cooking

Once a Month Meals

inthekitchen

I work full time, my husband is in college, I have three kids, and I’m starting graduate school in January. Family meal time is important to us and we eat 95% of our dinners together and at the table. Healthy, delicious meals eaten as a family is a priority to me, but y’all I was on the struggle bus. We’re on a tight food budget and I need to make a $400 a month grocery budget for five people stretch (that figure doesn’t include non-food items). My time is also budgeted as Atticus likes to go to bed well before 8pm and we’re not all at home until 5:30 or later. How to fit in dinner, bathing, chores, stories, playtime, and cuddles in roughly two hours?

I immediately thought of once a month cooking, but in the past I found even figuring out how much stuff to buy overwhelming. The only exception is that when I was pregnant with Atticus my “nesting” took the form of once a month cooking. I made 25 meals in two days just a few weeks before Atticus was born. I had memories of many dishes, puffy feet, and crying into some ice cream. I didn’t know if I wanted to approach once a month cooking again, but then I landed on a perfect system.

The answer: Once a Month Meals.

1

Cooking in my tiny apartment kitchen in October

Here’s how it works as laid out on their website:

  1. Plan

    Pick a menu based on the 7 different dietary preferences we offer, and customize to make it your own!

  2. Shop

    Gather and purchase your ingredients from your optimized, ready-to-go Shopping List.

  3. Prep

    Chop, dice, and slice to prepare all your ingredients according to your Prep Sheet.

  4. Cook

    Follow our customized, step-by-step Cooking Instructions to prepare your freezer meals quickly.

  5. Freeze

    Cook, package, and freeze your meals according to your Recipe Cards for proper storing and freezing.

  6. Serve

    Prepare or reheat your meals and serve by reading the Label or your Thaw Sheet. Then serve and enjoy!

2

Roasting all the things in November

I’ve used the meal plans twice and I’ve learned several things along the way.

  1. Follow the recipes. Every recipe I made from Once a Month Meals was awesome with the exception of when I try to cut corners. For example, I hate making meatballs and meat patties. I tried to turn a Salmon Sweet Potato Quinoa patty into a meatloaf type thing and it really didn’t work. I no longer pick those types of recipes that make me impatient.
  2. Be smart about cutting corners. Frozen chopped onions = lifesaver. Using bagged “shredded” carrots instead of whirring them up in the food processor = totally not the same and I bungled a recipe.
  3. Mini-menus. If time and space are an issue, then do two mini-menus a month. This also helps with money. I’m paid weekly so I rarely have enough cash for a month long cooking shopping trip.
  4. Assess the needs of your family before planning your meals. I’m the only person who takes my lunch to work (my husband eats free in the cafeteria as a job perk and my kids eat at school) and none of us eat breakfast “meals” in the morning except on the weekends (we are much more likely to just grab a granola bar or yogurt). I really only need the dinners. For some odd reason I did two rounds with dinners, lunches, and breakfast. It was kind of a waste of money and time for me. In the future I’m just going to do dinner mini-menus.
3

Onion chopping salvation

I’m having a cook day on Saturday the 17th and I already have my meals planned for my mini-meal making session. I’ll be cooking up:

There’s something for everyone here. There is a range of menus to address dietary needs and you can also pick recipes based on preferred cooking methods (i.e. instant pot or slow cooker). If you don’t like a recipe it is easy to swap it for something else and you can adjust the portions and it will recalculate the shopping list, prep list, and cooking instructions.

It is $16 a month, but I’m saving so much money and time. On cook weeks I spend just over $100 to $120 on food and on weeks I’m not cooking I spend $50 on food. Another bonus? No dishes at night from prep work!

Let me know if you’ve tried a system like this and what you thought about it. I’m pleased as punch with Once a Month Meals.

 

 

Note:  I am not being paid or compensated in anyway to write this review. I just really like this service!

Meals for the Week, vol. 3

I had to rejig some meals this week due to NOT CARING. Tonight I’m making chicken nuggets for the kids and salmon for us adults. We’ll have some roasted mushrooms and summer squash and Caesar salad. Tomorrow night I’m making lemon pepper chicken, rice, and broccoli. Now, onto next week.

Lunches for work: Buddha Bowl

Sunday 06/26: Dinner with friends. They’re cooking out and we’re bringing along pasta salad and a dessert (maybe banana pudding?)

Monday 06/27: Pizza night

Tuesday 06/28: Baked chicken breasts with red onions, brussel sprouts, yellow squash, and zucchini / macaroni and cheese (from a box)

Wednesday 06/29: Mushroom and Gruyere toast for the adults (it is like a fancy grilled cheese) and grilled cheese for the kids / Curried Tomato soup

Thursday 06/30: Spinach Ricotta Pasta / Salad / Garlic Bread

Friday 07/01: Vegetable Stirfry with Lemon Ginger Sauce / Jasmine Rice

Saturday 07/02: Honey Mustard Chicken with Turmeric / Corn on the cob / Steamed Kale

Introducing Food Friday!

foodfriday

I’ve been on Weight Watchers since December and I’m about ready to throw-in the towel. I’m over 300 pounds and at this point I really need a healthy way to lose weight. I’ve done my research and I think Weight Watchers is sound in ideology and science, but a bit faulty in their execution.

Let me explain.

I love the concept of points. The healthier the food the less points I have to spend. I love this as it truly makes me think about what I eat and almost makes it like a game. My problem is the “diet industry” side of things. I most likely will not renew my membership when it expires in February. Sure, I’ll do the online version as the app is marvelous, but the meetings are starting to piss me off. The meeting leader is super sweet. In fact, all the ladies seem super sweet and dedicated. My problem is that I am a plant-based vegetarian who loves to cook. The first half of the meeting is filled with ridiculousness. All the folks go around sharing processed items, meal-hacks, and other strategies for low-point eating. I love to cook and I don’t get the same satisfaction from processed treats and I like my food to be free of chemicals I cannot pronounce. Sure, Frankenfood every once in a while, but eating nothing put aspartame-filled yogurts and chemical filled sweets is not for me.

I was ready to give up Weight Watchers for good, but then I decided to take it as a challenge. I believe I can lose weight in a healthy way while enjoying coffee with real creamer, vegetarian and vegan dishes, baking cakes and cookies, and using a minimal amount of processed foods. A challenge!

I considered creating another blog for this challenge, but I don’t have it in me to maintain different sites, hence Food Friday on Fig and Thistle. Each week I’ll discuss goals and challenges and share some of my favorite meals from the week. I’ll be using my Instagram account heavily; expect lots of pictures of what I’m eating with the point value.

My big goal? Hitting my 10% weight loss (-31 goal by April 30th). Thus far I’ve lost -2.2 pounds. That’s just over a 2 pound a week loss and completely doable.

I’m tired of seeing desperate women stuffing themselves with tiny air-puffed snacks for the sake of skinny. I’m sick of hearing folks drone on and on about “protein.” I want to lose weight, yes, but because I want to be healthy, active, and buy ironic teeshirts that fit. There you are… the truth. I’m going to show them that this can be done.

*fist pump*

Care and Keeping of Me: A temporary fall from veganism

Vegetarian-Times-June-July-2014
Last week I fell off the vegan train. I was so sick and my throat was so swollen. Sam brought me Chinese takeout of lo mein (couldn’t swallow it the first day) and egg drop soup. I sucked down that egg drop soup like some sort of dying, thirsting, crazy woman. And I ate a half-container of vanilla ice cream throughout my illness.

This is where being vegan gets tricky for me. Basically I don’t want to be an absolute dick while being vegan and my choices while sick were slim. I could have:

1) Told Sam (via text message because I really couldn’t speak) to whip me up some homemade tofu miso soup or make me some DIY vegan ice cream. After all, he was only working, doing school work, taking care of three kids and trying to sanitize my house. No big deal asking him to familiarize himself with ingredients he has never worked with to make my meals.

OR

2) Taken the emergency money and sent Sam to Kroger (no Whole Foods or EarthFare in my neck of the woods) to by $5 pints of coconut ice cream, $3 cans of soup, and maybe some other things for me to dine on. I mean what other emergencies could there be? It doesn’t matter that we spent $150 in copays for the both of us to go to the doctor (yeah, Sam was ill by Friday), $50 for prescriptions, and another $30 for tissues, Lysol, cough drops, and OTC meds. What’s another $50 in food for me?

OR

3) Thankfully accepted the cheap $10 Chinese takeout, eat the ice cream already in my freezer, sleep a ton, and worry about diet next week. In other words, don’t make my husband’s life hell.
I chose to NOT be an asshole vegan. If Sam wasn’t busy and liked to cook I would have chosen option 1. If my finances were better I would have picked option 2. However, my husband works 50+ hours in week, is in school full time, and we have three kids and we are flat ass broke. Yes, option 3 was the right choice.

Now that I’m well I am back to eating vegan. I’m still not 100% vegan because I REALLY don’t like being an asshole vegan. I can’t eat flesh, so I absolutely refuse beef, pork, chicken, and fish.  But if the baby feeds me a goldfish I eat it. If the waiter brings my no cheese/no mayo veggie burger out on a buttery toasted bun I eat.

Returning to vegan cooking is exciting; I missed the color, flavor, texture, and overall deliciousness of vegan food. Last night I cooked baked curry tofu, rice, and a big stir-fry with peppers, broccoli, and mushroom. It was healthful and delicious. My most recent issue of Vegetarian Times arrived the other day and I have my beautiful Pinboard of ideas. Methinks it is time to start planning next weeks meals.

VegWeek, Day 3: Cookbook Recs!

US-VegWeek-2013-Logo-for-Partners
I have a shorter lunch break at work today, but I thought I’d pop in quickly and share my top 5 vegan cookbooks for today’s VegWeek post. I feel these are the best cookbooks for the beginning vegan.

Top Recipes / Cookbooks

1. The Grit Cookbook: World-Wise, Down-Home Recipes by Jessica Greene and Ted Hafer: This cookbook is from my favorite restaurant, The Grit, in downtown Athens, Georgia. When I go I love to get the Golden Bowl and some Vegan Chocolate Death Cake. This is the first vegetarian cookbook I ever purchased. Not all the recipes are vegan, but all are vegetarian. I will say that some of the recipes lack clear directions and some recipes seem to have 500 ingredients, but most recipes are simple and delicious. Favorite recipes – gazpacho, hummus, spicy Thai noodles

2. Vegan with a Vengeance: Over 150 Delicious, Cheap, Animal-Free Recipes that Rock by Isa Chandra Moskowitz: A friend found this gem for me at a thrift store when I was dairy-free while nursing Atticus. The recipes are simple, delicious and it truly contains cheap ingredients. The scone recipe is so versatile; I use it as a base and I add in things to make new flavors. I’ve made pear chai, apple cinnamon, chocolate walnut, and strawberry cardamom scones. Favorite recipes – scones, best pumpkin muffin, carrot bisque

3. Appetite for Reduction: 125 Fast and FillingLow-Fat Vegan Recipes by Isa Chandra Moskowitz: This book contains nutritional information for each recipe. The baked tofu is amazing and great in stirfry, salad, or just on its own. Favorite recipes – basic baked tofu, garlicky mushrooms and kale, curry laska

4. Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes for Everyday of the Week by Isa Chandra Moskowitz: I know I’m plugging Isa like crazy, but her cookbooks are fun and they have great directions for cooking, building your pantry, and cooking techniques. I could have easily picked a dozen recipes to share and my omnivore family has never turned down a meal out of this cookbook. Favorite recipes – chicky tuna salad sandwiches, cornbread muffins, phyllo pot pie

5. Local Bounty: Vegan Seasonal Recipes by Devra Gartenstein: The ultimate farmer’s market cookbook! Divided by seasons, each recipe uses seasonal produce in creative, simple, and delicious ways. Favorite recipes – lentils in fennel with sweet peppers, morel mushrooms with new potatoes and fresh peas, garlic and herb sauce

Let me know which cookbooks you like or which of these tickles your fancy!

Vegan Food for the win!

In early May I set two goals:  one, to eat a vegan meal at least once a week and two, to work on assembling my clothing for the summer months.  I’ll focus on the clothing situation in another post, but I’d like to update you all with my foray into vegan food.

As many of you already know, I’m certainly not a vegan (i love bacon) but I wanted to eat more vegan meals because:

  1. I love veggie based meals!
  2. The farmer’s market is in full-swing
  3. I’m broke and meat is way too fucking expensive
  4. I’m currently dairy-free since I’m nursing and Atticus has a dairy-intolerance
  5. I’m utterly bored with meat/starch/generic veggie for dinner every night
I have to say that the project was a success.  My goal was to eat one vegan meal a week and I managed to make vegan meals for THE ENTIRE FAMILY at least twice a week.  I’d like to share some highlights and a new favorite recipe:
Thai Pineapple Fried Rice

Chana Masala with Curried Couscous

Rosemary Squash and Potatoes

"White" Pizza with Asparagus, Basil, Spinach, and Sundried Tomatoes

The recipe above is my new favorite and it is so super easy.

  1. Take your favorite pizza dough recipe (I used the olive oil recipe from Artisan Bread in 5-Minutes a Day) and follow all the pizza cooking instructions with said dough.
  2. In a blender, zap 1/2 a block of silken tofu and a teaspoon of salt (next time I might try adding some basil or other herbs.  This makes your “white” sauce.
  3. Smear on the tofu concoction and top with favorite veggies.
  4. Cook until is reaches your favorite level of doneness.  I like my pizza dough doughy and my veggies NOT cooked to death.
I’m making this for dinner tonight with different toppings:  spinach and summer squash.  YUM!!!
I’m focusing on keeping up this habit.  On Saturday’s we have farmer’s market veggies and homemade bread and Sunday is vegan pizza night.  In the fall and winter I’ll replace the fresh-cut veggies on Saturday with a soup.
Now — on to my June goal — DRINKING 72 OUNCES OF WATER A DAY!
I’m not too bad with drinking water.  I’d say I already consume about 48 ounces of water a day.  But Georgia summers are so damn hot and by golly I’ve got a milk supply to keep up.  I have a bad-ass reusable water bottle and I’m keeping track of my water each day in a teeny notebook.  Increasing my water intake will also help me reduce the amount of other liquids I take in (hello sweet tea and coffee) and this is a good thing.  Alright, time to drink more water!!!

Snow Day 2011

I snapped a few pics of how our snow day went.  Sam was home from work and Hope was home from school.  Alas, Hope didn’t get to go out and play in the snow.  She woke up this morning with an upset tummy and seemed pale.  I’m of the old school mothering stock; if you are sick you must have blankets piled on you and eat soup.  End. of. story.  Despite our lack of snowmen and snowballs, today was a wonderful day with the family.

This is what 8am looked like:

I spent the early morning hours writing letters and drinking Earl Grey:

Then I went out in my teapot pajamas and bright blue boots to feed the birds:

I had some tummy time with Atticus the Drooler:

Meanwhile, Hope was camped out.  We rolled the tv stand into her room and she watched The Two Towers AND Return of the King:

Then I made a reading nest — tea, Tolstoy, and my favorite blanket:

Then I made a huge pot of soup:

Hope was going to spend her evening reading The Hobbit, but she conked out the minute her head hit the pillow:

I realize I didn’t take any pictures of what Sam was up to, but when he wasn’t holding the baby he was 1). watching anime on the laptop or 2). playing video games.  He is kinda sick of me hovering with the camera, so if he isn’t holding a kiddo I don’t take his picture.  Also, I didn’t photograph the laundry or the baby crapping up the back of his pajamas.  You can thank me later.

Tomorrow is another snow day:  no work and no school!