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Adventures in Meal Planning

Whether you cook for one or always have a ton of produce leftover from your weekly trip to the market, there are plenty of ways to put the scraps to use!  I run into this every week.  Partially because I can’t say no to the bargains at my local farmer’s market. It’s great to snatch up all the deals you find, because chances are, the items on sale are local and in season.  They are fresh, delicious and FULL of nutrients, so it’s always best to take advantage.

Last week, I purchased items for a pumpkin soup recipe that I was developing for The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company’s Nutrition Tip Blog. Even after making a hearty soup for four, there were enough leftovers to make two extra dishes that could carry me through the rest of the week!  Menu Planning is cost effective and time efficient.  Let’s be honest, after a long day of work, the last thing I want to do is spend an hour cooking or waiting for delivery.  When I’m hungry, I want to eat!  Well, folks, the wait is over.  Here are some tips you can put to use in your own home, so after the next long day of work, you have ready-made meals in your fridge.

1. Prepare items in bulk.

Cook a little extra rice, quinoa, or pasta with little to no seasoning.   Throughout the week, simply add different toppings or sauces and nuke it.  Quick and easy! Grains are wonderfully versatile.  Quinoa can be served as the base of an eggplant dish, a side with diced veggies, or with milk and dried fruit as an oatmeal breakfast.

When cooking with produce, chop, dice and slice more than you need.  This cuts out prep time for multiple recipes.  If my week is hectic, I like to chop onions, peppers, tomatoes and other vegetables in advance and bag them. If I’m in the mood for a delicious sandwich, you better believe I’m throwing in the vegetables.  (How often do you make a turkey sandwich and wish it had the extra love of some lettuce, tomato and onions?)  These vegetables can also be easily thrown into a stir-fry (with your already prepared grains) or served on top of greens to make a healthy, nutrient-rich salad (See below).

2. Make Soup, Broth, or a Marinade.

This one is perfect for this time of year!  All you need is a crock-pot or a large stockpot and some veggies or meat that is nearing the end of its shelf life.  Stick them all in the pot with dry spices and water (water to produce ratio will depend on your end product; soup/broth: double the water to the amount of produce; marinade: just enough water to cover the produce). For best results, do this on a day where you can allow the mix to simmer over low heat for several hours.

3. Roast extra veggies and prepare side dishes.

Remember to keep vegetables handy.  Think of them as a definite flavor enhancer and make sure to use them before they spoil.  You’ll be boosting your nutrient intake without even noticing! Preparing sides, like sauteed spinach and mushrooms or roasted potatoes, is also a great way to keep your taste buds excited and your belly full. More times than not, cooking a complete and balanced meal (yes, like we should have three times a day!) takes more time and effort than we’d like to exert.  With that being said, reuse side dishes already prepared for up to 3-4 days after cooking.  Much like prepping grains in bulk, prepare the roasted veggies with simple flavors so that you can later add to them to create different flavor profiles and meal concoctions.

4. Know your staple items, have a budget and leave some wiggle room for variety.

You may already have an idea of what items make a regular appearance in your fridge.  This may include milk, eggs, cheese, etc.  How about vegetables or canned goods? I like to keep spinach, onions, tomatoes, and canned beans like cannellini, chickpeas and black beans in stock.  These are relatively “all-purpose” ingredients that are factored into my weekly grocery budget.  However, every week, depending on what’s on sale/in season a new item or two will pop into the mix. This brings variety into my weekly menus, keeps my appetite excited, and my cooking imagination inspired.

5. Set aside cooking time 1-2 times a week!

This is clearly the most important step in meal planning.  Setting aside a few hours a week to make dishes to reuse and eat throughout the week will save you time, energy and money.  (More money to splurge on dining out over the weekend!) I like cooking on Sundays or Mondays so that I’m guaranteed fresh meals until Thursday or Friday.

Here’s the recipe for the fabulous autumn salad I made using the extra veggies from my pumpkin soup!

 

Recipe for Autumn Salad

Makes: 4-6 servings

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • ½ bunch Kale
  • ½ bunch spinach
  • 1 leek, finely sliced
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • 1 parsnip, shredded
  • 1 red pepper, sliced
  • ¼ cup raw pumpkin pieces**
  • ¼ cup toasted pumpkin seeds
  • ½ tablespoon grated ginger

Directions:

1.   Mix all ingredients in a bowl!  Serve with balsamic vinaigrette dressing!

**Yes, raw pumpkin is edible and nutritious; however, its flavor may not be preferable for some.  Instead roast the pumpkin at 425°F for about 20-30 minutes or until soft.  See this post for ideas on spicing it up!

 

 

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