Become a Menu Master

Hey, y’all! Glad you came back this week for tip #2. Just to recap, I’m Kelly and my meal prep journey was born out of my frustration with trying to balance working, family life, doing my Crossfit workouts AND cooking dinner each night. Preparing meals for the week allows me to have fresh, nutritious meals without the daily stress of cooking a meal every night. When I started sharing about my meal prep on social media, I got a lot of support and encouragement from friends and family, which led me to start small meal prep service and this blog to share my weekly menu with recipes and some meal prep wisdom I’ve learned (and am still learning) along the way.

Last week, meal prep tip #1 was to buy sectioned containers that are washable, durable and affordable to help with portion control and encourage us to fill the extra space with veggies. Now that we have our bowls on deck, let’s talk about the next step- creating your menu for the week. In order to cook for a week, you need a written plan. This can be intimidating, because often it’s hard to have a plan for what I’m doing tomorrow, much less what I’m eating three days from now. When I’m deciding on my menu, the three factors that usually drive my thought process are: value, craving and variety.

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Before I start crafting my menu, I consult the weekly sales. It’s crazy how quickly I can “catch” a pork loin craving when I find out it’s BOGO! If you find a great deal, look for ways to incorporate that ingredient into more than one dish on your menu. Also, since stores tend to rotate their sale items, shopping the sales encourages variety. Looks like I made all my points in one!

Craving

I try not to deny myself if there’s something I’m craving. If there’s a dish that’s been on my mind all week or it’s really cold and I just want soup, I make it. If it’s an “unhealthy” dish, I brainstorm ways to make it more consistent with the way I normally eat. Sometimes this leads to some fun new recipe discoveries!

Variety

Lastly, as the saying goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” My menu consists of 4-5 meal options that I switch out for lunch and dinner so it never feels boring and repetitive. I make sure I have  a few different types of protein: chicken, beef, pork, seafood, beans, etc. and vary the sides I’m pairing with the meals. Finally, I write my menu in my calendar so I can look back and see what I haven’t had in a while (or what I’ve got stuck on repeat) to keep it fresh.

Here’s what I had last week:

Jambalaya, spicy roasted okra and Cajun red beans

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Bruschetta chicken, lemon orzo with spinach and pesto roasted Brussels sprouts

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I made the orzo with spinach instead of asparagus, and it was delicious! I like asparagus, but I opted for spinach  to keep things light since I wanted to try these Brussels sprouts!

Barbacoa burrito bowls with Cuban-style black beans, and cilantro rice

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Also made some chipotle lime shrimp bowls and fajita chicken bowls for my non-beef eating friends! Ps. If you don’t have an instant pot yet, get one immediately! More on that in future posts!

Chili-lime tilapia with avocado cream sauce, Cuban-style black beans and Southwest sauteed red cabbage

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See you next week with meal prep tip #3 and a new menu with recipes. Happy prepping!

It’s All About the Bowls

Last week, I shared a bit about how I came to the decision to start preparing my meals ahead for the week. The first step is deciding, so if that’s where you are, it’s a great place to be! Over the next few weeks, I hope to share some tips and time savers that helped me get started, along with my menu and recipes for the week.

Tip #1 is invest in some sectioned containers. Yeah, I know it all mixes together in your stomach, but the compartments help in many ways aside from creating boundaries against food miscegenation. Compartments virtually take all the guesswork out of portion control. I know that the small section on my 3-compartment bowls fits about 1/2 cup of any substance comfortably…maybe 3/4 cup if I’m tamping it down and sitting on the lid to get it closed. I still weigh and measure if I want to know the exact amount, but I have a pretty good estimate even without going to those lengths. Secondly, I’m betting that most of us who decide to meal prep have enough compulsiveness in our personalities that we will not leave an empty section. Therefore, we have a ready made reminder to add more veggies to our diets to fill that empty space on our plates.

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Now that we’ve established that we need containers, a word on choosing wisely. Choose washable containers (for reuse) with clear lids (for easy identification) that are stackable and sold as a 10-pack or more. This is not the time for fancy glass bowls. I have those, and I love them. However, my meal prep containers are the variety that are sturdy enough to go several rounds with the dishwasher but cheap enough that there is no weeping when constant use causes inevitable wear and tear. Here’s a link to some containers that have worked for me. I purchased 3-compartment bowls, 2- compartment bowls, and rounds (for burrito bowls and “one pan” dishes).

Now, here’s the menu for this week:

Thai Chicken Thighs with jasmine rice, sesame ginger bok choy & steamed edamame

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This was my first time using baby bok choy outside it being including in salad mix. As advertised, it’s similar to cabbage with a slight twist. It steamed easily and paired well with the sauce.

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Miso Salmon with jasmine rice, stir fried kale and red cabbage & steamed edamame

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I asked the staff at the meat counter to cut the salmon to about the size of your palm…I should have specified whose palm I meant! The salmon filets ended up being about 8 oz, when I was shooting more for 6. They almost didn’t fit in the compartment!

Chicken Cobb Salad in a jar with Lentil Soup

Jar salads are easy to make and keep your greens fresh and crisp for nearly a week. For these salads, I made a Greek yogurt based ranch dressing, then layered bacon, boiled egg, grape tomatoes, and avocado with mixed greens at the top. As long as you have “wet” ingredients near the bottom, you’re good to go!

Spinach Spaghetti and Meatballs with Parmesan roasted broccoli 

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Ingredients for meatballs:

  • 1 lb grassfed beef
  • 1 lb mild Italian Sausage
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 3 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1/2 chopped red onion
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese
  • 1 container of marinara sauce

Directions: Mix all the ingredients above except the sauce. Roll into 1-2″ balls and place on grease broiler pan. Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, turning once. Add fully cooked meatballs to a pot and simmer in your marinara sauce of choice. Sometimes I get fancy and make sauce…this time I used Prego Farmer’s Market Marinara. Affordable, fast, only 7 grams of sugar, and full of ingredients I can pronounce!

Ps. I also make these with ground chicken or turkey sometimes, but you make need some bread crumbs to hold it together and get the right consistency.

Parmesan crusted tilapia over jasmine rice with Parmesan roasted broccoli

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Have a great week, and stay tuned for next week’s menu and meal prep tips!

My Meal Prep Journey

Growing up in a Southern family, food has always been more than just the substance that keeps me living. Food is love. Food is family. Food is community. So naturally, now that I have my own family, I see cooking for them as an act of love. I think that’s one of the reasons why it took me a bit to embrace meal prepping. I mean, cooking a whole heap (that’s Southern for a lot) of food and warming it up all week, can’t possibly transmit my heartfelt affection to my family as well as a freshly made meal, can it? But what I have learned since then is that meal prepping can be a tool to give me more time with my loved ones and reduce my stress and anxiety during the week…and in my world, anything that reduces stress is more coveted than a whole batch of warm, chocolate chip oatmeal cookies (which is very hard to top!).

Here’s the stages my meal prep went through:

Stage one: cooking every night with leftovers for lunch

So at first I literally cooked every day. Now that I look back on it, I’m like “How did I have the time?”. I did make enough to bring lunch to work the next day, and I tried to loosely plan meals out for the week. However, I still ended up making multiple trips to the store for things I forgot or if I changed my mind. I can be quite capricious in the absence of a solid plan.

  • Pros: variety, flexibility (ability to be capricious), nightly fresh, hot meals
  • Cons: takes up a lot of time each evening, multiple trips to the store when plans change or I forget something

Stage two: cooking some things ahead

After doing a few “challenges” (vegeterian, paleo, etc.), I got used to batch cooking certain things. I’m no good with following meal plans- told you I crave variety- but it did help me realize that having some routines helped me be more efficient. I started boiling eggs ahead of time for breakfast, making sheet pans full of roasted veggies, and having some cooked chicken or freezer bags of soup for faster dinner prep.

Side note: challenge diets aren’t for everyone, but I am a firm believer that if you have trouble staying disciplined or just need a reset, setting a time limited goal can jump start your motivation until it becomes a lifestyle. I noticed that with my husband and me, each time we did a challenge, it got easier to cut out sugar, processed foods, etc. without missing a beat. I suppose that’s because that goal forced us to explore new, healthier options and find new favorites so we didn’t miss the other stuff quite as much.

  • Pros: more time in the evenings, fast breakfast options, shortcuts that cutdown dinner prep time
  • Cons: I was still cooking my protein/entree nightly, which took 30 minutes-1 hour

Stage three: cooking all my meals in advance

One day, my husband suggested that we start getting takeout a few times a week to save time. I was initially shocked and appalled…how dare he request take out when I’m willing to cook fresh food at home?! I also had my reservations about how eating out more would affect our budget, my energy and performance in workouts, and my overall digestive health…I’m used to eating a lot of vegetables after all! But once I simmered down, I heard the gist of what he was really saying. He was giving me permission to take something off my plate, which I desperately needed but have a hard time doing on my own. I suggested meal prep instead, and I was surprised at how receptive he was to the idea. I tried it the next week, and we haven’t looked back since!

  • Pros: no daily cooking! more time after work for time with kids and the hubs and my workouts
  • Cons: several hours of my weekend dedicated to shopping and cooking

Now, if I can get my life in order to the point where I have my snacks packed and neatly organized on Sunday, I will have transcended to the highest level of meal prep nirvana. *Sigh* one step at a time…

Enough of the tips. Here’s what I ate last week:

Surf & turf stir fry with sauteed kale

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The mister says this is one of his top three meals that I make. Simple, yet flavorful and done in about 20 minutes! I use turkey kielbasa in mine, but you can use a smoked sausage of your choice. This week, I added carrots to mine and used the veggies I cooked for this as a side for other meals as well.

Honey mustard chicken thighs with mustard roasted Brussels sprouts and cubed sweet potatoes

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Don’t be surprised if chicken thighs are on my menu every week. They’re versatile, inexpensive, and so much more tender and juicy than white meat. I used to always default to breasts, but life on the dark side is soooo much better! I love the flavor and texture in this recipe with Dijon and whole grain mustard. The Brussels sprouts tie in the mustard theme and the roasted sweet potatoes add a sweet and savory contrast. For the sweet potatoes, I just peel and cube the potatoes and toss them in olive oil, cumin, paprika, sea salt and pepper. Using a large zip top bags works well for this task. Roast on 400 for about 40 minutes or until soft and desired brownness.

 

Mini Mexiloaf over cilantro rice with veggie mix

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My first experience with this was when doing a Paleo challenge with my Crossfit gym. I would deprive myself of dairy and rice all over again if it means getting to know this dish! I didn’t think I cared for meatloaf before my clandestine meeting with the Mexiloaf, but I figured anything with cilantro and tomato sauce couldn’t be all bad. Again, this recipe is easy to make and won’t break the bank…particularly when I can find grassfed beef on sale! I play around with different versions on cilantro rice, but so far this is my fave. The kind a made this week seemed a bit dry to me, so I won’t link that up 😉 I used the veggies from the surf and turf with this.

White chicken chili with Waldorf jar salad

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Depending on how much time I have, I may use shredded rotisserie chicken or crock pot fajita chicken for this soup. Boiled chicken can work in a pinch. If I used boiled chicken, I mix the seasonings in with the chicken and let that sit for a bit to absorb the flavors. No matter how I get around to having shredded chicken, this soup has never disappointed.

My favorite jar salad to date! I love the mix of tangy arugula with the sweet and sour cranberries and creamy feta. Here’s how I layered these

  • About 3 Tablespoons salad dressing
  • 1/4 diced Gala apple and 1/4 diced pear
  • Handful of crushed walnuts
  • Handful of feta crumbles
  • About 1/2 cup of arugula
  • Fill the rest of the quart sized jar with spinach or mixed greens

I like to chop my greens up before filling the jar with them, just because it’s easier to eat that way. There’s nothing cute about fighting your salad and ending up with sprigs of greenery cascading down your chin in the company break room. IJS.

Salmon cakes, cubed sweet potatoes, and veggie mix

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I know, I said I make four meals, but this week I made 5. One of my lovely meal prep customers doesn’t eat beef or pork. This gave her another option, and I made enough to have a few salmon cakes to snack on through the week. My mom gave me this cast iron skillet for Christmas, and I love it for stuff like this. Practical gifts are the key to my heart! Added the sweet potatoes and veggie mix with this.

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Ingredients

  • 2 cans of salmon, drained
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c. diced onion
  • 1/8 c. diced celery
  • About 1/4 c. cooked quinoa
  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • Olive oil

Directions

In a large bowl, combine salmon with egg, onions, celery, and spices. Add quinoa and 1/2 cup oats. Add more oats, if needed, to hold patties together. Heat a few tablespoons olive oil in your skillet on medium-high. Cook salmon cakes until slightly browned on each side (3-5 minutes)…resist the urge to turn it over before it starts browning if you want them to stay as a single unit!

And as treat, I made Spinach Muffins…because they’re green, and it was almost St. Patrick’s Day, and I like to pretend I’m Irish. I’ve allowed myself to appropriate a culture of my choice until I cough up the money to trace the ancestry of my white ethnic relatives. After all, my hair is kind of red. I have a short temper. Don’t judge me.

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What’s Cookin in Kell’s Kitchen?

Hey, y’all! I’m Kelly (the Kell in Kell’s Kitchen)- wife, mom of twins, Crossfit fanatic, lover of food, and aspiring entrepreneur. I’ve been cross-fitting for just over 2 years and meal prepping for most of that time, but I literally started my meal prep business only about 2 weeks ago. I created this blog to share my food and nutrition journey with others who may find it helpful. I can empathize with athletes who experiment with their diets to improve performance. I’ve taken out and added back in more foods than I care to enumerate here searching for the perfect balance. I can also relate to parents who are so tired that we’d trade in meals for a solid chunk of sleep (my husband and I call that “eating sleep” for dinner). I also stand with those of you who have struggled to get to/stay at a healthy weight. That last statement may be surprising to people who know me because I’ve been on the skinny side for most of my life. However, after I gave birth to my twins, I lost too much weight. The doctor told me to stop losing weight, and I was like, “Okay, you tell me how”. The things I tried (mostly drinking milkshakes and avoiding all things cardio) didn’t work. I know, I know…you’re rolling your eyes, but I was unhealthy and that’s bad news at either end of the weight spectrum.  I’ll explain more later, but to make a long story short, starting Crossfit became a gateway that led me to discover more about how my body works and encouraged me to make better decisions on how I want to fuel it. I say all this to say, I’ve been there. I’m still there. Let’s work this out together, huh?

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That’s me with twin #1

Disclaimer: That process I mentioned about finding out how to fuel my body…it’s a very personal one. I’m telling you what I’m cooking and sharing tips I’ve learned to make meal prep easier. Hopefully, you’ll try some things out and exercise the freedom to make it your own!

What I ate this past week:

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Top Sirloin Beef Stroganoff with egg noodles and lemon-garlic green beans

Here’s the recipe link I used for the stroganoff. It’s classic comfort food with a slight upgrade over the ground beef version.

For the green beans, I snapped off the tops, added water to almost cover the beans and boiled for about 5 minutes. Next, I melted about a tablespoon of butter, added the drained beans to the pan, mixing in some lemon zest, 1 clove of minced garlic, and the juice from half a lemon. Finished off with a few grinds of Himalayan pink salt. So good!

Citrus Herb Chicken Thighs with wild rice and quinoa mix and sauteed kale

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Recipe for Citrus Herb Chicken. I highly recommend marinading overnight for the best flavor!

I use Harris Teeter’s wild rice blend and organic quinoa (3:1 ratio) and cook in half chicken stock/half water (using the amount on the rice container as a guide). I also add EVOO or butter and a ranch seasoning blend that I use on everything!

The secret to good kale starts with the art of massage. Rub the EVOO into the kale like you love it and indeed, you will love it! A little salt, dash of lemon juice, splash of soy and sautee until it’s bright green but not too wilted.

Apple pulled pork with paleo peach BBQ sauce, roasted cabbage, and mashed sweet potatoes

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I use this recipe to cook the pulled pork in the crock pot. I mostly followed this recipe for my BBQ sauce, but I used red onions instead of shallots (because that’s what I had, will try with shallots eventually) and added a splash of liquid smoke.

Cut your cabbage horizontally into “steaks”. Use a pastry brush to paint it with a mixture of EVOO, minced garlic, salt and pepper. Roast at 400 to desired texture. I like mine a bit burned on the edges and a slight crunch. Stir around so it doesn’t burn more than you want.

I bake my sweet potatoes at 400 for about an hour. To prep them, rub with a little EVOO and poke with fork. Turn halfway through cooking time to avoid burning on the bottom. Once the potatoes cool, I peel them and mash with a fork in a large glass bowl. I add coconut oil, cinnamon and pure vanilla extract. I could literally eat these at every meal!

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I would add a recipe link, but I’ve refined this from several different soup iterations I’ve tried, and I’ll probably continue to perfect it. Here’s what I did this time, nonetheless:

Step 1: The chicken. I’ve used boiled chicken, pulled rotisserie chicken, crockpot fajita chicken, etc. All are good, but I was in a hurry so boiled it was. I brined it for a couple hours then boiled with my aromatics still in (bay leaf, garlic, onion, whole peppercorns). Wait for it to cool (important step to save your fingers), then shred. Mix up 2 & 1/2 tsp. chili powder, 1 tsp. paprika, 3/4 tsp. pepper, 1 tsp. salt, and 2 Tbsp cumin. Add this to the shredded chicken and mix well. Set that aside to absorb all the yummy spices.

Step 2: The veggies. All soups start here. Heat up the EVOO and sautee a bell pepper and an onion for about 5 minutes or until onion is translucent. I love red onions, but it doesn’t have to be a red one. Next, add 4-6 cloves garlic (depending on how much you hate vampires), a chopped jalapeno with seeds, and a handful of cilantro. Next add all that plus a can of tomatoes with chilies (14.5 oz) and a can of regular diced tomatoes to the blender.

Step 3: Putting it all together. Pour the contents of your blender back into the back in the pot, add your seasoned chicken, 32 oz. or so of chicken broth, some lime juice, and salt to taste.

Okay, lastly, the jar salad. I make my own dressing because it’s cheaper and better. You can make nearly any kind of vinaigrette with 1/4 cup EVOO and 1/4 cup red wine vinegar. After that base, you can add Dijon mustard, honey, Italian spices, garlic…basically whatever you like from there! The dressing goes on the bottom, then you can add any veggies that mix well with liquid (tomatoes, carrots, radishes, cucumbers). Next layer is usually feta for me. This week, I added some chick peas roasted in paprika and cumin on top of the cheese. Lettuce/greens on top. When layered right, these babies will stay fresh for about a week. Much longer than in the “crisper” drawer.

Thanks for checking out my menu. Leave a comment if you give any of these dishes a try! Stay tuned for next week’s menu post!

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