Meal tip Monday – let’s talk hosting styles

I know that a lot of people just don’t ever have people over because they think they have to be a good cook or baker.

Wrong – you don’t.

I think it’s more important to know what your hosting style is and embrace it.

this friend loves the hosting but buys all the food

If you’re only comfortable buying food, then embrace it. I have hosted people by cooking and by not cooking. Recently I hosted book club and I really intended to cook and bake (from scratch!) but I was SO BUSY with work I knew I just couldn’t add anymore stress to my life.

So I bought crustry bread, a rotisserie chicken, salad and an apple pie which we had with custard. It was delicious and not at all stressful.

I’ve also hosted book club at someone else’s house who had a bigger garden (for physically distancing purposes) and ordered pizzas to be delivered to my friend’s house. I also ordered online shopping of dessert, salad and drinks and that was that. No stress.

this friend loves to bake, and baked both the Swiss roll and shortbread

If I really want to see people socially but we’re not very good friends yet, I invite people for tea and cake. I usually serve tea/ coffee and muffins, or I buy a pie from my local grocer. At Christmastime, casual gatherings are tea and Christmas fruit mince pies. So easy but still says, “I value your company and friendship and want to see you.”

However, if you like to cook and bake, then you embrace that too. Use the fact that you’re hosting to try a new recipe you’ve wanted, or invite people over as the impetus to try something new, kind of like inviting people over to spur you onto clean the house ๐Ÿ™‚

By the way, if you don’t like to have people in your house, invite people over to a park. This is not my style because I don’t like the sun or the outdoors, but I know many who consider this method their favourite type of hosting.

What is your hosting style?

In South Africa, at the time of writing this post, only about half a million people are fully vaccinated. We are still meant to be meeting only outside, in well-ventilated spaces with physical distancing in place.

Meal tip Monday – how to plan for busy nights

Are you enjoying this focussed series? I didn’t want to announce it as such in case it brought up my inner rebel (!) but really, that’s what it is.

If you’ve missed the previous posts, here you go:

cook a double batch

know your style

Let’s talk about planning for busy nights. This might seem obvious but sometimes, and I know this is true for me, I’m planning the menu for the week without looking at my calendar. In South Africa, we have plenty of loadshedding at the moment. These tips work well for those nights too.

Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Check your calendar!
  2. Write in the nature of the busyness on your actual menu plan. For example, “late meeting/ 7pm Zumba/ school meeting, etc.”
  3. Think through if you have any freezer meals that will work and defrost them early.
  4. Alternatively, buy a rotisserie chicken on the weekend, heat it quickly and serve with rolls or crusty bread, and a salad. Chicken has the advantage of being good whether eaten hot or cold.
  • My Zumba nights are our standard “busy nights” on the menu as I arrive home at about 7:30.
  • For these nights I plan a “make your own ________ ” night. Burrito bowls work well because everyone helps themselves and the toppings can be prepared and set out beforehand.
  • Alternatively, I pop a complete meal in the oven and my family retrieves it via a timer and serves themselves. Any baked pasta or enchiladas is a good idea.

Which are your favourite tips for busy nights?

Meal tip Monday – Know yourself

One of the secrets to menu planning and meal success is to know yourself. But not only to know yourself, to accept yourself.

Let me give you a few examples:

  1. you might be a cook who likes leisurely weekend cooking sessions but hate the haste of weeknight cooking, or the opposite
  2. you might like the fact that you have to get a meal prepped and put on the table within 30 minutes because the torture is then done
  3. you might be a batch cook once a month and a heater-upper of food
  4. you might be an excellent assembler of random food (do you remember Cher in Mermaids?!)
  5. you might be an excellent orderer of food, or picker-up of convenience meals at the grocery store on the way home

Why is this important?

You know what works, you accept that this is who you are, and you remove decision fatigue thinking through options all the time.

I’ve shared before on the blog that my mother-in-law lives alone and hates cooking (although she’s good at it!) so she cooks four-portion meals for 5 nights every month, eats one and freezes the other three.

These meals change according to the seasons (soups and casseroles feature more in winter) but this system works really well for her.

She doesn’t concern herself with what other people are doing, or that others (like me) would be bored eating the same meal every Tuesday for a month. It works and that’s it.

I am a combination of a Saturday afternoon/ Monday evening leisure batch cook but I also like the competitiveness of getting a meal on the table in 30 minutes or less. I love variety (more on this later) so I like a combination of mixing up some freezer meals with one or two freshly cooked meals too.

The great thing is I know I’m never ever going to like cooking complicated meals so if I glance over a recipe, see that it’s complicated, I can swipe through with wild abandon. No, not for me.

What is your meal planning style? Have you accepted it yet?

I’m actually going through slight boredom with my meals at the moment. Any quick and easy winter meals that you recommend? I would love to hear because I’m tired of chilli con carne, curries and bolognaise. And if you have some tried and tested, easy chicken recipes, I would love those too.

Meal tip Monday – cook a double batch

While I enjoy cooking, I don’t like panicked cooking when my family is hungry and waiting and I have to produce a meal – and quickly.

I therefore strongly believe in cooking a double batch whenever I can.

It takes just a little bit longer than cooking a single batch of your meal – you already have the chopping board out for your vegetables so you might as well chop just a bit more onion or carrots. Instead of adding one can of tomatoes, add two, and so on. Double up on the meat portion.

The magic happens after the meal is cooked though. You have enough for tonight (or tomorrow, as I do it) and another meal for next week!

Which meals translate well to cooking a double batch?

  1. Baked pastas (surprisingly!) but the trick is to not leave it to thaw out on your counter the whole day unless you like soggy pasta. Defrost fast in the microwave and bake it in the oven.
  2. Curries
  3. Chilli con carne
  4. Bolognaise sauce
  5. Enchiladas

Do you cook double batches of meals? If you haven’t tried yet, this is your nudge to do so this month.

PS My mother-in-law has taken this up a notch. She lives alone and cooks 4-portion meals during one week a month. The next three weeks of the month she just pulls out what she feels like eating to defrost it. So clever!

{Covid-19} How we do meals during lockdown

Let’s talk about lockdown and meals. I have been responsible for all but 4 – 5 meals during the last 83 days. The 4 – 5 meals were when we ordered in.

Part of that is a control issue (I do like to plan and cook the meals, and make sure than we don’t eat the same thing too much), part of that was a logistics issue (I am better at getting things done in the short time after work and when we want to eat) and part of that is a planning issue (at the start especially, there was so much that wasn’t available and food needed to be used up to make sure nothing went to waste).

Very soon though, I realised that after more than 8 hours of sitting at a desk, I enjoyed the chopping and slicing, combining, and flavouring. Doing things with my hands enabled me to use other parts of my mind and body. Is it the same for you?

Breakfast

Everyone is on a different schedule so does their own thing. I have noticed that during winter, my husband’s been preparing enough oats for him and the kids (I don’t eat any mushy food – I like my oats toasted and hard, like in granola). Friends, if people take over tasks in the house, say nothing!

We have variations on cereals like all-bran flakes, muesli, yoghurt, toast, etc. Nothing fancy or cooked.

Lunch

I usually loosely plan lunches – sandwiches with tuna, eggs, cheese, ham (when it was warmer), sometimes leftovers, etc.

I usually make the kids’ lunches – they are quite capable but I am not a fan of cleaning up after them as they don’t see all the crumbs, etc.

Suppers

I definitely make a menu plan. The menu plan is loose so I often swop meals around within the week, or abandon something altogether if I’m not in the mood to cook that meal.

Of course, as always, I run a very tight freezer inventory because I hate forgotten food and I love using up things. I’m a finisher.

On the weekends, I prepare that evening’s meal plus at least one extra. E.g. while I’m cooking pasta, I’m assembling enchiladas for the freezer. Sometimes the extras even run to two extra meals, which really helps during the week when I don’t have much time. Long-time readers will know that I always advocate cooking a double batch. When I did those enchiladas, there was enough filling for two meals – yay!

Working during this pandemic has been relentless and I’m afraid I’m not very good at switching off (yet) without a hard deadline like a Zumba class, so it helps when there are healthy meals in the freezer.

I always love cooking during winter so it’s been fun to experiment with the occasional new meal and to try desserts.

One thing I will say – I have not once baked banana bread or even been tempted to make a sourdough bread ๐Ÿ˜‰

What’s been your lockdown meals situation? Have you been eating out of your freezer and using up food? Would you say you’ve eaten better (healthier) or not so much?

No-fail menu planning

Last year I wrote two posts on menu planning that were two of the most popular posts on my blog the entire year.

If you didn’t see them, here’s post 1 and here’s post 2.

The reason I go on and on about this is because it is such a game-changer when you make it part of your weekly routine.

Today I want to give you two methods of menu planning that are truly very easy.

Base your meals on the protein. E.g.

Monday – legumes like lentils or kidney beans (chilli con carne using just kidney beans served over rice or baked potatoes)

Tuesday – chicken (chicken breasts, chicken a la King, chicken curry)

Wednesday – fish (grilled fist in the oven with chips or mashed potato)

Thursday – chicken again (add a second night of the protein your family likes the most, and if it’s chicken, choose from the list above)

Friday – cheese (pizza)

Saturday – eggs (breakfast for dinner, or quiche)

Sunday – beef (stir fry, steak, etc.)

(of course, I only plan for 5 nights and there’s usually enough in the fridge for the other two nights)

OR

you could do the same as above around the carbohydrate

Monday – rice

Tuesday – potatoes or chips

Wednesday – pasta

Thursday – wraps

Friday – pizza or bread-based

(this is mostly how I menu plan because I get bored eating the same carbs two nights in a row)

OR

you could plan meals around the type of dish

  • Oven bake
  • Casserole
  • Slow-cooker
  • Stir-fry

I hope I’ve given you some new ideas.

But even if you have a good system going, try planning using one of these 3 plans occasionally to jazz things up in the kitchen.

Will you let me know in the comments if you give it a bash? I’d love to hear.

But also, as we’re in summer in South Africa, please let me know your favourite meals to make in summer.

Why you should menu plan

I was chatting to a friend a few weeks ago and I told her that when things feel like they’re going off track, there’s one thing that I need to do: make a menu plan.

Today, let’s talk about why I do menu planning (I’ve been menu planning for 11 years now), and why you should consider doing so too.

Do you menu plan?

Good reasons to menu plan

  • it saves you daily decision time
  • saves you money when you use up all the food in the freezer and pantry, and stops you buying foods you don’t need
  • no stress about what to cook every night as even if you don’t feel like eating what you put on your menu, you know there’s at least 4 other options to choose from

I play a little game with myself and aim for sticking to the menu plan 4 out of 5 nights. Remember I’m not a perfectionist. Good enough is better than perfect.

How do you start menu planning

Note – please do this before you go to the shops to do your grocery shopping ๐Ÿ˜‰

1. Go to your freezer and cupboards to see what food you have that you need to use up, and make a list.
2. Write out a menu plan for a week (if you do weekly shopping) or longer, using recipes to use up that food. Get creative.
3. Add any items that you need to your weekly shopping list and do your shopping. You may have some pasta and cans of tuna so in order to use them up, you might need a few cans of tomato.
4. Stick the menu plan to your fridge.

Now you don’t have to rack your brain every night wondering what to cook because you have a plan.

Another tip that will save you lots of time is to cook something on a Sunday afternoon. This meal is not for eating that day, but for freezing. I heard a podcast recently (I don’t know how she does it – an Aussie podcast) where the lady said she makes all the lunches for the week on a Sunday afternoon and while she’s doing that, she bakes muffins or bread. Brilliant!

When you have a busy day itโ€™s easy to just defrost the meal and have a healthy supper on the table in minutes.

We went through a stage where we didn’t buy any meat for two months while we finished everything in the freezer and started on the cupboards. You see, we all get into a habit of buying the same groceries every week without checking if we really need it.

If youโ€™re not already menu planning, I’d like to encourage you to at least start. Do so for at least a month, give it a good go and see if it doesn’t save you time and money.

And if you already do menu planning, then your challenge for this week is to only buy perishables and eat from your freezer and cupboards.

Are you menu planning?

Is there anything you’d like to change about your process? Do you have any special tips?

PS Look out on Thursday for how I do my menu planning and some freezer meal ideas



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