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Archive for the ‘Organizing’ Category

love my deep freeze. I freeze all sorts of things to have on hand to make cooking and prep work easy. Here are a few of my favorite tips and tricks for making your freezer work like a second pantry.

Chopped bell peppers

Chopped bell peppers ready to be frozen on a cookie sheet. Freezing in this method prevents clumping.

Chop veggies and freeze on cookie sheets. Peppers, onions, sweet potatoes, mushrooms and more can be chopped, frozen on cookie sheets, and then stored in freezer containers in this method. When a recipe calls for 1/2 cup chopped onion or bell pepper, (like Pineapple Chicken Fajitas) you’ve got them ready to go. (Note: these veggies are best used in recipes where they will be cooked, and not left raw. If your recipe calls for raw onion/pepper, buy what you need for the raw portion, and chop up and freeze the rest!)

Freeze sauces, juices, and broths in ice cube trays. Pesto (like for my turkey burgers) freezes great in ice cube trays. Pineapple juice, tomato paste, and chicken broth are also handy to have frozen in 1 or 2 tablespoon measurements. Freeze in ice cube trays, then pop into freezer containers. (Pineapple juice, prune juice, and a few other juices don’t freeze super solid, so a lidded ice cube tray can be nice for these.)

Freeze shredded cheese. I keep shredded cheddar and shredded mozzarella on hand at all times. Then we are ready to go for pasta, pizza, and taco nights.

Rectangular freezer containers

Rectangular freezer containers. You can see the top one labeled with a dry erase marker. It is full of shredded carrot.

Square plastic freezer containers are AMAZING. They use all the space you have, stack and nest well, and prevent crushing. And they are reusable!!! They come in 1-pint, 2-pint, quart, and 4-quart sizes. One pint size is just right for a pound of ground beef, so I buy it in 10 lb. tubes, slice it with a knife and put in a container. They stack neatly in the bottom of my deep freeze.

Label plastic freezer containers with dry erase marker. Yes! It works. No more searching for masking tape and a pen to label things. (I still do that sometimes too.) But for the reusable containers, the dry erase will stay put until you are ready to wash the container.

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Now that you know how and why I make a meal plan from Part 1 and Part 2, it might be helpful to know how my meal plan actually works in action. Here is a real-life example of what happens in my house.

Week One

My shopping was on Tuesday, so my meal plan began Tuesday evening. Here is what we actually made. (Not entirely sure what the original was, but it is important to see what we made so you know how this week played out.)

Tuesday: Fish with cornbread

stuffing for pineapple chicken fajitas

Pineapple chicken fajitas

Wednesday: Crockpot Cheater’s Chili
Thursday: Pineapple Chicken Fajitas
Friday: Spaghetti
Saturday: Tacos
Sunday: Vanilla Pork Chops with Spinach Casserole
Monday: Crockpot Pulled Pork

After this, we had a fair amount of cornbread, chili, fajitas, pork chops, spinach casserole, and pulled pork left in our refrigerator, along with some meatballs and sausage from the previous week.

Week Two

Here was what my original meal plan said:

Tuesday: Chicken Breasts with Marinated Broccoli

Crunchy Chicken Salad

Crunchy Chicken Salad

Wednesday: At a friend’s house – Take Broccoli Tortellini Salad and Raspberry Fool
Thursday: Pork Burgers with Sweet Potato Fries
Friday: Leftover Pizza (in the freezer) or Margarita Steak
Saturday: Camper’s Breakfast Hash
Sunday: Turkey Apple Cheddar Salad
Monday: Crunchy Chicken Salad

This week was a pretty set schedule for a summer week, and I chose items based on what we had going on. The chicken breasts had to be cooked, as they’d been sitting in the frig. (I’d gotten them at a great price the week before and the intention was for hubby to smoke them in his smoker Sunday with the Pulled Pork, but it rained, so he did the pork in the crockpot.)  Wednesday’s dinner date with friends was set. Saturday and Sunday I had an event out of town for most of the afternoon and wouldn’t be able to cook.

What actually happened:

Tuesday: Had leftover pork chops & spinach casserole for lunch. Made the chicken breasts in the oven, but ended up having raw veggies, cottage cheese and corn from the freezer as side dishes.

Wednesday:  Ate leftover spaghetti for lunch, while the girls ate spinach casserole and meatballs that were also leftover. Made the Tortellini Broccoli Salad in the morning, and prepped the puree for the fool. Made the fool in the afternoon.

Thursday: Made macaroni and cheese for lunch and ate it with applesauce, sausage, and carrots. Made pork burgers for supper, but did not make sweet potato fries. Instead had cottage cheese, cheesy green beans, and fresh fruit.

Friday: Ate fish and spinach casserole (leftover) for lunch. Had so many leftovers in the frig that we had chili, pineapple chicken fajitas and meatballs for supper.

Saturday: Finished the chili for lunch. Decided it made more sense to make the Turkey Apple Cheddar Salad for supper instead of for Sunday. My family ate that while I ate a packed dinner that I didn’t have to keep cold. (My event was outdoors and it was terribly hot and humid. Peanut Butter and Jelly with carrots, chips and a treat.)

Sunday: I took leftover Turkey Apple Cheddar Salad to my event for lunch. (It was not as hot, and I knew I’d be eating it shortly after I arrived.) Knew we’d be getting home right at about supper time, so we pulled the leftover pizza out of the freezer and heated it up.

Monday: Can’t for the life of me remember what we ate for lunch, but it was likely leftovers. That night I made the Crunchy Chicken Salad to use up some of the leftover chicken.

So as you can see, we still had the Camper’s Breakfast Hash left on the menu, so when meal planning came around, I had one less meal to worry about.

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Before I start actually sharing my weekly meal plans, I think it is important for everyone to know that I think you should use whatever meal-planning process works for you. This is what works for me, and achieves the goals I have for why I do this.(See Part 1.)

How my planning process works:

  • Have a regular weekly shopping day. For me, it is a day I’m downtown near the grocery store anyway for a kid’s activity. My day changes as needed: during the school year, it was Wednesday; now it is Tuesday because the activity has shifted. But knowing when I’m going tells me when I need to have a list ready.

 

  • The day before I go shopping, I look at the calendar. I’m a consultant with Usborne Books & More, and if I have an evening party, or there is a special activity in the late afternoon/early evening, then I might select a super simple meal (like eggs) or a slow-cooker meal, or a meal that can be prepped ahead and just reheated. Or I might know we’re going out of town and don’t need to cook a meal on a certain day. Or there is a special picnic/potluck for which I need to cook something appropriate.

 

  • Plan one meal (usually supper) for every day a meal is needed during the week. If we’re expected to be home all seven days, I plan seven meals. If we’re only home four, I plan four meals. If I’m inspired, sometimes I’ll plan an extra. They come in handy. 

     

  • Try for variety. For example: Beef one night. Chicken the next. All-in-one casserole or pasta, and/or stand-alone meat with side dishes. Plan side dishes as necessary. (I’m bad at side dishes.)

 

  • Check my list of favorite meals. Thumb through cookbooks and magazine clippings. I usually pick at least one new recipe every one or two weeks. I’m always looking for the next family favorite.

 

  • Write my menu on my frig whiteboard.Dry Erase Calendar

 

  • Make my grocery list. Look at the recipes, then look at what I have in the pantry/frig/freezer. What am I missing? Write it on my ongoing list. Do I want to double something so we have leftovers, or so I can make a freezer meal? Plan appropriately. Then go shopping and buy it all.

That’s it. That’s my planning process in a nutshell.

What I don’t do: strictly stick to eating a specific meal on a certain day. If I plan vanilla pork chops for Wednesday, and then realize I forgot to brine them, I’ll make Thursday’s Sweet Potato Sausage Hash instead. Some meals won’t move because of specific dates. (See Look at the calendar.) The point is, I have ALL the ingredients to make everything on the plan and I don’t have to go shopping again.  Sometimes, we have so many leftovers in the frig we decide we don’t need to cook a day, and I’ve got an extra meal to jump-start the next week’s planning.

And I love it when that happens. 🙂

What do you like about my process? What won’t work for you? How does your process work? I’d love to hear it!

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Since starting this blog, I’ve had a few friends say, “I can’t make a weekly meal plan. I just can’t be that strict, to make X on Monday, and Y on Tuesday.” Guess what, folks? I’m not.

Nope. My weekly meal plan is not about knowing exactly what I’ll make and eat when. It’s about trying to simplify my life a little bit. And it starts with knowing what I want out of making a menu plan.

My Meal Planning Goals

First and foremost, I don’t want to make four trips to the store. Ugh. Grocery shopping with a three-year-old is NOT my favorite part of my life, and now that summer is here, having the seven-year-old along for the ride makes grocery shopping, well, SUCK.  (Example: This week, when the meat counter employee asked if I needed help while I was wrestling with both my kids, I answered that I needed a babysitter.) I want to go to the store with a list of everything I need to get through the week. I want to walk in, find what I need, pay, and get out. I don’t want to go back for things I missed or forgot. This requires a list. It is absolutely mandatory to have a list! And a good grocery list requires a list of meals that I’m making.

I want meals (or at least parts of meals) that my kids won’t complain about. This, right here, is why I HATE menu-planning day. Picky kids make the list of foods I can cook keep dwindling. But I keep making many of them anyway. Tough for them. I refuse to live off of only macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, and the turkey burgers they love so much. So I keep trying new things and tweaking, but I keep a list of favorites so I don’t have to hear whining all the time.

I want leftovers. Two to three meals that make enough leftovers for my husband to take to work for lunch, and if at all possible, leave enough for lunches at home so I only have to really cook at suppertime.

I want meals that take life into account. Is it going to be terribly hot? Maybe not the best day for the oven to be on for an hour or to stand over the stove for 30 minutes. Do we have activities on the calendar that cut into meal prep or actual meal time? Might be time to pull out a slow-cooker or freezer meal. Are we out of town, and don’t have to cook? (WIN!)

I want nutrition. Now, I’m not perfect. We eat boxed macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, and other convenience foods. Sometimes, there are no vegetables on the table at all. And sometimes there are, but my kids won’t touch them.  But I try. And that’s what matters. I figure if I get it right at least part of the time, then I’m doing okay. So planning helps me think ahead and not grab something easy, like fast food.

Parents, hear me: it is okay NOT to be perfect. I wouldn’t touch spinach or salads of any kind when I was a kid. Did my parents fail me by not making me eat it? I don’t think so. They let me come into my own and discover my own likes after I left the nest. Remember that your children have many more than their first 18 years to realize that food can go beyond chicken nuggets. Keep trying, but don’t push too hard. They’ll get there. (At least, we hope.)

And even with my meal-planning, I forget things at the store; I get distracted by children and then forget the eggs and have to go back. Or I *think* I have spaghetti noodles when I actually don’t, or I do but don’t have enough. Or something crazy comes up unexpectedly (a bargain on a new desk for my husband! That we have to go pick up, and also take apart his old desk, put his new desk together…all of which eats into meal prep.) But I try! And that’s what matters. (See a theme here?)

So I ask: What are your menu-planning goals? What can you try that would make your life easier?

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