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!
You may also like:
Fish Taco Recipe
Cool Summer Meals
Planning Meals in the Heat
Having a stocked fridge is more complicated, because it has a lot more to do with knowing what you have and using it before it rots then the pantry or freezer.
Our fridge has a lot of condiments- different types of hot sauce, bottled salad dressings for when I'm running low on ingredients or time to make my own, and flavourful sauces for stir fry's and meals such as soy sauce, rice vinegar, maple syrup (the real stuff!), and dijon mustard. I think condiments could take over the world if we let them, and they are one of the groupings in a fridge that can definitely get out of control. If you haven't looked at your condiments lately, spend a few minutes getting rid of expired, old, or moldy items. I've seen jarred garlic, ginger, and jam go moldy, so never assume it's ok if it's been a while since you've opened it.
We have grapefruit accessible as my husband eats that every day for breakfast and they are too big to fit in my fruit crisper. I have the baby carrots my son loves ready to go and easy to see in a container on the lower shelf. I've grouped all my dairy together in 3 places- cheese strings in the pull out drawer on the bottom for the kids to grab for their lunches, coffee cream and milk in the middle, and cheeses, yogurt, and sour cream on the lower shelf next to the carrots.
All our leftovers are hanging out together by date- yesterday's leftovers on the top, and previous ones in the middle. Today I'm assembling the leftover moussaka ingredients to make one for the freezer, and that will clear out the middle space to leave room for any other leftovers we make.
My crispers are full of vegetables and fruit. We generally plan our meals around what's living in these drawers, because if something is going to go rotten and get thrown out, it's vegetables and fruit. We have lettuce, beets, carrots, parsley, and celery in the one...apples, oranges, clementines, and kiwi in the other. Before I buy more vegetables and fruit these need to be substantially emptied. I have a butternut squash living up on the top of my fridge with leftovers, and that is going to be roasted tonight for dinner, and we'll eat steamed beets as well.
I'll share a couple of ideas to make the most out of your fridge space. Please don't hesitate to connect with me if you need some more personalized help :)
A stocked fridge is more personal, depending on what you like to eat. A wide variety of fruits and vegetables, dairy, and condiments are my main go-to's when planning meals and snacks. The point of shopping for fresh food each week is to eat what you buy, so plan your meals and stick to your list. It's so easy to go overboard with good intentions when shopping, especially when you've got people with you or you're hungry to begin with, but that's how food waste happens.
Your fridge and freezer are the perfect places to put together flavourful, healthy meals that make your tastebuds sing. You can make your food budget go so much further when you cook for yourself, and I encourage you to find a way to incorporate more of this in your own life. Not only will your wallet thank you, but your body will as well. I offer a meal-planning service that can be personalized to you, your time, your tastes, and your fridge/freezer/pantry. I'd love to chat to see how I can help you use what you have!
Enjoy your day friends! If you enjoyed this post, please share it. I'd love to see you hop over to my Facebook page, where I post almost daily tips, tricks, recipes, meal plans, and interesting news from the world of food and nutrition. Come "like" me so you don't miss anything!
For many years, my fridge freezer was all I had. It was a typical top freezer and it was a struggle for me to know what was in there because I was too short to get into the back of it.
This fridge was a huge improvement for us- I wanted the pull out drawers and I love them still. We bought a small upright deep freezer for the basement just a couple of years ago, and the majority of my uncooked meats, ready-to-eat meals that I've cooked ahead (chili, meat sauce, shepherds pie, etc), extra vegetables, dinner rolls, containers of soup, and bones that I'm keeping for stock live in it. I routinely bring up food from that one as I meal plan each week so that I don't have to run down to the basement to grab the food I need each day.
Right now my freezer isn't as organized as usual because I'm in the middle of using up what we have so we can restock for the fall, but in this small snapshot you can see leftover rice, leftover navy beans, a bag of perogies, bagged vegetables and fruit, whole tomatoes, sliced ham, cooked chicken and meatloaf, a ginger nub, vegetable scraps, a couple of baggies of soup stock, and several freezer packs of various sizes. The kids lunches also live in here- in the top right compartment (where my vegetable scraps are right now) is everything I have made for lunches- meatballs, burgers, cheese strings, and muffins. When I get organized I also like to roll and freeze wraps so they can just grab and go.
I consider my freezers reasonably well stocked. But why? What makes it stocked? Why does it matter?
Here is the best article I've ever read with tips and suggestions on correctly stocking and organizing your freezer. I've done most of these things, myself, and if you want to start getting the most out of your freezer space I recommend you start with this resource.
You can always call for a companion to help you out if you're ready to do a fridge, freezer, or pantry audit. The big jobs are easier with a helping hand, and I'm just a message away.
Did you enjoy this article? Please share!
Have a great day, friends!
Over the years I've observed that I have a well-stocked pantry compared to many people, and I'm often surprised by what's NOT in people's pantry's. Let's chat about a well-stocked kitchen over the next few blog posts and see what all the fuss is about!
Keeping a well-stocked pantry can be the difference between whipping something up for a meal and ordering in (or going out). It's not a big deal if you don't think it is, but if you feel guilt, shame, or regret every time you go out when you would rather not, this is one of those things you can do to take control and find some satisfaction and happiness in your kitchen.
Keeping your pantry stocked enables you to run a more efficient and organized kitchen. It makes your meal planning and grocery shopping easier and quicker, and by keeping everything organized and knowing what you have means less time and money is wasted. It's so important, in fact, that I offer pantry audits as one of my services, because it's one of those places in our homes that seems to encourage chaos. I encourage you to do your own pantry audit before you run out to shop for your staples- you may find things in there you forgot you had!
We'll go over fridge and freezer stocking another time, and at the end of it all we'll put together a list of a few ideas of meals you can throw together with what you have.
Some standard pantry staples:
My stocked pantry includes items most people would probably not consider as basics, but we don't let ourselves run out. These items include all of these above plus:
There are overlaps, of course, between fridge and pantry. If we open the salsa, for example, it lives in the fridge. And we keep our ketchup in the fridge too, though I hear it's shelf-stable and refrigeration isn't required.
Here's a recipe using basic pantry ingredients to create baked beans in the slow cooker- a perfect recipe for the weather we are enjoying today in Fort Saskatchewan!
Have a comment? Want to tell me what I missed (or added) that makes my stocked pantry different than yours? Feel free to leave a note for us here or hop over to my Facebook page and start the conversation there.
Have a great week, friends!
I love soup so much, you will seldom see a meal plan of mine that doesn't include at least one dinner made up of a soup of some sort.
And the leftovers...soup leftovers make me happy too. For one thing, they seem to taste better the second or third day. And you can always pair them up with a sandwich or salad and have another dinner or hot, quick, and satisfying lunch. It freezes beautifully, too, which makes me happy because then it means I've got some meal starters in my freezer.
I love soup because it can be as fancy or simple as you'd like. Soup doesn't require a recipe, most of the time, and it's a fantastic way to use up bits and pieces of ingredients that need a meal to be useful, which also means it's an economical thing to cook at the end of the food in your fridge and pantry.
However, my family doesn't love soup. It used to be the only way I could get my second son to eat a balanced meal- if it was in soup, he'd eat it. Now, however, he's older and wiser and realizes he doesn't like soup very much. Putting soup on the meal plan twice this week is a big gamble, but I'm hopeful that because one of the soups is from my freezer and new to them it will be tolerated, the best outcome I can hope for with this family.
I've been making adjustments to my love for soup against the preferences of my family, and I have come to the realization that if I turn my favourite soup flavours into a one-pot skillet meal they will eat it. It seems to be the broth they object to. Last week I made minestrone minus all the lovely broth and both boys gobbled it up without a word of complaint. I can add as much broth as I like to make my own brothy bowl, the way I like it best. This week I aim to take the leftovers from my curry soup and turn it into a potato casserole of some kind. I will keep you posted.
How can you marry the food you love with the disdain of your family in a way that makes everyone happy? Feel free to let me know!
I'm just a message away if you're looking to make happier changes in your meal times!
Enjoy your week, friends!
The first words I hear after school are "I'm hungry, what can I eat?"
Can you relate?
Sometimes it's a simple question to answer because I'll plan for it and have snacks ready, or at least have a suggestion about what they can grab.
Other times though, not so much.
To really feel that sense of pleasure when you know the answer, you need to plan for it, and that is something that is true for everyone- no matter what kind of snacking style you're working with.
Starting with an inventory of what you already own is a great idea. It saves you time and money in the grocery store. It helps fight food waste which benefits the environment. Check your fridge, freezer, and pantry. Is there something in there that can be transformed into a snack?
I'm not saying my kids would eat all these snacks all the time, but taste buds change as we grow and I have no doubt that my picky second son will soon enjoy foods he currently turns his nose up at.
Preparing homemade snacks will, generally speaking, always be better for you then the processed snacks you can buy at the grocery store. If you can find a system that works for you, in the time you have, using your freezer to store snacks (such as muffins or cookies) or having a dedicated snack space in your fridge will go a long way to reducing or even eliminating the frustrations that come with having to prepare meals and snacks when you aren't ready to do so.
You can take these sorts of steps for your other meals, too. Spend some time thinking about what you can do with what you have. It's kind of like a puzzle to me, figuring out how to use what we've got. Sometimes it's easier than others, and remember that everyone finds themselves in an uncreative spot from time to time.
Happiness grows in tandem with planning. As uncertainty decreases and stress decrease, happiness steps in to take its place.
I just sent out an email to my newsletter friends, but I'm going to copy and paste it here so the rest of you can read it here too. One of these days I'll figure out how to remove the "sign up" message- in the meantime, ignore it when you see it.
It's been a struggle for me to send out emails over the years because I just HATE the idea that I'm adding to the inbox overwhelm most of us feel these days...so I'm letting that go. I'm cancelling my email service provider this week.
I appreciate personal emails and messages from all of you, so please don't feel you can't get in touch! I will always welcome hearing from any of you and get back to you, of course. You can use my contact forms on this website such as this one.
This is my last email to you.
Over the first few weeks of 2018 a word has been popping up everywhere I look- "Simplify". And when it comes to a structured email campaign, this decision makes the most sense to me. I don't have to do what "everyone" else does. I don't even open most of the business emails that hit my inbox, and I feel very strongly that most of you don't either- life is too short to be burdened by constant emails.
Rather than spending time and money crafting the occasional email I can better put my resources to use doing things that make life better for both of us- whether it's a blog series, recipe development, customer service calls, or in-home companion days.
I appreciate all of you sticking with me over the years! I'm not going anywhere. The Meals Maven has been a labour of love and I wouldn't do anything else. Keep an eye on me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. And of course, www.themealsmaven.com isn't going anywhere either. If you don't follow me on any of those social media sites, my handle is the same everywhere- @themealsmaven. Please "like" and "follow" me wherever you can. Comment on my posts, tell your family and friends about me, and help me grow my business so
I can keep helping others improve their lives as well.
In closing, if there's anything I can ever do for you to make your life better with regards to your relationship with food or nutrition, or if you want to touch base with me to tell me about your latest wins, or if you have a challenge you just can't wrap your head around, I'm always happy to receive emails or messages from YOU- I will always open those ones and you'll hear back from me :)
All the best, friends. You are the backbone of who I am and I thank you for your support over the years. I've changed and grown and morphed over the years into who I am today and feel more strongly than ever that this is the right path for The Meals Maven to be on.
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.
It's almost halfway through December, and that means we're almost done 2017. Although there's nothing overly magical about the turning of the page to a new year, we seem universally to want to "start over" with each new year.
So what's holding you back?
Take a few minutes to think about what you want in the new year, and what you can do to make it happen. As nice as it would be to think that the changes we want will magically appear under the tree on Christmas morning, realistically speaking the changes we need to make are made up of the steps we need to take ourselves.
For example, I would love to wake up on Boxing Day and find out that our house is magically uncluttered and clean. Will that happen? Not overnight. But if we consistently make the effort together as a family to make that a goal for the new year- and take steps to ensure it happens- at some point it will happen. Slow and tedious, yes. Worth it in the end? Oh, yes.
Here are some suggestions to help you get a handle on your kitchens going into the new year. Tedious? Maybe. But if you really want to make the changes, you will make the effort.
1. Issue: Don't know what food you have?
I hope some of these suggestions help fuel your new year thoughts and plans! Any questions please feel free to reach out!
Have a good day, friends!