I am really loving Dropbox at the moment for all things e-file as I can view/listen to them from my phone but still pull them up on my laptop so I don't have to type out edits on my phone. It's cold right now so my fingers often get cold and a bit stiff which makes typing on my phone a hassle... plus, I simply don't enjoy typing out much of anything on my cell phone when I can do it in half the time with a keyboard. My keyboard supposedly will work with my cell phone but I have yet to try it out as I may as well use a larger screen if I am at home with my keyboard. :)
That's all said only so that you understand why I have come to use my current meal planner- the simplicity of moving back and forth by keeping it on my Dropbox. I have been experimenting with various ways of meal planning over the past few years with the goal of being able to do this but there aren't that many apps that also have a laptop version that syncs that aren't a subscription service (though if I missed one please let me know!). I've tried using Cozi, which I absolutely LOVE as a calendar, but I need a tablet or laptop in order to be able to menu plan on their app... and I don't have a tablet at the moment so I can't really use the planner on the go. I did love that I just click one button to add a recipe's ingredients to my shopping list though so all I had to do was delete what I already had in stock... super simple process on my laptop... just bulky to cart around my laptop. I also didn't like the fact that it is just a dinner plan... I eat more than dinner so I need to plan for more than dinner if I don't want to have to keep popping out to the store for something (and overspending because I didn't plan). I've tried many ways to plan and I still haven't found a way that I love enough to make it my forever way but I've found something that works for me for now so I thought I'd share. Right now I am using a separate recipe storage that I haven't gotten to where I want to share it but know that my recipes file is sometimes used in conjunction with my meal planning.
As an fyi, right now I am living at my parents' house in order to save up money for a bigger down payment on a house since I was being outbid right and left when I tried to purchase a house several months back (they are awesome for inviting me to do so!). I only prepare dinners for everyone in the household a few days per week as not everyone is home in the evenings to have meals together. For myself though, I plan and prepare for all of my meals (with the exception of weekend meals if I will be eating out)... so I need to know which days to shop for meals that will feed more people and which days it is only me eating or I will have over/under prepared and we could potentially waste a lot of food and money. To track this and help me visually see what was going on each day I added a row above the 'dinner' area on my meal plan that says "Who?". If you end up using my planning spreadsheet you can easily change what this says to fit a variety of options: evening activities, who will cook, etc. or remove it altogether. A similar method worked just fine when I was on my own and when I was married though so I think that this will work for just about any family with a little tweaking depending on your lifestyle.
So, the first step to planning my meals is to sit down with my schedule and see what is going on... when will I be home for dinners, what days do I need to have more flexibility, what meals do I need to pack to take with me on the go, who will be home on days I am home for dinner, etc. I note this in the "Who?" line and then move on to checking my freezer.
Before I pick out recipes/meals I check my freezer. I like to keep my freezer stocked with meats of various kinds so that I can purchase when something is on sale verses when I run out. I am out of ground beef at the moment but have many other options (I'm using chicken to make tacos this week instead for instance) and don't feel pressured to purchase just because I am out which helps me to not over spend on my grocery bill. Normally I prefer to have at least one meal's worth of all the meat types I would typically gravitate to in the freezer but I am on an 'eat from the freezer/pantry' challenge at the moment so I didn't purchase ground beef when I ran out. I've got plenty of other options though! Starting by picking my main protein narrows my choices on recipes straight from the get-go so I don't spend half an hour flipping through recipes to decide what sounds appealing. This week I picked a pork roast, some chicken thighs and a whole chicken. Some weeks there will be a new recipe I really want to try and I may need a meat I don't have but I count that in with occasional deviations.
Usually when I am looking in the freezer I already have meal ideas churning based on what I've been interested in recently but if I don't I head to my cache of recipes and quickly thumb through until I find a main dish that sounds like it would fit the time allotment I have for each given evening. If I am not going to be home until late then I won't want to cook an hour long dish or even a half hour dish most likely for instance so I would want it to be a crock pot dish or even have leftovers from the day before. I do incorporate leftovers into my meal plan... and multiples of the same meal per week, especially in breakfasts and lunches! It saves me time and money in the end, both of which I prefer to spend less of in the kitchen if I can help it. This week I decided to make a roasted chicken on Monday in my crock pot (I am making the cooking style from my rotisserie chicken but with the BBQ dry rub this week), eat leftovers of it with my parents on Tuesday (and make some stock for soup from it), grab a meal I already have in the freezer from previous weeks' leftovers for Wednesday and Thursday since I will not be home until late, whip up some chicken soup from the stock on Friday and finish with a roasted pork loin on Saturday... Sunday evening would be leftovers of the soup and loin.
I head to my lunch mains next. Lunches I am mostly getting from the pantry this week due to the challenge but I plan them similarly to dinners in that I check what I have protein-wise first and go from there. This week I will be having tuna boats (made with homemade mayo!) but I decided to try out some 'taco boats' this week as well so I tossed some chicken thighs, taco seasoning, and a can of salsa on the stove to cook on low last night and now I can mix it up and have tuna some days and taco meat the others. I will save half of the taco mixture for the freezer for another week as I made more than I needed for just that purpose. It could also be for a dinner that I planned poorly or planned to eat out but ended up not feeling up to getting out... planning ahead with a few meals in the freezer is rarely a bad idea I have found.
Breakfasts often will be a rotation of 2-3 meals for me, I'm not very picky when it comes to my breakfasts but I need it to be a protein and lower on the carbs if possible. Sometimes I will make a paleo breakfast bread for the week though and have a little of than with my protein option. Other times I will have a smoothie with lots of veg and fruit plus some algae for the iron and protein content. It has to be fast in the morning and keep me going until 1-2pm as I don't always know when my lunch will be. I love paleo pancakes but I'm not a morning person so those are typically saved for 'breakfast for dinner'... which should probably make it onto next week's rotation because yumm!
The final thing I do is add my veggies and fruits to my meal plan. I insist on at least 2-3 servings of non-starchy veggies with lunch plus an optional fruit depending on my breakfast choices. For dinners I insist on at least 2 servings of non-starchy vegetables and I have one starchy vegetable depending on the rest of the meal plan for the day. I try to limit my carbohydrates as an excess of them tends to make my more symptomatic but that's my personal preference. Occasionally this is different, for instance I plan on having a whole baked potato tonight with my roasted chicken and green beans... that is more than one serving of starchy vegetable but it isn't an every night occurrence and I have no plans tonight other than resting (I am sick so getting over this cold with rest is a must) so I don't need to worry so much about carbs so long as I don't go crazy.
Once I have my meals planned out I double check my fridge, freezer and pantry for everything I need to make my meals before I head to the store. For instance: chicken soup needs an onion, chicken, tomatoes, carrots, and potatoes. All these items are in the pantry other than the onion... did I add an onion to the produce section of my list? I did and I have everything else so I'm done with that meal. I also make sure that I went over my household goods stocking list the week before (One of my to-do's during the week is to check on things like pantry staples, toiletries, pet items, etc. and add things that I am low on to my shopping list. This week I added toilet paper, borox and dog treats for instance.) so that I don't run out of anything during the week. I also double check my stock of homemade items like mayo, ketchup, salad dressing, and etc. based on my menu needs to ensure I have enough for the week. If I don't it get's added to my to-do list in the Notes area of my planner... a condiment is usually something I can make in a few minutes during the meal prep for the week if I am prepared.
Then I head to the store. The whole process, minus the shopping, usually takes me about 30 minutes but it took longer at first until I got into a pattern so be prepared for that. I have saved money and noticed that food waste has gone down significantly as well and that is always a good thing!
How do you meal plan?
Sorry I've been MIA guys... it has been a little bit crazy in my personal life this past week with a new doctor, an MRI, grad school starting up again and some other personal issues so I wasn't able to get a lot of blogging work completed unfortunately. Never fear, I am not gone from the net-verse! I have a list of posts that I am working on currently including a review of one of my favorite running apps (I can't run but I love it for my walks!) plus I ordered the backpack that I was talking about in my previous post. It should get here this week so that review will be upcoming as well- I'm so excited! Then it's a couple of recipes and a post about how I organize my household chores for quick completion throughout the week. I completely re-did my chart to show you guys how I came up with my personal plan from start to finish so that you can design your own that works for your family! For today though I am talking about two recipes for roasted chicken that are very simple to make. Read more below.
This week I decided to stick with chicken as my main protein as it was on sale and I've had some big expenses lately. I picked up some chicken thighs and drumsticks for a good price and headed home to see what I would come up with once I got in the kitchen. Unfortunately by the time I got home I wasn't feeling very well at all as I had had an MRI earlier in the day and the contrast dye really doesn't get out of system as fast as the doctors say it should- possibly due to the MTHFR but its an unknown and doesn't really matter in the end. The dye makes me sick to my stomach and causes my POTS to act up... I had to wait a while after the MRI before I could leave as I was pretty dizzy actually. So I went with as little time as possible on my feet in the kitchen and had some cuddles with my pups. Here they are... I love my love-bugs! The one on the left is Roxanne or Roxy and on the right is my Isabel or Izzy. They are both 4 years old turning 5 in January and February of 2016. Roxy just had quite the health scare if you recall- she almost died! She is doing so much better now though, happy as a clam and hyper as all get out. Isabel is a bit more mellow but is crazy about her ball and will bug you for hours on end to throw it again and again... do not forget to pack it if we go visit somewhere or there will be craziness. It's basically her binky... and the only toy she cannot destroy in less than a minute (tennis ball to gravel in 60 seconds people, for serious). I will likely review the toy maker at some point since I have quite a few of their toys if anyone is interested.
For the chicken thighs I drizzled a little ghee and 2 cloves of rough chopped garlic (you could use melted butter if you prefer), did a quick massage to get everything coated well then sprinkled on some sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper and popped it in the oven. If you want it with a little kick add some paprika... yumm!
For the drumsticks I went with a citrus taste. I simply squeezed two lemons and a lime on top of the drumsticks and added the same salt and pepper as on the thighs. There are so many options for this with marinades including zest, spices and etc that I will be going back and experimenting with this combination again in the future but tonight I just wanted fast but still tasty.
For both of these dishes I set the oven to 300 degrees in order to get a slow roast on the chicken over a couple of hours. Depending on the amount of chicken you have in the oven the cook time could vary but it took about 3 hours for mine to be fully cooked. Make sure to check the internal temperature if you aren't sure if the chicken is fully cooked or not. So far I have enjoyed these dishes as lunches and dinners throughout the week. What other ways do you cook up chicken in your house? :)
Since I work so far from home I take a lot of things with me on a daily basis that many people wouldn't necessarily take with them. I need my meals with me for the day as well as clothes to go for my lunchtime walk, medical items and schoolbooks to study on work breaks or while waiting for people to arrive at an after work activity I participate in. I think the best when I am not overly fatigued so I am not always at my best come evening for studying and therefore like to fit in a little whenever I can. If you meal prep for strength gains and go to the gym before or after work you might end up packing similar to this. You might also pack like this if you have a lot of food allergies or are trying to save money by meal prepping and live a very active lifestyle where you are out of the house for the majority of the day and evening. When I pack for a workday I usually end up packing at least half of my daily meals (depending on the day possibly all of my meals) in a lunchbox, at least one schoolbook, notebook, pens and a highlighter, workout clothes, jogging shoes, medical supplies, toiletries and chargers for my electronics. I don't take my laptop as it won't fit in my bag. I normally pack my bag the evening before so that everything is ready and I just have to grab my lunchbox out of the fridge, toss in the icepacks and head out. Depending on the meal plan for the week I may scramble some eggs fresh while I am getting ready for work.
You can see that my scrambled eggs container is empty in the photo above. I also have a container of nuts that isn't always in my bag, depending on the week's plan and the day, pictured here.
So... starting in the kitchen:
I have my lunch/meal-box here. For this day I have a container of soup, a chicken thigh with zucchini, an egg muffin and sausage piece, a large salad, fresh veggies, an apple, nuts, seeds, a protein bar, and salad dressing. The nuts, seeds and protein bar will stay at work for the duration of the week for those times that I stay late at work (or run off without my eggs... it has happened people... my brain these days!). Most of the time I don't get through even half of what is pictured on the nuts and seeds front but I prefer to be prepared. That brings this day's meal plan to:
Breakfast: eggs and sausage piece
Snack: egg muffin and an apple
Lunch: soup and fresh veggies with homemade salad dressing
Dinner: chicken thigh with salad and zucchini
For the Office (for the week): mixed nuts, seeds, and a protein bar (organic, no extra junk added)
I have three small bags that fit inside the front compartments of my backpack.
Everything fits inside one bag this way (barely) and I don't have to worry about lugging around multiple bags... which I can't really do all that well. On the side pockets I put my water bottle and my green smoothie. If I decide to bring tea then I can carry that pretty easily- I don't put bottles, even hard bottles like the ones I use, inside after an issue I had with an exploding smoothie...
When it comes to after work activities I don't pack them into this bag as they don't fit and there really is no reason to do so. I pack for the week's activities on the weekend like so:
This bag was a gift and is wonderful for what it is- a laptop backpack- but it doesn't really do everything that I need it to do so I have been looking at getting a meal management backpack such as the Isopack or Expedition 500. I will likely still use this bag if I don't need to pack meals as I think it is really well made and has a ton of storage areas. One of the things that I need it to do is hold the rest of my medical odds and ends so that I can stop carrying a purse on workdays... I can't really leave them in the car as the heat can cause issues with them and replacing them can get quite expensive. There has been a lot of review watching and reading, comparison shopping, and debate on which bag I will get but I think I am just about ready to make a purchase. Since it is a larger purchase I will be cutting back in some other areas for a while on my budget to pay for it but I think it will be worth it in the end. Once I make my final decision and use the bag for a while I will do a review of the new backpack. Feel free to put any comments in the bottom if you already own a meal management backpack that you own and love/hate... I'm always open to more information when making a larger purchase like this! The two that I am currently spending most of my focus on are below:
This week was a bit difficult for me since I was dealing with a very sick pup all week. Being under a lot of stress and/or disrupting my sleep pattern significantly can cause a lot of health issues for someone like me and, unfortunately, both of those things were going on this week. When I am ill I need a large amount of sodium which obviously means that some days I needed to eat in order to get my salt in rather than the meals I had prepped for the week on Sunday but I did my best to choose the most compliant options. Further, when I saw how ill my dog was I literally scooped her up and ran out the door without everything other than my purse, which was by the door... so there was a not-completely compliant meal there as I grabbed something while out of the house. Even if you try to get grain and sugar-less options you can't really control the oil when you are eating out so there was likely some not-approved oil.
If you are wondering about my dog: The vet said it was Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis and they have no idea what caused it... but she nearly died. She is doing much better now thankfully.
All in all though the eating went fairly well this week as I ended up sticking to the program 90%+ of the time despite the crazy week. As for side effects I'm not sure what is stress and what is sugar detox. I do have a breakout of acne on my chin at the moment and am a bit more tired than usual but I'm not sure of the cause and, as far as I know, there is no way to tell for sure.
Meal prep for Week 3 was pretty simple as I already had the protein portions made from previous weeks in the freezer (citrus braised carnitas, spicy roast beef and the chicken thighs from last week since I doubled that recipe). I made several different veggies and added them to containers with the meats for this week's meals. Sauteed zucchini, baked zucchini, roasted green beans with a touch of lemon and roasted brussel sprouts made up this week's vegetables. I have never had brussel sprouts so we will see how that goes this week. I also have a few veggies that I will steam later this week, more green beans and a veggie mixture, in the fridge right now and some green apples for snacks. I tend to not need to cook proteins/mains about once a month as I cook a bit more than needed each week and freeze the excess for future use. This works great in case I get sick on a weekend and cannot cook for the next week. If needed, I have at least a few days worth of meals stored so that I can wait until midweek once I am feeling better before I need to meal prep again. This is also useful as it frees up that extra weekend a month for some deep cleaning that I don't do weekly, go out of town, or anything else that might come up.
Again, here are the books if you are interested. So far I haven't found the program excessively difficult. It has helped me kick the soda habit and may have made this week a little bit easier as there was less stress on my system.
My meal prep this week took about two hours (see below... I decided to make iced tea and dressing later that day so I added about 20 minutes for those items) but it was a lot more in depth than I normally would do since I usually make breakfasts in the morning and use my crock pot for one of the main entrees. So... keep that in mind if you are planning on making your breakfasts fresh. Honestly, the breakfasts took longer than any of the other meals so I could easily make just the lunches and dinners from this week in a little over an hour or an hour and a half if I needed to double/triple the number of meals prepared to cook for a larger number of people. If two hours doesn't sound like a bad deal to have every meal for the entire week ready to go then you and I are of the same mindset my friend.
For the numbers oriented reader:
I ended up with 15 mains, 7 breakfasts, and enough veggies and salad for myself for the week in under two hours, including salad dressing from scratch. If I was to cook for two it wouldn't take more than 10 minutes longer since doubling a recipe like these doesn't take long. Should I be cooking for a family though I would make an extra main in the crock pot and do the prep on one more that could be in the freezer ready to toss in mid-week... this would, from past experience, take about an additional 20 minutes for 2 extra mains and you would need to re-prep the veggies and breakfasts plus the one crock pot meal mid-week for about another 30-40 minutes total but would garner you: 60 mains, 28 breakfasts and enough salad and chopped fresh veggies for the week for the whole family. This is enough for a family of 4 easily and you are looking at about 3 hours total cook-time for the week... about 8 minutes per meal when you do the math or 2 minutes per serving... not including the chopped veggies which could easily be a snack. If you are making breakfasts fresh then make it 2 hours and 5 minutes per meal or so for the pre-prepared breakfasts plus however long you need for breakfast making in the morning.
Anywho, now that all the numbers game is taken care of lets get down to what I cooked during meal prep. This week I made: Italian Spice Blend (pg. 208) to use in a recipe, Mustard-Glazed Chicken Thighs (pg. 114), Apple Streusel Egg Muffins (pg. 102), and Green Apple Breakfast Sausage (pg. 94). I also did my own version of the No-Miso Soup on page 164 with what I had on hand "Asian Inspired Shrimp and Zucchini Soup." Additionally I prepped an extra-large salad, tons of sliced veggies including zucchini, peppers, carrots and tomatoes... and some sugar free buffalo ranch dressing as well as iced tea. All in all it was a fairly easy meal prep since the recipes were very easy to follow and uncomplicated.
Week one went really well... until the weekend. So I'll be adding an extra week to the 3 I planned on doing to even it out. I made the choice so its all on me, no excuses. Anywho, the sugar wasn't particularly difficult for me to cut out but I do miss the flavors... maple syrup would've been really tasty in a smoothie I made for instance and my morning tea with a touch of honey was missed. Other than that there weren't too many issues with the sweets for me... cheese was another issue. I ended up letting last week start at a lower level than I originally wanted so that I could take a week to finish up some of the cheese in my house. I somehow missed that I wasn't allowed to have cheese when I did my shopping for the week (ditzy moment much?) and I really didn't want to push the detox back a week so I moved down a level but stuck to the rules of level 3 for everything other than the cheese. This week the cheese is gone and its time for strict level 3.
Since this was my first week off soda, which I got hooked on during the stressful time of moving cross country with the divorce, I stuck with unsweetened black tea so that I would only have to detox off of one thing at a time. I missed my daily soda, that's for sure, but I think that it was easier to kick on the detox than it was the last time I kicked soda cold turkey soda a few years ago. Soda is super bad for you, as we are all aware, but it is really bad for me with my health issues as the chemicals, artificial dye and sweeteners as well as the caffeine can really cause issues with my system. And yet I did it anyways... I know, I know, not my brightest moment that's for sure. The soda is officially gone and I have moved to green tea this week to lessen the caffeine load on my body. This should help my autonomic system a bit but also my sleep cycle. Luckily, I have tons of tea (I LOVE tea) in my cupboard of all types so I will have a varied tea experience this week even eliminating the highly caffeinated black and red teas in my collection 'o loose leaf teas. Today I am drinking a tea my dad brought back from from China for me the last time he was abroad. It is light and pretty tasty even sans sweeten. A lot of people would add a bit of citrus to their tea in lieu of the sweetener but I've never been a huge citrus+tea fan so I personally have not done so yet. I may in the future though, we'll see.
On to prepping for week 2...
I decided to try out several of the recipes in the book for the next few weeks so that I could truly give a well informed review of the book(s) at the end of the process. This week I made: Italian Spice Blend (pg. 208), Mustard-Glazed Chicken Thighs (pg. 114), Apple Streusel Egg Muffins (pg. 102), CoCo-Monkey Smoothie (pg. 92), and Green Apple Breakfast Sausage (pg. 94). I also did my own version of the No-Miso Soup on page 164 since I didn't have all of the ingredients to make her version in the house (I somehow managed to forget to pick up baby bok choy and green onions at the store... I tell you, my brain these days!). I wrote a post about the soup, which turned out pretty awesome and will be my lunch today along with part of the huge salad I made for the week, titled "Asian Inspired Shrimp and Zucchini Soup." Additionally I prepped an extra-large salad, tons of sliced veggies and some sugar free salad dressing as well as iced tea. I will need to rotate some of the meals out of the freezer mid-week and make an additional batch of iced tea but I'm pretty much done cooking for the week. Hurray! I haven't eaten all of the recipes yet but I'll let you know about the ones that I have eaten already.
Apple Streusel Egg Muffins: Took a bit of getting used to as they smelled like they would be sweet but the certainly are not. Day 2 of eating them for breakfast though I really enjoyed it. I will likely add a touch more cinnamon to my next batch and maybe a bit of sweetener once I am off the 21DSD but I can only see myself learning to like these more over the rest of the week.
CoCo-Monkey Smoothie: I did not like this. I'm not sure why I didn't like it though. It was quite bitter of course so maybe I'll lessen the cocoa powder and make sure to ensure that the banana I use is the correct size? I'll let you know next week if I find a fix but for now this is not a recipe I am a fan of.
Green Apple Breakfast Sausage: This one was pretty tasty. I am not a huge fennel fan apparently but I still enjoyed a patty of this sausage with my egg muffin for breakfast this morning.
Italian Spice Blend: You use this in the breakfast sausage so yes, I have tried it. I'm not a huge fennel fan like I mentioned before but it smells just like what I imagine when I think Italian sausage which is what she was going for so I'll say thumbs up.
I am having the Mustard-Glazed Chicken Thighs for dinner (they smelled pretty awesome coming out of the oven!) so I'll let you know about those next week.
All the recipes this week were from the original 21DSD book but I have purchased the 21DSD Cookbook as well and will be trying recipes from it over the course of the next month or so as well. Links to the books for the 21 Day Sugar Detox, should you be interested, are below:
Without a doubt the biggest question I get is "If you don't eat __________ what DO you eat?" So I figured I should do a post about a typical week for me. I do a lot of bulk cooking and preparation since I have a very busy schedule between work, grad school, choir practice, dance practice, church and house hunting so I usually do the majority of my meal prep on Saturday night or Sunday depending on what I am making. Sometimes both... if I am making something in the crock pot I will usually put it in on Saturday night so that when I do the rest of my prep on Sunday I can portion out my crock pot meal or protein. I used to plan something new every day but I don't any longer as it created an overabundance of food and therefore unnecessary work and possibly wasted food... not good. The plan I am currently using is 2-3 options for lunches and dinners that I can mix and match each weekday and then veggies and fruit sides and snacks.
I typically prep veggies, mushrooms and a protein such as sausage or diced ham for fast omelets on the weekend then it is just a matter of scooping out a little veg into the scrambled eggs, tossing some extra protein in and letting it cook up while I pack my lunchbox.
Tuna tins or pouches, sliced deli meats, and "leftovers" from other meals make up my protein sources. I will typically purchase thicker cuts of deli meats or bake/roast meats and freeze them after slicing in small quantities. Sometimes I will have a few smaller portions of cheese that I can add to a lunch and I almost always have some homemade mayo on hand for tuna salad.
I make up a large salad each week... enough to last me 6-7 side salads minimum. This makes prepping lunches and quick dinners very quick and only takes a few minutes longer than making a single salad would take so it is a but time saver. My typical salad is a mix of: kale, chard, spinach, red or green leaf lettuce, romaine and maybe a little radicchio. My other veggies go in small containers on the side so that they don't get my salad mushy.
Veggies for Salads and Snacks:
I most commonly use carrots, zucchini, cucumbers and tomatoes as they are all easy to use as both salad toppings and snacks that I can eat on the go.
Other Salad Toppings and Snacks:
Nuts, seeds, hard boiled eggs, and dried berries all make for easy salad toppings and double as snacks as well. These are things I personally use sparingly but as everything but the eggs are fairly shelf stable I keep them on hand to use when I need to.
This week's dinners are BBQ rubbed beef in the crock pot, roasted chicken (which can also be made in the crock pot... just make one on Saturday and one on Sunday!), and zoodles with meat sauce. Zoodles aren't something that I usually make up early as they are easy to make and take very little time but I will make the meat sauce ahead of time. Honestly, I usually keep 1-2 servings of marinara and/or meat sauce in the freezer.
Dinner Carb-Based Sides:
I personally eat very few carbs in the grand scheme of things so you won't find me making these regularly but if you need some extra carbs in your diet then these are quick and easy sides: roasted root vegetables such as parsnips, yams and carrots (just drizzle in olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt then roasted), sweet potatoes either sliced, mashed or baked and sauteed veggies w a small amount of rice (portion the fresh veg and steamed rice ahead of time then you can saute everything when you are about to eat for crisp fresh veggies).
Dinner (non-starchy) Sides:
I eat more of the large salad I eat for lunch or toss a Ceasar salad, steamed or stir fried Asian veggies, cauliflower 'rice', zoodles, or pretty much any veggie at the farmer's market works here. I aim to try a new veggie every month.
Sometimes I am not very hungry but want a little something... or I am not feeling well suddenly. During these times I pull out my frozen bone broth. Tossing in some fresh vegetables or protein makes for a fast soup as well. Bone broth has a lot of health benefits so you may even want to keep this as a regular meal.
Treats: Treats for me aren't usually baked goods... but it is sometimes. Maybe once a month or if I have an event I will bake up a batch of something sweet. My more common treats are whole fruit, smoothies, fruit salad, dark chocolate and unsweetened applesauce with cinnamon.
What Prep Looks Like:
Breakfast and lunch meats are often done in bulk as well as mayo. other condiments and bone broth. Usually biweekly works well for me as the meats from one week (such as the one listed above) will last nearly two weeks' worth of meals since it is just me so I can use that time on the opposite weeks to make condiments and breakfast/lunch meats like a roasted turkey breast or ham (cook, slice and freeze in portioned packets).
The whole routine usually takes about 10 minutes (like I said- I am not a morning person) and often includes some other morning odds and ends like changing the laundry over or other chores. Add in another few minutes for the dogs, 15 minutes for a shower and getting ready for work (my hair is super short right now so it doesn't take very long) and a couple minutes to grab whatever I need for after work activities and I'm ready to leave for work. Grand total from waking up to walking out the door you ask? 30-40 minutes usually... including preparing 2-3 meals for the day, a household chore and taking care of myself and the dogs.
When I was married I followed a similar routine but made the dinner proteins in the crock pot every other day so they would be ready when I got home in the evening... and there were more carbs as I had a very active military husband. Lunches and breakfasts were pretty much the same but cooking for 2+ meant less space in the fridge so I would do meal prep twice a week instead of just once. Making up packets of marinaded meats and freezing them for use on the grill or in stir fry was also something that I did a lot of to speed dinner up on the evenings where I didn't want to use a crock pot. Casseroles are another time saver as you can prep one in the morning or the night before and pop it in the oven when you get home for a meal in usually less than half an hour (enough time to do a load of laundry and clean 1 room of the house if you are me... I like to be done with everything before dinner if possible). It's all about making the most of your time and finding a routine that works for your schedule and family.