How I Eat

How I Eat: Using Whole Foods-Based Freezer Cooking to Feed Your Family

Welcome to How I Eat: Meal Planning for Normal People. (If you missed it, click over to read more about this series on The Pajama Chef.) This series is meant to inspire readers (and myself!) with tips and tricks for meal planning and getting dinner on the table. Whether you’re cooking for one or a crowd, I firmly believe that good food shouldn’t be sacrificed just because life is busy.

How I Eat, Polly: Using Whole Foods-Based Freezer Cooking to Feed Your Family

Today’s feature on How I Eat is Polly, one of the lovely ladies who runs Thriving Home. She does a little of everything including: photography, baking, repurposing furniture, sewing, deal-hunting, gardening, and bird watching (yes, bird watching). She regularly feeds crowds of hungry college students at her house and keeps her children (6, 4, and 1) busy outdoors. She’s a go-getter who isn’t afraid of a challenge. I think you’re going to love her tips on meal planning using freezer cooking!

Tell us about yourself. Who are you cooking for? What else influences how you get meals on the table?

I cook for a family of 5. Kids are all under 6 years old. My priorities in the recipes I choose are: whole foods, easy, and tasty! Bonus points if they are freezer friendly.

What meals do you plan?

  • Dinner

In a typical week, approximately how many meals per week do you plan to eat at home or prepare to take with you (e.g., to work or school)? No shame… curious minds want to know! For this, I would include any food purchased at the grocery store (e.g., rotisserie chicken, bagged salad mix, etc.) but not takeout.

  • 19-20: I eat out once or twice a week.

What is your basic meal planning method?

On Friday or Saturday, I look at the week ahead to see what nights we are home. I then look in my freezer to see what I have to build around. From there I use my cookbook, From Freezer to Table, and Pinterest to build my menu plan.

How I Eat, Polly: Using Whole Foods-Based Freezer Cooking to Feed Your Family

What are your favorite weeknight meals?

Anything from From Freezer to Table!

What are your “no-brainer” meals? Or what meals do you make when there’s “nothing” to eat?

Pasta with marinara. Grilled cheese. Pancakes. Peanut butter & Jelly. Mac and cheese. Quesadillas.

Do you use any tools to help you create your meal plan and/or execute it?

  • Meal planning whiteboard or chalkboard
  • Freezer or batch cooking

I have made freezer cooking part of my lifestyle. I almost always double a meal each week and freeze it (before cooking).

How I Eat, Polly: Using Whole Foods-Based Freezer Cooking to Feed Your Family

What is your best advice for someone who is just starting to meal plan?

Take small steps. Don’t try to completely overhaul your norm or it won’t last. Simply try to plan a few meals a week at first. Double one meal a week and start reaping the benefits of freezer cooking. You’ll be hooked!

How I Eat: Meal Planning for Normal People - a new series on thepajamachef.com inspiring YOU in the weekly routine of meal planning!

Thank you, Polly! Freezer cooking is such a game changer. I did a bunch before my son was born and it truly has become a habit! I love your tip to double one meal per week… starting small with these things is the way to go! Your cookbook is a great resource.

Connect with Polly and Thriving Home for more inspiration on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram.

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How I Eat

How I Eat: Relying on Staples to Make Cooking for Two Easy

Welcome to How I Eat: Meal Planning for Normal People. (If you missed it, click over to read more about this series on The Pajama Chef.) This series is meant to inspire readers (and myself!) with tips and tricks for meal planning and getting dinner on the table. Whether you’re cooking for one or a crowd, I firmly believe that good food shouldn’t be sacrificed just because life is busy.

How I Eat: Relying on Staples to Make Cooking for Two Easy

Today’s feature on How I Eat is Colleen from Faith, Hope, Love, & Luck Survive Despite a Whiskered Accomplice. Colleen is a Virginia food blogger who specializes in serving her recipes for feel-good southern comfort food with a side of sarcasm and a little bit of cat hair thrown in for good luck. Colleen and her adorable yet extremely neurotic Bengal cat Brenna are known for their not always successful, but often dare devilish food endeavors in the kitchen together. Things don’t always go as expected, but in the end there is always a delicious recipe that will make you wish the two of these girls were your neighbors, because not only do these two love to share their story, but they love feeding anyone who should just happen to stop by for a visit. To learn more about Colleen and Brenna, or just to find a delicious recipe for mouth watering cookies, flaky southern biscuits, sinfully delicious deviled eggs, or numerous other scrumptious treats you’ll just be dying to try, please stop by Faith, Hope, Love, & Luck Survive Despite a Whiskered Accomplice for a visit.

Tell us about yourself. Who are you cooking for? What else influences how you get meals on the table?

Most days I cook for two people, me and B.O.B. Bob, however, I do have people over often fairly regularly, which gives me the opportunity to cook larger meals.

What meals do you plan?

  • Dinner

In a typical week, approximately how many meals per week do you plan to eat at home or prepare to take with you (e.g., to work or school)? No shame… curious minds want to know! For this, I would include any food purchased at the grocery store (e.g., rotisserie chicken, bagged salad mix, etc.) but not takeout.

  • 14-15: I eat out almost everyday.

What is your basic meal planning method?

My best meal planning method doesn’t exactly involve having a plan other than always making sure certain staples are in our house to create last-minute meals.

What are your favorite weeknight meals?

Breakfast for dinner is a real favorite. Salads with anything and everything thrown on top are a huge hit too. Soup, however, is the ultimate weeknight meal…it can be made ahead and takes very little time to heat up. My Soup Saturday Swappers page has links to several soup recipes perfect for weeknight meals.

What are your “no-brainer” meals? Or what meals do you make when there’s “nothing” to eat?

Grilled cheese, scrambled egg soft tacos with whatever fixings we have on hand, and grilled sausages are a real favorite with our neighbors when we get together as well because we can defrost them in a few minutes.

Do you use any tools to help you create your meal plan and/or execute it?

  • Freezer or batch cooking
  • Weekend meal prep

What is your best advice for someone who is just starting to meal plan?

I find that I do most of my cooking on the weekend when I have more time.

How I Eat: Meal Planning for Normal People - a new series on thepajamachef.com inspiring YOU in the weekly routine of meal planning!

Thank you, Colleen! Your reminder that having a meal plan doesn’t always have to be super formal is so important. If you can keep staples of your favorite ingredients on hand, dinner can be so easy! Relying on staples is key. And I love having people over too–it’s fun cooking for a crowd on occasion. Thanks for your perspective on meal planning!!

Connect with Colleen for more inspiration via Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest.

Menu Plans

Getting Ready for Baby Volde: Freezer Cooking Style!

Freezer cooking doesn’t have to be complicated! Learn how I stocked our freezer last week in preparation for our baby boy coming this spring. 🙂

Freezer cooking doesn't have to be complicated! Learn how I stocked our freezer last week in preparation for our baby boy coming this spring. :)

When I first found out that I was pregnant, I immediately knew I wanted to make a bunch of freezer meals in advance so that Ben and I would have some yummy things to eat as we adjust to life with a baby! Of course, I used Pinterest to help me plan. 🙂

Last week I was able to devote time over a few days to making a bunch of meals–20 to be exact. Most are crockpot meals, but I also made up a few casseroles, spaghetti sauce, soup, and burritos to have on hand. I thought about making breakfast and snacks, but freezer space plus time made that not necessary. We are very fortunate in that Ben gets some paternity leave after the baby is born AND then, it’ll be summer break for him… so he can fix me breakfast and snacks while I take care of our cute baby! Hahaha–just kidding…kind of. 🙂 I’m sure having all these meals on hand will not prevent us from ever getting take out or pizza, but I bet this will help!

I’m not sure many of you will be very interested in the details of my process–there are tons of freezer cooking resources online for that [I suggest checking out this extensive post on Life as Mom]–but if you have questions, just let me know! I can’t vouch for many of these meals except for the ones from my blog [they have a photo] or that I mention I’ve already made so hopefully they’ll be good! I have to admit that I mostly wrote a blog post about this so that Ben and I would know what I made… and so we’d have ideas despite our tiredness how to serve these meals and with what side items. I think I’ll be very grateful to myself in a couple months. 🙂

If I have time later I will make and freeze batches of muffins, black beans, freezer breakfast burritos, a bunch of taco seasoning, cooked and shredded chicken, smoothie packs, etc. But we will see! For now we have a pretty good start. 🙂

P.S. Post updated on 10/11/16 with my thoughts about each meal. Feel free to comment with questions! 🙂

Crock Pot Meals

defrost all in the refrigerator overnight before transferring to the crockpot to cook the next day

Beef and Broccoli from Table for Two

  • cook on low for 6 hours
    • when finished, in a small bowl whisk together 2 tablespoons cornstarch with 4 tablespoons sauce from crockpot to form a slurry
    • add 1 bag of frozen broccoli and prepared slurry to crockpot and cook for 30 minutes to thicken the sauce
  • serve over rice, garnish with sesame seeds
  • side ideas: salad
    • *note: I also added 4-5 medium carrots, chopped to the crockpot
  • how it turned out: pretty good! A little salty, but I added more veggies to balance it out. 🙂

Bistro Chicken and Rice from A Spicy Perspective

  • cook on high for 2-3 hours or low for 3-5 hours –> watch carefully so rice doesn’t turn to mush
    • remove chicken and cut into bite size pieces
    • return chicken to crockpot and toss together
  • side ideas: salad or steamed veggies like broccoli, green beans, etc.
  • if freezing uncooked rice makes this dish turn out not so well, order pizza or head to Zaxby’s 🙂
  • how it turned out: skip this! I bet it would be good fresh, but the rice got mushy in the freezing/defrosting process. 😦

Chicken Fajitas from Saving You Dinero via Making Our Marx

  • cook on low for 5-6 hours
    • remove chicken and cut into bite size pieces
    • return chicken to crockpot and toss together
  • serve over rice or tortilla chips, or in tortilla shells with cheese, sour cream, cilantro, lettuce
  • side ideas: salad, chips & salsa
  • how it turned out: DELICIOUS! Make this again and again!

Chinese Pork & Noodles from Jo Cooks

  • cook on low for 4 1/2 hours
    • remove pork and place in a large bowl; let rest for 10 minutes before shredding
    • return pork to crockpot
    • add 1 bag frozen stir fry veggies to crockpot
    • meanwhile, prepare 12 ounces noodles – thin spaghetti or any type of thin Asian noodles should work
    • stir noodles into crockpot with shredded pork and veggies
  • serve with peanuts and cilantro; sprinkle with lime juice
    • *note: original recipe is more complicated and I’m sure better; this is my simplified version 🙂
  • how it turned out: SO YUM! I can’t wait to make this without my simplified modifications.

Cilantro Lime Chicken from Six Sisters’ Stuff via Making Our Marx

  • cook on low for 6-8 hours
    • remove chicken and shred with two forks
    • return chicken to crockpot and toss together
  • serve over rice or tortilla chips, or in tortilla shells) with cheese, sour cream, cilantro, lettuce
  • side ideas: salad, chips & salsa
  • how it turned out: pretty good! Pretty similar to any Mexican chicken crockpot meal, to be honest. Always yummy!

Hawaiian BBQ Pulled Chicken

Hawaiian BBQ Pulled Chicken Sandwiches | The Pajama Chef

  • cook on low for 8-10 hours
    • an hour or so before finished, shred chicken and stir into sauce to incorporate
    • cook for a little while longer to incorporate
  • serve on hamburger buns [like the yummy ones from Publix’s bakery section]
  • side ideas: salad, oven fries, chips
  • how it turned out: one of our favorite meals to this day.

Honey Rosemary Chicken from Kojo Designs via Making Our Marx  

  • cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 6-8 hours [I already added the 1 cup water the recipe calls for]
    • 10 minutes before serving, stir in 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • serve over rice or couscous
  • side ideas: salad or steamed veggies like broccoli, green beans, etc.
  • how it turned out: great! This was a pretty unique recipe. I stirred in some fresh rosemary after it was all done cooking.

Honey Sesame Chicken

Honey Sesame Chicken | thepajamachef.com

  • cook on low for 4 hours
    • remove chicken to a plate and break into bite size pieces with 2 forks
    • mix together 1/4 cup water and 4 teaspoons cornstarch to make a slurry, then pour into crockpot and stir to combine
    • add chicken back to crockpot
    • cover and cook for 15 minutes until thick
  • serve over rice, garnish with sesame seeds
  • side ideas: steamed broccoli or salad
  • how it turned out: always good!

Orange Chicken from Who Needs a Cape?

  • cook on low for 4-6 hours
  • serve over rice
  • side ideas: salad or frozen stir fry veggies or steamed veggies like broccoli, green beans, etc.
  • how it turned out: pretty good. Salty… but that’s true with many Asian dishes. It wasn’t as orangey as I expected but still good.

Ranch Chicken Tacos from Who Needs a Cape?

  • cook on low for 6-8 hours
  • serve with tortillas and taco fixings – cheese, lettuce, tomatoes/pico de gallo/salsa
  • side ideas: salad, chips & salsa
  • how it turned out: typical Mexican chicken dish… delicious!

Santa Fe Chicken

Crock Pot Santa Fe Chicken | thepajamachef.com

  • cook on low 7-8 hours
    • remove chicken from crockpot and shred with 2 forks
    • return chicken to crockpot and stir to combine
  • serve over rice or tortilla chips, or in tortillas with taco fixings like green onions, cilantro, cheese, sour cream, and lettuce
  • side ideas: salad, chips & salsa
  • how it turned out: again, one of our favorite crockpot meals. Delicious!

Sausage & Peppers from Mommy’s Fabulous Finds

  • cook on low 6-8 hours
  • serve over rice
  • side ideas: salad or steamed veggies like broccoli, green beans, etc.
  • how it turned out: this is probably the only meal we wouldn’t make again. Some things shouldn’t be made in a crockpot–smoked sausage is one of them. The peppers also got pretty soggy too. I normally like this dish, but it was too much in the crockpot.

Thai Pork with Peanut Sauce from Who Needs a Cape?

  • cook on low for 6 hours
  • serve over rice with peanuts and sliced green onions
  • side ideas: salad or steamed veggies like broccoli, green beans, etc.
  • how it turned out: delicious!

Casseroles

defrost in the refrigerator overnight before baking the next day

Chicken Parmesan Casserole from Thriving Home

  • bake at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes, until brown and bubbling
  • serve over pasta
  • side ideas: salad or steamed veggies like broccoli, green beans, etc.
  • how it turned out: new family favorite! I made a few more of these before I went back to work so we could enjoy them again.

Hawaiian Chicken

Hawaiian chicken

  • transfer from freezer bag to greased 9×13 inch casserole dish
  • bake at 400 degrees F for 40-45 minutes
  • serve over rice
  • side ideas: salad or steamed veggies like broccoli, green beans, etc.
  • how it turned out: though we love this meal, the sauce didn’t freeze the best. I’m thinking it was the oil… it’s easy enough that I would skip this as a freezer meal and make it fresh.

Pizza Spaghetti Bake from What Megan’s Making

  • bake at 375 degrees F for 25 minutes
  • side ideas: salad or steamed veggies like broccoli, green beans, etc.
  • how it turned out: amazing! So cheesy and so so good! 🙂

Other Meals: Burritos, Soup, and Spaghetti Sauce

Grandma Carolyn’s Spaghetti Sauce from Bake Your Day – I made a double batch and froze in quart size ziploc bags.

  • I’ve made this a few times before… delicious! This time, I used 1 pound ground beef and 1 pound ground pork.
  • serve hot over pasta
  • side ideas: salad, steamed veggies like broccoli or green beans
  • how it turned out: freezing batches of spaghetti sauce is my new thing! Love this!

Southwest Rollups from Money Saving Mom

  • I’ve made these several times over the years… with chicken, beef, and pork. 🙂 So good!
  • Bake at 350 degrees F for 20-30 minutes or until hot–they can be baked straight from the freezer.
  • serve with salsa and sour cream
  • side ideas: chips & salsa, salad
  • how it turned out: I made a double batch and this was not enough. We went through them so fast! They’re great to have on hand. 🙂

Taco Soup from Well Plated – I bought ingredients for a double batch and packaged them in two bags in the pantry. I ran out out of large tupperware, so all ingredients can be combined in a stockpot…takes about 30 minutes to cook!

  • I’ve made this before and it’s delicious!
  • serve hot with various toppings like crushed tortilla chips, cheddar cheese, sour cream, cilantro, or avocado
  • how it turned out: delicious as always!

Tomato Basil Bisque from Noodles & Company Copycat Recipes – I made a double batch and froze in tupperware containers.

  • I’ve made this quite often and the original recipe has been taken down but fortunately I saved the recipe here in Google Docs!
  • serve hot with grilled cheese
  • how it turned out: also handy to have on hand. So good!

 

 

Breakfast, Egg Dishes, Recipes

Freezer Breakfast Burritos

These make-ahead freezer breakfast burritos are the key to Ben’s heart! They’re full of potatoes, sausage, and cheesy eggs and taste great!

Freezer Breakfast Burritos | thepajamachef.com

Ben’s always excited when eggs go on sale because he knows that means it’s time for me to make another batch of freezer breakfast burritos for him! He absolutely loves these things, and I have to admit–I do too. 🙂 They’re great to keep in the freezer for busy mornings. Since Ben has started teaching, we’re on a slightly different [read: early] schedule. I love sending him off to work with a good breakfast, even though that sounds so 1950s housewife. 🙂 But what I don’t love is waking up at 5:20 to make him that breakfast. Enter freezer breakfast burritos! There when you need ’em!

Freezer Breakfast Burritos | thepajamachef.com

I have to admit that I’ve been making these burritos off and on for years. When we lived in Indiana, Ben worked 10 minutes from home and he’d often take his breakfast to work so he could use as much of his morning for other things, like sleeping in and working out. Now he usually eats them at home before I get up. Works for me either way!

Freezer Breakfast Burritos | thepajamachef.com

One of the greatest things about these burritos is that they are super customizable. I’ve made them with bacon instead of sausage, and occasionally I’ll sneak some veggies in there with the eggs like peppers, onion, or spinach. Spinach was not his fave addition to these burritos but I liked it! 🙂 I’ve even done a Mexican version, with black beans and salsa instead of sausage, and taco seasoning instead of fresh herbs. No matter how you make ’em, these are a great addition to your freezer. Ben’s even been known to take them for lunch occasionally.

Freezer Breakfast Burritos | thepajamachef.com

The recipe below reflects the amounts I usually use when making these burritos–1 egg per tortilla, 1/2 pound sausage and 1 cup cheese per 10 tortillas. Though you can buy large burrito-size tortillas, I make mine with fajita size tortillas because that’s a better serving size for us. I think there’s about 1/2 cup filling in each burrito but you could certainly adjust the recipe to make bigger burritos if you have more of an appetite. 🙂 These are a great breakfast alone, or can also be served with a piece of fruit or some yogurt. Enjoy!

one year ago: Strawberry Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars
two years ago: Asian Peanut Veggie Dip
three years ago: Avocado Egg Salad
four years ago: African Peanut Pineapple Stew

Freezer Breakfast Burritos

  • Servings: 10
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound breakfast sausage
  • 1 cup potatoes, shredded [from 1 large or 2 small russet potatoes]
  • 10 eggs
  • 1/3 cup loosely packed chopped fresh herbs, of choice – parsley, cilantro, dill, oregano, etc. – I usually use a combination or about 1 tablespoon [total] dried herbs
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 10 flour tortillas – I usually use fajita size but burrito size would work too–you may just need more filling
  • 4-6 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
  • Sriracha sauce, optional

Directions:

In a skillet set over medium heat, brown sausage and discard almost all the grease. Return sausage to pan. Add potatoes and cook on low heat for 3-5 minutes, until translucent, then set aside.

Crack all the eggs in a medium bowl, then whisk in herbs and pepper. Add to another skillet set over medium-low heat, cooking until just set. It’s okay if the eggs are a little runnier than you might normally eat them since they will be cooked again in the microwave later.

Assemble the burritos by dividing the sausage and potato mixture between the tortillas, then topping with eggs and a little cheese. This should be about 1/2 cup filling per burrito. Drizzle some Sriracha over the cheese if desired, then roll burritos. Wrap in a piece of foil or Saran wrap, then place in a freezer safe gallon size ziptop bag. Freeze for up to 2 months, if they last that long! When ready to eat, remove wrapping and heat in a paper towel for 90 seconds-2 minutes. Eat immediately.