A Meal Plan Success Story!

Prep day rainbow!

You know what I do sometimes? Write a rave review about something and then find myself giving it up not long after. Happened with hot yoga, which I still miss terribly but gave up for reasons I won’t go into here. But I really, really hope it doesn’t happen with Prep Dish, because after years of wishing I was the type of person who could stick to a meal plan and a grocery list I’ve finally found a system that works for me and that I still like after almost 2 months. That’s a record!

There are a few reasons why Prep Dish works for me, and of course I relate them all back to personality typing. I am an INFP/Enneagram 4 and we tend to be spontaneous, don’t like to plan things out, and value variety over routine. I’ve tried various approaches to meal planning, but the spontaneous, rebellious side of me always took over within a few weeks and I was back where I started. But Prep Dish helps me avoid this problem in a couple of ways:

  1. You do all the prep work on Sunday. That means that during the week, it takes less than 20 minutes to get dinner on the table. I’m not going to go off the plan if the work is already done and the food just needs to be reheated or assembled. The most rebellious I get is not making dishes on the day they are assigned, but I still make them all within the week.
  2. The grocery list. I’m not going into the store and just filling up the cart with our regular stuff, so that regular stuff is not in the house for me to be tempted to go off plan with.
  3. Prep Day is a great commitment device. If I have the willpower to do all the prep on Sunday, I don’t have to spend any more mental energy convincing myself to eat well and cook a decent dinner all the other days of the week. Prep day is the key difference with Prep Dish. It’s a commitment device that works to not only help us eat healthier but also to manage my time better.
  4. Variety. Every week is different and new. I admit I do miss cooking my old standby meals sometimes, but I can always fit them in as a substitute for something on the meal plan that I know my family won’t eat. For example, I subbed my family favorite meat sauce one week instead of the marinara sauce in the meal plan. But the fact that each week is different means I never feel bored or trapped by routine.

As I continue using Prep Dish I am learning how to adapt it to suit us. We have 2 adults and 3-4 kids living under our roof depending on the day of the week, so I have been surprised that rather than not having enough food (it’s meant to feed a family of 4), we often have too much food.

Jack, at 3 years old, doesn’t eat a lot or a great variety of things, so he often doesn’t eat the food I’ve made. Neither does Tom, who at 18 is too busy to be home most nights for dinner and is also a picky vegetarian. Those 2 kids often end up eating a couple of boxes of mac and cheese, which is easy enough to make while I’m prepping dinner.

Andrew and Alex aren’t inclined to eat a wide variety of veggies or salad so we often have too much left over. But now that I know that, I can just buy less and cut the recipes in half.

Also, not all the recipes are AMAZING but they are all good enough. I’ve not been using the service long enough to know how frequently recipes are repeated, but if there is something we just didn’t like I’ll know that in the future and can sub a different recipe that we did like. I also wish there were other options besides Paleo and Gluten Free (a ketogenic option would be amazing), as I do sometimes feel like the meals are TOO healthy to appeal broadly to all members of my family. But that’s a lot to ask for any meal plan that isn’t populated with your own recipes. Ultimately, I find that having a meal plan that I feel happy sticking to is worth more to me than eating ketogenic.

If I were an INFJ (or really any XXXJ type) I might be able to make my own meal plan with my own recipes and shopping list and follow it happily. But I’m not that way and I am very glad I found something that works for the type of person I am, rather than the type I wish I was.

The down side of recipe blogs

I can resist everything except temptation.

I subscribe to a bunch of low-carb recipe blogs and I love them. Recently I stopped using my blog reader (Feedly) as much as I had in the past, so I decided to “Like” a lot of these recipe blogs on Facebook to keep up with them. At the time it seemed like a great idea because it helped change the tone of my Facebook feed to be more informative and enjoyable, which is really valuable in an election year!

But a few weeks into this new system I noticed that I was baking more sugar-free goodies and feeling lots of sugar cravings. I finally realized it’s because I was seeing all these desserts pop up in my Facebook feed all day long! Unfortunately, most low carb recipe blogs know that the most popular recipes are the desserts, so that’s what they push the most on Facebook. Every time I got on Facebook I was see pictures of cakes, cookies, bars, and other yummy goodies!

The number one rule of minimalism and intentional living is this: reduce exposure to media as much as possible. Resisting temptation is much easier when you aren’t exposing yourself to them! I use an ad blocker on Facebook so I don’t see any paid ads. What I never considered was that the blogs I followed on Facebook could influence my decision making in a negative way just like an advertisement would. As much as I love these blogs and use them when I want to bake something or try a new dinner recipe, I decided it was best for me to Unfollow them on Facebook to save myself from the exposure to sweets and desserts. If I’m not seeing pictures of cake all day long,  I will think about cake a whole lot less. It’s one of those obvious lessons in living a better life; you have to make it easy to make the right decisions. Seeing delicious desserts all day long made it much harder for me to make the decisions I wanted to make about healthy eating. Lesson learned.

Christmas In July

14572777462_91e25c08c5_zIn an effort to bring some much needed cheer and silliness to my family’s life, I decided to celebrate Christmas in July this year. I’ve been doing this parenting this for almost 20 years yet this is a first for me. I love Christmas so I’m not sure why it never occurred to me to celebrate Christmas in July but it reminds me of a famous saying:

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.

I’m not planning a Pinterest-worthy affair but rather a simple Christmas breakfast with my family with hopefully some ridiculous treats, board games, ornament decorating, and CHRISTMAS MUSIC. No gifts. I went to the store today to shop for gifts, thinking I would do stockings full of little things, but I changed my mind. I don’t think giving presents would make this event any more meaningful. In fact, it would make it less so as the focus would change from the experience to the material. Also, I always feel stressed at Christmas time because I think I didn’t get everyone enough presents, or the right presents, or an even number of presents, and everyone will be disappointed. Christmas in July is practice for me in not caring about that stuff and just having FUN with my kids and husband. Don’t get me wrong, I love giving gifts, but I love baking, holiday decorating, and sitting around the table with my family more. So that’s what we will do.

Here are some things I am considering for the yet-to-be finalized menu, none of which are ketogenic or healthy in any way but are gluten free:

Apple Fritters – these are insanely delicious.

Cinnamon Rolls – a tricky dough, but if it is too soft to roll you can just throw it in a dish and pretend it’s a cinnamon roll coffee cake. I know this.

Frozen Hot Chocolate – I’ve never made this.

Pancakes – well, I’m lying. The kids said they wanted waffles, and I don’t have a waffle maker so I will probably throw some frozen waffles in the toaster. BUT, this is my go-to gluten-free pancake recipe.

Santa Hat Brownies – never tried this but they had me at “mascarpone buttercream”.

I’ll be sure to take a few pictures and share them next week. Merry Half-Christmas to you!

Capsule Kitchen Challenge

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Andrew and I are doing the 333 Capsule Kitchen Challenge. I love challenges like this but usually I do them by myself. This time, however, Andrew and I both thought we would get something out of this challenge and we are doing it together! We aren’t getting the same things out of doing this but it still works. He is trying to lose some weight and make some changes to his dietary habits while I am doing it mostly for fun and to simplify meals and shopping.

The best thing about our list (according to ME) is that I can get ALMOST every single item at Aldi! I make a weekly trip and quickly go through the aisles with my list and get out of there with less time wasted, no impulse purchases, and less money spent than if I went to a big grocery store or somewhere tempting like Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. As I said, simplicity and saving money are the main benefit for me, as I have other things I would rather be doing than grocery shopping and fretting over what to make for dinner every night. The items I can’t get at Aldi (Zeviamacadamia nuts, almond flour, coconut milk, and protein powder) are on automatic delivery from Amazon Subscribe and Save.

We’ve been doing this for about 2 weeks now and are making some adjustments as we go. One thing that helped is that I have started getting one gallon of raw milk every week. From that I can make cottage cheese, whey, yogurt, heavy cream, and sour cream! I was able to take sour cream and heavy cream off the original list and add something else and out of one item (whole milk), we get 6 things. Awesome!

Here is our list:

Raw milk (I get this as a milk-share CSA)

cheddar cheese

mozzarella cheese

Parmesan cheese

cream cheese

broccoli

kale

spinach

carrots

frozen berries (mixed or single berry, depending on what I get at Aldi)

apples

turkey deli meat

chicken

beef

salmon

tuna

shrimp

macadamia nuts

bacon

sausage

pepperoni

tomatoes

protein powder

eggs

coconut milk

pork rinds

avocados

onions

coffee

Zevia Caffeine Free Cola

Almond Flour

Peanut Butter

cauliflower

Some of the things on the list are eaten every day or more than once per day while other things might only be used once per week. The soda, for example, gets shipped every two months (24 cans) but it’s something we love to have every once in awhile so it made the cut. It’s not something either of us tend to abuse, so there wasn’t any compelling reason to leave it off the list. My chocolate bars, on the other hand, do get abused so I’m abstaining and they aren’t on the list (Dear Self, please forgive yourself for cheating and eating half a chocolate bar last week. Thank you, Self). BTW, I get 10 bars every 5 months and that is a GREAT way to make sure I don’t go overboard. Once they are gone, I don’t get more until the next delivery. If I eat them all in 2 months. Subscribe and Save can be a good commitment device, as is this entire challenge!

If you want to try this, just remember that you are in charge of what it looks like for YOU. Some decisions we made:

  • all spices, oils, butter, maple syrup, and raw honey are not included as they are used in less than 1Tbs increments for flavoring purposes
  • same for flax seed and chia seed as they are used (by me) in 1Tbs increments or less to thicken my hot smoothies
  • we have decided that each visit to Aldi can include a vegetable not on the list (peppers, zucchini, cabbage, squash, asparagus) for variety
  • we can eat out once per week. I haven’t taken advantage of this yet but Andrew has
  • we can buy any kind of chicken or beef as long as the only ingredient is chicken/beef. That’s why the pork products are listed separately – they have ingredient lists.
  • the spirit is more important than the law

The challenge is supposed to last for 3 months (Jan-March). After that, we’ll see. But for now it’s simple and fun!

Stuff I Cooked This Week

I’m trying to get better about making this point appear on a consistent basis so I don’t lose track of things, so from now on I’m trying Tuesdays (as I post this on Wednesday. Sigh).

Shredded Chicken and Bone Broth. Whole chicken seasoned with salt and pepper, about 3-5 cups water, cooked in slow cooker for 6 hours. Chicken removed and shredded. Bones, skin, innards, and rostisserie chicken bones go back in slow cooker. Add water to close to top. Add 2 stalks celery,  onion quartered, 2 bay leaves, some carrots, and some apple cider vinegar. Cooked on low overnight and strained the next morning.
Asian Orange Chicken – I didn’t eat this. Too much sugar in the sauce and I used regular flour for frying. This is my 13 year old’s favorite dish and he had been begging for awhile so I finally made it.
Fried Egg Sandwiches – No recipe. For some reason I’ve eaten this about 5 times in the last 4 days. It’s just hitting the spot for me!It’s just two fried eggs with some raw cheddar cheese, spinach, and bacon in between. Yum.
Cobb Salad. Again, no recipe. Spinach, hard boiled eggs, bacon, avocado, rotisserie chicken, feta cheese, and homemade ranch dressing for anyone that wanted it. I also have to make my own mayo before I make ranch dressing. My basic recipe is: 3/4 cup LIGHT olive oil, 2 egg yolks, about a teaspoon of dijon mustard, half a lemon squeezed, some celery salt, and maybe a bit of garlic powder. Put in a container and blended for about 10 seconds with my immersion blender.
Chili Cheese Dip – made this with the leftover chili from last week and ate it with celery during the day for football watching. The dip was great.
Pineapple Muffins – I made these without the coconut. My 16 year old went grocery shopping for me this week and came home with a pineapple, so I used it to make muffins (making a food for my kids to eat for breakfast during the week was one of my weekly goals this week).
Blueberry Muffins. Wasn’t a huge fan. Made them for the kids but they preffered the pineapple ones.
Buffalo Chicken Dip – our favorite.
Broccoli Cheese Soup.  The kids prefer the velveeta version but too bad.
Salmon Cakes – the best part was eating the leftovers the next morning mixed with smashed up soft boiled eggs.
Fat Bombs – oh man, these are pretty yummy and addicting. I can nibble on one slowly (it’s better to let the fats melt in your mouth rather than chewing) and not be hungry again for a couple hours. I added about 4-5 drops of liquid vanilla stevia to sweeten along with the lemon extract and lemon juice. They are not overly sweet but have just a bit of sweetness to counteract the lemon.

 

Stuff I Cooked This Week

Easy Chicken Thighs. This is a staple in our house. I make it about once or twice a month.

Spinach and Feta Quiche. Another staple. I skip the crust and the mushrooms. This time I made it with a combo of fresh spinach and fresh kale.

Flourless Chocolate Cake. For my son’s 19th birthday. I used all bar chocolate instead of coca powder and it should have cooked a bit longer than it said in the recipe.

Knockoff P.F.Chang’s Lettuce Wraps. This didn’t wow me. Husband hates ground chicken so he didn’t eat it. I could only find one brand of Hoisin sauce at Kroger and it was full of sugar, so I don’t want to eat the leftovers.

Bacon Cheeseburger Dip. Another flop. I make Buffalo Chicken Dip ALL the time so I decided to try something different. It just wasn’t very flavorful. The leftovers were thrown away.

Stuff I Cooked This Week

Stuff I made this week:

Low Carb, Gluten Free, Grain Free Pizza

I’ve made a variation of this before from a Reddit recipe but this was by FAR easier to deal with and just as tasty. I made this in my cast iron skillet and it took maybe 10 minutes. A keeper. I didn’t feed it to my kids but I shared it with Andrew and he liked it.

Chicken Strips (again). 

Split Chicken Breast and Broccoli Casserole. Nothing special here. A decent weekday meal but I’d like to experiment more with the chicken.

Ahi Tuna Steaks. Yum. As easy as it gets and done in 5 minutes.

Shrimp Scampi. I ate mine with spinach instead of pasta. This is a super-simple and quick recipe.

Alfredo Sauce. I ate mine with broccoli, bacon, spinach, and cubes, cooked chicken thigh meat. This is in regular rotation in our house (about once a month).

Stuff I Cooked This Week

I’m going to try making this a weekly post to keep track of the things I make for dinner, mostly. Sometimes I’ll make an awesome new dish and forget about it. I have so many recipes stored in different places – bookmarks my computer, my All Recipes.com Recipe Box, a binder full of magazine recipes and old family favorites, cookbooks, pictures of recipes I take with my phone, etc. Maybe this way I can remind myself which ones I liked best.

Stuff I Made This Week (and last week, too):

Pulled Pork with No Sugar BBQ Sauce. Andrew liked this a lot, kids ate it and liked it as well. I didn’t like it as I was tasting it from the slow cooker but I think that’s because I wanted it to taste like my favorite, sugar-filled pulled pork and BBQ sauce. When I ate in out of a bowl for dinner it grew on me and I ended up liking it for what it was.

Pasta with Meat Sauce. I actually didn’t eat any of this but the kids did and Andrew likes it. After trying many different recipes for meat sauce (which I eat in a bowl on a bed of spinach), I have settled on this recipe as our favorite.

Bulletproof Ice Cream. No sugar, made with gobs of yummy fat from butter, eggs, and coconut oil. Sweetened with zylitol. I didn’t like it very much but the texture was great and it allowed me to have something cold and chocolaty with blueberries and heavy cream on top. The kids liked it, Andrew didn’t.

Paleo Chicken Fingers. I’ve made this twice in the last two weeks. It was a hit. A little too spicy the first time so I lowered the amount of cayenne the second time.

Cheese Stuffed Bacon Wrapped Chicken Thighs. This was awesome. I made for Andrew and I on a night the kids weren’t here. It was delicious and Alex enjoyed it as leftovers the next day.

Quiche with Coconut Flour Crust. I ended up eating most of this myself, which was fine with me. Served as my breakfast for a few days. It’s kind of dry. There is no reason to make a crust other than just feeling like it. Usually I make crustless quiches.

Chicken Strips. Another hit with everyone. This one was fried instead of the other one above that was oven baked.

Skillet Burgers. I’ve never made burgers on the stove before and these turned out great.