MDHF #5: Slow Cooker Pulled BBQ Pork

Make Dinner Happen Friday #5
Yes, I know that is a picture of chicken 🙂

Make Dinner Happen Friday is a series where I share with you what I am planning on cooking next week – plus recipes and tips!  So come and join me in making dinner happen!

It has been another quiet week in our home on the meal planning frontier.  We have gotten into a better groove for our family’s routines, although we are still tweaking our weekly schedule 😉
This week I am including two different types of barbecue: a chicken Korean barbecue (a new recipe for us) and a more traditional pulled pork barbecue recipe – check out the recipe at the end! (Yes, I know that is not actually a picture of BBQ Pork!)

Recap from Last Week

We followed our meal plan very closely this week, except that we did not make the crepes – it turned out that I ended up using up most of my gigantic sourdough starter before then.  Instead, I made Buffalo Chicken Wraps (big hit!).
The Black Bean Lime Rice was not so good, so I don’t recommend it.  The Chicken and Rice Skillet turned out really good, so hopefully I will post that recipe soon.  The Garlic Roast Pork was also good, but nothing very special :).

Friday

Lentil Barley Stew and Rolls
We had some leftover Lentil Barley Stew in the freezer, so we had that with some homemade rolls for supper.  So easy and delicious!
Friday Meal Prep: Make rolls
Friday Prep for Saturday: Pull down the chicken to thaw.

Saturday

Korean BBQ Chicken and Rice
We are trying out this new Korean BBQ Chicken recipe.  I am going to be using bone-in chicken legs and thighs (about 1.5lb), so we will have enough left over to put into the fried rice for Sunday.  I will also cook extra rice to use for that (btw, if you are planning on saving rice, be sure to only save it for one day so that it doesn’t make you sick).
Saturday Meal Prep: Make rice (+ 1 cup for Sunday), make bread (rolls + loaf for Sunday)
Saturday Prep for Sunday: Prep the French Toast Casserole for the morning

Sunday

Brunch: Apple French Toast and Hash Brown Cups
We enjoyed the Apple French Toast casserole so much last week, that we are having it again this week!  We’re adding the Hash Brown Cups again make it last longer!
Dinner: Chicken Fried Rice
We will be using the leftover chicken and rice from Saturday to make a basic fried rice similar to this vegetable fried rice recipe.  I always use a similar “formula” for making fried rice every time and just throw in whatever meat or vegetables that I have on hand.  This week, I will put some peas in.
Sunday Prep for Monday: Pull down pork to thaw

Monday

Slow Cooker Pulled BBQ Pork Sandwiches with Coleslaw and Chips
Check out the recipe for the BBQ Pork below (you could also use chicken).  I am going to be trying this coleslaw recipe – I have never found a coleslaw recipe that my mayonnaise-hating husband will eat, so hopefully this will be the ticket!
Monday Meal Prep: Get the food in the slow cooker early!  Make the coleslaw at lunchtime to give it time to chill (save half of the cabbage for tomorrow).  Make buns (man, I’m going to be cooking this day!).

Tuesday

Kenyan Cabbage Casserole with Applesauce
I’ll be using the rest of the cabbage to make a baked cabbage with sausage and peppers.  The seasonings of it remind me of another dish that I had when was in Kenya.  Super tasty, lots of vegetables, and, best of all, the kids love it!
Tuesday Meal Prep: Cut up peppers.

Wednesday

Apple Pork Curry and Rice
I have some leftover curry in the freezer as well, so we will be eating that up this week!  I love freezer cooking!
Wednesday Meal Prep: Make rice

Thursday

Spaghetti, Salad, and Bread
We have a busy evening this day, so we are keeping it simple with some spaghetti (with sauce from the freezer), salad, and bread.
Thursday Meal Prep: Make bread (if needed)
There you have it – our plan for this week!  Help me out – anyone have a good coleslaw recipe for those who don’t like mayonnaise? Share it on Facebook or Twitter with #makedinnerhappen!

 Slow Cooker Pulled BBQ Pork

Needs Fulfilled: Slow Cooker, Gluten Free, Allergy Friendly
Serve As: Sandwiches, Salad, Loaded Baked Potato
Serve With: Coleslaw, Potato Chips, Carrot and Celery Sticks, or Fruit Salad
Prep: 15 minutes  Inactive Cook: 3-8 hours   Active Cook: 10 minutes
Time to Table: 10 minutes
Needed Equipment: Slow cooker
Serves: 4

STARTING PREPARATION:

  • Thaw pork (in the fridge overnight or in the microwave).
  • If you need to save time in the morning, mix together the spices (not the wet ingredients) the night before in a bag.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 lb boneless pork roast
  • 1/2 cup (8 Tbsp) tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tsp molasses
  • 3 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3/4 tsp paprika
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp soy sauce (see substitutions below)
  • 3/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp dried mustard
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • Pinch each of cloves and cinnamon

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Place the pork in the slow cooker. If the slow cooker is too big (you want the sauce to come up at least half way), place a casserole dish inside and place the pork in that (this will ensure that your food cooks thoroughly without getting dried out or burned). Combine the remaining ingredients in a bowl and pour over the pork. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours.
  2. When you are ready to serve, use two forks to pull the meat apart and mix into the sauce.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • Soy sauce substitutions: tamari sauce (gluten free but contains soy), Braggs aminos, and coconut aminos (those last two are harder to find) – as always, check the label before using if you have food allergies!
  • Adjust the amount of sugar in the recipe – you can reduce the sugar significantly (down to maybe 1 Tbsp?) without compromising the dish.  You can also substitute the types of sweetener that you prefer.
  • Use a similar amount of chicken, adjusting the cooking time to 5-6 hours for high.
  • As with all recipes, adjust the seasonings to fit your family!

MDHF #4: Success! Edition with Muthokoi Recipe

Make Dinner Happen Frida #4 Make Dinner Happen Friday is a new series where I will share with you what I am planning on cooking next week.  So come and join me in making dinner happen!
This week finally feels like a return to normalcy around here!  We have followed our meal plan almost to a T (I’ll be honest, I am always changing things up, that is just how we roll)!
I can totally attribute this to my new use of a bullet journal.  If you are feeling disorganized and in need of help, I highly recommend checking it out.  Mine is totally boring and plain, but it has helped me to finally get organized, which was definitely something that I needed.  If you are really artsy (which I am not – mine is currently in an old notebook), you can also jazz up your bullet journal.  I know that I am like 3 years late to this party, but it is seriously cool and very useful if you haven’t heard about it.

Recap from Last Week

There really isn’t too much to recap from last week because I mostly stuck to family favorites – one of my strategies for making meal planning work during hectic seasons.  The only new dish is the Muthokoi, which you can get the recipe for down at the bottom.  It turned out super delicious, and made even better leftovers (they were even good cold)!  Even better, it cost about $0.50 per serving and was super simple to make!
I know I have been giving you mostly vegetarian/vegan recipes, so if you are wanting other recipes from any of the weeks, just shoot me an e-mail (ameredith(at)sparkmeals(dot)com) or send me a message on Facebook and I’ll post it!

Friday

Cheese Pizza and Salad
We had homemade cheese pizza made with a sourdough crust for supper tonight.  It turned out super well!  I made two pizzas – one on a cookie sheet and one on a pizza pan.  The one made on the pizza pan had a crispier crust (more like what you get with delivery pizza), so I highly recommend using that if you are going to be making pizza.  This is like the one that I have.

Saturday

Tuna Casserole and Salad with Rolls
I am going to be making my tuna casserole, which is made with an easy homemade white sauce (what I call “cream of something soup”) and rice.  I am going to be making extra rice and bread to have for meals on Sunday.
Saturday Meal Prep: Make rice (for casserole + 1 cup for Sunday), make bread (rolls + loaf for Sunday)
Saturday Prep for Sunday: Prep the French Toast Casserole for the morning

Sunday

Brunch: Apple French Toast
We are having that fabulous Apple French Toast (which made WONDERFUL leftovers again).  I am going to prep this on Saturday, so that all I will have to do on Sunday is put it in the oven.
Dinner: Chicken and Rice Skillet with Green Beans
I am going to be making a simple Chicken and Rice skillet (think hamburger helper, but without the MSG) with a side of green beans.  I am going to be making extra chicken to have for the meal on Tuesday.  This is a new recipe, so I will let you know how it turns out!
Sunday Meal Prep: Cut up the chicken – Remember to make extra chicken (3/4 lb for 3 servings)!

Monday

Leftovers
You know I love my leftovers days!  I am making extra of the Tuna Casserole to have that night.
Monday Meal Prep: None (don’t you love leftovers days?)

Tuesday

Savory Chicken and Peppers Crepes with Bearnaise Sauce
Ok, I might be going a little off the deep end with this new recipe.  I have made crepes once before (and it was slightly traumatic), but I have this monster sourdough starter that is threatening to take over the world, so I was trying to cothis bearnaise sauceme up with ways to use it up.  I found this tip from phickle to make crepes with it, so that is what I am going to try.  For the filling, I am just going to saute the peppers and leftover chicken.  I am going to be trying to make this bearnaise sauce (like I said, I am probably going overboard here – there is a really good chance this sauce will actually get nixed from the recipe and replaced with…cheddar cheese?).
Tuesday Meal Prep: Make crepe batter (you have to let it sit an hour before making), cut up peppers (I am actually using peppers that I cut up and froze, so I will be skipping this step).

Wednesday

Black Bean and Lime Rice with Quesadillas
We love quesadillas!  You just heat a little bit of oil in a skillet, put the tortilla in, sprinkle cheese on half of it, fold it over, and flip when brown on the bottom – no pricey equipment required!
The problem is that quesadillas are lonely as a dinner – they definitely need something to go with them – preferably light and fresh to balance out the slight greasiness of the quesadillas.  So, I am trying out this Black Bean and Lime Rice recipe.
Wednesday Meal Prep: None (unless like me you will be using dehydrated corn for the rice, then you will need to soak the corn).
Thursday Meal Prep: Pull down the pork from the freezer in the morning and put it in the marinade in the evening

Thursday

Garlic Roast Pork with Beets and Rolls
I have some more pork roast from last week and got beets on sale last week as well, so I will be cooking them in the slow cooker.  I will be making a simple marinade for the pork with olive oil, white wine vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar (btw, it is super simple to make your own marinades: mix 1 part acid (vinegar, lemon juice, etc) with 3 parts oil, add in seasonings, taste and add more seasonings or acid if needed).  I am going to cook all of the beets together and put any extras in the freezer for later!
Thursday Meal Prep: Start the slow cooker!  Make rolls (as needed – I usually make big batches throughout the week to have for breakfasts, so we might have some already).
There is our meal plan for next week!  How has your planning been going?  Did you have a win or more of a loss this week?  Share it on Facebook or Twitter with #makedinnerhappen!

 Muthokoi (Akamba Corn and Beans)

Needs Fulfilled: Vegan/Vegetarian, Gluten Free, Slow Cooker
Serve With: Chapati or Pita Bread
Prep: 10 minutes  Inactive Cook: 3-8 hours   Active Cook: 0 minutes
Time to Table: 0 minutes
Needed Equipment: Slow cooker
Serves: 8

STARTING PREPARATION:

  • None!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 50 oz hominy, drained (2 large cans – you can find this in the Hispanic foods section)
  • 30 oz pinto beans, drained and rinsed (2 cans)
  • 15 oz diced tomatoes, with liquid
  • 2 tsp garlic
  • 1/2 Tbsp dried minced onion (if you like a stronger flavor, you can increase this to 1 Tbsp)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup water

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Put everything in the slow cooker (I used a medium-sized one).  Cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 6-8 hours.  Enjoy your easy and nutritious meal!

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • Add root vegetables like chunks of carrots or potatoes if you prefer
  • Add some chopped fresh cilantro right before serving
  • As with all recipes, adjust the seasonings to fit your family!

Top 5 Meal Planning Tips for Crazy Busy Lives

Spark Meals - Let's Make Family Meals Happen!
Feeling stressed out about your meal planning (or lack thereof)?  Is the back-to-school rush leaving you with too much take out?  Read on for my top 5 tips to get your meal planning back on track!

1.     Go with the Flow

It is hard enough having a busy schedule without feeling like you are trapped by your meal plan.  When life gets hectic around here, I use my meal plan more like a framework rather than a schedule that is set in stone.  That way, when things need to be flexible, you don’t feel like you are letting your family down.  Remember, it is still worth it to meal plan because that framework will help give you a structure to hang your hectic days on.

2.     More Family Favorites

Your family’s favorite foods offer them comfort and security – who doesn’t want Mom’s lasagna when life gets crazy?  Especially when there are big changes in the family, using more of your family’s favorites will certainly help to ease the transition.  This will also help your frazzled nerves because you know how to make it already and you know that everyone will love it!

3.     More Freezer Cooking

This is my secret sauce for getting through really busy periods when I have less time or energy to cook.  I might do a full-out once a month cooking day (if I know ahead of time that things are going to be especially busy, such as before a new baby arrives), but more often I just start making double batches of anything that freezes well to have in a couple weeks.  This is like my security blanket for when I am not sure when we will get back into our meal planning groove.  This past week, we ate some soup that we had put in the freezer a couple of months ago (still totally delicious!) and put a couple more dishes up there for next week.  Now I can rest easy (hah!) knowing that I won’t have to worry about cooking those couple of nights.

4.     Have a Backup Plan

When you are busy and forget to get dinner started (I am definitely guilty of this one a couple of times last week!), it is vitally important that you have some kind of backup plan – what I like to call my “go-to” quick meal.  For us, this is spaghetti – I make a big pot of sauce and freeze it.  My husband or I can have dinner on the table in a flash – minimal cooking skills required!  This is your insurance against running out and picking up some carry out, and when you are not able to cook, it can be a real life saver (not to mention money saver!).

5.     Be Gentle with Yourself

There are seasons in life that aren’t perfect, so if you are in one of those, give yourself a break.  As my dad always likes to say: “This too shall pass.”  And when it does, you can get back to rocking meal planning, keeping your house spick and span, and folding all of your laundry.  Until then, be gentle with yourself and don’t sweat it – it will only make it worse!
So, who is with me in this?  Are you in a busy season and struggling with your meal planning?  Tell us on Facebook or Twitter!

Make Dinner Happen Friday #3: What Meal Plan? Edition with Chipotle Corn and Pinto Bean Tacos Recipe

Make Dinner Happen Friday #3Make Dinner Happen Friday is a new series where I will share with you what I am planning on cooking next week.  So come and join me in making dinner happen!
Y’all, let me tell you, this week has been rough.  I got a bad cold on top of starting homeschooling a few weeks ago.  My meal plan has been really rough and rocky this week, I am not afraid to admit; ok, it was more like I didn’t even have a meal plan!  We’re talking, going to kitchen at 5 o’clock to figure out what is for supper kind of deal because I forgot to put the food in the slow cooker again!
I am trying out some new organization strategies to help our how overall run better (starting with a bullet journal).  Tomorrow, I’m also going to share more in depth about how I adjust my meal planning when times are crazy busy (spoiler: I am gentle with myself during busy seasons, plus I use freezer cooking with my leftovers!).
On the plus side of all that crazy, I came up with a delicious Chipotle Corn and Pinto Bean Taco recipe on the fly for dinner tonight, so I am sharing the recipe with you at the bottom!
Before we get into that though, I wanted to let you all know that we are extending our Back to School Sale until Saturday!  So if, like me, you have had a crazy week and missed it, you can still get a one-on-one coaching session to get all the skills you need to take on the school year, including your first week all ready to go for just $10!  Head on over to the Meal Planning Coaching to sign up!  Offer ends at 11:59pm, Saturday, August 12!

Recap from Last Week

First of all, let me start by saying, I didn’t actually even touch my slow cooker this week!  I know, shameful (I mean everyone should use their slow cooker all the time anyway – because it’s awesome – but it’s so much worse that I planned to use it a lot!).  I did make the the Camembert Macaroni and Cheese, which turned out quite tasty, although we didn’t care for the bread crumbs on the top (I would skip the whole broiling step to keep it more moist as well).
We also had the Lentil Barley Stew on Monday as planned (although I made it on the stove rather than in the slow cooker – this is usually how we make it).
The rest of the week went haywire!  I had a ton of cucumbers from the garden, so I made a pineapple gazpacho with apple curry one night.  I pulled down some leftover Lamb Stew from the freezer.  We finally made the lasagna last night, but we made it in the oven (I decided I wasn’t brave enough to try the slow cooker since I had only made it once before – and that was with zucchini!); I used the recipe in my trusty Betty Crocker Cookbook.  It turned out great – a new family favorite, I think!

Friday

Chipotle Corn and Pinto Bean Tacos with Tortilla Chips
We had a long, hard day with school work, and I still hadn’t gotten dinner on the table.  I was going to pull some of the leftover Lentil Barley Stew out of the freezer, but I saw some tortilla chips on top of the fridge and decided Mexican was in order tonight.  I threw together this delicious taco filling which was also very tasty as a topping for nachos!  Check out the recipe below!

Saturday

Muthokoi (Akamba Corn and Beans) and Chapati
I have this meal on plan again this week because I still really want to see if I can make it!  I am making a double batch of the muthokoi (but just a single batch of the chapati because they are better fresh) so that I have leftovers for Wednesday.

Sunday

Brunch: Cinnamon Rolls and Meat and Potato Quiche
We have been really enjoying having some variety in our breakfasts, so I will be making extra of both of these to use as leftovers!  The cinnamon rolls I make using an adaptation of the Soft American-Style White Bread (pg 324) recipe in Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.  The quiche recipe comes from the More with Less Cookbook (a great older cookbook – it looks like there is a newer edition that, according to the index, does not include this recipe but is probably still fabulous) – I love this recipe because I don’t have to make a pie crust!
Dinner: Lasagna Leftovers and Salad
The lasagna was a huge hit with the family, so I am glad that I made extra!

Monday

Pork Roast with Slow Cooker Rice and Carrots
I’m having another go at this recipe as well.  I am going to do the prep for it the night before – getting the carrots ready, making sure the roast is thawed.  To make sure that I had plenty of time, I put this meal on Monday so that I could do the prep on Sunday evening.  I am again making extra meat and carrots to have later in the week and to freeze (I am not making extra rice because it doesn’t keep as long without going bad).

Tuesday

Chicken Tetrazzini with Garlic Knots
To celebrate the feast of the Assumption, I wanted to choose some white foods, so I went with this family favorite from the Betty Crocker Cookbook, served with garlic knots (Seeing a pattern here?  Lots of family favorites and old stand-bys are one of the ways that I meal plan for when things are hectic!).

Wednesday

Leftover Muthokoi and Fresh Chapati
Making my mid-week easier with leftovers – just add fresh chapati!

Thursday

Leftover Pork Roast and Carrots with Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Keeping it nice and easy again with more leftovers and some Dairy Free Garlic Mashed Potatoes (You don’t have to have a dairy allergy to like these!  They are some of the best that I have ever made).
So there is what will hopefully be our meal plan for the next week!  So come on guys, do you have any tips to share for getting the hang of a homeschool schedule?  Anyone else in a crazy time of life?  Share it on Facebook or Twitter with #makedinnerhappen!
P.S. Don’t forget about our Back to School Meal Planning Coaching for just $10!  You can get equipped with all the skills you need to take on meal planning plus have your first weeks meal plan ready to go in about an hour all for just $10.  Don’t wait – sale ends August 12!

 Chipotle Corn and Pinto Beans Tacos

Needs Fulfilled: Vegan/Vegetarian, Gluten Free, Quick Meal, Allergy Friendly (with modification)
Serve With: Tortilla Chips
Prep: 0 minutes   Cook: 20 minutes   Time to Table: 20 minutes
Needed Equipment: Saucepan or large skillet
Serves: 3
Chipotle Corn and Pinto Beans Tacos

STARTING PREPARATION:

  • None!

INGREDIENTS:

  • Oil
  • 2 tsp garlic
  • 1 can (~15 oz) corn, drained
  • 1 can (~15 oz) pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 Tbsp dried minced onion
  • 1/2 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp chipotle powder (adjust to taste – you can find this in the spices)
Possible toppings:
  • 9 tortillas
  • 1 1/2 oz lettuce, shredded
  • 1 1/2 oz cheddar or Monterrey jack cheese, shredded
  • 1 Roma tomato, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp sour cream
  • 3 Tbsp ranch dressing
  • 1 avocado, sliced or chopped
  • 1 1/2 oz black olives, sliced
  • 3 Tbsp onion, diced (1/4-1/2 onion)
  • 3 Tbsp salsa or pico de gallo

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat the oil in the saucepan (or skillet) over medium heat.  Add the garlic and saute (cook, stirring occasionally) for 1-2 minutes until golden.  Add the rest of the ingredients except the toppings.
  2. Let it heat up, stirring occasionally, until it starts to bubble a little (there won’t be much moisture, so it won’t bubble a lot), then reduce your heat to low while you get the rest of the stuff ready for dinner.  Serve on the tortillas with any other toppings as desired.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • You can serve this as a topping on nachos instead – super good!
  • You could substitute 3/4 lb chicken breast, chopped for the pinto beans for an allergy friendly version – just brown the chicken in the skillet with the garlic and drain off any excess fat.

Make Dinner Happen Friday #2: Slow Cooker Edition PLUS Lentil Barley Stew Recipe

Make Dinner Happen Friday #2 Make Dinner Happen Friday is a new series where I will share with you what I am planning on cooking next week.  So come and join me in making dinner happen!
This week, I wanted to start incorporating more slow cooker (aka crockpot) recipes into our meal plan.  As I mentioned earlier, we started homeschooling a few weeks ago, but we haven’t gotten into a good groove yet.  I thought slow cooker meals might be the ticket to getting it all together.

Recap from Last Week

Last week did not go according to plan at all!  I got to the farmer’s market late, so there was no lettuce or figs to be found!  So, I pulled out some frozen green beans to replace the salad and decided to pair with the Camembert Macaroni and Cheese with hamburgers as a side dish (also, we haven’t had this yet – see the menu for Saturday J).
The Black Bean Jalapeno Griddle Cakes were…interesting.  My 2 year old loved them, but they were just so odd that we probably won’t have them again soon (and when we do, we will try one of the other flavor combinations).
The Garlic Parmesan Cheese Scalloped Potatoes were very good (the best recipe of its type that I have found), as was the Cinnamon Apple Baked French Toast (bonus: it made way more than I thought it would but also made fabulous leftovers) – I highly recommend both.
The Buffalo Tacos were really good, but I heavily modified the recipe – let me know if anyone wants it posted!  I never actually made the corn casserole.  I don’t even want to talk about the Pad Thai…  Now on to next week!

Friday

Dinner at Church
We went to a fundraiser dinner at church tonight – I got the night off!

Saturday

Camembert Macaroni and Cheese and Hamburgers
I have this macaroni and cheese on the menu again this week (it got shifted there from last week), pairing it with hamburgers this time.

Sunday

Brunch: Sausage and Egg Casserole and Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
Both of these are family favorites, based off of recipes found in The Betty Crocker Cookbook.
Dinner: Leftovers
That’s right, I plan leftovers right into my meal plan.  We have some of the Buffalo Tacos, and we will almost certainly have leftovers from the other meals as well.

Monday

Lentil Barley Soup with Rolls
Slow cooker vegetarian soup with rolls from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.  I have no idea where this soup originally came from, but I am including our recipe below for you to enjoy!

Tuesday

Slow Cooker Lasagna with Salad
I don’t usually like lasagna because I think that people put too many onions in it, but I am going to give it a try with my homemade spaghetti sauce.  I also have never made pasta of any kind in the slow cooker, so this should be interesting!  I am basing it off of this recipe from Betty Crocker and making my own ricotta (We did this once before – it is super easy and tastes AMAZING.  It does take a bit of time, though, so I will do it the night before).

Wednesday

Pork Roast with Slow Cooker Rice and Carrots
Did you know that you can cook brown rice in a slow cooker right along with a roast and vegetables?!  I am going to get some kind of pork to roast at the farmer’s market tomorrow (and will lightly season it), then cook it in the slow cooker on top of carrots and rice (using a recipe from an old church ladies cookbook).

Thursday

Muthokoi (Akamba Corn and Beans) and Chapati
When I was in college, I studied abroad in Kenya for a semester and stayed for a few weeks with a Kamba family.  While I was there, I had this wonderful dish – my favorite of the whole time I was there (except perhaps the samosas, yum!).  I have always wanted to try to recreate it, so I am giving it a go this week!  I am basing it off of this recipe and using hominy (the corn that you can find with the Mexican food in the grocery store), canned red beans, tomatoes, salt, and onion and cooking it in the slow cooker.  Wish me luck!  I am also making chapati (a kind of flat bread found in India and Kenya) – I made it once before and it turned out super delicious!
So there you have it – our meal plan for next week!  So I want to know – what is your favorite slow cooker meal?  Share it on Facebook or Twitter with #makedinnerhappen!

Lentil Barley Stew

Needs Fulfilled: Vegan/Vegetarian, Gluten Free (with variation), Slow Cooker, Freezer Cooking (with variation), Cook Once/Eat Twice
Serve With: Rolls or pretzels from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day
Prep: 30 minutes   Inactive Cook: 3-8 hours   Active Cook: 0 minutes
Time to Table: 0 minutes
Needed Equipment: Skillet, slow cooker (optional with variation)
Serves: 6

STARTING PREPARATION:

  • Cut vegetables according to directions (you can do this ahead of time and store in separate sealed containers in the refrigerator for up to 3 days; you can also complete step 1 the night before and store in a sealed container in the refrigerator to go straight into the slow cooker in the morning).

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tsp minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
  • 4 cups water
  • ¾ cup lentils
  • ¾ cup barley
  • 32 oz diced tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp dried minced onion
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp rosemary
  • ¼ tsp pepper

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat the oil in the skillet over medium heat.Add the celery, carrot, and garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes until they start to soften.
  2. Add the celery mixture and all the remaining ingredients to the slow cooker.Cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 6-8 hours until the barley and lentils are cooked.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • This makes great leftovers, so you can make extra and put some in the freezer for later
  • For freezer cooking, do step 1; combine all the ingredients (except the water) in a freezer bag and store.Thaw out the mixture and cook as usual.
  • You can cook this on the stove instead by adding an extra 2 cups of water (6 cups total); bring to a boil in a saucepan (instead of putting into the slow cooker), reduce heat, and simmer for 45-60 minutes until the barley and lentils are cooked.
  • For a gluten-free version, use brown rice instead of the barley

Is Once a Month Cooking Right for Me?

Freezer cookingIs once a month cooking (what I like to call freezer cooking) the right meal planning strategy for you?  That depends.  All meal planning strategies work well but not all strategies work equally well for all families, so read on to find out what freezer cooking is, how to do it, and whether freezer cooking is right for you!

What Is Once a Month Cooking?

Freezer cooking is all about making it easier to get dinner on the table every night.  As the name implies, the basic idea is that you do the bulk of the cooking on one day a month and then just do the final cooking, baking, or simply reheating when it is time for dinner.  This requires a lot of cooking on one (or two) days a month (which can be difficult), but it does make it much easier to make dinner each night.

Who Is Once a Month Cooking Great For?

Freezer cooking works great for:
  • Families with super busy weeknight schedules but more flexible schedules on the weekend (or at least they can make time at some point in the month)
  • Homeschoolers, especially if you follow a non-traditional school schedule (you can stretch the “once a month” to “once every two months” or “once every six weeks” to fit your school schedule so that you have less cooking to do when school is “in session”)
  • Single people or couples (you can make bigger batches of food and freeze what you won’t use right now)
  • People who do not love to cook (we’re talking homemade convenience food here people!)
  • People who have time to cook NOW but not LATER (I think this is especially a blessing to expectant mothers – I know it has been for our family – and we also used this before I did my student teaching because my husband could mostly handle getting dinner on the table or I didn’t have to think too much about it)

Who Should NOT Try Once a Month Cooking?

Freezer cooking might not work for you if:
  • You have babies in the house (those long cooking days only get longer if you have to stop all the time to take care of the baby; that being said, I first used this strategy when my oldest was a baby and it worked well for me at that time)
  • You really don’t have a large chunk of time to spend planning and cooking (although there are some meal plans out there that people put together pretty quickly, it is still going to take a few hours between the planning, shopping, and prep)
  • You cannot stand/sit to cook for long periods of time
  • You love to cook (you will miss the time you spend in the kitchen every day)
  • You don’t have much freezer space
What it comes down to is that you need to be able to cook for a long stretch of time.  If there is some sort of physical limitation or family situation that stops you from doing that, then I don’t recommend trying freezer cooking, no matter how tempting it sounds!

Once a Month Cooking How-To and Resources

The traditional way of doing once a month cooking is to make casseroles, soups, and other freezer friendly foods for each day of a month and freeze them in disposable containers, but there are lots of ways to adapt this strategy to meet your family’s needs.  Here is how we did it:
  1. Make a menu – Choose recipes that work well for the freezer (avoid cheese dishes and never freeze potatoes – these don’t keep well in the freezer).  In our family, I would make a three week schedule and then repeat it for a six week meal plan.  I would also have only three recipes per week which we would have once and then again as leftovers (with a day in there for extra leftovers, spaghetti, or going out to eat).  If you have never done this before, I HIGHLY recommend using a pre-made menu to help you prep and freeze the meals right so that they reheat the best way possible.  Remember that quick meals that you use now can be a part of your meal plan and do not necessarily have to be prepped ahead of time at all.
  2. Make a grocery list – Make a thorough list of everything that is called for in the recipes (EVERYTHING, including salt and pepper and freezer bags), combing amounts to determine the total you will need for the month (you will probably be surprised at how much basil you will need).  Then go through your cabinets and mark off anything that you already have (do not assume that you already have something because forgetting something is pain on cooking day).  Make a categorized grocery list of everything that you need (it will probably be a very long list), putting everything into categories really helps (I just do produce, dry goods, meat/dairy, and frozen foods).
  3. Do your grocery shopping – Do this the day before, not the day you are planning on cooking.  Plan on it taking quite a while and leave little ones with someone else if possible (this is not a necessity, as I certainly always took mine with me, but it does make it faster).
  4. Do the cooking – Plan to spend the entire day doing the cooking.  Find some good cooking shows to inspire you while you work, or turn on those podcasts you keep meaning to listen to.  Pick one of the meals (an easy one) to be dinner that night and remember not to freeze it.
  5. Enjoy the fruits of your labor!
You have decided that once a month cooking might be right for your family, what next?
  • Start small – Although it is called “once a month cooking,” I don’t recommend actually starting with doing a whole month of cooking.  Start with two weeks and see how you like it.
  • Use some of your family’s favorite meals – Most foods can be adapted to freezer cooking, and good once a month cooking resources (see below) will include instructions for adapting recipes for going in the freezer.
  • Find additional resources – The book that I learned from is not in print and is super hard to find – it was an early edition of the popular one by Mary Beth Lagerborg and Mimi Wilson.  Look for one that has lots of instruction, a few full meal plans, and some good recipes.  You should also check out Once a Month Meals for lots of great recipe links (they also have a subscription service, but you can get many recipes for free).