the Midwest which is just fine with us. We’re loving the cooler weather which allows us to keep the windows open and have fresh air breezing through the house all day.

Of course, since I work from home I’m the one who gets to enjoy the majority of time in our new space. Everyone else is running from one activity to the next and falling asleep on the couch in the evening.

Weeknight activities on the calendar often mean we’re grabbing dinner later or we aren’t all eating at the same time. When this happens I often switch to simple meals that are easy to prep on the weekends and heat up later in the week.

Here’s My Quick Meal Prep Strategy

Step One

Take stock of your ingredients on hand. This week in addition to what is pictured I have Satay sauce in the fridge, fresh peppers, and frozen zoodles.

We always have frozen chicken breasts and ground chicken on hand as it’s the main meat we eat.

Pull out all the items you will need to touch for each meal (in this case it’s basically opening cans) and place them where you will see them.

This serves two purposes:

  • It prevents you from running to the store because you think you don’t have something
  • It reminds you to actually use the ingredients you have in your house

Step Two

Consider your options. I make Satay two different ways but they both start with cooking frozen chicken breasts in the Instantpot with some diced onion until they are ready to shred. I also know that I’m going to want to serve the Satay over brown rice for our boys who prefer that to zoodles.

I organize my meals in Plan to Eat. The search functions in this system allow me to quickly find recipes with similar ingredients. You can do the same thing in Pinterest, but I find that it’s hard to keep track of the tried and true recipes we actually like in Pinterest, so once I know we love it, I add it to Plan to Eat.

I now have a few options:

  • I can double the amount of chicken and rice for another meal this week
  • I can double the amount of chicken and rice for Satay at another time
  • I can double the amount of chicken and rice and turn it into something else for a meal later down the road

In all of these circumstances, it takes me very little additional work to double the amount of food I prepare. The clean up is the same, and I will have another meal at some point that I don’t have to make. It’s a win-win-win.

Step Three

Always account for leftovers, but always have a backup plan. With teenage sons in the house and a husband in football season, there are days when I cook what I consider a huge meal and end up making myself a salad while they polish off dinner and make themselves sandwiches.

Then there are weeks where end up with extra food in the fridge from this event or there is an activity where they also provide dinner. Thankfully, breakfast for dinner is always a hit in our house and the boys are old enough to make the pancakes if I’m not finished working for the day.

Prep Work

This week was a very simple prep week. I put chicken and onions in the Instantpot and then shredded them and divided the cooked meat in half. One container went into the fridge and the other into the freezer.

  • I cooked 2 cups of brown basmati rice and placed the rice in a glass container in the fridge.
  • I cooked the taco meat and placed in a container in the fridge
  • I also mixed up some muffins and gluten-free scones from box mixes to bake for breakfasts while waiting for the rice to cook.

Bonus Chicken and Rice options:

  • Chicken and Green Salsa bake
  • Chicken “fried” rice
  • I can use the chicken in quesadillas or in risotto
  • I can use the rice in stuffed peppers
  • I can save for another round of Satay

I’ll likely go with the first options because it’s family favorite and it uses up a bunch of ingredients I have on hand right now. But I’ll see mid-week what our food consumption is looking like before making a final decision. If I do go with the green salsa bake it’s likely to make next week’s meal rotation.

Thanks to Pampered Chef steamed veggies are the only additional prep work I’ll be doing each night as I pull dinner together. In total including clean up, this took about 90 minutes thanks to an empty dishwasher and minimal need to chop veggies.

Breaking Down the Full Menu Week 1

Saturday/Sunday: Gluten-Free Chicken sausages, pork sausages from the local butcher and brat burgers make up the protein. Mashed potatoes, salad, and steamed broccoli will round out the menu for both nights.

Monday: Gluten-Free Satay sauce, Shredded chicken breasts, brown basmati rice, zoodles, diced green peppers, chopped peanuts, pineapple, steamed broccoli. (Make Your own Bowls)

Tuesday: Tacos (Ground beef or chicken because I happened to have both) black beans, corn tortilla chips and guacamole as a side dish. Served with apple slices and plums

Wednesday: This is date night so Ordell and I will eat out. The boys eat something quick. This week it’s chicken patties and fries and probably apples.

Thursday: Leftovers were addressed above in Step Three

Friday: Game Day is always different. Usually, the boys eat something at the field with the coaches and I grab a salad at home. Sometimes they will eat something from the concessions.

Saturday/Sunday: My preference is always to head to the farmer’s market and find something fresh to create. Our market runs all year long and we are members with a local rancher so we receive a discount.

Breaking Down a Full Menu Week 2

weekly menu

This week meal prep was divided into 2 parts. When we got back from the Farmer’s Market we had breakfast sausage and pork shoulder to thaw.

Saturday morning I made Chicken and Green Salsa bake (minus 2 chicken breasts added later that evening) with leftovers from the previous week’s dinners. I also made broccoli slaw, prepped a salad, and spent a little time Clorox wiping out the fridge drawers and shelves.

Saturday evening I made a breakfast casserole for mornings this week while I was cooking the potatoes and pasta for Saturday dinner.

Once the chicken was cooled I finished compiling Tuesday’s salsa bake and placed it in the fridge along with the breakfast casserole.

Saturday: Grilled Chicken, Gluten-Free Mac and Cheese, Roasted Potatoes, Steamed Broccoli, Salad. I had Ordell Grill up several extra chicken breasts 2 for Tuesday’s dinner, and some in anticipation of having leftovers.

Sunday: Ordell smoked up a pork shoulder (pictured above) we had leftover roasted potatoes and broccoli and pineapple from satay last week. We also had broccoli slaw and baked beans.

Monday: weekend leftovers

Tuesday: Chicken and Green Salsa Bake, tortilla chips and queso. I’ve linked the original recipe that my family loves. Every time I make this skillet is slightly different depending on what I have on hand. I find this is the perfect recipe to help use up leftover ingredients.

Wednesday: leftovers for the boys and date night for us

Thursday: baked fish, broccoli, fries (I give myself a break with one boxed meal a week. My kids love these Gordon Skillet Crisps which bake up great on stoneware. I’ll make myself baked salmon (gluten-free) to have over a salad and Ordell will usually have a little of both.

NOTE: Thursday is the first meal that I’ll have to do more than pull a dish out of the fridge and heat up some veggies.

Friday: Game Day! (Homecoming)

Saturday: Grilling Burgers we picked up at the Farmer’s Market last weekend

Note: Use my Plan to Eat referral code for a discount!

Favorite Easter Brunch Recipes

Favorite Easter Brunch Recipes

Favorite Easter Brunch Recipes

I love Easter brunch. One thing about living far from family for so many years is that Easter weekend can sometimes bring together a group of people for a great weekend meal. Over the years we’ve had several different groups through for Easter brunch.

Every meal has included different receipes, but today I’m sharing my favorites. This first recipe is adapted from Averie Cooks.

Blueberry Oatmeal Bars

Topping:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 C gluten free oats blended
  • 3/4 cup gluten-free oats left as oats
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • pinch salt, optional and to taste

Blueberry Layer

  • 12 ounces (2 cups) blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8-inch square pan with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray; set aside. Lining the pan helps with cleanup and is recommended.
  2. Crust and Crumble Topping – In a large, microwave-safe bowl melt the butter, about 1 minute on high power.
  3. Add the oats, sugars, optional salt, and stir to combine. Mixture will be dry and sandy with some larger, well-formed crumble pieces.
  4. Set 1 heaping cup mixture aside to be sprinkled on later as crumble topping.
  5. Transfer remaining mixture to prepared pan, and using a spatula or your fingers, hard-pack the mixture to create an even, smooth, flat crust; set aside.
  6. Blueberry Layer – In a large mixing bowl (same one used for crust and crumble is okay), add all ingredients and toss to combine. If sugar hasn’t dissolved fully that’s okay because it liquifies while baking.
  7. Evenly distribute blueberry mixture over the crust.
  8. Evenly sprinkle with the reserved heaping 1 cup crumble topping mixture. Before sprinkling, I squeeze the mixture in my palm to encourage bigger crumble pieces to form.
  9. Bake for about 55 minutes, or until edges are set and center has just set. Crumble topping should appear set and very pale golden. I used frozen berries without thawing and the pan was very cold going into the oven. If using fresh berries, baking time will be reduced, but I’m not sure by how much, I’d guess at least 10-15 minutes, possibly less. Bars may take longer than 55 minutes if blueberries are very juicy.

Baked Eggs

This recipe is awesome because you can make any variety you want. Don’t be afraid to add spinach, peppers and onions, chorizo, or sausage.

  • 8 eggs
  • 1 1/2 c. milk
  • 1 lb. diced bacon, cooked and cooled
  • 1 c. shredded cheese
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. black pepper
  • 1/2 t. paprika
  • PAM cooking spray
  • Additional shredded cheese, if desired

1. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and milk until foamy. Stir in bacon, cheese and seasonings.

2. Grease a 13×9 casserole dish with New & Improved PAM cooking spray. Pour in egg mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes, until eggs are fully cooked. Sprinkle with additional cheese, if desired, and return to the oven for a few minutes, just to melt the cheese.

3. Cut baked eggs into squares and serve. While some serve these with English muffins, I think they are great on their own.

Fruit Salad

I love a great fruit salad. My favorite trick is to use a combination of fresh and frozen fruits to reduce my prep time and keep the fruit cool.

I use frozen mango and peaches and add in fresh blackberries, strawberries, and pineapple. Beautiful colors and so yummy!

Peppermint Hot Chocolate Mix

Peppermint Hot Chocolate Mix

Peppermint Hot Chocolate Mix

Happy Thanksgiving! I’m sharing our family’s favorite peppermint hot chocolate mix today. The recipe is based on this one. But of course, I’ve made a few adjustments.  Fair warning, this makes a huge batch. I usually store it in a 1-gallon ice cream tub.  The best part is that most or all of the ingredients are found at Aldi, so it doesn’t have to break the bank and can last the whole holiday season.

Peppermint Hot Chocolate Mix

11 c. powdered milk

1 c. confectioners’ sugar

11 oz. powdered coffee creamer

2 lbs. powdered chocolate milk mix

4 T. cocoa powder

1 box instant chocolate pudding mix

1 bag of peppermint baking chips

Combine well, store in airtight container. Add to hot milk, hot water, or even coffee for a great holiday treat.

 

5 Simple Recipes to Survive the Season

5 Simple Recipes to Survive the Season

I’m highlighting my top 5 go-to recipes to keep my family fed during our busy weeks of football.

Head to Friday Night Wives to read the whole article. Here’s a preview:

The less planning we need to do during the season, the easier life is for everyone. It doesn’t matter how busy our week is, my kids insist they need dinner every night! I’ve yet to convince them a bowl of popcorn and some apple slices is a well-balanced meal, so instead I’ve learned to keep a few things stashed in the freezer to avoid the drive-thru as often as possible.

Here are my 5 Go-To Recipes During the Season

Tacos

Taco meat freezes perfectly and is very versatile. We use taco meat in tacos, over nachos, and as a protein in burrito bowls. I’ll often made a few pounds of ground chicken up and immediately freeze half for the following week.

With growing boys I’ve learned the best way to keep the cost on tacos low is to add canned beans to the mix. Pinto and black beans are inexpensive protein sources which also happen to be great pairs with tacos!

Here’s my favorite homemade taco seasoning recipe:

  • 1 tsp Garlic powder
  • 1 tsp Onion powder
  • 2 tsp Oregano, dried
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp Black pepper
  • 2 tsp Smoked Paprika
  • 1/2 tsp Red pepper flakes
  • 3 tsp Sea salt
  • 2 tbsp ground Cumin

Store in a mason jar.

The Comparison Game

The Comparison Game

Friday Night Wives Contributing Writer

I’m over at Friday Night Wives today writing about comparison.  Here’s a preview:

My husband’s aunt has, well, a specific pallet when it comes to recipes. While I try to stay within her preferred limits as often as possible, our family’s preferred zucchini preparation was well outside the lines. To my surprise, Auntie raved about this side dish and later called to ask for the recipe.

Grilled Zucchini:

Slice lengthwise

Add to taste:

Salt
Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar (Fig balsamic if you can find it)
Grill until cooked, but still firm.

Auntie was surprised, but proceeded to inform me of her pending substitutions:

Auntie’s Version:

Place zucchini and in a skillet with butter and sauté.

Add to taste:

Salt
Pepper
Red wine vinegar

I bet you can guess what happened next, right? A week or so later I received a call. Auntie’s recipe was disappointing, and she wondered where she had gone wrong.

Here’s the thing, she still thought her version tasted fine; it just wasn’t the same. And somehow that made it worse than my version

Read the rest here…

Meal Prep Plan for Any Season

Meal Prep Plan for Any Season

I’ve just completed my second restricted diet due to my thyroid being unbalanced and as with most things, the second time was avoidable had I learned my lesson the first time. That’s ok though, because now that I know “a little bit of gluten” WILL actually hurt I’m much more willing to go through the hassle of preparing three meals a day that I can safely eat.

The biggest meal hassles come during the times when our family is in-season. This year We’ve had someone in-season for 10 out of 12 months and the two out of season months were November and December. Add that to the fact that my boys now eat like men and I’m working full-time for the first time with kids and this Mama needed to implement an easily executable plan for any season.

Rules:

  • Gluten free when possible
  • Mama doesn’t cook on Sundays
  • Variety
  • I’m ok with eating something completely different than my guys

Breakfast:

My three top breakfasts are listed below. I rotate these with protein shakes and usually have a piece of fruit.

1.Healthy Pumpkin Muffins (with Gluten-Free oats)

2. Banana Muffins

  • Gluten-free yellow or chocolate cake mix
  • Frozen fruit or mini chocolate chips
  • 3 mashed bananas

Bake 350 for 15 minutes

3. Frittata if not having eggs for lunch (eggs and veggies baked in a pie dish, 4 servings)

Grab and Go:

  • Raw fusion protein shake with unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • Vega or Go Macro Protein bars

Lunch:

My favorite lunch rotates, I usually have grilled chicken strips in the freezer that I will heat up with roasted veggies. The next option is a lettuce wrap (check out this tutorial from Against All Grain). Hummus with gluten-free crackers and veggies is another easy choice.

  • Egg salad (Instant Pot: 6 eggs, 1 1/4 c water, 4 min on manual; quick release and put eggs in an ice bath)
  • Roasted veggies (2 trays at a time, my favorite combo is: sweet potatoes, peppers, onion, carrots; add olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper)
  • Prep fresh veggies (carrots, celery, mini peppers) and Dip
  • Hummus

Grab and Go:

  • Fruit, protein bar/shake, veggies, almonds
  • Gluten-free pretzels

Dinners:

Dinners are the only meal I prep for our family. Thankfully the boys are all capable of getting breakfasts and lunches on their own and cleaning up for themselves. While I find that some meals aren’t good when frozen first, there is almost always at least a portion that can be made ahead of time. There are endless options for meal plans so I decided to just give you an idea of what I made this time.

  • Ground chicken tacos  (frozen)
  • Chicken and veggie “fried” rice  (in fridge to eat this week)
  • Chicken and banana pepper sandwiches  (combined with frozen chicken)
  • Satay chicken, peppers and onions (combined with frozen chicken)
  • Chicken enchilada bake -freeze rice separately or make rice day of meal. I swap refried beans for black beans and pinto beans.  (combined with frozen chicken)
  • 3 pizza doughs
  • Pizza sauce
  • Chicken pot pie (double filling/freeze 1)

This list here is 12 meals. I baked chicken to add to the fried rice and chicken pot pie fillings. I also made the taco and added them to the freezer. Everything in the freezer can be taken out and thawed day of consumption. Instant pot or baked will work.

On hand Ingredients for quick meals:

Even when I haven’t had time to prep the week’s meals I’ve found that a well-stocked freezer will keep my guys happy. Meatballs can be added to pasta with frozen veggies or mixed with marinara for sandwiches. Tator tots are a quick side dish that can also double as a filling in some casserole dishes.

  • Chicken patties/GF nuggets
  • Meatballs
  • Marinara
  • Frozen veggies
  • Fish
  • Tator tots (gluten-free)
  • GF Pancake mix
  • Frozen fruit (side dish, smoothies)
  • Tortillas for quesadillas
  • Tuna Cakes – thanks to Aldi gluten free stuffing mix these are a quick meal the whole family can enjoy!
  • Almond-dijon chicken bake
  • BBQ sauce for sandwiches
  • Pizza Dough
  • Gluten-free cake mix (used for desserts, muffins, quick breads)

When the guys are eating chicken pot pie I’ll eat leftover chicken fried rice. When they have pizza I have my own on a gf crust. While burgers make the rotation a few times a month they weren’t on this week’s menu. They are also a great quick meal and can be prepped ahead of time.

Through the summer this will adjust to incorporate grilling several times a week and roasted veggies will be exchanged for grilled veggies and fresh salads.

Good luck and remember in whatever season you are in, this too shall pass. Eating chicken nuggets and apple slices at home is always better than from a restaurant, but when a drive-thru is needed it’s always appreciated.

Thanksgiving Mac and Cheese

Thanksgiving Mac and Cheese

he is a wise man who does not grieve for things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has

It’s Thanksgiving, and this year we are hosting family from both sides of our family! I’ve been grinning for weeks about today. Everyone is contributing to the meal which will mean lots of leftovers and hopefully no one will be exhausted.

Besides hosting I’m in charge of:

  • Turkey
  • Green beans
  • Macaroni and cheese

I discovered Sweetie Pie’s mac and cheese recipe a few years back and it’s my go-to to please a crowd.  Enjoy!

Sweetie Pie's Mac and Cheese
original image via Pinterest
Meals to Help Your Sanity

Meals to Help Your Sanity

Meal Prep to Help Your Sanity

 

For me, there are some months that feel longer than others. October, January, and April have sat highest in ranking order since for years. The reality is, it doesn’t matter how unmotivated I am feeling, my kids still need to get to school in clean clothes and eat every day. I’ve developed some strategies to capitalize on the weeks I’m highly motivated and have a little extra time on my hands. Here are my top tips for freezer cooking and meal preparation to help you keep your sanity during the football season:

Meal Prep

I’ve figured out that spending a few hours on Sunday prepping food for the week can reduce the dinner prep time to 15 minutes or less. This begins with a meal plan. I check the freezer, fridge, and pantry to see what I have on hand that can be made into meals. From there I plot out the best order for a simple meal plan.

Here is this week’s example complete with my time-saving strategy:

Sunday Meal: Grilled Turkey Burgers, red potatoes, cucumber

Additional Steps: Grill Chicken to be used in upcoming meals, brown up ground turkey and season for tacos. Freeze in a glass container to be used later in the week.

Monday Meal: Instant Pot Pork Chops with cream of chicken soup and stuffing, broccoli (steam up twice the broccoli needed for the meal)

Tuesday Meal: Grilled Chicken from Sunday, Steamed Mixed Vegetables, Brown Basmati Rice (cook double the amount needed)

Wednesday Meal: Chicken “fried” Rice Ingredients: leftover chicken from Sunday, Broccoli from Monday, Mixed Veggies and rice from Tuesday.

Thursday Meal: pull out that taco meat from the freezer, open a can of black beans and a bag of tortilla chips.

Friday Meal: leftovers

This strategy has served us well not only with meal prep, but also with our grocery bill. When all the food for the week is cooked and prepped there is no need for takeout.

Freezer Meals

I’m a big fan of the crock pot and the Instant Pot. More than once I’ve forgotten to thaw out meat before the kids arrive home from school and ask what we are having for dinner. Freezer meals are great for all three meals of the day. Here are my favorites:

Breakfast:

Lunch:

  • Grilled meat for salads
  • Quoina and veggie bowls

Dinners:

  • Dump Chicken
  • Chili and Soup
  • Marinaded Pork Tenderloin
  • Chicken Parmesan Bake
  • Shredded Chicken (tacos, add to pasta, bbq sandwiches, burritos)
  • Ground Turkey (sloppy joes, tacos, stroganoff)
  • Enchiladas
  • Spaghetti squash casserole (mine is any veggies I have and a jar of marinara combined with squash and topped with mozzarella cheese OR chicken and black beans with peppers, corn, and onion combined with enchilada sauce and squash topped with Mexican Blend shredded cheese.

Extras:

  • Freezer mashed potatoes
  • Pizza Doughs
  • Cookie Dough (form in balls instead of tube for quick cookies in any quantity)
  • Jam
  • Dinner Rolls
  • Spaghetti Squash portioned in 1 cup servings

Taking out time to think about meals a little more strategically over the weekend helps in the chaos of the school week. I’ve learned that anything I can do to lighten the load keeps me motivated and my family is happier too.

Our Blue Apron Experience

Our Blue Apron Experience

I was given a code to try Blue Apron completely free of charge. The code allowed for two-person meals to be free, family meals for three to four people to include a small additional charge, so I opted for the two person package.

I was able to make a few preference selections on the website like eliminating shellfish, beef or meat altogether. I highlighted that poultry, fish and pork would be ok. I was able to choose the day of delivery between Wednesday and Saturday. A few days before the meal was to arrive I received an email notification with pictures and titles of the meals I was to receive.

I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous because my husband doesn’t normally like fish unless it’s fried and I hadn’t seen the ingredient combinations together before. Still, looking ahead at upcoming weeks on the website all of the menus included meals I hadn’t previously prepared or even tasted.

The packaging was very organized, labeled, and sealed well. The ice blocks and insulation wrap worked perfectly surrounding the food. As I unpacked everything I noticed that the produce was firm and without blemish. A quick survey of ingredients revealed that nothing was omitted. Had I chosen to make the meals in a different order than presented on the website I would have missed the garlic. One bulb was included for two meals, but it was in a brown paper bag of extras for the first meal.

In addition to the printed instructions the Blue Apron website has videos you can watch to instruct you on how to prepare the food.

Pros:

I discovered that I like beets! Additionally, roasted chick peas. I prepared fish that my husband ate.

Additionally, I like roasted chickpeas.

I prepared fish that my husband ate.

The ingredients were truly fresh.

All three meals were very tasty and reasonable on the calorie counts.

The directions were very clear and easy to follow.

Cons:

I used a ton of cooking utensils with each meal.

I couldn’t select for allergies on the website, so where I usually eat gluten free, I was unable to do that.

Everything needed to be prepared the day of consumption. This might not be true of all menus, but the three meals I was given wouldn’t have held up more than a few hours let alone overnight.

It’s expensive.

Pictured:

Seared Barramundi with collard greens, Fregola Sarda, and shallot agrodolce (below)

Kale and Tahini Flatbreads with beet and pear salad (above)

Bottom Line:

Although we enjoyed all the meals we ate this week, I ended up having to do a lot more prep and clean up than I normally do and the meals weren’t within my normal dietary restrictions. That plus the cost factor doesn’t make this a reasonable weekly option for our family. I may try it again for a special occasion. It enjoyed the experience and understand why people are ordering from them so often!

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