Welcome to another installment of Cookbook Therapy! This week let’s talk about a topic that is near and dear: meal prep and planning!
I’ve been meal planning for years, ever since the kids were old enough to have dinner at the dining room table with us (when Maddie was about the age of 3 or 4). Prior to that trying to sit and have a family meal was an exercise in madness. Instead, we’d feed, bathe, and put our babes to bed and then toast each other with a shot of Jaegermeister. (Why Jaegermeister? Why? I know…I know…it’s strange. I still wonder why but I remember those days and kind of loved those Jaeger shots – quick, cold, and immediately took the edginess of the day right away.) Then Kevin and I would cook up some easy meal – typically stir fry, and with baby monitor in hand sit down on the couch to eat and watch American Idol and Scrubs while purely enjoying our adult time together.
But, fond memories aside…once you have kids that are actually eating adult-ish food at the table with the adults, meal planning really helps a. to keep everyone eating relatively healthy, home-cooked meals, and b. somewhat prevents a lot of food going to waste.
At the beginning of my meal planning adventure, I ordered e-meals – which I adored (breakfast, lunch, and dinner all planned!). I used it pretty religiously until my husband noticed how much it was costing us each month and found it ridiculous that I needed to pay a company to create meal plans for me. What??
I’ve also tried the meal kits. Many of them. And I recommend them for people who will actually spend the time and cook the meals. I don’t know why but it always seemed like more work to me.
So, I’ve basically taken to planning meals each week on my own, which honestly I have to say I enjoy. It’s a creative outlet, and if you didn’t know this about me…well now you do – I LIKE TO PLAN. I’m a scheduler. I know, I know, many people balk at such rigidness. But I’m not rigid, I just find that having a plan/schedule/rhythm, if you will, really helps me do things more intentionally. I don’t think I’m off the charts as far as planning goes. In fact, I love spontaneity (when it fits into my plans – hehe).
Anyway, so I meal plan, and I typically meal plan on Fridays (today!) and then I shop on Saturday or Sunday and then prep some extra stuff on Sundays. I really try to only grocery shop once a week. It’s hard to do that but it helps to save money and I try to just work with what I have when I find I’m out of something mid-week (this is where it’s helpful to have your own laying hens – because when you’re out of eggs…) rather than going to the grocery store again.
For meal planning, I used to use the New York times weekly meal plan to help me, but again it’s spendy so I canceled that (plus, some of those meals require a restaurant outfitted kitchen in order to make). Now, I use TheKitchn’s Meal Plan (this is posted on Fridays) and my own recipe box and cookbooks. It’s a process but I love it.
Generally, I don’t cook a full-fledged dinner every night. Most meal planners plan out a few meals for the week and then hope they can wing it with leftovers, etc. the rest of the evenings. I’ll include one or two desserts in my plan, and maybe some special lunch items for the kids’ school lunches. It’s nothing fancy at all. I put more work into the planning and the cooking than I do into making the actual piece of paper I write the stuff down on look nice.
So, that’s meal planning. Meal prep is another beast all its own. But, it’s part of the meal plan so…
Meal Prep Tips and Ideas
First off, here are my two tips:
1. I don’t clean as I go. Never have. I don’t understand why I would clean up one mess, just to make another mess immediately after cleaning – it makes no sense. So, I make a HUGE mess and then clean it up all up when I am el fin. I know, I know, I have friends who clean as they go. My husband says that’s the rule in the restaurant business, but I just don’t do it that way. I do it my way. So, whichever way works for you go for it.
2. Some people get into prepping, while others hate it. If it’s not your thang, then it’s not your thang. But I will say that it is really nice to have food prepped in the frig on those weekdays when you really, really don’t have time for cooking an entire meal (i.e. it’s nice to have the carrots and celery sticks already in the frig, the apple pie filling ready to go, the meatballs in the freezer, the pasta sauce in the jar ready to be re-heated. Of course, you can also just buy all this stuff at the store pre-made for you! Buuuuuut, homemade food is better tasting, healthier, and infused with energy you can only find in the homemade.
So, I prep some stuff (I don’t prep entire meals! I prep parts of meals, and the extras that can be used for lunches, snacks, desserts throughout the week. If you’re interested in prepping entire meals and freezing them, that is an entire other story and I highly recommend Heather’s Whole Foods Freezer Cooking online self-paced workshop).
Here’s my prep for this past week:
- Bone Broth (I put the carcass of a rotisserie bird into a crock pot filled with water and a T of vinegar). That cooks for like 10+ hours on low. Once we’re done, I strain out all the chicken carcass stuff and I have a very pretty golden broth. I use this to make Luke’s favorite chicken noodle soup if I am up to it at some point in the week.
- Tuna salad – I love to dip carrot sticks into tuna salad as a snack. Yum.
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Cooked apples – Basically these are homemade apple pie filling apples. I use the recipe The Old Farm Country Cookbook. This is the simplest and best apple pie ON THE PLANET! But this week, we’re using the filling for crepes.
- Berry apple ginger compote – this is something I found in The Therapeutic Chef and I don’t know about it yet. I got it to put on my nightly cup of pre-bed yogurt.
- Cut carrots and celery – I like to put these out on the kitchen counter with some dip when the kids get home from school or sports when they’re REALLY HUNGRY and will literally eat anything put in front of them. My kids HATE baby carrots but will inhale clean, shaved, and cut carrot sticks.
- Homemade lemonade with lemons that were on the verge – I love my Arnold Palmers and I have a fabby juicer that I can’t recommend enough (The Breville Juice Fountain Plus).
- Homemade frozen yogurt – I made this but it sucked. It’s divine right out of the ice cream maker but once it hardens in the freezer it’s terrible. Instead! Use the ice cream recipe in the Old Farm cookbook – OMG!
- Roasted chickpeas – I hate garbanzo beans soft and mushy but when I roast them in the oven and add these spices…magic! I included my recipe at the end of this post. 🙂
So there ya have it, my friends. The cookbooks I’ve mentioned here are all tattered and torn. They’re some of my FAVORITES. I’m so picky. I used to have so many cookbooks, and I just got rid of most of them and kept a small bookshelf full. I hope some of this is useful to you. At least try this recipe for the roasted chickpeas!
Roasted Cumin Chili ChickpeasPrint This
- 1 19oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (be sure to rinse - otherwise, you'll have slimy roasted chickpeas, ewwww)
- 1 TBS olive oil
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
- Lightly grease a cookie sheet.
- Place rinsed chickpeas into a bowl.
- Lightly grease a cookie sheet.
- Add olive oil, chili powder, cumin, cayenne, and salt and mix together with the chickpeas.
- Spread chickpeas onto prepared cookie sheet.
- Roast for 15 minutes. Take out cookie sheet and shake the chickpeas around a little bit. Return them to the oven and roast for another 15 minutes.
- Remove from oven. Let the chickpeas cool.
Storing the roasted chickpeas is challenging as they tend to get soft once they sit in a closed container. I recommend either eating them within a day without storing them or placing them in a ceramic bowl, lightly covered with plastic or tin foil so there is air-flow.