Menu Planning Monday

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Wow,  I can’t believe it’s the last day of August! Where did the summer go? School has been back in session for a week, yet I’m still surprised to hear the school bus roll down my block each morning.

We had a busy weekend here, but in between chores and fun I was able to put together my menu plan and also do a bit of advance cooking. I roasted up a bunch of  vegetables – eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, onion, asparagus with lemon, tomatoes and, of course, garlic. Boy, did my house smell good!

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I’ll be using up some ingredients I have on hand, hoping that will make for a small grocery bill like last week. Even purchasing mostly organic, my total came to just over fifty dollars!

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Here’s what I’ll be cooking; clicking on the links will take you to the author’s original recipes where you can print if you’d like.

Note: I follow a WFPBNO (whole food, plant-based, no oil) diet 90% of the time, allowing for a bit of oil here & there when dining out or when I just want a little treat. When the recipe calls for oil, I substitute vegetable broth or plain water when appropriate.  Sometimes the exact recipe I’m using is not published online so I will share a similar recipe.

So, what’s cookin’ at your house? Are you menu planning?

Michele

P.S. For other great menu planning bloggers, please visit Organizing Junkie!

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Thrifty Thursday: Homemade Vegetable Broth

I became an avid nutrition label reader after going vegan, and even more so when I went oil-free. I was shocked to discover just how much oil is sneaked into the most unlikely of places! Vegetable broth, for example. Many of us rely on pre-packaged cans or boxes of broth, or we use those bouillon cubes. They’re convenient, right? Well, that convenience comes at a cost, not just monetarily but also nutritionally. So many of those innocent-looking cubes contain oil, corn syrup and other scary ingredients. 

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Why? Your guess is as good as mine, but I see no reason to put up with that when I can make my own fat-free, sugar-free broth with minimal effort and expense. Guess what? You can, too!

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First, you’re gonna want to gather up your veggie scraps. You know, the little bits & pieces of fresh vegetables that would normally get tossed in the trash. Carrot & onion peels, celery leaves, pepper tops, etc. Whatever is left over after preparing your meal, with the exception of salad greens because they don’t freeze well. I also avoid cabbage, kale, broccoli and other strong-tasting (and smelling) vegetables, but that’s just me. Dump these into your container, pop in the freezer and keep adding until it’s full. Now you’re ready to make broth!

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I rely on my Instant Pot for this purpose because it’s fast and easy, but you can also use a slow cooker or even stovetop method. The process is the same: dump the veggies into the pot, cover with water and cook until a nice rich broth appears.  (Times vary, but I did forty minutes in my Instant Pot because I wanted a very rich, dark broth. I’ve read that it can be made in as little as five!) If you want to get fancy, you can add some seasonings but since I’m using this as a base for future recipes, I don’t want any conflicting spices.

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Once it’s cooled down enough to handle, strain your vegetables over a large pot. (Some people put pasta strainers right into the Instant Pot, gonna try that next time!)

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Discard or compost the vegetables, then pour broth into jars or containers for storage. I got about 8 cups of broth.

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I used some immediately for a soup recipe, and the rest I poured into ice cube trays and froze. When I need a little bit of liquid for sauteing vegetables, I just pop one of these out and use in place of oil! So much healthier, right?!

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So, there you have it. Gorgeous, fat-free vegetable broth made from plain old water and stuff  you’d have tossed out into the trash. Frugal, eco-friendly and much tastier than anything you’d find on the grocer’s shelf.  Don’t you feel proud of yourself? I sure do!

Michele

Plan to Succeed

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As I mentioned in my last post, meal planning is an integral part of my homemaking routine. Not only does it save time and money, but it also helps me with my fitness goals. I’ve found that I’m most successful on my “diet” when I plan ahead; the more planning, the more in control I feel which leads to better eating and ultimate weight loss.

I like to dedicate one morning per week for meal planning & shopping. I peruse the grocery sale ads, check my fridge and pantry for what I have on hand, working with what’s fresh and in season whenever possible.  Since I don’t work outside the home, I usually spend Monday mornings on this task. I combine it with laundry day and general tidying-up-after-the-weekend.  Of course, you can choose whichever day works best for you; Sunday afternoon is popular with some folks.

I’ve just completed this week’s meal plan and shopping list, thought I’d share here and perhaps make this a regular weekly blog feature. I’ve featured mostly dinners for now since I tend to eat simple breakfasts and lunch often consists of leftovers from the night before, but did include one lunch-friendly salad and one sweet treat for fun. There are five dinners planned, allowing for dining out or one lazy night when we just throw something quick together.

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Since I bought a giant zucchini at the farmer’s market yesterday, I’ll be looking for ways to use it up! I also have some overripe bananas which will be baked into bread for a special friend, and a head of red cabbage begging to be cooked. Oh, and a gorgeous pineapple (my favorite fruit) is sitting on my counter, tempting me with it’s sweetness!

Here’s what I’ll be cooking this week; clicking on the links will take you to the author’s original recipes where you can print if you’d like.

Note: I follow a WFPBNO (whole food, plant-based, no oil) diet 90% of the time, allowing for a little oil here & there when dining out or when I just want a little treat. When the recipe calls for oil, I substitute vegetable broth or plain water when appropriate. Most of the recipes posted are perfect “as is,” no modification required, but in the case of baked goods I just allow myself that bit of fat and move on. (Life’s too short to live without  an occasional bite of chocolate, for goodness’ sake!)

Sending good luck and best wishes to the students and families returning to school today! I hope the 2015 – 2016 school year is your best yet.

Michele

Back to School

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Even though the weather outside my door doesn’t reflect it, Summer is nearly over. Students of all ages are preparing for the new school year, some of them in my area have already headed back. Even though my girls are all grown up, I can still remember the flurry and excitement of this time of year, and the stress that comes along with it! While parents are likely ready for their little darlings to return to school, they are also dreading the crazy busyness that comes along with it. I’ve been chatting with some young moms about this issue, and know that they all want the same things: a less hectic, more organized school year. They want their kids to excel academically, enjoy whatever hobbies and sports interest them and also fit in some much-needed family time. She wants to prepare healthy home-cooked meals and maybe actually eat them together around the dinner table now & then. How does a busy mom manage it all, especially while working outside the home and/or pursuing her own interests? In my experience, it all came down to one word: Planning. Without a plan, a system in place, things quickly unravel and can lead to chaos. There are plenty of books out there to help the harried homemaker and I’ll add my recommendations at the end of this post, but for right now I’d like to focus on the topic near and dear to my heart: food. Specifically, healthy food. With everything else he/she has to do in the day, how can a parent also find time to put a healthy meal on the table?

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This is where planning comes in. When my kids were young, I sat down with a calendar and mapped out a week or two’s worth of meals at once. Based on what I had on hand and/or what was on sale at my local grocer, I gathered recipes, made a menu plan and shopping list. I wrote each day’s dinner on the calendar and pinned it to the refrigerator so we all knew what was coming up. I didn’t often have the luxury of child care, so I took the girls along with me, letting them help with the shopping. It was a great learning experience and let them feel a part of the process. (When Kristyn got old enough to drive, she did the shopping for me. She’d clip coupons and whatever savings she earned, she kept for herself!) Once the groceries were home and unpacked, I tried to do a bit of prep work, sometimes even making a whole meal ahead of time if I had an extra hour or two.  No more rushing in the door at 5 pm wondering what’s for dinner, it’s on the calendar and the ingredients are ready to go. I am also a firm believer in kids helping out in the kitchen. Even little ones can complete easy tasks such as washing veggies, tossing salads, and setting the table. When they’re involved in the process, they are invested and take pride in the meal they’ve helped create.

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What about the nights when Jr has football practice and Janie dance rehearsal (or vice versa)? How can you get food into their tummies when there’s no time for a sit-down meal? While many families rely on the fast food drive through for these situations, we all know that’s not the ideal solution. One busy mom told me that she feeds her son a quick peanut butter & jelly sandwich before zipping out the door, and I think that’s brilliant! Peanut butter is full of protein that growing bodies need, and if spread on wholegrain bread, perhaps with some sliced banana or an apple on the side this is a perfectly fine meal. My suggestion to her was to also prepare a small cooler filled with other healthy snacks, have it waiting in the minivan for when practice is over. This ensures a peaceful ride home with no ravenous kids begging for junk food!

Another tip I simply can’t recommend highly enough: Dust off your Crock-Pot and use it whenever possible. This appliance is a lifesaver for the busy family and there are so many slow-cooked plant-based recipes out there to try.

So, now that we have the kids covered, what about the adults? Maybe you’re not a parent, or a student, and you think the back-to-school frenzy doesn’t really apply to you. Ah, but I disagree! Even those of us who are no longer students or don’t have little ones returning to school can’t help but feel the excitement of this time of year. Fresh start, new beginnings, it is motivating and exciting to turn the page on Summer and greet the Fall. Maybe it’s not an academic class you’d like to take but a fitness one instead. Perhaps you’d like to try yoga this year, or Zumba? Maybe you, like myself, are just looking forward to cooler temps so your daily outdoor walk is more enjoyable. Now that summer vacations are over, maybe we need to clean up our diets and focus on our weight loss efforts. Maybe we have a certain goal in mind we’d like to reach before the end of the year, a holiday outfit we’d like to fit into?

Over at our Facebook group, we’ve planned a Back-to-School Challenge. We’ll be posting our goals and how we plan to achieve them. Whether that be a number on the scale, pants size, health stats, whatever..we are here to support and inspire each other!

The challenge officially kicks off on Labor Day, giving us a couple of weeks to clean up our kitchens, decide on a new eating/exercise plan or how we’ll re-commit to one that’s been working for us. If you’d like to join us, we’d love to have you!

Enjoy the last few lazy days of summer!

Michele

PS Here are my favorite homemaking/organizational books & sites: