I love summer!
I love the blue skies, the sunshine, the warm breezes, and the bird song. I love the lazy days, the play outside, the lack of routines. I don't love heating up the house with cooking, however, so now is the time I start cooking ahead to make summer easier for us at meal times.
I realized today that we're well into summer weather already, and I'm fortunate to have had a jump start in freezer stocking, but it's never too late to start planning and executing some of these tips and tricks for yourself. Here's a short list on ways to get started planning for your own hot-weather meal ideas.
1. Make a list, brainstorming all the foods you like to eat in the summer
2. Separate that list into its cooking needs- grill, slow cooker, stovetop, oven, no cooking, etc.
3. Note what requires cooking, and research if (and how) it can be done ahead of time.
As a family we like to eat a lot of fresh fruit, vegetables, and sandwiches in the summer, but we also enjoy "bowl foods", such as chili and meat sauce and pasta.
Having lean proteins cooked and sliced in our freezer means sandwiches are easy to pull together, and by consciously doubling our chili, meat sauce, casseroles, and meatballs now means there's a supply of meals ready to pull out and reheat. I plan on roasting chicken this week as well as cooking a pork loin in the next week or so in order to put away extra cooked meat for summer. It also makes sense to batch cook rice and quinoa to keep in your freezer so your side dish is ready to serve or turn into something else, such as fried rice, filler for meatloaf, or a salad ingredient.
Recognizing that sometimes summer isn't hot in Alberta, there are also frozen portions of cooked soup ready to reheat on those dreary days or for quick lunches or dinners to serve with salad and sandwiches.
Did this jump start your ideas? I hope you have found some inspiration to keep summer happy and carefree. Cooking doesn't have to stress you out, and I'm happy to offer you custom-built solutions for your situation. Email me here to learn more about my pre-summer cooking mini session.
All the best today, friends!
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Cool Summer Meals
Planning Meals in the Heat
Today I've got a guest post from Ryan, owner of The Backyard Basket. Our businesses are a natural fit to work together, though of course you are welcome to work with each of us as before. I asked him to write to let you know a bit more about his philosophy. Welcome, Ryan!
The most difficult part of eating healthy and having a great relationship with food is to sift through the information overload we are fed everyday when we walk into a grocery store. Buzzwords like Fibre, Protein, Trans Fat Free, 100 calories, etc, often take up the landscape when we are looking to make healthy meal choices. Enter the partnership between The Meals Maven and The Backyard Basket.
The Meals Maven designs great healthy meal options and The Backyard Basket executes these meal options by delivering the best ingredients in the right portions, all pre-cut, to your door.
Recipes can be very difficult to follow or execute as you often have to buy more of a certain ingredient than you need, you need to understand how to prepare the raw ingredients into the correct form for cooking (ie chopping onions) and then follow every direction closely to create a great meal. Additionally, our busy lifestyles only allow a small window of time to get our meals made and then take our kids out the door to a sport, piano lesssons, etc. By pre-portioning all the ingredients and chopping all the vegetables/meats for each meal, we help you skip the grocery store and the tears that come with chopping onions.
All Natural Ingredients vs Processed Foods
All the ingredients we prepare are all natural and free of artificial colours, flavours and preservatives. If you can’t pronounce it, it will not be in our food. Science shows that a whole food diet of natural ingredients can help reduce blood sugar, cholesterol, risk of heart disease, risk of diabetes, reduction of eczema and overall better health. By focusing our attention on providing a balanced meal plan with all natural ingredients, we are helping provide the best fuels to help prevent the health issues above while creating a great food relationship.
When we look at cultures around the world, our western world is the most heavily influenced by Big Food Industry. They market their products with claims of high fibre, added protein, low calories. However, the reality is that these products will have no balanced nutrition and will often be full of sugars, preservatives or artificial flavours that only make the food taste good and get the consumers addicted while big food makes more money.
The best example of this is milk. We all see the commercials that sell us on the health benefits of milk…high in calcium, vitamin D, Vitamin A. The reality? Vitamin D and A are added to the milk during the pasteurization process and a serving of broccoli (100g) has more calcium than milk.
We feel the best ingredients are the ones that do not need any packaging to sell us on the benefits. Walk through the fruit and vegetable section of your grocer and you will notice they don't need to do much to sell these items. No claims of vitamins, protein, fibre, etc. These are the types of food we use to develop our meal plans to make you feel the best you can.
EAT BETTER LIVE BETTER
Ryan Sieben, B.Comm
Leftovers get a bad reputation. I don't know if it's because so many people just put out the same food as the night before and get bored, or because they get left in the fridge and forgotten about until they go bad, but let me encourage you to reclaim your leftovers. Add a little flair to your leftovers to help your food budget flow a little more smoothly.
This morning I made my first ever food video (I promise, I'll get better!) after trying to decide what to do with our leftover pizza ingredients from dinner last night.
As you can (sort of) see, there's not a lot left. A little pizza sauce, a few slices of meat, a few chopped peppers and onions. And no mozzarella. My usual go-to meal when I only have a little bit of this and that left is soup, so that was an option. I could always cut up another pepper, add a can of tomato sauce with loads of garlic and oregano, and have a reasonable facsimile of pizza in soup form. I also considered loaded pizza baked or roasted potatoes, and a casserole of sorts was taking shape in my mind. In the end, though, I decided to send my oldest to school with a pizza grilled cheese sandwich, which is what you see in my video. I made sure to cool it to send it to school with a freezer pack, so maybe not quite as tasty as hot, but still a delicious lunch. I'll probably eat one for lunch too, actually.
When you've got a pile of leftovers, consider how you can change them up to make something else. Dinner tonight is again leftover-based. A month ago or so I cooked a pork loin, sliced the leftovers, and froze them in meal sized portions- these are my meal starters. To a baggie of pork loin slices I am adding leftover brown rice from dinner a couple of nights ago and creating a yellow pepper, spinach, and yellow curry cream sauce. It's going to be delicious! And quick. I like quick. Quicker than sitting in the drive-through window and ordering dinner, then driving home to eat it. Definitely tastier and better for you, too. I will have dinner on the table tonight in about 15 minutes, because the rice and pork are already cooked.
Varying your foods exposes your family to different flavours in a nutritious way. You've probably heard "Variety is the Spice of Life", and it's true even when related specifically to food. We need a variety of foods in our diets to achieve the most nutrition naturally, and many spices have their own specific health-supporting properties. We definitely need as many supporting players as possible this time of year when flu and cold season starts up in full swing.
If you'd like to experiment with building your own spice blend for Garam Masala (what we in the west mostly call curry), I found this delicious-sounding recipe online this morning during my search for internet treasure. I have created in-house blends for many of my favourite spice mixtures, and sometime in the next while this will be something I experiment with. In the meantime, though, I have a brand new package of store-bought to use up, and we all enjoy eating it.
Happy Friday to you, friends! What's for dinner at your house tonight?
Well, maybe not exactly how busy- but I have an idea, because I'm busy too. We live in a hectic, fast paced world, all of us running to the next appointment, stacking our errands together or fitting them in when we can.
What would the freedom of knowing what's for dinner feel like?
Let me give that gift to you. Over the next 24 hours, everyone who "likes" and "shares" this post on Facebook will be entered into a draw to win a complete 6 dinner meal plan- grocery list and recipes included. Comment with hashtag #6dinnersonabudget so I can track you down when I draw your name. Let's sweeten the pot- if my Facebook Page likes reach 500, I'll throw in 2 additional dinners- 2x15-minute meals- recipe and grocery list. That's 8 in total!
Are you ready? Here's an easy way to take my service for a test drive!
oh slow cooker, old friend,
you cooked my food well
and made my stock deep and tasty,
You worked hard to the end.
So good, my kitchen would smell
though sometimes you were hasty
those flavours you could blend...
and I'll miss you.
Almost any home cook I've met, whatever their level of experience, has a fiercely protected collection of favourite kitchen tools that cannot be loaned out for fear of loss. I am no different. My garlic press is my garlic press...do you know what I mean?
Here's my top 10 list. What's on yours?
A well-stocked and organized kitchen makes it easier to plan meals, prepare meals, and eat meals at home. You don't have to eat out (unless you want to!) when you can use your kitchen easily and efficiently! Throw out your broken tools and replace them with ones that work properly. Cooking just doesn't work when your things are broken or wrong.
For example, when we were newlyweds and stocking our kitchen, we went to our local dollar store to buy things like measuring cups and measuring spoons. I used my cook book from Home Economics in grade 9, so I knew the recipes worked. But nothing I baked would turn out. I was at wits' end until I compared my measuring cups to my mom's and realized that all the cups were completely wrong! It was eye opening, for sure. I had started thinking the problem was me rather than my tools...who would have thought?
What kinds of items are on your list of favourite kitchen tools?
Enjoy your week!
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A few years ago I attended a direct sales "party" - Epicure. As far as parties go, that one was right up my alley. It involved food and drink tastings and cooking demonstrations and I fell in love with the idea that I could cook foods from different parts of the world.
It was such a revelation! There are so many foods common to everyone, but it's how they are prepared- what spices and herbs are used, how they are put together, how they are cooked, how they are served, and what they are served with- these are the differences that make regional cooking "regional". Of course, many foods are region specific. But several cultures make use of foods such as potatoes, rices, and pulses, for example.
I have a stocked cupboard full of Epicure spice blends but also way more individual herbs and spices then most people I know- almost a whole pantry shelf in my pantry is devoted to herbs and spices. I have been spending some time "deconstructing" the flavours I taste in those blends, and coming up with my house version of the same. At first I would make a small amount, adjusting each time until I was happy with the results. I'm at the point now where I can confidently make a big batch of whatever I need- not of everything, but I'm working through my favourites as I go along, so when the Epicure product in the jars get used up it's a simple matter to create my own and keep cooking for whatever mood I'm in.
The key to finding creativity in the kitchen is giving yourself the physical tools (such as slow cookers, milk frothers, veggies spiralizers, and other small appliances and utensils), the physical space- a clean counter is much easier to work on than one covered in clutter (believe me, this I know from years of personal experience!), and a well-stocked fridge, freezer, and pantry.
Over the next few posts I'll be sharing tips on how to stock your fridge, freezer, and pantry. I'll give you ideas, suggestions, photographs, and practical advice on upping your game in the kitchen if you're not satisfied with how it's working now. If you've got any questions or concerns you'd like me to comment on, please leave me a comment or send me a message here or on Facebook. And if you haven't already, please go ahead and "like" my Facebook page! I post there daily!
If you haven't already, join my mailing list for exclusive featured articles for my readers and to be among the first to receive updates and special offers.
It's been a pleasure, friends. Enjoy your week!
It's a sandwich for dinner tonight! This weather, while gorgeous, has taken me by surprise this early in the year. Today's high is almost 30*C (close to 85*F), and it's a beautiful night to sit on the soccer field.
I don't know if this kind of sandwich has a different name in another place, but in our house we call it the grilled wrap. It's a large whole grain/whole wheat wrap, stuffed with sweet peppers, leftover cooked meat (tonight we're using some beef or turkey from the freezer), sauteed onions, peppers, and garlic and a bit of sauce and cheese. We're using BBQ sauce with cheddar tonight, but you could also use tzatziki or hummus with feta, caesar salad dressing with parmesan, or hot sauce and monterey jack cheese with jalapenos.
The advantage to this kind of dinner is the speed it's cooked at. Sauteeing takes, at most, 5 minutes. We use the George Foreman Grill to grill it, though the BBQ or a smaller sandwich press works well too. At most, again, 5 minutes. And I can set it up on the deck to cut down on how much heat sets up in the house.
This is a pretty basic recipe, but there will be a printable pdf available tomorrow on my Wednesday giveaway, with all the options listed here, including the exact way I made the sandwich pictured above. Check back on Facebook tomorrow for the like, comment, and share post.
I went grocery shopping on Friday, and refilled our fridge. Granted, it was getting a bit bare, but it's plenty full now. So when the first thing I hear from everyone in my family when they got home from school and work is "I'm hungry. What can I eat?" I motion to the newly filled fridge proudly.
"Well," I said, "there's yogurt and cheese, eggs, cucumbers, carrots, snap peas, apples, oranges, mandarin oranges, and pears. We have lettuce and coleslaw to make into salads or stuff into wraps, and there's cooked turkey and pork in the freezer so you can make yourself a great sandwich". To which is replied..."maybe I'll just have cereal" (says one) "Is that my only choice?" says the other. The third says, "I'll just go out and pick something up". Seriously? Sheesh.
To that end, I cooked a lot this weekend so there wouldn't be anymore "there is no food" comments. I made turkey and vegetable soup and lettuce wraps on Thursday and Friday, so we had lots of food for lunches this weekend. Saturday night I cooked a legume casserole (it was so good!). And Sunday was a food prep day for me to get us started on hot summer day meals. It's going to be close to July weather this week, and it's only May! I roasted beef, thawed out and cooked fish for fish tacos on Sunday and parmesan crusted tilapia for today, and made a meatless quesadilla filling for #testkitchen - I love recipe development! I cooked eggs for my breakfasts for the week, and cleaned up all the dishes that had somehow accumulated over the last few days.
I decided to make roast beef, because having cooked proteins in the freezer is a standard short cut I employ often when trying to make quick meals during soccer season and hot weather. It's a huge time saver, and helps keep our grocery budget down. A large chunk of meat cooked once can be spread out over many meals which brings down the cost per meal.
I chose to make fish tacos, because now that I've entered that contest to win a travel scholarship to Spain, I started second guessing the recipe, especially because it's been shared 26 times now, which is just incredible. Luckily it still tastes really good :) Phew!
Here's a shot of some of the cooking I did this weekend- the roast beef, fish (for tacos), and quesadilla fillings- sweet potato, navy beans, and brown rice. I'll get my freezer nice and stocked with that roast beef, and we'll enjoy some leftovers this summer. An important point to note when stocking your freezer is organization: rotate your frozen food. Put the most recent food going to the back of your section, however you sort it. Frozen food won't last forever, so do keep note of what is in there, and plan meals accordingly.
What did you do this weekend? Feel free to share!
Enjoy the week, friends,
We, as a society, are in the midst of a protein-obsessed craze. There are many opinions on what constitutes the right amount of protein. For the purposes of this article, I'm using the Canada Food Guide as my basis.
Today, we focus on Meat and Alternates
First, why worry about it?
Protein found in this food group is essential for building and repairing cells in our entire bodies. Inadequate servings can also lead to iron deficiency anemia and lower immune system function. Many B vitamins are also found in meat and alternates.
Iron deficiency anemia is a disease that can be caused by the inability to absorb iron, and/or insufficient amounts of iron-rich foods. Although you can get iron from non-meat sources, known as non-heme iron, the iron (heme) from meat sources is more readily absorbed by your body. Be sure to compliment the iron found in non-meat sources with vitamin C, and avoid sources of calcium at the same time as that can inhibit iron absorption. Zinc can be found in other foods as well, and is one factor associated with a higher immune system.
The Canada Food Guide determination for servings of Meat and Alternates is age dependent. From 2-8 years old, both boys and girls need 1 serving of meat/alternates per day. From 9-13, that jumps to 1-2 servings per day for both sexes. From 14 onward, girls need 2 servings, and boys need 3.
What constitutes a serving?
So what does this look like in a typical school lunch?
Here are some protein-rich foods you could send in a lunch. The cooked chicken, in the top left corner, is about a half serving- around 37 g. That's what my first son is taking to school tomorrow, because we also plan on eating peanut butter toast for breakfast, and pasta with meat sauce for dinner. He's in the 2-serving a day age range.
Everything else in this picture is 1 full serving of protein. Chia chocolate pudding in the top middle, sunflower seeds top right, 2 eggs below the chicken, canned tuna bottom left (my lunch!), and some cooked salmon from the freezer. A full serving of fish, for example, would be a lot for a child to eat in their lunch.
If your children are picky eaters and only like peanut butter but can't take that to school, it's ok. Chances are good they won't be lacking in this department, because many other foods have protein in them as well- such as milk and bread. Give yourself permission to skip out on a dedicated protein portion in their lunch box.
If it makes it easier, consider breaking their protein portion in 2. Give them a tablespoon of peanut butter for an after school snack, and a small handful (1/8 c. or so) of sunflower seeds in their lunch box. Or a single egg in an egg salad sandwich, and a little pork for dinner, about 1/4 c. You can eyeball servings, but if you pick up a scale you'll use it. We have a sensitive postal scale that we've used more than you'd think possible over the years. Just be sure they don't run on those awful little watch batteries.
Remember what the Canada Food Guide suggests for protein servings, and chances are good you're eating too much. I know we tend to! I also know this is controversial in the age of fad diets and fitness experts. We're all on this journey to become healthier. Pay attention to your overall consumption and your health in general.
Hopefully this will help you with your school lunches this week! Feel free to like, comment, and share. Together we can make school lunches a healthy habit!