MEAL PLAN: June 8-14

I’m recapping what we ate every week as a food diary and to give you all meal ideas (healthy and not!). Previous weeks and other meal planning resources can be found here.

FRIDAY, June 8: Grant’s friends came over to help him with some seriously neglected areas of our yard, and I made dinner. On the menu: pulled chicken, vegan mac and cheese, and my favorite cole slaw. Simple, easy, and very yummy.

For the chicken: bake two big chicken breasts and two packages of chicken thighs at 375 until done (20-30 mins for the breasts and 30-40 mins for the thighs). Let cool slightly before shredding. This white meat:dark meat ratio is perfect for flavor and juicyness. I seasoned the chicken with this amazing blend, but anything will do!

The cole slaw: whisk together equal parts mayo and yellow mustard, and thin it out with a couple splashes of apple cider vinegar. Toss with bagged cole slaw and salt and pepper.

SATURDAY, June 9: G’s birthday party. The full menu is here, where I talk about how to host a party without losing your mind.

SUNDAY, June 10: a quick dinner post-pool and pre-Westworld. This brown lentil daal was super quick (I don’t have a pressure cooker, so I used the stovetop. It was just as fast… This is where I confess that I don’t really get the Instant Pot craze.), and it went perfectly with leftover rice. I meant to make the onion and tomato salad for the top, but I honestly forgot about it.

Here’s a reminder that not every meal needs to be super-amazing. Simple and fast can taste just as good.

MONDAY, June 11: Grant’s birthday! He asked for grilled shrimp and pineapple, so I expanded on that idea.

Grilled shrimp seasoned with salt, pepper, and paprika. Grilled pineapple and red onions. Brown basmati rice. Simply dress shredded cabbage. Cilantro vinaigrette. SO good, and served with champagne made it even better.

TUESDAY, June 12: I ate sushi and saw Hereditary (SO GOOD OMG GO SEE IT NOW AND THEN TEXT ME!!!). Grant had leftovers.

WEDNESDAY, June 13: My household famous hummus pasta with frozen broccoli.

Hummus pasta: boil 2 c pasta of choice in heavily salted water. Save about a cup of pasta water, and drain. Saute onion, garlic, and halved cherry tomatoes until tender and SUPER fragrant. Add about ½ container of hummus (I love the Aldi brand in significantly spicy; Grant prefers roasted red pepper) and stir. Add splashes of pasta water and stir until it’s really creamy. Add pasta and more splashes of pasta water, stirring constantly. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and top with red pepper flakes.

THURSDAY, June 14: G and I had a date at a new local brewery, so dinner needed to be fast. I simmered black beans, onion, and rotel on the stove, reheated leftover rice, and added the leftover cilantro vinaigrette to the leftover cabbage. Presto, rice and bean bowls in like 15 mins.

Secret to a quick dinner when you walk into the kitchen without a plan: chop and saute an onion. Pretty much regardless what you decide to make, sauteing an onion will be the first step.

HAPPY WEEKEND!!!! xoxo

MEAL PLAN June 1-7

Hi everyone! I hope you had a lovely week full of healthy food (in moderation, of course). Here’s a recap of what we ate.

Friday + Saturday

I was in St. Joe for a solo writer’s retreat (full post on that experience coming soon), and I didn’t want to cook one BIT! I ate sandwiches (sandwich thin, deli turkey, mayo, pickles, salt and pepper kettle chips (yes, ON the sandwich)), fruit, and eggs with tomatoes and spinach (veggies that didn’t need to be chopped 🙏). It was AWESOME. I have no idea what G really ate while I was gone, and that’s fine. I needed a break from the dinnertime responsibility, and I came back REFRESHED.

Sunday

When I got home from my retreat, I decided that I wasn’t going to go grocery shopping. We had a full pantry and saving money is always a good idea (it’s one of my 2018 intentions, after all).

We had burrito bowls with white rice, frozen corn, sauteed bell peppers and onions, and seasoned ground turkey (turkey from the deep freeze). My father-in-law and brother-in-law ended up eating with us while they helped G fix his car, so this was perfect, quick and delicious.

Monday

We had the MOST BEIGE AND UGLY dinner. I unearthed frozen cauliflower, and I sauteed that with paprika and garlic until it was defrosted and a little brown (hit it with enough salt, and it is really delicious). We had frozen chicken apple sausages from Aldi, and I sauteed them with onions until everything was browned. We ate them on buns with BBQ sauce (G) and yellow mustard (me).

In the interest of having leftovers for G’s upcoming lunches, I also made a pot of basmati rice. Lunches: sausage, frozen green beans, cauliflower, rice. Simple, filling, CHEAP AF.

Tuesday

I was the MOST SAD on Tuesday when the news of Kate Spade’s death broke. I wrote about it in detail on my Instagram, but in summary: it breaks my heart that someone who brought me such joy could be hurting so deeply.

My sweet husband knew that I was struggling, so he surprised me with wine, peanut M&Ms, and La Croix (he really knows me, huh?). We enjoyed that wine (and some more we found in the fridge 😜) with my ultimate comfort food: mac and cheese! I made this recipe minus the pumpkin and roasted garlic and added garlic powder instead. It was creamy and delicious, and splashes of pasta water added the body the pumpkin usually does to the sauce. We also had sauteed chickpeas and frozen green beans. Truly comforting and all from the pantry.

It’s true that I don’t advocate for emotional eating, but sometimes food can be the hug that you need at the end of a long day. As long as it’s occasional, I think it’s just part of being human.

Wednesday

I had dinner at a girlfriend’s house, and she made the easiest and most delicious dinner: ground chicken lettuce wraps with frozen egg rolls and gyoza from Trader Joe’s. 👍 Thanks, Taylor!

Thursday

Leftovers! While I prep for dinner guests Friday after work. Come back next week to hear what I fed Grant’s buddies who came over to help him with yard work. ♥

MEAL PLAN May 26-31, 2018

I’ve gotten lots of requests to share our weekly meal plans, so HERE YOU GO! I’m going to share what I planned on us eating for the week, what we actually ate, and any lessons I learned in that week of FOOD.

My meal planning basics are HERE. If you’re not planning your meals for the week, you absolutely should be. It’s a great way to save a ton of money (especially if you shop for that meal plan at Aldi!) and eat with intention (you know, not buying a random sandwich at 1:45 PM since you didn’t think about lunch).

I know how it is, at least for me! I get home late after sitting in traffic for an hour and being awake for 14 hours, and it’s super easy to grab Chinese food from Hy-Vee. And sometimes I totally do that! But if I’ve planned a delicious meal and all of the ingredients are waiting for me, I’m way more likely to make dinner.

In our two-person household, I usually make four meals each week, and we have leftovers or sandwiches on the other nights. This feels like the perfect middle-ground for me: we eat plenty of delicious, homemade meals, but I also get several nights off from cooking.

I never plan anything for Friday. I know that I will be WAY too tired come Friday evening to make a meal, so I just plan to not do it. An exception: if we have company! Last Friday, our friends came over for dinner after work, and it was a great way to kick off the long weekend. 💜

MEAL PLAN May 26-31, 2018

Breakfasts and lunches:

Unless we have something special going on, these are almost always the same. I have a green smoothie (recipe in the highlights here), eggs with vegetables, or toast and nut butter. G will have toast or cereal. For lunches, G eats leftovers, and I eat a combination of leftovers, salads, and deli meat roll-ups.

DINNER PLAN:

Friday:

grilled, marinated chicken thighs, summer succotash, basmati rice, cilantro vinaigrette, salad, lemon cake and raspberry sorbet for dessert

I knew that hosting on a Friday meant that I needed to prep some food in advance and pick easy dishes. I chose the chicken, succotash, and vinaigrette from my current fave cookbook, What’s Gaby Cooking, and I chose the rice because it was easy.

Steps I took to prep ahead of time: trimmed and marinated the chicken, chopped the veggies (bell pepper, red onion, cherry tomatoes) for the succotash, made the vinaigrette, made the salad (romaine, green onions, yellow bell pepper)

Things I made after work: Mixed and dressed the succotash, made the lemon cake (obviously could have made that ahead of time, but I didn’t), grilled the chicken, made the rice in my rice cooker, made salad dressing

It was perfect, summery, EASY, and felt relaxed. It also didn’t all need to be piping hot, which is perfect for greeting guests and enjoying a cocktail or two while the meat rests. (My friend made awesome sangria with La Croix in it, so the fruit got carbonated. It was amazing.)

Saturday:

WEDDING RECEPTION, so no cooking

Sunday:

grilled Italian chicken sausages, grilled bell peppers, romesco sauce, buns, balsamic pasta salad, lemon-dressed green beans, fruit, and vegan chocolate chip cookies for dessert

Another meal with company! I really wanted to make the romesco sauce from What’s Gaby Cooking (basically roasted red pepper pesto), so I planned a meal around that. We layered Italian sausages, grilled peppers, and the romesco sauce on buns, and it was SO delicious.

Prep steps: made romesco, made pasta salad (boiled orecchiette, sliced cherry tomatoes, made balsamic vinaigrette, folded together with salt and pepper), made green beans (marinated diced red onion and minced garlic in lemon juice, lemon zest, and olive oil, then tossed with two pounds of defrosted frozen green beans), made cookies

In the half-hour or so before our friends arrived, I grilled the peppers, let the sides come to room temp, and grilled the sausages after they showed up (with champagne AND flowers 🎆).

Monday:

leftovers

Tuesday: I planned to make this sesame chicken fried rice from Iowa Girl Eats. I ended up making an invented cabbage and chickpea stir fry. It was delicious and super-quick.

Made jasmine rice. Sauteed two cans chickpeas with green onions and ginger, and removed from pan when browned. Added a bag of coleslaw cabbage, sauteed until wilted. Added frozen peas. Added the chickpeas back in, and stirred in sauce: equal parts mirin and soy sauce, splashes of maple syrup and sesame oil, and a big dash of white pepper. Serve stir fry on top of rice.

Very ugly and really satisfying.

Wednesday:

leftovers

Thursday:

book club night, leftovers or a sandwich for G

OK, that’s it! Let me know how I could make this more helpful. If you’d like to see more of a food journal, let me know. xoxo!

6 Meals, 2 Hours: Stocking the Freezer

My sweet and very pregnant friend and I spent a couple hours in her kitchen Saturday prepping freezer meals for after the baby comes. It was quick and easy, and many of you said that you wanted to hear how we did it. So here we gooooooooo!

Gathering Recipes

A few days before our planned cooking day, we brainstormed and gathered the recipes we wanted to make. Ideas for meals that freeze well: chili, soup, baked pasta, chicken and rice bakes, daal, lasagna, shredded meat, pasta sauce, enchiladas. We chose lasagna; cheesy, spicy tuna noodle casserole; shredded pulled pork; shredded chicken; and ground beef and turkey.

My friend loves this lasagna recipe from the Newlyweds cookbook and this tuna casserole recipe from Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook. (Normally, I wouldn’t recommend freezing something with a creamy sauce like the casserole, but since the base is cream of mushroom soup and not a homemade white sauce, I think it will be ok!)

I suggested the meats. They were easy to prep, but will be perfect for her husband to heat up quickly with easy sides (buns for the pork, tortillas for the chicken, jarred red sauce and pasta for the ground meat, or whatever really).

For more ideas, check out my FREEZER Pinterest board here.

Grocery List Collaboration and Shopping

You could totally follow this plan independently, but if you’re collaborating with a friend, you’ve got to have a shared grocery list. If you both have iPhones, I highly recommend the Notes app. You can share a Note, and both of you can see the changes made in a native app on the phone. Google Docs works, as well!

While watching The Bachelor last week (#MonsterArie #NotPeter), I made our grocery list. I listed everything we could possibly need for each recipe in a Note, and shared the Note with my friend. She crossed off things that she already had (changing three cans of cream of mushroom to just one, for example) and added the ingredients for a recipe I didn’t have.

A side note about making your grocery list: if you aren’t making your grocery list by aisle, GET ON IT! Once you know your store well (Aldi for life!), you can make your grocery list according to items in each aisle, in order of the aisles. It makes grocery shopping SO QUICK, and it makes it easier to avoid impulse Cheez-It purchases.

Another note about Aldi: If you have access to an Aldi, shop there, please. We got everything for these recipes, minus maybe $10 worth of stuff that was already in either of our pantries, for $70. She and her husband agreed that the same grocery haul would have been at least $120 at their Price Chopper or Hyvee. If you grew up on Aldi, it has changed, believe me. I do almost all of my grocery shopping there, and we eat really, really well.

We met Saturday morning at the Aldi near my friend’s house, quickly shopped, and got to #work.

Our Grocery List (click to expand!)

Jalapeno kettle chips

Whole milk 1.5 c

Whole milk cottage cheese 16 oz

Eggs

Cheddar (3 c shredded)

Parmesan

Fresh mozzarella

Shredded mozzarella

2 onions

Celery

Jalapeno

Chipotle peppers in adobo 11 oz

Rotel 1 can

Cream of mushroom 3 cans

Tuna 3 cans

Pork shoulder 3 lbs

Chicken thighs

Ground turkey 2 lbs

Ground beef 1 lb

Frozen peas

Jarred red sauce, 1

Rotini 1 lb

No boil lasagna noodles

Dr. Pepper, 2 cans

Foil 9×13 pans, 2

Gallon freezer bags

Prepping to Make Multiple Recipes at Once

When we got the groceries home, I cleared off the kitchen island, and sorted the groceries by recipe. So I stuck all of the lasagna ingredients together in a little group, then the tuna casserole ingredients, etc. This was SO helpful. As I was cooking, I could glance around and quickly see what was left that needed to be made. 

Before you get started, read through each recipe that you’re going to make. This means that you can get a jump on any weird steps that need extra time: marinating, draining, thawing.

Reading the recipes first also means that there won’t be any surprises later: like the pulled pork needs to cook for 7 hours or you should have been boiling water 30 minutes ago.

The EXACT Plan We Followed (Plus a Few Improvements I Would Have Made)

I should have spent a few minutes before Saturday figuring out the order of operations for these recipes. I think we could have saved 30 minutes or so if I’d done so. What follows is the best-ish, most efficient order for making these recipes. We did this, approximately. I made the chicken last, which was silly, as it could have baked while everything else was cooking. Lesson learned!

In order to make multiple recipes in one chunk of time, you have to work on multiple recipes at once. It will take so. much. longer. if you finish each recipe start-to-done before you work on the next one. I’m thinking that this could feel really intimidating if you’re not as comfy in the kitchen. Just take a deep breath and know that it may take you a little bit longer to get this done. You’ve got it!!! Done is better than perfect.

These steps can easily be completed by one person, but splitting the duties between two people makes it super, super quick.

  1. Preheat the oven to 375. We’ll bake the chicken thighs in there.
  2. Put a pasta pot on to boil for the rotini. Salt that water, don’t forget.
  3. Trim chicken thighs, season with salt and pepper, and place in a greased 8×8 pan.
  4. Pop the pork shoulder in the crockpot with the can of chiles in adobo sauce and 2 cans of Dr. Pepper. Cook on low for 7 hours. Pulled pork done!
  5. Put the chicken in the oven. Set a timer for 20 minutes. When that timer goes off, flip the chicken and set the timer for 10 more mins.
  6. Brown all the ground meat. Combine the ground turkey and beef in a large, large pan with a chopped onion. Season with salt and pepper, brown, and drain. Ground turkey and beef done! Set aside ⅓ of the mixture for the lasagna. The other ⅔ is for freezing plain. We divided it into two freezer bags.
  7. Chop the jalapeno and celery for the tuna casserole. Chop another ½ onion for the shredded chicken.
  8. Sautee the onion from Step 7 in a small pan. Set aside.
  9. Once the chicken is out of the oven, shred with two forks. Add the sauteed onion from Step 8. Drain a can of Rotel, and mix it in. Chicken is done!
  10. Water should be boiling. Add the rotini and cook until very al dente. (The pasta will be cooked again when you bake the casserole.)
  11. Add all of the tuna casserole ingredients, minus pasta, to an enormous bowl. Seriously, your biggest one. Cream of mushroom soup, tuna, cheddar, whole milk, peas, celery, jalapenos, salt, and pepper. Mix really well!
  12. Once the pasta is done, drain and add to the bowl. Mix it all together, taste for seasoning,  and pour into a greased 9×13 foil pan. Tuna casserole done!
    1. The recipe calls for a spicy potato chip and cheese topping. We didn’t freeze that, and they’ll add it before baking.
  13. Lasagna time! Combine the cottage cheese, eggs, and parmesan. Season with pepper (it’s already plenty salty from the parm). Slice the fresh mozzarella.
  14. Layers! Follow the instructions in the recipe to layer your lasagna. (We used no-boil noodles and my friend’s special marinara. A jar of sauce would work, as well, and it’s what I put on the grocery list above.) Lasagna done!

Not so bad, right?! Like I said, doubling up the steps makes it even easier. One person can be chopping the veggies and another can be browning the meat, or one can handle the pulled pork while another moves on to the next step.

We made the shredded chicken with Rotel so they could use it in tacos or enchiladas, and the ground meat is really simply seasoned so it can be used for whatever. It would thaw very quickly in a pot of jarred pasta sauce on the stove!

Tips for Freezing

It is very important that the meals are totally cooled before you stick them in the freezer. Several reasons why: if you put a lid or foil on top of a still-warm dish, condensation gathers on the underside of the lid, which drips into the food and makes it mushy. Also, if you put hot food in the fridge or freezer, it raises the temp of all the other food in there, which is dangerous from a food safety perspective.

I always, always set a timer when I leave food on the counter to cool. I have learned the hard way that if I don’t do this, I will forget about it, and it will sit on the counter overnight to rot. Don’t be me! Set a timer! Note: the longest that food can sit out is FOUR HOURS. After that, it will grow the kind of bacteria that gives you food poisoning.

We froze the lasagna and casserole in disposable foil 9×13 pans, and the meat in gallon freezer bags. For the casseroles: label them clearly with Sharpie, and make sure that you add the baking instructions. You can thaw them in the fridge overnight and bake them according to the recipe, or just add 45 minutes or so and bake them from frozen. Make sure you test the center before serving if you bake from frozen! It should be warm and the edges should be bubbly. 


Ok, one million words later, I think that’s it! I’d love to do more of these freezer prep posts if you guys dig this one. Let me know 🙂

And feel free to ask questions! I’m always available on Instagram, or you can leave a comment here.

What are your tips for freezer cooking?

2018 Intention Check-in: PANTRY COOKING

I’m checking in on the progress of my 2018 intentions. Read all about my fruitful year here.

When I first started planning meals for my little family, Pinterest was making its debut. I was in college, I had a lot of free time (sigh. Remember that?), and I would watch endless hours of television while pinning recipes and cute sweaters and inspirational quotes. Grant and I both lived in small apartments, and neither of us really made the most of our limited pantry space. So, on the weekends, I would shop for basically all of the ingredients to make several recipes that sounded good from my Pinterest boards.

I was still learning, obviously, but it is so cringeworthy to think about how much money I wasted (and the FOOD WASTE! 😢). And, until recently, I was still planning meals in much the same way. Sure, I had more pantry space, and I keep a lot more staple ingredients on-hand. But my grocery cart was always overflowing with new things to try and full ingredient lists for new recipes.

When I saw this video and blog post about “shelf cooking,” a.k.a. cooking from the food you’ve already got on hand, I seriously felt like I’d been smacked. What was I doing? Why was I wasting so much money? 

Some of it was totally learning to deal with our new semi-vegan diet. I made a bunch of new purchases to try new recipes and techniques. But some of it is just overpurchasing. I love grocery shopping, and things that I don’t need often make it into my cart. Which just leads to an maxed-out pantry and a busted budget.

We don’t have a real pantry in our kitchen, just a very skinny closet w/ shallow shelves. I use a few kitchen cabinets for food storage, and they are overflowing with dry goods. It’s my mission to use up my stores, relying on tried-and-true recipes and a little inventiveness.

HOW TO CREATE A STOCK OF INGREDIENTS

If you’re anything like me, you’ve got plenty of random odds and ends to work with for this pantry challenge. But you may not! I follow two guidelines to ensure that a quick and cheap meal is never too far away.

    1. Buy double sometimes. This may seem counterintuitive to my goal of saving money while grocery shopping, but it’s really not. A couple of times a month, I’ll buy double amounts of the canned and frozen goods on my shopping list. Four cans of diced tomatoes, six cans of chickpeas, two bags of frozen peas. You can add those items to your cart for just a few dollars, and they will be there waiting for you when you’re building a pantry-based meal plan the next week.

      I do not double-up on grains purchases because I am currently working through a pasta and rice stash like you wouldn’t believe. Why did I keep buying grain blends? But once that stash is depleted, buying two boxes of macaroni or two bags of rice is hardly more expensive than buying one.
    2. Double freezable recipes. This has SAVED MY LIFE! You may think I’m exaggerating, but having some frozen chili to defrost when you’ve got to feed unexpected guests on a Friday evening?! LIFE SAVING!!!!

      Often, when I make a soup, chili, stew, curry, etc., I double it and freeze half. We have a deep freeze, so this is super-easy for me, but you could totally make it work with a regular freezer, too. I let the meal cool to room temperature, ladle it into freezer-safe gallon bags, and then lay the bag flat in the freezer. Once the bag is frozen, it can be stacked horizontally (like books on a shelf) or vertically, and that takes up barely any space at all. When it comes time to eat these frozen meals, I let them defrost in the fridge for ~12 hours (always wrapped in an absorbent dish towel in case the bag is invisibly ripped) and then reheat on the stove, OR, if I’m really in a hurry, the frozen contents of the bag can go in an enormous pot on the stove with a splash of water.

      Having these frozen meals (which I keep a list of on my phone) means that I can incorporate one of them into my meal plan each week. I usually defrost a soup or chili that becomes my lunches, but they are also perfect for nights when I need to write after work.

MAKING A PANTRY-BASED MEAL PLAN

This is where creativity comes in. The goal is to buy as few new groceries as possible, so planning meals starts with assessment. Towards the end of the week, usually Friday or Saturday morning, I check out the contents of my fridge. I start there because refrigerated stuff has a shorter shelf life than pantry and freezer items, so it needs to be used up first. I usually have veggies, hummus, various non-dairy milks, and leftovers.

For example, if I have bell peppers, I come up with a plan to use them. That can be sliced for hummus dipping, or added to soup, or making fajita peppers.

Let’s say I decide to go with fajitas. Next I move to the pantry, where I’m hoping I’ll find black or pinto beans. I don’t see either, but I do have brown lentils. Check! I also have a ton of brown rice and an unopened jar of salsa. I add lettuce and cilantro to my grocery list, and now I have the makings of burrito bowls with bell peppers, lentils, and brown rice!

While I’m looking for the black beans, I find a ton of red lentils, and I know I’ve got a box of spaghetti. If I buy marinara sauce and some mushrooms, I’ll have all the makings for my vegan Million Dollar spaghetti (recipe coming soon!).

This process flips the order of how I used to make a meal plan. I used to choose recipes first and check my pantry second. NOPE. Now I check for ingredients and choose meals around that. Last week, I noticed that I had two bags of frozen edamame, and that inspired the rice bowls I made the other night. I used this recipe, but I customized it to fit the veggies I had on hand. I bought a package of tofu to substitute for the eggs, but everything else was in my pantry, fridge, or freezer.

The more comfortable you are winging it in the kitchen, the easier pantry cooking is. It’s easy to make the most of your pantry if you can cook without a recipe. This is a skill that comes with time and practice, BUT anyone can do it. The easiest way to make a cheap AF meal with what you’ve got on hand: soup, pasta, or stir fry. All three will use up any veggie or protein, all have really flexible recipes that have easy ingredient swaps, and they’re pretty foolproof! Chop and saute veggies, add sauce or broth, simmer until tender, add cooked protein, and serve over a grain. You did it!

If you want an example of an easy, make-it-up-as-you-go-along type of “recipe,” see this Instagram post:

I love answering your recipe questions on Insta or in the comments here, so don’t hesitate to reach out ♥️

RESULTS

I’ve gone grocery shopping twice this year. I spent $30 the first week (making the most of leftover Christmas and New Year’s food) and $60 the second. That feeds Grant and I for 21 meals/week EACH, plus snacks. (We rarely eat out — just a few times each month, usually with friends.) That’s less than $1.50/person/meal.

It could be lower, but I buy a lot of fresh produce, like salad stuff. That adds up quickly. I think it’s worth it.

I know that this way of meal planning isn’t revolutionary. But it is a real way that I can be more intentional about spending, cut down on food waste, and flex my culinary muscles (which are bigger than my actual muscles).

What budgeting tricks do you use in the kitchen? I could always use the help!