Meal Planning 110: Batch Cooking

file6951293850756.jpgOk, so I’ve discussed Meal Planning here, and I try to post our weekly meal plans on Mondays, but I’m sure you’ve wondered if/how I actually do it.

One of my secrets is that I try and do meal prep and batch cooking once every few weeks. For us that means:

  • Setting aside an hour or so after grocery shopping to clean the produce, and prep it in single serving containers (they are reusable, don’t worry) if they are for lunches or snacks. Little bags of carrots, or grapes are both popular in our house.
  • I make my own smoothie kits too- cut up over ripe bananas and other fruits and put them into single servings ziploc bags.
  • Make frozen veggie bags too: I cut up onions, carrots, and celery for mire poix bags. They are the perfect base for most dishes, especially soups.  I also cut up fresh brocolli, cauliflower, bell pepper strips. Whatever I bought that we’ll be using in recipes.
  •  Depending on what is on the menu for the next week or two, I’ll prep some of the proteins.  I try to buy large packages of proteins, and re-package them with herbs and seasonings perfect for meals. Mostly chicken, because we don’t really eat all that much meat. Sometimes I’ll even prep ground beef into hamburger patties. This afternoon, I made chicken meatballs. I’ve included the recipe below.
  • Once the veggies are prepped and bagged, and the proteins are prepped and bagged, I get a bigger zip top bag and place everything needed for one meal into it, write on a sticky what it is, put the sticky on the bag and pop it into the freezer. Then we are all set to get cooking!
  • I try and prep a few crockpot meals as well. Salsa Chicken, Moosie’s Pot Roast are two great options. Crockpot freezer meals are perfect  for those mornings when you know you’ll want a hot meal after work, but won’t be in the mood to cook.
  • I also like to break up large packages of cheese, like I did here. Less waste, and we’re less likely to eat all of the cheese quickly.
  • Making baked goods. I prefer to make muffins, brownies, and cookies at home, that way I can control the amount of sugar that the family consumes.  I also add little healthy things: milled flax seeds, pumpkin, bananas. I try to do healthy swaps that aren’t really noticeable. This is a favorite cake in our house. It’s also great as muffins too. This time of year I also like to make Pumpkin Donuts too. YUM.

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 10.12.05 PM.pngAll of these things make meal planning a lot easier. Having ingredients already chopped, proteins mixed with seasoning, even snacks pre-packaged and set in a specific area of the kitchen.

I use a plastic Sterilite Basket to pack most of our shelf stable snacks that go into our lunches. I frequently skip buying large containers of pre-packaged snacks unless they are a better deal. If you notice, the goldfish are in Ziploc bags. The kids bring them home and I reuse them. But I only reuse them for more snacks.

I have a second shelf that stores all of our crackers (saltine, Ritz, graham, etc.) and puffed rice rolls, we eat those at other times besides lunch, but I grab them and pack them into individual containers or plastic bags for lunch as well.

Not shown are the lunch drinks which I have to keep hidden from the kids so they don’t drink them all after school/on weekends. I have a cache of goodies in the fridge and free to have in our lunches: fresh fruit, yogurt, cheese sticks, milk boxes, and bottles of water to choose from.

This “hack” aka pantry shortcut keeps my time making lunches a lot shorter, and I can spend more time with my kids!

Recipe: Ground Chicken Meatballs

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 of a white onion, minced
  • 1 /2 Teaspoon of each: Salt, garlic powder, pepper
  • 2 T

Directions:

  1. Mix all ingredients (except oil) in a large bowl until well combined.
  2. Divide mixture into 12-20 balls and roll between your palms until uniform in size.
  3. Place meatballs on a cookie sheet or plate and stash in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.
  4. Heat oil in large pan, fry meatballs in batches, and drain on a paper towel to blot out any excess oil.
  5. Once meatballs are cool to the touch, place them in a freezer safe container with a lid or zipper top bag. Store in the freezer.

I like to make several bags of meatballs, and I put as many in a bag as we need for one meal. For us, that 6-8 large meatballs- about the size of a cutie tangerine.

These meatballs are great because they work with a variety of sauces and cuisines.

 

Talk Back: I’d love to hear about some of the ways that you use batch cooking and food prep to make your life easier! What is your favorite time saving kitchen “Hack”.

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Pumpkin Baked Donuts!

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We love donuts. BUT, we don’t love that they are fried and dipped in sugary frosting (ok, some of us do… the kids).

After hearing hubs and Henry complain about neeeeeeding donuts, I rummaged through the cupboard and came up with:

Similar to my 3 ingredient chocolate cake, I set in motion to make some tasty donuts.

I grease my silicone baking dishes. I use a little butter.

All you do is mix the cake mix with the pumpkin and add spices to taste (usually 1t. cinnamon and a few dashes of ginger and nutmeg).

Pour into the donut “holes” (about 1/2 full) and bake per the mix directions for cupcakes.

Most cake mixes make 12 donuts. I let the donuts sit in the pan until they are cool, them take them out and do batch #2.

If you NEED glaze, mix:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar (confectioners sugar)
  • 1 T. soft butter
  • 1t. vanilla (you could use maple extract if you wanted to make it UBER FALL)
  • 1T. milk

Whisk all together and drizzle over the donuts.

This recipe is easy peezy pumpkin squeezy! It’s totally kid approved as well, which is why there are no after photos.It goes great with a PSL or other fall themed coffee beverage,

 

Camping with Kiddos!

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As we prep for our annual family camping trip, I thought I’d share some of the fun things we do with the kids when we camp.

In addition to all of the usual camping stuff: Tent, blankets, pillows, air mattress, clothes, toiletries, Sunscreen, food, camp kitchen stuff…. You need stuff to do!

A friend and I made a huge batch of play dough last week, and we’re taking half of the batch, along with some cookie cutters, small rolling pins and other fun play dough stuff I got on my local Buy Nothing Group.

Games: High Ho Cherry-O, card games (like Uno, and a few regular decks of cards), lawn bowling.

We also have a craft box. It’s a large tote, like this one. I’ve filled it with all sorts of craft odds and ends. Mostly stuff leftover from other projects, as well as stuff I’ve gotten from Craigslist Curb alerts, and my local Buy Nothing group.  There is paper, scissors, glue, beads, pipe cleaners, paint, and so much more! The kids rifle through it and come up with some of the most interesting projects. I really believe that kids need to have free reign over creative play, so as long as I am there to make sure they are safe, they are free to create and play how they wish.

Bubbles. I make about a gallon of bubble solution, and we have all kinds of wands and stuff (Dollar tree and Target’s Dollar spot are great places to find bubble toys). We also make some out of pipe cleaners.

We also cook a lot when we are camping. We use dutch ovens to make all kinds of baked goods, including our favorite: Beer Bread. My dad has a cool clay Pizza oven (it’s this one), and we make pizzas in the late afternoons to snack on. Our favorite pizza recipe is here.

Here are a few pictures of our adventure last year:

We also of course, play at the campground play ground, go on nature hikes (and do some fun nature scavenger hunts- check out Pinterest for a bunch). We spend time with family and friends, and of course, check out all of the events and fun at the big camping event in which we are participating.

Camping is a great family activity, and here in San Diego there are so many places to camp! From the beach, to the mountains, to the desert, there are campgrounds, both private and public for low prices!

If you are a camper, where is your favorite place to camp?

Tasty Chewy Brown Sugar Oatmeal Cookies!

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 6.11.51 PMDuring a recent pantry clean out, I discovered 3 pounds of brown sugar.

So, I unleashed my google fu to find a recipe to use some of it up. I discovered this recipe from The Pioneer Woman, but it didn’t quite meet our needs (aka what was in the kitchen). So with some changes, I whipped up a batch of chewy, yummy, spiced oatmeal cookies that are sure to please even the finickiest cookie monster!

 

I had to make 3 batches because they just kept disappearing!

Spiced Brown Sugar Oatmeal Cookies (Adapted from this recipe )

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) Salted Butter, Softened
  • ½ cup coconut oil, room temperature
  • 1/2 Cups (packed) Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
  • 2 whole Eggs
  • 1-1/2 cup All-purpose Flour
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 2 teaspoons each: Cinnamon, allspice, ground ginger, nutmeg
  • 3 cups Old Fashioned Oats

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Beat together the butter, coconut oil, and sugars until fluffy. Beat in vanilla and eggs.

Mix together the flour, salt, baking soda, and spices in a separate bowl. Add it into the wet ingredients, mixing it until just combined. Mix in the oats until just combined. Don’t overmix!

Drop scoops/spoonfuls of dough onto a lightly greased cookie sheet, spacing them a couple inches apart. Bake for 12-13 minutes or until dark and chewy.  These cookies spread when you bake them, so make sure to give them room to grow!

Let them cool slight on the pan after removing from the oven, then transfer the cookies.

Makes 24-36 cookies (depending on the size cookie you make)

 

Learn a new skill from Craftsy for free!!

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I love Craftsy! I love making stuff and being creative, but sometimes it’s hard to learn a new skill or hone one you already have on a budget. Craftsy to the rescue! They have awesome free classes where you can learn to do all kinds of cool stuff from cooking and baking to knitting!

The free mini classes can be viewed on any device, so you can learn anywhere! Right now there are 47 mini classes that are free. Mini-courses  feature student-led discussions and are shorter in length than regular courses. They are a perfect way to learn new skills and experience the Craftsy platform first-hand.

Here are just a few of the ones I’ve saved to watch and explore:

For the complete list, click here.

Which Mini-Classes are you going to take?

Recipe: Mother’s Milk Lactation Cookies

00707With the second small friend on the way, as well as many friends having kids, I’ve been whipping up batches of lactation cookies like whoah. A batch of these cookies makes a great gift!

The key ingredients to these cookies are Flax, Brewer’s Yeast, and Oatmeal. Brewer’s Yeast and Oatmeal are galactagogues, meaning they promote lactation. Flax contains Omega-3’s, which are needed for brain function and development and can be passed through breast milk. You need all three of these ingredients.

Don’t Worry: If your spouse or relatives eat these cookies, they won’t start lactating!! Galactagogues only stimulate milk production in those already lactating!

This Recipe makes A LOT of cookies (4-5 dozen). I freeze them, and thaw them 3-4 cookies at a time. 4-5 dozen cookies will last a new mom a few weeks.

Unlike my other recipes, there are no substitutions or work arounds. Each one of these ingredients is needed. This recipe cannot be made nut/seed free, or vegan.

Mother’s Milk Lactation Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. flour
  • 2 c. oats (Old fashioned is preferred, but Quick cook works as well. DO NOT USE STEEL CUT OATS!)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 c. Nut butter of your choice (I’ve used both Almond and Peanut- If you have nut allergies, try Sun Butter)
  • 1/4 c. brewer’s yeast (You can buy it at Sprouts or Whole Foods)
  • 1 stick butter, softened (1/2 c)
  • 1 c brown sugar, packed
  • 1 c white sugar
  • 1 T vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 c. ground flax seeds(You can get them in the bulk food section at Sprouts or Whole Foods)
  • 1 1/3 c. warm water (you may need a little more, depending on how dry the weather is)
  • 1 bag chocolate chips
  • Dash of salt

Optional: Nuts, dried fruit in place of the chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. In a medium sized bowl, mix the flour, oats, soda and baking powder. Set Aside.
  2. in a small bowl, mix the flax and water. Set aside. The mixture will be kind of gooey- almost the consistency of a raw egg.
  3. In a large bowl, cream the butter, nut butter, yeast, vanilla, and sugar.
  4. Add the eggs one at a time, mix until combined.
  5. Add the flax/water mixture.
  6. Add the dry mixture, and mix until combined.
  7. Add the chips, dried fruit or nuts.
  8. Scoop by the spoonful onto a greased cookie sheet or into greased mini-muffin pans.
  9. Bake at 350 for 8-12 minutes.