Meal Planning: 10 Tips from a beginner’s perspective

A lot of things I have read recently about food waste have referenced that having a plan for food is a main component to reducing food waste. It is estimated that Americans are wasting about 40% of food grown for human consumption! Wow.

Collectively, we can all contribute to reducing food waste, decreasing methane emissions of rotting food in landfills, and leave more money in our pockets. Today I want to chat about meal planning. I have been a come-and-go meal planner over the years. But in 2015, one of my goals was to be better at it. I want to share some of the things I have found that work for me.

1. Start small. I do not plan each and everything thing we eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks 7 days a week. I just plan our evening meals, and usually just for five nights.

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Our menu for the next week.

2. Align your menu with your week. There are some weeks I have two to three night meetings, during those weeks a strict menu is not in the cards for me. If possible, I try to do the bulk of the cooking on the weekend prior to my week of meetings. It is a win-win in our house, I can take leftovers during the week and the Hubs has dinner on the nights I am gone.

3. Make a list. Have you ever gotten to the grocery store, just to realize you left your list at home? Ugh me too (I know what you are thinking, just make your list on your phone and then that is not a problem, I use my phone for a lot of things, but as my grocery list, it is just something I just have been able to do yet). For me the list is very important. I rely heavily on it for remembering what I need to get. I have also been that person that goes to the store with my mental list of four items, and I come home with $80 worth of stuff! Creating a list helps to just shop for what you need (reducing waste) and it keeps more money in your pocket by limiting impulse purchases. When I buy canned vegetables or dry goods I will also buy an extra here or there to keep a healthy supply in the pantry.

4. Don’t beat yourself up if the menu changes. I write down a list of things I plan to make during the week and decide the day before what we will be having, some people I know assign food items to each night. There is no right or wrong way to do it, do what works best for your family. Sometimes during the week something else comes up and I don’t get around to making something I had planned, we just move that item to the weekend (one of the reasons I usually just plan for five meals a week).

5. You don’t have to always cook. Some nights I come home and I just want to have a glass of wine and kick my feet up. Luckily no little people depend on us for food in those cases. On those nights I will just cut up cheese, fruit, vegetables, and gather some crackers. If we have french bread for dipping (sliced wheat bread just doesn’t do it for me), I will bust out some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This meal is perfect on the nights where you don’t want to cook, clean your kitchen, or even be in the kitchen.

6. Have fun with it. I like to cook and try new recipes, so I challenge myself to try one to two new recipes a week. Some of these new recipes have turned into family favorites for us. Even with this goal, we still get stuck in the rut of having some of the same things over and over, that is when I start increasing the amount of new recipes I try.

7. Don’t forget the staples. As I said before, I only plan for our dinner meals, however I know our eating patterns and shop for those. Breakfast items usually consist of things like oatmeal, yogurt, milk, string cheese, toast, smoothies, fruit, or any combination. Lunch is either leftovers or sandwiches (meat/cheese or PBJ). Plus I always make sure we keep stuff on hand for spaghetti, which is great for a quick and easy meal and one meal the Hubs has mastered. Additionally, I always purchase fruits and vegetables that are great in a main dish or by themselves as a healthy snack. In our house having these things always on hand makes food prep for all meals easy.

8. Embrace your leftovers. With just two people in our household leftovers are pretty common. But we love leftovers. They are great to take for lunch in the following days. Sometimes we also have a “leftover night” where we eat all of the random leftovers, think of those nights as a 5-course meal nights ๐Ÿ™‚ If you are not a leftover person, I encourage you to work on cutting your recipes so that you are only making what you can eat in that one setting, thus reducing food waste.

9. Random ingredients left at the end of the week. Sometimes you may not get around to making something you had planned, or you bought more of an ingredient than you needed for your recipe. It seems that every week I use up these random ingredients by making soup, stew, chili, smoothies, or salads. All of these are handy for using up leftover fruits, vegetables, meat, broths, and other ingredients.

10. Involve your family. When I bust out 10 new recipes a week, I ask Hubs to choose a couple he would like me to try. This works out well because I have already picked the ones I want, but he also gets a voice in choosing the final menu for the week. It is a better shared experience for both of us.

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A list of what we have had in the last month.

I have found that by planning out evening menus we are saving money when we go grocery shopping, we very rarely throw away any food, and we are having fun cooking and tasting new recipes.

Do you plan your meals? What other tips do you have?

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Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

โ€“ Website (http://food.unl.edu/ag-and-food)
โ€“ Twitter/Instagram (agwithdrlindsay)
โ€“ Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/agwithdrlindsay)
โ€“ Pinterest (Lindsay Chichester-Medahunsi)

A Single Person’s Guide to the Grocery Store

Elise does a great job in her blog post discussing tips on shopping and cooking for one. In our household of two, we cook regular size meals and have leftovers for lunch. I often freeze leftovers too and enjoy the flexibility to pull them out of the freezer in portion sized servings when no one feels like cooking or time is short. The Hubs and I also started planning our meals the week before. We grocery shop for just those items, and it decreases the chance that food will spoil as we know we will use it within the next week.

The Kiwi Hoosier

My favorite food from the dining courts. I would be okay with someone buying me a Purdue waffle (Boiler)maker. My favorite food from the dining courts. I would be perfectly okay with someone finding me a Purdue waffle (Boiler)maker.

Forย nearly nine years, Iโ€™ve lived on my own. Iโ€™ve had various roommates in houses and apartments, andย Iโ€™ve lived in the university residence halls, eating dining hall meals, microwavable dinnersย or fast food. However, for a year and a half, I lived with only my dog, Evie. (She eats most anything.) I found the food situation to be vastly different when I lived alone than when I lived with roommates.

During this year and a half, I lived in the country, and greatly enjoyed it. I worked in the city but didnโ€™t want to have to stop at the grocery store every day because of bad planning.ย When I lived on the farm,ย we only went to the grocery store once or twice a month for all five of us. I liked that approach.

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Cheap food: Have consumers been trained? – Feedback Friday

I commute, and most of my drive time is either spent pondering life’s happenings or listening to a book on cd. I recently have been thinking about things that I don’t have an answer to, there is no right or wrong answer/opinion, they are just random thoughts.

So I am creating a “Feedback Friday” category, where we can discuss some of these ponderings. I would love your feedback, thoughts, insights…

So here goes…

Do you think the consumer (including myself here) has been trained by retailers and marketers to seek out bargains, cut expenses, and look for deals in every aspect of their life – including wanting cheap food? In the U.S.A. we already spend less than 7% of our income on food – which is much less than most countries (Source: USDA ERS: Percent of consumer expenditures on food, alcoholic beverages…).

Think about it, the biggest shopping days of the year are after major holidays, where people can “save” so much money. Many cars are sold at the end of the year when they are marked down to make room for the new cars. And what about those 2-for-1 options at restaurants, fuel saver rewards for grocery store loyalty, loan interest rates that can be cut, or happy hour specials? I truly think we have become trained to find and seek out bargains (because we want to spend our hard-earned money on something else, right?). And we feel upset when we pay the full price for something, when we could have saved a few bucks on it.

When the weekly grocery store flyer comes in the mail, who doesn’t look to see what products are on sale? In the past month I have purchased: shrimp, chicken breasts, pork ribs, bananas, bell peppers, and apples that were marked down from their “normal” price. Nothing was wrong with them, they were just the featured items of the week, I like all of those items, and well, they were reasonably priced.

I hear a lot of people in the ag community across all sectors (conventional, organic, grass-fed, natural, etc.) talk about consumers moving to cheaper cuts of meat (i.e. hamburger vs steak) or balking at paying the price the food product is worth (because they saw it priced cheaper at another store/supplier). BUT, have consumers been trained to want cheap food? They can score deals in every other aspect of their lives, so why shouldn’t they expect to for their food? ** Note: I realize this generalization does not apply to all consumers who seek out specialty and niche products and will pay a premium for various items they deem important.

Why does that anger and frustrate us in the food production business? Shouldn’t we see that as an opportunity? I fully understand how much work and effort goes into raising and growing food, but most people do not. And when consumers see high price tags attached they think the farmer/rancher is making tons of money (which is not entirely true). Is there a way to make healthy, safe, nutritious, delicious food available at reasonable prices so they consumer feels like they are always getting a bargain? Or is food already a bargain purchase?

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What do you think? I would love to hear your thought on this matter? Am I completely crazy in my thinking, or am on to something here?

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Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

โ€“ Website (http://food.unl.edu/ag-and-food)
โ€“ Twitter/Instagram (agwithdrlindsay)
โ€“ Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/agwithdrlindsay)
โ€“ Pinterest (Lindsay Chichester-Medahunsi)

Christmas in the Country gift exchange

citc14-1This was my first year to participate in the Christmas in the Country gift exchange. This was a secret Santa experience for ag bloggers and online agvocates. It was a lot of fun and I want to share my experience with you.

I received Val at Corn, Beans, Pigs and Kids. She is Wonder Woman – a mom, wife, farmer, volunteer, agvocate, blogger, woman of faith and community located in northern Iowa. And she is getting ready to have a third baby! I look forward to getting to know her more and following her adventures through her various social media platforms. I have to admit that I might have freaked Val out with my gift, as I checked her out online and sent personalized gifts for her whole family. Since Val and her husband raise pork, I found that she and I seem to be on the same page when it comes to bacon – we both love it. And Val had indicated that faith is important to her. I have made stacked crosses for several friends in the past, and I thought I would make one for Val too.

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Hand-made Christmas ornaments… This one is for Val. I also made one with the initial’s of her husband and their kiddos and a generic one with a pig on it for Baby #3.
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I tried to use my artistic talents as best as possible and make this specific to her blog title… Corn, Beans, Pigs and Kids.
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My attempt at a pig ๐Ÿ™‚
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I filled Val’s and her husband’s ornaments with Christmas “stuff” and the kiddos with hot chocolate mix. I figured they could eventually fill it with legos, corn, beans, or whatever they wanted!
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Bacon…enough said. And in case Val needed ideas for more ways to use the delicious goodness, she got this recipe book. Yum!
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Val indicated green was her favorite color, so I tried to pick hues of green for this stacked cross.
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Off to the post office to ensure they received this before Christmas!

My hubs and I headed to Northern California for Christmas, but I was delighted to find my secret Santa gift waiting for me when I returned.

My gift box was put together by Kim at Kim’s County Line. Kim is a wife, mom, a young grandmother, farmer’s wife, photographer, and an amazing woman in south central Kansas. Kim sent me a great gift box of Kansas themed items! All of them were perfect. She sent food items: spiced tea mix, chocolate covered sunflower seeds, cinnamon apple butter, and Hudson Cream corn bread mix and country gravy mix – I am a huge fan of eating, so everything has been a hit! Kim also takes excellent photos, and she sent some blank cards with her photos on them! I know as I write thank you cards for Christmas gifts my family will love receiving these cards. Kim also included a wine stopper, a snowflake ornament, recipes, and a Kansas bookmark! Isn’t she great!?

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A great letter from Kim explaining all of the gifts. After I mailed my package to Val I thought I should have included a note for her to open after opening the gifts so I could explain them a little more…next year I will do that!
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My pile of booty from Kim – and all Kansas items too! She did a great job of finding things that are/were perfect for me and my interests!
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Look at these notecards made with Kim’s pictures, I think they are awesome and that Kim is very talented. Kim does sell these, so if you would like a few for yourself, reach out to her.
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Tonight the Hubs and I are having beans and ham hocks so we can try out the cornbread mix.
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I have been enjoying the spiced tea (and the Hubs really likes it too). Kim sent a great cookie recipe I will have to try, but it seems as I will have to buy more chocolate covered sunflower seeds as the ones she sent have made for good snacks!

Prior to this exchange I was not familiar with Val or Kim, and I am glad that I have gotten to know two more wonderful ladies through Christmas in the Country. I encourage you to check them both out and see what they up to, as they are wonderful women who are living life to the fullest with their families and loves ones.

This was a wonderful experience, and I look forward to participating again next year!

Many thanks to Christmas in the Country hosts: Country LINKed, This Uncharted Rhoade,The Ranchwife Chronicles, and Diaries from the Dirt Road.

If you are interested in knowing more about this gift exchange, check out the original post on Country LINKed.

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Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

โ€“ Website (http://food.unl.edu/ag-and-food)
โ€“ Twitter/Instagram (agwithdrlindsay)
โ€“ Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/agwithdrlindsay)
โ€“ Pinterest (Lindsay Chichester-Medahunsi)

2014 cost of Thanksgiving meal

Annually, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) posts the cost of a Thanksgiving meal. This is their 29th year of providing an estimate of what the items on a traditional Thanksgiving table will cost for 10 persons, in 2014, it is estimated to be $49.04, a $0.37 increase from 2013. At roughly $5 per person, that is a pretty good deal! The average cost of the Thanksgiving meal has remained around $49 since 2011.

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The average cost of a Thanksgiving meal for 10 persons, 1986-2014. Source: American Farm Bureau Federation

As you guessed it, the turkey was the most expensive at roughly $1.35 a pound. John Anderson, the AFBF Deputy Chief Economist says that some grocers use turkey as the “loss leader” – a common practice to entice shoppers to come into the store and purchase other groceries while there.

Also included on the AFBF’s menu in addition to the turkey is: bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, coffee, and milk.

2014 cost of Thanksgiving
Source: American Farm Bureau Federation

If your household is like mine, and you will be adding additional items containing dairy products, alcoholic beverages, and/or additional dessert options the price will increase. I have no doubts the food and company will both be good this year!

What is on your Thanksgiving menu? Any special traditions?

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Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

โ€“ Website (http://food.unl.edu/ag-and-food)
โ€“ Twitter/Instagram (agwithdrlindsay)
โ€“ Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/agwithdrlindsay)
โ€“ Pinterest (Lindsay Chichester-Medahunsi)

Crock-pot chicken: Meat, broth, money savings

I love my crock-pot! It is so easy to throw something into it in the morning and come home at night to a near ready meal! It sure makes dinner a breeze. Plus the leftovers are great for lunch the following day.

One of the easiest (and most economical) things I do is throw a whole chicken into the crock-pot. I will share with you how I can turn a chicken into several meals and freeze my own chicken broth! I showed how to turn a pork loin in several meals here.

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I bought a 5.65 pound roaster chicken at the store for $6.16.

I put the thawed chicken in the crock-pot, added 1 cup of water (you can add more if you want more broth), and a few seasonings (garlic salt, pepper, and a little chili powder). If you remove the skin, the seasonings really don’t matter, except for flavoring your broth. For more meat handling, thawing, freezing, and safety tips visit here.

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The chicken is ready – with water and seasonings.

I usually cook this on low all day (~7-8 hours) because I start it when I leave my house in the morning and pull it out when I get home in the evening. You can cook it for less time, but this is what works for me. Also, cooking one overnight to be ready in the morning works really well too!

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To determine that it is fully cooked, you can insert a thermometer. I do the “leg-check” if one of the drumsticks easily pulls away or falls off the rest of the bird, then it is done.

When it is fully cooked, pull it out of the crock-pot and out of the juices to let it cool. Do not try to shred it until it cools, it will burn your hands! Once it is cool enough to handle, I separate all of the meat from the bone and fat (which I just throw away).

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A bunch of shredded chicken.

I use the chicken for various meals during the week, it is very convenient and easy to re-purpose into a meal – or you can eat it fresh out of the crock-pot!

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The hubs and I were able to use the 5.65 pound chicken in EIGHT different meals ! We used it as a topping for 2 pizzas, we made pulled chicken BBQ sandwiches, I included it in a morning breakfast, and I added it to a salad! That is $0.77 per serving for meat protein!

Let’s talk about chicken broth. Ever since I have started doing the crock-pot chickens I have been saving the broth (aka the juices it cooks in) from it. I do this when I make beef roasts too! This way I know there are no preservatives and it is low sodium – as I season it myself. Keeping the broth is easy. I put the crock-pot in my fridge overnight (the freezer for a shorter time works well too if you don’t have room in your fridge). It just needs to be long enough to make the fat solidify on the top so you can scrap it off.

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Once cold, the fat solidifies on the top of the broth…
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Gently use a spatula to scrap off the thin layer of fat. I put it in an old plastic container to be thrown away.

Once you get your chicken out you will see chucks of “stuff”. This stuff is the liquid protein (juices) that came out of the chicken while cooking – it is good for you. So leave it in there, just make sure no bones were left behind.

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And you are left with the broth. After I scrape the fat off I stir the broth up just to get anything that settled to the bottom, so when I portion it out there is an even distribution of flavors.
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Portion it up, I usually do 2-4 cups per bag, as that is what most of the recipes I make call for. Be sure and use an airtight container so it doesn’t freezer burn (unless you plan to use it quickly).
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Label it! Include the date, what it is, and the amount. It sure makes it easier when you use it in later recipes.

By cooking several crock-pot chickens a year, I am able to provide us with enough broth that I rarely have to buy any. And with fall quickly approaching, my freezer is stocked with chicken broth for our favorite soups and stews.

What other ways have you used shredded chicken? Do you save your own broth?

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– Website (http://food.unl.edu/ag-and-food)
โ€“ Twitter (agwithdrlindsay)
โ€“ Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/agwithdrlindsay)
โ€“ Pinterest (Lindsay Chichester-Medahunsi)

Tips on saving money at the meat counter

Happy Monday! Since grilling season is upon us I thought I would share a couple of tips on how to save some money at the meat counter, I mean who wouldn’t love to do that right!? Plus with Memorial weekend coming up, many retailers will push meat sales, and you might be able to find additional bargains! A win-win ๐Ÿ™‚

I am also trying out another delivery method – video demonstrations! Watching yourself on camera is like hearing your recorded voice, kinda weird. Certainly not perfect…my videographer (aka the hubs) and I both need a little work, but that will come with time.

Today I want to show you how to take a bulk meat item and break it down into individual portions. In this example, I use a pork loin.

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Pork loin from a local retailer.

Sometimes buying meat in bulk can give us sticker shock since a lot of money can be spent quickly. But keep reading to see how many portions I made for the hubs and I.

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Pork loin in all of its glory…but it can be awkward to work with if you have never broken one down before…

Remember to make sure all of your work surfaces, utensils, and hands are clean. Food safety is always important to practice. Also, notice how the cutting board I am using has the groove around the outside edge, this is great for cutting meat as it catches all of the juices, and helps keep your work space much cleaner.

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Pork chops! Using your knife to measure thickness works great for keeping all of the chops consistent in size.
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Prepare your bags. I like to make them all at once. I fold down the top before I put the meat (or anything else) in. Folding helps the top of the bag stay clean, ensuring a good (non-leaking) seal.
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Slide the chops into your bags. Three is the perfect amount for my family. Notice how the top of the bag is clean?! It’s the small things ๐Ÿ™‚
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FoodSaver doing its thing…the package should be air free.

As a recap, I paid $15.65 for an 8.37 pound pork loin. I was able to package it for seven meals for my family size (the hubs and I). Each package, or meat that will be on our plate for seven meals cost $2.24 per meal! Or if you really want to break it down that is $0.75 per pork chop! To me that is a heck of a deal. The convenience of the cut chops and in individual portions also fits great into my crazy schedule .

As a reminder, the internal cooking temperature of a pork chop is 145 degrees F, the same as it is for beef, veal, and lamb (this can be measured with a meat thermometer inserted into the center of the chop). One of the quickest ways to have a bad eating experience is to overcook your meat! My mantra when grilling is low and slow; the meat reaches the ideal degree of doneness without burning the outside.

Do you buy meat in bulk and portion it out? What great tips can you share with me?

** Note: I am not promoting one brand over another. I use what I have, what works for me, and what I have had good luck with.