Simple Meal Plan

The first week of “social distancing” before we were in lockdown, we stocked up on groceries, especially adding meat to our extra freezer. Two days later the freezer went caput and we had to quickly adjust. Needless to say, our kitchen fridge and freezer became crammed with everything and it has been challenging to see what we had. So this week I did an inventory and gave myself a goal of meal planning, Chopped style. I love the show Chopped! It is one of my favorites. So this meal plan is created around the ingredients we have, buying as little as we could. Here is what I came up with:

Pulled Pork (I roasted a pork butt/shoulder, shredded all the meat, and divided it into two family-sized portions, and froze them. I probably should have made into 3 or 4 portions.)

Pulled Pork Tacos. I warmed up the pork in a saucepan with some water. Seasoned the pork with mexican-style spices and served with all the fixin’s. Cilantro/onion mix. Black beans. Sour cream. Guac. Salsa. Cotija (I often sub feta) and/or cheddar cheese. Whatever you have works. The key to great tacos is warming your tortillas, I prefer corn. Heat them over your flame if you have a gas range, or in a dry skillet if you have electric. Do it. It makes ALL the difference. Tortilla chips on the side for the win. (Save leftover pork in a container in the fridge.)

Refrigerated tortellini or ravioli with sausage and veggies. Throw whatever sausage you have in a pan, cook it and then set aside. Add all the veggies to a pan and saute until perfect. I can’t help you with what that means. It depends on what you have. We have asparagus.  Cook them for less time than you think. Season them greatly, red pepper flakes are a divine addition if you have them. Cook them just until slightly tender. Let them be vegetables and not mush and then add the sausage back in. While the veggies are finishing, cook the pasta. Drain pasta, reserving a cup of the cooking liquid. Put pasta back into the pan. Add the liquid to the veggie/sausage mixture to deglaze the pan. Pour the mixture into the pasta and mix gently. Add in ALLLL the parmesan you want. Fresh grated is great. Whatever you have will do just fine.

Pro-Tip. Bake one potato for every person in your family while your pasta/sausage dinner is cooking. Wash potatoes, oil and salt, bake at 375 for 45 min. When cooled, put into a container or gallon-sized bag and refrigerate.

Twice-baked Potatoes. Bake potatoes (5 potatoes for our family of six people) and cool, or get the ones from the fridge you made the night before. Slice in half, length-wise. Scoop out most of the potato into a mixing bowl, leaving some around the skin for stability. To the potatoes add 1 stick of butter sliced, one package of cream cheese sliced, salt, pepper, paprika, and anything else you have on hand that looks tasty. I added chives, cheddar cheese and a bit of queso we had leftover. Green onion would have been good. I didn’t have any. Mix the ingredients and refill the potato skins with the mixture. Bake at 350 for 45 min or so. Reheat leftover pork with water and more spices, salt and pepper. Add what you love, but it will need some water to not be dry. When the potatoes are cooked through and hopefully a bit crispy on the edges, take out of the oven and top with the pork. Serve with fresh veggies or salad.

Chicken apple sausage and artichokes. Slice and pan-fry the sausage. Cook artichokes according to directions on the internet (I use a microwave for this). Mix together mayo and mustard until it tastes good(maybe 3-1 ratio), or melt butter with minced garlic to serve as a dip for the artichoke. Kids love this! Serve 1/2 an artichoke with dip, sausage and a salad. Keto/low carb friendly!

Green Chile steak tacos (or salad) with slaw. (recipe courtesy of Julie Thelander) Ask if you want more info.

Quick flatbread pizzas. Heat olive or avacado oil in a saucepan with minced garlic. Brush flatbread, naan, or tortillas (use what you have) with oil. Top with ingredients of your choice. Everyone in our house will use some combination of tomatoes, basil, fresh or grated mozzarella, pepperoni, onions, mushrooms etc.. Anything you love! If you love your people and yourself drizzle everything with a little bit of balsamic vinegar. Put in a 400-degree oven until heated through and melty. Slice and serve.

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup. Yep, be THIS fancy. Some of my kids want ciabatta as the bread for their sandwich, others want “cheesy-garlic bread,” open-faced. Having different bread and cheese on hand makes this work for everyone. Canned soup is easy! You don’t have to be fancy tonight. Everyone will complain until they eat. And then after dinner everyone will have had all the sandwiches or cheesy bread, dipped in tomato soup (or even just a jar of marinara) and they will leave happy and satisfied. Trust me. They might even say thank you. Maybe.

Leftover night. Eat all the things that didn’t get eaten. Turn your pizza toppings into bruschetta. Grill up the rest of the bread with some olive oil, salt, and pepper. Shmear your bread with bleu cheese and more balsamic, or top with tomatoes and basil. Saute all the leftover veggies you have with seasonings. Make a big salad and add leftover proteins. Get creative and use the big flavors of the week, balsamic, lots of seasonings, garlic, sausage, then add in something fresh and something crunchy. I swear you will be both satisfied and proud.

We have now been at this whole “cook every meal” gig for weeks. I love to cook. But even if you don’t, I promise these meals are easy, life-giving, and inexpensive! For us, a family of 6 to eat out, even at a fast-casual restaurant costs a minimum of $55 for dinner.  Not one of these meals will cost more than $20 for our family, with leftovers for lunches. We are definitely saving money.

AND!  Normally when I cook, I try to follow a fairly healthy diet. For this “quarantine” the prize is in cooking at home and eating meals together. I have loosened the “rules” but we are eating out much less. We are saving money, and eating every dinner together has been the best. THE BEST! We are seeing an embarrassing amount of savings in our bank account, and there have been other unforeseen benefits we never expected. Everyone feels SOOO much better! We are cooking with simple ingredients. And even if they aren’t Keto, whole30, WW, or paleo, we all feel better. Our guts are healthier, our weight is lower, GI issues have been resolved, even eczema and allergy issues have been decreased.

Any and all suggestions for next week are welcome! Do you have ingredients you have on hand and need an idea for? Give it to me! I can help you to use up what you have and you can eat for free with what you have on hand. I am planning to make a few more meals from cookbooks because I have ingredients I need to use so I have searched them up and have a few ideas.

I have to end with a list of gratitude. I want to remain grateful above everything right now. We are in HARD times. But we are also saving money by being mindful of our resources, pairing down where we can, and dreaming up new ways to “do life” and serve others. I am IN FOR IT! This isn’t all bad.

I am grateful for:

  • Music to play us through all of our days. (find a great Pandora station that makes you INSPIRED!)
  • Dave Ramsey and other good financial advice, not driven by politics. A robust savings account is our great peace right now. (We learned this the hard way in the last financial downturn) If you don’t have a simple, practical, financial guide, find one.
  • My husband. May I always know who truly loves me, and rest in their peace.
  • A home. My people are here. I will make what happens here as beautiful as I can.
  • Opportunity! Often best realized when under fire. What CAN I do? Who CAN I be? Who needs me, and how can I meet the needs of others? Great, GREAT opportunity is revealed right now, in the fire. #refinersfire. Burning me up and turning me into gold.
  • This Holy Week.  Jesus had a really bad week that led to the Greatest Gift amidst great sacrifice. May I rest in His goodness, rest in His peace, and love others according to His ways. Gosh, may I just be even a fraction of His love to the ones that come my way in this “hard week” of our lives.
  • My daughter’s favorite bible story of the banquet table. This is EXACTLY how I want to live. Let’s build bigger, and longer tables to invite all the people for supper when this is over.

Cook for your family. I swear goodness will come from it.

What should we cook up next week?

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