Tag Archives: Meal plan

menu monday: perfect summer BBQ menu

Over Memorial Day weekend we had Greg’s boss and his family over for dinner. We are friends, so it was fun, not like a 1960s sitcom episode where the boss comes to dinner. The weather wasn’t warm enough to eat outside, but it was warm enough to pull out the BBQ for summer and grill our food. I’m so excited it’s BBQ season.

I threw together a menu on Friday and it ended up being so delicious I thought I’d share for anyone planning a summer BBQ. You could also make the chicken in the oven if you aren’t able to BBQ. Everything can be prepped ahead and then the cauliflower can be cooked while the chicken is being grilled. I wasn’t aiming for this, but since I know the family prefers to eat low carb I went with meat and veggies and it ended up being a completely Whole30 compliant meal (minus dessert).IMG_9087_edited-1I only managed to get a photo of the salad, but here’s what we served. Typically I would have put together a fun cocktail as well (well, asked Greg to do so), but we don’t totally have our post-baby hosting act together yet.

Green Chicken from Nom Nom Paleo. This is my favorite chicken recipe right now and while it might seem like a lot of ingredients, you only need to toss them all in a blender to create the marinade. We used bone-in thighs instead of legs and marinaded the chicken for about six hours. Greg followed the grilling instructions from the recipe and they were so good. Probably the best grilling he’s done to date. I think we are going to have a good summer of eating.

Mango Cabbage Salad from Food Network. I wanted something other than a green salad to serve and this looked delicious when I read through it. I’ve been on a mango kick ever since realizing I like them about two years ago (I’m slow sometimes). It ended up tasting delicious as well. I skipped the Serrano chiles since we had a two year old dining with us, but it turns out she loves Sriracha so maybe I should have just gone for it. With the exception of the mango that I sliced by hand, I used the shred blade on my food processor to prep all the other veggies. I made this in the morning and tossed with the dressing about an hour before we ate.

Coconut Cauliflower ‘Rice’ from The Clothes Make the Girl. This recipe is from Well Fed 2 and isn’t available on her site, but here is a very similar version that someone has adapted. This is such a great substitute for rice; it leaves you less stuffed and adds another veggie to your meal. I doubled the recipe (we had some leftover, but I think we wouldn’t have had enough if I didn’t) and it took nearly double the amount of time to cook. The key to cauliflower rice is always lots of salt to give it a little more flavor.

For dessert we had fresh strawberries and WOW brownies. They are gluten free but really tasty. I’ve eaten a lot of gluten free treats over the years that I would not say that about. I find mine at Whole Foods and while they aren’t cheap, it’s way more cost effective for me to pick up pre-made dessert occasionally. I really do not enjoy baking at all and if I buy supplies they end up going bad before I use them.

Happy summer eating! If you’ve got any great grilling recipes, please leave them in the comments. We eat at home a lot more now that Paige has arrived and I’m looking forward to new recipes this summer.

menu monday: tips for taking meals to others

I was in Denver this past weekend where my parents and sister both live with their families. My sister recently had an adorable little boy. With a toddler at home already, cooking isn’t something she has a ton of time to do right now so my mom and I put together a week of meals for their family. Having recently been both the recipient of meals and the maker of meals, I thought I’d share my tips for making meals for others and a few recipes that work well.

Tips for Making Meals for Others

  • If available, sign up on a shared calendar. It’s really helpful to know what nights dinner will be provided and to keep from having multiple meals provided on the same night.
  • Plan to drop off food and make a quick exit unless invited to stay. We loved seeing friends for a bit after Paige was born when they dropped off a meal. It made us feel plugged into our old life and gave us a chance to socialize without all the effort of getting her out of the house. In some cases though people might be too exhausted or not ready to see family and friends. A front door drop off followed by a text message is not rude, it might be exactly what they are hoping for!
  • Use disposable containers or packaging you don’t care about being returned.
  • Write instructions (baking, freezing, etc.) directly on the packaging. The new mama or friend recovering from a surgery will be thankful they don’t have to go dig up the email in which you sent the instructions.
  • Don’t kill yourself, but try to respect the food choices of the family, especially if there are real allergies. My sister’s son can only eat a little bit of dairy so we made all the meals dairy free with the exception of providing cheese to top one of them.
  • Provide something that can be eaten with no or easy prep if you know they are going to eat the meal that day; if you’re unsure, try to provide something that can be eaten the same day or popped in the freezer to save for a later time.
  • Think about breakfast. If you have the time, it’s nice to include breakfast for the next day when you drop off a dinner.

Meals That Work Well

For my sister’s family we decided to go with four dinner meals and two breakfasts. I picked meals that would include enough for lunch leftovers (there are two adults and a toddler eating). Because we were providing many meals at once, I also picked meals that could easily be frozen and prepared or reheated later. If you’re looking for more freezer meal ideas, back in January I shared a few posts (here and here) around what I prepared for our freezer before the baby arrived.

If you’re curious about time and cost, here are the details: My mom and I made the following in about three hours, while also wrangling a two month old, a two year old, a four year old, a six year old, and a 12 week old puppy. My dad did the grocery shopping for us the night before and bought all of the ingredients needed to make the recipes below (with the exclusion of all the spices as my mom had those on hand) for $112. He had a mix of quality, for example getting grass fed lamb and pastured eggs, but regular chicken and non-organic produce. (Note: I had meant to provide a few bags of frozen veggies to make one with each meal, but I completely forgot about that until writing this post now.)

These meals are all Whole30 compliant, with the exception of the shelf stable goods we provided with a few of them.

  • Chocolate Chili and Rice. There is something about a bowl of chili and rice that is really filling and comforting. This meal can be provided two ways: hot and ready to eat or cooked, cooled, and packaged (ready to reheat or throw in the freezer). We gave them a bag of white rice to cook with the chili, but if you know they are planning to eat it the same day or soon, provide already cooked rice and maybe even a salad. Trader Joe’s has great frozen microwavable rice that is perfect to pair with this.
  • Merguez Meatballs and Sweet Potato Soup. I paired these together for a meal as both have great Middle Eastern flavors. If you don’t want to provide this as a hot meal, you can cook the meatballs and flash freeze them on a cookie tray (that way they don’t stick together), then store in a freezer ziplock. The soup can be cooled then packaged for the freezer. A note on the soup: because we were serving it with the meatballs, I skipped the bacon. A salad or a veggie is a great addition, but the soup and meatballs alone are pretty filling.
  • Salsa Verde ChickenThis chicken is incredibly versatile. Typically we eat it on it’s own, topped with avocado. For my sister, we included some shelf and fridge stable taco fixings – shells, a jar of salsa, and cheese. I know that she has a crockpot, so I provided this uncooked in a freezer bag. She can throw it in the freezer, then thaw overnight and toss it in the crockpot on a day when she’s ready to make it. If you are providing this to eat the same day, I would cook it for them and maybe provide a few other fresh taco fixings, like mango salsa, chopped tomatoes, and/or lettuce.
  • Spaghetti Squash Pizza Casserole It’s the paleo version of dropping off a casserole for your neighbor. If you are taking it around dinner time, you can bake it and bring it hot. Otherwise you can skip baking and let the recipient bake when convenient (perhaps mention it takes an hour so they aren’t caught off guard). If you use a disposable aluminum container, it’s very easy to go from freezer to fridge to oven. We gave them a bag of salad mix to eat with this meal (or whatever meal they decided to go with first). Frozen veggies are a great alternative if the casserole is going in the freezer.
  • Southwest Frittata. I’ve linked to this recipe so many times because we eat it often. Once it’s baked you can provide the frittata in full or slice and wrap individual servings in foil (this is a good option for a single friend who won’t eat it as fast as a family will). Send along a few avocados for topping the casserole to make it extra filling. To make it slightly easier, I skip the jalapeño and add a can of diced green chilies.
  • Buffalo Chicken Egg Muffins. Egg muffins are a really easy, on the go breakfast option and freeze well. The recipe only makes six muffins (but leaves leftover chicken). If I were to make it again I might use slightly more chicken and double the rest of the recipe to make a full dozen. Our muffins turned out really spicy, so keep that in mind when selecting your hot sauce.

I forgot to take pictures of our cooking session, but my sister and her husband carried several handfuls of food out to the car. For around $100 and three hours of our time, we gave them a week of food, allowing them to focus on their newborn and toddler. Hopefully this helps anyone looking to take meals to a friend or stock up their own freezer with tasty, healthy meals.

menu monday: a super boring week

As my title suggests, last week was not my most creative in the kitchen. I am one of those people who doesn’t mind eating the same thing over and over and some weeks that’s all I have the energy to do. This past week was ten or so days into Paige not sleeping for more than two hour stretches at night. I didn’t really care what I ate as long as it was healthy and available. I made a few big meals over the weekend that lasted me all week and called it good.

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For most of the week I ate salmon cakes for breakfast. I know it sounds weird, but they can be made ahead and are really filling and delicious. They taste great warm or cold and are portable, so a very easy on-the-go breakfast. And by 9am you’ll have had your fill of Omega 3s. I add a little bit of homemade mayo to the top of each one and I’m full for hours.

I don’t seem to have a picture of this spicy peanut (or almond) chicken, but it’s a recipe I used to make all the time when I was big into calorie counting (the dark days). I was excited to try a new chicken casserole recipe, but apparently spaghetti squash has gone mainstream as they were out of it at two different stores. I remembered this recipe when I needed to come up with an alternative way to use the chicken I had already purchased. I used almond butter that I had on hand instead of peanut butter and it still tasted delicious. With 2.5 lbs of chicken, be prepared for a lot of leftovers or to freeze half. After we had it for dinner Sunday I was able to eat it for lunch most of the week.

IMG_9038_edited-1I made this crockpot beef and green chile stew as well last week. The flavors were great. It was  nice and spicy. The meat was a little less tender than I would have liked, but as I read back through the recipe I see that she cooked it on high for a bit then on low, which I didn’t do. Maybe that would have helped? I skipped the searing part so I didn’t use an alternative flour to all-purpose, but I probably would have just skipped flour had I bothered with the sear.

That’s all I’ve got to share this week. It really was a boring week in food around here, but sometimes that’s just the easiest way to tackle getting in 3+ meals a day.

menu monday: a week of healthy eating

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Still loving the new menu plan. I simplified and prepped more food for this past week, but other than that the plan is working well. For weekend prep I made (clockwise from top left): roasted beets, side salads and dressing, casserole (ready to be baked), hard boiled eggs, soup. Having all this food on hand made it really easy to stick to my menu plan and eat three (or four) meals each day without relying on a drive-thru or take out.

New Find

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It’s been a while since I’ve shopped at Trader Joe’s, but maternity leave means one salary. My weekly trip to Whole Foods, during which I didn’t pay attention to prices, seems irresponsible now, so I’m trying to find better deals rather than go for convenience. I came across these Chile Lime Chicken Burgers in the frozen section. They are delicious, Whole30 approved, and can be cooked from frozen in less than 10 minutes. I think they will be great to keep in the freezer for quick, unplanned meals.

What We Ate

In working on simplicity, there were only three recipes this week. All other dishes were just roasted or quickly sautéed meats and veggies. I also made use of all the leftovers this week, which was a big win and something I’m not always great at doing.

Sweet Potato Soup with Bacon A long standing Well Fed 2 favorite and breakfast staple of mine (eggs + soup for breakfast is delicious)
Pizza Spaghetti (Squash) Pie New recipe that I’ve been meaning to try forever; delicious with spicy Italian sausage)
Mustard Glazed Chicken Thighs New recipe; hard to go wrong with butter + spicy mustard (the recipe I used is in Practical Paleo; here’s a similar one but it includes honey and omits sage)

I issued myself a little challenge last week to get back to healthy foods. For the last month or so my focus has been on getting enough food to increase my milk supply. My lactation consultant had me start eating six meals a day, which made me feel much better and helped my supply. I guess in the early baby weeks I was forgetting to eat too often.

I’m down to four meals a day, but they have not been the healthiest. I was overwhelmed by not only a baby, but a baby who wasn’t getting enough food.  Whatever I could manage to eat, I ate. My sugar cravings were insane, which is impressive for someone who would much rather eat salty food than sweet. As life with a baby is starting to feel more manageable, I decided to make some changes. I first though about doing a Whole 30, but right now that is just too much.

Instead, I decided to commit to just one week of healthy eating. Mentally is seemed totally doable, and I totally did it. I feel so much better. We’re still getting very little sleep (on week 2 of terrible night time sleep), but I’m no longer surviving off sugar and thinking about my next ‘fix’ at all times. It’s crazy the difference a few days makes. I also feel much less bloated. I’m under my pregnancy weight but I’ve actually gained weight since my two week post-partum visit (thank you six meals a day!). I think by focusing on healthy foods I’ll be able to eat enough to keep my supply going strong and maybe start loosing some baby weight.

To hold myself accountable, I used my future business Instagram account and posted each meal. You can see from the pictures below (what I ate Monday through Friday) that the week was all about repetition and really simple veggie side dishes. Posting my pictures (and interacting with people when I’m home with a dog and baby all day) worked so well I’ve decided to do it again this week.

week1foodNew Challenge

I know I’m starting to feel like my old self again when I go about my day constantly issuing challenges in my head. For the coming week, I’m going to continue eating well but I’d also like to get away from eating a bar in middle of the night every night. I need to eat something, but my bar habit is getting expensive (these and these are my favorites) and makes me extra thirsty. They were incredibly convenient for the first two months of middle of the night nursing sessions (and I’m thankful my friend Amanda bought me some and gave me the idea to eat them then), but now it’s time to move on to something else and save bars for traveling.

menu monday: update on the plan

Overall, I’m going to call my new menu planning plan a success. There’s room to improve, but I’m sticking with it for a second week which means success.

The Good

  • We ate home cooked meals for dinner five nights this past week. We haven’t managed to eat at home that often in months. This alone made thinking through the new plan worth it.
  • The plan allowed for flexibility. We ate six of the seven planned meals, but not ncessarily on the originally scheduled night. I like that it was easy to move meals around based on what had been prepped, number of baby melt downs, what we felt like eating that night, etc.
  • Planning was simple. I made notes on a piece of paper to get down meals and what needed to be defrosted and prepped over the weekend. It took maybe two hours to do the planning and grocery shopping.

What Can Be Improved

  • I planned a few meals that required too much prep. One meal had recipes to follow for a main course, a dipping sauce, and two vegetable side dishes. My only real prep time is while Paige takes her morning nap; I need to make sure to take all the preparation for a meal into account when combining mains and sides.
  • I didn’t do enough prep for breakfasts and lunches during the week and ended up eating some junk here and there. My weekday day time meals are going to need to be fully prepped and ready to go to ensure that I eat them. I’m working on that this weekend and hoping to see an improvement in the coming week.

What We Ate

IMG_7492I made everything I had planned for dinner with the exception of the spicy tuna cakes as we had unplanned take out one night. On Monday night my best friend was in town and we ended up picking up dinner from our favorite Mexican place rather than cooking (witching hour was going STRONG that night). I winged it for breakfasts and lunches, which doesn’t work so well with the baby. I don’t think I made a single dish listed under breakfast and lunch above.

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I found a few recipes to use veggies I had in the fridge from our winter CSA. The leek and lemon soup was really good and simple to make. I almost always end up composting fennel but was determined to use it this time. I made this kale and fennel salad, adding hard boiled egg and bacon to make it heartier for lunch.
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Smothered pork chops sound a little more Southern than I’m used to cooking, but these were delicious. The recipe was really simple but tasted like something that was more time consuming to put together. I swapped in tapioca flour for the all purpose flour.IMG_7449_edited-1

We had crockpot chicken enchilada soup that was pretty good. It wasn’t amazing, but it was ridiculously easy and good enough tasting, so it’s gets an overall “pretty good”. Easy as in I threw it together in five minutes before driving to the airport because I had forgotten about it earlier in the day. It also could be a freezer crockpot meal. Finding grain free freezer crockpot meals is not easy, so while this wasn’t amazing, I’m sure I’ll be making it again. (I don’t drink coffee for dinner, but I do eat soup leftovers for breakfast quite often.)
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One of my all time favorite recipes is Nom Nom Paleo’s Kalua Pork. Recently she came out with a pressure cooker version that is ready in less than two hours (with less then 5 minutes of hands on time). I am happy to report it tastes just like the original. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, the original is made in a crockpot for 16 hours. Well worth every hour you spend smelling the goodness, waiting to taste it.

I guess I didn’t manage a picture of dinner on Wednesday. We had lamb burgers (just okay) and beet salad (a great way to use up the bags upon bags of beets we’ve received this winter).

Phew… my first post-baby Menu Monday. Sadly it feels like a crazy big accomplishment!

the menu plan plan

It’s not an actual meal plan Monday, but I am back with a post on a Monday about meal planning. Which makes me feel that, at six weeks, I’ve turned a corner in motherhood. I can be a mom and also have a few minutes here and there to continue to pursue my interests. It’s a good feeling. 

Nope, that title doesn’t have an extra word in it. Over the last few weeks I’ve tried to put together a plan for a week of meals, tried to shop, and tried to cook. I’ve had some success but realized I needed to be a little more streamlined given the reduced amount of time I have to spend and the constant companion who makes shopping and prepping just a wee bit more complicated. Enter my new plan for the menu plan.

First I have to apologize to my mom because I used to make fun of her and her menu plan. And now I am totally borrowing the idea for my own plan. My mom has declared a main protein that they eat each night of the week, though she mixes up the recipe she uses. For example, Friday is always salmon. This is a great way to make menu planning easier. When you know it’s Short Rib Monday, all you have to do is decide on the recipe you’re going to make that week.

This idea doesn’t quite work for me since I buy our meat in bulk and don’t have 52 short ribs to have on Monday nights throughout the year. Also, I enjoy cooking (and eating) more than my mom does and would probably get bored with making the same thing weekly. As I’ve always said, the only rule to successful menu planning and prep is that you have to make it work for you.

STEP ONE
To make it work for us, I thought about how often I wanted to cook. I’m starting out with planning five dinners a week. During weeknights I’m planning to make dinner four times and have one night of leftovers (or take out night if there are no leftovers). Over the weekend I’m going to assume we go out once and eat in once.

At this point I’m not planning much for breakfast and lunch. I’ve learned in the last few weeks that making one meal a day is my max. Most days it takes me most of the day to prep and cook dinner. I’m trying to select meals that make several servings so that I can have lunches that just require a quick heating. I’m also making sure to have easy foods like turkey lunch meat and canned tuna/salmon available. I will probably also try to prep a big batch of veggies on the weekend to have with lunches throughout the week. My plan for breakfast is to cook one dish on the weekend that we can both eat all week.

STEP TWO
After deciding on five dinners per week, I assigned a protein to each of the five nights. Rather than get down to the specific type/cut of protein like my mom has done, my approach was to plan a level higher to account for buying most of our meat in bulk.

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Monday : Ground Meat 
When you buy meat by the fraction of an animal, you end up with a decent amount of ground meat. I know it sounds weird, but I think ground meat is my favorite cut because of how versatile it is. We have ground beef, pork, and lamb in the freezer, and using my kitchen aid grinder attachment I can easily grind other proteins if I need them. Ground meat recipes are typically very easy to double, which is why I assigned it to Monday. If I have a week where I know I need more leftovers, I can always double whatever I’m making.

IMG_2217_edited-1Tuesday : Chicken
I don’t buy chicken in bulk (though I will this summer through our CSA!) and we don’t typically eat much of it at home. I decided to change that with my new menu plan. There are so many easy chicken crockpot recipes out there and right now the crockpot is my good friend.

Wednesday : Leftovers 
Depending on what a particular week looks like, leftover night will be either Wednesday or Thursday.

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Thursday : Roasts
Like ground meat, we have many beef, pork and lamb roasts. These are great for the crockpot or pressure cooker, both good ways to try new recipes without a ton of work.

IMG_2047_edited-1Friday : Seafood
Once a good Catholic girl, always a good Catholic girl. I couldn’t help but assign fish to Friday. Over the past two years we have really only eaten salmon as I buy it in bulk to get a really good price. It will be nice to expand out a bit and enjoy some other seafood.

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Weekend : Steaks/Chops
A lot of people buy in bulk to get a good price on the better cuts of meat. These are actually my least favorite. Last year I saved all the steaks and chops for summer, thinking we’d use the grill for them. Then I had a huge aversion to what I called “hunks of meat” during my first trimester. Once I could handle the hunks again, it was all we had left of our 2014 meat. It sounds like a total first world problem, but eating steak multiple times a week in the early fall got really old. I’m hoping that one side benefit of this new plan is that we go through cuts of meat more evenly throughout the year.

We do eat more than meat. I’m making a conscious effort to use what we have when it comes to vegetables. I look at what’s in the fridge and make a rough plan for the week with what we have and only buy veggies if we don’t have enough to last the week, rather than because I’d rather eat something else.

STEP THREE

Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 11.38.10 AM Last, I took my collection of recipe ideas (all on Pinterest) and organized them to match my new categories. I may not have a ton of time for shopping and prepping right now, but I have plenty of time for middle of the night iPad work. The idea is that I can easily pick a recipe from each category when I’m planning for the week rather than having to scroll through a mess of all recipes.

Next week: An actual menu plan and a report on how well (or not well) my new plan went.

easy, tasty meals

I’m just getting back into meal planning and cooking after a break for most of the third trimester and the first few weeks with a newborn. Occasionally over the past months I spent a little time in the kitchen and have a few tasty meal ideas to share.

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Beef Chili Colorado A few months before Paige was born I bought an InstantPot, assuming it would come in handy for quick meals with a baby. My assumption was correct and I love it much more than my original stove top pressure cooker (that broke after just a few months of use). It can also function as a slow cooker, maximizing utility in one appliance. But back to the chili – instead of a full day of simmering, it was ready in less than an hour. We ate it over roasted sweet potatoes and with a side of kale. As a bonus, there are plenty of leftovers.IMG_8989_edited-1Chicken Saag Don’t let this unappetizing picture fool you. The meal is delicious, it’s my photography skills that are lacking. I love Indian food but have trouble eating it in restaurants as everything has dairy. I’d like to learn to cook more of it at home, but the recipes tend to be on the labor intensive side. For now this super easy crock pot recipe is satisfying my cravings. It makes a lot; I would recommend freezing half if you don’t want to eat the same thing for multiple meals several days in a row. I served it over cauliflower “rice” (lately I’ve been using this oven-roasted method). 

IMG_8986_edited-1Taco Salad  My go-to dinner when I don’t feel like cooking is to quickly defrost ground beef and use whatever I have on hand for taco salad. Over the years I’ve collected a few favorites to make the perfect taco salad. I love this Mexican Salad Dressing. It almost tastes creamy even though there is no dairy. Instead of buying taco mix at the store I quickly throw together my own. This recipe is cheap, yummy, and doesn’t contain any strange ingredients. And lastly, not pictured but usually topping my salad, is Alton Brown’s guacamole recipe. There are a lot of good guac recipes out there, but this is my favorite.

IMG_7352_edited-1Brazilian Fish Stew Another simple meal that can easily be done start to finish on a week night.  I loved the flavors and you could easily swap out the veggies with what you have on hand. The one problem is that it’s not terribly filling. I added a scoop of rice to our bowls when we had it for dinner. I’d probably do that again and top it off with avocado as well.

I’m excited to slowly be getting back into the kitchen. So far this week we’ve had dinner at home four out of four nights – I’m pretty sure that hasn’t happened since last October. I’m hoping to stay motivated by sharing our food again on the blog.