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.
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Have a great day, 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.
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!
As you may recall, our beloved (not old) fridge died suddenly. While we were able to get a fridge to use while it was waiting for repair, and are exceedingly grateful to have it, it is not the most user-friendly fridge. Because ours is still waiting for repair- the part is backordered until the end of February- I decided to give the fridge a makeover.
If you have a basic fridge without a lot of good storage options, maybe my search for betterment will help you too!
Some quick suggestions on a fridge and freezer makeover:
If you want to walk through my fridge and freezer with me, I'll give you a quick rundown of why I corralled things as I did. The door is the biggest improvement, I think.
Two of the shelves had lost their stoppers, so things couldn't really be kept in the door without them falling out. Dollarama baskets + rubber feet + packing tape kept those baskets in place. I use it for things we don't use too often, like the many bottles of hot sauce we keep collecting, and our salad dressings.
I found the vegetable and fruit compartments in this fridge significantly lacking in space, so I added a basket to help keep the apples in place with the berries, and grapefruit happily sits under the butter compartment. (Yes, I know that's a lot of butter. I had planned on baking at Christmas, but didn't.)
In the main fridge itself, adding a shelf and a basket to help store some items and use the vertical space available made a massive difference for us. We don't often eat condiments but we seem to have a lot, and they need a home. The upper basket holds jam, ketchup, mustard, and salad dressing. The lower holds what we use more often- cream, yogurt, and pickles. Allowing milk and juice to hang out on one side helps everyone know where the beverages are.
Underneath my fruit compartment is my leftovers, meal starters to get into the freezer, and a grease can. More condiments on the back of that shelf, and the already-prepped beginnings of tonight's dinner are on the right.
The lower shelf isn't very tall, but it's deep. Things can get lost in the back so everything on that shelf is out in the front. Earlier in the week that's the shelf I used to defrost my food, behind everything fresh. In one basket are salad greens and snap peas, and in the other the yogurt my kids love as well as my jar of yeast- I don't use it often, so it's ok behind everything else.
The freezer is much better now too. It's hard to know what you're looking at, right? The top basket on the left holds my already cooked meal starters and lunch items. The middle and right one holds purees for baking. I guess I should do some of that baking, eh?
Under the main shelf are vegetables, prepared meals (shepherds pie, chili, and meat sauce), Grana Padano chunks, and berries.
Hopefully I've inspired you to organize your fridge and freezer. If you're tired of not knowing where anything is, this may be the key to sorting out your frustration!
All the best today, friends!
One year while in college I lived with 3 roommates. We shared a 2 bedroom suite and it was one of the best years of my life.
Every Sunday I'd make "Sunday Soup". Whoever was around could come and eat soup. Sometimes it was just me, sometimes it was my roommates, sometimes guests. It always started with a package of ramen noodles and enough eggs just dropped in to poach for however many people were eating it. Whatever leftovers I could scrounge from the fridge went in there, and sometimes a handful of vegetables. The specifics are long gone, because that was 22-23 years ago, but I remember loving my soup tradition. Plus it was cheap, a very important consideration for broke college students.
Nowadays I don't make soup every Sunday, though I'm thinking I may want to revisit the idea for the fall and winter. Last night we enjoyed Sunday Soup for dinner. It's the time of year when our people are starting to catch colds or just feel under the weather. It's warm outside, but there's still a bite in the air, especially when it's windy. And I worked hard all day and was too tired to really think. Like I said on my interview with Carrie Ann, soup is my all time favourite meal to cook, especially the last week of the month when we're on the end of our fridge food.
Growing up with a mom who didn't usually waste anything, soup is one of those things we ate often. I don't remember her ever using a recipe. I got my Sunday Soup idea from her, and over the years I've cooked periodically without following a recipe as well. I like to know I can stay a little more free-flowing with my ideas, something that's a challenge for me sometimes.
This soup started with some meal starters pulled from the freezer, flavour added to with fresh onions and carrots, and enhanced with basic herbs and spices. It was gentle on the taste buds and delicious.
And sadly I will never be able to recreate this particular soup because I used some of my meal starters- a bit of this and a bit of that from my freezer- some leftover gravy, a baggie of roasted pork drippings, some turkey stock I made last Thanksgiving, and the rest of the pork loin I cooked last winter. A handful of pasta left in the bottom of the box filled it out, and voila! Dinner was served.
We saved money cooking in rather than ordering in. We used up leftover bits of food from the pantry and freezer, and took advantage of meal starters I'd been keeping track of and organized. This meal was more nutritious then anything we could have brought home and was less expensive than ordering food for the family from any local establishment- and as an added bonus, we get to enjoy the leftover soup for lunch.
What's your go-to homemade meal when you're at the end of your energy? Do you have a favourite Sunday Dinner tradition?
Enjoy your week, friends.
It was a busy week, and with school in full swing again, it's going to be another busy week. We ran to Costco one day this week to get a few things ready for cooking ahead, and one of those things was a package of breakfast sausages. Today was the day we cooked ahead to fill our freezer with meal starters.
I cooked a lot this morning, but started with the sausages because they take the longest- 30-35 minutes to reach their internal temperature of 160*F. The quickest way to cook a lot of sausages at once is to line a cookie sheet with foil, and then put them in a 375*F oven. After about 20 minutes, flip them and poke them with a fork. After another 15 minutes or so and confirming internal temperature, place them on paper towel to allow them to drain as much grease as possible.
While sausages aren't the best food to eat nutritionally, they add an enjoyable flavour punch to many dishes, and a little can go a long way. My philosophy is to enjoy them in moderation- the sausage won't be the focus of my meals, but an interesting flavour component.
Some of the meals I'm able to make with these sausages:
I also cooked a double batch of oatmeal...but that was because I accidentally added too much salt to my first batch. I cooked a second batch to mix with half of the first batch, and half the first batch will be used to #testkitchen a meal I referenced above, baked savoury oatmeal. I've got some good ideas stewing around in my head, and tomorrow morning I hope to try them out. #wastenotwantnot!
Oatmeal is one of the greatest breakfast foods of all time, in my humble opinion. You can dress it up or down for whatever mood you're in, and leftover oatmeal reheats beautifully and tastes wonderful. Dress it up right and you can make yourself a satisfying meal that keeps you full for longer. It gives you fibre to help lower cholesterol and keep you comfortable and provides iron and protein. It's easy to make and my goal is to get my boys to try it a few times before Christmas. I'm under no illusions that they'll actually love it or ask for it anytime soon, but eventually their taste buds and bodies will acquire a taste for it, hopefully sooner than later.
Some of my favourite ways to enjoy oatmeal are:
I'm sure as I play around with flavours and moods I'll find more ways to enjoy oatmeal. I definitely prefer to cook it plain rather than add flavours to the pot, because I like to cook enough for a few meals and I don't know what kind of mood I'll be in when I'm ready to eat it. Mental and emotional states definitely influence what we eat, when we eat, and how we eat, so cooking ahead in this way gives the best chance possible to eat well no matter what our emotional or mental state happens to be.
I toasted sunflower seeds and almonds today too. Toasted nuts make the most amazing flavourful topping to anything from yogurt to oatmeal to salad. I enjoyed a bowl of fruit salad this morning with a sprinkle of toasted almonds on my fruit as well as on a bowl of oatmeal with blueberries. As with any food, it's easy to overdo it with nuts- pay attention to portion sizes- but the health benefits of nuts make them valuable to add to your daily routines. If food allergies are an issue, don't forget to read the labels.
I hope your Sunday was excellent. Enjoy your week, and keep watching for my #testkitchen meals!
Questions, comments? I can't wait to hear them. Feel free to hop over to my facebook page and start a conversation there, add me to your email subscriptions, comment here, or email me!
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,
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,