How I pack lunch for my family

We pack our lunches every day during the week. Even though I’m a stay-at-home mom, packing a lunch helps me avoid snacking and I eat more balanced meals when my lunch is already prepared. Here are the 3 basic steps I use to pack lunch for my family:

meal prep

Step 0: Pre-prep
Yes, pre-prep is technically a step but this work is already done when it comes time to make our lunches. I hardboiled & peel a dozen or more eggs, drain a can of beets, and chop enough fresh veggies for the week.

Step 1: Get EVERYTHING out
This helps me avoid opening the fridge 72 times while I’m packing lunches. Everything I need from the freezer, fridge, and pantry comes out at once. All the tupperware and lids I’ll need comes out at once as well as utensils (like spoons for scooping out hummus & yogurt, a can opener if we’re having tuna). This will take a few tries to get down but for the most part we pack the same thing every night and vary the ingredients from week to week so it’s easy to know what size tupperware I’ll need and how much.

Step 2: Streamline
I line up the tupperware for yogurt and in goes the plain, full fat yogurt with a little frozen fruit (blood oranges in the pic above), cinnamon, and nuts. Nora gets a mix of coconut cream, full fat yogurt, cinnamon, a little almond milk and oats, and usually fruit (canned pumpkin in the photo above). While I’m scooping oats for Nora’s bowl I add some to a bowl with raisins and PB for Dave’s second breakfast (yes, we eat a lot). Hummus and veggies are dished out and that leaves our monster salad. The protein, fat, and carbs we use vary week to week but in the photo above this is how it breaks down:

Protein: Eggs & tuna
Fat: olives, balsamic dressing (on the bottom so it doesn’t make the salad soggy), the mayo mixed with the tuna, and avocado. I put half of an avocado in our salads and leave it in the skin until it’s time to eat lunch in order to prevent browning.
Carbs: greens, bell peppers, beets, bok choy

Step 3: Put things back where you found it
When I put items away, they go back to the same location every time. This saves me time that would be wasted the following night as I browse our fridge shelf for mayo or dig through the freezer for the frozen fruit.

What tips have helped make packing lunches easier?

2015 goals update: half way point

2015 goals check in
June is almost here! I made a few goals in the finance, fitness, and blog area so it’s time to check in and see how I’m doing. How am I supposed to know how well I’m doing if I don’t make sure I’m on track for reaching my goals, right?

Goal #1: Finance
Pay an extra $12,000 toward our mortgage principal
We are over 1/2 way on this goal! Thanks to Dave’s annual raise, a bonus, extra income from my part time position with my church, and a hefty tax return from having a child. We get a “bonus” two months during year that end up being a 3-paycheck month so between that extra income and whatever else I bring in I am confident we will reach this goal. If we continue making a few extra payments on our mortgage each year we will be on track to have our home paid off in less than 10 years.

Goal #2: Fitness
Plan workouts one month ahead of time
This goal has changed a little since as of May I rejoined a gym (learn my reasons why here). I LOVE being back at the gym and Nora seems to really enjoy the childcare service they provide. I don’t plan specific workouts anymore but my current routine usually looks something like this:

Mondays: Teach PiYo
Tuesdays: Weights (legs/core)
Wednesdays: Yoga (group class)
Thursdays: Swimming or weights (upper body)
Fridays: TRX training (group class)
Saturdays: Boot camp (group class)
Sundays: Random, usually more weight training of some sort

Goal #3: Home
Read through the Bible in one year
I’m on track so far! Weekends tend to throw me off but I haven’t been more than 2-3 days behind before I catch up. Dave and I are using this resource that goes through the Bible in chronological order.

Goal #4: Blog
1-2 articles per week
I’ve been sticking around the 1 per week quota. I don’t make money off of my blog so I don’t feel pressure to put out a ton of articles that aren’t that great just to meet a quota. I hope to continue writing articles that are practical and helpful, even if it’s only one a week. Many of you have voiced how helpful it is to get a glimpse into my life when it comes to meal planning, budgeting, and working out (especially with a child running around). Thank you for your feedback, it fuels my excitement and desire to keep writing!

How are you doing on your 2015 goals? It’s not too late to make some if you haven’t already!

What we ate: April 2015

what we ate in AprilI started a new tradition at Budget for Health by sharing recipes I made and loved. This has been a fun post to write and it’s been a form of accountability because I want to lead by example when it comes to meal planning that is easy, budget friendly, and healthy. 

We ate almost half of our meals away from home this month! I’ll break this month down by what we ate at home and what we ate away from home.

Home cookin’
Tuna melt
Chicken curry stew

cobb salad, chicken with sweet potato hash, chicken and veggie soup

Cobb salad
I was getting bored of our usual salad so I changed it up for a week. We used mixed greens plus toppings: cooked shrimp, bleu cheese, bell peppers, avocado, hardboiled egg, and homemade bleu cheese dressing (made with homemade mayo).

Split pea soup
I got a giant ham bone with a ton of meat on it from the Honeybaked Ham store and made soup out of it. If you can get a pre-cooked ham that isn’t seasoned with a ton of sugar I’d opt for that; Honeybaked ham is known for the sugary glazes.

Chicken & veggie soup
This was one of those meals that left me thankful for all the freezer prep I do. I grabbed a bag of my shredded rotisserie chicken, homemade chicken broth, pre-cooked rice, and mixed veggies out of the freezer and dumped it into a pot to warm. Ten minutes water and we had a warm bowl of chicken soup ready to eat!

Another night we did something similar and warmed up some healthy homemade gravy from the freezer to go with rotisserie chicken, mixed veggies, and sweet potato hash.

Mediterranean food
Our favorite mediterranean restaurant was calling our name one night so we ordered meat schwarma made with lamb & beef as well as fresh hummus & pita bread.

Chinese takeout
Another fun “date night” in. I avoided the deep-fried meat and ordered spicy hunan pork.

Breakfast
Eggs & homemade hash browns (we had this at least once a week). One time we made French toast instead of hash browns.

homemade hash browns and hot pot with friends
Hot pot

Friends of ours posted a photo on Facebook of a big bowl of Pho that looked delicious so I suggested they come over and we make that again since I’ve never had Pho. Our friends recommended hot pot instead so that’s what we had. More friends joined us and it was a delicious and filling dinner. The giant wok was filled with boiling broth and we cooked one or two things in it at at time like a progressive dinner. I was not used to this method since I’d typically get a bite of meat, veggies, and noodles all in one bite. We started with thinly sliced beef, bok choy and other greens, fish, tofu, and meatballs, oyster mushrooms, and ended with noodles.

Away from home

Easter Eve
We joined my parents for one heck of a meal- grilled filet mingon wrapped in bacon with garlic smashed potatoes and roasted asparagus.

Easter Sunday
We had a potluck-style dinner after a friend’s baptism that included roasted lamb, cobb salad, cheesy potatoes, fruit, and a meat & cheese assortment.

Frankenmuth
There’s a little German-town in Michigan called Frankenmuth. We got to stay for free at the Bavarian Inn for a weekend because we helped some friends out at an event. Many of our meals were included but the main event meal included 3 buffets with different entrees. I hit up all three to try each meat entree: Frankenmuth’s WORLD famous fried chicken (it was amazing), beef stir fry, and some fish with green beans & almonds.

Surf, turf, and more
We grilled out with some friends of ours and our neighbors next door. We brought shrimp, one couple marinated chicken, and the other prepared steak. We had two side salads, loaded baked potatoes, and a Trader Joe’s mint Oreo ice cream sandwich to finish off the night.

Louisville
We took a weekend vacation to Louisville to attend the Oaks derby with some college friends. We enjoyed a weekend of good food and good times. It was nice not having to cook all weekend and we enjoyed an amazing braised brisket, seasoned black eyed peas, steamed potatoes & green beans and roasted carrots. The next night we made homemade pizza loaded with toppings. Our last night in we grilled out- chicken, brats, watermelon, strawberries, corn on the cob and homemade pico de gallo.

What are some good dishes you’ve made lately?

How to make homemade hash browns

Homemade HashbrownsHomemade hash browns. Need I say more? We have breakfast for dinner at least once a week so we’ve had a lot of practice as we sought to find the perfect method to make perfect hash browns that are crispy on the outside yet soft inside. You can shred or dice your potatoes but we prefer wedges.

If you want a crispy outside you can’t skimp on the butter. Butter is a healthy saturated fat (though I recommend buying a high quality butter since hormones and antibiotics given to conventionally-raised animals is stored in the fat). If you’re following my balanced eating approach, butter certainly has a welcomed place at the table when you’re choosing a protein, fat, and carb for your meals and snacks.

Let’s get right to the recipe:

How to make homemade hash browns

Ingredients

  • 5 medium russet or redskin potatoes
  • 3-4 Tbsp butter (cut into 1 Tbsp portions)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • garlic powder

Instructions

  1. Wash & pat potatoes dry
  2. Cut potatoes in half (hot dog style) then into wedges
  3. Steam potatoes in microwave ~5 minutes or until cooked 80% of the way through
  4. Add butter to wide, shallow frying pan and turn heat on high
  5. Place potato wedges in hot pan in a single layer.
  6. Flip after 2-3 minutes when the skin is crispy and gold.
  7. Add salt, pepper, and other desired seasoning after flipping.
http://www.budgetforhealth.com/how-to-make-homemade-hash-browns/

What We Ate: March 2015 (did I mention we love food?)

Another month of good eats! Let’s jump right in to another round of what we ate!

homemade pizza, breakfast, salmon burgers, rotisserie chicken

Homemade pizza & crust
I use this recipe or my mom’s recipe for pizza crust. We found a random variety of ingredients in the fridge that worked for toppings: spinach, kalamata olives, chicken sausage, banana peppers, and cheese. Since I keep frozen 2Tbsp portions of tomato paste in the freezer I just spread some on and sprinkled it with dried oregano, parsley, and crushed red pepper.

Breakfast for dinner
We have breakfast for dinner at least once a week. Yes, we go through a lot of eggs since we usually have 2-3 each between fried eggs at breakfast and hardboiled eggs as a snack or in our lunch. Don’t worry, they are an amazing protein source and you don’t have to worry about the yolk being bad for you. Eat ‘em up!

Our neighbors stopped by and said, and I quote: “We got too much bacon.” Is that a real thing?? I would argue no but we gladly accepted their offer and added some crispy bacon to our dinner along with homemade hash browns.

Salmon burgers & sauteed veggies
Thanks, Costco, for quick meals when I don’t want to cook or I forgot to plan ahead.

Rotisserie chicken
You’ll probably see this dish every month because it is SOO easy to make and you get a ton of meat out of it that can be used in a variety of ways throughout the week. We used the chicken to make burrito bowls and also this Sweet potato, Chicken, Quinoa Soup my sister shared with me.

Chicken marsala
This was a fantastic and I can’t take credit for making it. We had dinner with friends and they treated us to this delicious meal. If you want the recipe it can be found in the Eat This, Not That cookbook.

Indonesian food
We attended an Indonesian Cultural Night with friends of ours and it was catered by a local Indonesian restaurant. Everything was so flavorful- the beef rendang was my favorite.

Nachos
We threw toppings like ground beef seasoned with my homemade taco seasoning, jalapeños, fresh salsa, and cheese on a cookie sheet of tortilla chips and baked it in the oven. Mmmm mmm.

Tuna melts
Tuna mixed with mayo or avocado and some cheese on Ezekiel bread.

Sweet potato hummus
Great recipe if you get bored of regular hummus made with chickpeas

Chicken Curry Stew
Every month. This stew is a staple. I actually made 6 batches that filled 3 crockpots for a nutrition class I taught this month!

fresh cut strawberries

More fresh fruit
Strawberries were on sale for $0.50/pound at my favorite local produce warehouse so I stocked up on 12 pounds. I saved 2 pounds so we could enjoy fresh strawberries during the week and I froze the rest for adding to our plain, full fat yogurt.

food in lunch packing routine

Packed lunches
This is the first time I’ve remembered to take a picture of EVERYTHING I get out of the pantry, freezer, and fridge for packing our lunch the night before. It looks like a mess but I’ve got my routine down so well that it only takes me 10-15 minutes to make a lunch for Dave, Nora, and me. In this pic you can see all the toppings for our giant salads (can you spot the protein, fat and carbs?), Dave’s oatmeal with PB and raisins, Nora’s odd mixture of canned pumpkin, yogurt, almond milk, coconut cream, cinnamon, and a little oats, raw veggies with hummus, and plain, full fat yogurt with blood oranges (usually frozen fruit), nuts, and cinnamon.

The photo below shows how I’m able to pack our lunch in 10-15 minutes. I do all my produce prepwork ahead of time so I only need to pull out the containers and throw it in a salad or bag when it comes time to pack lunched. prepped vegetables

Here’s a close up of our salads. The ingredients vary but this one has hardboiled egg (protein), avocado, olives, and homemade dressing (fat), and all sorts of veggies (carbs) like bok choy, beets, bell peppers, cucumber, and greens.

pre-packed salads with protein, fat, and carbs

What are your favorite meals you plan to make this month?

My favorite method to hard boil eggs

I just launched a series of meal prep tips that make my life easier and I’ll be sharing my favorite tips with you so you can see that eating healthy doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive.

If you haven’t been on Facebook or Instagram, you’ve been missing out on my food tips! I recently shared my favorite method to hard boil eggs that I use every time. We go through a lot of eggs so I don’t want to waste hours of my life peeling them. Do you remember my experience with Whole30 this summer? In just one month we went through 20 dozen eggs between the two of us! Don’t worry about the cholesterol in eggs; it’s a myth that they have a negative affect on your body. Eat them often and don’t throw out the yolk!

I hard boil and peel one or two dozen each week to make packing lunches a quick event. They are ready to throw in our salads or grab for a quick breakfast (along with a banana and handful of nuts… don’t forget to have protein, fat and carbs at each meal).

Let’s cut to the chase: here’s a 10-second video showing a quick demo of my egg-peeling method and I’ll share step-by-step directions below.

How to hard boil eggs

Ingredients

  • Eggs
  • 1 large shallow pot with lid

Instructions

  1. 1. Put eggs (single layer only) in a large pot
  2. 2. Bring eggs to a boil
  3. 3. Turn heat off and cover pot for 10 minutes
  4. 4. Drain water and run cool water over eggs until cool enough to handle
  5. 5. Drain all water but leave 1/4 inch
  6. 6. Place lid back on and shake side to side (NOT up and down) for 15 seconds.
  7. 7. Peel eggs with ease
http://www.budgetforhealth.com/my-favorite-method-to-hard-boil-eggs/

How often do you eat hard boiled eggs?

Meal prep tips that make my life easier

My sister recently requested some tips to help make meal planning and meal prep easier. Her days at work are jam-packed and she wanted tips that would help her plan ahead so that her meals and snacks are balanced (read more on what eating balanced means). We talked about a lot of different topics:

– What does my typical grocery list look like?
– What meals make a regular appearance in my monthly menu?
– What are some good snack ideas?
– What meal prep tips do I use?

We talked on the phone about all of this and then I sent her an email answering the questions above. There are so many little things I do that I don’t even realize are particular to me. My friend put it this way:

veggie prep“That picture you posted on your Facebook page of all the veggies you prepped for the week… That’s not normal (in a good way!). I know so many moms would love to do more meal prep ahead of time but aren’t sure how to get started.”

If you’ve followed Budget for Health for any length of time, you’ll quickly see that reason I created this site is to share practical tips related to food, fitness, and finance. It’s one thing to tell you to eat more veggies and put money into your retirement fund… at Budget for Health I want to show you simple ways to eat better, move more, and manage your finances with wisdom.

Therefore, for the next few weeks, I’m going to share tip after tip I personally use that makes my life easier and healthier.

A few things to note:

1. You might not like the foods we eat. I don’t intend for this to be a “copy everything I do” series but I want you to see how I plan ahead and my routines that make it easier to do so.

2. We eat like teenage boys. I kept track of how many dozens of eggs Dave, Nora, and I went through one month this summer and it was roughly 20. No joke. It only comes out to 4 a day so it doesn’t sound that crazy when you break it down like that. You should tailor the portion sizes accordingly and listen to your hunger cues.

3. Don’t feel overwhelmed. If you are used to eating out every day then starting to pack your lunch the way I do would overwhelm you. Start with a few small changes you want to make and once they become a habit and THEN you make a few more changes. Swap out one meal a week for a healthier meal and work your way up to more days each week.

Here’s what I’m going to share with you over the next few weeks. I’ll share the link for each topic as my posts go live in case you want to bookmark this article as your one-stop-shop to see everything I’m covering in the series.

My typical grocery list
Healthy snack ideas
How I make meal prep time efficient
What goes in our daily monster salad
Make your own salad dressing
My favorite method for peeling hardboiled eggs
How I pack our lunches
How I prep veggies for the week

Kitchen tools I use every day

How I get the best deals on food

Freeze cooked beans, rice, and chicken in small portions
Cook a whole chicken in a crockpot
Pack your lunch after dinner
Make a big batch of homemade seasonings

What other tips have you seen me share on Facebook or Instagram that should be added to the list?