Archive for the ‘shopping tips’ Category

Brown Bagging It

July 19, 2016

Something that comes up a lot is packing a lunch for work.  Even the best local dives, while relatively inexpensive, still add up.  Consider that a quick takeout salad or sandwich lunch downtown runs about $10.  Five days a week and 4 weeks per month takes your lunch expense to $200 each month!  I don’t know about you, but I can certainly think of a few other things I could do with $200.

Of course, brown bag lunches often bring visions of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cold leftovers in Tupperware, or the ubiquitous cup of noodles.  It doesn’t have to be that way though.  Consider first what you like to eat and how that might be prepared in a to-go situation.  There are a variety of thermos type containers to consider, as well as thermal lunch bags that keep your hots hot and your colds cold.  One of my favorites is the Bento thermos .  imageIt’s a large-ish thermos with 3 smaller containers inside and it comes in a thermal tote bag.  There’s a larger version as well for those who have a bigger appetite than I do.  And a bonus, my thin coffee thermos fits in the same tote bag!

I like the three containers for breakfast, lunch,  and snack.  I leave super early in the morning so don’t eat breakfast until I get to work.  Instead of opting for the nearest mc-breakfast sandwich, I scramble eggs, chopped bacon, and cheese before I leave and pop it in the smallest bento container.  Lunch is often leftovers from dinner the night before, heated before I leave home and put in the largest container.  The medium container gets a snack or another lunch item.  Breakfast is still hot when I get to work (after an hour and a half train ride), and lunch is still warm at noon.

Ok, so you’re still thinking “leftovers”, ugh!  Just hold on a minute.  Let’s take a look at some of the recent recipes we’ve created.  Chicken enchilada bake with a little extra salsa makes a perfectly nice lunch, or you can take some of that leftover chicken and wrap it in a tortilla or lettuce leaf for a taco/wrap.  How about that shredded pork?  Put some in one container and some lettuce and tomatoes in another container.  With a dollop of salsa you’ve got a taco salad for lunch.  Quick and easy!

So what if you don’t have any leftovers, or really don’t want leftovers 5 days a week?  Then make up some other lunch options when you’re doing your weekly meal prep on the weekend.  Planning on chicken stir fry one night for dinner?  Cook a couple of extra chicken breast tenders at the same time and make chicken salad.  Dress it up by using wasabi mayonnaise or mashed avocado.  My favorite is adding turmeric and black pepper.  You can even make a couple of small batch variations for variety during the week.  Toss some in a lettuce leaf for a healthy wrap or serve some with tortilla chips for a fun variation.

Chicken Salad (the basics)

Base Ingredients: chicken breast tenders, mayonnaise

Options: wasabi mayo and chopped green onions, turmeric and black pepper, celery and onions, or cranberries and walnut pieces.  Just use your imagination!

Add-ons: lettuce leaves for wrapping, chopped lettuce for salad, tortilla chips, whole wheat crackers

Planning and Meal Prep

July 13, 2016

I’ve touched on prepping ingredients for meals a bit in the past, but what does this really mean?  It could be just chopping vegetables ahead of time for quick assembly when it’s time to cook.  Or it could mean assembling the entire meal so it just needs to be popped in the oven when you get home from work.  Depending on your available time and the type of meal, you can even go so far as creating the entire meal and freezing it.  When it’s time for dinner, all you need to do is heat and eat.

Since we’re getting back to basics and finding time to create whole food healthy meals instead of pre-made store bought meals or ordering takeout, let’s focus on saving time by prepping as much as possible for a week’s worth of dinners.

Planning your menu will help you plan your grocery trip.  Cooking meals with similar ingredients is a start.  The frozen chicken tenders gave us an Enchilada Bake and an Asian inspired stir fry by just switching up the add-ons.  We can do the same with a pork roast.

A 3-4 pound pork roast can give you a couple of chops and some shredded pork for tacos or BBQ sandwiches.

Back to your basic shopping list. For the previous recipes we’ve focused on some frozen chicken breast tenders.  Let’s add some variety to the list and get a pork loin roast.  Let’s say you want chicken stir fry on Monday, shredded pork tacos on Tuesday, chicken enchilada bake on Wednesday, and Pork chops on Thursday.  You’ve shopped for your meats and veggies this week and you already have your pantry staples from previous shopping trips.  Now just set aside an hour on the weekend to prep for the week.

I cook for two people and try to allow for leftovers to bring to work for lunch.  If you are feeding a family of 4 or more, just adjust the amounts.  Take your pork roast and cut two 1/2-3/4 inch chops off the end.  Put these in a zip lock Baggie and toss in the freezer for Thursday. The rest of the pork roast goes into either a crock pot or electric pressure cooker. Add a splash of water, broth, or a couple of tablespoons of salsa for moisture while the pork cooks down. image

I highly recommend getting an electric pressure cooker, like the Instant Pot.  Like a crock pot, you can turn it on and walk away, but the IP will only take about 1/4 of the time of a crock pot to cook that pork roast.  You can even cook from frozen!  The 3 pounds of pork roast left after the chops will cook down in about an hour in the pressure cooker.

While the pork is cooking, cut your chicken tenders into cubes and store in a sealed container or zip lock baggie in the fridge for Monday’s stir fry. If these are too frozen to cut, just toss them in the bAggies and they’ll be thawed for Monday’s dinner and you can cut them up then. Chop your stir fry veggies and store as well.  Next place your frozen chicken tenders for the enchilada bake in your baking dish, top with salsa, and store in the fridge until Wed. Pyrex baking dishes (like these) imagewith plastic lids are great for pre-prepping meals as they go straight from the fridge to the oven.

If you’re leery of storing meat in the fridge in advance, you can keep it the freezer, but remember to put it in the fridge the morning you will need it so it will be thawed for dinner.

You now have three meals prepped!  Once the pork roast cooks down, shred it using two forks.  Store the pork in a covered container in the fridge for tacos on Tuesday.  Depending on how many people you are feeding, you might split it into two portions and freeze one for another time.  Shredded pork is not only great for tacos, but also on nachos or with BBQ sauce for a BBQ sandwich.

So here you go.  With minimal ingredients and a little time on the weekend, you now have four home cooked meals prepped and ready for your busy week ahead!