I just wrapped up teaching my 7th Cooking Matters course through an organization that has a very special place in my heart, the Interfaith Food Shuttle. The class is geared toward teaching lower-income families how to shop for and cook healthy meals while on a budget. It can be done! While the title of this blog is “Grace Gourmet” and the meals we make may sometimes come off as elaborate or fancy, we actually do follow a food budget and for as long as I can remember, we have been planning our meals with money and time in mind. With the holidays among us and temptation to eat out or eat unhealthy, I thought I’d post some of my go-to meal planning tips for anyone wondering how we go about mapping our meals out. I’d love it if anyone has anything to add to this list. As for the recipe, if you haven’t figured it out by now, I look for any opportunity to combine fruit and cheese. Especially in the fall. While this is an old recipe, I thought I would resurface it since apples are in prime season and it would make a great appetizer for any holiday socializing you are doing. It’s one of Grace’s favorites, and soon Charlotte can enjoy some of the apples and sweet potatoes from it! Here are the tips and keep reading for the recipe at the bottom. Happy cooking – and eating! 🙂
Meal planning tips:
- Don’t try to start from scratch every week. Search your freezer, pantry, fridge and leftovers and use that as inspiration for your menu for the week. Really try to get the most out of what you already have. This saves money, time, and it prevents waste. Maybe you have some eggplant that’s getting soft and would make a nice pasta topping with chicken from the freezer. Now all you need to buy is a dollar box of pasta! Or what about things like dried beans, rice, grits and jarred food that certainly linger in my food cabinet for a while. These items can serve as a base for whatever fresh items that need to be used up, or as inspiration for something to purchase.
- Deal with your food after you buy it: Go ahead and wash and chop your greens, herbs and veggies, storing them properly to prevent spoiling. Shred or slice your cheese (buying from the block is cheaper and shredded cheese is usually coated in corn or potato starch.) If buying a whole roasted chicken, de-bone it.This also makes them readily available when you want to cook – saving time and also making it more likely that they will be used, at least for me!
- Try to do more with less. Example: maybe your grocery store has carrots on sale. Buy a bunch. Make a pot roast, a carrot ginger soup, have them on salad or raw with dipped hummus. Same ingredient, different meals and flavors.
- Sunday equals prep day! Carve out some time on the weekend to prep some of your meals so there is less work to be done during the week. Crank up the music, pour yourself a cup of coffee (or wine), open the windows and get to work.
- Don’t plan out every single meal. That’s too much work and unrealistic in my opinion. Account for leftovers, spontaneous meals with friends and for some nights when you just don’t want to go near the kitchen. For this reason, we usually have a frozen pizza (no shame!) on hand. I plan about 5 specific meals of the week.
- Soups, salads, frittatas! We eat these three dishes on a weekly basis in all forms depending on what’s in season and already in the kitchen. There are endless ways to get creative with these and they can easily be made in advance, serving you all week. Plus they are super healthy! For salads, I’ll chop the veggies and protein and just have the dressing in a separate jar until serving. Soups freeze really well and frittatas can be eaten as breakfast, lunch of dinner, hot or room temperature. Plus eggs are an incredibly healthy, affordable source of protein.
- Use the seasons for inspiration. Produce that is in season is often less expensive and better quality. Plus, eating seasonally means you get a wider variety of nutrients!
- Use sales as inspiration. Instead of going to the grocery store with an entire grocery list, leave a meal or two unplanned for what’s on sale. If this seems intimidating, just keep it simple such as a pork tenderloin with some roasted vegetables or pull your Pinterest page out.
- Have the day’s nutritional intake in mind: We load up on the protein and produce for breakfast and lunch, making those meals extra healthy but tasty. Meaning in the evening, we can indulge a little or just eat something simple. We’ve had just cheese, crackers, and a simple salad plenty of times. “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.” This concept works well for us. Our breakfast and lunches are typically more elaborate and take more prep (often done in advance) while our dinners are pretty simple and easy to make. Since lately by the end of the day everyone just wants to relax, we’re all happy if dinner is quick and effortless.
- Get creative with leftovers: Maybe some leftover meat can be sliced and served cold on salads or sandwiches. Mix rice or quinoa into a salad or soup. See if you can turn one meal into an entirely different one.
- Depending on how busy you are, avoid meals with a lengthy ingredient list. This eats into your wallet and the amount of you time you spend in the kitchen. Additionally, if we want our children to really appreciate the beauty of say, some buttery mushrooms or sweet earthy beets, we should be serving them solo with just some simple preparation and seasoning, not lost among a bunch of other ingredients or sauces.
Would love to know what you thought of these and any that you practice at home!
Apple, Sweet Potato, Cream Cheese and Sage Frittata:
- 2 sweet potatoes, scrubbed and sliced
- Olive oil, salt and pepper
- 9 eggs, whisked
- 1 apple, cored and sliced
- 1/3 package cream cheese cubed or an equal amount of soft cheese such as goat or feta
- 8-10 small sage leaves
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Toss sliced sweet potatoes in olive oil, salt and pepper.
- Line the bottom of a pie dish with the sliced sweet potatoes making them the “crust” of your frittata. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes. Once finished, remove from oven and set aside.
- Chiffanode 3 of the sage leaves.
- Fold the 3 sliced sage leaves and the cream cheese into the eggs, pour this mixture into the pie dish lined with sweet potatoes.
- Tuck the sliced apples into the egg mixture in the pie dish, making sure some are visible for a pretty frittata.
- Place the remaining sage leaves around the apples and bake for 30-45 minutes. I often turn the oven off after 35 minutes and leave the frittata in the oven for another 5 minutes then remove it, which helps it to not over-cook. Our oven is wacky! You can use a knife test, similar to baking, to test to see if it’s ready. Always allow it to cool a bit before removing.
- Makes a great finger food for an older baby or toddler.
- Perfect for a portable lunch or brunch!