What We Ate: Summer edition

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.

what we ateIf you’ve been following my blog you are probably used to a monthly round up. I’m changing things up and giving you a seasonal update for two main reasons:

1. We typically eat the same 10 meals and change up the sides.
For the most part you see a lot of the same meals from month to month as I aim for simplicity (note: simple, NOT flavorless or boring) and stick with the PFC concept I am always talking about:

– At least once or twice a week we eat homemade protein pancakes or our perfected hashbrowns.
– At least once a week we eat some type of burger- salmon, pollock, grass-fed beef… served alongside a bowl of veggies and avocado. Thank you Costco.
– We usually share a meal with friends or family so that accounts for another meal or two
– I either pull out a pre-made meal from the deep freezer or rotate our favorites a couple times a month like mom’s meatloaf, chicken curry stew, or a whole chicken in a crockpot.

2. I have been shifting my focus to my social media accounts.
On any given day you can see me posting a meal I’m eating or a workout I’m doing on Instagram. If you head over to my Facebook page you will likely see a 3-minute video of me sharing a tip or trick I’ve learned and have been applying. Nora and Etta are also likely to be featured in said video and may be slightly distracting but you are simply getting a glimpse into my life as a busy mom doing her best to take care of her own body and her family! I pull out articles from my archive and share those on my page as well. I like to share my journey as I go so as you follow me you can see first hand that eating healthy does not have to be difficult, expensive, or boring.

summer meals

I still plan to write posts although they will be less frequent. This blog has been an amazing platform that started my career as a dietitian and I frequently direct those in my nutrition/fitness accountability groups here for practical tips and ideas related to food, fitness, and finance since the 3 are so closely linked. I’m so thankful for your support as I pursue my passion as a dietitian.

What meals do you regularly have each month?

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?

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?

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
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? 

What we ate: February 2015

what we ate in FebruaryI started a new tradition at Budget for Health by sharing recipes I made and loved. This is my 4th month of sharing (See what we ate in January) and it’s been a fun post to write. It’s also a form of accountability because I want to lead by example when it comes to meal planning that is easy, budget friendly, and healthy.

Grilled cheese
We had some good friends over for a Valentine’s day double date (plus Nora as the 5th wheel). We made a fancy grilled cheese feast with Trader Joe’s tomato soup and chocolate covered strawberries for dessert.

Black Bean Salmon by Sam the Cooking Guy
This sweet and salty dish is a favorite we make when we can find a good deal on wild-caught salmon. It only takes 10 minutes to make from start to finish!

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Crockpot rotisserie chicken
This has become a routine in our monthly meal planning. We try to buy good quality meat and I’ve found that the cost is less for a whole bird compared to buying just the chicken breast. I love the simplicity of this meal since all it involves is slicing an onion for the bottom of the crockpot, seasoning the chicken, and setting the timer. This month we roasted a spaghetti squash and added pesto, broccoli, and diced chicken.

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Tacos with homemade tortillas
The next night we had a big salad and threw our leftover taco meat with sautéed zucchini and squash for dinner.

Eggs & homemade hash browns
We eat eggs for dinner very often and switch it up between homemade hash browns and sweet potato hash. After trying many different techniques we’ve finally found a method that gives us hash browns that are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside; it involves steaming the potatoes until they are nearly fully cooked and then pan frying them on high in butter for a few minutes on each side. Delicious!

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Pork roast
I made the mistake of thinking pork butt and shoulder were interchangeable so instead of having pulled pork for dinner we would up slicing a roast. It was still delicious but this recipe is really good served as pulled pork over sautéed veggies.

Corn chowder
This recipe is a breeze to make so I throw two batches together so I can freeze some for another day.

Baked potato bar
Baked potatoes wrapped in foil keep the potatoes warm until served. We had a potluck to celebrate a friend’s recent engagement. The toppings included chili, broccoli, shredded cheese, plain Greek yogurt, and green onion. This makes for a very cheap meal that feeds a lot of mouths and tastes great.

Balanced snacks
The photo below may not be a meal but we try to be prepared with snacks so we don’t settle for processed food or stopping through a drive through while on road trips or when we’re just out for more than a couple hours during the day. We brought a good balance of protein (hardboiled egg), fat (almonds), and carbs (banana) for our road trip to visit family.

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What are some of your favorite recipes you’ve made lately?

Create your own workout schedule

I am wrapping up my final week of PiYo! My friend Hannah is a Beach Body coach and she set up a free PiYo accountability group on Facebook where members check in daily on their nutrition and workout for the day. I was hesitant to join because I thought it would be cheesy but I actually enjoy the daily reminders and encouragement from seeing other women pursue a healthy lifestyle. One of my favorite things about the PiYo workouts is that they are all roughly 30 minutes except for Drench which is almost 50… and, by the way, drench is an understatement. Below you’ll see a picture my shin/calf dripping away. Scroll fast if you don’t want to see it.

You can workout for hours every day but if you poo-poo your nutrition then you can’t expect to see great results. Nutrition plays a much greater role in regard to your physical health so I encourage you to first learn how to eat right. You can even check out my recent article to learn great tips for planning a week of meals. However, for this article I’m going to focus on the fitness side of planning ahead. I’ve shared this quote before,

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail

It stands true for both nutrition and fitness. My 60-day PiYo calendar is wrapping up and I want to make sure I’m not going to fall of the wagon because I don’t have a plan. Remember when I shared my plan for working out after I canceled my gym membership? I later shared that I did some of my plan but since it wasn’t very specific I kind of floated around until I started T25. Therefore, my advice to plan ahead is aimed not just at you but ME! I need to practice what I preach because I can be the queen of good intentions. I intend to keep getting some form of physical activity in each day but unless I’ve got something specific (like a SMART goal) in mind and WRITE IT DOWN… it’s likely it won’t happen. Writing down our meal plan for Whole30 made it much easier to accomplish and it’s the same concept for fitness.

Since I own Insanity and PiYo and enjoyed both of them, I decided to make my own 60-day hybrid calendar. Keep this in mind- like any other discipline, I’ve had to work on making it a habit to get some kind of physical activity in each day. I didn’t just start working out 6 days a week. It does help that the workouts are pretty short so I find it hard to make up an excuse not to do them. Here’s a PDF that shows what my 60-day hybrid calendar looks like: PiYo & Insanity 60-day plan. Your calendar may not look like mine; you can start where you feel comfortable and challenge yourself according to YOUR body’s ability.”

Side note: Dave and I plan to run a 10k together in November (It’s one of my 2014 goals!). Since I literally haven’t run more than 3 times since my half marathon in Calgary last summer I will likely be integrating an 8-week novice 10k training plan into this calendar and swap some Insanity days for running.

You don’t need any fancy program to write a workout schedule; I initially got a piece of notebook paper, drew a grid, and filled in the days with workouts. The only reason I transferred it to an Excel doc is because it looks official and makes me feel cool.

What better day to start a good habit than today? Let’s get started!

What tips help you establish a workout routine?

How to plan a week of meals

It’s back-to-school time which means a busy season is about to start for many of us. Even though Nora isn’t in school yet, we live near a university so it seems like the whole city runs off of the school schedule. Everything is laid back in the summer then gets crazy come fall. Don’t let the busyness keep you from making healthy meals for your family. Whether you’re a newbie to meal planning or just need some fresh ideas, here are a few tips on how to plan a week of meals.

Use what you already have
No sense in spending more money if you’ve got plenty to work with in your home. I keep a list on my fridge upstairs that shows what we have in my beloved deep freezer in the basement. It’s nothing fancy and looks something like this:

3 packages- 1# ground beef
2 whole chickens
5 salmon burgers
2 mahi mahi filets
1# shrimp

When I take something out of the freezer, I update my list. This keeps me from buying more meat when I don’t need it and it also helps me come up with dinner ideas. I don’t keep a list of what’s in my fridge or pantry but I take a mental inventory when I’m reviewing my grocery list.

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Keep a running grocery list
I use the “notepad” app on my iPhone and add an item to it once we run out. This has become a helpful tip for me after learning the hard way. I wanted to make our favorite salmon dish and didn’t realize I was out of black bean garlic sauce until it was 5pm and I was about to make dinner! I add things to my list like yogurt, peanut butter, etc. when we’re close to running out as well. Can you imagine how awful it would be to run out of peanut butter?? Don’t let it happen to you.

Make a list of your favorite go-to meals
Sometimes we forget about those gems in our recipe box or Pinterest board. Again, the notepad app is great for keeping a list of favorite meals. I usually put them into categories of quick meals versus meals that take a little more prepwork. It can keep you from getting into a rut and making the same things week after week.

Write it down
I use an old calendar marker board from college that’s now hanging on our fridge. The only thing I actually write is the protein source for dinner and then I decide what veggies I want to serve with it the night I make the dish.This helps me plan ahead by knowing what I need to pull out of the freezer to thaw by the day I’m going to use it. This is what last week looked like for us:

MondayHomemade meatloaf & sweet potato hash
TuesdayMy birthday! We went to one of our favorite local restaurants with my family. I ordered blackened swordfish topped with an avocado mango salsa. Instead of broccoli and couscous I asked for Brussels sprouts and a baked sweet potato.
Wednesday- Rotisserie chicken (leftovers in lunches) with sauteed zucchini & squash
Thursday– leftover chicken, a hard boiled egg, and oatmeal with blueberries, cinnamon, and nuts (odd combination but it worked!)
Friday– Wild salmon burgers (from Costco) and a big salad
Saturday– Veggie and egg scramble & sweet potato hash
Sunday- PFC salad with hardboiled eggs, chicken, kalamata olives, beets, walnuts, and my homemade balsamic vinaigrette.

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Get out your planner
Use your schedule for the week as a reference so you know when it would be best to make your easy go-to dishes versus dishes that take more prepwork. Mondays are like my catch up day when I get produce prepped for the week, boil a dozen eggs & peel them, and make anything else we need. Therefore, Monday dinners are usually an easy one because I’m prepped-out by dinner time. Last time I made a bunch of freezer meals with my neighbor I made a big batch of meatloaf to freeze. All I had to do was put it in a pan and leave it in the oven for an hour. No hard work on my part. Breakfast for dinner happens on a weekly basis because eggs are so cheap and easy to make. I also love having a crock pot recipe for days when I’ve got commitments and won’t be home because you don’t need to be home to “cook” dinner!

Make extra
Lastly, but very importantly, make extra when you cook dinner! Instead of making one rotisserie chicken, throw two in there (if you have room). You can use one for dinner and some leftover meals and then freeze the meat from the second chicken for a future meal. I’m always cooking for 6-8 even though it’s just Dave and I eating the meal because then it gives me enough for two dinners, leftovers for our lunches, and I can freeze the rest for another day. I always do this with taco meat, soup, or grilled chicken.

Start small
Meal planning doesn’t have to be a huge ordeal. Start with meals you already know how to make and gradually add in some new ones. I know how long it takes me to make one of our reoccurring meals from start to finish so that helps me plan better for the week. Adding a new recipe in might take longer than you think so maybe just add one new one a week to your rotation. A little planning ahead can pay off greatly as this busy season starts!

If you meal plan, what tips do you have to be efficient and budget-friendly?