Best Food Practices in the Kitchen

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Part of being a good cook, whether at home or professionally, means handling food with care and caution because it doesn’t take much to spread germs or make people sick. Something as simple as a bit of underdone meat or improperly washed produce can have very detrimental effects to one’s health. If there is one thing that I can impress upon you it is this: Move through your kitchen methodically and with careful attention to food safety. ALWAYS implement good kitchen practices in everything that you do. 

Whenever I go online I find myself a little stunned by many of the comments or suggestions that I read on other cooking sites or groups as there seems to be such a lack of regard for food safety and best practices in the kitchen. I am a real stickler for cleanliness and proper technique and I feel that both are essential when cooking or baking. All too often people overlook these simple but necessary practices in the interest of getting things done quickly or to save time and money but that can be so costly to your well being.

To that end, below are some very common (and unsettling) comments that I have seen come up time and time again. They are as follows:

  • “I forgot the meat out on the counter all night but it’s fine, I keep my house cool” – Keeping your house cool is not an acceptable substitute for a refrigerator or freezer which can safely keep meat at a consistent, appropriate temperature. If you leave meat out on your counter, especially unfrozen raw meat, you NEED to toss it. It does not take much for bacterial growth to take hold and meat is very susceptible to contamination. Any meat that has been kept out at room temperature should be discarded immediately.
  • “Well, it’s not like I have ever gotten sick from doing it this way” – My answer to that is simple. Count yourself lucky. Just because it’s never happened before doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Food poisoning is no laughing matter, avoid it by practicing safe handling of food in the kitchen.
  • “It’s fine to thaw meat on the counter, I always do it” – The problem with thawing meat on the counter is that it’s thawing at different rates. While the inner most part of the meat may still be cold and frozen the outside is thawing more quickly essentially leaving you with raw meat that is being kept at room temperature. Harmful bacteria can grow extremely rapidly at room temperature so avoid leaving your meat out on the counter at all costs. The safest method to thaw meat is in your refrigerator, in the microwave using a defrost setting or in cold water in the sink. Just be sure to change the water about every 30 minutes to ensure proper thawing.
  • “I always cool my leftovers before putting them in the fridge” – Harmful bacterial growth can occur quickly in warm food that is left out. Your safest bet is to package leftovers right away and place them right into the refrigerator.
  • “I don’t need to wash my fruits and vegetables, they are clean enough” – Unless you handpicked all of your fruit and veggies directly from the farm yourself (and even then they still need to be cleaned) the produce that you bring home from the supermarket is generally filthy. That beautiful orange from Florida that you’re about to bite into has been picked by a farmer and placed in a dirty crate or bag, has been processed for packaging, stored on a truck, transported, unloaded in a supermarket warehouse and then touched by employees stocking the shelves and customers picking through the fruit. Talk about manhandling! Protect yourself by thoroughly washing your produce in cold water or even better, use a simple vinegar wash. To make a vinegar wash -Combine 3 parts water to 1 part vinegar in a large bowl and soak your fruit and veggies. The vinegar wash will help to remove germs, pesticides, wax, and other icky grime.
  • “I love to use the leftover marinade for serving” – This one is an absolute NO-NO. Leftover marinade harbors a ton of bacteria and germs from the raw meat and should never be served alongside your cooked meal. If you want to serve extra marinade on the side, either make a smaller batch for serving or reserve some marinade before adding the meat to it.
  • “I washed my hands before I started cooking, I don’t need to keep re-washing them” – Your hands can be a breeding ground for germs so when you’re cooking be sure to wash them and wash them often, especially when handling raw meat. Remember, there is no such thing as washing your hands too much while cooking. The cleaner your hands, the safer the food preparation.
  • “I rinsed off the cutting board, it’s clean enough to use again” – Rinsing and washing are two very different practices. You should always scrub your cutting boards with hot, soapy water but even better, run them through a cycle in the dishwasher. I have at least 6-7 plastic cutting boards in my kitchen so that I always have a clean one ready to go without having to stop and wash them along the way. I also keep separate cutting boards for meat to avoid any possible cross contamination with other foods.
  • “It’s not bad, I tasted it and it smells and tastes fine” – Just because something smells and tastes fine does not mean it hasn’t gone bad. Sometimes the bacterial growth is not obvious enough for you to taste or smell however, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Instead of relying on your senses, use tried and true safe kitchen practices for storing, prepping, cooking and keeping leftovers. For reference, most leftovers should be discarded within just a few days, especially foods like homemade tomato sauce which can quickly mold due to its high moisture content and lack of preservatives.
  • “I use the same serving platter for the cooked meat that held the raw meat, it’s no big deal” – But alas, it is in fact a big deal. You do not want to ever cross contaminate your meal by introducing raw meat juices. Always place your cooked foods on a clean platter or surface. If you hate making extra work for yourself by using multiple platters or dishes try this little trick. Cover your platter with plastic wrap before placing the raw meat on top then simply remove the plastic wrap when you’re ready to serve and you will have a nice, clean surface for your cooked meat or other foods.

The above are just a few examples of comments I’ve heard or read time and time again however, there are countless other examples of unsafe food practices out there. The best thing that you can do is to make every effort to practice safe and healthy habits in the kitchen and when in doubt, err on the side of caution and don’t take the risk. It’s far too easy to get sick from food and so often it can be avoided by following just a few simple safety precautions. Check out the links below for more useful information and tips!

USDA – Basics for Handling Food Safely

Livestrong – How To Clean Fruits and Vegetables with Vinegar

EXTRA!! EXTRA!! Read all about it!! The KIDS CORNER is here!!

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Attention Moms and Dads!! The Simply Delicious Kitchen has added new content on the blog for your budding little chefs called, Kids Corner ! It’s filled with all kinds of fun activities, easy recipes for them to make in the kitchen and healthy snack and meal ideas for you parents to prepare for them. All are kid tested and kid approved! Click above to check out all of the new sections, “Fun for Kids“, “Happy Healthy Kids” and “Kids in the Kitchen“. Enjoy!

Happy 4th of July!!

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HAPPY 4TH OF JULY!

I hope that all who celebrate have a wonderful holiday and enjoy the long weekend with family and friends! I will be taking a break to spend some time with my own family but I will be returning to The Simply Delicious Kitchen on Monday, July 9th with all new tips, tricks, information and recipes. As always, thank you all for your continued support! xoxo

See You Real Soon!

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To all of my loyal and wonderful followers, I wanted to let you know that beginning tomorrow, May 11th I will be away on vacation with my family. As my internet access will be limited I will be taking a break from my blog to spend some much needed quality time with my husband and children. I will return on Monday, May 21st with all new tips, tricks, recipes, and information. As always, thank you for supporting my blog and I look forward to getting back to cooking and blogging when I return.

Life Might Throw You A Curve Ball…………But You Can Turn That Game Around!

A few months ago on the blog I shared a little bit about my diabetes diagnosis, Sometimes Life Throws You A Curve Ball , and I just thought I would take this opportunity to give you all a little update on myself.

In September I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes after having had two rounds of gestational diabetes back in 2008 and 2013. My sugars just a few months ago were very high and my A1C, which is the measure of whether or not you have diabetes, was EXTREMELY high as well.

In September, my A1C was 9.7 which is well ABOVE where the baseline is for diabetes. (see the chart below) I’m happy to report that as of today, my current A1C level is 5.2!!!! Well BELOW where they even consider you to be PRE-diabetic, I’m basically in normal range now.

As soon as I realized my sugars were high in September I changed everything about how I was eating. I cut out a lot of processed foods, I started limiting my snacking, and I made many changes to my diet such as including more veggies, lean meats and healthy carbs. Even with occasional treats, the holidays, and all of my baking I’ve managed to lose 21 lbs in addition to bringing my A1C down and controlling my sugars.

I wanted to share my story and my success just in case there is someone else out there going through the same thing. Small changes can have big results and it’s never too late to make a difference in your health. I’m so thankful I was paying attention to the signs my body was giving me that something was “off” and I’m so thrilled to be able to say that in just a few short months, I’ve turned so much around. It feels really good to be in control of my health!

Thank you to everyone for listening, for your supportive words a few months ago and for your continued support of my blog. It means so much! xo

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See You in 2018!!!

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Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and the Happiest of New Years!! 

I will be taking the next week off from my blog and to enjoy Christmas, spend time with my family, and just relax throughout the remainder of this holiday season. I’ll be back on January 1st with all new recipes, tips, and more!!

Also, thank you all from the bottom of my heart for supporting my blog this last year. It’s meant SO much to have so many followers and to hear so many kind words from everyone about how much they’ve enjoyed my recipes and tips. I hope that you will continue to stick with me in 2018!!

Merry Christmas 🎄🎄and Happy New Year 🎉🎉

Blog Roundup of the Best DIY and Cooking Blogs I’ve Found This Week

What an honor to be given a shout out!! Thank you!!!

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Instead of a DIY or recipe today, I decided to share a Blog Roundup of the best DIY and cooking blogs I’ve found this week.

It’s been really super-hot and humid in Eastern NC the past couple of weeks. For almost three weeks, the heat index has been over 100 degrees almost every day (for my readers everywhere but Americans, that’s 32 Celsius) To be perfectly honest, it’s too hot for me to go out and work on my DIY projects. I have a stack of things to do, but it’s way too hot to worry about them!

That is why I decided to try something new and share a roundup of my favorite blogs that I’ve discovered this week. Since ya’ll like the same topics that I do, you may also enjoy them.

Thank you to all you bloggers for creating great reading material, fun content, and how-to videos. There are…

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Handling the Holiday Stress Without Turning Into the Grinch

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Let’s be honest for a minute. Holiday stress can easily turn visions of sugar plums dancing in your head to nightmares over how it’s all going to get done. Between the shopping, the wrapping, the cooking, the baking, the family gatherings, and that damn Elf on a Shelf® it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed. Fear not because I have a very simple “recipe” to help you overcome the stress of the holidays and have a “very merry” instead of a “bah-humbug” holiday season!

PLANNING + ORGANIZING = STRESS FREE HOLIDAYS

I’m someone who doesn’t function in chaos and disorder. Because of that, I organize literally everything in my life. EVERYTHING. I have a slight obsession with storage totes and other organizational supplies and I most definitely have a very tight relationship with my label maker! I also keep binders, lists and notebooks for everything from coupons to recipes and I’m not ashamed to say that I even have a dedicated Christmas notebook. Yep. You read right, a Christmas notebook. I plan out my holiday meals, Christmas baking, gift giving, North Pole Breakfast, table setting ideas, and anything else that might get me through the holiday season. I love having everything I need at my fingertips and it’s so much easier to keep track of what needs to get done. I’m never scrambling around the house looking for a list, recipe, or idea because it’s all in one convenient place. Truly, you can never be too organized or plan too much. Words to live by………..at least in my book! When it comes to the holidays and getting it all done, the more organized you can get yourself the better!

Below, I’ve compiled some of my best tips to keep you organized and as stress free as possible this holiday season. I hope you find some of them helpful and please feel free to add your own holiday tips in the comments section!

  1. Keep a Holiday Notebook/Binder – Organize it by labeling each page with a specific heading such as: Christmas Day Dinner, Gift Giving List, To-Do, Elf on a Shelf® Ideas, Christmas Cookie Baking, Thanksgiving Dinner, Christmas Card List, Gift Ideas, etc. Use as many (or as few) headings as you need to get yourself organized. Use this notebook to write down all of your ideas, lists, and to-do’s and everything will always be in one handy, convenient place.
  2. Invest in a Label Maker – I have a Brother P-Touch®, they are fairly inexpensive but worth its weight in gold. I use it to label EVERYTHING in my house from snack bins in the pantry to my holiday boxes in the garage. It’s so much easier to read a label on the outside of a box then having to actually go through box after box looking for what you need, especially when it comes to holiday decorations that you only see once a year.
  3. Invest in Storage Bins – I use storage bins to organize everything. I have a bin for my Christmas linens, wrapping supplies, North Pole Breakfast/Elf on a Shelf® accessories, plastic serving platters and containers, etc. I like to buy a whole set of the same bin so that stacking and storing them is easier. I place a label on the outside of the box indicating its contents so that finding what I need is a cinch.
  4. Store Like Bins Together – Keep all of your holiday bins stacked together in one place according to holiday. (fall decorations, Halloween decorations, Christmas decorations, etc) It’s easy to forget what you have if you have bins scattered all throughout your house. Find an area where they can all be neatly stacked together so that you’ll be able to find and access everything more quickly and efficiently.
  5. Keep an Assortment of Food Storage Containers – Whether they are decorative and holiday themed or just basic plastic throwaways, keep an assortment of food storage containers handy. You will need them to neatly package all of your holiday baked goods AND they are great to have on hand for your guests to take home treats and leftovers. Grab a plastic storage bin, put them all inside, and label it “Holiday Food Storage” and everything will be in one convenient place when you need it.
  6. Set Up a “Wrapping Station” – Whether it’s a corner of your basement, a table in your den, or just a bin in the garage it’s so much easier to get all of the gifts wrapped if you have everything you need close at hand. I don’t have a place where I can keep everything out all of the time so instead I store everything in rolling drawer carts in the my garage. I also label each drawer so I can find everything more easily. When it’s time to wrap I just roll them into my den, sit in front of the tree, and get wrapping. To store my wrapping paper, I use tall plastic bins or long under-the-bed boxes. When I am done wrapping I just roll everything back into the garage.
  7. Keep All of the Gifts in One Place – You will surely forget to give that perfect gift that you spent months picking out if everything you purchased is scattered all around the house. Find a spot in your home such as a closet, garage, or attic and keep all of your purchased gifts in that one area so that nothing is forgotten.
  8. Print Out a Blank Calendar – Print out a blank calendar sheet and use it to plan out when you need to accomplish specific tasks for the holiday. For example, mark a day for baking holiday cookies, or cooking the side dishes for Thanksgiving, or for putting up the tree. Having a plan laid out alleviates the stress of wondering how you’ll get it all done and it makes things run much more smoothly. Tape it to the inside of a kitchen cabinet for easy access.
  9. Organize Your Favorite Holiday Recipes – We all have a set of family favorites at the holidays, recipes we make year after year. To make things easier, keep those treasured favorites together in one binder or recipe box labeled, “Holiday Favorites“. When it’s time to plan your menus and cook, you’ll appreciate having all of your holiday recipes in one spot.
  10. Plan Out Holiday Baking (and get your supplies early!!) – Look over your recipes, paying close attention to how long the baked goods will keep, and make a plan for when you should do your holiday baking. As you jot down ideas for what to bake, simultaneously write the ingredients you will need on a separate piece of paper. Doing these two things concurrently saves you the aggravation of having to go back into your cookbooks later to make a shopping list. Also, shop early. EVERYONE bakes at the holidays and you don’t want to be running around at the last minute from store to store trying to find almond paste or sugar when you’re ready to get busy in the kitchen. Having all of you ingredients ready to go will make your baking day run much more smoothly.
  11. Make a Holiday Baking Bin/Drawer – I like to keep all of my holiday baking goodies together in one spot. When it comes time to start my holiday baking I just have to pull out the drawer and all of my cupcake liners, cookie cutters, sprinkles, treat bags, doilies, etc. are there and ready to go!
  12. Host a Cookie Swap – For those that feel overwhelmed by all of the holiday baking host a cookie swap instead of trying to do it all yourself. You’ll only have to bake one or two favorites but you’ll end up with a full tray of varied holiday treats!
  13. Prepare Cookie Trays Ahead of Time – A day or two before the holiday assemble your cookie trays and platters and cover tightly with plastic wrap. When it’s time to serve dessert you won’t be scrambling around pulling out a million cookie tins trying to get everything together. Just remove the plastic wrap and serve.
  14. Label Your Serving Dishes – The last thing you want to do when you’re cooking is to have to hunt around looking for the perfect serving dish. Instead, plan your serving platters, bowls, dishes, etc. ahead of time and label each one with a sticky note indicating what food it will hold. As you’re getting ready to serve everything it’ll be as simple as “grab and go”, you won’t have to stress if you have enough serving pieces because everything will be planned ahead of time.
  15. Set Your Table Ahead of Time – If you have a separate dining area that you use for the holidays, set the table(s) a few days ahead of the holiday. It’ll be one less thing you’re rushing to do in the morning before your guests arrive.
  16. Make Dishes Ahead Of Time – If a dish can be made ahead of time, take advantage. You will feel much less harried on the actual holiday this way. To that end, also do as much food prep work as well. Dice up your onions, carrots, cheese, bread cubes, etc. a few days before the holiday and store them in either Ziploc® bags or airtight plastic containers. They’ll be all ready to go when you are!
  17. Make Ahead Holiday Breakfast – When you have young children Christmas morning is certainly filled with craziness and excitement. I would rather be in the middle of all that excitement then in the kitchen slaving away so I always like to prep our Christmas morning breakfast ahead of time. Some great options are quiche, frittatas, frozen homemade cinnamon rolls, or french toast casseroles. Breakfast will be as simple as warming something up in the oven.
  18. Plan Your Time – When hosting, it’s so important to plan your time on the big day as it ensures that everything runs smoothly. Jot down a “to-do” list and as you complete each task check it off so you don’t forget anything. Also be sure to calculate all of your cooking times beforehand so that the main dish and sides are finished at the same time.
  19. Holiday Menu Checklist – Make a checklist of all the dishes you’re serving and tape it to the inside of your cabinet door. As you put each dish out, cross it off the list. This ensures that you don’t accidentally forget to serve something. There is nothing worse than working hard to cook up delicious food and then forgetting it in the fridge on the big day!
  20. Streamline Your Holiday Cards – Enlist help from other family members to get your holiday cards stuffed, sealed, and stamped. Assign everyone a task and get busy. Also, prepare ahead of time by printing out address labels. It’s so much easier to slap a label on an envelope than it is to write everything out by hand.
  21. Clean and Purge – Prior to the holidays it’s a good idea to go through closets and toy chests and donate or trash toys that are no longer played with or that are old and broken. It can be overwhelming to try to a find a home for all of the new things when you’re dealing with so much old clutter.
  22. Don’t Leave Wrapping Until the Last Minute – It’s so much easier to tackle just a few gifts as opposed to an endless pile. As things get purchased or delivered, wrap them right away and then tuck them away. Also, save yourself time and take advantage of gift bags, they make “wrapping” gifts so much easier.
  23. Boxes, Bags, Bows, and Tags – Save as many of these things as you can as you open gifts throughout the season. Tuck them all away in your wrapping station so that the following year you’ll have plenty of extra wrapping materials on hand.
  24. Clean! Clean! Clean! – The last thing you want to do is add in a ton of holiday decorations to a home that is filled with dust and clutter. It will make everything feel messy and you’ll drive yourself crazy. Prior to bringing out the holiday decorations, clean your home top to bottom. Clean the floors, dust, and put away any clutter. It is far easier to decorate a clean and straightened up home then it is to work around a mess.
  25. Decorate in Stages – Pulling out a hundred bins full of decorations all at once can be overwhelming. So instead, decorate your home in stages. Start with your outside lights and decorations and pull out only those bins. Then pull out the bins for the inside decorations and get that all done before moving to the tree. It’s so much easier to break up the holiday decorating into manageable steps rather than face a towering pile of bins in the middle of your living room.
  26. Keep a Gift Stash – Buy a few, inexpensive gifts to have on hand in case you need a hostess gift or someone unexpected shows up on the holiday. Some great ideas are candles, ornaments, a bottle of wine, a pretty holiday dish, a box of candy, etc. You can even wrap them ahead of time and tag them with a sticky note so you know what is inside. When it’s time to gift something, just remove the sticky note, add a personalized tag and you’re all set!
  27. Keep Plenty of Trash Bags Handy – As my kids or guests open their gifts I always have a few garbage bags scattered around the room so that everyone can dispose of their wrapping paper as they open gifts. It prevents a huge pile of garbage from building up and more importantly, things don’t get lost. It’s easy to lose a small toy part, piece of jewelry, or gift card if everything is a mess.
  28. Elf on a Shelf® – Let’s face it, nothing stresses out a parent more than the fear of forgetting to move the elf! To avoid this catastrophe set a daily alarm reminder on your cell phone. You’ll never have to worry about forgetting to move your little friend again!
  29. Wish Lists – Some people scoff at them but I happen to LOVE them! I have a big family and with both sides of the family buying for my kids a Wish List is really a godsend. It gives everyone a few gift ideas, it prevents my kids from receiving age inappropriate toys, and we never get duplicates. I’ve been using the Amazon Wish List for my kids since they were born and it makes things so much easier for both me and my family. I highly recommend utilizing one, it’s so much easier than fielding a millions calls, emails, and texts from family asking what the kids want for Christmas.
  30. Just Breathe – Set aside some time every day to just breathe. Sit, relax, take in the merriment of the season and let yourself just “be”. It’s so easy to go a mile a minute at the holidays and it’s even easier to forget yourself this time of year. So make sure to take a few minutes every day to just refocus and relax. Make a mug of cocoa, put on some holiday tunes, and cozy up. You’ll be a lot more effective and get a lot more done if you take some time to recharge.

 

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL!!

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Sometimes Life Throws You A Curve Ball

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Life has a funny of way of going off course when you least expect it. One minute everything is humming along and the next minute you find yourself in a tailspin. That was my life just a couple of weeks ago.

Back when I was pregnant with my children I was diagnosed both times with gestational diabetes. I was very strict with my diet and did everything I could to make sure that my children were born healthy and without issues. Both times after delivery my GD went away and I was back to my old self however, I knew that down the road I was at a higher risk of developing pre-diabetes or worse, Type 2. As with many things in life, even though you KNOW the risks you sometimes put those aside and carry on in the hopes that you’ll be fine and not have to worry about them. But then, life throws you a curve ball.

I hadn’t been feeling great for a week or two and I was noticing some unusual things with myself such as an increased thirst, frequent urination, feeling more tired than normal, and slightly blurry vision when reading small print. Independently I wouldn’t have thought much of either one of these but the fact that they were occurring together started to raise a red flag. I knew what to look for when it came to high blood sugar so on a whim, I decided to test my sugars to see if something was going on. Up until that point my sugars had been in the normal range and all seemed fine with my health but then I saw 328 flash on my glucose monitor HOURS after having eaten and I almost fell on the floor! Just as reference, a normal person should be under 140 two hours after eating. Here I was probably 8 hours after eating and I was in the 300’s. Not good. Not good AT ALL.

My first reaction was panic. My second reaction was panic. And well, my third reaction was panic. I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. I was so nervous that my sugars would go even higher and if they did, I knew I ran the risk of feeling worse. I felt completely out of control, like I was in a tailspin with no way out. At first, I didn’t say anything to anyone, not even my husband who I share EVERYTHING with because I was afraid I would panic him. I also felt like if I said it out loud it would make it real and I really wanted to be wrong about this. I really wanted to live in denial for just a bit longer. By the next night after tossing and turning, crying in private, and panicking all day I finally told him. In hindsight, I wish I did it right away because being able to talk with him about it and cry on his shoulder was the only thing that started to finally calm me down. I am so thankful to have him to lean on, he’s my rock, and he got me through the panic so that I could take the steps needed to fix this.

I was faced with two choices, fight or flight. I wasn’t going to take this lying down or put my head in the sand about what was happening so I made the decision to immediately overhaul my diet, it was the best (and only) thing I could do to make a quick change. I cut out white flour and sugar, all junk food, and anything processed. I ate lean proteins, plenty of veggies and fruit, and I drank nothing but ice water. I started to feel better almost right away. I also saw my endocrinologist who put me back on Metformin to help to bring my sugars down and control them. Surprisingly, within just 4-5 days I had dropped five pounds and my sugars were coming down little by little. It was such a relief and it felt great to start to feel in control again. Making the immediate changes that were necessary to protect my health was the smartest thing I could’ve done and now just a few weeks later, I’m feeling better and still doing everything I can to get myself healthy for myself, my husband, and my children.

I consider this my wake-up call. I am 42, not getting any younger, and I can’t afford to neglect my health. So as part of these lifestyle changes I’ve also decided to join a gym because regular exercise is a great way to keep your sugars in check. I’m also overhauling how I cook because I can do better in the kitchen. That doesn’t mean that all sweets and goodies are forever off-limits, it just means that they need to be more of an occasional treat instead of an everyday thing. I want to set a good example for my kids and keep them and my husband healthy too! We’re in this as a family so together we’re trying new foods, new recipes, and new mindsets about the food we eat. I know it won’t be easy but it will be worth it.

Going forward my blog will still include lots of yummy indulgences and goodies but it will also feature lighter, healthier treats and meals too! Whether you have a health issue or not, everyone can benefit from making better food choices. I feel like I was lucky in that I recognized the signs and was able to catch this early so now I have a second chance to do better and that’s exactly what I plan to do! This curve ball was what I needed to realize that it’s time I take care of me because I don’t want this ride to end. I want to be around for every minute and every moment with my kids and I want to be 100 years old sitting on a rocking chair with my amazing husband and looking back on the awesome life we had together. So with that said, here’s to trying new things, doing better, and making a change!!

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Meal Planning Made Easy

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For most, meal planning is the trickiest part of cooking and understandably so. It’s hard to think about what your want for lunch tomorrow let alone for dinner a week from now. Even I have found myself staring into the abyss of my fridge and freezer wondering what I can pull together at the last minute for dinner. But then I discovered meal planning and my life got a whole lot easier real fast! If you take the time to meal plan you eliminate that 5:00 panic where you’re scrambling to find something to get on the table for your family. I love knowing that I have a diner plan every day and more importantly, that I have all of the ingredients that I need on hand as well. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom like me or a working mama having a meal plan will absolutely make your life so much easier.

It might take a little work to get your meal planning going but once you build up a base of “go-to” recipes it’ll be easy peasy going forward. Go through your cookbooks, Pinterest pins, bookmarked online recipes, and magazine clippings and pull together a handful of recipes that you love or want to try. They can be quick and easy meals or even fancy schmancy dishes, whatever works for you. Next, put those recipes into a simple binder so they are all in one place and easily accessible. Then take a handful of index cards and on the front write down the name of one dish and on the back list the ingredients needed to prepare it. Do this for at least 15-20 recipes in order to get you started. Once you have a nice little handful of cards place them into an index box and now you have a collection of recipes you can access quickly when planning your meals for the week. If you’re feeling ambitious, throw a few index dividers in there too and make sections – chicken/poultry, beef, fish/seafood, pasta, side dishes, quick meals, Crock-Pot, etc.

I like to do my meal planning on the weekend but choose whatever day works best for you. Before I decide what to make for the week I like to look ahead and see what my schedule looks like and I make notations on my menu to indicate if we’ll be eating out on a certain day or if we have activities scheduled where I might need a quick meal on the table or nothing at all for that matter. I just grab a small sheet of paper, label Sunday through Saturday, fill in my meals for the week and then I hang my menu on the inside of my cabinet so I know exactly where to look to see what’s for dinner. My menu usually looks like this:

Menu List

To get your menu planned for the week simply pull a few cards from your recipe box, put the cards in order of when you plan on cooking them and then flip them over to write a quick shopping list based on the ingredients needed for each recipe. A good tip is to base your menu around what ingredients you already have in the house OR plan around what is on sale in the supermarket. Once you have your menu planned out and your shopping list in hand the rest of the week will be smooth sailing. Every week try to add at least one new recipe to your collection in order to build it up so that you have more choices from week to week. Rotate your recipes and menus as often as you like.

A few other great tips for meal planning are:

  • Stretch your ingredients – Try to choose meals where you will need to use the same ingredient more than once in a week, this cuts down on waste and trims your grocery budget too.
  • Incorporate Crock-Pot meals into your menu – They are quick and easy to pull together and when it’s time to eat dinner your meal is hot and ready to go. These types of meals are especially good on days where you’re running around all day, working late, or just pressed for time when it come to dinner prep. Crock-Pots are great for making sauces, stews, soups, roasts, and more!
  • Use up your stash – Check what you have on hand and use what you have before buying more. If you have a lot of chicken in your freezer, make a few chicken meals one week. Heavy on beef? Focus more on beef dishes.
  • Cook once, eat twice! – Try and make a few meals where you’ll have leftovers that can be used to create a whole new dish for another night. For example: A pork shoulder will make a ton of shredded pork, use some for sandwiches one night and use the leftovers on another night for shredded pork tacos.
  • Make big batches of dinner staples – Soups and sauces are great to make in big batches as they freeze well for later use. When you want pasta once night it’ll be as easy as defrosting some homemade sauce and boiling the pasta. For soups, just defrost and heat up. It doesn’t get more simple than that.
  • Designate an all day prepping/cooking day – Spend an afternoon prepping meals that you can freeze for later use and/or prep the ingredients needed in your recipes ahead of time. For example, you can measure out spices, dice veggies, shred cheese, cut up fruit, etc. A vacuum sealer is a great thing to have in your kitchen because your fresh and frozen foods will last so much longer and the frozen foods will be free of freezer burn. Check out my blog post, Kitchen Must Have – Vacuum Sealer , for more information on vacuum sealers.
  • Theme Nights –  This keeps meal planning fun and allows you to narrow down and focus your cooking. Try things like Meatball Monday, Taco Tuesday, or Breakfast for Dinner Wednesday.
  • Make the first meal of your week the easiest – Everyone is tired on a Monday, you don’t want to be standing in the kitchen stressing over a complicated meal. Make a quick pasta dish or a Crock-Pot meal and keep your Monday a little less hectic.
  • Prep basic ingredients the day you food shop – Portion out meats and prep veggies and fruits so that when you go to cook throughout the week everything will already be chopped, diced, portioned, and ready to go!
  • Keep a well stocked pantry – Having a few staples always on hand makes cooking and baking a breeze. Check out my blog post about Pantry and Fridge Essentials to help you stock your house.
  • Shop the sales – Plan your meals around what is on sale that week to save money. Also, take advantage of great sales to stock up on pantry and fridge staples.
  • Getting dinner on the table isn’t about starting from “zero” every night  – Use any time that you might have throughout the day to get things ready for dinner later. For example – Prep and shape your meatloaf in the morning so at dinner it’s just a matter of putting it in the oven, peel and cut up potatoes in the afternoon and leave them in a pot covered with water so at dinner you just have to turn on the stove.
  • Not every dinner has to be a from scratch meal – Take advantage of shortcuts and store-bought items to help make things easier. There are some really great ready-made foods available that will cut down on your time in the kitchen but still allow you to serve a delicious dinner for your family. Some things to try are frozen veggies and fruits, ready-made pie crust and pizza dough, and pre-cut veggies in the produce section.
  • Get to know your grill……………year round! – A BBQ grill is a great way to cook because it’s quick and there is no cleanup. No pots and pans and no mess in the kitchen. You can make everything from burgers to quick pizzas on your grill and have a hot meal on the table in minutes.
  • Stuck on what to make? – Try out the Allrecipes “Dinner Spinner” app! Just plug in the ingredients that you have on hand, what type of meal you’re looking to make, and how much time you have to cook and it’ll shoot back a few meals ideas for you. It’s a fabulous app to make use of because aside from the Dinner Spinner you can also access hundreds of recipes, tag your favorites, and even create a custom shopping list!

There are so many benefits to thinking about your meals and planning ahead of time and once you get in the habit of meal planning it will be come second nature to you. You’ll have less stress at meal time, you won’t overspend on groceries you might not use, you’ll eat healthier, you’ll reduce food waste, and you will save yourself valuable time in the kitchen. All good things! Once you get the hang of meal planning you can even try to plan other weekly meals such as lunch. If you work, planning out what to bring from home for lunch every day is a great way to eat better and save a ton of money in the process. Use these tips and tricks to help guide your meal planning but feel free to implement a system that works best for you and your family.