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!
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.
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 seems like socks never make it together in the washing machine and dryer. We always seem to have a bin of mismatched socks that look like this...
But with some dedicated time and effort, we can make a little magic happen and many of those socks can be matched and put away...
Going from the overwhelming chaos of the first photo to this one feels like "ahhhhh"...like sipping a cold drink on a hot day, or relaxing into bed at the end of the day and feeling your body melt into the mattress.
Learning how to meal plan feels like that too. Knowing what you're eating and when, especially on a busy night or chaotic holiday season (like now until the end of the year!) can make it less stressful, less time consuming, and less expensive. Meal planning can make your busy nights and chaotic holiday season feel more joyful, more calming, more enjoyable, more cost-effective, and more healthy.
You can do this! Let's talk. I've got space in my calendar so you can start your new year on the right foot...with matching socks (ha ha)
Book your complimentary call here- your confidence is waiting!
A few weeks ago I posted about why I like to use romaine lettuce in a different way than just a salad- and this is true of swiss chard, too. I really enjoy my weekly test kitchen because it challenges me to think about food in a different way than I usually do.
This summer I’ve used swiss chard as a topping for my burgers, in a salad, sliced up and cooked into a Vietnamese Noodle Soup, and now as a rolled appetizer, stuffed with strawberries and fresh cheese, and served with a balsamic reduction for dipping.
I know it may sound complicated to try new things. It can be scary, and maybe (like I used to be) you’re a little bit worried it won’t turn out and you’ll be wasting food by throwing it away.
While that IS a possibility, I would like to pose another perspective: trying something new is never a waste, even if you have to throw it away (and that’s a rare occasion!)
Most of the time the finished outcome will not be so bad it has to be tossed, and consider the alternate outcome- you may discover something new you love!
When testing my swiss chard appetizers, I started small, making just 2- one for my husband to try, and one for me. Both of us enjoyed them, so I plated a few and brought them to a family event so I could test them on other people too.
The overwhelming consensus was “these are really good”. And if they weren’t good? I would have known before I made a bunch and brought them to the party because I started with just 2. A few ingredients and a little time means it's not a big deal if it doesn't work out.
Here are a couple of ways to introduce something new to your cooking repertoire:
Hopefully you’ve got some interesting ideas cooking up in your head now! Enjoy your day, friends.
This week I'm playing with the Thai Basil that I am growing in my herb garden. We're going to run a late #testkitchen this week (today rather than yesterday if all goes well!), making Thai salad rolls for dinner tonight and a Vietnamese noodle soup with chicken and vegetables for dinner tomorrow.
But why bother? Why change to a different kind of basil? Why not stick with the old one that is known and loved?
Over the years I've observed there are 2 basic kinds of eaters in the world: people who can eat the same thing all the time and be perfectly content, and people who want to eat different things all the time and rarely eat the same thing twice. I don't think either extreme is healthy or sustainable. In our family, we encourage a bit of both for a few different reasons:
By now you all are used to me talking about incorporating a variety of different colours into your food but we don't usually emphasize reasons for different flavours. I'm going to hone in on one reason this morning: "...waking up your taste buds".
Raising a family of picky children with a husband who came pretty picky himself has been a journey for us. At the beginning of parenting small children I was completely unprepared for picky eaters. The idea of it was as foreign to me as living in full darkness half a year. When I was a child, if my mom put food in front of me, I ate it. To be suddenly faced with gagging, vomiting, tears, and the rest was bewildering.
However, I firmly believe food should not be a fight. Ever. We determine what foods go on the table so we fully control what response we will get. We can talk more about this a different day.
Suffice it to say, providing different flavours to ourselves and our families can allow us to enjoy different foods while we are out and about at various times in our lives. Like it or not, most of us enjoy meals at places other than home. We can't always control what's for dinner, and so it makes sense to train our taste buds.
And that is it for today, friends. If you enjoyed this post, share it! Help me grow my business by getting my name and brand known! Tune in tomorrow on Facebook for a discussion on reverse meal planning and if you haven't "liked" my page yet, please do so- I don't want you to miss anything!
All the best!
We're talking about Romaine lettuce this week on my Facebook page, The Meals Maven.
A long, long time ago- before we had kids and were learning how to keep guinea pigs alive- we found out that feeding romaine to guinea pigs was a good idea, and feeding them iceberg lettuce was not.
The reason you start your piggies on romaine when they're young is it's full of nutrition. It turns out that piggies love iceberg lettuce, but there's not enough nutrition in it for them and they will eat it rather than romaine if they develop a taste for it.
This might be true for people too. What do you think?
It isn't that iceberg doesn't have any nutrition, just not as much. Here's a comparison of these 2 types.
On #foodiefriday I will be releasing the recipe I cooked last night for #testkitchentuesday- a ground turkey stirfry that incorporates stir fried romaine as one of the vegetables. It's new for me and something I will continue to do. I really enjoyed eating it as something other than salad.
And to successfully use last week's failed peanut and rosemary combination made the dinner perfect.
As discussed on #marinatingmonday, romaine is wonderfully nutritious and not an energy-dense food. As such, it's tempting to think it's the perfect food to eat a lot of when you are trying to lose weight. I want to encourage you, however, to consider colour as your guide. Eat the rainbow, whether you're trying to lose weight, gain, or maintain. A diet of romaine and not much else will quickly leave you with nutritional holes and diminished health. It may not happen overnight, but it will happen.
I leave you with what I seem to say all the time but can't stress enough: Too much of a good thing is still too much.
All the best today, friends!