I got so busy last week that besides planning my own family’s meals I did not get around to writing about it. Well, the family calendar dictates how much time you will have to prepare meals at home, or when you will need to be ready to pull something out of the refrigerator or freezer. Eating together has many benefits and if you can plan ahead of times for those busy weekdays, you can make it happen.
Consult your calendar and determine which days will you have time to prepare a fresh meal vs the days when you can pull together some leftovers. Yes, you can plan for leftovers. Planning some re-heatable foods also makes packing lunches easy.
- You can make a pasta dish once and serve it on multiple evenings or pack for lunches.
- Sauté or roast vegetables in season. Serve as a side one night and turn leftovers into soup or add to a tomato sauce with some lean meat or use it as a topping for pizza.
Wednesdays are good in most areas to look at what is on sale in your grocery store. Taking advantage of items on sale will keep your food budget in check and possibly increase your intake of seasonal produce. The stores will have better prices on the produce that is in season and available in plenty.
- Use your day off to not only shop for but also prep for the week. You can even use the online ordering offered by many stores to save time. Just pick up the groceries.
- Plan to use up the berries, and other ripe fruit delicate greens and fresh seafood first. Some of the heady greens such as collards and kale will withstand the refrigeration for 3-5 days. Melons, mangoes, apples, oranges, pineapple can fill your fruit bowl and grace your table and don’t have to be eaten right away.
- Buy pre-chopped items such as sweet potatoes or butternut squash, precooked beets, salad greens in oyster packs to reduce your prep time.
- Use your slow-cooker: prep all the ingredients the night before, add to the slow-cooker in the morning, let it cook all day and come home to a hot meal. This is especially helpful on the days when you come home from an athletic event and everyone is hungry (or my family calls it “hangry”).
- Make extra servings for soups, chili or casserole which can be then frozen into single servings and used later for lunches or dinners.
Need some inspiration to try some new recipes? Give My Happy Plates a try. You can even get the groceries you need for the recipes delivered to your door. Start by planning at least 3 meals per week. Once you get the hang of it, you can make it a full week.
Last week I wrote about cleaning out your pantry and refrigerator of any unwanted ingredients to help you clean up your diet. Ingredients are one thing to look for and the date on the label is another. There are several different ways a “date” appears on the label. What do they all mean? Do the products beyond the date become unhealthy or unsafe to consume?
According US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) the dates on products are all about the quality of the product and not necessarily about the safety, except for baby food and baby formula. Plus these dates are not regulated by the federal government. They only tell us how long the product will be at its best.
Best if Used by: It is important to store the foods appropriately for the best quality. Most packages will guide you to “refrigerate after opening” or “store in a cool dry place” etc. The “best of used by” date tells us that the best quality of the food can be expected until that date. It does not mean the product will be unsafe to consume after that date.
Use by: This is also an indication to use the product by the date to get the best quality. If the product is stored properly, you may be able to consume the product without any safety concerns. For baby foods and baby formula don’t even buy the product after the “use by” date.
Sell by: Again this is about how long the store has to get the product off the shelf. It does not mean that the product has to be consumed by that date. For budget-friendly buys products close to their sell by date are often marked down by the store.
No matter what type of date appears on the products in your pantry or refrigerator, use your senses. If there are obvious signs of color change, growth, and foul smell discard the product no matter what the date says. Do not allow your taste buds to guide you. When in doubt throw it out. You can also use the products safely after the dates on the labels, when stored properly, to reduce the food waste. If you buy in bulk store it appropriately and make plans to use it up. More on meal planning next week.
It is officially Spring! The days are longer, the trees and shrubs are blooming and putting out new growth and the farmer’s markets are beginning to pop up. Most grocery and home goods stores are overflowing with herbs and seeds to plant and begin your gardening projects. While all this is great outdoors don’t forget to clean up your pantry this spring.
Spring is a good time to go through all your staples in the pantry and plan to use up or discard some of the items. In case you need a boost for the resolutions you made around new year’s this is a good time. Clean up your meals!
Start by going through the expiration or sell by dates on the products in your pantry. If they are past any of these dates on the labels discard them. Don’t forget that the pantry is not the only place to look for staples. The refrigerator will have some products (such as mayonnaise, salad dressings, marinades, or sauces) that deserve a second look. Use your senses of smell and sight. If it doesn’t smell right or has obvious signs of growth (white or colorful), throw it out.
Other than the obvious spoiled foods you may want to consider getting rid of foods that may have a long shelf life but are not good for you. Those chips and crackers may not look or smell bad but are made from refined grains and may contain preservatives. Do you really want to consume those? If the packages are unopened, take them to a food pantry. Check the labels of everything in your pantry (and refrigerator). Here are some ingredients you want to look for: hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil(s), fructose or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), any artificial colors, flavors and any ingredients you cannot pronounce. If the label has any of the above mentioned ingredients, removing those products from your pantry will clean up your diet.
Hydrogenation of oil(s) makes it saturated and thus a naturally unsaturated oil can become unhealthy. Fructose syrup or HFCS has been shown to have impact on several conditions such as risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, increasing your “bad” cholesterol, causing weight gain and even liver damage. Artificial colors and flavors can cause inflammation (the root of many chronic illnesses).
Next, when you go to the store, examine the nutrition facts label for these ingredients before replacing any supplies you want to have on hand. Don’t forget to check those dates either. Next week, we can explore all the different types of dates we see on labels. For now focus on the ingredients and keep your food supply clean.