I get asked quite a bit to create meal plans for people and although some day I would love to be able to have the time to customize meal plans for individuals I just don’t know how to squeeze that in between the Shoppe, starting The Core (read my last post if you just went, “HUH?”), loving on my family, and attempting normal human activity such as eating and being active. I know that planning simple meals is sometimes way more complicated than it should be and I want to at least simplify things a bit by explaining what works for our family.
I would say our family has the typical busy schedule. I know we all think we are the busiest family to ever exist but I think if we took a poll we would find that we are all just really ridiculously busy. A lot of times we don’t get home until 7ish which means we still have to cook, eat, clean up, shower, make lunches, and pack backpacks all before the kids head to bed. So if you felt guilty that your little darlings didn’t get dinner until 8 oclock this week, just know that the Pope kids experience that every now and then too. And even though it is important to not eat super late, give yourself some grace if it happens. Maybe what I’m really saying is, “I won’t judge you, please don’t judge me.” We are all doing the best we can and I guarantee if you are reading my blog then you are making efforts to make wiser health choices and I applaud that.
I’ve divided this into three sections:
TIPS AND TRICKS
MUST HAVE INGREDIENTS
EASY PEASY MEALS
Make eating at home a priority for 30 days and just see what happens. I’m not gonna lie, at first it will feel overwhelming and like a lot of work. So far every person I’ve given this challenge to has come back in 30 days saying it got easier and they love the way they feel and are surprised by how many new foods their family now enjoys. If you are completely new to the idea of eating meals at home then baby step this process. Look at your schedule and pick three days this week where you will cook and eat from home. Pick a simple meal with few ingredients and give some of these tips a chance.
TIPS AND TRICKS
1. When we get home from the grocery store I try to take an hour and prep all of my produce. I usually listen to a podcast or audio book so that I’m learning while I do these monotonous tasks. I wash all of my veggies and if I know I will be using them in a meal in the next few days I chop and dice. I wash all my berries and put them into containers that are accessible to the kids so they can grab them for a snack. I also use this time to make up quick marinades and throw my frozen protein of choice in with it into a gallon-sized baggie.
2. I don’t do recipes during the week. I don’t make paleo pizza or waffles or homemade paleo bread. I LOVE to try new recipes and I get so excited when I find one that sounds good but it is not worth my stress until I can actually devote my time and attention to it.
3. I double my meals at least. Sometimes I triple. I always try to make sure there is enough dinner leftover either for lunch or to be reinvented into a slightly different dinner the following day. You can even freeze a portion to pull out on one of those days where you realize that you haven’t gone to the grocery store in 2 weeks and all that is left in your fridge is the box of baking soda and that Tupperware container that most definitely will be thrown away even though it is your last one with a matching lid. This is so helpful because I basically cook once but eat twice!
4. I don’t stress over being fancy. No kidding…sometimes my sweet little family and I will hover over a plate of chicken wings and sweet potato fries and not even bother with plates. (I said I won’t judge you…don’t judge me.) Your meals don’t have to be as hillbilly as ours but seriously, buy some paper plates, limit your ingredients to something manageable and keep it simple.
5. If you don’t have all of the exact ingredients needed just wing it. Don’t feel boxed in by a recipe. If you don’t have cilantro, try basil. Or if you don't have chives try sautéed onion. Just have fun with it.
MUST HAVE INGREDIENTS
· Eggs-Let’s face it…eggs can be boring, especially if you eat them everyday for breakfast. But if it is late and you need a quick dinner then eggs are super quick and healthy.
· Sliced turkey-This can be chopped and thrown over some lettuce and veggies or rolled up with some crunchy veggies and dipped in guacamole.
· Wholly Guacamole-We buy the 100 calorie snack packs.
· Apples-sliced apple with almond butter or a slice of raw cheese makes a great quick snack or addition to your turkey slices.
· Bacon-Stick it in those turkey rollups or wrapped in lettuce. Add it chopped to a salad or make a quick crustless quiche with simply bacon, eggs, and chives.
· Sweet potatoes- These make excellent additions to simple meals. You can bake them, roast them, make baked fries, or sweet potato chips. Add rosemary for a woodsy flavor, chili powder for spice, or cinnamon for sweet.
· Ground beef- This is an inexpensive protein option and you can pretty much add any sautéed veggies to it to create your own custom bowl. I love to sauté spinach or chard into the ground beef to hide those nutritious greens from my kids. You can also make meatballs and meatloaves or add to sauces to pour over zoodles or spaghetti squash.
· Spinach-We need to eat more leafy greens and I can find organic spinach easier than most greens. Plus it is so versatile. Add it to your scrambled eggs, throw it into a quiche, toss the fresh leaves with some fruit and oil and vinegar for a salad or add to meatball mixture.
· Raw baby carrots-These make excellent little snacks and when you have a sweet tooth they are great at curbing that craving. Add a bit of butter and ginger to them in a sauce pan and cook until soft and they make a lovely side to any protein.
· Onions-Basically cooked onions make everything taste better. Put onions in everything.
· Olive oil
· Salt and pepper
EASY PEASY MEALS
THE BOWL-This is going to change your world…are you ready? Get a bowl. A big one…like one of those wide pasta bowls. Now chop up any veggies you have…sweet potatoes, broccoli, bell peppers, mushrooms, Brussels Sprouts, green beans, asparagus, kale, onion, beets, zucchini, yellow squash, ect. You get the point. Just pick two or three. If you already have your veggies chopped because you took that valuable hour and prepped your food when you got home from the grocery store then this is the easy part. Line a cookie sheet with some foil and toss your chosen chopped veggies with some olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast in the oven at 375 for about 20 minutes. Then add those roasted veggies to your empty bowl. Top with quick ground beef, chopped grilled chicken, leftover pulled pork or sliced flank steak…any protein you can throw a bit of salt and pepper on and have cooked through in the 20 minutes that the veggies are roasting. If you have no meat thawed then fry up two or three eggs per bowl. Top with some guacamole, mango salsa, hot sauce…whatever sounds good. We have been incorporating more quinoa into our diet because everyone in our family does well with this ancient grain and a lot of time I’ll add 1/3 cup of quinoa mixed with sautéed leafy greens to the mix as well. Sometimes we will add all the veggies and meat over a bed of lettuce and top with our favorite paleo dressing. There are just so many different variations that you can do and so far we have yet to find a veggie and meat combination unpalatable.
Crockpot Carnitas-This is the easiest thing ever. I throw a pork roast or couple of tenderloins into the crockpot, cover with two cans of rotel (tomatoes and green chilies) and cook on low all day. Pull apart at the end of the day and let cook 30 minutes more. I can use this meat in so many ways for the next few days.
o It can go over caulirice or quinoa with some grilled zucchini, onions, and cilantro chopped up into it.
o Make a taco salad with it by putting it over lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and peppers. I make a quick dressing of wholly guacamole mixed with a bit of lemon or lime juice, salt pepper, garlic and olive oil mixed until smooth.
o Wrap up in large lettuce leaves and top with salsa or guacamole.
o Add chicken broth, cilantro, zucchini, onion, lime juice, bay leaf and let cook on low for an hour and top with avocado and you have a No Tortilla Soup. (If you don’t have an hour to let it cook, add the ingredients and refrigerate over night and just heat up when needed.
Chicken Salad-This can be made as complicated or easy as you want. You can either buy canned shredded chicken (which is nice to have on hand when you forgot to thaw some meat) or simply grill some chicken breasts and shred, or roast a whole chicken and shred. Then add different ingredients to add variety such as:
o Diced celery, apples, chopped walnuts, chives, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper
o Diced red onion, roasted asparagus and bell pepper, fresh basil and parsley, and avocado and lemon juice, salt and pepper.
o Diced tomatoes, avocado, green onions, pecans, cilantro, bacon, paleo mayo, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.
Meatballs and Meatloaf-Kids love meatballs and they are great for leftovers in lunches too! I don’t always have time to sit there and ball 1000 meatballs so if I am running low on time I will make a meatloaf or mini loaves. But if I do have time I will triple or quadruple a meatball recipe and freeze half of it to pull out when I’m in a pinch. To make the meatballs or meatloaf mix the following ingredients in a large bowl with your clean hands and ball and place on a foil covered cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. For meatloaf, place mixture in a loaf pan and bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.
o 1lb. ground beef, chopped sundried tomatoes, 1 cup of quinoa or caulirice (fresh cauliflower blended into rice size pieces in food processor), ½ onion diced, 1 tsp minced garlic, small handful of chopped fresh basil, small handful of chopped fresh parsley, salt and pepper.
o 1 lb. ground pork, 1 TBSP caraway seeds, 2 TBSP Dijon mustard, small handful of fresh parsley, salt, and pepper. This one is good over sauerkraut.
o 1 lb. ground chicken, 4 oz. chopped green chilies, 1 TBSP taco seasoning, 15 oz. can of fire roasted tomatoes, 1 cup of caulirice or quinoa, 2 eggs, 1 tsp garlic, slat and pepper. Top with guacamole.
o 1 lb. ground beef, 1 tsp garlic, 2 tsp sesame oil, 1 cup caulirice or quinoa, 1 tsp. ground ginger, ½ cup chopped green onion, ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes, salt, pepper. In a sauce pan heat and blend, 2 TBSP lime juice, 1 tsp garlic, ½ tsp crushed pepper flakes, 1 TBSP coconut aminos, ¼ tsp powdered ginger, ½ tsp. vinegar, ¼ cup almond butter, ¼ cup coconut milk. Top meatballs with sauce.
Skewers-Stick any combination of protein and fruit and veggies on a stick , spray with coconut oil spray, season with salt and pepper and grill. A simple marinade we always whip up last minute is ½ cup olive oil, ¼ cup coconut aminos, 3 heaping TBSP garlic, 2 TBSP vinegar of choice, 1 TBSP honey, fresh chopped herb of choice (we use Rosemary the most often), salt and pepper.
Breakfast for dinner-This is always a winner. We always have eggs and bacon. Sometimes we keep it simple and just add some roasted sweet potato and some sliced fruit. Other times I’ll make pancakes, quiche or egg muffins.
I threw together this lovely little salad today and it took me less than 5 minutes because I had everything chopped and ready to go and the chicken was leftover from the night before. I think this is a great example of how a simple meal can be just as nutritious, delicious and lovely as those that require hours of work.
Sliced grilled chicken
I hope some of what works for me works for you too. I am still learning tips and happening upon easy and yummy meals all the time. I would love to hear from you about your tips and tricks, the ingredients you consider must haves in your kitchen, and easy peasy recipes that your family loves and enjoys. Find me on Facebook through my sweet little Sunshine Shoppe or our newest exciting adventure, The Core. You can also follow me on Instagram as @sunshine_shoppe and @corefit4life. I’ll follow you back! J