Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Year Ahead and Time Management: Meal Planning

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to get more organized with everything in my life. After having a rough Autumn with the health of my family, I am ready to turn a new leaf and start doing all the things that I said I would do “when all this is over with”.  “All this” meaning surgeries, sickness, etc.  It was all convenient excuses but now the time for reckoning is upon me and I am out of excuses. One of the things I am organizing is this blog. Hopefully, now that I have almost an entire year (I know, I can’t believe it either) under my belt, I can start having more of a schedule for my blogs with different topics. I’m working on a few other changes that I hope will be well received and like I’ve always said, if you have any ideas or questions, please feel free to let me know!
I am also going to be taking on some projects that will more than likely be followed by my blog..a few DIY things and of course, my never ending craft projects that I get myself into. There will probably be some epic fails and hilarious mishaps because…..well it’s me we’re talking about here, but hopefully I can squeeze out a cool new trick or two to inspire you. Here is a list of some of the projected blogs that will be showing up sometime in the next 12 months..
Craft Room in the basement
Toy Room in the basement
Organize the rest of the basement and take over my Hubby’s work bench
Repainting my dining room
Adding shelving storage to my back porch
Cushion for my window seat
uhh…there is one I can’t tell you about, but it’s gonna be cool.
A jewelry organizer
A salvaged wood outdoor coffee table
More jewelry making
whatever else I can think of along the way
I’ll be talking about two of the newest arrivals to the family soon!
My bag a day plan
My boys’ never ending mischief
The 20 pounds I am going to lose this year.  ..Oh yes, I will.
Gardening…lots of gardening
More 5K news
more photography posts
More recipes and tips on the way!
Hopefully get my act together to do more beauty segments and how to’s.
So, as you can see I have a lot ahead of me.
Something I have done pretty well organizing is my meal planning and since I’ve had many inquiries on time management, I thought I would share this with you.
  In the past, I have made menus a month in advance to better plan my shopping and cooking preparations. I have found that for my family, a monthly menu is not a practical thing.  I felt like our lives and schedules sometimes get changed too much to plan something 3 weeks from now. So, I have decided to do just one week at a time which works out much better for me. On some point..I sit down and figure out what the menu is going to be for the week ahead.  I take several factors into consideration, such as what evenings we are busy running around to practices and things...those will more than likely be slow-cooker nights.  I also take into consideration what is already in my freezer or pantry when looking through my recipes or searching for new ones. If I have 3 whole chickens in my deep freeze because they were on super sale 2 weeks ago, you can bet I will be finding a recipe that uses chicken.
The next step is heading to the store to get the few things I will need to complete the recipes.  Hopefully, there aren’t too many things that I will need if I planned my meals right. Then, Sunday is prep day. As you can imagine, all recipes call for chopping and dicing and mincing…..which  are the things that take the longest when we are cooking. But, if you can chop and prep everything at one time for the whole week, you’ve just eliminated a massive amount of time  off of the normal crazy week night evening routine.  So, if one recipe calls for 1 Cup of diced onion and another recipe calls for 1/2 Cup of diced onion…I’ll be dicing 1 1/2 Cups onion and putting it in a bag to be dispersed into the recipes later.
Sounds like a plan Stan. 
After all the prep work is done, sometimes I try to put together whatever recipes I can right away. If I have a casserole that I need to put in a baking dish and seal and refrigerate until I cook it, then it will get done that evening.  If I have a marinade that I will use for some Salmon on a busy evening later that week, I will go ahead and mix it up.  I also get whatever meat (except fish) out of the freezer and into the refrigerator to thaw so it’s ready when I need it. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to figure out what to have for dinner and everything is frozen!
Finally, the only thing left to do is to throw it all together when I need it.  Having the prep work done cuts down the cook time tremendously and I feel way less stressed during that time of the day.  So,  one of the things I will be sharing with you is my  recipe and prep schedule for the week ahead.  That way, if you want to follow along, you can, and if nothing else, you can just get some cooking ideas out of it.  I will put the full recipes for everything at the bottom of this post and eventually in the Recipes section of this blog.
This weeks schedule:
Monday: Slow Cooker Roasted Chicken
Tuesday: Cabbage Rolls
Wednesday: Asian Marinade Salmon with Roasted Brussel Sprouts
Thursday: (This is an off evening for our family – I work late and my Mother prepares dinner for my kids)
Friday: This will be left-overs
Saturday: This is our usual “Go out to eat evening” (this may get switched with Friday, depending on the week)
Sunday: Breakfast for Dinner
* I almost always like to prepare something like a soup to have on hand for things like lunches or an alternate in case something else comes up and we don’t have time for dinner or don’t go out as planned.
This week I am making Lentil Soup. One trick I like is to make twice as much soup as you need and freeze half, it takes down the chore of cooking even more and you always have soup if someone gets sick or life gets crazy.
Oh, and if you want to know how good Lentils are for you, just click on the word Lentils.
Now, my prep work…
The Cabbage Rolls call for 1 Cup of diced onion and the soup calls for 2 cups of diced onion, so I will be chopping 3 cups of diced onion.
I will also be mincing 2 TBSP. of garlic, which ends up being almost 1 full head of garlic
2 diced green onions
cube 2 Cups of golden potatoes
cube 2 cups of sweet potatoes
dice 2 Cups of carrots
dice 2 cups of celery
roughly chop 1 small onion (leaving the pieces rather large)
clean, core and cut in half 2 cups of brussel sprouts
Beautiful.  I love seeing all the colors.
Once all the chopping is done, you can stop there. Everything you need is now chopped and ready to add to the recipes.
If you know you are going to have a super busy week, you can go another step and prep even further, which I have done before. 
I would do it in this order:
clean and blanch the cabbage
prepare the sauce for the cabbage rolls
cook the filling for the cabbage rolls
prepare marinade (while filling is cooking) and put into a container and into the fridge.
put all the prepped and chopped soup ingredients into bags and refrigerate
place chicken in fridge to thaw
put the prepped and chopped roasted chicken ingredients into bags in the fridge
put together the cabbage rolls in a casserole dish and cover with a layer of plastic wrap and foil. Do not cover with sauce yet. Store the sauce and cabbage rolls in  separate containers in the fridge.
Place brussel sprouts into a bag and refrigerate
Phew..done…for now.
But really, the hard part is over and now you can just enjoy the fruits of your labor. 
Monday, sometime during mid-morning, I will put the chicken and all the rest of the ingredients in the slow cooker and turn her on low and walk away..easy peezy. I will probably prepare my soup this day also and put it in the fridge to munch on during the week, but that is super easy since all I have to do is throw the ingredients together and let it simmer.
Tuesday, I will take the salmon out of the freezer and place it in the fridge. About 45 minutes before we are going to eat that evening, I will preheat my oven to 350 and place the cabbage roll casserole into the oven (if I already prepared it) …don’t forget the sauce… and bake it for 35 minutes or so. Yummy.
Wednesday, In the morning I will place the salmon in a Ziploc bag and cover with the marinade and place it all back in the fridge until dinner.  About 30 minutes before dinner, I will preheat one oven ( I have two) to 425. I will place the brussel sprouts on a sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle garlic salt over them and roasted them for about 20 – 25 minutes. If you do not have two ovens, get a large skillet and put your brussels sprouts evenly in it. Drizzle with olive oil and sauté them on medium heat for the same amount of time.  When those are about halfway through their cooking time, I will place the salmon in the oven on broil.  I broil them on high until they look a little flaky and light pink, turning once while cooking.
*broiling tips:  I always put a piece of aluminum foil over the bottom rack of my oven and then move the top rack as close to the broiler as possible.  When broiling fish, I always put another piece of aluminum foil over the top rack and spray pretty heavy with non-stick cooking spray and place my fish directly on the foil.  I also put an aluminum foil covered wooden spoon in the oven door and close it until the spoon is stuck. This does two, it keeps the broiler from automatically turning off, so you get more of a grill effect and two, you don’t have to keep the oven a quarter of the way open to keep the broiler on, which I think is dangerous.
Thursday, I’m working late at the salon, so I will probably eat soup for dinner.
Friday, left overs from Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Saturday, my Hubby is taking me out  ..or else.
Sunday, breakfast for dinner…sometimes, if I'm lucky, it’s prepared by the Hubster.
Well, there you have it, my menu for the week and (hopefully) some time saving tips for you along the way. I hope this gives you some ideas on time management and shopping effectively.
Oh, p.s. …..because of trying to pick recipes that use things I already have in my freezer or pantry, my grocery bill was just a little over $90.00 this week.  I don’t think that is too bad considering that included staples like milk and bread and lots of fresh produce. 
Happy Sunday.

Slow-Cooker Roasted Chicken and Vegetables
4 Large Boneless, skinless chicken breasts (you can also use boneless, skinless thighs)
1 Cup of cubed gold potatoes
1 Cup of cubed sweet potatoes
2 Cups of baby carrots
1 small onion roughly chopped into big pieces
2 tsps. each of Rosemary, Thyme, and Sage
1 can of Cream of Chicken soup
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 Cup of chicken broth or 1/2 Cup of water with 1 chicken bouillon cube

Put all the ingredients into a slow cooker, making sure to  primarily salt and season the chicken, cover and cook on low 6 to 8 hours or until chicken is well done.

Cabbage Rolls
1 large head of cabbage, cored and leaves blanched
1 1/2 to 2 pounds of lean ground beef, chicken or turkey
1 Cup of diced onion
2 tsp. of olive oil
2 tsp. of garlic, minced
1 1/2 Cups of long grain white rice – par boiled or minute rice cooked
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. of creole seasoning*
1/2 tsp. of salt
1/4 tsp. of pepper

creole seasoning:
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika 2 tablespoons salt 2 tablespoons garlic powder 1 tablespoon black pepper 1 tablespoon onion powder 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper 1 tablespoon dried oregano 1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 C of chopped onion
1 tsp. of minced garlic
2 tsp. of olive oil
1  - 28 ounce can of tomato sauce or diced tomatoes in their juices
1 C of chicken stock
1 TBSP of apple cider vinegar

In a small pan, heat olive oil and sauté onion until tender. Add garlic and sauté another minute.  Add in remaining ingredients and simmer together for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat olive oil and sauté onion until tender. Add garlic and sauté another minute. Add in the meat and cook until done.  Let cool and then in a separate bowl, add oats, eggs, and seasonings.
Mix together.  Spray a casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray and line with cabbage leaves. Then take10 to 12 large cabbage leaves and stuff with the meat mixture, rolling them seam down and placing them in the dish. Cover with sauce and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Asian Marinade
3 TBSP of soy sauce
1 TBSP of chili sauce
1/4 Cup of maple syrup
1 tsp. grated ginger
1 tsp. minced garlic
2 diced green onions
mix together and refrigerate.
*retain about 4 TBSP of the marinade before you add in the salmon to brush over the salmon when it’s almost done.

Lentil Soup
1 pound bag of lentils 
3 TBSP olive oil
1 cups diced yellow onions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Thyme leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cups medium diced celery
2 cups medium diced carrots
3 quarts Chicken Stock
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 pound kielbasa or smoked sausage sliced
Freshly grated Parmesan, for serving

Soften lentils by covering with boiling water in a bowl and let soak for 15 minutes. Drain.
In a soup pot, heat oil and sauté onions until tender. Add in celery and carrots and sauté for 10 to 15 minutes more. Add in garlic and sauté for a minute. Add in all the seasonings, lentils, stock and tomato paste and let simmer for an hour. About 30 minutes before serving, add in sausage. Serve and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.


  1. I LOVE this blog. I don't know how you had time to get it all together as busy as you are. We are going to have the crockpot chicken this week and I really appreciate you sharing the YUMMY recipe. You are hands down the MOST ORGANIZED person I know. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You for all of the valuable information. Your pictures of your vegetables are beautiful! You've got me motivated girl!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Great!! I am so glad you are going to have the chicken...we do a lot and we love it! Thank you for all the kind words and reading! love ya!

  3. I am waiting for the tv show to come out. LOL Love the blogs and will also be trying some of the recipes (except the fish, no seafood in this house lmao)

  4. Great Deana! Thanks for reading :)