Pantry Peace

We have a smaller, galley style kitchen. I made an earlier post about how we added 2 Ikea Kallax shelves in to create more counter space and storage. It worked out fantastic and has been functioning well for our house. With such a small kitchen and a crazy me who loves to cook and bake so much, cupboard space is used to a maximum. We have one tall, deep cupboard meant as a pantry. That one cupboard barely functions. We also rent, which means adding pullouts in the cupboard is not really a viable option. We bought and added a cupboard when we first moved in which has acted like a second pantry. I have redone and switched storage in the cupboard over the years, based on what we most used, what my kids needed to reach and what my husband needed to find.

I had seen many posts about tupperware systems, storage containers and thought this will never work for my cupboard. Then, strolling through Costco one afternoon they had 3 packs of the big Rubbermaid storage containers that I swore would never work and I figured whatever, let’s try it! Worst case, Costco takes EVERYTHING back. A couple containers quickly turned into me pulling everything out of both pantries, a cupboard and a drawer and completely changing things. It’s been a few weeks, I have baked, cooked, the kids have made lunch and hubby has made dinner all with success! I have gotten a few texts from him asking which cupboard I moved certain items to, but otherwise with everything spaced and in clear jars and containers it has made things much more functional.

With baking a lot, I tend to buy bigger bags of sugar, flour, etc. With 2 growing kids who seem to always be hungry we buy dry goods in bigger bulk sizes too. Pulling everything out of the cupboards helped me assess what we needed big sizes of containers for and what could be put into smaller ones. Which items I needed fast access to and which could be towards the back of the cupboard. Other than the Rubbermaid containers, everything else I used I already had at home. That was the best part, completely redoing my cupboards for such minimal cost.

I utilized the Rubbermaid containers for sugars, flour, chocolate chips. I used a few for cereal, but found for the most part they were too big for the boxes we buy. I used some for pasta which was a great thing because it has prevented having 4 or 5 bags open at the same time! Rice was already stored in a smaller version of these containers, so it worked out well to upgrade the size.

I raided my Mason jar collection for breadcrumbs, cornmeal, smaller pasta bags, dried fruits, nuts, granola, seeds. I can see exactly what is in each jar, which means I didn’t need labels for everything. It also helps me see when they need to go on the the grocery list to be replenished. I did put labels on the back of jars with expiry dates because one thing I learned is that some items definitely got forgotten in my bigger bins.

I was running out of jars and still had grains to figure out. I started looking around my kitchen for ideas when my eyes saw the empty wine bottles waiting to go out to the recycling bin. Lightbulb moment! I soaked and removed the labels, then hand washed and let dry. Arborio rice, quinoa, couscous all fit in so well and pour with ease!! No bags collapsing or pouring too fast out of big jars. I WISH I had of used bottles years ago. Those are labeled and have cooking instructions on them. Everything at my fingertips. I used chalk labels so I can change things up, and fix spelling mistakes!

The bottom shelf holds all of my vinegars and oils. Big jugs, smaller bottles, infused oils, specialty ones with singular purposes, ingredients for salad dressings, marinades and even the odd deep fry need when we’re craving fish and chips. I used to have to stretch and move things grab a chair to reach my special oils and spices. Now they are so much easier to grab when I’m in the midst of dinner and need access quick.

The top shelf holds spices, sushi making items and that silver tin holds smaller baking items like small bags of chocolate chips, vanilla, honey, extracts and shortening. I still have my big spices in a bottom drawer, labeled to find easily and they have continued to work the best there.

I moved cans, ziplocs, straws and backup pantry items to my cupboard pantry.

Tope shelf has breakfast items, cereal, PB, oatmeal, etc. Second shelf has snacks towards the front, with extra cracker boxes at the back. Below that I have ziplocs, straws and a container we only use in the summer filled with popsicle making items. I have the open ziploc boxes facing forward, with back up behind them. Cans are on the bottom shelf, just incase they fall when someone is grabbing one. Everything is easy to access, store back ups and avoid having too many of one item open.

This drawer used to hold my food wrap, ziplocs, measuring cups and spoons. I always have to climb on a chair, stretch to the back of the cupboard and pull down bins to find my sprinkles, so decided to try something different and make a baking drawer. I love that I can see all my colour gels, the measuring spoons and cups fit easily and everything stays more organized. This should also help me avoid buying double of sprinkles as I found I had quite a few when I moved everything around. I put my smaller baking containers and liquid measuring cups in a small, awkward cupboard above the microwave. It’s not as deep, so I can reach everything on my tip toes. Baking soda, powder, icing sugar, cornstarch all within reach.

It’s been a month and a half since I made the big pantry switch and I can honestly say it has proven to be functional and peaceful. Being able to find everything, knowing how much is left, and keeping items front and centre when I open the door has also helped with meal planning because I know what I need to use up. My whole family can find things easier and I have less of, Mommmmm where is _______? Healthier items are at eye level and everything is more accessible. I don’t have to keep a chair or stool in the kitchen to cook dinner and I can quickly move and find everything. It was definitely worth it to try something new. So take a look, and decide is your pantry working for you, or can something new make it even more functional and peaceful?

The BEST Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate chip cookies have always been a favourite, especially fresh out of the oven! My family prefers dipping them in milk for the best treat. These cookies have a crisp outside and, soft tender inside. The flavour is the perfect balance of sweet cookie with plenty of chocolate. Quick and easy to make, and they never last long!

Ingredients

2/3C of butter, softened

1/2C Sugar

1/2C Brown Sugar

1 Egg

1tsp Vanilla

1 1/2C Flour

1tsp Baking Powder

1/4 tsp Salt

6oz Chocolate Chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 375F.

Start by beating the butter until it is fluffy, then add both sugars and cream together.

Next, add your egg, then vanilla and mix until blended. I keep my mixer going and add in the baking powder and salt. Once combined, I slowly add in the flour to help it mix in well, without it splashing out of the bowl.

When the ingredients are well combined, I start adding in my chocolate chips. You can add a little more or a little less depending on what you prefer. Semi Sweet work the best, but Milk Chocolate chips can be quite creamy and delicious.

Once the chocolate is mixed in, take the dough and using 2 teaspoons, spoon the dough onto your cookie sheet, keeping the cookies spaced about 2-3 inches apart. Push down on the top a little so they aren’t formed to high to help with baking. This recipe doesn’t spread too far, but you still need to give a bit of space in between.

Place in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes.

I am never one who is good at keeping track of baking time as I often have a few things on the go at once. The trick with these cookies, is their appearance. When they are done baking, the edges will be a light brown, but the middles do not change colour. They will look dry and not shiny. They may seem like they aren’t quite done, but don’t misjudge them. Let them rest for a minute on the cookie sheet, then remove and cool. Catching these cookies at just the right point keeps them soft on the inside.

Once cooled, enjoy! I always double or often triple this recipe as following the directions will only give you about 18 cookies and that is not near enough with how good these taste!

Banana Bread

Fresh out of the oven

If your home is like mine you buy a bunch of bananas, start with good intentions and before you know it they are turning brown. You go to put them in the freezer, only to realize you already have quite a few in there. What better way to use them up than by making banana bread! You can keep it simple, or add some different flavours. I have added blueberries, raspberries, chocolate chips and even skor bits on top for an amazing caramel crust.

Ingredients

2 C all purpose flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 C butter, softened

3/4 C brown sugar

2 eggs

2 1/3 C mashed overripe bananas

Cinnamon and nutmeg (optional)

Berries, Chocolate Chips, Pecans, Walnuts, Skor bits (optional)

Directions

Quick Version: Preheat oven to 350F. Cream butter first, then add sugar and cream until incorporated. Add eggs one at a time, then the bananas. While mixing, add salt, baking soda and finally flour one cup at a time to help incorporate well. If the bananas are watery add 1/4C more flour. Add 1/4 tsp nutmeg and 1/2 tsp cinnamon for more flavour (optional). Add 1/2C of chocolate chips, skor bits , chopped pecans or fruit if you like. Add more or less depending on your tastes. If adding fruit, add a bit more flour. Grease and flour pans or use parchment paper. Once pans are ready, pour the batter in. Add skor bits or brown sugar to the top if you want to create a caramel, crunchy crust. Place in oven for 60 min until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 min, then remove and continue to cool on the counter.

Detailed Directions:

If your bananas are frozen, make sure they are defrosted before beginning. You can put them in the fridge overnight in a bowl to help with this. Preheat your oven to 350F

Start by creaming the butter, get it nice and smooth to help incorporate it into the batter better.

Add in the brown sugar and mix it until fully blended into the butter

Mix in the eggs, one at a time. Then add in the bananas. If the bananas are watery from being frozen, you’ll need to add more flour to balance the extra liquid. The easiest way I’ve found to get the bananas out of the peel is to take a paring knife and slice down the length of it. The banana will just slide out. Mix the bananas in well to fully incorporate.

Next add in the salt, baking soda and flour. You can mix the dry ingredients together first then slowly incorporate them, or do the lazy method and add them one at a time, starting with the salt, then soda and finally adding the flour, one cup at a time. If the bananas look like my pictures, you will need to add more flour. The pictures show a double batch. For one recipe size, add about 1/4C flour extra, for a double batch add 1/2C. The batter should be a bit thicker in consistency. If you add fruit like blueberries or raspberries add a bit more flour as well, because the juice from the berries will add extra liquid.

Finished batter

I love adding some spices to my banana bread. For a single batch, 1/2 tsp nutmeg and 1/2 tsp cinnamon really add a nice flavour boost. If you want to add chocolate chips, pecans, walnuts or skor bits now is the time to mix them in. Start with 1/2 C and add more based on your sweet tooth.

Grease your pans with a bit of butter and flour or cooking spray. If you’d rather, line them with parchment paper. I prefer parchment paper as I can lift the loaves out and slice them easier. Pour the batter in the pans and shake a bit to even out. If you’d like you can add some skor bits or brown sugar to the top. As they melt and bake, they will create a sweet, crunchy caramel topping on the loaf.

Ready to bake

Place the pans in the oven at 350F for about one hour. The top should be rounded, golden brown and when you insert a toothpick it comes out clean. Once done, remove the pan and let the loaves cool for 10 minutes in the pan before removing.

Fresh out of the oven

Pull up the parchment paper, or shake the loaf out and let it continue to cool on a cooling rack. Once cool enough to touch, you can slice and enjoy! A bit of butter, peanut butter or nutella spread on the slice of banana bread can really make for a delicious treat! You can slice the loaf and freeze it easily too. I like making 2 or 3 loaves at once depending on how many bananas I have. Then portion, freeze and pull when needed for an easy snack.

Dense bottom, fluffy inside, crispy top. Enjoy!

Gingerbread Cake

I first made this cake when browsing through my cookbooks for new ideas a couple years ago. Tired of making the same cookies and treats year after year, I wanted something simple, full of flavour and different from what I had made before. I stumbled upon an old Chatelaine cook book I must have borrowed from my mom, and who knows where she even got it from! It was printed in 1978 and reading some of the recipes it’s interesting to see the different ingredients and methods used compared to current recipes I use.

Recipe

Ingredients

2 1/2 C All Purpose Flour

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp each cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt

1/2 C shortening

1/2 C sugar

2 eggs, beaten

1 C table molasses

1 C hot water

Method

I tend to be super lazy about some aspects of baking. Certain parts still need to be followed, but others I’ve learned I can take a short route. This method is the shorter route.

Start be preheating the oven to 350F and greasing or lining a 9×9 square cake pan with parchment paper.

Cream together the shortening and sugar until blended and smooth. Add the molasses and continue blending until all incorporated. Then add the eggs, one by one until beaten into the mixture. Add the spices one by one, blending into the shortening mixture. I love my Kitchenaid mixer for this exact reason. It keeps going and I can add items one by one without stopping.

Once the spices are well blended, add the baking soda. Once incorporated add the flour cup by cup, leaving time in between for each to be mixed in. Once the flour is fairly mixed into the batter, slowly add the hot water. Be careful as it may splash a bit. Mix at a low speed to avoid this happening and add it slowly so it doesn’t overwhelm the bowl.

Once all the ingredients are mixed together and the batter is smooth, pour into the cake pan. Bake at 350F for 35 minutes.

The end result is a fluffy, flavourful gingerbread cake that isn’t too sweet. It is amazing as a Christmas morning cake as you open the presents, or enjoyed with a cup of tea on a snowy winter day. It can be frozen in a tightly seal container and left on the counter to defrost or warmed in the microwave or oven wrapped in foil.

Easy Freezer Organization

Our fridge freezer gets a lot of use. It’s where we keep our most used items. Ice cream, ice packs for lunch bags, frozen veg for dinners, ice trays, etc. I also portion and freeze lunch meat, shredded cheese, pepperoni, things that we buy in bulk but use frequently. My freezer was becoming a disaster with so many hands in it so often. I had used containers in our deep freeze, so figured why not try in the smaller one. Success!! It’s been 2 months and is still organized. This rarely happens when it’s an area the kids get into!

Some containers have lids, others do not, but because of how the items are organized nothing is getting crushed and everything is staying sorted. I decided on one container for ice packs for injuries, one for frozen bread items like pizza buns, extra burger buns, pancakes. Another had the shredded cheese and lunch meat and the last container frozen veg for dinner and fruit for smoothies. The little shelf that came with the freezer still works well for ice and ice cream. The door also has little containers for lunch bag ice packs and the ever essential frosted glasses for a cold beer.

Quick and simple, but SO EFFECTIVE!

2 months later and still organized!!

Sweet and Sour Chicken

When I’m deciding on our weekly meal plans, it’s part what food needs to be used up, part what mood I’m in and last what ingredients I see that I can “taste” on my tongue. I see a spice, condiment, produce item and all of a sudden can start to taste what I want to turn it into. This recipe started when I saw an overripe pineapple that really needed to be cut and eaten. Knowing that sweet, juicy flavour I wanted to incorporate it into dinner. Often I’ll add it to a ham I’m roasting if I want a sweeter ham, but we didn’t have one on hand. A quick look at the freezer and the chicken stood out. So, I had chicken, pineapple and wanted something I could recreate on a night where our time might be shorter or I could pre prep for a one dish meal. I remembered my mom had taught me an easy base for a sweet and sour sauce so decided to put it all together for a sweet and sour chicken dinner.

What You’ll Need

We are a family of 4 big eaters, so these portions are geared to that. You can lessen or increase based on your family’s needs.

3-4 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts

2 Bell Peppers

1 Head of Garlic

1 Sweet Onion

1.5C Pineapple Chunks

1/4C White Vinegar

1/4C Ketchup

1C Brown Sugar

1C Water

1 Tbsp sesame oil (Optional)

Salt to taste

Let’s Get Cooking!

Start by preheating your oven to 375F. Then begin cutting your chicken into cubes. I tried from frozen to see just how lazy I could be about this recipe, but definitely recommend using fresh, or defrosted chicken. You can use canned pineapple, but a fresh one will give you so much more flavour. If you don’t already have one cut up, slice a whole one into cubes and put the extra that isn’t needed for the recipe aside to enjoy as a snack later. Cut your peppers up by taking the tops off, removing the seeds and cutting into bigger squares. Do the same with the onion. Bigger pieces are nice in this recipe and are faster to prepare. Take your head of garlic and dice into small bits. Or, if you prefer garlic in oil, take about 1/4C for 4 chicken breasts, or lessen if using less chicken. If your family is not a fan of garlic, stick to 1/8C.

Once everything is diced up, put it into a casserole dish and mix it all up so pieces are evenly distributed. If you have sesame oil, drizzle the tbsp over the dish. I originally tried this as a slow cooker meal and while the flavour was fantastic, the chicken was not. I had forgotten that the vinegar in the sauce toughens the chicken up when cooked too long together. So, a quick cooking tweak and the chicken was much better. Take your casserole dish, cover and place in the oven. While the dish starts to cook, make your sweet and sour sauce. The first bit of cooking should be approximately 10-15 minutes.

The sauce is super simple to make. Place 1C dark brown sugar, 1/4C of ketchup, 1/4C of white vinegar and 1C of water into a pot. Turn the element on to just above medium. Shake a bit of salt to soften the acidity of the vinegar, about 1/2tsp. Keep whisking the ingredients as they warm. Whisk until the sugar has dissolved and the sauce starts to bubble. Turn the heat down to about a 3 and let it bubble a bit more until it begins to thicken a touch.

Once the sauce has started to thicken, remove the casserole dish from the oven. Pour the sweet and sour sauce on the chicken and vegetables and stir to coat. Place the dish back in the oven and increase the temperature to 400F to finish cooking. Leave the dish in for another 20-25 minutes to fully cook the chicken.

Remove from the oven and serve! I find this dish is best served on rice, especially a more delicate one like basmati or jasmine. Rice cooks easily while the chicken finishes in the oven, creating a whole meal within 30-40 minutes. With prep, this whole dish should be done and ready to eat within an hour. If you prefer having parts of it prepped earlier in the week so all you have to do is pull and bake, you can cut the veggies and store in the containers pictured above, or ziplocs bags. Both hold freshness well. I love the anchor containers for this reason. They are so multi use from freezer to fridge to oven. If you are making a smaller portion, you could even bake the dish in the anchor containers.

This dish is easy to eat as leftovers for lunch the next day. I don’t recommend freezing it once baked as peppers just do not hold up well once frozen, they get quite mushy. You could incorporate other vegetables like cauliflower, carrots if you would like more diversity. Switch it up a bit to match your family’s preferences as they key to a good dish is one that everyone will eat!

Cinnamon Buns

These cinnamon buns are 2 days after baking. They last so well!

Another thing we love to make with frozen bread dough is Cinnamon Buns. The dough is soft and fluffy and with enough butter and brown sugar you get an ooey, gooey filling with a bit of carmelization. These are super simple to make and a family favourite!

You will need your frozen dough, brown sugar (darker is better), ground cinnamon, 1/2 to 1C of softened butter, flour for your work surface, a baking pan either 9×9 or 9×13 and a container, plate, platter, etc the same size as the pan you choose to bake in. A rolling pin, bread knife, pastry brush and spatula will be the tools you need.

One loaf of frozen dough will make a 9×9 pan, 2 loaves will make a 9×13. Start by defrosting the amount of loaves you need overnight in the fridge. . Once the loaves are defrosted, remove them from the fridge. Get out the pan size you need and grease the pan you are using. My preferred method is to take a bit of butter to grease the pan. Put a bit of softened butter into a piece of wax paper and spread it out, getting into all the corners and up the sides. Next, prepare your work surface by lightly flouring the counter you are working on.

Toss the dough on the floured surface a couple times to lightly coat in flour so it doesn’t stick too much. Using your rolling pin, stretch and roll the dough thin into a rectangle about 1cm thick. Using a pastry brush, brush softened butter onto the dough until the surface is covered. I put the butter into a small ceramic bowl and stir a few times to really make it spreadable. Take approximately 3/4c of brown sugar and 1 tbsp of cinnamon and combine them in a bowl. Sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon mixture over the buttered dough until it is covered, minus a small edge.

Starting at one long edge, gently lift up the edge and roll until almost the whole dough has been rolled. Grab the unrolled edge, lift and pinch to close. Take a bread knife and gently cut the roll into circles. Place the circles into the greased pan, leaving space in between for the roles to rise.

Once all the rolls have been placed into the greased pan, place a damp towel or saran wrap over top. Place the pan into a warmed oven to allow the dough to rise. Once the dough has doubled in size, remove from the oven. Turn the oven to bake at 375F. Once ready, remove the cover from the dough and place the pan into the oven to bake for approximately 20 min. The buns will be baked when they are turning golden on top and are a hollow sound when you tap them.

Risen and ready to bake

Remove the pan from the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes. Take a platter, plate, container, baking sheet, whatever surface you decided upon and place it flat over the pan of cinnamon buns. Holding tight, flip the pan of cinnamon buns over. If you greased enough, they should flip right out. If not, it’s ok, take a big breath, and a knife and gently work the knife along the edges where the buns are stuck. You may have to flip them back into the pan to do this, you may have to awkwardly work the knife while the buns are upside down and dripping. Once you manage to get them all out, take a spatula and scrape the rest of the melted filling out of the pan and all over the cinnamon buns. Flipping the buns over lets all the filling that melted out while cooking soak back into the buns creating that gooey, caramel filling.

The cinnamon buns will hold best if sealed in an airtight container. You can reheat for 20 sec in the microwave before eating to really enjoy that fresh baked warmth again. You can also freeze the cinnamon buns if you made a bigger batch. Freeze either in an airtight container or place in a freeze ziploc bag. Defrost on the counter when ready to eat again. You can even defrost, then wrap in foil and warm in the oven if serving for breakfast or dessert.

Pizza Buns

Fresh out of the oven!

I love taking a simple item and seeing what else can be done with it. I’ve posted before about using frozen bread dough to make buns, but there are so many more things that one loaf of dough can be turned into! One of my kids’ favourite things for lunch is pizza. A quick and easy recipe is using the dough is making pizza buns.

Start by defrosting a loaf (or two!) of frozen bread dough in the fridge overnight. Once it’s ready, lightly flour your working space. Take the dough and dust it in flour so it doesn’t stick. Using a rolling pin start to flatten the dough and roll it into a rectangle. Flip it over a few times early in the rolling process so it doesn’t get too sticky. If you would like, you can work some herbs into the dough before rolling. Italian blends, basil, oregano, even parmesan can increase the flavour for something different.

Roll until the dough is about 1cm thick. Start spooning the tomato sauce onto the dough and spread using the back of the spoon. Cover the dough with sauce, leaving a small space all along the edge uncovered.

Once the sauce is spread evenly, you can add your toppings. I like to put the toppings down first then cover in cheese. You can add peppers, mushrooms, ham, pepperoni, whatever your home likes best!

Once the toppings have been placed, start at the closest long edge and start to roll. Gently lift the edge all the way along and fold over. Continue slowly rolling starting at one side and working your way along to the other.

Once you have almost rolled the whole dough, pull the last flat side up and over, pinching the dough to seal it closed. Warm the oven slightly to help the dough rise, but don’t forget to turn it off!

Take a muffin pan and pour a small amount of oil into one cup. Using a pastry brush, or a paper towel if you don’t have a brush, spread the oil into each cup, covering the bottom and sides. Once covered, take a bread knife and gently slice the rolled up dough into 12 even circles.

Carefully place one circle into each muffin cup. Cover loosely with a damp tea towel or saran wrap and place in the warmed oven to rise, leaving the oven light on. Let the pizza buns rise until they are double in size.

Remove the buns, leaving the towel or saran wrap on and set the oven to bake at 375F. Remove the towel or saran wrap once the oven is ready and place the tray in. Bake for 20-25 min until the buns are browning on top and hollow sounding if you tap them.

Remove and let cool. The pizza buns can be placed into a container, or ziploc bag and frozen. For an easy lunch, take the bun out of the freezer, heat and eat or heat and place in a thermos or container to bring for lunch.

Stuffed Peppers

Stuffed peppers just waiting for the cheese topping!

These are such a quick and easy meal to make! Our kids will go through phases where they will eat the pepper, other times they just eat the stuffing (which still have veggies in it!) but it seems anything I make with cheese is always a win at our table. I made these a little different than I usually do and absolutely adored them, so decided to share the updated recipe.

Ingredients

1 lb ground beef (can substitute for turkey, chicken or meat alternative)

3-4 whole, sweet peppers

Cooked rice, we prefer basmati or jasmine

Mild salsa, cumin, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder

Grated cheese, we prefer cheddar

2 tbsp butter

Directions

Boil about 1c of rice as per directions on the package. Drain and set aside.

On medium, brown your ground meat or meat alternative with salt, pepper, cumin, garlic and onion powder. If not using a lean meat, you may need to drain the grease.

While meat and rice are cooking take your peppers, wash, and cut in half removing the seeds. Set the peppers aside until ready to stuff. Slice your butter and lay in the bottom of a casserole dish.

Once meat is fully cooked, turn the stove to almost low and add the cooked rice, and start with a cup of salsa. Stir it all together until blended. If the meat and rice seem dry, add a bit more salsa until you reach your desired consistency. I like to add enough just to cover the rice and meat, but not so that the dish is sloppy.

Once everything is blended, remove from heat. Pick up your pepper halves and carefully, as the stuffing will be hot, use a spoon, and fill each pepper half with the stuffing until full. You can use the spoon back to press the stuffing in. Once full, lay on the butter in the casserole dish.

Once each pepper is full and tucked into the casserole dish, sprinkle the grated cheese over top.

Cover the dish with foil and bake at 400F until the cheese is melted and peppers softened. About 20-30 min. Uncover the pepper for the last 5 min and let the top crisp up a bit. Remove and serve.

Super simple recipe with very few steps. I used to stick to italian seasonings and tomato sauce, while dicing and adding onions and peppers to the beef when browning it. I decided to try the cumin and salsa for a different flavour this time and found it worked even better! Less prep and the flavour was fantastic. If your family likes more heat, just increase the salsa to medium or hot. Quick to prep, quick to cook and a full meal in a short time.

Meal Planning

Meal Planning started when I ran a home daycare. With 7 kids needing two snacks and lunch per day, plus my own family to feed dinner to, daily organization was needed! Meal planning helped ensure we had a variety of nutritional content, food wasn’t wasted and I was using my prep time wisely. Trying to ensure everyone has something on their plate they liked, while also introducing new foods was something I strived for.

When my work reopened during Covid and life got quite busy, it was time to bring back more formal meal planning where our weekly dishes weren’t just floating around in my head. I brought up a chalkboard we weren’t using, hung some twine on the back and in seconds had an easy to use board that the whole family could see. Meal plans can be written on pen and paper, an electronic version or anything in between. Decide what works best for your family and go from there.

I like to keep things simple. Know what foods your family does and doesn’t like, ask for input (this is my kids’ favourite part) and don’t be afraid to branch out and try something new. I often try new meals when I know we have some favourites leftover in the fridge. Our rule is 10 bites, at least try it before deciding it’s a dish you don’t like. If you don’t like it, you can make your own meal from the fridge, but it has to be nutritious. Knowing the foods my family likes, I start planning by taking a look in the fridge. What ingredients need to be used up first, what do I have too much of? Often, this is produce. Once I see the items I need to use up, I start picturing meals that will use them. I head to the freezer next to see what is available. After the freezer, I check my pantry. Then, I write out our weekly meal list.

I try to plan with a variety of proteins, I look at meals that can carry into each other or the following week for easier prep and I base our meals on the seasonal produce available when possible too. We tend to do groceries on Wednesday as our daughter has Cheer practice and there is a grocery store just down the road. Two birds, one stone sorta deal. I look at what we had the week before, try not to duplicate meals more than once a month and get a little creative. I also look at our weekly schedules. What nights am I home to cook? What nights are a little more rushed? Are there any appointments or commitments? Any special celebrations, holidays or sleepovers happening? The goal of my meal plan is to be functional, tasty and easy to execute. It has to fit within the family’s lifestyle to be functional, so looking at what the family’s needs are, is key.

Once I have a rough outline of the ingredients I need to use up, I fill in the blanks. For example, the first week pictured I had a lot of salsa and tuna on hand. I could double up the mashed potatoes for Friday and Sunday. Rice or mini potatoes could work with the chicken fingers on Saturday and the weather was great for bbqing that steak. I had pork and apples on hand, but needed proscuitto and a different cheese. We had cucumbers, peppers, carrots that needed to be eaten soon, so Saturday easy dinnner was great for that. I was off on the Monday and had cottage cheese to use so stuffed shells were an easy answer.

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We did a lot of cooking the first week, so I kept it simpler the second. We had leftovers for sure. The chili and stew were pre portioned and frozen from previous weeks, which meant no effort at all. We had taco shells to use up and soup in the freezer too. We were visiting my family on Saturday and coming home Sunday which meant leftovers from that week were the easy answer for Sunday dinner. It also meant that the fridge would be cleaned out ready for a new week. No groceries had to be bought for this week as everything was on hand between the fridge and freezer.

Planning our weekly meals takes no more than 30 minutes, often closer to 15. It helps give me a quick inventory of our groceries too and sets up our grocery list for the week. If you’re someone who needs more structure, you can have a binder or recipe box of meals that can rotate. Have the recipes written down, ingredients first so you can see what is on hand and what needs to be bought. Batch cook where you can. Make a meal for tonight and one for a few weeks from now. Then, on a busier night all you have to defrost and cook. Other meals can be cooked straight from frozen. Don’t forget that simple meals can have great nutrition too. Keep some basic ingredients in your pantry and replenish once they get half to a quarter left. Buy butter, cheese, breads when on sale and freeze. Learn your spices and herbs to create different flavours. And don’t be afraid to change it up. I find tweaking an ingredient, adding something new or pairing different sides can keep a dish interesting. Have fun with your meal plan and create one that works for YOU!