How to pick meals for the week

choosing_recipes

Welcome back, friends!  Today is post #2 in my series on meal prepping and meal planning.  Yesterday, I gave y’all some tips for stocking your pantry without breaking the bank.  Today we are going to talk meal picking strategies.  There are a few pitfalls to avoid here:

  1. choosing all new recipes to try
  2. choosing recipes with wildly different ingredient lists
  3. choosing recipes that require lots of prep and/or cook time
  4. choosing food that will not give you leftovers

 

So let me share some tips to help avoid these pitfalls, which often lead to spending more at the grocery store and/or eating out because the recipes are too time consuming.

Picking all new recipes to try

I recommend trying 1 new recipe a week.  Planning a week of all new meals can be overwhelming and very time consuming.  Pick recipes that you are comfortable with making so you don’t have to spend copious amounts of time reading complicated recipes.  Try 1 or 2 (at the most) new recipes a week to make meal prepping fun and to keep variety in your cooking.  If I get bored with the food I’m eating, I’ll start eating out.

Picking recipes with wildly different ingredient lists

Using common ingredients simplifies your meal prep and keeps your grocery bill down.  For up front prep work, common ingredients cut down on time spent in the kitchen and cut down on the grocery bill.  If you’re roasting a chicken for one meal, buy 2 chickens at the store and roast both of them.  Use the left over chicken for tacos, enchiladas, salads, sandwiches, soups, pasta dishes, etc.  Cook in the slow cooker and use the meat for tacos and add BBQ sauce to make a pulled pork sandwich (or even BBQ nachos).

Picking recipes that require a lot of cook time during the week.

If you’re spending time on the weekend prepping some food for the week, the last thing you want to do is get home late from work and have to spend an hour or more cooking dinner.  If you need chopped onions for 3 recipes, chop all the onions on the weekend.  If 2 recipes require rice, cook all the rice you need on the weekend and portion it out for meals during the week.

Pick food that will leave you with leftovers.

Hello lunch for the next day!  Leftovers can be easily portioned out and packaged up the night before to save you time in the morning.  Leftovers can be re-purposed into different recipes to add variety to your week.  This roasted chicken and vegetable soup is one of my favorites.  Roasted veggies are great in soups, on salads, in wraps, in tacos, etc.  Roast a couple pans of veggies and use those in multiple recipes.

2 bonus tips: 

1. Make sure you use up the food that needs to be eaten quickly (produce on the verge of going bad? cook with those foods first).

2. Cook food you know you like.  Seems obvious, I know but I cannot tell you how many times I’ve cooked something thinking “maybe I’ll like it this time” and then the food doesn’t even get eaten the day I cook it.  This is where the “1 new recipe a week” rule can help out too.

So, now we’ve covered stocking your pantry and avoiding pitfalls when it comes to choosing recipes for the week.  Up next, sample menus for your week of meal planning.  Stay tuned…..

Stock your pantry without breaking the bank

Meal planning made easier (1)We are gearing up for back to school time around here (year round school will be an adjustment for sure).  This means our lazy days of fixing meals at home whenever we want are few and far between.  It also means I need to get organized and crank out some meal prepping awesomeness to avoid eating takeout or fast food every night.  Not that we don’t do takeout or fast food ever, but I am desperately trying to improve our family eating habits over here.  First up, cleaning out my pantry and seriously taking stock of what we have, what we will reasonably eat and what we need.

What items do I keep stocked during the school year for meal prep and lunches?

Rice & Grains:  I rarely have all of these at the same time.  I try to rotate these around to keep the food interesting enough that we all want to eat it.

brown rice
quinoa
couscous (try Israeli couscous for a more pasta-like taste)
barley
polenta
pasta (I try to keep spaghetti and a smaller sized pasta for pasta salads)

Basic seasonings

olive oil
canola oil or grapeseed oil (these are neutral tasting oils)
apple cider vinegar
red wine vinegar
balsamic vinegar
salt
pepper
cumin
oregano
nutritional yeast
Italian seasoning blend
Southwest seasoning blend
**I stock up on seasonings and pick up 1-2 every time I shop.  I recommend curry, cinnamon, onion powder, garlic powder, garlic salt and pretty much any seasoning you can put in your spice cabinet.  Start small so you’re not breaking the bank.

Baking needs & sweeteners

white whole wheat flour
sugar: white and light brown
maple syrup
baking powder
baking soda
vanilla
cream of tartar
cocoa
cornmeal
cornstarch

Cereal & Breakfast

rolled oats
nuts: cashews, peanuts, almonds, walnuts (I rotate these based on what’s on sale)
sunflower seed butter (or peanut butter, cashew butter, etc)
dried fruit: craisins & blueberries are a favorite around here
applesauce
breakfast cereal

Snacks

popcorn kernels (seriously, buy these and pop your own.  Saves $$ and doesn’t come with all the nasty chemicals)
crackers
pretzels
cookies
pita chips/tortilla chips

Canned/Jarred items

salsa
chicken broth or vegetable broth
beans (dried and canned)
tomato paste
marinara
pizza sauce
jelly
mustard: yellow & dijon
ketchup

How to save money when it comes to stocking your pantry

  1. Know what you and your family like.  I try to eat clean and introduce new foods into the house, but rather than buying a whole bunch of stuff you’ve never tried, buy 1 new grain to try and stick with staples that you know will work.  Otherwise, the food sits in your pantry until it expires or you move and have to clean it out (speaking from personal experience)a
  2.  Know what’s about to expire and use that up first. 
  3. Look for sales and clip coupons. There are oodles of websites devoted to telling you the best deals at every grocery store in town every week.  These sites are huge time savers so take advantage.
  4. Make it yourself.  At some point, things become so time intensive that it’s so much easier to just buy it already made.  One example of something quick to make at home and save money at the same time are nut butters.  I bought a bag of raw cashews from Trader Joe’s for $7.99.  I used 2 cups of cashews out of the bag (still have 2 cups left in the bag) and processed this in my food processor for 10 minutes.  I can get 2 jars of cashew butter out of 1 bag of cashews making a jar of cashew butter cost me $4 a jar to make.  I’ve seen cashew butter *on sale* for $10 a jar (or more some places).  That’s an insane amount of savings for me.  Also, if you haven’t tried cashew butter, it’s seriously amazing.  So, make yourself some!
  5. Shop online.  Depending on your family’s dietary needs, buying online may be worth the membership prices.  Thrive Market has amazing deals on organic items for all different diets.  Brandless also has great prices (it’s all $3).  **I am not an affiliate for either place.  I just have experience as a customer.**

Blueberry Breakfast Bars

I have a confession to make. I love love love granola bars, but I haven’t been able to make them because every time I cut the bars, the whole thing falls apart. So, I used to be really good at making granola to go on top of yogurt, but a bar that you could easily pack in a lunch was my kryptonite. I needed something nut free and dairy free for school and my daughter’s allergy respectively. I was so excited to get my hands on this bar pan and try it out. Y’all, it did not disappoint. These bars are so good and are loaded with good things (blueberries, quinoa, oats, flax). I was so excited to pop these out of the bar pan and have them all come out with no breaking, no crumbling and no sticking to the pan.

Why oats, quinoa, flax and blueberries?

My kiddo has a dairy allergy and rarely eats meat. We have to make sure she’s getting protein, iron, calcium and all that other good stuff in her diet. Oats, quinoa and flax all have good fiber and iron. Quinoa is a great source of protein (flax and oats have protein too). Blueberries are a powerhouse in their own right with antioxidants, calcium, B-6, fiber and other nutrients.

**Also, and this is important too: I had all of these ingredients in my kitchen. It’s supposed to be 108 here today, so I’m a fan of not having to go outside to make a grocery store run.

How to make these?

I’ve put the recipe on a handy graphic for reference. I hate having to read through pages and pages and step by step instructions before I can see the recipe. So, I made this graphic and you get it with minimal scrolling through some personal story that you’re probably not interested in at the moment if you’re scrambling to find a recipe that works with what you have. At least, that’s how I feel if I’m wanting to try a recipe. Enjoy!

Interesting in the magical bar pan I used??? Click here to see what it’s all about.

Summer Soups

Chilled Soup Recipes

Continuing on with our theme of summer recipes that require minimal cooking, I present to you the chilled summer soups that will knock your socks off! I love a good gazpacho, but these soups take flavor to a whole different level. Salmorejo is one of my favorites because it is so rich. Definitely don’t skimp on the toppings for the soup. Serrano ham is fantastic with some boiled eggs and a bit of manchego cheese. Mmmmmmmm…….Here are my top 5 favorite chilled soups.

1. Salmorejo: A Spanish gazpacho with a richer, more decadent feel. Adding the crusty bread really makes this soup something special.

2. Chilled Macadamia Nut and Asparagus Soup: Ummmm, it’s macadamia nuts. Need I say more? Oh wait! There’s asparagus too. It doesn’t get much more spring/early summer than asparagus. Do you know how to tell what part of the asparagus to cut off? Just bend the asparagus until it breaks on its own. No need to guess. The asparagus will tell you.

3. Chilled Vegan Corn and Cauliflower Bisque: Ok, now this has me thinking of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine says, “No, I mentioned the bisque.” It’s the yadda yadda episode and it’s fantastic. I love this soup because it’s awesome and my daughter adores it. It’s dairy free but oh-so-good and she just devours it.

4. Thai Gazpacho: Sweet, salty, spicy….everything I love about Thai food. The coconut milk adds a richness and I love love love fresh ginger and the s-iciness it contributes.

5. Moroccan carrot bisque: I love a good, carrot bisque and I love a good chilled carrot bisque. Black peppercorn on top is a must. If you like a little extra spice, drizzle some chili oil, hot sauce or Tobasco sauce (I’m part Cajun, so Tobasco is required). Serve it warm, room temp or chilled. Along with some crusty bread and OMG this dish is amazing!

I’m still on the hunt for more chilled summer soups. A lot of the ones I see are very sweet and almost ice-cream like. This is great for a dessert, but not what I want for a light dinner. Have some favorite summer soups to recommend? Leave me a comment and a link below.

Lunch boxes and after school snacks

Oh the lunch box conundrum……all the rules. Listen, I understand nut allergies are brutal and going nut free is so easy to do. But it’s still hard when you have a kid with a dairy allergy and schools send you a list of state regulations about how many servings of what kind of food need to go in the lunch box. And I’m pretty sure steam might have been coming out of my ears when I saw that pop tarts were a suggested fruit. This was not the school saying this, but the great state I was living in at the time. So, what do you do? You learn to be creative. I bought a few divided containers and made my own lunchables. I listed out the required categories and then made my own list of what worked for us.

How do I make lunchboxes easy to throw together, dairy free, nut free, reasonably healthy and that require no microwaving? I’ve broken down some of my favorite options (both the ones I make and the brands I found at the store for super busy mornings. I am not an affiliate of any of these companies and have not been paid to write any of this).

Dairy Free subs: in place of regular cheese slices, we like the Chao cheese slices. I’ve even seen these at Walmart, so added bonus. For cheese cubes, my kiddo likes the Daiya blocks cut into cubes. The Tofutti dairy free cream cheese also works well as a sub for regular cream cheese. I like to blend some jam in them when I use this on bagels. For a more savory taste, I’ll use garlic and onion powder with some fresh herbs. It’s best to let this sit overnight so the flavors blend together nicely.

Protein

  • Energy bites
  • Deconstructed sandwiches: Sounds fancy and “top chef-y” but it’s really just my “I’m too lazy to put a sandwich together” or my “kiddo is whining about no sandwiches today but all I have in the fridge right now are sandwich things” lunch option. Roll up deli meat with cheese or cut some cheese into cubes and chop up (or tear up depending on how quickly you need to get out the door) deli meat.
  • Sandwiches: sunbutter and jelly sandwiches, ham with cheese, turkey with cheese, chickpea salad sandwiches (really just hummus with different things added to jazz it up a bit. I’d put these on sandwich thins, in a pita pocket or on a tortilla), veggie cream cheese with roasted veggies (put the veggies in a separate container and add to sandwich thins with cream cheese when you are ready to eat).
  • Hummus
  • Breakfast cookies
  • Granola bars/Breakfast bars (hard to find nut free and dairy free so I make these). The linked site recommends store brands and recipes to make your own. This is a great resource.
  • Muffins: To make these muffins, you only need a blender and a muffin tin. Here’s to not making a giant baking mess in the kitchen.
  • Hard boiled eggs are a good choice.

Fruit

  • Apple slices
  • Berries
  • Mango slices
  • Craisins
  • Dried fruit
  • Banana chips
  • Applesauce cups
  • Clementines

Veggies/Other Snacks

Sweet Treat

Drinks: We always sent a juice box with our kiddo’s lunch. We purchased the ones that are fortified with calcium on the advice of a nutritionist since we couldn’t send nut-based milks to school.

Hacks for Snacks: My favorite hacks for carrying snacks in the car.

1. Save your large creamer bottles or even plastic ice cream pints. Wash them out and pack them with snacks. The creamer bottles are especially good because the kiddos can pass them around with less spilling of snacks.

2. Does your kid have a smartphone? No judgment from me, I swear. iPhones and iPads have saved us on so many road trips. Check out this phone holder that has a place for snacks.

3. Need something that holds a tablet and has space for snacks and activities? This organizer looks like it may be the perfect solution.

** I am not an affiliate for Amazon nor for any of the products linked or recommended here.

Breakfast on the Go

Can we talk about mornings during the school year? Ugh. The insanity and chaos. Trying to get everyone dressed, fed, presentable and out the door on time, no doubt with that last minute “oh, I have to bring 5000 brownies tomorrow” statement from the back seat. No wonder we are all stressed and pissed off by 7:30 in the morning. We’ve just run a marathon at a sprinter’s pace. Ok, not really, but hyperbole and drama y’all….

What do I need breakfast to be for myself and my family in the mornings?

  • Quick
  • Nutritious: admittedly, there is a spectrum here. I need breakfast to be quick, but I don’t want to start the day with a pound of sugar in 1 serving. Some convenience items I’m willing to accept like frozen waffles because who has time to make waffles from scratch? Take the frozen waffles, stick some cheese and ham in between 2 waffles and now you’ve swapped the syrup for protein and some fat. Is it perfect? No. Does it meet my basic requirements? Yes.
  • Can be eaten in the car without covering the car in said breakfast item (I’m looking at all you people who think yogurt parfaits are great for kids to have in the car because they travel well. I wonder if you really have kids when you say stuff like that).
  • “Food art” is not allowed. Thank you Artie on Creative Galaxy for putting that little gem of an idea in my kid’s head (along with using trash to make art because now we can’t throw anything away in our house because….art). Seriously, is this dude related to Caillou?
  • Ideally, nut free. No, my kid does not have a nut allergy but I know enough about nut allergies to know they are no joke.
  • I can easily make these in bulk. I’d rather make a boatload of breakfast bars at once instead of having to make 2 batches a week.
  • I have to like them. Hey, I need breakfast too, right? And, since I’m not running a restaurant, I don’t want to have to make separate breakfast for myself too.

How much time do I want to spend prepping it?

In the morning, 5 minutes max!

On the weekend, I’d like to prep several breakfast items at once. They would even use some of the same ingredients to cut down on the grocery bill. At the very least, I’d like to use some of those ingredients to put together snacks for after school, snacks to have in the car to keep the hangry away. The hangry is real y’all. Throw in driving in traffic, a stressed parent whose nerves were fried before 8 am because of the morning rush and it’s not a good mix.

Recipes: My Top 15 recipes for breakfast on the go.

These are curated recipes from other sites and blogs. One simple substitution of sunbutter for peanut butter will make these nut free. Sunbutter is a pretty legit sub for peanut butter too.

1. Waffle Breakfast Sandwiches. Bacon, egg and cheese can become ham and cheese for a little variety. If you’re feeling fancy, throw some thin apple slices in between those waffles too.

2. Breakfast Cookies 6 Ways. Ah, the breakfast cookie. Such an easy sell to kids. Cookies for breakfast you say? Why, yes, yes I will have cookies for breakfast. You can sneak in some nutritional powerhouses to give these babies staying power. Chia seeds, protein powder, dried fruit, sunbutter, oats, ground flax seed, etc. You could even use pumpkin and make a pumpkin breakfast cookie for a good dose of fiber too. Added bonus: No heating time in the morning unless you forget them in the freezer. I like to make these in batches and flash freeze them and pull out a few at a time.

3. Frozen yogurt cups. Greek yogurt gives these babies some serious protein to start your day.

4. Breakfast Muffins. Not just your typical muffin. These are stuffed with eggs, cheese and bacon. Mmmmmm, bacon. You could easily sub veggies in place of the bacon to really kickstart the day.

5. Cottage cheese and Egg Breakfast Muffins. I’m not a fan of cottage cheese and fruit. It’s such a strange texture to me. I never thought of using it in baking though. These look so yummy!

6. Continuing on with the muffin theme, these apple pumpkin French toast muffins sound ah-mazing.

7. Breakfast taquitos. Who doesn’t love tacos or taquitos? I love love love them. My problem is that I can never get the taquito rolled tight enough to stay and then they are never crispy when I bake them. So, just wrap these up in tortillas and make it a breakfast burrito. Problem solved.

8. Smoked Turkey, Gouda & Egg English Muffin. Sounds fancy, right? Deli slices and cheese slices make these sandwiches so much easier to make.

9. Potato Omelet Breakfast Bites. So many variations on this and even just the egg cheese peppers and tots would be tasty. You could even use muffin liners to easily remove these. Note: the author mentions using cooking spray with flour to prevent these from sticking.

10. Energy bites. Protein, fiber, fat all in one tasty little bite. Make a big batch of these and flash freeze. Then put several into sandwich bags and keep in the freezer. Pull the bags out of the freezer on your way out the door. Boom. Breakfast done.

11. Savory kolaches. Ok, these won’t be authentic kolaches. But, Pillsbury crescent sheets used in place of making your own bread makes these easy to prep and cook in large batches. You can mix these up too for lots of different flavors. Egg, potato and cheese kolaches, crumbled sausage and cheese, sausage links with cheese and jalapeño, potato and egg, potato and cheese and the list goes on and on and on.

12. Sweet kolaches. Want a sweet option for a treat? No problem, use the Pillsbury crescent sheets and just make a filling of cream cheese and jam.

13. Granola bars. So many ways to mix these up for variety.

14. French toast sticks with bacon. I don’t mean going through the drive-thru for those heavily fried and full of bad stuff for you but oh so good French toast sticks. I mean actually making your own (it’s not as crazy as it sounds) French toast roll-ups with bacon in the middle.

15. Pancake bites. You can make these sweet or savory. Another great way to make these in batches and still have the chance to mix it up. The mini-muffin tin is your friend.

So, there ya have it. My favorite go-to breakfast on the go recipes. I hope you enjoy