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
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!
Why use Herbs and Spices?
Strictly from a food lover’s perspective, herbs and spices add life and flavour to food. You can cook a chicken breast using the same oil and the same method, but changing up the herbs and spices used creates a different meal each time. It’s a way to travel the world without even leaving your home! It keeps food exciting and new which helps us to feel satisfied.
Creating your spice blends in your own kitchen allows you to control the ingredients, right down to the last grain of salt. As you adjust the blends you’ll find different combinations that become your signature flavour. In this way you can start your family recipe traditions and/or be the best cook you know.
From an economic perspective it’s cheaper to make your own spice blends than to buy ready-made ones, from chili or burrito seasoning by Old El Paso™ to a shaker of Old Bay® seafood seasoning. And because you made them yourself you’ll never run out or worry that your child’s favourite meat sauce and pasta will taste “funny” one day when the company you buy from decides to adjust its blends.
There are a plethora of health reasons too. Herbs and spices used to be the only medicines we had to keep fever down or recover from illness. Here’s an interesting article about the health benefits.
It can seem overwhelming to start creating your own blends. But start small, taste as you go along, and experiment. Most spices are fairly inexpensive, and the end result will make you proud. You can do it!
If you want a little bit of help starting with fresh recipes and spice blends, each of my coaching clients receive 14 custom-developed recipes as part of our coaching program- you can take those spice blends as a starting base and reconfigure them to make them your own. I look forward to helping YOU find the magic in your kitchen!
Have a great day, friends.
To know them is to love them.
Not convinced? Let me try.
Aside from the rhyme we learn as children, beans and other legumes are not as well loved in North America as they are in other parts of the world. Legumes make up a large part of diets around the world, from Africa to Israel, and are especially useful in regions where religion or poverty play a role in the kinds of food people eat, such as India.
If you do a quick google search you will find out many reasons why you should or should not eat legumes. I leave the final decision up to you.
In my role as a nutrition coach I stand firmly behind “common sense nutrition”. I think any food in excess is detrimental to your health and well being.
Pulses are part of the legume family. Pulses refer to beans and lentils (the seed part of the plant). Common legumes are alfalfa, soy, and peanuts.
I use both pulses and legumes as a whole often in our cooking. As a family we enjoy meals that are made strictly vegetarian but also enjoy meals where legumes complement traditional meat-based meals. For example, chana masala was my latest test-kitchen dinner for a client, and that’s a vegetarian dinner. My oldest son loved it in spite of it being a new recipe for all of us, and even went for seconds. We also eat chili a couple of times a month that incorporates both beans and meat.
Lentils can be pureed and added as filler to meatballs, meatloaf, or burgers. They add bulk with nutrition so the meat goes further, and they also give an extra boost of fibre and iron. Beans can be added to salads and soups. Roasted beans are a fantastic snack to keep with you to enjoy when you’re on the run and you know you’ll be hungry. They’re packable, require no special care, and a small amount is very satisfying. My roasted bean recipe will be posted on my Facebook page this week on #foodiefriday. Come check it out!
It's almost summer. Eating meals based on legumes and pulses makes sense in the summer because they can require no real effort beyond opening a can, rinsing them, and eating them cold. When cooking a hot meal with them they really only need to be cooked long enough to heat all the way through- much less cooking time than meat.
*Important Note: Beans and legumes usually require soaking, draining, and boiling. Always follow the package instructions or they can be toxic.
One of my final reasons to eat and enjoy this variety in our diet is a financial one. You get amazing nutrition from pulses and legumes at a fraction of the cost of meat. As someone who is the grocery shopper and meal planner for the family, I know I can attest to the cost of meat on the rise. It makes sense to branch out to seek our nutrition from a variety of sources if nothing else then to stretch the grocery budget further.
Fortunately for us, it’s not a hardship to enjoy this branch of the meat and alternates food group. Do you eat legumes and pulses on a regular basis? If not, I encourage you to schedule a few meals this summer that incorporate beans or other pulses into your regular meal.
Stuck for ideas? I’m only a message away.
When it comes to improving our "eating in experience", one of the easiest ways to pull ourselves out of our boring meal route is to try something new.
This came up in a recent Facebook conversation. When I asked about what it would take to improve our eating in experience, Shelley and Chantel both commented, "Being more creative with menus; sometimes we get caught in a rut and eat the same things!!", and "How to make my own sauces and dressings taste as good as in a restaurant!"
It's surprisingly easy to stay with what you know when it comes to food. Trying new flavours or textures isn't always a guaranteed hit, and it's hard to make the effort when you're pretty sure you'll hear "eww, gross" or "that looks weird" or "I hate this so much!". The truth is, not everything you try will work. Honestly, I've heard it all before from my family. But don't let the fear of failure prevent you from trying. It's not a failure if your family doesn't like it- it's a win for being brave enough to even put it out there.
Sometimes the simplest changes can make a boring meal plan a little more exciting. And if you don't like it, the worst that will happen is you will make a note not to try it again. RIght? In the larger scheme of things, a failed meal isn't the end of the world. Trying new foods and flavours can broaden your sense of taste or your enjoyment of texture. It can transport you to a new place. You will further your nutritional edge when you experiment with new foods, and maybe discover new favourites. There's not a lot to lose, and so much to gain.
10 Ways to Try Something New
Another way to try something new is to hire a meal planner such as myself. You will receive recipes that use the foods and flavours you like, but are put together in different ways. You may receive something completely new to you, too. Grocery lists are included to make it even easier. Why don't you take my meal planning for a test run today?
Enjoy your week, friends!
Have you checked out my Facebook page yet? Come on over to see what interesting conversations and posts we get into each week, and give me your virtual "thumbs up"! I'd love to reach 500 likes this year!
I recently asked this question on The Meals Maven Facebook Page:
"If you could improve just 1 thing about cooking at home and eating in, what would it be?"
There were quite a few different answers, some of them expected, a couple of them not. I picked these ones to talk about today, and the rest will be addressed over the next few blog posts.
"Having all of the ingredients on hand when I decide to make something and not having to run to the store for 1 or 2 things every time I cook." - Laurie H
"Staying organized and planning more." - Robin M
I think these questions go hand in hand with each other. And I have to be honest with you, no matter how much practice I have had meal planning and eating in, sometimes things still fall through the cracks. For example, not too long ago, I was making chili for dinner. I was far enough along in cooking that the spices, onions, garlic, and meat were on the stove, in the pot, and starting to brown. And then I noticed I was out of beans. Yes, it's true. I had to run to the store to buy beans in the middle of making dinner.
Here are a few suggestions to help improve your cooking at home experience! Make your habits work for you!
Are you inspired? I hope this helps ignite a few more ideas on making eating in a lot less stressful and easier to manage.
As always, if you want someone to plan for you, I'm your girl. Shoot me a note and I'll pass you a no-obligations survey. The best parts about my plans? They're based on flavours and foods you like, and you get your grocery list included. Yay!
Have a great weekend, friends!
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!
There are scheduled and unscheduled meal plans, and then there are the ones that are somewhere in between. Over the past month I've fallen into the latter category. I'm not exactly unscheduled, but I'm not precisely on a schedule either. I know what we've got going on and how much time I have to cook on any given night. I know what's in our fridge, freezer, and pantry. But cooking has largely been left to deciding the day of, rather than a week or two before. It's depending largely on how well I slept the night before, how my family is feeling, what kind of leftovers we have in the fridge, what my mood is, and what sorts of meal starters are in our freezer.
This week we are down to a potato, 5 mushrooms, a bunch of onions and garlic, 3 sweet peppers, 5 good sized carrots, 2 heads of romaine, and quite a few frozen vegetables of differing variety. We also have lots of canned goods- beans and fruit, and lots of meal starters in the freezer- various cooked proteins, stocks, and wraps. We are fully stocked for raw proteins as well, but I'm trying to free up space in my freezer for a good quantity of cooked turkey I expect to have after Thanksgiving.
Another post coming this week is a conversation about iron deficiency anemia. I found out late last week that my second son has very low iron, so my meals are reflecting that. This dinner pairs vitamin C (found in the potatoes and peppers) with many sources of iron- heme, from the beef, and nonheme, from the beans. We'll talk more about that later though.
For dinner this week we are using up as much fresh food as we can so it doesn't go off, and whatever meal starters I have kicking around in the freezer and pantry will make up about half our meals.
What are you eating this week? Enjoy your kitchen, and be well, friends! I'll write more soon.