My pre baby to do list

I’ve been sharing various food prep endeavors on my Facebook page as part of my pre baby to do list. I’ve come up with enough that I think it would be appropriate to put them all together in a post for you.

roasted walnutsRoast & freeze nuts
I buy the 3-pound bag of walnuts from Costco and roast them to store in the freezer. They make a wonderful addition to our yogurt, giant salads, and chicken salad with homemade mayo. Here are the roasting temperatures & times if you decide to try it.

bone brothBone broth
We got a handful of soup bones from our beef share so I made a big batch of broth to freeze. To save space, I pour the broth in Ziploc freezer bags and let it freeze flat on a cookie sheet. I freeze broth in 2 or 3 mason jars as well. I haven’t bought a can or box of broth in forever because I use leftover bones to make overnight homemade beef broth or chicken broth.

split pea and ham soupSoups
We got a lot of meals when Nora was born through friends who signed up via Meal Baby and I got about 20 meals from friends who made Wildtree freezer meals. Between these gifts and visiting family during the holidays we’ll likely be covered for dinner for a couple of months. I still wanted to make a few soups to freeze in mason jars because they give me one less thing to do when packing our lunch. I can just pull out a jar from the freezer and stick it in Dave’s lunch bag. It will be thawed out by lunchtime and he can stick it in the microwave. I have split pea & ham soup and chicken noodle soup in our freezer. My rule of thumb- always make a double batch when cooking soup. One batch will cover dinner for two nights and the second batch can be frozen for future dinners.

freeze heavy creamFreeze heavy cream
I love these silicone baking cups. They are so easy to clean! I would get so frustrated scrubbing our so-called “non stick” muffin tin every time I made something. The 1/4 cup portions of cream popped right out of the liners and I threw them in a Ziploc freezer bag.  add them to soups like corn chowder and zuppa toscana, Nora’s pumpkin pancakes, coffee, and our occasional attempt to make homemade ice cream. If thinking about using heavy cream as an ingredient makes you nervous, you should revisit my post about balanced eating so I can remind you that fat isn’t bad but in fact it’s great for us!

thai peanut tuna burgersThai peanut tuna burgers
I got this recipe for Thai peanut tuna burgers from a fellow Registered Dietitian, Lindsay, at the Lean Green Bean. These are delicious and are easy to make. It only takes a few minutes to pull one out of the freezer and pan fry it in coconut oil to serve over a salad. Honestly, I need to make another batch before the baby comes because we’re already down to two burgers!

veggie corn chowderVeggie corn chowder
This recipe is a hit but it’s lacking on the protein side so I suggest adding some rotisserie chicken. I make my own whole chicken in the crockpot because it’s cheap and super easy and then make my own broth from it. Another suggestion: make two batches. Enjoy one for dinner and leftovers then freeze the second batch for a future hassle-free dinner.

cabinetsNon-food pre baby to do list
Aside from food prep, here are a few other things on my to-do list:
– Finish hanging cabinets in the basement & clean it up (Done! My aunt got new kitchen cabinets and gave us some of her old ones. We hung them up in the basement for storage.)
– Paint the girls’ room (check! Thanks mom!)
– Find a local pediatric dentist & schedule an appointment for Nora in 2016 (we forgot to add her to our insurance last year. Don’t judge.)
– Pack my hospital bag
– Set up a dresser drawer for both girls (Done! Newborn clothes in one drawer, Nora’s in another, and shirts/dresses are hung up in the closet)
Set up our 2016 budget

What would you add to my pre baby to do list? Food or non-food related?

What we ate: September 2015

What we ate September 2015I started a tradition at Budget for Health by sharing various meals I’ve made and loved each month. 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. Be sure to check out what we ate in prior months.

Meals at home
I might as well start with breakfast since it showed up 7 times this month. Clearly, we never get sick of it. We always have eggs cooked in various ways and then we swap it up by making homemade pancakes (I skip the added sugar in the recipe) or shredding a sweet potato for a breakfast hash.

We had a big head of lettuce leftover so we made lettuce wrap tacos and enjoyed our carbs from all the veggies we put on the taco rather than a tortilla. The ground beef with homemade taco seasoning was leftover from our weekend with family at a cottage.

meals we ate in SeptemberSplit pea & ham soup
I don’t even remember the recipe I used for this; a quick Google search and used a recipe as a template. I make homemade chicken broth after roasting a whole chicken in the crockpot so our soup had great flavor from this addition.

Thai peanut tuna burgers
These are delicious! I never have sweet chili sauce on hand and I use oats instead of breadcrumbs for the same reason and they still turn out great. I didn’t have peanuts on hand either so I stole them from Dave’s trail mix.

Beef stew
This has been my favorite recipe and we’ve made it countless times over the past 5 years. Important note: keep an eye on the beef; my crockpot runs hot so even though the recipe says cook on low for 5 hours mine was done in 3 hours on low.

Meals away from home
Grilled chicken
I’m not sure if there’s any secret but my mom makes the best grilled chicken on the grill. She’s amused that it’s one of the easiest meals to make and one of Dave’s favorite to have when we visit.

Family vacation at the cottage
We rented a cottage and spent the week with Dave’s family. We each signed up for a lunch and dinner so we had quite a variety. Dave’s mom thawed a ham she froze from Easter and we had it with sweet potatoes and kale salad. Dave and I made tacos, his brother and sister-in-law made a Thai dish, and we grilled brats one night. We had so many leftovers that our last dinner was a free-for-all.

Zuppa toscana
We ate this meal 4 nights in a row because I made it on a Thursday and it was on the menu the weekend we stayed with my parents! My sister gave us this delicious and easy recipe. I used my homemade bone broth with soup bones from our beef share.

What are some dishes you’ve recently enjoyed?

College football healthy tailgating tips

college football healthy tailgating tipsFall is here! Football season is here! I love my Michigan State Spartans, but honestly, I can’t pay attention to any football game for more than a few seconds because I get distracted by people watching or talking to a friend. However, I love college football season for the game day hype and the socializing. If you are a college football fan, the next few months are going to be filled with tailgates, potlucks, and social gatherings around a TV. Potlucks are my #1 weakness when it comes to eating healthy. There are so many good eats available that I don’t usually have around the house and it’s far too easy to mindlessly snack throughout the event. If you relate, let me offer the 2 tips I recently shared in a 5-minute video on Periscope that are key to helping me practice self control at potlucks.

1. No grazing
In a nutshell: grab a plate and fill it up with stuff you know is best for you. Take a small sample of the tempting stuff. Sometimes one bite would be enough but I don’t think twice about taking a huge scoop of something I don’t need. If you want more you can always go back for more but bring your plate with you and don’t eat until you get what you need and move away from the food table to enjoy it. I’m known for eating while I fill up my plate to make room for more food. I’m a work in progress too, folks.

2. Get an accountability partner
My husband, Dave, is usually my accountability partner at potlucks. Before we head to our social event I share a goal I have in mind. Just being real here- sometimes my goal is to only have 1 dessert. That’s a big win in my book considering there are usually 5+ desserts and I want so badly to take one of each. Most of the time my goal is to not graze and to simply fill up one plate with mostly healthy choices. It’s perfectly okay to have the same goal each time but the act of verbalizing this goal is what makes it most effective. I’m not a very good accountability partner to myself so saying something as simple as “please help me stay on track and not graze” can do wonders for my self control.

What self-control tips do you implement at potlucks?

PS- If you need a refresher on balanced eating you can read this article and/or sign up for a free balanced eating cheat sheet below.

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Budget for Health

What we ate: August 2015

what we ate: august 2015 I started a tradition at Budget for Health by sharing various meals I’ve made and loved each month. 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. Be sure to check out what we ate in prior months.

Meals at home

steak, shrimp, baked potato, and veggies

Our grass-fed cow has been named Frank by friends who have enjoyed our share with us. We had steak twice this month and it was marvelous both times. We also grilled burgers with friends and made enough to have leftovers the next day and made homemade crockpot barbacoa again. Seriously, you need to make it if you haven’t yet.

breakfast hash, salmon, chicken stir fry, taco bowlSalmon
Aldi usually has wild-caught salmon for a good deal so I keep a bag of individually-frozen 4oz filets in my freezer. They thaw in minutes when you run cold water over the packaging and only take 2-3 minutes per side to cook in a frying pan with some coconut oil. I mixed some black bean garlic sauce (Lee Kum Kee brand) with a little apricot preserves and we served it alongside roasted asparagus and beets.

Breakfast bowls & taco bowls
I shredded sweet potatoes in the food processor and fried them up with other veggies we had. As for the breakfast bowl; I mixed a little rice with ground meat seasoned with homemade taco seasoning then topped it with a fried egg and some avocado.

Stir fry with rotisserie chicken
I make the easiest crockpot rotisserie chicken, shred it, and keep it in the freezer for days when we need an easy and quick meal. I cooked veggies we had on hand (bok choy, various peppers, and broccoli) in sesame oil, fried a few eggs to mix with a little rice, and added the shredded chicken.

Pancakes & eggs
We’ve been using this recipe for homemade pancakes when we decide to make them. I skip the added sugar, use gluten free flour mix, and I add plain whey protein powder because I’ll make extra for Nora to enjoy. Most of the pancakes get blueberries but I always make a handful of chocolate chip pancakes because they’re so delicious with peanut butter on top.

hot potHot Pot
We tried hot pot last month with some friends but we had it again with a friend who is from Beijing and apparently that’s where hot pot is famously known. This dinner was so fun because we got a history lesson and learned so much about our friends’ culture while enjoying the meal together. In the background is big pot of boiling broth and you eat the meal in stages: first meat (we had lamb and beef), then veggies, then noodles. I passed on the noodles because I was full by the time we finished the meat and veggies.

Mexican lasagna
Dave loves Mexican and gets so geeked when I make this. It’s ridiculously easy and takes little time to put together.

Meals away from home

We made a spontaneous trip to Nashville to visit my sister and brother-in-law with my parents, sister, and grandma. Nora did so well in the car and we only stopped one time both ways (a 9-hour drive!). We did a big grocery trip when we got there so we wouldn’t be eating out the whole time. One dinner was homemade pizza with my mom’s crust recipe and another night we packed our own picnic to enjoy with some wine at Arrington vineyards.

We didn’t eat out much but we did try two new restaurants I hadn’t been to before. Mcdougalls near Vanderbilt’s campus had some great chicken tenders; they were so moist and tender. Warning: it’s not a healthy choice so go for the experience and avoid it if you don’t want fried everything. We went to Loveless Cafe for breakfast and I got an omelette with all sorts of veggies and their homemade biscuits topped with homemade fruit preserves.

Korean BBQ
Our awesome neighbors were on Nora duty so Dave and I could sneak away for a date. We tried out a Korean restaurant and loved it! I got bibimpop (rice, lots of veggies, steak) and Dave got something similar to sweet and sour pork. We got a handful of sides that came with our meal like kimchi, marinated cucumbers and asparagus, edamame, and spicy eggplant.

This restaurant is a great way to get a healthy meal with guaranteed leftovers. Since the fajita veggies and guac are included at Qdoba, I make sure my burrito bowl is loaded!

Spaghetti dinner
We attended a spaghetti dinner fund raiser for a friend’s husband who is going through chemo. I can’t remember the last time we ate pasta but it was for a good cause. To avoid a blood sugar roller coaster I passed on the dinner roll, grabbed a salad, and only took a little pasta and corn which was shared with Nora.

What are some fall dishes you’re looking forward to making?

Make extra pantry staples and freeze in small portions

Make extra pantry staples and freeze in small portionsOften when you see my monthly “What we ate” post, you’ll notice that the meals I make are partially pre-made. By pre-made I mean I cooked part of the meal beforehand so it makes meal prep easier when it’s actually time to make dinner. Here are some examples of how I make extra pantry staples and freeze them in small portions:

We really don’t eat rice often since we aim to get most of our carbs from vegetables and fruit but I still buy the giant bag of rice from Costco and keep it in my pantry. I make 6-8 batches of my famous chicken curry stew at a time and freeze it along with quart-size Ziplocs of rice. Since our church pumps out babies faster than we can keep up with, I’m able to pull out a bag of stew and rice from the freezer and not have to make one batch at a time on demand. We use rice in our homemade burrito bowls so I’ll occasionally pull out a bag for myself. It’s so much faster heating up frozen rice on the stove compared to waiting 40 minutes for it to finish in the rice cooker.

The same concept applies to beans. They are a starchy vegetable just like corn, peas and potatoes and I count them as a CARB not a protein. Yes, they contain protein but in 1/2 cup you get 6 grams of incomplete protein and 24 grams of carbs (4x more carbs than protein) so be careful with the portion size or you’ll end up with way more carbs than you need in a meal. I enjoy the texture beans give in our burrito bowls so I’m okay with having a little in there. I buy a bag of dried beans, cook a huge batch in the crockpot, and freeze them in 2 cup portions in Ziplock bags (lay the bags flat to freeze for easy storage).

Shredded chicken
If you haven’t tried to make a whole chicken in the crockpot, put it on your menu this month. It’s ridiculously easy if you can get over touching a raw chicken and really, you only touch it long enough to sprinkle the spice mixture over the top. Most whole chickens come with the gizzard, neck, and other innards in a little bag they stuff in the hollowed part of the chicken so you don’t even need to dress it yourself. Once I get all of the meat off the bones I shred it up and freeze it flat in quart-size Ziploc bags. This makes for really easy dinner prep! The same can be done with taco meat (made with homemade taco seasoning of course!).

Chicken broth
After you make your rotisserie chicken, throw the carcass back in the crockpot- bones, skin and all, to make some delicious broth. I got this chicken stock recipe and the recipe for the chicken from 100 Days of Real Food. I freeze the broth flat on a cookie sheet in quart-size Ziploc bags so it makes for easy stacking in the freezer.

Tomato paste
When’s the last time you needed an entire can of tomato paste? My chicken curry stew only calls for 2 Tbsp per recipe so I’m left with a lot leftover. My mother-in-law gave me the genius idea of freezing the paste 2 Tbsp portions using a melon baller. Just portion and freeze on parchment or wax paper and then store in a ziplock bag until needed.

What do you freeze in bulk?

What we ate: July 2015

I started a tradition at Budget for Health by sharing various meals I’ve made and loved each month. 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. Be sure to check out what we ate in prior months.

Meals at home:


Hello Fresh

We tried another round of Hello Fresh meals since two friends of mine signed up with my referral code (7X7WG5 in case you want to give it a try) which made this box only $20 for 6 meals (3 meals with two servings each). In order from top to bottom:

Fusilloni with beef, homemade marinara, and ricotta
Pan-seared mahi mahi & herb citrus salad with cous cous and caramelized bell pepper
Lemony basil chicken with artichoke hearts and crispy broccolini

Each dish tasted phenomenal but besides the chicken, the other two dishes were really carb heavy so we just didn’t use all of the pasta or cous cous. If you read my article on balanced eating, you know we aim to get most of our carbs from produce. We’ve made the fish taco recipe three or four times since we tried it in the first box we got. I’ll have to write up a post just for the avocado crema recipe so your world can be changed the next time you have tacos!

balanced saladCold dinners
Some days it’s just too hot to use the stove or oven (we are cheap and don’t use our air conditioning) so we opt for cooler dinners. For example, our big ol’ salads often make an appearance and another example is the picture below: leftover stuffed pepper, chicken salad with homemade mayo, and cherries.

stuffed pepper, chicken salad, cherriesPotlucks
We have a potluck with friends at least twice a month so for one I made shredded BBQ chicken and brought watermelon to another since the main dish was provided. Our friends bring great dishes to potlucks so we enjoyed things I don’t normally have like corn fritters, Korean-style pork belly, curried chicken salad, marinated vegetable salad, and even some Chik-Fil-A chicken 😉

Salmon burgers
Costco has wild caught salmon burgers at a great price and they make for a really easy and quick meal so we made them as part of our dinner twice this month. I wish they wouldn’t used process oil (canola) as an ingredient but there aren’t any other fillers. We had corn on the cob and threw the salmon burgers on a big salad with healthy fats like avocado, walnuts, and my easy homemade balsamic vinaigrette.

Meals away from home

Farm life
Friends of ours invited us over for dinner on their 70-acre farm. They baked eggs from their own chickens with peppers and onions from their garden in a giant cast iron skillet. We had salad with everything from their garden and dessert was a homemade cherry crumble one of their sons made. I didn’t carry my phone with me for the farm tour but Nora really enjoyed feeding the ducks and chickens.

Grillin’ out
Eleven out of 31 days were spent sharing a meal with friends and/or family. A good chunk of those days involved burgers and steak from our beef share and brats. Sorry they were all too good that it slipped my mind to take a photo before devouring any of these meal.

Family visits
Dave’s sister, her husband, and our two nephews came to visit and we spent part of the day at the zoo and the rest at my parent’s pool. My mom is a wonderful host and grilled BBQ chicken and had a bunch of delicious summer sides like broccoli salad, corn on the cob, fresh fruit, and more. We had the same meal the following weekend when my sister came to town for a short visit.

We set aside a small amount each month for restaurants/entertainment. One of the nights we made a trip to Qdoba. I got a burrito bowl with chicken (protein), rice, beans, double fajita veggies, lettuce, salsa (all fall under carbs), avocado, and cheese (fats). We often make our own burrito bowls for dinner so this meal is a favorite.

What are some favorite dishes you’ve recently had?

How I keep track of items in my deep freezer

How I keep track of Items in my deep freezerOwning a deep freezer has been GREAT. Did you see the 180 pints of organic blueberries I got for only $15?? There was a mega sale at a nearby wholesale market so I stocked up. I kept 60 pints for myself to freeze and friends did the same with the rest. The cheapest I can find blueberries “on sale” at my local grocery store is maybe $1 per pint so I’m very thankful we have the space in our freezer to stockpile produce in addition to the 1/4 beef share we bought this summer and split with friends.

180 pints of blueberriesI have a 7 cubit foot freezer but since it’s a chest freezer and not a stand up freezer it can get annoying to dig through and find what I’m looking for.

Here’s how I keep track of items in my deep freezer:

I make a list
I make lists for so many things. Currently I have 11 or so lists on my notepad app in my phone. A list for groceries, expenses, long-term to do list, article ideas, gift ideas (because I never remember what’s on my wish list when Christmas or my birthday roll around), books people have borrowed from me… Another list I don’t keep in my phone but rather on the side of our fridge upstairs is a running inventory of what items are in our deep freezer. It’s nothing special and it looks like this:

* Salmon- four 4-ounce servings
* White fish- six 6-ounce servings
* Blueberries- 8 gallon Ziplocs
* Strawberries- 2 gallon Ziplocs
* Tomato paste- 1 gallon Ziploc of 2 Tbsp portions
* Chicken breast- ten 4-ounce servings
* Rotisserie chicken– 2 cups shredded
* Ground beef- 6#
* Other beef items from our cow share…
^ I wrote down all of the cuts of beef we got from our cow, how many we have, and how much each one weighs. I even wrote the weight with a permanent marker on the package to make things easier when I’m searching for the exact piece I want.

deep freezer contentsWhen I’m writing up my meal plan for the week, I can take a look at my freezer list and work with what we have on hand. This way, food isn’t sitting in my freezer forever because I forgot about it, it helps me get creative with meals, and I don’t have to buy more items on my weekly shopping trip. For example, we invited some friends over for dinner and I planned to make Mexican lasagna but later realized we didn’t have that much ground beef left. Rather than spending more money, I decided to change the menu to fish tacos since we had plenty of fish in the freezer. When I take something out of the freezer, I update the list on the side of my fridge. Like I said- my list isn’t fancy but it sure is a helpful timesaver and money saver.

As for organizing my deep freezer, I got this idea from my mom: use boxes and recyclable bags. I don’t want to pull out all 8 gallon bags of blueberries each time I need to get something out of my box o’ meat so I keep them together in a big recyclable bag so I can pull the entire bag out, grab what I need, and put the bag back. No reorganizing or shoving little items out of the way one at a time. I also freeze everything flat in a ziplock. For example, the carcass from my rotisserie chicken makes a lot of broth. I pour it in a Ziplock, freeze it flat on a cookie sheet, then store the bags upright like a filing system in a shoe box. This way I’m not trying to stack things on top of each other.

How do you keep track of what’s in your deep freezer?