Over the years, you've watched me stock up my freezer. I've written about why to stock it up, what a different it makes, and preached endlessly on the virtues of a stocked fridge and freezer.
And here's the perfect reason why. On our first night of family vacation, my husband got very sick. He ended up being airlifted back to Edmonton.
Between back and forth from home to hospital, I found myself at first stressing out about what to feed the kids, and how. I didn't want us to live on fast food for the week but I didn't have a lot of time to cook either. However, I remembered I had stocked my freezer for fall before we went on vacation. This made all the difference in the world for us. A need is a need, whether it's a busy autumn or an unexpected illness. We were able to eat healthy food under pressure and as a result weathered the unknowns with grace and wellness.
Over the years I've found that the first thing to get dropped under unexpected curveballs is our meal planning. We eat whatever we can find whenever and wherever we can find it. This has been true for everyone I've asked. Unfortunately, eating like this adds further stress to our complications- less healthy food equals less healthy outcomes. When we are under stress and fighting to bring our lives back to normal, we need that nutritional backbone to support us. If you haven't started stocking your freezer, let me encourage you that now is the time. Make it your intentional priority as you cook. Plan for meals that are easily doubled or broken down into starters- slice meat for sandwiches, soups, and stir frys. Double up on chili or meat sauce. Make an extra meatloaf, and put away your leftover small bits for breakfasts or lunches that can serve you when you need it.
Having eggs and oatmeal ready to eat made my daily dashes out the door so much easier. Having lasagna, chili, and meatloaf to reheat for the kids made dinners doable. When I knew I had an hour at home I hardboiled eggs and roasted sheet pans full of vegetables. You know what you like to eat, so it's ok if my suggestions don't land for you. The important thing is to pick what works for you and make it happen.
All the best, friends,
It's not a cold.
If you haven't had the flu, it's impossible to imagine that you can feel that bad. And I've had the flu before, but I'd forgotten just how bad.
Having just gone through the worst of it and coming out the other side, I can tell you it is really awful. There's no way you can have the flu and not know it.
I'm sure each strain is a little different and effects everyone a little differently, but mine started with a headache. I kept it at bay for several days but after a sleepless night it came roaring in...congestion, whole body aches, and then the fever- that fever that just kept going up and up, and stayed there. I spent literally an entire day in bed, and then most of the next as well. Today's day 5 of symptoms, and I'm still not well enough to go to work or do much housework of any kind. This illness requires time and rest to recover. We'll see how long that process takes.
For a complete discussion on the Flu, check out this article.
In the meantime, I wanted to share some practical real-life tips for meal planning and cooking ahead. Doing that helped us survive the flu, because there was literally no way I could have cooked beyond pushing a button on the microwave.
1. Double your Meals.
Some foods are meant to be pulled out of the freezer and used in a pinch, and these are the ones to double. Think versatile.
My favourite one this time was meatloaf. I haven't been hungry, but since everyone got sick at different times, there were hungry people needing food. The best part about meatloaf is you can slice it into sandwiches or chunk it to be eaten with steamed vegetables and toast or tossed into a bowl of broth- the versatility that doesn't require a lot of effort earned it a gold star from me this time around.
2. Don't forget the Soup.
So here's the thing...I had no soup in the freezer. I had tons of stock, but no soup made already, and that was entirely too much effort for me. I had people wish me well and say things like "good thing you know how to make good soup!"- which I do, but the irony of getting this sick is the inability to put a meal together. A simple soup was simply too much. When you make soup try to put some aside in easy-to-thaw containers in small portions so you can just push a button on the microwave and have something nourishing to eat.
3. Batch Cook Proteins.
If you cook a roast- beef, pork, turkey, whatever- keep some meat aside in portions that are easily used and sliced exactly as we did with the meatloaf. It may be a simple thing to pull a bag of cooked chicken out of the freezer and eat it like that but at least it's food, and a nutritious one at that.
4. Score points with Casseroles.
I had a brick of shepherds pie frozen for just such a time, and I didn't pull it out the night before or have any sort of pre-thought about it at all. Instead, the oven got turned on to 350*F, it got covered with foil and sat on a cookie sheet in the oven. Eventually it warmed all the way through and got hot enough to eat, and it was big enough there was enough of that for 2 days of meals.
5. Order in.
Normally eating out is not the most nutritious food, especially when you're sick. But if you need to, just do it. And don't feel guilty. We ordered pizza last night, having exhausted all our frozen food. And I picked up a big batch of that Pacific Rim soup from OJ's when my husband was fevered so he had some hot soup to eat in between fever spikes.
6. Ask for help- and if it's offered, accept it.
A new friend asked me if she could make me some congee. I've never had it, but I was happy to say yes. It was such a sweet gesture and a welcome gift. And she made muffins for my family, too, and added a huge bag of citrus fruit for us as well. I'm eternally grateful.
Do what you can when you are well to help yourself when you aren't. Because I had no idea I'd be too sick to even make soup- it's hard to fathom being that unwell when you feel fine.
Until next time, friends, enjoy your day and stay warm...and well.
I haven't done a lot of research on the history or background of this soup. A friend of mine suggested I make turkey pho with my turkey leftovers one year, and I haven't looked back.
This recipe helped return us to more healthy meals after the over-indulgence of Christmas, and was the perfect comfort food when my husband caught the flu. It provides plenty of fluid, lots of vegetables, and is gentle to digest.
Like many recipes, I think this one leaves a lot of room open for individualization. It reminded me of the Sunday soup I used to make in college, where I'd open the fridge and use up whatever I had ready to cook.
I cooked the noodles in my soup rather than separately not only to help flavour them, but also because I didn't want to add more dishes then necessary to my washing up pile.
My recipe may not be exactly traditional, but I enjoyed making it and we enjoyed eating it.
8 c good quality chicken stock
6 c assorted chopped fresh vegetables
4 garlic cloves. minced
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp anise seeds
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1-2 c sliced chicken or turkey
handful of rice noodles
1 onion, sliced
1 tbsp coconut oil
Lime slices, garnish
Bean sprouts, garnish
Fresh cilantro, mint, and green onions
Fresh ginger, garnish (optional)
Melt coconut oil and add onions. Saute until translucent. Add garlic and stir in spices. When beginning to brown, add fish sauce, soy sauce, and sugar. Mix well, and add warmed stock. Bring to a boil. Add noodles and vegetables, and bring back to a boil.
Reduce to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes or until vegetables are tender crisp. Add turkey, stir to combine, and remove from heat.
Before serving, stir in chopped handfuls of fresh cilantro, mint, and green onions, or sprinkle over each serving. Add bean sprouts and lime slices.
Serve with freshly grated ginger, freshly ground salt and pepper if desired.
Garlic is a superhero. Not only are entire food festivals produced that spotlight garlic (which in itself is worth celebrating!), it is also a nutrition-packed powerhouse.
It's always a little hard to say goodbye to our carved pumpkins. A couple of years ago we left them as "nightlights" in the boys' bedroom until they went off and then threw them away. This morning, however, our friendly pumpkins will be kissed goodbye and diced up for dinner, with good reason: pumpkins are a super source of nutrition. It's cold and flu season, and because pumpkins have their fair share of vitamin C, they help our bodies fight infection.
Sharing vegetables with kids is a marvelous way to support their nutritive needs, and the beta carotene in pumpkins will help their eyesight. They are a versatile vegetable and if hitting #halfyourplate is your goal, this is a wonderful vegetable to get you there. Preparing pumpkin ahead of time makes it a quick meal starter. Toss frozen pumpkin chunks into soup, casseroles, and stir fries. Slice fresh pumpkin thinly to make skillet chips. Add pureed pumpkin to mashed potatoes, turnip, or rutabaga. Make pumpkin themed muffins and loaves, or hide it in gingerbread cake if your people aren't a fan.
Don't forget canned pumpkin. It's just as good for you, though not quite as versatile. You can find it in the baking aisle because pumpkin pie is a seasonal favourite. Before you buy it, however, check the ingredients label. It should read "100% pure pumpkin", or something along those lines. They may tell you what kind of pumpkin is in the can, and that's fine. But many pie fillings come pre-sweetened or spiced, and you want to avoid those ones. Controlling your added ingredients is an important consideration for health when cooking, baking, and eating.
You can do a lot with a whole pumpkin. A very common way to deal with them is to place them in the oven and roast them, as I've detailed here. I also discussed dicing them and freezing them raw- that is the future of these pumpkins. In fact, I'd made dinner with pumpkin processed this way about a year ago, and that's what we're eating for dinner tonight, pictured here:
It's a good thing pumpkin is so flexible, because in addition to our carved baby pumpkins, we have a big one we didn't get to. My freezer will be full...and that means I have to start baking. I think I foresee a month of pumpkin-themed meals coming up! Perhaps a pumpkin-spice cookbook? Maybe a private Facebook group with new recipes and challenges each week. Do you have any ideas for me? Drop me a line!
In the meantime, my #testkitchen today will be a pumpkin-spice steamed milk. My lucky newsletter subscribers will be the first to receive this delicious gem. Want in on that? Just fill in your details and the rest will follow.
All the best, friends. Welcome to November!
Seriously, if there's ever something like a zombie plague to hit the human race, it will probably start with my boys. They don't just get a cold, they get something more like the flu. And tomorrow my second son is going to see a doctor, because I highly suspect he has- get this- scarlet fever. Until recently, I had no idea that was still a thing you can get- but all the symptoms check out.
Luckily, it's treatable with antibiotics. And he felt miserable all weekend, so he's probably on the upswing. But that means no school for a few more days at least- and I wonder if the rest of us will catch it from him too. Which means, to a food person such as myself, a massive cooking night. I can't be expected to cook if I've come down with it, and homemade is healthier, though judging by his lack of appetite none of us may feel like eating anyway. Still, it's good to be prepared. Right? Fast food is harder on the food budget than cooking from scratch- not to mention harder on your waist line and heart. And you have to leave the house to pick it up.
We had purchased a large package of lean ground pork from Costco on our last trip, and kept it whole. Today I pulled it out of the freezer and cooked a massive batch of chili and meatballs. It took a few hours to get everything done, in between figuring out what my family could eat while I was cooking this other stuff, and trying to get the meat fully thawed. I dumped a bunch of nutritious foods into my chili and meatballs, including mushrooms and peppers, chia seeds, and garlic. My boys won't even realize it's that good for them. They'll just know it's yummy.
Tomorrow I'll hit the dollar store for a few foil freezer containers, and take stock of what else I can cook up this week before the zombie plague takes me down as well. I'm thinking a couple of pots of hearty soup.
Until next time friends, wishing you health and joy! And lots of yummy food.
Some of you may recall that last winter I was sicker than I've ever been since I picked up mono almost 20 years ago. Just in time for my birthday this year, not only did I catch the flu but also developed some sort of sinus infection and pink eye, all at the same time! It was almost a couple of months before I was up and running our household in my usual capable way.
This month the boys had their annual doctor appointments, and blood work was done to check on their overall health. My first son, who was anemic a year ago, is now in good shape, at least as far as his iron levels go. That doesn't surprise me at all, because he's a fantastic eater, and we eat a very balanced diet. My second son, however...you may recall him as "the picky one", isn't quite anemic, but on the way there. Because he will not take vitamins (nope, not even gummies) and has a limited love of iron rich foods, I've started cooking once a week with beef, which is the one consistent thing he enjoys eating. Naturally, I serve it with whole grains, which also contain iron, and the vitamin c helps that non-heme iron to absorb into his system. If I can increase his iron levels slowly and steadily, I'm sure at this time next year he'll be improved. I'm also hopeful he'll be less picky a year from now...we'll see, I guess. Hope springs eternal!
So I'm planning ahead, this year, for the inevitable fall or winter cold that knocks me back a few paces. I've started stocking my own freezer with meals that are basically ready to go, and so far all of them involve beef of some sort. Tonight's dinner was meatballs, started on the stove (to brown) and finished in our slow cooker while we were at swimming lessons. I was able to get 15 good-sized meatballs put away for a future need.
Let me tell you about these meatballs. I combined lean ground beef with extra lean ground turkey (about 1/2 kg of each), added a couple of eggs, a cup of large flake oats, some seasoning, and some garlic. They were browned on my stove, then put into the slow cooker, topped with some mushrooms and onions I'd stir fried after the meatballs were browned, and cooked on low for just 3 hours. They were moist and perfect when we got home- I wasn't sure how it would work out because I've never done that before, but I definitely will again. We served them with loads of fresh vegetables, and whole wheat whole grain pitas.
Meatballs are super freezable for a future need. You can pull them out and reheat when you need a meal- They can be added to sauces or soups, or like my kids, just eaten "as is".
They are one of the easiest things to double or triple!
Consider cooking ahead to help fight your future cold or flu. Nutrition has a huge role to play in how you approach your personal health care.
Enjoy your day, friends!
I got to spend the majority of my afternoon yesterday in a parking lot, waiting. Waiting for the police, waiting for the other guy's company to come take pictures, waiting for the tow truck. As you can probably tell, my bumper got torn off the car when the big white truck tried to turn left to exit the parking lot...but my car was in the way.
It could have been worse, so much worse. No one was hurt, the kids and I weren't even in the parking lot at the time, we had a witness who stayed until I got everyone's information, and the other driver called me out after it happened (good thing I have The Meals Maven advertising on my car!). It looks pretty cut and dried. I'm hoping I get my car back by the time yoga starts up in September.
That being said, it threw a loop into my dinner plans. Hooray for leftovers! I was way to sun-stunned to even contemplate cooking when I got home, and it was easy to heat up a bowl of soup for everyone. The leftover soup was destined to become a freezer meal for a future need, but it served a present need instead.
So let's talk about why it's important to cook ahead and keep freezer meals. I'm not exactly a pessimist, but I am a realist. As Robbie Burns said, "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry" (paraphrased). I love planning, and am not a big fan of surprises, but for all the planning I do, life happens, as it happens for everyone.
Without further ado, here are a few good reasons why it's a great idea to cook ahead and use your leftovers.
Here are a few pointers about stocking your freezer. Sometimes it feels overwhelming, or perhaps hard to start, but if I lived for 12 years without a deep freezer and still managed, so can you.
I hope these ideas will inspire you to get started on making the most of your resources, and enable you to eat more at home, eat less fast food, save more of your food budget, and organize your freezer in a way that suits your needs.
I've got a post coming up pretty soon on healthy lunch box ideas. With the kids heading back to school shortly, and the restrictions placed on what we can pack for them, I think it's a timely post- keep watching for it!
Enjoy the last couple of weeks of summer!
Until next time,
I have to wonder how long this thing is going to go on for. I seem to be incapable of the slightest amount of effort and it's beginning to wear on me. I know it's a good thing to get my family involved in cooking, so I am trying to be thankful for this illness
So again this week, in no particular order, we're going to family-share the cooking responsibilities. Kind of depends on how much homework the first son has and whether or not he gets to help me on any particular night.
Enjoy your week, friends! Stay healthy.
As you can imagine, this week I've been trying everything I can to relieve some of the symptoms while this thing works its' way out of my system. Along my travels I've encountered some very interesting treatments. Some of them are helpful, some of them kind of scare me, and some are downright nonsensical.
First, the helpful.
Next, the scary.
And finally, the nonsensical.
Sick person image courtesy of http://www.family-essential-oils.com/natural-cold-and-flu-remedies.html