Meal Prep & Convenience Foods

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One thing I’ve been trying to think really practically about is what our fall schedule will look like with me working, in school and completing my internship. Each of those things requires about 20-24 hours of my time each week. Which frankly makes me feel a little panicked when I think of it that way! I’m really talking to myself about the reality re: the grocery budget, cooking and convenience foods. I decided to just go ahead and update the grocery budget to $300, with room to grow if necessary. We’re eating a ton of fresh foods and I find that when we do that our volume consumption goes up, requiring that we buy more. I’m also trying out now a few different convenience foods that we both like, that are reasonably healthy and reasonably affordable (so…not ready-made stuff from Whole Foods! 😉 ). So far we’ve determined that we really enjoy:

  • Wellsley Farms Spanakopita (BJs)
  • Morning Star Farms Spicy Black Bean Burgers
  • Morning Star Farms Chik Patties (this is more Michael than me, but that works too)
  • Morning Star Farms Veggie Corn Dogs (the health factor here is somewhat questionable, but they are tasty and satisfy a hot dog craving for me)
  • Tyson pre-cooked chicken breast–both fillets and strips (I feel somewhat guilty about these, but they really do save me a lot of time. Also we’ve been steady eating down the chicken from Zaycon. Basically we eat a lot of chicken.)
  • California Pizza Kitchen BBQ Chicken Pizza (we like other frozen pizza too, calories-wise, though, this one was pretty friendly)
  • Refrigerated or frozen ravioli (seem more substantial than just pasta w/sauce; so easy to make)

This month we’re also trying out some frozen lean turkey breakfast sausage from BJs. If we like it I’ll add it to the regular list. And I have been intentional about keeping a variety of frozen fruit and veggies on hand.

I also have been thinking about food prep/meal prep — I am not super into having a months worth of freezer meals on hand, partly because I don’t really love a lot of them. And I also don’t want to spend a ton of time each weekend working on food prep, when I know that time will be at a premium. But there are a few things that don’t take a ton of time but yield good results:

  • hard boiled eggs
  • egg muffins/quiche
  • salad base (romaine, red & green cabbage, carrots, scallions)
  • granola
  • yogurt cups (somehow portioning the yogurt into single serve containers makes it easier to eat — why is that?)

And probably a soup or a grain/bean salad, too.

Are there convenience foods that you really like to have on hand? Or easy to prep foods that I should know about?

Um, hello?

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Hi y’all! I seriously lost my mojo at the end of last semester. Although we have summer classes, I’ve just allowed myself to take it easy the past two months. We’ve been busy, but I feel so refreshed! I don’t think I really let myself acknowledge how exhausting the spring semester was (18 papers and 6 presentations!!!) until I was done because otherwise I would have been really overwhelmed. But I guess I just needed a hard stop when it did end!

So what’s happened the last couple of months? My grandmother turned 90 and I was able to travel home to celebrate that event with family. She is still going strong and I really love every opportunity I have to visit with her. Interviews and placements for my internship happened — I got a spot with my top site, so I’m very excited about that. My sister and her family came to visit (three kids!) for about a week and that was fun and exhausting. Michael and I got some work around the house and yard taken care of, though as ever there is more to do. I’ve also been taking time for self-care specifically as regards my diet and general health. I got way off track in eating this past year and want to get that under control. I’ve started logging in daily on MFP and am incorporating new baby steps every couple of weeks or so. I’m going slowly because I really want these habits to stick.

When I say I took a hard stop, I meant it — I’ve just started picking back up my blog reading and catching up on what is going on! I guess I’ll get back into the swing of things in not too long. Right now I’m typing this in a power outage — we’ve had crazy storms today (even crazier than a normal Florida June) and while the storm seems to have abated over us at least, our power was a victim. I had soup on the stove. Kind of exasperating.

Anyway, in the spirit of improved health and better habits, here is my general meal plan for this week. I think we are going to have to modify tonight, though, because of the power outage.

  • Japanese Pork & Ramen Soup — the recipe is for the slow cooker, but I make it on the stove. Where it currently sits half-finished while we wait for the power to return. I think I should be ok with storing it at the current stage and finishing it up tomorrow with the noodles and veggies. But still. Irritating.
  • Beef & Bean Taco Bowls, Cole Slaw
  • Rosemary Lemon Chicken Skewers, Lemon & Feta Quinoa, Cucumber & Tomato Salad
  • Horseradish Tilapia, Crispy No-Oil Roasted Potatoes, Garlicky Green Beans

Grocery Habits: Changing it Up for May

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I’ve been reflecting on the terrible, horrible month of April as far as the grocery budget goes and have decided to implement a few changes for May. I’m not really all that fussed about breaking the budget, but I am annoyed that most of my shopping this month felt like it used to, when I didn’t give much thought to what I had on hand and bought mainly what looked good but also to stock-up because I’m pretty sure that genetically I’m part squirrel. At least when it comes to putting away food! Over the last few months I’ve really managed to stock up on all sorts of foods, and we have quite a healthy pantry (even after my challenges). So for May, I will NOT be stocking up on anything. I’m tempted to give myself the “once in a lifetime deal” caveat, but I know that if I go down that road, I’ll never stop seeing “once in a lifetime deals.” And really they come around pretty regularly, so I can just cool it on the stocking up for a bit. Within reason — I may purchase ground beef at BJs, but I won’t plan on filling my freezer. I have a few other ideas for ways to shake it up a bit, too.

I’m not going to be doing an official pantry challenge or grocery fast or anything like that. But I am going to pull together a box of pantry items that really need to be used up and set it out on the kitchen table. My goal will be to use all of those items up in the month of May.

I’ll also be implementing “official” meal planning. Or, well, as official as it gets for me. I’m not going to do anything crazy like assigning specific meals to specific days or anything like that! Also, we don’t need for me to cook a new meal every night, but we do eat much more healthfully if I spend some time prepping breakfast/lunch/snack items that we can eat all through the week. My thought is that I probably need to plan for three meals during the week and one over the weekend, plus a soup and salad or sandwich for lunches, a breakfast food and a snack food. Possibly multiple snack foods. I’d like to maximize some of that prep time to be items that can be kept in the freezer — but am not going to beat myself up if that doesn’t happen.

I’m going to continue trying out at least one new recipe each week; I got a little off-track with being ill, but I have mostly stuck to this so far in 2017 and I have enjoyed this challenge. Previously I mostly tried new recipes focusing on ingredients I already had on hand, but I’m going to be a bit more intentional about allowing myself to buy items specifically for the recipe. To some extent — if you’ve read my spice cabinet organization post, you’ll know that I don’t really need to bring in more ingredients that will just linger there for perpetuity.

I’m also really going to be focusing on fresh, fun foods. I feel like I’ve been in a bit of a rut with heavier meals and snacks, although this could just be the change of seasons that is calling out to me. Whatever it is, I want to get back in the habit of eating a wide variety of fruits and veggies. I am really craving them, lately!

I also want to try out some semi-convenience foods over the next several months. My schedule is going to get even busier in the fall when I have an internship in addition to school and work. It’s not realistic that I will make every meal totally from scratch, so I’d like to have some things on hand or that I know and trust to grab in the grocery store each week. But I’m a little out of the loop on that kind of thing so want to spend some time while I have time and mental energy evaluating those items. I’m thinking mostly of salad mixes and maybe some freezer entrees, although if anyone has suggestions please let me know!

Finally, I’m going to use all cash. This is not generally my tactic and is really the only goal that is related to the actual budget. Since I track my spending (less well in April, but I still do it), I do know how much I’ve spent, but I’ve found that cash only is a good way to reset my spending if I go off track.

To summarize:

  • No stocking up — buy only what we need.
  • Pantry box — use up some odd items on hand.
  • Intentional meal planning — my style, which is still pretty loose.
  • Continue trying new recipes — don’t be afraid to buy specific ingredients.
  • Fresh fruits and veggies — lots of variety, lots of flavor.
  • Convenience food taste test — preparing for an intense 17/18 school year.
  • Cash budget — reset my spending habits after a free-fall month.

Daybook, April 24

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Monday, April 24

Outside my window…….the sun is shining and a few folks from the neighborhood are getting in their morning walks. A lizard is taunting one of my cats who is perched on the windowsill; this is pretty much a daily occurrence.

I am thinking…….about what I need to do this week, especially as I am going out of town this weekend.

I am thankful for……the end of the semester! I am so grateful to be (almost) done. I have a paper due in my Thursday evening class and a Wednesday afternoon obligation, but then I have 10 days of no school at all. I am looking forward to that short break.

From the kitchen…..the breakfast dishes need to be cleaned up and the dishwasher started. The fridge is full, so I’m not worrying about cooking until dinnertime.

I am wearing…..pjs, shortly to change into cropped jeans and a t-shirt.

I am creating…..a couple of articles for work.

I am going…….to visit my family at the end of the week!

I am reading……..the New Yorker and some cooking magazines that have accumulated.

I am hoping……that I get everything done before flying north on Friday morning.

I am hearing…..two cats “negotiating” with each other, and another cat enjoying a cardboard box (we had an air purifier delivered — the box is big and the cats are in heaven).

Around the house…….I need to tidy everywhere and get on top of the laundry.

One of my favorite things……cats and boxes. 😉

A few plans for the rest of the week…..I’m working the first half of the week. For school I have some edits due to a classmate this afternoon and then that paper I mentioned earlier. I should also brush up my resume. It looks like Michael is getting sick now and since I blew through all the cold medicine we had on hand, I’m going to have to make a trip to Walgreens, too. We’re slowly but steadily working on getting the really rough (nasty) parts of our lawn in order, so I’m planning to spend a little time today and tomorrow tearing out some weedy, scrubby bushes by the shed in our back yard. And I’ll be packing for my trip to visit family (my grandmother is turning 90!). As usual there are some bills to pay and I also need to schedule eye appointments for each of us.

Here is a picture I am sharing…….the beach a Cumberland Island. It was pretty and so quiet, which is my favorite kind of beach.

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