Meal Planning 101

I’ve had a few people ask me lately about meal plans. I’ll give you a run down about how I plan our meals.

Brian and I pack and take our lunches to work most days of the week. It’s way cheaper and healthier. Even if you are getting an inexpensive meal out, just keep in mind that restaurants charge you at least 3x or more what it costs them to make it. Meaning: You can make it sooo much cheaper at home. Let’s do the math. If you spend $5 on lunch everyday eating out(which if you live in Chicago you spend more), that means that it’s costs that restaurant at most $1.66 to make your meal.

So $5 x 5 days per week is $25 per week on lunches.

If you made that same thing at home for $1.66 x 5 days a week, you would have spent $8.33.

$25-$8.33= a savings of $16.67 per week. Times 52 weeks per year = A savings of…

$866.84 per year

Wow. It really adds up, doesn’t it? Save almost $1000 per year just by packing your lunch instead of eating out. I bet you’d like an extra $1000 per year.

And really, it’s not that hard. It just takes a little planning.

I really like using paper and pen. Notice there is hardly any processed food on the list.

meal plan

First, break it down. How many meals do you need for the week? Check your fridge and pantry. What do you already have that you can use?

We both eat our breakfasts at work. So those need to be packed, too. Do you stop and buy donuts and coffee everyday? Don’t even get me started on how money wasteful that is. Make your own donuts/breakfast sandwiches/oatmeal and coffee for PENNIES. Seriously people. I bet it would take less time to make your coffee at home in a Keurig(yes, you can afford a Keurig if you stop buying your coffee everyday) than to stop, stand in line, order and buy it. So what do we eat for breakfasts? Cold oats, oatmeal bakes, tofu scrambles, egg bakes, donuts, muffins and waffles. Yep, make extra donuts, waffles, pancakes ahead of time and reheat. Just as good as the first time.

donut

Brian and I combined need 12 lunches. I only put 10 because I don’t usually plan the weekend out as strictly as the weekdays. The weekend is when we will eat 1 to 2 meals out. And if we are out running errands or have other obligations, we sometimes eat separately or we just have the leftovers from the week. I try to do one crock pot meal on the weekends. It saves time and makes a lot all at once. I don’t care if you are cooking for one or four, most recipes freeze well. Utilize your freezer, people. So, what are some of my favorite crock pot meals to make? Buffalo chicken, chicken curry, pulled pork, pork tinga, soups…or anything on pinterest. Start it in the morning. When it is done cooking, eat it for dinner. Then portion the rest out. Put a few containers in the fridge and the rest in the freezer.

bust a gut

I have also made a very conscious effort for us to eat meat less. A lot less. I make veggie burgers often. They are simple, fast and incredibly inexpensive to make. They are also filling, low in fat, high in fiber and protein. Win, win, win, win.

Another thing that Brian and I love are macro bowls. I steam kale, cook black beans, roast sweet potatoes, cook quinoa and bake tofu. Then I divide it out evenly between bowls. These bowls pack a punch in the flavor department, are super healthy and filling. They are really easy to customize, too. You don’t like tofu, substitute meat of your choice. You hate black beans? Throw in any other bean or lentil. Don’t have quinoa, use rice. Kale grosses you out? Use broccoli. You get protein, fiber, veg, and antioxidants. Yes these take a little while to make since you cooking everything separately, but they come in at less than $2 per bowl, using all organic ingredients.

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Two other dishes that we love are rama chicken and orange chicken. Healthier versions of take out food, made at home. Both pack great for lunches, too. Substitute tofu for the chicken and they are vegetarian. Most things you order at restaurant can be made fairly simply at home.

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orange

Are these too healthy of options? Make a pizza. Make your own crust. That’s an option that takes less than 10 minutes to make. Spread on some sauce, cheese and toppings. This makes a very large pizza or two, so you will have a few days of left over pizza, too. Another fast option. Kraft whole grain macaroni and cheese… add a source of protein and vegetables(a lot) to it when it’s done cooking. It saves you from eating the whole box, makes it much more nutritious and gives you 1-2 meals worth of leftovers. Win, win.

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Need a fast weeknight meal? Well, that pizza and mac and cheese come together in about a half an hour. Do you know what else cooks really fast? Fish! Seriously, it takes less than 10 minutes to cook most fish. While that is cooking, saute or steam some of your favorite vegetable(s). Tired of your same old, same old tuna sandwich? Make a tuna melt. Leave the sandwich open-faced, throw on a slice of cheese and broil it for a few minutes.

grouper

Another thing I do that saves me a ton of time during the week is to prepare a lot of vegetables a head of time. It’s easy to cut root vegetables, potatoes, or brussies up and roast them while doing other things around the house. Then I have a quick side to go with any meal throughout the week. Or put some potatoes or sweet potatoes in your crock pot. I also peel and cut up the entire bag of carrots at one time to snack on throughout the week.

I also take full advantage of my weekends and get most of my cooking done then. Take 4 hours one day and see what all you can get accomplished. I bet you will be eating well for days. This weekend, I am going to try to make about 10 days worth of food so there are things in the house through next weekend.

What’s on the list? Crockpot buffalo chicken(some will go in the freezer), a batch of veggie burgers, macrobiotic bowls, pizza, grilled burgers, tilapia and asparagus packets and some sort of breakfast(donuts or waffles) to pack for Brian. There you go. Six recipes that will feed 2 people for 10 days, plus some fresh fruit and vegetables. Getting some done ahead of time sure beats scrambling to make dinner every night.

I can make all of that with less than $70 worth of groceries for about one week of food. That’s $10 per day for 3 meals for 2 people. That makes each meal average out to $1.66. Way cheaper than eating out. And much healthier.

You’ve asked. I’ve answered. A weekly meal plan to save your waistline and pocket-book!

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Birthday weekend

What a weekend!
Yesterday was my 32nd birthday. Thirty-two. When did I get that old? Where has the time gone? I can’t complain. It’s been a good ride.
Friday, my co-workers surprised me with fancy cupcakes that we all indulged in.

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When I got home Friday night, Brian surprised me with season 2 of the BBC’s show Sherlock. We watched an episode Friday night. The season is only 3 episodes long, but each episode is 90 minutes. The first episode was so good. We were on the edge of our seats the entire time.
We went out for BBQ for lunch yesterday. We ordered an appetizer of poutine then decided to split a sandwich. Holy cow. The poutine had a homemade gravy that is probably the tastiest gravy I have ever eaten, globs of cheese, bacon and pulled pork.

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That hit my stomach like a brick. A few bites of cornbread and I was done. The sandwich we ordered was packed up and brought home as leftovers as well as some of the poutine.

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We did a decent amount of walking after that, then I had to come home and lay down for an hour.
I was able to revive myself for a beer on a patio.

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Followed by a delicious empanada.

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We ended the day by seeing Iron Man 3. We both really liked it.
After yesterday’s food fest, I got up and went for a long walk today. Made a successful batch of spinach and mushroom veggie burgers:

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After lunch, Brian and I rode our bikes up to my garden plot and got some things planted.

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Then had a very fruit and veg heavy dinner. After yesterday’s meat and fat fest, it was a necessity.

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I’ll leave you with a pretty picture of the pear tree blooms in our back yard.

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Thanks to everyone who reached out with calls, cards, texts and messages to make me feel so loved on my birthday.

Easy oven ribs

I have had a wicked hankering for BBQ lately. However, most things barbeque aren’t all that healthy. So, in typical fashion I decided that if I made it myself it will be healthier than ordering from somewhere. While the ribs may not have been much, if any, healthier it let me control the sides that went with the meat. Most BBQ joints serve unhealthy sides of creamy coleslaw, cornbread, butter corn and baked beans. All delicious, but unnecessary if you are already having a main course splurge.

What better day than the 4th of July to set out on my first BBQ rib adventure? Well, probably a lot of days considering we were setting record high temperatures  with heat indexes around 113F. Our poor air conditioners couldn’t keep up with keeping our place cool due to the heat and then I had to leave the oven on for hours. Whew. But they were a delicious treat and totally worth it. Adapted from this recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 pounds of St Louis style ribs
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes(optional)
  • a bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce(you won’t use it all)

Preheat oven to 300F.

Mix together the sugar and spices to form a rub.

Apply rub to ribs on all sides.

Lay the ribs down on 2 layers of foil. I used Reynolds non-stick. Place meaty side down.

Lay two layers of foil on top of ribs and roll and crimp edges tightly, edges facing up to seal.

Bake 2 to 2.5 hours or until meat is starting to shrink away from the bone.

Take out of oven. Turn on broiler. Discard juices from pan.

Cut ribs individually. Return to pan. Brush with sauce.

Place under broiler for 2-4 minutes or until sauce is bubbling.

Pull out of oven, turn all ribs over and brush again with sauce. Place back under broiler until sauce again bubbling.

Remove from oven. Serve.

These were absolutely amazing. Fall off the bone tender.

We had sides of Iowa grown sweet corn and watermelon. Much healthier than your typical restaurant fare.

BeST BLT variation

Bacon. Egg. Spinach. Tomato. Guacamole.

Zing. Bam. Ka-pow! That’s what my taste buds were saying when I ate this sandwich for lunch. This needs to be on a menu somewhere, if it’s not already.

While my perfect sandwich bacon was cooking in the oven, I made a half batch of the best ever guacamole.

If you want to construct this sandwich, follow these very simple steps:

Start with a piece of bread. Spread a tablespoon or two of guacamole on it. Top guac with slices of a homegrown tomato.

Top the tomato with a fried egg(I leave my yoke runny) and bacon.

Toss some spinach on top of that.

Top with another piece of bread and devour!

Here’s the Points Plus breakdown: 2 slices of bread(2 points), 2 slices turkey bacon(2 points), 2 tablespoons guacamole(1 point), 1 egg cooked with cooking spray(2 points), spinach(0 points)= 7 points plus for one sandwich

Stuffed Cuban pork tenderloin

I love a good Cuban sandwich. This looked like a slightly healthier alternative. I would give this recipe a 6 out of 10. I blame myself for much of that. It’s only a 5 ingredient recipe, to which I thought I owned all of them. Well, when I went to the fridge, my cilantro was bad and the jar of bread and butter pickles went mysteriously missing. Oh, and that jar of dijon mustard that I was convinced was in the cupboard…Brian informed me that we’ve never owned any.

So………

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons mustard
  • 1/3 cup sweet relish (or diced bread and butter pickles)
  • 3 slices of swiss cheese
  • 1 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed
  • salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 425F.

Cut a lengthwise slit down the center of the tenderloin two-thirds of the way through the meat. Open halves, laying tenderloin flat:

Place plastic wrap over pork loin and pound out meat to 1/2 inch thickness:

Spread mustard on top of meat:

Spread relish in a wide row on top of mustard:

Tear slices of swiss cheese in half and place over surface:

Roll the tenderloin up and tie  it up about every inch and a half:

Season the outside of the tenderloin with salt, pepper and the crushed coriander seeds. Brown the tenderloin on all sides in a hot skillet on the stove top.

Once browned on all sides, place on a lightly greased pan and place in the oven. Bake about 11 minutes on each side.

Once cooked all the way through, slice and serve with Cuban beans, or side of your choice.

Busy-day pork chops

Easy and tasty. What more can I say?

Do you need a hot, quick and satisfying meal after a long day at work? Look no further, I have the recipe for you.

Busy-day pork chops adapted from Taste of Home:

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup fat-free milk
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for sprinkling on top
  • 1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 4 boneless pork loin chops (4 oz each)

Preheat oven to 375F.

Place milk in a bowl.

In another bowl, place bread crumbs, cheese, salt, garlic powder and pepper. Stir to combine.

Dip pork chops in milk then coat with bread crumb mixture. Place chops on a baking sheet coated with non-stick cooking spray. Spritz top of chops with cooking spray. Bake 9-11 minutes on each side or until meat thermometer reads 160F. When turning pork chops over, sprinkle top side of chop with a little more parmesan cheese. Serve hot. And perhaps with a side of roasted sweet potatoes.

Nutrition Facts: 1 pork chop equals 178 calories, 7 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 57 mg cholesterol, 207 mg sodium, 3 g carbohydrate, trace fiber, 23 g protein.

Weight watchers points plus value of 4 for each chop.

Sweet and sassy chili pork chops

I never really know what to do with pork chops. I was tired of eating chicken and ground turkey, so I bought some at the grocery store the other day. They sat in the refrigerator for a few days, while I figured out what to do with them. After doing lots of food blog reading and some internet searching, I found a recipe for Sweet and sassy chili pork chops over at The Pioneer Woman.

Unfortunately, I deleted all but one picture of them in the making. Fortunately, they will still turn out to be very delicious even if you don’t have any pictures of them.

Adapted from above linked recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1-1 1/2 pounds of bone in pork chops
  • 1 12oz can of Coke
  • 1 clove of fresh garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons of sweet chili sauce(I used a garlic and chili sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice(about one orange)

Directions:

Mix all ingredients except pork chops in a large Ziploc bag until well combined. Add pork chops, turn to cover in marinade. Place sealed Ziploc in refrigerator and let marinate 4 to 24 hours. After marinating, heat skillet to high and place pork chops with bone to the center of the pan, discarding remainder of marinade. This is the thickest part of chop, therefore should go over the area of pan with the highest heat. Cook 3-5 minutes on each side, depending on thickness of pork chop.

These pork chops have the perfect combination of flavors. Easy to make for a dinner party. Highly recommended.

 

Pork tinga and tortillas

The talented Kirsten over at More Cheese More Chocolate posted about this recipe last fall. I’ve been dying to make it ever since.

I made this recipe last Sunday during the Oscars. It was so good that I thought I had won a statue that had a giant sombrero on top. Upon MCMC’s advice, I also made my own tortillas. The flour ones were awesome and the corn, well, they were like all the actors that didn’t win awards…less than winners.

Pork tinga(adapted from More Cheese More Chocolate):

  • 1 lb red potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 pounds pork loin, trimmed, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 28 oz fire roasted, diced tomatoes
  • 3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon adobo sauce from chipotles
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 medium white onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt

Put cut up potatoes in the bottom of the slow cooker.

 Put cubes of pork on top of potatoes.

In a separate bowl, mix together all other ingredients.

Pour on top of pork.

Put lid on slow cooker. Cook on high for 6 hours.

While this is cooking, feel free to run errands, watch the Oscars or do whatever you like to do. Upon MCMC’s recommendation, I started making the homemade tortillas about an hour before the pork tinga was done. Perfect timing.

For the flour tortillas, I adapted this recipe from Homesick Texan:

  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour(I used half wheat and half white)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup warm skim milk

Mix together the first four ingredients in a medium to large bowl.

Slowly add in warm milk.

Stir until a loose, sticky ball is formed. Knead for two minutes on a floured surface. Dough should be firm and soft. Place dough in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap for 20 minutes.

After the dough has rested, cut into 8 equal sections and roll them into balls with your hands. Place on a plate, make sure they aren’t touching and cover balls with a damp cloth or plastic wrap for 10 minutes. It’s important to let the dough rest otherwise it will not be elastic and won’t roll out to proper thickness and shape.

After dough has rested, work with one ball at a time. Place dough ball on floured surface and pat it out to a 4 inch circle. Roll with a rolling-pin from the center until it’s thin and about 8 inches in diameter.

Heat skillet to high. Cook the tortilla about 30 seconds on each side. It should start to bubble and puff up when done.

You can keep the tortillas warm as you make them by covering them with a towel, putting them in a tortilla warmer or in the oven at 200F.

Your tinga pork should have been cooking for just about 6 hours now. It’s time to take off the lid, stir it up and scoop out some of that amazing smelling meat.

We topped our tacos with plenty of cilantro, queso fresco, jalapeno, avocado and a fresh squeeze of lime. They were awesome! The leftovers will be calling my name everyday until it’s gone.

Rubbed slow cooker pulled pork

I like the slow cooker pulled pork recipe that I’ve been using, but I knew it wasn’t “the one”. I knew that there is a better version out there and I want to find it. The one I’ve been using is a little too sweet and a little too saucy. Almost like those prepackaged bbq’s out there that you just reheat. I could continue to adjust the ingredients, but I’d rather try a whole new method all together. I came across this recipe on D.C. Foodies. Make a rubbed pulled pork and add the bbq sauce yourself.

Genius. Pure genius.

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated on D.C. Foodies:

Ingredients(for 4-6 pound pork loin):

1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground white pepper
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (only use 1 tsp if you don’t like it  spicy)
2 tablespoons ground cumin
4 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 tablespoons salt

Directions:

  1. Mix together the rub in a large Ziploc bag. Shake it to combine spices throughly.
  2. Add the pork to the bag and shake to fully cover the pork in the rub.
  3. Place the bag in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours. The longer it marinates, the stronger the flavor will be. I let mine marinate for 12-14 hours. I made it while I was making dinner and put it in the fridge until morning.
  4. When ready to cook, turn slow cooker on low, take pork out of bag and place it into slow cooker. Add 1/4 cup water if you want to end up with a little more sauce. Cover pot.
  5. After one hour, turn pork over. Recover pot.
  6. After another hour, turn pork over. Recover pot. Cook for 4 more hours.
  7. After a total of six hours, check to see if the pork is starting to tenderize.  If it is, shred the pork using a fork and stir the shredded meat around in the sauce created during the slow roasting.
  8. Continue to cook for one more hour. Serve on buns with desired amount of bbq sauce.

This pork is incredibly tender and moist with so much flavor and depth. Brian and I enjoyed eating it with and without bbq sauce. That says a lot, because Brian likes his pulled pork very sweet. This is a really great recipe and I’ll be making it again in the near future.

Apple and Sage Pork Chops

I’m from Iowa: the land of pork. I like bacon and ham and pulled pork but have always been a little resistant to the pork chop. I decided to give it another try when I stumbled upon this recipe in the Feb 2011 issue of Food Network Magazine.

Adapted from Food Network Magazine:

Ingredients:

  • 4 1/2 inch thick pork loin chops(mine were slightly less than 4 oz each)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
  • 3 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Honeycrisp apples, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 large red onion, cut into 1/2 inch wedges
  • 3/4 cup apple cider
  • salt and pepper

Rub both sides of the pork chop with the sage, salt and pepper to taste.

Heat a large skillet over high heat, add 1 tsp of olive oil and sear pork chops until golden brown on both sides. About 5 minutes total.

Set pork chops on a plate to the side.

Add 2 tsp olive oil. Add the onion and apples and cook over medium-high heat until starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the cider. The grocery store was all out of cider, so I had to buy a packet of apple cider mix and mix it with water(not ideal).

Return the chops to the skillet. Cover and cook, turning once. Cook 4-5 minutes, until cooked all the way through.

Serve on plate. Drizzle with pan juices. My pan juices were much more watery than the ones pictured in the magazine, probably because of the cider mix. It didn’t have all the sugars that real cider would have had, but still made a highly tasty dish.

You can also see that we had a side of roasted sweet potatoes. There were the best I have ever made. I tossed them in a little olive oil and seasoned them with salt, pepper, cumin and cinnamon. Brian and I couldn’t stop eating them. Great meal.