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!

Sunday, so far

It’s not even 10am and I have been on a roll today. My two real goals of the day are to make Momofuku’s compost cookies and to grill out dinner tonight. Neither have happened.

I have been busy in the kitchen, though. I made Minimalist Baker’s 5 minute espresso brownies earlier this week for me. Brian asked to try one and didn’t like it(I love them). But he ever so casually mentioned that he likes when I make black bean brownies. Well, what did Minimalist Baker have up? A new recipe for black bean brownies. And they are good! So fudgy. Or is it fudgey?

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In yesterday’s mail my copy of More peas, please arrived. I immediately earmarked several recipes that I wanted to make. Since I still have a load if mangos to use from last weeks sale, I converted the peach cornmeal muffins to mango cornmeal donuts. They’re ok, but nothing to write home about. I feel like my cornmeal may have been too coarse of a ground. Oh well. On to the next recipe.

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I also sliced and got some veg marinating to throw on the grill tonight. A big dinner of zucchini, eggplant and portabella will be exactly what I need after some baked good sampling this morning. Along with a nice run once the weather warms up this afternoon.

Easy red curry with tofu

Want a quick and easy week night dish?

Mix 1 tablespoon red curry paste with one can lite coconut milk. Set aside.

Grab a bag of frozen stir fry vegetables. Cook according to directions on the stove top.

When they are 1/2 way cooked, abandon those directions and add red curry and coconut milk mixture.

Turn the heat up and bring to a boil. Cover and let simmer for 5 minutes. Add cubed tofu, simmer covered for 5-7 more minutes. I used extra firm tofu and drained it first.

Serve over brown rice. Squeeze lime over the top(this is really important). Top with cilantro(optional). Serve with a beer(also optional).

Quick, easy and inexpensive Thai food at home.

Hot and sour soup

After having some amazing Tom Yum soup recently, I have been wanting to make a hot and sour soup. I found this simple recipe and have been wanting to make it for about two weeks. I finally got around to  making it this morning. It was awful. I took one spoonful and nearly spit it out. Brian was able to choke down a half of a bowl, but I wasn’t nearly as brave. I am going to go ahead and post the recipe even though we didn’t like it because it had a 4.5 star rating out of 5 by 30 reviewers. So, maybe you’ll like it.

Adapted from weightwatchers.com:

Start by soaking a 2oz package of dried shitake mushrooms in warm water for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove mushrooms from water, remove stems and thinly slice.

In a soup pot, combine:

  • 4 cups fat-free chicken broth
  • 2 T rice vinegar
  • 2 tsp Asian hot sauce or chili paste
  • 1/3 cup bamboo shoots sliced
  • sliced shitake mushrooms
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 9oz firm tofu diced

In a separate bowl, combine 1 T cornstarch with 2 T warm water. Stir until smooth.

Bring soup pot to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Add in cornstarch mixture and cook for and additional 2 minutes.

Serve in bowls.

Italian vegetables with tofu

Zucchini and eggplant were on a mega sale at the grocery store the other day and I couldn’t resist stocking up. Then I realized that I was actually going to have to use them, I just didn’t know for what. Eggplant parm is one of my all-time favorite dishes, but not so healthy, so it took a lot of will power not to make it.

I came up with this easy and healthy veggie dish and added tofu for protein, but chicken could easily be substituted.

I started out by cubing one 16 oz package of extra firm tofu and tossing it with a little cornstarch(probably a tablespoon) to help it brown. I put it on the stove top on med to med-high heat in a lightly oiled pan. Stir every once in a while to let it brown on all sides. Once browned to your liking, set aside.

While the tofu is cooking, cube up a small eggplant(around one pound) into 1/2 in cubes. In the same pan, spray sufficiently with non-stick olive oil spray and put in eggplant. Cook until starting to turn translucent and soft.

Slice up 2-3 small zucchini and put in pan with eggplant when eggplant is about 1/2 cooked. Toss in some salt, pepper and oregano for seasoning.

When the zucchini and eggplant are cooked, dump in a can of Italian seasoned diced or fire roasted tomatoes. I used the fire roasted, which I prefer for almost everything. This can of fire roasted tomatoes were in an Italian seasoning.

Stir together to combine. Add in cooked tofu that you set aside and heat until juice from tomatoes is bubbling. Eat plain or serve on top of noodles.