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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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.

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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!

Spring

This weekend’s weather made it feel as if spring has finally arrived. This made me extremely happy.

I spent as much of Saturday outside as possible. I was outside almost straight from 8-4 then 6-7. I couldn’t get enough of the weather! This led me to walking most of my errands and I walked a total of 9-10 miles. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much of a tan.

I started out the day by heading to Cafe Tola on Southport and Addison. I had walked by a week or two ago and they had some delicious looking donuts in the front window(they also make fresh empanadas daily). Getting there before 8 gave me the pick of the batch and I got a maple bacon and a red velvet cake donut for Brian and a big cup of strong coffee for myself.  The sun was so warm that the frosting melted a little on the way home.

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I tried a bite of each, both delicious, but too sweet for my taste. I recreated my restaurant leftovers of salmon with a bacon potato hash into breakfast. How? By adding and egg, of course. Savory. My preferred breakfast.

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With a protein packed breakfast, I was fueled for my walk to Home Depot to pick out some plants for my garden plot.

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Still not having enough of the fresh air, I stopped on my walk to Lincoln Square to have some tacos at La Amistad. Sitting outside to eat them, of course.

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I went on another walk to pick up a few things at Whole Foods to make food for the week. I threw together these “bowls” of quinoa cooked in vegetable broth, black beans, roasted sweet potato, steamed sesame kale and baked tofu. That made 5 of the 10 lunches for Brian and I to eat this week. These came together in less than one hour.

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Sunday, Brian and I got up and ran the Ravenswood 5k. I really loved the route this year and was happy with my time. We had a small miscommunication about breakfast, though. When registering for the race, you could buy a ticket for a pancake breakfast to support the local food pantry. Brian bought one. I didn’t. Wah wah. Fortunately, the pancakes were prepackaged, so he could take them to go. It was probably a good thing, as I was surprisingly not hungry after the race. I had coffee and a bite of a cinnamon roll, but didn’t eat the banana or mini bagel they were handing out.

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After coming home and relaxing for a few hours, I was hungry and made myself a mega lunch. I had a broccoli potato patty, two eggs, my mini bagel(toasted with butter), blueberries and an apple with mango ginger Stilton cheese. I put a little cheese on half the bagel and then a slice of apple on top of that. Heavenly. Absolutely delightful. I rarely eat cheese anymore. Or most diary for that matter. I try to make it a rule that if I am going to eat cheese, it has to be good cheese. This was GOOD cheese.

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I spent the rest of the afternoon going for walk, checking on my garden plot and making up food for the week. I started a batch of cold brew iced coffee on Saturday and was able to drain it off and jar it yesterday. Just the refreshing beverage I need to have on hand with temps in the 80s tomorrow!

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I have been trying to move to a more natural skin care routine. One of the hardest things from me to move away from is my inexpensive but very loved drugstore body lotion. I have tried straight coconut oil before and didn’t love it. I ran across a recipe for whipped coconut oil body butter last week and decided to whip(pun intended) up a batch this weekend. It is absolutely delightful. I can’t wait to share this recipe. A little goes a long way and it really lasts all day.

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Multitasking while I was making the body butter, I cooked up some more food to round out our lunches and some dinner for the week. Look at that well stocked fridge.

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I’ve had a few people inquire lately about meal plans. Hoping to get to a post soon about how I try to do meal plans. Have a great week everyone and get out and enjoy some fresh air!

Takeout Fake-out Rama Chicken

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Brian wanted to go out for sushi for his birthday. I love, love, love sushi, but it can be a calorie bomb. Some rolls weigh in a more than 50 calories per piece! Yikes. Being that I didn’t feel like I could splurge that much, I looked over the menu for a healthier options. It looked like most everything else on the menu was stir fried. Again, not very healthy.

Then I spotted my little friend, Rama Chicken. Steamed!

Never having the little wonder that is Rama Chicken before, I was a little worried that it was going to be drowning in peanut sauce. Fortunately it wasn’t.

I’ve since attempted to recreate it at home with pretty good results.

Start by making your peanut sauce. I had some peanut dipping sauce in the fridge(too liquidy and tangy just to pour on the meal), so I used that as the base. Then I added a little sugar, PB2 and water to it. After messing with the amounts a little bit, I was happy with the taste. I made a second batch using real peanut butter, soy sauce, garlic, red pepper flakes, water and some sugar and that turned out really well, too. There are a million peanut sauce recipes on the internet. Find one you think tastes good and use it. Or just buy some pre-made at the store. I won’t judge.

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Set your sauce to the side. Steam some broccoli. I used pre-bagged steam in the microwave broccoli.  Place in a circle on your plate.

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Next, dice up some chicken(add a little salt and pepper) and cook in a scant amount of oil in the skillet until browned on all sides and no longer pink in the middle. Not meat eater? So easy to substitute tofu in this dish.

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While all of that is happening, dice and parboil some potato. I think I used one whole medium sided red potato between the two of us. I didn’t peel it, because I wanted the nutrients that were in the peel. You could probably use Yukon or russet with good results, I just happened to have red potatoes on hand. Drain potatoes and place on top of chicken.

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Drizzle as much peanut sauce as you would like on top.

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Eat hot.

See how easy it would be to assemble this to pack in your lunches? The whole meal came together in less than 30 minutes. It really takes the same amount of time to double or triple the batch, so you can make some for dinner and have plenty of meals left over. So easy. It’s definitely the kind of bagged lunch that will have your co-workers jealous!

Oven baked veggie chips: multiple varieties

A few years ago…okay maybe five years ago I made some homemade vegetable chips. I think I did beet, parsnip, sweet potato and white potato. They were good, a lot of work and just plain easier to buy.

Thinking that my thoughts on the subject may have been misremembered, I decided to make some again. Well, it was again, time-consuming without a lot of reward. Here they are anyway.

This time I made sweet and white potato, beets and zucchini chips. The zucchini chips were my favorite. I ate them all in one sitting. Don’t judge that last sentence until you see photos of the product.

I preheated my oven to 350F. Then I mandolin-ed my little heart out. Slice. Slice. Slice.

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Then, I tossed the slices with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. I arranged the slices on to cooling racks placed on baking sheets(to help with air circulation) and baked for about 20 minutes.

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The veggies shrank a lot in size and reminded me a lot of shinky dinks from my childhood.

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After spending time baking all those chips, I had very little finished product to show. And quite honestly, they didn’t bake very evenly. Half of a chip would be burnt and the other half would be soggy. The ones that turned out the best were the zucchini. This is the amount of chip I got from 2 medium zucchini:

chips5Yes, two zucchini fit in the palm of my hand. This is the size of one zucchini chip:

chips6The size of my finger tip.

So, from now on, I will be buying my chips.

Beet burgers and rosemary potatoes

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After getting into roasting beets from the farmer’s market a few summers ago, I decided that I liked beets. Since then, I have had a hot and cold relationship with beets. During one of those hot streaks, I bought 2 cans of them from the grocery store. I have no idea what I was thinking. So, they’ve been in the pantry for months now and I decided that they needed to get used up.

Fortunately, Neverhomemaker posted a beet burger recipe. I substituted fresh beets for canned beets and black beans for white beans and the burgers turned out delicious!

Dare I say that it might be my new favorite veggie burger recipe? Well, it might. It holds together better than most veggie burger recipes that I’ve made and the burger was nice and crispy on the outside and flavorful on the inside. Topped with goat cheese and it was to die for!

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On the side I made some rosemary roasted red potatoes. Say that 10 times fast! Whoa, tongue twister.

These potatoes were better than usual. I tried out Gwyneth Paltrow’s method of no-fry fries, but used red potatoes, cubed them and added rosemary. Soaking them in cold water made a huge difference. They tasted much crispier and more delicious than roasted potatoes I’ve had before. I’m sold on adding in the extra step!

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So, there you go. A healthier burger and fries that you can make at home.

Curry fries

I make sweet potato fries at home as a side for a lot. It cures my hankering for fries and it healthier than eating them out because they are baked, not fried.

I usually just salt and pepper them. Occasionally I will sprinkle a little cayenne pepper on there for spice. This weekend I decided to switch it up and use curry powder, which added a nice flavor without being overpowering.

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into fries
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil(or olive oil)
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder

Preheat oven to 400F.

Cut the potatoes into fries. Make them as uniform as possible.

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Toss with coconut oil and curry powder.

Spread as evenly as you can in a single lay on a baking sheet. Or if you own a french fry plan(like I do), use that. While you don’t need one, they are great for roasting vegetables. The holes on the bottom allows the air to circulate better and helps the food cook better.

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Bake for about 10-12 minutes. Uses a spatula to flip the fries the best you can to the other side for even cooking. Trying to make sure that they stay in a single layer

Continue baking for another 15-20 minutes. I like mine to be darker and crispier. This batch was a little underdone for me. I would have liked another 5-7 minutes in the oven for more brown spots, but the rest of lunch had already been done cooking for a little bit. Cold food and hot fries or all hot food? I chose all hot food.

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How do you make fries at home? What seasoning do you use?

Quick and easy veggie burgers

For a while I was on the hunt for the best veggie burger recipe. I don’t know when or why I stopped making my own patties. I must have gotten tired or them. Or maybe it was about the time I discovered amazing gluten-free veggie burgers at Costco that weren’t loaded with crap.

Well, last week we didn’t have many groceries but we did have the makings of a homemade veggie burger, so I threw these together. And they turned out surprisingly well. While they aren’t my favorite recipe, they were so easy and fast that I would make them again.

Ingredients:

  • 2 small to medium sweet potatoes
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1/3 cup rolled oats(not instant, preferably gluten-free)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds(or nut of choice)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350F.

Poke holes with fork in sweet potatoes and microwave 5-6 minutes or until soft.

Saute diced onion in a little oil until glassy.

Once cool enough to handle, cut sweet potato into 1′ chunks and place in bowl with black beans. Mash black beans and sweet potato together until combined, but not smooth. I like it left a little chunky, this will also help the patties stay together.

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Mix in onion, oats, egg, seeds and seasonings until combined.

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Form into 6 large or 8 medium patties. Place on non-stick aluminum foil. Make the patties fairly thin. This will help them cook best. Mine were a little more wet that I wanted them, but they still held together in patty form, so I continued on.

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Bake for about 15 minutes. Once starting to brown on the bottom side, carefully flip over and continue making about 20 minutes on other side.

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I like mine a little crunchier on the outside, so you may want to cook slightly less.

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These actually held together very well and have great flavor. Only one broke apart when I was flipping it, so I crumbled it up a little more and ate it on a salad with avocado. Yum!

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The total cost for making 6 veggie burgers? Less than $2! Bargain burger!

Easiest baked potato soup

I saw this pinned and thought it had to be too good to be true. I am so glad that I did!

A few years ago at Christmas time, my dad and I set forth in the kitchen with the goal to make loaded baked potato soup. Ok, so maybe it was my goal, I just drug him along for the ride. He was a good sport about it. It started with a roux and cooking things in bacon fat. All things that sound wonderful and delicious. It was a painstaking and time-consuming process and highly disappointing when we ended up with a blah product. So blah that we just kept adding things to it to try to give it flavor. It ended up turning out acceptable tasting after a lot of tinkering and no where close to the original recipe.

This soup is much different from that soup. Flavorful and couldn’t be easier to make.

I got the original recipe from here, but these were my measurements:

  • 3 pounds of russet potatoes, diced(I did not peel)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 32 oz chicken broth(you could sub veggie)
  • 1-2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon seasoning salt
  • 1 teaspoon minced dried onion
  • 8 oz cream cheese

Put everything but the cream cheese in your crock put. Set on low. Let cook for 8-10 hours.

When you come home from a day at work, it will look something like this:

If you like your soup a little chunkier, pull 1-2 cups of the diced potato out and set to the side. If you want smooth soup, leave everything in the crock. Add in cream cheese.

Use an immersion  blender(much easier and less dishes) or a regular blender(in batches and be careful due to steam) and blend until desired consistency reached. Stir in potato chunks if reserve don the side for a chunkier soup.

Top with bacon, cheese, sour cream(I used plain greek yogurt), chives or anything else you like on your soup.

This soup is honestly almost too easy and too delicious to be true. it would be perfect to serve for any sort of gathering with a toppings bar for people to top their own bowl. I can’t wait until lunch to dive into a bowl of leftovers. Mmmm.

Autumn stew

Still needing to use some of the pumpkin that I roasted, I decided to tackle (never home)maker’s Autumn Stew.

I made several changes to the recipe. I kept doing taste tests as I was cooking it and it just kept tasting so starchy and bland. Finally, at the end I added some extra things to make it taste a little brighter and was content with the results. Addendum: The left overs were even better than the original product. The flavor was awesome the next day.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 medium carrots, cut into coins
  • 2 15 oz cans of diced tomatoes(I used one fire roasted and one regular)
  • 29 oz roasted pumpkin puree(or canned pumpkin)
  • 32 oz broth of choice(veggie, chicken or beef)
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup frozen green peas
  • 1 1/2 cup corn(I used frozen from this past summer)
  • 1 sweet potato, diced and parboiled
  • 1 yukon gold potato, diced and parboiled
  • 1 cup of autumn spiced beer(I used Hoptober)
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • juice of one lime
  • 2 tablespoons wing sauce(I used Frank’s)
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large stock pot, heat oil over medium heat and cook onion until translucent. Add carrot, tomatoes, pumpkin and broth to pot.

 Bring to a boil. Immersion blend the soup, until it’s slightly chunky. Add chickpeas, beer, potatoes, peas, corn and spices.

Simmer for 45-60 minutes.

When ready to serve, stir in juice of one lime and wing sauce in pot. Scoop into bowls and serve with pumpkin biscuits or crusty bread.

Roasted fingerling potatoes

Fingerling potatoes were on sale at the grocery store the other day and I couldn’t resist buying some. I always feeling like they are the fancy aunt of the potato family. I’m not sure why more restaurants don’t serve more of them.

I like a simply prepared potato, so I went with Martha Stewart’s roasted fingerlings recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 pounds of fingerlings scrubbed
  • 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 400F. Cut larger fingerlings in half and leave the smaller potatoes whole so that they cook evenly.

In a small bowl, combine the rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper.

In a larger bowl, drizzle potatoes with oil. Toss to cover evenly. Then toss with seasonings. Once evenly coated, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Roast in oven for 30 minutes for until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.

These had a delicious flavor from the seasoning, but were way too salty. I would cut the salt in half and use a fine sea salt instead of coarse. The benefit of using the coarse was it was very easy to scrape the excess salt. The fingerlings would make a very complimentary side dish to most cuts of meat.