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Meal Planning

Hello Friends! I am proud to announce that I survived my first week of residency! After finally feeling adjusted to life in our new house as newlyweds, we are going through another series of changes with the start of my intern year. I am starting off on one of my more taxing inpatient rotations, which means long hours and 1-day weekends. My husband has been very helpful with pitching in to do some cooking and general house up-keep, but being in the kitchen is still very therapeutic when I have the time! We have started loosely planning our meals for the next week on Saturday or Sunday to help us stay within our food budget and waste less food. This also helps guide us when we are grocery shopping! We have been doing this for a month now with great success, so I wanted to share some tips that have really helped us. If there are any veteran meal planners out there, I would love to know some tips that help you stay on track!

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1. Write it out
We use two chalkboard canvases (leftover from our wedding) to catalogue what our plans for the week are, what meats/staples we have in the freezer, and what homemade meals we have frozen away for really busy nights! They hang right next to the fridge so that we always know what we have around.
2. Plan for the main dish, but keep a loose idea of the sides
We tend to plan only the main theme, or central dish. For example, I will plan to make marinated chicken, but will decide on the vegetable to serve on the side when I get to the farmer’s market or grocery store and see what looks freshest or on sale. This way, my grocery list ends up being staples (meat, beans, lemons, eggs, grains) plus 5-6 vegetables and 2-3 fruits.
3. Pick seasonal meals
This sort of goes with what I mentioned above, but you can save money and get better tasting ingredients if you plan your meals in concordance with the season. For example, my husband loves this Israeli Cous Cous salad, but we only make it in the spring and summer when squash and cherry tomatoes are in abundance. In contrast, hearty chilis and bean soups simmer and heat up the house while cooking on a hot summer day.
4. Plan with ingredients that you can buy/prepare in bulk.
For example, we are big brown rice eaters. At least 2-3 of our meals per week will be served with brown rice. Instead of making rice every night, we make it once and then keep it in our rice cooker for the next few days. In order for the rice to stay fresh, we try to plan to have the meals that go best with rice in a row.
5. Always buy salad greens.
As a veggie advocate, having fresh lettuce on hand for quick salads is the best way to ensure that something fresh and green makes it to the table on even the busiest of nights. Even with the best pre-planning, life happens and salads are the easiest, albeit not always the most exciting, way to get your veggies in.
6. Plan at least one meal with lunch leftovers.
We are lucky enough as a family of two to often get lunch leftovers out of most of our dinners. If your family is larger, though, plan for one meal that makes great leftovers. Vegetarian bean dishes, lentil salads, pasta salads, and curries tend to be our favorite to eat the next day!
7. Be flexible.
If you know that things frequently come up in your week or you often find yourself with unused ingredients in the fridge by Friday, build in some wiggle room. For example, we always plan for a date night, and frequently leave one more night “unplanned,” leaving room for impromptu dinners with friends or pantry creations.

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This is some of what we have learned so far. Any other thoughts or things that you have found to work for your family or lifestyle? Share in the comments section!

July 6, 2014 at 1:42 pm 1 comment

Slow Cooker Chicken

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Just a few years ago, the thought of cooking a whole chicken was quite intimidating to me. As a former vegetarian, cooking meat seemed like a daunting task, and cooking it on the bone was scarier still. I had no idea how to tell if it was done, and even less of an idea of how to carve and serve it. More so, the thought of rubbing a chicken with herbed oils or sticking my hand in a turkey carcass to remove the neck was the stuff of nightmares. (Thanks, Grandma, for chasing me with a turkey neck during my first vegetarian Thanksgiving! ;) Haha) However, as I learn more about environmentally responsible animal farming and less wasteful eating habits, I am more convinced than ever that whole chickens are the way to go. First of all, the flavor is all in the bones, fat and skin, leading to the most flavorful and juicy white chicken meat I have ever tasted. Second of all, you can cook once (perhaps on a lazy Saturday or Sunday) and enjoy chicken meat on sandwiches and salads throughout the week. Perhaps most exciting for me is the opportunity to use the leftover bones and veggies to make your own chicken stock.

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To make this whole process even easier and more approachable, I learned that roaster chickens easily fit in a slow cooker. This method is perfect for the summer when you don’t want to overheat your house, or for all year when you want a low-maintenance alternative for roasting chicken! With this method, the skin will not get crispy (OK by me as I still take off the skin when I am done cooking). However, you will get fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-your-mouth, perfect chicken with very little effort. When you are done making the chicken, don’t even rinse out the slow cooker. Throw the bones and a few more carrots, onions and celery stalks back in with some bay leaves and peppercorns to make chicken stock! I usually freeze mine in 2-cup portions to use the next time I need it!

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Slow Cooker Roaster Chicken

1 whole roaster chicken (between 4-5 lbs), giblets removed

1 lemon, cut in eighths

4 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

5 stalks celery, roughly chopped

1 large or 2 small onions, roughly chopped

spices: basil, parsley, garlic powder, paprika, salt and pepper

1/2 cup white wine or chicken broth or water

Rinse chicken under cold water. Place in slow cooker and season to taste with herbs, spices, salt and pepper. Add 4 lemon slices to the interior of the chicken, then place the remaining slices between the wings/legs and body of the chicken. Sprinkle with vegetables, then add cooking liquid. Set slow cooker to low heat and cook for 8-9 hours. Remove and discard the skin prior to serving. Serve with roasted potatoes and favorite vegetable.

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Slow Cooker Chicken Stock

Bones from 1 roaster chicken

1 onion, quartered

3-4 carrots, roughly chopped in 2-in pieces

2-3 stalks celery, roughly chopped in 2-in pieces

4 cups water

pinch salt

Return chicken bones and fresh vegetables to the slow cooker after chicken has been cooked and carved. (You do not have to discard the liquid or vegetables that remain in the slow cooker). Add water and pinch of salt. Cook on low heat for 8 hours. Skim fat from resulting broth, then store in airtight container in fridge for immediate use or in freezer for future use.

June 11, 2014 at 9:17 am 1 comment


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