Nutrition & Recipes

Cooking Once a Month is Awesome

Some of advice I ever got about Grad School was from a former professor who told me how batch-cooking and freezing meals helped her complete her dissertation. This simple strategy makes a huge difference in terms of productivity and eating healthy (if you choose recipes carefully).  For most of us our leisure time is limited (and sacred), especially if you are balancing family life and a demanding career. Who doesn’t want to spend less time in the kitchen and more time playing, connecting with others, being active, and having a life!

Batch cooking may just be your ticket!  The basic idea is that you cook multiple meals on one day and freeze most of them so that you have less prep down the road.  I’ve been doing this on a weekly basis for a while now but recently I felt like I was in the kitchen all the time so I started looking for new ways to do this.

After scouring the web I found several menu subscription services but nothing that offered many choices – most had 1 menu a month, take it or leave it. So of course I decided to do it on my own but I got quickly frustrated because there aretoo many recipes to choose from on the internet and I couldn’t decide which ones I wanted to make. It was taking up a lot of my time and the whole point was to save time and make life easier – not spend hours trying to decide what I wanted to have for dinner!

Finally, I found Once a Month Meals – a group of moms who offer several types of menus (e.g. traditional, vegetarian, paleo, etc.) to choose from and make it easy for you to cook meals for an entire month.  For each menu you get the recipes, an organized shopping list, prep day instructions (chopping, etc.), cooking day instructions, thaw list (to help you plan when to take things out of the freezer so you can eat them), serving day instructions (some recipes have add-ons or need cooking), and labels. Obviously it would take a few hours to do all this on your own!

You can also swap meals to make your own custom menu if there is something that you don’t like.  Just enough choice to be flexible without being overwhelming. The other great thing about Once a Month Meals is that they provide very helpful tips and resources to help you every step of the way and save you a lot of headaches.  For example, starting with a mini menu rather than a full menu was a really good idea.

I signed up immediately and yesterday I did my first mini menu.  It was a huge success!  Take a look at how my day went:

Before the big day:

  1. Pick your menu. I chose to do a mini-menu because I only had 1 day free to do everything (shop, prep, and cook).
  2. Decide how many people you are cooking for.  Even though there’s just me and my son I chose to cook for 4 people so that I would get more meals for basically the same amount of work. (Tricky, I know lol) The recipes and shopping list automatically update to correspond to the number of meals you select. Thank you Once a Month Meals!  This is super helpful.
  3. Check supplies and ingredients in your kitchen.  Do you really have 4 apples in the fridge for that recipe? Do you have a slow-cooker if you need one?  Cross-check the shopping list with your inventory and makes notes so you won’t forget.
  4. Add other things you want to buy for the week to your list. The menus don’t cover all of your meals and snacks so add in whatever else you need for the week. For us that’s stuff like milk, yogurt, salad greens for lunches, coffee, etc.

Shopping tips:

  1. Bring a pen so you can check off everything as you put it in your cart.
  2. Be prepared to spend more than your typical shopping trip. You are cooking more than you usually would so obviously it will cost more money. However, it also will save money because you will waste less food and make fewer last-minute trips to the grocery store or fast food joints.  (If you have time and energy for price-matching and/or coupon clipping this can help you save money too).
  3. Don’t go shopping when it is busy. Not something that I enjoy anyway but if you are trying to buy a lot of food it can be overwhelming to deal with a ton of people at the same time.

Prepping and Cooking:

I decided to prep and cook each recipe 1 at a time. The fine folks at Once a Month Meals recommend doing prep the night before your cooking day and I think that would be faster, especially if you are cooking a full menu.  For example, I ended up chopping garlic 3 or 4 separate times for different recipes instead of doing all the garlic at once. Research shows that switching between tasks takes more time than doing one at a time. Another benefit is that you lower the chance of cross-contamination (meats and veggies) and use fewer cutting boards 🙂

Tips:

  1. Clean your kitchen before you start.
  2. Prepare slow-cooker dishes first. Set em’ and forget em’ while you work on other recipes 🙂
  3. Wash dishes as you go. This reduced the number of dishes that I used and the cleanup I had at the end.

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What I made:

1. Paleo meatloaf:

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2. Crockpot sweet potato chili

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3. Garlic herb Crusted Pork Roast (sub for pork tenderloin)

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4. Almond butter chicken

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5. Jalapeno Chicken Burgers

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6. Pumpkin walnut protein muffins (my recipe that I added on)

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Grocery shopping took me an hour and a half and cooking took me 4 hours (10am-2pm). We had chili for supper (it was awesome!) and now I have a freezer full of yummy meals to help me through this busy month of marking and writing publications 🙂 You can have better work life balance and Once a Month Meals can help. Check it out!

*This post is cross-posted on my blog about nursing teaching and research (emilyaread.com)

Energy balls

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These are super easy high-energy snacks that you can grab on the go.

Ingredients:

  • 5 scoops chocolate protein
  • 5 Tbsp natural peanut butter
  • 2/3 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1/4 cup raisins or dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1/3 cup chia seeds

Method:

  1. Mix protein, peanut butter, oats, and water together in a medium bowl.
  2. Mix in the remaining ingredients (might need to use your hands because it gets sticky).
  3. Roll into balls and store in the fridge in a tupperware container.

Frugal February -Week 4 Menu & Shopping List

Week 4 of my Frugal Challenge is finally here and I can’t wait to see February go!  It’s been a cruel, cold month up here in Ontario and I am longing for spring flowers and playing outside!

Last week I wasn’t as organized as I wanted to be so this week I made a menu, selected recipes, and made a shopping list.  This one is vegetarian and has simple meals that are easy, healthy, and delicious.  It does take some time to do this kind of planning but I find it leads to less food waste (and money waste) and saves time during the week because I’ve already decided what I’m eating which makes packing lunches easier.

Check out my menu for the week:  Emily’s Menu – Week 4

Stay warm! Spring is on its way!

Granola Tuesday!

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I don’t make granola very often but I made this last week and I liked it enough to share the recipe. I put it on top of plain Greek yogurt and salads but you can eat it with milk too. It is high in nutrients, fibre, and calories so 1/3 cup will do it for a serving (unless you are my mom who trains for super triathlons…in which case, fill your boots!)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cup quinoa flakes
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds (the green ones)
  • 1/2 chopped apricots
  • 1/2 cup real maple syrup
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Method:

  1. Mix everything together in a glass baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees for 20min.  Let cool before enjoying.

Mason Jar Blueberry Oatmeal Pancakes

20150214_064846This is my absolute favourite way to make pancakes!  It is super easy and the cleanup is minimal (I really don’t like doing dishes so I try to use as few as possible).  My pancake recipe is high in protein and complex carbs – perfect fuel to start your day.  Hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

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Yield: Makes 6-8 pancakes

Ingredients:

  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup egg whites
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • sprinkle of cinnamon
  • 1 banana
  • dab of coconut oil (for the pan)
  • Optional: 1/2 cup blueberries

Method:

  1. Heat a medium to large pan on the stove on medium heat
  2. Put everything in a big mason jar (except blueberries – add these AFTER blending everything and just stir them into the batter)
  3. Screw on the top of the blender
  4. Blend until smooth
  5. Add in blueberries and stir (skip this step if not using blueberries)
  6. Add a dab of coconut oil to the pan and spread it evenly with a spatula
  7. Pour batter into pan and cook pancakes 3-5min/side until done.
  8. Enjoy!

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Tip: Use a wide-mouth canning funnel to make it easy to get everything into the mason jar.  Also really awesome for little helpers who sometimes are a little bit messy!

Sweet Potato Edamame Shepherd’s Pie

Last night I made this recipe from the cookbook Big Vegan – and it was awesome!  I changed a few things – did not use 1/2 cup of white wine, added rosemary and thyme, and used soy sauce instead of miso. Here’s a picture of this fabulous dish:

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I know I changed the recipe a little bit but I still don’t feel right posting someone else’s recipe. I bought this cookbook a few years ago and there are tons of good recipes in it that I wouldn’t necessarily think of. (Mostly I borrow cookbooks from the public library). Anyway, this recipe is posted here on VegKitchen.com.  They also have fancy pictures 🙂  I’m not that fancy lol but it still tasted awesome!

Definitely worth checking this one out 🙂