Thursday, March 24, 2011

Simplified Meal Planning


I have to accept the fact that there are many people, (several close friends of mine even), that are not going to embrace my monthly meal planning no matter how much I promise that it is easy and will bring you greater inner peace, enable you to eat healthier, and spend less time and money on grocery shopping. But, alas, I give in to the resistance and will scale back the monthly menu approach to something I’ve actually been doing lately which is a weekly meal plan. A lot of people plan meals by the week and that’s all fine and dandy but what if you labeled your days with themes? Sounds dorky? Of course it is. It’s just the kind of dorky thing that I love because it makes something mundane fun and efficient. If you don’t see the fun in it stick with me for the efficient part. See, if you have themes for your weekly meals, filling that 7 day meal planning chart goes so fast that it will start to make you think that you could move on to monthly planning and experience that inner meal-planning peace and spending less time shopping and all that jazz.
We’ve been floating these themes around in our house:


1. Soup or Chili Day
2. Separate Day: Meat, veggie, rice or leftover pasta side
3. Pizza day! There are so many possibilities for pizza dinner: Bar-b-q chicken with zucchini, apple and pork tenderloin pieces with blue cheese, roasted veggies, hamburger pizza, pesto with caramelized onions and mushrooms and feta or the plain standbys. With homemade whole wheat pizza dough it really is a healthful meal. Check here for some fun and interesting pizza topping ideas.
4. Taco Tuesday, (includes anything Mexican: enchiladas, burritos, etc.)
5. Left over day, (sometimes 2 days.)
6. Pantry Meal day. You can’t plan this meal. The objective
is to use what you have and not let perishable items go to waste. I look in the fridge and throw something together or search online for new recipes using ingredient search engines. (See www.supercook.com and other recipe sites that have ingredient search tools like allrecipes.com.) I love discovering new favorites this way.
7. Pasta day, (at hubbie’s request.)


If you have a general outline such as this for your 7 days and designate one of these themes for each day of the week, deciding what to have for dinner each day goes very fast. For instance, I start with a chart that looks like the one below, (Yes, I start mine on Mondays.) Every Monday we have soup or stew and every Tues. we have Taco Tuesday and every Friday we have Pizza day. The other pantry and leftover days can be swapped around:



Monday / Soup/Chili Day: Crockpot Vietnamese Pho Soup with Veggie wonton wraps
Taco Tuesday!: Chicken Enchiladas
Wednesday / Separates: Marinated Flank Steak with barley risotto and salad
Thursday / Leftover Day: LEFTOVERS
Friday /Pizza Day: BBQ Chicken Pizza
Saturday / Pasta Day: Eggplant Parmesan
Sunday / Pantry Meal: ????


Other themed meal planning ideas:

Rotating Meats: If you dedicate every Monday, for example, to chicken, Tuesday to vegetarian, Wednesday to pork and Saturday to red meat, you can fill out a weekly menu faster than you can say “well rounded diet.”

Rotating Cuisines: Mondays could be Italian, Tuesdays Asian, Wednesdays Mexican, Fridays new discovery cuisine (try a traditional German or Polish meal for instance).

Movie night theme: If you have a weekly movie night you could pair up a themed meal to go with your movie. I’m not sure that this would make meal planning more efficient but it sure would be fun. You could cheat and do what we did one night which was to order Chinese take-out when we were going to watch Kung Fu Panda.

Saintly Meals: Go to www.AmericanCathlic.org and jot down the Saint of the day for each day of the week and the country they are from. Choose meals that match the saint of the day’s heritage for at least 5 days of the week, (use the other for leftovers, eating out or a pantry meal). See my monthly plan using this theme
here. Be sure to read about the saint of the day as you are eating the meal in his or her honor. A kid’s version of Saint of the day can be found here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

IF you bake (and you should bake) . . .



Have you considered trying flours outside of the whole wheat market? I’m sure that most people perusing this blog bake their kids’ birthday cakes and cookies and mix up their own pancake mix, right? RIGHT? Well here is yet another reason to bake from scratch, (besides eliminating all those preservatives and gross amounts of sugar and high fructose corn syrup and those pesky unpronounceable or unrecognizable chemical ingredients in premade mixes) – you can increase the amount of fiber and protein as well as whole grains if you bake from scratch. We are so lucky to have a bulk country store reasonably close by that sells most of these grains at a bargain price. So really, with some natural maple syrup I nearly consider pancakes as a healthy meal any more. Take a look at these nutritional comparisons of some of the flours available:

Barley Flour
½ Cup
Cals 220
Fiber 10 g
Protein 6 g

Buckwheat Flour
½ Cup
Calories 200
Fat 2 g
Fiber 8 g
Protein 8g

Bulgur Wheat (Sprouted Wheat) Flour
½ Cup
Cals 300
Fiber 8 g
Protein 10 g

Quinoa Flour
½ Cup
Cals 240
Fiber 8 g
Protein 8 g

Soy Flour
½ Cup
Cals 173
Fat .5 g
Fiber 9 g
Protein 24 g

Spelt Flour
½ Cup
Cals 193
Fat 1.1 g
Fiber 7 g
Protein 7.8 g

Flaxseed Meal
(technically not a grain)
½ Cup
Cals 240
Fat 18 g
Fiber 4 g
Protein 12 g
**Omega-3 Fatty Acid benefits

Just for comparison sake:

Enriched White Bleached Flour
1/2 Cup
Cals 228
Fat .6
Fiber 1.7 g
Protein 6.5

You can get real specific and complicated in your muffin and cookie recipes and get all confused by how much soy flour should be substituted for white flour in a recipe but really I think that you can just use some common sense. You do not want to substitute 2 cups of wheat germ for the entire 2 cups of flour in a recipe but you can probably get away with substituting 1/8 of a cup. Get creative and just make sure that you have some similar consistency flour as the recipe calls for and experiment. Too runny? Add more. Too thick? Add a splash or water or milk or if you were using applesauce then toss in a little more. I like to toss in a scoop of flax seed meal in just about anything so if I think we need a protein boost or if someone in the family (who will remain nameless) requires some more fiber then I can toss in some coconut flour. It’s not rocket science. In fact I think it’s fun to experiment. It might not always work out perfectly but neither do ordinary recipes that use less beneficial ingredients. Now I wouldn’t recommend playing with a cake recipe, but muffins, cookies and pancakes . . . I say experiment away!
My favorite pancake recipe:

1 ½ Cups Flour (any variety, any kind, including a scoop of flax seed meal)
3 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
2 T melted butter
1 egg
1 ¼ C skim milk

Mix together dry ingredients. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix. If the mixture is too wet add more flour of choice. If the mixture is too thick add a splash of milk. Cook as any other pancake recipe.

Monday, August 9, 2010

It's FREEZER FRIENDS Time!


It’s time to start thinking of getting a freezer friends group together. My freezer is pretty empty right now and I can’t wait to start doubling and quadrupling my garden made tomato sauces, eggplant Parmesans and stuffed cabbages and who knows what else this first year of gardening will grant me. Anyone who lives in my area who would like to be put into a freezer friends group just email me with “Freezer Friends” in the subject line. I like to get the groups together by Sept 1st.




If you do not live in my area then consider starting your own group. It’s so rewarding to have meals ready to go in your freezer and it’s so fun to try new recipes.




For those of you who don’t know what the heck I’m talking about I'll describe how we do Freezer Friends in a nutshell. Each group consists of 4 or 5 friends (I've found that any more than that is just too much quantity to fit into the pots most people have). Each friend is responsible for making one meal a month and multiplying it by the number of friends in their group. The meals are to be divided into meals for each friend's family and frozen. The due date is generally the last day of the month when the friends arrange a time and place to exchange their meals. So really, you have an entire month to complete your assigned meal. You cook it and freeze it at your convenience sometime during the month as long as it is done by the exchange date.




The rules are simple:




1) BIGGEST MOST IMPORTANT RULE: make healthful meals made from scratch (NO canned soup as an ingredient or other such prefabricated processed things like processed cheese-like products) - If anyone ever has doubts I will always advise.


2) meals are due the last day of the month unless the group makes other arrangements


3) family size should be taken into consideration when proportioning out the meals and make enough for a whole meal for the family


4) email your group the meal you plan to make as soon as possible so that the group doesn't end up with 5 chillis in one month


5) try to provide a whole meal so if your dish is a pasta sauce, also provide a box of pasta


6) email or include a copy of your recipe with your meal and the thawing / reheating instructions


7) freeze meals that are freezable




I think I've covered it all.




Now I like to mix up the groups and there are usually 4-5 groups organized so we can mix up the groups throughout the winter so the schedule is this:
Group 1, September, October and November.


Break for December, no exchange.


Group 2, (new members in your group), January, February, March


Group 3, (new members again), April, May and if members agree to June they may exchange in June

Saturday, July 10, 2010

July 2010 Menu - Renewed Enthusiasm for Healthy Cooking

We just returned from visiting family in Savannah, GA. Somehow my brother-in-law’s girlfriend effortlessly threw together fresh ingredients to make several dinners that were delicious. She told us how her parents raised her and her siblings on whole organic foods and by some miracle she grew up without much of a sweet tooth at all. She craves healthful foods naturally. Our kids were not quite the angels on our trip that we would have liked (imagine that). To be honest, we have slipped down into such a junk food pit that I believe their junk intake may contribute to some of the negative behavior we witnessed (go ahead and laugh but I have heard of links between behavior and diet before). So anyway, I am feeling super motivated to cut out the junk we have been eating along with all the excuses we were using to buy it (treat for the pool, road trip, summer excursion, got a coupon, etc.). During our 26 hours spent in the car last week I went through magazines and got some healthy meal plans together for the remainder of July. I am hoping that I will find the time to report back with my reviews of how these new recipes worked out. Among my recipe finds are some chewy energy bars and healthy dessert ideas. I expect to get some resistance from the kids for a while during their junk detox but I’m motivated to stick to it and get them eating healthier. Afterall, it’s my job!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The “Monica Closet”

A couple months ago I was watching Mother Angelica on EWTN while ironing. I don’t recall the exact point of her message (not good I know) but she talked about how most of the viewers probably have drawers in their home that they aren’t even sure what is inside them but yet they are full. Her point had something to do with not sharing our abundances or the meaning of a true sacrifice versus giving of our abundance or something really meaningful like that (which I didn’t quite retain) but it made me think of my “Monica Closet.” If you don’t know what a “Monica Closet” is, well, it’s a reference to Monica’s catch-all closet on the show, "Friends". Yep that’s right. I just referenced Mother Angelica’s show and Friends back to back. Anyhoo, thanks to the help of a couple very generous friends, (one who painted and one who sat my 2 year old), I finally tackled my Monica Closet. When I have been asked whether I have such a closet I usually say, “Ahhh, there’s this spot in my basement but no, not really.” Lies lies lies! My laundry area of my basement has been such a dark secret. It’s been my dumping ground and it’d held junk that I couldn’t part with but knew that I should and who knows what else. Basically, it’s the spot of my house that I go to other people’s home to “fix.” Things finally got cleaned out, the walls were scrubbed and it is painted a bright white. No more Monica Closet. No more, “don’t look in there!” moments. No more feeling like I am holding onto material things unnecessarily. No more living with a dark secret. It feels good spiritually and intellectually.

Now I know I should have taken true “before” pictures with my big mess in it and I would have except I just um forgot, eh hem. Here is a picture taken while I was in the midst of emptying the room and an after picture (with a chaise lounge in it that my step-mom is coming to pick up soon). I ran out of tiles to finish the black and white floor, but hope to get to that soon. It was difficult to get a good picture of such a long room but if you are so interested perhaps you can get the jist.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

February 2010 Menu




Anyone who ever visits here probably wondered if I was ever coming back. Yes I love doing this little blog. I will be back. The Holiday Season and my 3 little ones tugged at my time. Admittedly I did not enter this past holy season prepared as I would have liked. This doesn’t happen every year for me. This year will be better. I will be done with the gifting ideas by Halloween so I can truly enjoy the season. While I was gone I put together this Februrary menu with all new recipes which I am excited about. Being a bit lazy with it, however, in putting it together, I basically sat down with my latest copy of CL magazine, (heard they were nitpickedty about copyright rules on blogs and such but I know you can figure it out), and used all their recipes because everything looked so yummy.

Friday, November 20, 2009

More Wisdom for Creating that Greeting Card Binder

As it’s been mentioned in passing before, I keep a binder for my greeting cards and I find it to be very helpful.

In the front of my “Greeting Card” binder is a list of all the birthdays and holidays that require a greeting card purchase, (or kid created greeting card), by month. Behind the list I keep 12 heavy-duty clear sheet protectors that are labeled at the top right corner with the months of the year. Then there are more sheet protectors labeled by occasion, “thank you,” “blank,” “friendship,” “sympathy,” etc. Shopping for cards seems to be one of my biggest mommy challenges. My kids do not have much patience for watching me read card after card looking for the perfect witty choice for a friend. When I am hurridly searching for a funny birthday card for my father-in-law but in the process come upon the perfect card for my girlfriend, Anne, I will buy it even though her birthday isn’t for several months. When I get home the card I found for Anne gets filed under January for her birthday. So, you get the idea.

I thought I was just so nifty with my little Greeting Card binder until my friend Anne called me with some ways to perfect it. She is my go-to bargain hunting friend so she always has the ins and outs on how to get the most out of retail stores which I just tend to try to avoid but sometimes fail. American Greeting stores are having a buy 3 cards get 3 free sale right now. (An even cheaper way to go is to have your kids make your cards for you of course but sometimes you want an actual greeting card.) If you can put aside an hour or so without kids, take a list of all your greeting cards dates with you to your local American Greeting store, or any bargain card store that you prefer, and buy ALL of your greeting cards for at least an entire year and file them in your greeting card binder. While you're reading a zillion cards, be sure to poke around in the congratulations, thank you and other card categories and find some that you'd like to file away. They aren’t likely to have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day cards or other holiday-specific cards but you can have your kids make those. Also, with everyone using online bill pay it seems more likely that you are without a stamp for a greeting card. Just tuck some forever stamps in the front of your greeting card binder and you can eliminate that problem as well. These are two tips I know will definitely eliminate my forgetting a card event or scrambling around at the last minute to get one.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Healthy Chorizo! No, seriously, really it’s healthy.






Get this. I have no menu for November. No kidding! I am flying by the seat of my pants. Aside from weekend plans to make large batches of freezer-friendly meals, I haven’t even pulled my November 2008 menu to copy. We will be out of town and there's an abundance of things in the freezer and pantry to work with. So, anyway, I asked Shirley, a very health-conscientious gal who runs the child care at my gym, what my family should have for dinner tonight. She is full of good, healthful ideas and even teaches people in her home kitchen how to cook without fats, dairy, meats and still enjoy yummy food. Shirley used to have diabetes and suffered a stroke several years ago and completely reversed the direction her health was taking with some major dietary modifications and exercise. She said to try the Mexican Chorizo Sausage at Trader Joes that is made from soy and is completely vegetarian. She said the spices in the chorizo will flavor a whole stir fry dish of veggies, (She also suggested adding diced tofu), and we could have them with whole wheat wraps. Simple. Sounds good. Sounds healthy. I was in.

When we arrived at Trader Joe’s, my 2 year old pointed at broccoli slaw. I took it as a sign and grabbed it. Why not? So with some onions and peppers I already had at home, broccoli slaw, mushrooms, Soy Chorizo, turmeric rice (for my carb-loving husband), and whole wheat wraps we had a delicious dinner. Get this - the Chorizo was only $2 and I only used ½ of it and threw the other half in the freezer. Thank God I had the sense to taste it before adding the whole package because I found out that it was quite spicy. The veggies were plenty to dull the spice along with some mild salsa so my kids could eat it with no problem.

Mexican Soy Chorizo Wraps

1 onion, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
½ bag broccoli slaw
4 oz finely diced mushrooms (less complaints by children)
1 can black beans, drained
6 oz Mexican Soy Chorizo
Salsa
1 cup rice – cooked with 1 tsp turmeric

Warm a little olive oil in a skillet. (Shirley only uses water). Cook onion and peppers for approximately 4 minutes, add crumbled Chorizo. Add a few TBs of water if needed to prevent burning, then add broccoli slaw, mushrooms and black beans. Add a little salsa if desired to the vegetable stir fry. Wrap a good layer of rice, veggies, salsa and light sour cream, (if desired), in a whole wheat wrap and enjoy!