January 11, 2014

Year in Review

Bear with me, this is long post!

I started this blog to help stay on track with my resolution to meal plan for 52 weeks.  I was never able to find a meal planning website that worked for me so I figured if I was creating meal plans I might as well put them out there for anyone else who was interested.  I also knew that if I put it out there publicly that I would be MUCH more likely to stick with it myself.  I'm guessing without the blog I wouldn't have made it past week three.  I also think the blog enhanced my meal planning experience in that it really made me strive to put together interesting plans, not just the same old same old.  I mean without it I probably wouldn't have made tortillas - gasp!  I can't imagine my life without fresh tortillas!  So for that reason alone I'm calling this year a success!!

I'm calling it a success for a few other reasons as well...

Goals Met... 


1) Save time - the time I was talking about was extra trips to the store and wasted time spinning my wheels trying to decide what to cook, typically at 5pm while gazing blankly into the fridge.  In these terms I've definitely saved time.  However, I've probably spent more time in the kitchen overall because I've substituted a lot of packaged, store-bought items with homemade (eg. Tortillas, granola bars, fishy crackers and almond milk).  But to me preparing food is leisure time and well worth the effort.

2) Save money - even I can't believe how much money we've saved - it's ridiculous!  If you missed my "Money Matters" post it's worth a read.  I was talking to a couple of friends the other day and in that conversation I realized I've had a shift in how I meal plan and grocery shop.  At the beginning of the year I would still meal plan around the sales in the flyers and I was still cruising each grocery aisle for deals I might have missed.  I've started to plan more around what's seasonal, ignoring the flyers, and if I don't have anything on my list for a specific aisle I skip it.  This really cuts down on impulse buys and stocking up on items you may never need.  I will still check the flyers before I head out to the store but mostly for staples I know I will use (eg. chicken, olive oil, etc...) 

3) Reduce waste - money aside, it really kills me to waste perfectly good food.  And it was happening more than I'd like to admit.  We've greatly reduced our waste which I feel really good about.

4) Improved diet - this wasn't a primary goal because I didn't really think we were eating horribly to begin with but I knew if I was planning out our meals that our diets would benefit.  What I didn't really anticipate was just how much processed food I would cut from our diets.  There was more room for improvement than I had realized.  The two areas that have changed the most are prepacked snacks(eg. granola bars) and salad dressings.  These items have almost completely been replaced by homemade versions.  If you missed my salad dressing printout, here it is again!  I find this extremely handy and will be doing a second one with some new favorites.

Some weeks were more popular than others...


By a landslide "Week 7 - Kid Friendly Meals" was the most popular post.  I cringe a little because the photos on this post were terrible.  But poor photos aside I do like the meals and think it is a good family friendly meal plan.

Exhibit A:  A fine lunch but I'm sure there was a better way to food style it!

My favorite posts...


Over the last week I've reread the entire blog and some weeks stand out more than others.  Here are a few that I thought were useful and noteworthy.

1) Week 28 & 29 - Short Term Meal Planning.  This was a two week period that we were going to be back and forth between home and cottage.  So instead of planning out a week of meals like I typically do (or not bothering at all like I would have done in the past) I made a list of meal ideas so that I could easily plan just 2-3 days at a time.  This method worked really well for me in that situation and I think having a go-to list of meal ideas is great to have at any time.

2) Week 34 - Freezables.  My freezer makeover was long overdo and has really changed the way I meal plan.  Just having a few easy to grab lunches, suppers and/or snacks ready to go can be a real time saver.  And money saver too!  In Week 38 I spent $60 in groceries and only $22.50 in Week 41, thanks mostly to a well-stocked and organized freezer.

Freezer Before - what a mess!

Freezer After - happy to report it still looks like this!

3) Week 36 - Fast Fix Suppers.  I liked this week for the format. Instead of talking about what we thought of each meal I walked through the steps to prepare each meal, including prep that could be done in advance.  I think reading through this post could convince you that a little planning goes a long way!

4) Patty Cake - This was kind of a silly theme but I really enjoy shaping my food into patties.  I can't explain it really.  But you take grains, protein, vegetables and seasoning, form that into patties and lightly fry and the result is always a tasty little treat that's easy to pack and eat.  And the combinations are limitless!

Quinoa Cakes

Best recipes found...  


One of the unplanned benefits of blogging was that it really pushed me to try new things. I didn't want to be posting the same old things week after week.  As a result I found some real gems!!  It's hard to narrow this down to just a few but I'm going to attempt to just mention the best of the best.  For more see my Favorites page (which I'll be updating soon) or follow me on Pinterest

1) Whole Wheat Tortillas -  Hands down this is my favorite new recipe.  I was surprised by how easy they were to make and they are way waaaay better than store bought.  And they are extremely versatile.  Fajitas, quesadillas, wraps, tuna melts, tortillas pizza.... I sleep better at night knowing I have a stash in the freezer.

Whole Wheat Tortillas

2) Almond Milk - This is probably the thing people ask about the most.  Usually the question is something like this -  "So Sandra tell me the truth.  Is Almond Milk really that easy to make???'  And the answer is "really truly it is!!"  Soak, blend, strain... that's all there is to it!  I'm using a nut milk bag now but until recently was just using a fine mesh sieve.  I also have a basic blender.  You don't need any fancy equipment.

3) Freezer Chocolates -  The perfect little after supper nibble.  We've had a bag of these at the ready for the last several months.

4) Kale and/or Arugula Salad - What can I say?  I dedicated a whole post to this salad a few weeks ago that's how much I love it!

Kale Salad

5) Oatmeal - I was never a big oatmeal eater, I liked it but it just wasn't on my radar most mornings.  Refrigerator Overnight Oats (I prefer Steel Cut Oats in this recipe) and Easy Overnight Oats have totally changed that!  I love that you can prep them ahead for a grab and go breakfast.  Oatmeal is now in the regular breakfast rotation!

Refrigerator Overnight Oats in a mason jar.  The ultimate grab and go breakfast!

Warm bowl of Easy Overnight Oats

Best timesaving/prep-ahead tips...


1) Storing kale (or other greens).  See above - we eat a lot of kale and this makes life so much easier.  Plus it takes less space in the fridge.

2) De-seeding Pomegranate - if you missed this video go check it out.  Then go buy a pomegranate and try it because you won't believe it until you do.  Hint: it's not the water trick.

How to seed a pomegranate - so easy you'll be amazed!

3) Lasagna Sheets - so much easier to work with!!  And lasagna is a great prep-ahead meal!

Lasagna Sheets

4) Refer to your meal plan each night and do any prep you can ahead of time even if its as simple as measuring our spices or taking out ingredients and leaving them by the stove.  Your future self will thank you the next day!

Best Meal Planning Tips...


If you're trying to start meal planning more here are a couple of easy things I would suggest to get you started.

1) Have at least one or two theme days on your template.  For example, I always plan suppers first and Monday is fish night and Friday is what we call CFF (Convenience Food Friday) which is something easy and "pubish".  Once I have suppers filled in I figure out what days I can use leftovers for lunch and then I just have a few blanks to fill in.  Having the regular theme days gets the ball rolling.  Meatless Monday and Taco Tuesday are themes I've heard... whatever works for you!  That reminds me, I need a catchy phrase for Fish Monday.

2) Have a list handy of go-to lunches, suppers and snacks.  Then if you have one or two meals you're struggling to fill in you can quickly reference you're favorites. I use my Favorites page and Pinterest boards often when I'm looking for a little inspiration.

What's next?


So, what's the plan for 2014?  The truth is I still don't know!  I thought I'd have a clear vision of where I wanted to go with the blog by now but I really don't.  On one hand I've really enjoyed it and have gotten great benefit from it.  But on the other hand I work full time and it can be a bit time-consuming to prepare a weekly post (some weeks admittedly felt like a chore).  I also threw this blog up pretty quickly and the creative side of me really wants to reformat it as it's never had the look and feel that I was after.  But I simply haven't had time to do much more than the weekly post.

So the immediate plan is to take a few months off from regular posting.  Sure I may still pop in to let you know about some great new recipe or tip I've stumbled on or to share a week that really clicked, but I won't be posting a regular weekly plan.  Taking a break from weekly posting will allow me to spend the time making the blog more esthetically pleasing and to come up with a format that will be more manageable to maintain. 

In the meantime I've created a new Board on Pinterest called "What's Cooking This Week" where I'm going to Pin what's on our menu for the week.  I started this last week and really liked it - was so easy to grab the iPad to bring up the recipe I needed!  I'm also planning to follow the blog myself.  I'll most likely swap out a few things based on what we have on hand and/or what we're in the mood for but it should really speed up meal planning on the weekends and it will be great to revisit some meals we loved but never got back to.  I'm excited about this!

So Facebook and Pinterest is mainly where you'll find me for the next little while.  Thank you all so much for stopping by!  I really appreciate every like, share and comment.  I've had a lot of fun, hope you have to and I'll see you back here soon!


January 03, 2014

Week 52 - Happy New Year!

PDF Version of Meal Plan

Happy New Year!!  Wow, week 52???  Did I really just write that?  So I did it... I meal planned faithfully for 52 weeks!!  The benefits for me personally have been well worth it - time saved, money saved, new recipes found, healthier diet, etc, etc.  And I really don't think I would have stuck with it without the blog to keep me accountable.  But more on that in my next post which will be a year in review wrap up and what's up for the blog 2014.

For this week I wanted to finish off with one last meal plan.  This week was a bit "off" for us given that we only had two work days and had more social gatherings than a typical week.  But I've filled in the blanks to leave you with a full week of healthy meals since most of you are now trying to kick off the New Year on the right foot.  I can tell because my stats this week spiked on January 1st and were mostly from Google searches for 'healthy meal plans' :-)

Recipe Quick Links

Easy Overnight Oatmeal,  Marin Mama Cooks
Salmon Cakes, Source Unknown
Kale Salad, Original - Week 50
Feta & Spinach Casserole, Kalyn's Kitchen
Fish Sticks, Attach of the Hungry Monster
Chia Jam, Eat Good 4 Life
Thai Chicken Pizza, The Hopeless Housewife

Since we didn't follow this meal plan exactly I can't really do a week in review.  So I'm going to highlight my favorite recipe from the week - Thai Chicken Pizza.  I've been loving pizza this year.  Last year for Christmas Santa brought me a KitchenAid Stand Mixer.  Dave and I were both a little apprehensive about having one in the house thinking it would only increase our cake and cookie intake.  And it has... but what I'm loving it for the most is dough.  I've made biscuits, tortillas, naan, pretzels, and pizza dough... lots and lots of pizza dough.  Prior to owning the KitchenAid I had never made my own pizza dough.  On pizza night we would either order out (greasy), buy frozen (cardboard) or buy the pre-made crusts (meh).  But now I make our own which is quick, easy and so much better!  If you don't own a stand mixer I would highly recommend buying one.  They are a bit pricey but I seriously don't know how I got by without one.  I use it almost daily.

I typically make the Whole Wheat Crust from 100 Days of Real Food.  I like to divide it so that we can make individual pizzas - pizza party supper is fun! 

Personalized Pizza Supper

I've also made pizza and tuna calzones for lunches - delicious!

Pizza dough can be divided into single servings and frozen either before or after baking.  I prefer to shape the dough into personal sized pizza rounds and bake them prior to freezing.  This makes for super quick lunches for nights that I'm feeling lazy.  And lately I've been thinking about using pizza dough to make cheesy bread sticks to dip in pizza sauce.  Wouldn't that be a fun lunch?!  I'll let you know how they turn out.

This week we had Thai Chicken Pizza which was a nice change from the classic pepperoni.  If you like peanut sauces you will love this pizza.  I made this no-rise pizza crust, using a 50/50 mix of white and whole wheat flour, to speed things up a bit and it turned out great.  This may become my new go-to crust.  I topped it with chicken, red onion and carrot and garnished with chopped peanuts, fresh cilantro, green onion and a spritz of fresh lime.  It wasn't a quick weeknight meal but much of the prep could have been done the night before.  Plus we had leftovers for the next days lunch so it was well worth the effort!

Thai Chicken Pizza

Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2014!