Weekly Menu: Semi-Homemade (+ 4 fast 5 ingredient meal ideas!)

standard July 10, 2017 Leave a response

New recipes may not be happening much in my kitchen with a new baby, but I am still always brainstorming new meals, especially ones that are easy to put together. Taking advantage of store bought items can help with the time, ease, and flavor, whether you have a new baby at home or are tired from a long workday.  For me, this means actually getting lunch together and eaten with a clingy baby strapped to my body. It also means few ingredients to buy when making meals while on vacation or travelling. And it also makes meals customizable to multiple picky palates. So don’t think meal planning and prep has to be all from scratch! Semi-homemade can be just as healthy and nutritious.

Here are a few of my go-to semi-homemade meals for those busy nights.

Avocado Kale Salad

Take a bag of sweet kale chopped salad mix (the one with shredded Brussels sprouts, dried cranberries, and pepitas) and toss the salad dressing. Add in some extra fresh chopped kale or spinach for bulk. Slice a small avocado and add to greens along with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a shake of salt and pepper. Massage kale with hands to rub the avocado in and soften leaves. Leave some avocado chunks for texture in the salad. Add a cup of chickpeas or tofu for protein, and any random produce you want to use up from the fridge (celery, apples, green onions, or broccoli all work great). Divide into two portions and serve.

Veggie Stir Fry

Grab a bag of raw or frozen stir fry veggies. Toss in skillet over high heat until heated through and slightly browned. Add in a protein of choice plus a cup of your favorite stir fry sauce (or make your own with equal parts soy sauce, hoisen sauce, and water plus a drizzle of lime juice, agave nectar, and sriracha for kick).  Serve over rice (I usually keep frozen brown rice on hand for quick meal nights).

Blueberry Steel Cut Oatmeal

Did you know you can buy precooked, frozen, steel cut oats? No more standing over the stove stirring while they cook forever! I’ve seen flavored varieties but you can also get plain oats cooked with water. And when ready to eat, just thaw and heat up.  Add a swirl of almond butter, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and a handful of fresh blueberries, and you’ve got a filling and satisfying breakfast in a flash.

Pumped Up Pasta

Clean out the fridge by taking any random veggies you have, steam them, and puree them with a little water or vegetable stock in a blender or food processor. You can also puree some cooked white beans for a protein punch. Add to a jar of spaghetti sauce and heat together on the stove. Serve over your favorite pasta. Hidden veggies for picky eaters is a bonus! All the extra fiber and protein will give staying power and a homemade taste to the standard jarred sauce and spaghetti.

Happy Semi-Homemade Cooking!

 

Weekly Menu: A New Flow

standard June 12, 2017 Leave a response

I love cooking. Creating. Serving. Eating. Stirring a big pot of risotto is calming to me, and having a prepped and stocked fridge makes me insanely happy. However, some seasons are just not easy for finding time to mix and stir and simmer and bake. My child’s bedtime routine takes up most of the time I used to use to make dinner. And we now eat at 9 pm after she is in bed. Cooking at that point is out of the question. This mama is hungry! So how to make meals easy without getting takeout all the time?

1. Stock that freezer!

As we started depleting the freezer reserves once we got home from the hospital, I started taking a few hours one day a month to make 3-4 more meals to restock for the coming weeks. Having an ever stocked freezer makes last-minute meals super easy, and any dinner can be freshened up with a quick side salad.

Looking for fresh and easy freezer meal ideas and planning tips? Check out these posts:

2. Get a meal delivery service.

We get a vegetarian Hello Fresh box almost every week. I can easily add an extra protein for the husband and omit any cheese for me. Meals are simple enough they can be made in 30 minutes or less, and if I’ve prepped everything before bedtime, dinner takes even less time to get on the table after baby is asleep.

Want to try Hello Fresh for yourself? Use this link to get $40 off your first box. And let me know what you think! (Disclaimer: This is an affiliate link).

3. Use prepared grocery items.

The best time saver for easy, healthy lunches? Bagged salad kits from the grocery store. I usually ditch the dressing and make my own simple vinaigrette with oil and vinegar or swap in salsa or tahini. Toss some precooked lentils or beans in, and a hearty, filling, and fresh meal is ready in 5 minutes. Most grocery stores have a ton of prepared convenience foods in the produce section that can be taken advantage of. Yes, it costs a little more for someone else to chop and season and assemble, but sometimes the time savings may weigh out the winner.

 

Weekly Menu: Hello Fresh!

standard February 20, 2017 Leave a response

Disclaimer: I was gifted a free box of Hello Fresh meals in exchange for sharing my experience. All thoughts and opinions are my own. I loved the service so much, I have since subscribed and purchase weekly boxes for my family.

This week’s menu post is going to look a little different. But to keep things  realistic (yes, I do make my weekly menus each week!), I’m at the point in my pregnancy where thinking about cooking and meal planning is just too much. I’ve cancelled my CSA deliveries until May. And we are surviving on takeout, boxed soup, and meal delivery services. I’ve used Blue Apron on and off in the past year, mostly for the husband’s meat-centered meals. It’s convenient, especially for someone who doesn’t eat or like to cook meat. But they’re not always the most nutritious, calorie conscious, or veggie filled. And as an RD, those things have bothered me a bit. So when I heard about Hello Fresh, a comparable services that has meals planned and approved by a Registered Dietitian, I was all about trying it out.

As soon as I got my box delivered to my door, I knew I was going to love this service. Their packaging is super convenient (and recyclable). Each individual recipe’s ingredients are boxed together inside the insulated cooler box. All you have to do is pop each box into the fridge until you are ready to make a meal. Then you just grab the box, open it up, and get straight to cooking. No rummaging around in the fridge for all the ingredients or figuring out where to store everything. A bonus trick I have learned is to use the box as a trash container while I cook. Food scraps, packaging, etc all get dumped into the box and then can be disposed of properly (either via compost, trash, or recycling) once I am done cooking.

The second HUGE plus to these meals is they are extremely simple and fast to make. I’m all for a fancy, elaborate dish. I have the cooking knowledge and skills to handle extensive step by step directions and fancy equipment. But at this stage in pregnancy, it’s all about fast and easy, minimal effort, and even more minimal cleanup. Some of the prep work has already been done, so there is little chopping and dicing. Most dishes only use one or two pans. And every recipe I have tried has come together in under 30 minutes, including clean up. Some recipes left me a little hesitant about their flavor, since they were so simple to make. But each time I was pleasantly surprised. The only exception I had was that I added more spices and vegetable broth to a chili recipe (because I’ve apparently lived in Texas too long).

My biggest concern about using Hello Fresh? How easy the meals were to make vegan! While they have a Veggie box subscription option, these recipes do contain dairy and eggs. After scrolling through some recent past recipes, it looked to me like these ingredients were minimal and easy to remove. A lot of recipes use cheese as a topping, which is easy to omit. Recipes do not generally rely on the dairy or egg component as the main protein source in the dish (which was a pain point I had with Blue Apron recipes). Rather, many Hello Fresh veggie recipes used beans, lentils, and even seitan as the main protein ingredient. I have not seen tofu or soy in any of my boxes, for those with soy concerns. Hello Fresh also assumes that each cook has salt, pepper, sugar, oil, and butter at home to add to recipes when called for. These ingredients are on recipes but not included in meal boxes. As a vegan, I love that butter is included on this list, as I know I am not wasting my money on butter being sent in a box that I will just trash. I can easily add oil or vegan butter instead, which I generally keep on hand in my fridge. I have not yet received any dishes with eggs or had ingredients that included eggs in any boxes. This makes me feel more comfortable about being able to adjust recipes without wasting money or ingredients I will not use.

Pros of Hello Fresh:

  1. Nutrition quality // All recipes are developed and approved by a Registered Dietitian. Nutritional information, including allergens are listed on the Hello Fresh website for each recipe. Most meals are between 500 and 800 calories, though all the veggie meals I have tried have been under 700.
  2. Simplicity // All recipes are given a rating of difficulty, with Level 1 meals being extremely simple and quick, Level 2 requiring a little more skill and concentration, but still easy, and Level 3 being the most adventurous with unique ingredients and techniques. I have found all levels to still be easily manageable in a 30 minute time frame.
  3. Packaging // Hello Fresh takes care to ensure sustainability of packaging. Recyclable paper and cardboard is used as much as possible, with plastic only being used to protect fragile ingredients when necessary. Insulation packaging changes with the season to ensure food stays properly cooled through winter freeze and summer heat. Ice packs are water-soluble and recyclable. Hello Fresh also takes steps to ensure minimal food waste, donating unused foods to food banks and community kitchens, direct sourcing ingredients, and providing fast and fresh delivery.
  4. Easy to Use App // Hello Fresh has an iPhone and Android app that is extremely user-friendly. You can see your upcoming deliveries, menu options, recipes and ingredients, all with ease. You can also make changes to deliveries, cancel meals, or cancel your subscription directly from the app or website.

Cons:

  1. No designated Vegan or Gluten Free meal options // However, allergen information for each meal is listed, and the majority of meals are easily modifiable with little waste or extra cost. All ingredients arrive individually packaged so there is no cross-contamination if an allergen item needs to be removed.
  2. Swapping between meal plans // With Blue Apron, I am able to choose any three meals from their 3 meat and 3 veggie options, in case I want to have meals for both the husband and myself in one box. With Hello Fresh, choosing the Veggie Box means I only get those three veggie options that week. Their classic box subscription has six menu items to choose from (you can pick any 3) however there are only maybe 1 or 2 veggie options each week (and some weeks I have noticed there were none). If I want to order meat-based meals for the husband I would have to add a separate subscription to manage. This isn’t a huge deal for me, as I can also add proteins or other ingredients to a veggie box to meet the husband’s dietary needs. But it is the one thing that I still like about Blue Apron over Hello Fresh.

Want to try Hello Fresh for yourself? Use THIS LINK to get $40 off your first box (Disclaimer: This is an affiliate link).