One of my favourite movies from the 90's was Blast from the Past. I'm not a prepper like Calvin was, but if I had the time, space, and capital I can see myself leaning towards those tendencies- I am, after all, a planner. Having that amazing stocked storeroom would be high on my list of priorities. In everyday life, knowing the meals I'm making and knowing I have the ingredients I need frees up my brain to relax and gives me the mental space necessary to be able to take some downtime if I can, or if I'm busy it gives me the mental space required to be that much more organized.
I have friends who feel the opposite, however. Meal planning feels like a prison to escape from. The idea of being constrained is enough to keep them free-flowing at dinner time, throwing meals together if they have the ingredients they need, or fitting in a shopping trip if they don't. The very idea of that makes me anxious! But that's because we're obviously very different in personality.
There are many stops along the way between these 2 extremes- do you fit somewhere in between? What kind of meal planner are you?
If this is what I do for a living, I'm never going to "fail", right?
I'm human, with a chaotic family and life. Sometimes I fall off the wagon, too. I know you know what I mean- all of us have done this proverbial "falling of the wagon", in relation to any number of things.
It's human to stumble, and it's ok- forgive yourself and move on. Get up and keep going.
Meal planning on its own is easy. It's a list of foods you want to eat, and that's usually a pretty easy list to make for most people. It isn't a cure-all, fix-all, one-size-fits-all sort of deal. What makes meal planning magical is the execution of it. It's a process of life-changing proportions, constantly changing and evolving with you as your life shifts and evolves. It's a constant leaning in, figuring out what trips you up and what works; what you can keep in your toolbox and what needs to be replaced. The biggest shift I've had to do to make meal planning work for me consistently is to change how convenient I make it for myself.
Let me encourage you today to take a look at your meal planning skills and find one thing you can shift to make it easier for yourself. What works for one situation may not be what works for another, and it may take some trial and error to figure it out, but when you do I can promise you that your life will change.
Have a great week, friends!
I remember a few years ago having a text conversation with someone while I was cooking dinner. I was having a rough day, mentally and emotionally speaking, and was trying to explain to my friend why cooking dinner was helping. "It's my therapy," I finally wrote. "I find it helps to settle my mind, the repetition of chopping and measuring, stirring and mixing calms me down and makes me feel better. It puts my head in a more settled state. I can make clearer decisions".
This statement probably won't resonate if you're not a cook, if putting dinner on the table is a chore right up there with scrubbing toilets or mirrors, and that's ok. But for those of you out there who "get" me, those of you who find a simmering pot of something savoury a comforting and peaceful thing to enjoy making, know that we are not alone in this.
There have been studies done to confirm why this is so, apparently. And it boils down to something called "behavioral activation", according to this article.
The next time you're having a rough day and find yourself cooking something to settle your mind, know that you're not alone. I'm probably doing the same thing, too.
Until next time, friends!
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!
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!
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.
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!
My first Christmas as a young bride I didn't know anything about cooking a turkey dinner, but I was excited to try...and crushed when my bird was still mostly raw after hours in the oven. That was the night I discovered that the oven in our rental unit needed new elements. We had to drive our mostly raw turkey across town to my in-laws to finish the job!
If that defined my every holiday cooking story since then I probably wouldn't have chosen anything related to food as a business and I really wouldn't enjoy cooking large dinners. Thankfully, it was the only time my oven chose to break down during a major event.
It took me a few years after that to cook another big dinner again. It was sometime after the birth of our first son that we decided to start cooking our own Christmas Dinners. In honour of Thanksgiving in America tomorrow, here are a few tried and true suggestions to move your cooking mood from frazzled to fantastic so you can enjoy your holiday cooking (and eating!) a little bit more.
1. Enjoy People
If you know someone who will be alone on the holidays, invite them over. They may not want to participate, but it feels good to be wanted and you might be the only one who took the time to ask.
2. Plan Ahead
Make sure you know you have all the groceries and supplies you need! No surprises are good surprises when you are out of time and realize you are missing a big part of your meal.
3. Play it Safe
It's so much fun to try new foods! But unless you're willing to go hungry if it's not as edible as you imagine it will be, a big holiday dinner on the "larger than life" scale they tend to be is NOT the time to try an entirely new spread. Instead, limit new things to appetizers and desserts.
4. It Doesn't Have to be Perfect
Give yourself room to breathe. I know what it's like to feel the stress of cleaning up every little thing to make it perfect. But I'm beginning to realize that it just can't be perfect at this time in my life with young kids and a small house, and that's ok. Focus on your guests' enjoyment and your delicious meal and you will have more joy in your dinner.