nutrition

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.

Pan-Cooked Lentil Burger Recipe

This was one of the recipes I made last week.  It turned out really well and I am definitely going to make them again. They are great on buns with toppings like a regular burger but I also cut some up for salads. They would also be good for tacos and sandwiches. My toddler really liked them too which is always a good sign! Enjoy the recipe!

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Yield: 12 burgers

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup raw red lentils (soaked for 4 hours or overnight in water)
  • 1/2 cup cooked rice
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1 onion
  • 1/2 cup cashews or peanut butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt

Method:

  1. Drain water from soaked lentils. Put lentils into a food processor and dice until smooth. Scoop into a medium bowl.
  2. Dice onion with oats, cashews, and rice in the food processor (If using peanut butter you can add it directly to the lentil burger mixture in the mixing bowl). Add to the bowl and stir together.
  3. Add remaining ingredients to the burger mixture and stir through.
  4. Heat olive oil (or coconut oil) in a pan on the stove on medium heat. Use spoon to scoop batter onto the pan and shape into burgers.  It is a little stickier than a hamburger but they cook up nicely and I didn’t have any trouble with them falling apart 🙂
  5. Cook 4-5 minutes/side or until cooked through.
  6. Enjoy however you want!

Nutrition Info for 1 burger (using USDA Nutrient Database):

Calories 132; Protein 4.8g; Carbs 12g; Fat 4.4g

Frugal February Challenge Week 1 – How did it go?

Week 1 of my Frugal February Challenge went pretty well!

I tried to take pictures of everything but wow – that takes a lot of effort to do that!  I definitely ate more than what is in the pictures.  Not in a stuff-my-face-and-try-to-hide-it kind of way.  More in a I’m-really-craving-some-hummus-and-veggies-and-I-am-too-lazy-to-take-a-picture kind of way. I actually lost 2 lb this week 🙂

I haven’t been a big fan of tracking my food intake since I competed in a Fitness America Pageant forever ago but I actually did find tracking helpful to see patterns. For example, on Wednesday I didn’t eat my afternoon snack that I took to work and Thursdays I teach in the afternoon so I find that I get distracted and often don’t eat lunch.  This week I am going to try to have lunch before my class and bring a shake for the break (which will allow me to still answer questions and discuss with students compares to say, a salad.  I am going to be a little more diligent with using myfitnesspal to track my nutrition as well – it is SO easy to forget what you eat!

In terms of the budget plan, I caved yesterday and bought Tim Horton’s coffee for me and my co-worker ($3.40) and I did have to go buy coffee this morning ($7.99 for a bag of Ethical Bean on sale) so I am a little over budget for the week now but I enjoy my coffee and sometimes sharing is caring, especially after a long week of grant writing and editing.

Anyway, here is a run down of what I ate this week:

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I will post some recipes I made this week in separate posts after I do some marking…

Have a lovely Saturday!

Frugal February – How to Price Match at the Grocery Store

I am ready to start my Frugal February Fitness Challenge!

Here’s a little video I made about my grocery shopping/ price matching prep for tomorrow.  A huge thanks to my friend Coupon Christine for showing me her money-saving ways a couple years ago!  Sharing is caring!

Black Bean Banana Brownie Recipe

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Brownies are the perfect place to hide black beans. Lately I have been making these quite a lot because they are such an easy snack that my son and I both like. I like to have them as a pre-workout snack in the late afternoon.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups black beans (soaked and cooked or from a can)
  • 2 cups egg whites
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup coconut flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder

Mason Jar/Blender Method*:

  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Place black beans and 1.5 cups of egg whites in a large mason jar.  Blend until smooth and then pour the mixture into a mixing bowl.
  3. Place bananas, honey, remaining egg whites and 2 eggs in the large mason jar.  Blend until smooth and then pour the mixture into the mixing bowl. Stir all of the liquid together.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine oats, flour, baking powder, cocoa until mixed.
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the mixture. Stir until everything is evenly mixed.
  6. Pour into either a)silicon muffin pans or b) a greased baking dish
  7. Bake for 20-35min depending on what you put it in. Small muffin cups will take about 20 min while large muffin cups or large pan will take about 35min.  Test center with a butter knife or a toothpick – when it comes out clean (no goopy batter) then it is done.
  8. Cool 10 min before removing from pan. Enjoy!

*You can also use a food processor or a potato masher to mush up the beans and bananas together and then add the remaining wet ingredients together.