We all have that sort of day where cooking is hard, and that day for me was yesterday.
As a meal planning coach I preach the art of cooking and planning ahead, and so it happened to work out in our favour last night, and I wanted to share a couple of tips to help make sure it works out most of the time for you too. Because it's unrealistic to assume that we will always feel like cooking. Am I right?
Convenience will always win over intention. We can have the best intentions ever but still find it hard to make them happen when we're *that* exhausted. Here are a couple of food rules I live by:
Consider what you can do to make life easier for yourself tomorrow, and start doing it. One baby step at a time will completely change your life.
Have a great day, friends!
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Freezer Meals- Getting Started
In our fast-paced lifestyle, eating a traditional meal of "real food" seems to have been left behind. We're simply too busy, too tired, too overwhelmed, too overextended to get it done. We are shown ads constantly (just watch for it the next time you're watching live TV- you'll be amazed) about how wonderful it is to be eating out instead of cooking at home. There are ads for junk food, diet food, weight loss programs that include the food, and fast food. The themes continue in sitcoms and books. Cooking at home is a dying art.
Our recent Canada Food Guide, unveiled in January, places a high importance on eating with others, enjoying whole foods, limiting processed foods, and so on. But there's not a lot of awareness put into the "how" of home cooking. In fact, it's laughable, and it's exactly the kind of information I found when I was a new mom and trying to sort out meal planning for my life with a squalling infant, no sleep, no energy, and healing a post-partum body. It didn't translate then, and it doesn't translate now.
How do you implement it when you are literally away from home more hours than you sleep? When you've got a household to run and a million things on your "to do" list?
The thing is, it's complicated and different for everyone. No two people share the exact same meal planning complications. But here are a few ideas to start you thinking, and I'm just a phone call away if you want to get serious about cooking at home.
For more information on meal planning that suits your life, let's talk.
All the best, friends! Stay warm!
Fall in central Alberta means crunchy leaves and crisp evenings. It's not quite winter but you can feel it in the air. The geese rise up suddenly from the river, honking their way overhead as they travel to warmer climates, and you realize suddenly that as quickly as it came, it's on its way out.
Fall in Alberta means apples and cinnamon, pumpkin spice, roasting turkey, and cheerful cups of steaming hot chocolate while warming up from an evening stroll. It's heart-to-heart quiet conversations with friends and shared meals. It's getting ready to settle down for the cold embrace of winter.
Last weekend I spent some time walking as the sun was setting. It was beautiful, and I was grateful to see it before the snowfall over Sunday night. While the eastern half of Canada still sits in summer weather, we're back to winter already. This morning, for example, windchill makes it feel like -12!
Over Thanksgiving weekend I cooked a chunky applesauce in my slow cooker alongside the turkey dinner, and now I get to enjoy applesauce for a few days. It smelled delicious cooking and cooked down beautifully. If someone gave you apples from a backyard tree, this is the perfect way to use them up. If not, use whatever apples you've got and see how it goes!
Enjoy your week, friends.
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!
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.
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!
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?
The biggest takeaway for me this week was to more thoughtfully consider what we do with what we have. As far as being a reducer, re-user, and recycler, I'm definitely in the know and I know our family does this better than we used to. However, there are still many, many things we can do as a family to improve our impact on the environment. Every day brings new opportunities to make changes to "how" we run our home.
It's easy to get complacent. It's disheartening, here in the west, when we know that no matter how much we give and alter our lifestyles and choices, there are other countries around the world that don't care and don't make any changes. But we are responsible for our choices, and if nothing else, we can make a difference locally. Buy those ugly vegetables. Reuse your plastic bags when you buy fruit and vegetables, and bring your own boxes or bags to the grocery store. Recycle what you can, and minimize what you can't. There are almost always better choices to make- none of us has this completely covered.
How about you? Have you had any epiphanies this week about what changes you can make to give your kitchen a waste-reducing makeover? #wastereductionweek2016
Here are a few final ideas for reducing kitchen waste, and here is a pretty decent article I found online this morning.
All the best this week, friends.
We go through a lot of apples in our house. It's the one fruit my second son will eat every day without a fight, and the rest of us enjoy them too. The photo above shows on the left what's left when I'm done with my apple. If I slice them for the kids or myself, I'll cut out the seed bits and the core. If I eat it whole, the core and stem are left behind. My husband, however, eats an apple down to the stem, as shown on the right.
He's challenged me this week to find a use for the bits of fruit we throw away. I can't imagine eating an apple until only the stem remains, but I agree there is some usable fruit left behind when I'm done with it. What I'm going to try to do is cook down these bits in a little water and strain it after. I'm hoping some version of fruit juice will be left behind- maybe not as strong as commercially prepared fruit juice, but enough flavour that I can freeze it and use it as a base for punch, fruit based desserts, marinade for pork and chicken, or apple cider.
I've got some ideas in mind for the daily grapefruit peel my husband leaves behind. The zest from it, anyway. I have a recipe idea percolating!
Today's challenge for you is to think about the remnants of fruit that is often thrown away. How can you squeeze just a little bit more out of it? It is deferred waste, but I think that is ok. Until garbage disposal units that create electricity are invented on a large enough scale to affordably keep in every household, we are going to have garbage. The challenge lies in focusing on the 3-R's- reduce, reuse, recycle. #wastereductionweek2016
Enjoy your day, friends!
Water is a valuable, non-renewable resource. Growing up as a child of the 70's and 80's, we seemed to have a very laissez-faire attitude about water in Alberta. It was here when we needed it, and would always be.
Now, however, our kids are growing up in a different world. There are routine water shortages and droughts. We watch the snow pack and rainfall levels, and we hear every year about devastating forest fires here in Alberta as well as around the world.
Today, we're going to talk about cooking water. Let me give you an example of how I changed what I do with it.
First, I now steam potatoes in a steamer pot rather than boiling them. They turn out just as cooked, and cook just as quickly, but use much less water. Another benefit to cooking potatoes in this way is giving them the opportunity to retain more of their nutrients. When vegetables are immersed in boiling water, some of their nutritional value gets absorbed by the water and then (usually) thrown away (more about that in a few minutes!). Another benefit of steaming gives you the opportunity to add passive flavour to your vegetables. Last night, for example, I added dried rosemary and sliced lemons to my steaming water. That gave my potatoes a subtle flavour boost that made them just that much tastier when it was time to eat them.
One of the ways I reuse cooking water is to strain out the solids- in this case, the rosemary and lemon- and refrigerate it overnight. Use it as a base for soup or stews the next day, or label it and freeze it flat to use it in the future. If that seems like too much work or too much planning, consider reheating it to a boil the next day and using it as the base for washing your not dishwasher-safe dishes. Add some soap and just enough cold water to make it possible to immerse your hands, and wash away.
Obviously my favourite way to re-use cooking water is to cook with it again. You retain all the nutrients that made their way into the water, and constantly buying soup stock isn't the healthiest or cheapest option. However, sometimes life gets hectic after dinner and you forget to put your cooking water in the fridge overnight- option #2 at least gives a second life to your water before it gets dumped.
Today, I challenge you to re-frame how you think about cooking water for every step of the journey. From how much you run the water before filling the pot, to how much water you cook with, to what you do with it after the fact. #wastereductionweek 2016
Enjoy your day, friends!