While the majority of the country seems to be going back to school, the students at the University I work don’t come back for another month (Thank god! My to-do list is still way too long). I can’t help but notice the “back-to-school” feeling in the air though. While I was always sad that summer was over growing up, I loved back to school time as a kid. Back to school shopping made me giddy (Lisa Frank everything, please) and I’m one that thrives off of routine.
This summer has been a wild one, to say the least, so meal prepping has been an afterthought. I’ve still planned out our weekly meals in order to stay sane, but there has been little to no prep done ahead of time. What did this equate to? Me running around in the morning trying to get lunch and breakfast prepared and myself out the door on time aka me getting out the door late and cursing every red light as I biked to work. Not exactly Zen.
I recently started making lunch bowls in an effort to essentially get my shit together. Yes, I know that bowls have been all the rage for a long time now. Sometimes I’m quick to hop on trends, like putting frozen cauliflower rice in smoothies, Do it! Other times, I jump on board around the same time as my 85 year old grandma. I’ve quickly realized that making bowls full of cooked and raw veggies, hearty whole grains and plant or seafood based protein, makes my mind and body very satisfied. On that same note, it seems to be great for bowel movements. Gotta love that fiber!
With the back to school excitement all around, I decided last weekend was a good time to get back into meal prepping mode. I probably spent about 1.5-2 hours in the kitchen jamming out to Brooks n Dunn and annoying my neighbors as I belted out the lyrics to “Cowgirls Don’t Cry”. I’ll be honest, I was pretty tired by the time I was done and didn’t even finish. Deviled egg aspirations turned into “hard boiled eggs will do”. However, my future-self is going to be very thankful for the extra time I spent in the kitchen on Sunday. In fact, I was oddly confused when I was ready for work 5 minutes ahead of schedule this morning and wasn’t stressed about rushing out the door. Unfortunately, the stress quickly came back when I realized I clearly shouldn’t have been biking in the dress I chose to wear.
Are you looking to get into a routine? Here is some meal prepping and planning inspiration for you!
Sunday: Teriyaki pork, bell pepper and onion kebabs + butter lettuce salad w/almonds
Monday: Kale steak Caesar salad with homemade pretzel croutons
Earlier in our relationship, Kevin and I read the book, The 5 Love Languages. If you haven’t read it and are in a relationship, I highly recommend it. Actually, you should read it even if you aren’t in a relationship, because it teaches you that everyone has different ways of feeling and showing love. I bet you didn’t think that this post titled, “Kale, Bell Pepper and Bacon Stuffed Sweet Potatoes”, would get so deep so fast huh?
I learned that “acts of service” is my main love language. I show people love by doing acts of service for them and I feel most loved when I receive acts of service. Basically, Kevin now knows that vacuuming the house is the way to my heart. God I love those clean carpet lines. I also learned that you are supposed to tell people thank you and show appreciation when they do acts of service for you. Since acts of service are so innate to me, I never thought much about recognizing the acts themselves.
Clearly, recognizing feelings and emotions isn’t my strongest trait. Instead of outwardly showing my emotions for you, I’d rather do something for you. Usually the way I do that is by cooking. I love to cook for people. Are you celebrating something? Let me cook for you. Are you going through a rough time? Let me cook for you. My friends think I am crazy for this, but I’ve very willing volunteered to cook for large bachelorette parties for my closest friends. This is my way of showing my appreciation for them and you could say letting them know I love them, but let’s not get too mushy gushy here.
I made these breakfast sweet potatoes during the most recent bachelorette trip. I wanted to do something simple that would keep us full for hours, but not make us feel bloated. These breakfast stuffed sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamins, minerals, protein and complex carbohydrates…and bacon, cause, well, I’m still human. You can easily swap out ingredients and change the flavors completely based on what you have on hand. These also reheat really well, so they would be great to have on hand during the week! This recipe is more like a guide and the measurements are very approximate. I was cooking for 12 girls and winged it based on what sounded good in my head. If you want more cheese and less veggies, make your own adjustments. You do you.
Kale, Bell Pepper and Bacon Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
1 small sweet potato per person (adjust based on the size of your sweet potatoes)
5 eggs per person, whisked
1 slice of bacon per person, chopped
¼ cup kale per person (ribs removed, thinly sliced)
¼ cup bell pepper per person, chopped
¼ cup onion per person, chopped
1/8 cup cheese per person, shredded
Salt, pepper and garlic powder, to taste
Oil, whatever you have on hand
Chopped green onions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Stab sweet potatoes with a fork a few times and lightly rub with oil, salt and pepper then place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake until you can easily pierce them with a fork, about 35-40 minutes. Flip halfway through baking.
While sweet potatoes are cooking, heat a large pan to medium heat and cook the chopped bacon. Spoon the cooked bacon out of the pan and set aside. Leave 1-2 Tbsp. bacon fat in the pan.
Add onion and bell pepper to pan and cook until soft but not mushy, about 3-4 minutes. Add the onions and peppers to the reserved bacon.
Add kale to pan and cover pan to wilt kale. Once kale is softened, add the bacon, onions and peppers back to the pan. Dump in the whisked eggs and season with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Cook until eggs are just about done, but not all the way there (they will continue to cook in the oven)
Cut cooked sweet potatoes in half. Use a spoon to scoop out some of the inside so each potato half becomes a boat for the egg mixture.
Tip: Save the cooked sweet potato you scoop out to mix into oatmeal or smoothies, make brownies with, freeze for a future use…basically just don’t throw it away!
Place sweet potato boats on a baking sheet, skin side down. Evenly distribute the egg mixture into the sweet potato boats. I like to pile my eggs pretty high, but it’s up to you. Sprinkle with shredded cheese. Place back in the oven until the cheese is oozy and melted.
Sprinkle with optional cilantro, green onions and avocado. Devour!
Happy Monday! How was your weekend? We had a lovely weekend that included a lot of activities and some much needed relaxation. At one point on Sunday afternoon, I was lying in bed with coffee and a homemade mini pop tart, the sun was coming through our window and I was doing some work on the computer. It was absolutely wonderful.
I didn’t do much meal prepping last week and I definitely noticed the difference. I enjoy looking in the fridge on Monday and seeing stacks of Tupperware filled with prepped food ready to be cooked or eaten. I don’t enjoy looking in the fridge on Monday and thinking, “Crap I still need to get that ready for dinner.” Yesterday I spent some extra time prepping the following recipes, so we can have quick and nutritious meals all week long:
Breakfast for the Week: Salmon and Asparagus Frittata + Sautéed Kale + Avocado
Mix 1 can of salmon, 8 eggs and 1 bunch of asparagus (chopped) in a bowl. Sprinkle in salt, pepper and garlic powder. Pour in a greased 8×8 dish and bake at 350 degrees. I can’t tell you how long to bake it, because I forgot to set a timer and also completely forgot I put it in the oven. Luckily, I smelled it before it overcooked. Cut into 4 squares for a quick, ready to eat breakfast!
Remove kale leaves from stems and chop. I like sautéing these fresh each morning.
Sunday Dinner + Weekday Lunches: Lasagna with Eggplant and Zucchini Noodles
Prep: I cooked the sauce in the slow cooker all day, so I could just assemble the lasagna on Sunday night.
Monday: Fish Tacos + Sautéed Bell Peppers
Prep: Make coleslaw and slice bell peppers on Sunday.
Tuesday: Jalapeno Steak Salad
Prep: Make dressing, marinade and defrost steak on Sunday.
Wednesday: Leftover night! I’ll defrost something from the freezer.
Prep: Defrost chicken on Monday and chop cauliflower on Sunday.
Friday: Pizza Night out!
Prep: Agonize over where we want to get pizza from 😉
Cashew butter (make on Sunday) + fruit
Beef jerky + pumpkin seeds
Protein Packed Any Day Pancakes
Typically, I only consider making pancakes on the weekend. It involves taking out many different ingredients, some of which are in the powder form. This means that there will inevitably be a dusting of flour on my countertops when I’m done preparing them. I don’t need that on a weekday. However, these one-bowl, relatively mess free pancakes come together quickly and only make enough for 1 serving. Therefore, you don’t have to stand over the stove flippin’ cakes all morning. Also, as much as I love real pancakes, they don’t have the amount of protein I’m hoping for after a strenuous morning workout. I have no idea what the exact amount of protein these pancakes have, nor do I care enough to figure it out. However, I do know that these pancakes keep me full for hours and make me very happy. That’s all that matters to me.
I just throw these ingredients together and hope for the best. Last time I did measure some of the more important ingredients, like baking powder, but please be flexible and add whatever you like! There are tons of variations of this recipe and the general concept has been flooding Pinterest for a while. After many trials and errors, this is what I’ve learned:
Use a ripe banana, like you would use for banana bread. If you don’t have a ripe banana, don’t fret! Simply slice up the banana and microwave it for a minute. It will caramelize and become much softer.
The 2-ingredient egg and banana pancakes don’t do it for me. I think adding baking powder and protein powder makes them more pancake like.
Cook them low and slow and use oil on your pan! Coconut oil gives them a lovely flavor.
Serves: 1 (4 small pancakes)
1 ripe banana, mashed
½ scoop of protein powder (I use vanilla protein powder. You can add more if you want, but I think the protein powder flavor takes over the pancakes.)
½ tsp. almond or vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. flaxseed meal
Sprinkle of cinnamon
Mash banana and add in egg. Whisk until well combined.
Add in remaining ingredients and whisk until well combined.
Heat a skillet on medium-low and coat skillet with oil.
Drop ¼ cup of batter at a time onto the skillet. I can usually get 4 pancakes, but it will depend on the size of your banana and eggs.
Please don’t let the title of this post fool you. I am head over heels in love with cauliflower. Who knew this boring, white, wart like looking veggie could be so versatile? Cauliflower has really blown up in the last couple years. Purple cauliflower? Might as well be the new kale. Have you seen how gorgeous that stuff is baked with some curry powder and turmeric? Simply irresistible.
With all that being said, I do believe cauliflower has some limitations. I am not convinced that it can be an adequate replacement for pizza crust. Rice? Yes. Pizza crust? Get outta’ here. I was on the fence about this whole cauliflower mash idea too, because I made a really crappy version once. Imagine little, tasteless cauliflower lumps. Gross. I recently had a revelation and the cauliflower gods spoke to me as I prepared what I humbly consider, the best cauliflower mash ever.
I went to visit my mom and brother after work last week and my mom told me she had a cauliflower mash recipe from Cooking Light that she wanted to try. I was weary based on my prior experience with cauliflower mash, but I decided I’d keep an open mind. As I read the recipe, I immediately noticed it said to peel the potatoes. At that moment, I decided to go rogue. I love mashed potatoes with the peel, because I enjoy the texture and the peel has nutritional benefits. Plus, Kevin wasn’t there (peel hater), so the peel was staying on and I was creating my own recipe.
Things that make this cauliflower mash delicious:
It uses 3 golden creamer potatoes. I’m sorry to offend you cauliflower purists, but I think this little addition does wonders for the consistency. If you haven’t made mashed potatoes with only golden creamer potatoes, do so now (or maybe after you try this recipe first). The creaminess is life changing.
Cook the cauliflower and potatoes in broth and water mixture. This adds great flavor to a rather bland vegetable.
Reserve some of the cooking liquid to add back into the mash. This is one of the best tricks I ever learned for mashed potatoes and also works great here. The starch in the liquid helps bind everything together and adds flavor.
Puree in a food processor or high powered blender. No exceptions. I would never do this with pure mashed potatoes, because it makes them gummy. Luckily, it creates a smooth, velvety texture with cauliflower.
Add some fat. We are taking away most of the carbs in this recipe, so we need some fat to make this palatable. I went with a trusted trio: whipped cream cheese, parmesan cheese and butter.
Now, remember when I posted a few weeks ago about my lack of patience for food photography and inability to measure food when I cook? I genuinely tried here, because I care that much about this recipe. However, I don’t think my “I’m only doing one take “photos really do this justice. Also, please know that all of these measurements are estimates. I tried to use a tablespoon and got frustrated, so I used my finger to get the cream cheese out. Clearly, I’m all about that food safety. Germs make us stronger right?
Really Good Cauliflower Mash Recipe
1 small head cauliflower, chopped (use the ends and everything, no food waste here!)
3 small, golden creamer potatoes
About 2-3 cups chicken or veggie broth
3-ish tablespoons whipped cream cheese
3-ish tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
1 pat of butter
Loads of garlic- about 4-5 cloves (We like it strong, so definitely decrease it if you don’t enjoy the garlic in your nose feeling.)
Salt and pepper
Dried or fresh parsley
¼ cup of cooking liquid, reserved
Put the cauliflower and potatoes in a pot. Add the broth then add water until it covers the veggies. Toss in some salt for extra flavor.
Bring to a boil and reduce to medium heat. Cook until cauliflower and potatoes are fork tender.
Reserve ¼ cup of the cooking liquid then drain the veggies.
Add the veggies to the food processor with the garlic, whipped cream cheese, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, parsley and reserved cooking liquid. I added this little by little to make sure it didn’t get too liquidy. Puree until velvety smooth.
Add mixture back to the pot on low heat and add in the pat of butter. Let cook for 5 more minutes, stirring frequently. Adjust the seasonings, pat yourself on the back and enjoy!
Recently, I was asked to write a full post about meal planning and the steps I usually take to make sure we have mostly nutritious, homemade meals throughout the week. Everyone approaches meal planning differently, but I have found this routine to be the most efficient and doable for us.
Find a method that works for you. I used to write everything down, but now I use Google Drive to record our meal plans. I created a template that I insert the meals, sale items and grocery list into weekly. I love this method, because Kevin can also see the meal plan whenever he wants, and I can access it from my phone for grocery shopping. I’ve had way fewer “Crap I forgot the list moments!” since I started using this method.
Start small. When I first began meal planning, I only planned my dinners. I was in grad school, so I had a more flexible schedule when it came to breakfast and lunch. Eventually though I realized that life would be a lot easier if I also had a plan for breakfast and lunch. Since I already had the hang of planning dinner, adding two more meals wasn’t that overwhelming. For breakfast, I just plan a few options for the week then determine what I eat based on how I am feeling and what my morning schedule looks like. For lunch, it usually depends on if we have leftovers from dinner. In case we don’t, I also make sure to buy salad ingredients, so I can throw together quick veggie packed lunches the night before.
Set a budget. I love grocery shopping and could easily do some serious damage and spend countless hours perusing the aisles. However, I also enjoy saving money, so I go into the store knowing how much I want to spend. Our grocery budget ranges from $60-$75 weekly. This is guaranteed to cover our breakfasts, lunches and dinners Monday-Friday and breakfast during the weekend. Lunch and dinner during the weekend are a wild card depending on our schedules. I usually spend about $60 on my main grocery haul then we may run to the store for other odds and ends throughout the week, which occasionally pushes the budget up to $75. My breakdown is about $15/protein sources, $20/fruits and veggies, $10/dairy products and $15/for odds and ends, but it really varies based on what we already have.
Look at your schedule. The first thing I do is check our schedule for the following week and plan our meals around our lives. It seems intuitive, but I didn’t do this when I first started and there were multiple times I would have a lengthy recipe planned for a night I was in class till 8pm. It was not ideal.
Shop your kitchen first. I despise throwing food away and buying food that I already have, so I always scan our pantry, fridge and freezer before writing down the items I want to buy from the store. I try to plan my meals around these ingredients, rather than picking a meal that requires that I buy a ton of new ingredients. This helps save money and reduces food waste.
Check the ads. I am pretty sure there is some techy app for this, but I still love the good ole’ grocery ads and look forward to their arrival every Wednesday. One time we didn’t receive the ads on our normal day, and I was convinced Kevin was pulling a prank on me. He’s smarter than that though and knows not to mess with me and my grocery ads. My point is, the grocery ads are gold. You will save a ton of money if you base your weekly meals on the sales. I also use the ads to determine when I will stock up on certain items. Once you have your sale items that you want to buy, add them to the list of food you already have in your kitchen.
Choose your meals. This is likely the most difficult and time consuming part of meal planning. You could easily spend hours looking up recipes. We have developed a pattern that helps me save time choosing our meals.
Make a bigger, versatile meal on Sunday and/or Monday. My cooking motivation is at it’s peak during the beginning of the week, so I try to make bigger meals that give us lots of leftovers I can use for lunches or in other meals throughout the week. It usually involves some sort of meat, a plethora of roasted or grilled veggies, potatoes or a grain.
Salmon meatballs for the week!
Broccoli was a great addition to eggs for breakfast!
Theme a night. Let’s be real, sometimes you just get tired of meal planning. We’ve found that having a themed night makes the process more exciting. We go through different phases and are currently on “Restaurant Meals” (Kevin’s idea). Once a week we are trying to recreate our favorite restaurant meals at home. This is a great way to get out of your comfort zone and learn new cooking techniques!
Know your tendencies. By the time Thursday night rolls around, I could really care less about making some fabulous meal. I want to be in and out of the kitchen in 20-30 minutes. I’ve learned to only plan very simple meals like salads, omelettes, sandwiches, etc. on Thursday nights. If I had something extravagant planned, we would likely end up at a restaurant.
Making balanced meals that fit your needs. Personally, I don’t like eating big dinners. I prefer to eat a larger breakfast and lunch to fuel my body throughout the day. Kevin, on the other hand, prefers the opposite. In order to meet both of our needs, I make ½ our meal veggies (and sometimes fruit), include a meat or seafood for protein most nights then have a quick grain source for Kevin like pita bread, naan or rice, if he wants it.
Go shopping! For me, this is the most enjoyable part of the whole process. The important part here is to stick to your list. It is so easy to throw that random item in the cart that you don’t really need. Doing this multiple times will lead to me blowing the grocery budget. My strategy to combat this is to do one lap around the store only getting the items on my list, then I allow myself to go back and get those spontaneous items. Usually, my basket is so full at this point and my arm feels like it is going to fall off, so I just decide to go checkout. (Side note- Use a basket if you are only shopping for 1 or 2 people. You will buy less and get an arm workout.)
So, about 1000 words later, you have some insight into my meal planning mentality. While it does take more time than calling for takeout, I believe it is worth it in the long run. It saves us money and ensures that we are eating a more balanced diet.
Want to chat more about meal planning? Please feel free to leave any questions or comments below!
People frequently ask me, “Would you eat this?” I would like to set the record straight, I will eat pretty much anything. However, I like to make sure the things I eat on a regular basis are nutritious and make me feel good. Also, I am not a registered dietitian nor do I have any formal nutrition training. My food knowledge comes from a pure obsession with all things food, doing my own research, and experiencing my own trials and errors in the kitchen.
My favorite response to this aforementioned question is, “Well, what’s in it?” This usually takes people by surprise. They may rattle off the daily value of fat listed or how many carbs there are, but that’s not what I really want to know. I want to know what is actually in the food. What am I actually putting in my body? I don’t think the food label should go ignored, but I think the ingredient list tells us a lot more. This is why I ask myself the following questions when choosing what to put in my body:
How many ingredients are listed? The fewer the better.
Can I pronounce the ingredients? If I can’t, then it probably isn’t something I want to nourish my body with on a regular basis, because it’s likely a preservative, chemical or something formulated in a laboratory.
If I had the time, effort, skills and ingredients at home, could I make this food? Let’s be honest, sometimes we just want food to be prepared for us. We can’t always make everything homemade, but we can buy premade food with whole ingredients. I see whole ingredients as foods that are not processed or very minimally processed. Foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and eggs are whole foods and would be considered whole ingredients, in my book at least.
What order are the ingredients listed? Ingredients are listed in order of weight, so if sugar is listed first then there’s more sugar in that food than anything else. Sugar has a lot of disguises too, don’t let them fool you.
At this point I have a pretty good idea what the food label will tell me before I even look at it. One things to look out for is sugar alcohol, if it’s listed then the product will likely be low in sugar. But don’t be fooled, that’s only because they used sugar alcohols instead of sugar or a natural sweetener. I’ll pass. It’s easy to be obsessed with the numbers on the food label. How many calories, how much protein, how much fat? Let’s ask ourselves instead, how much real food?
This Week’s Grub:
Sunday: Strawberry, avocado and goat cheese salad with pretzel bun croutons
Monday: Buffalo grilled chicken tacos + coleslaw
I had leftover grilled chicken last week, so I threw it in the freezer. I took it out tonight and tossed it in some buffalo sauce for a super easy and delicious dinner!
Tuesday: Kalua pork taco salad
Rub a pork shoulder with pink himalayan salt and throw it in the slow cooker with a few pieces of bacon, whole garlic cloves, garlic powder and liquid smoke. Set on low for 12 hours. AH-MAZING.
Wednesday: Brinner! I need to restock our frozen waffle supply.
Thursday: Zucchini stuffed enchiladas with leftover pork
Questions for you:
Do you read the ingredient list? If so, what do you ask yourself?
This is going to be a relatively short post, because I’m pooped. I had all these intentions to write this post on Saturday and even plan out a blog content calendar. How official does that sound?! Well, it didn’t happen. We decided to grill fish tacos with some friends and watch the March Madness games instead. I think we made the right decision. Kevin convinced me to join the bracket this year by using $10 from his Venmo account for my registration. Little did I know that my technique of choosing schools in places I would like to go and those that I have affiliations with would actually lead to me possibly winning some money. Games are a lot more fun when money is on the line. Go Tarheels!
We stayed out late last night (aka past 10pm), so I woke up exhausted this morning. For some reason though, I thought I had plenty of energy, enough to take white lightening (my new bike) on an adventure to Winters to meet my mom and some of her friends for brunch. I went from lying on the couch in PJ’s to biking down a country road. About 20 minutes into the ride, I was questioning my spur of the moment, probably not smart decision. Once I got over that hurdle, I had a lovely ride with beautiful spring scenery. You want to know what’s not fun though? Eating fruit and toast while everyone else enjoys eggs Benedict, breakfast tacos and other delicious plates, because you are worried you might puke while biking home. Let’s just say the hour long ride back was a little slower, which gave me plenty of time to enjoy the wildflowers 🙂
When I first started meal planning and prepping, every Sunday I would make a separate dish for lunch the following week. Eventually I got sick of spending 2-3 hours prepping in the kitchen on Sunday, especially when the beach was right down the road. Now I make about enough food for 8 people for Sunday dinner and use the leftovers in various ways for lunch or even dinner all week long. This saves way more time and usually money as well, because I can buy the meat and veggies in bulk. Now that grilling season is back, this method has gotten even easier. Tonight I grilled an assortment of vegetables that we can use in salads, bowls or pasta this week. I enjoy meal prepping this way, because it allows you to be more versatile with leftovers. I personally can eat the same thing day in and day out, but I understand that other people might think it’s very boring. Some of my favorite meals to make tons of on Sunday are: stuffed sweet potatoes, casserole like dishes (spaghetti squash lasagna), slow cooker meats for bowls, zucchini stuffed enchiladas, kale salads (the kale holds the dressing really well) and fajitas.
This week’s grub:
Sunday: Grilled veggie and feta salad + burgundy pepper pork
Monday: A’s Opening Day game! We are grilling burgers at the park.