Category: Healthy Eating

Tips for a Successful Week: Easy Meal Planning

This week, we’re talking about ways to make your work weeks easier by doing a little advanced planning.  Check out the introduction to the series here and yesterday’s post on planning outfits here

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When I hear the term “meal planning,” I think of housewives with a half-dozen children driving from soccer practice to dance classes.  And that is so not my life.  A lot of online resources for meal planning are keyed toward families and children, but even if you are single or childless you can save a lot of money and time by planning your meals — and your grocery shopping — in advance.

Over the weekend, H and I take a few minutes to talk through our work weeks so we know when one of us is expecting to work late, grab dinner with friends, or eat lunch out instead of packing lunch.   Then, we throw out ideas for what we’d like to eat the next week.  I typically like to make one nicer dinner we can look forward to, but otherwise we like to keep it simple and 30-minutes or less.  Here’s what we’re eating this week:

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As you can see, this is a piece of paper folded in half with the dinners written on the left and breakfasts and lunches written on the right.  It’s not rocket science.  We choose meals in advance but for breakfasts and lunches we keep options ready that we can grab and go if needed.  I eat the exact same lunch every day:  turkey or chicken soup packed with veggies, carrot sticks and hummus, and grapes; I take a LUNA bar for mid-afternoon snacks.  I change soups from tomato-based to broth-based or throw in an apple and pretzels instead of grapes and carrots when I need variety.  It’s a simple life.

We talk about what we want to eat, I quickly sort through the cabinets to see what we have and look in the fridge to pull out anything that’s expired, and then we write down our plans for the week.  We put the items we’ll need on our grocery list, and we don’t buy a lot more than what’s one the list.  Some, of course — is the beer we love on sale?  Are cranberries in season?  [I’ve been hoarding cranberries in my freezer like a crazy person.]  Did we just discover that there are Triple Double Stuf Oreos?  Then we’re totally buying that too.  But overall, we stay close to the list.

Using the paper method is helpful on the front end: we spend less at the grocery store.  Because we are working on managing our budget better, we’ve been trying to keep our weekly grocery bill under a set amount that is right for us.  It’s easy to over-spend at the grocery store if you don’t go in with a plan, but even if we weren’t saving money with this system [we are], I would do it because it is such a stress-killer.  Ever walk into your apartment/home and think “what should I make for dinner?”  Ever had someone you love ask you “what should we have for dinner?” Ever think that choosing something to make for dinner is too hard and even if you could choose something that sounded good it would be too hard to make, so you should just order a pizza or grab some takeout because decisions are hard?  That’s me pretty much every day.

When you have the paper on the fridge, it’s  easier to stay on track.  The answer to the question “what’s for dinner?” is written on the paper you taped to the refrigerator.  You don’t have to decide anything — just read.  It is a great plan.  Not feeling what is listed for the evening?  You have all of the other nightly meals you can choose from before you resort to the takeout option.

Do not think that we don’t ever resort to takeout even when we have perfectly good groceries in our kitchen.  We absolutely go off the list all the time.  But we do it less, saving money, time, and benefiting our health while being less wasteful overall.  It works for us, and even H agrees that it is a good idea.

Do you plan your meals in advance?  Do you eat the same breakfasts and lunches every day, or do you need daily variety?  Any other tricks for staying on-plan during the week?

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Bibimbap at home!

Okay, so, let’s just be honest:  bibimbap is my favorite.  I wrote you a cutesy introduction paragraph here but then deleted it because WHO CARES let’s talk about how to make it.

1.  Rice in rice cooker.

2.  Prep your toppings.

  • Slice and saute zucchini
  • Plop fresh spinach into boiling water until just wilted, drain and rinse with cool water (a.k.a. blanch the spinach)
  • Thin-cut carrots (we don’t julienne in this family, but something along those lines would be excellent), blanch and drain
  • Blanch and drain bean sprouts
  • Pickle some red onion – I used the recipe here but I used rice vinegar instead and halved the recipe
  • Fry a sunny-side-up egg

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3.  Cook the meat.  You’re going to marinate the meat for a minimum of three hours beforehand and probably longer.  I used the marinade recipe here, added a little pear juice, and then let it sit for a while.

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I learned a few things here for next time:

  • The meat should be thinly sliced — I wish I had sliced it much thinner.
  • Make EXTRA — it is the most delicious of all.

4.  Put it all in a big bowl:  rice first, then veggies in tiny clusters around the edges, then meat and egg in the middle.  Put a ton of sriracha (or Korean chile paste if you are fancy) on the side, take a photo, and then stir it all together.

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That’s it!  It takes a long time to prep all of the toppings but it is TOTALLY worth it.  And you can make all the toppings in advance so you just put  the rice-bowl together when the rice is done.

 

Christopher Columbus, Dirty Socks, Mavis Beacon, and Food Photos

“It is important to say the names of who we are, the names of the places we have lived, and to write the details of our lives . . . . We have lived; our moments are important . . . . Our task is to say a holy yes to the real things of our life as they exist — the real truth of who we are:  several pounds overweight, the gray, cold street outside . . . We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love the details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so that there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing.” 

Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones:  Freeing the Writer
Within (1986), page 44.*

Life has been moving every day even though it feels like if we have to wait much longer for news we will turn to statues and have birds land on our noses and random kids leave dirty socks in our empty moats (Christopher Columbus, Union Station, real American tragedy).  To hold you over, I have pictures of some delicious food I have been making to excite your Monday evening.  Because, basically, since I can’t plan for the future or go apartment shopping or oh, I don’t know, tell my employer that i need a transfer to an actual city before the entire agency goes into budget lockdown, I cook.  A lot.

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Smitten Kitchen Cookbook’s Plum-Poppyseed Muffins.  Actually, I made some pretty delicious mini-blueberry muffins for a work party last week as well.  I’m on a bit of a muffin kick — but I only like Smitten Kitchen’s muffins.  I HATE gross muffins, which is basically every other muffin I have ever made.

002 Red pepper, spinach, and feta frittata.  I invented this but mostly merged it together from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook and my Better Homes Plaid-front-cover best-cookbook-ever.  Also, I love frittatas.  So easy and they seem fancy when basically it is just a fat omelet that you put in the oven.

001Margherita pizza.  I always thought that this kind of pizza was B-O-R-I-N-G but it pretty much was the most delicious thing ever.  But mozzarella is kind of expensive to eat all in one recipe.

003 So I admit it, I did not make these.  But HOLY CRAP they are so delicious I could die.  In case you can’t read the description above (hello blurry iPhone photos!) and the name “espresso pillows” just doesn’t do it for you, these jelly-beans of mystery are actually bits of espresso, toffeed, and then dipped in dark chocolate.  And you get to eat 22 for just one serving that has fewer calories than a banana.  Seriously, buy them now.

004And last but not least, delicious fresh-out-of-the-oven meatballs (baked and half-turkey to save us from an early death by meatballs).  Recipe courtesy of me opening Ina Garten’s Family Style cookbook, ignoring all of Ina Garten’s instructions, and just mixing a lot of gross stuff together.

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*Note:  four “. . . . ” means a paragraph change occurred in the deleted text.  Three ” . . .” means same paragraph, but words/sentences deleted.

P.S. I’d also like to announce to you right here in this random and unexpected grammar section that I use two spaces after periods.  Because I am old school like Charles Dickens and E.B. White.  They seem like pretty cool renegades to hang out with.  So suck it, Chicago Manual of Style.  (But really I love you except for this one rule that I just cannot accept.  I blame Mavis Beacon typing classes.)

Sick-day Supplies

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Above you will see keys to a quick sickness recovery:

  1. Dairy-free spinach smoothies: almond milk, spinach, and bananas. For getting veggies and fruits past a very sore and scratchy throat.
  2. Approximately 100 ounces of yellow Powerade (which is far superior to Gatorade in every way). For staying hydrated.

  3. Barbecue kettle chips. For curing the munchies. Obviously.

I’m hunkered down for a few days to pull my immune system back together. I have about a million favorite reads to share with you tomorrow and will try to narrow that down for you during the next 24 hours. This week has been full of great thinking!

Priority Chicken

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I made this chicken tonight. It tastes pretty great, but it wasn’t ready until 10:30. So there’s that.

I’m working at work again — and working pretty hard, actually — and it is so weird how different each day feels now. There are so many things I’d like to fit into each day, but it is hard to make it all happen, isn’t it?

Today I worked from 9:15 until 6:30 before heading home. My bus was late but I was in the door by 7:30. I had a call with my advisee and grabbed some onions from the market, then had the chicken in the oven before H got home. I practiced my guitar (still in the key of C but getting to the chord structures and strumming patterns, finally!) and we watched last night’s New Girl.

But now it’s almost 11 and there is just so much more I wanted to do. I wanted to sweep and mop the kitchen and do all the dishes. I wanted to finish the chapter in my New Testament textbook and start reading Daniel for my Open Course. I wanted to write a blog about something. I wanted to paint my toenails and choose an outfit for tomorrow and pack lunches for me and H.

But we can only do so much. And we only have so many days. And so, it might be time to start choosing certain things to be the first things and certain things to be the little things, the forgotten ones, the tasks we let go.

I take it back.

I have never been so wrong.  Never.  Yesterday, I was whining about how “hard” I worked to make this recipe for all-natural pumpkin butter and that the mess it created was totally not worth the results.

Oh.

My.

Gosh.

You guys, seriously.  It is the most delicious thing I have ever EVER eaten.  This morning, spread on a slice of regular old toast, my taste buds thought I was eating pumpkin pie tastier than any pie I’ve ever actually tasted, and on top of that it was pretty healthy and full of good-for-you things.  And there are still four jars and a quart-sized-freezer-bag full of it in my kitchen.

If you’d like to come for a visit I promise to serve it to you with fresh, warm biscuits and coffee.  But you’d better come soon, or there may not be any left. 

Pumpkin Butter Everywhere

Finally, a 100% Happy Post!  Sorry things have been weird lately, it hasn’t been a fantastic October so far.  That is changing starting…right… NOW!  :)

Today, H and I started our weekend of awesome with a trip to my favorite place in the world:  BETHESDA BAGELS.  (BB I love you.)  It was awesome.  We tried their seasonal bananas foster cream cheese — totally a good idea.  Check it out.

Then, we ventured up to Butler’s Orchard for some pumpkin picking!  We picked out a slew of pumpkins but kept changing our minds because we had to find the perfect trio of pumpkins.

What a spooky tree, right?

Important principle of housewifery:  When decorating, always have an odd number of things unless the things are absolutely identical.  If identical, two is okay.

There are four things here — but don’t look at the tiny jar. Just observe the beauty of the pumpkins.

So, what is in that jar you ask?  Well, it’s homemade pumpkin butter that I totally made today.  That’s right, you should be impressed…because it was MESSY and it took FOREVER and it was not as cute and fun as the blogpost that inspired this endeavor.

The pumpkin-butter-pumpkins, looking all cute and innocent…

First, cutting pumpkins in half is incredibly difficult.  They look like cute little pumpkin buttons, just waiting to become pies or cakes.  But they are NOT cute as a button, they are ridiculously hard.  I ended up stabbing them with a knife, then flipping the pumpkin to pull the knife out without cutting off my hand.  After repeated stabbings, the pumpkin started to crack and then I physically broke it open with my hands like a priest serving some kind of fall-themed communion.

Pre-gut-removal.

Once sliced open, they had to have their guts scraped out.  Oh, save the guts, little housewife — roasted pumpkin seeds are so healthy and delicious.  Burnt pumpkin seeds are not actually that delicious.  Just saying.  I went through the trouble of cleaning, separating seeds from guts, finding a recipe and roasting my seeds.  [I actually split the seeds in half and tried two recipes:  a spicy and a sweet.]  Trouble was, while the recipe called for 30 minutes of roasting at 350 degrees, they were burned after only 18 minutes at 325.  I do not accept responsibility for this result.

The final products — plus more in the freezer for when this runs out.

 

So anyway, I roasted, burned, and threw away the seeds, and roasted the pumpkins that I literally split in half with my bare hands.  The roasted pumpkin then had to be scraped out of the shells and blended with [organic sugar-free] apple juice.  Because my blender is pretty small, I did this in three stages.  I’m not sure how, but pumpkin bits were everywhere.  On the floor, in the burners, in my hair?  Then, it had to be blended again with the sugar and spices, and stewed on the stove for approximately 30 minutes before the never-ending-dishwashing-extravaganza-of-2012 could begin.  But seriously, it turned out kind of awesome and I’m super excited to eat it on everything — in oatmeal, on toast, with biscuits…

H helped with the dishes because he is THE GREATEST HUSBAND EVER (and probably also because he is going to be eating his fair share and then some of this), we put away the 100,000 loads of laundry that H had done while I was cooking away (did I mention greatest husband ever?!?!), and we are snacking on some hummus and chips and hoping that Tennessee will pull off a win against Mississippi State tonight.  Hoping.  But between you and me, let’s not necessarily put all of our eggs in that basket.