Meal Planning & Prep made easy!

Are you looking to reduce your meal stress, improve your family’s eating habits, expand meal horizons, and cook more balanced and healthy (but tasty!) meals in 2018?   Me too!  I often get the question about how I can cook every night after working a full day at my corporate job, then coming home to work on Talking Meals, checking homework, getting the girls ready for bed, organizing at the end of the day, getting lunches ready the next morning, etc.  Well, my answer is MEAL PLANNING & PREPPING AHEAD 🙂

Back in my catering days, I had perfected my planning, prepping, and organizing skills when it came to events.  I had to have a detailed and precise menus, shopping lists across several events, recipes, as well as daily preparation lists.  So compared to a 200 person wedding, my 4-person family is – dare I say – easy.  However, I know that you may not have been a caterer in your former lives!  Therefore, some of this planning and prep does not come naturally, so I am here to share my experience and tips to hopefully help! 

Simple Planning & Prep

All it takes is some simple planning and prep, which I try to do most of on the weekend. And I swear, I do not spend my entire weekend preparing for the week!  We are talking about 1 hour of preparation on the weekend at home, plus any grocery shopping time.   The basic idea is based on 3 guiding principles that have proven very successful for me:

  1. Plan Dinners and Lunches
  2. Make Lists
  3. Prep-Ahead

In my Weekly Meal Plans, I have made this soooooo easy for you! I have already consolidated 3 recipes into 1 shopping list and prep-ahead instructions. Check out all of the Meal Kit Menus here! 

Planning Meals

Planning dinners doesn’t have to be overwhelming and if done right, really can make your life easier and filled with more fun cooking and eating at home!  Here are my tips:

  • First download and print this helpful template!

Prepare Ingredients for EASY pull together meals

  • Mix-and-Match Prepped Dinners – these are dinner components that you have at the ready.  For example, make rice ahead and keep in fridge – or even freeze portioned out.  Pasta can be made ahead, but doesn’t do as well after freezing.  Grill some chicken or sausage or ground meat with mexican seasonings.  and have ready to reheat and top with a fresh tomato or mango salsa or tomato sauce. 
  • Bowls!  Have pre-prepped ingredients ready for Rice or noodle bowls Click here for more on Bowls.
  • For lunches, plan out WHO needs lunch prepared at home and WHAT the menu will be.  For Kids lunches – and mine too, as I ALWAYS bring my own lunch to work so I can ensure it is healthful and I save money for something fun for me later, like new shoes or a pedicure 🙂 – I prepare ideas for the week on Sunday’s with the girls, so that we are not having frustrating mornings where they cannot decide what they want. Then, list the lunches out for each day, whether it is making sandwiches the night before, having leftovers from dinner, or prepping salads for a couple days.
  • Here is an example of what your completed Meal Planner might look like.  If this looks overwhelming, start with ONLY 3 dinners and for the other nights, continue to improvise based on what you have in the house.  Eventually, you will work your way up to filling out the sheet completely!

Make Lists

Once you have your meal ideas for the week, it’s time for making your lists!  Now, I realize that you may not get as excited about making lists as I do, so please note, this does not have to be crazy, it’s just jotting down or highlighted from the recipes, which steps can be done in advance.  Here are the simple steps:

  1. List out the Dinner components, including protein, vegetable, and starch.
  2. Then, for each meal, list out the ingredients that you need to purchase in a shopping list.  My Weekly Meal Plans make this incredibly easy because it is already done for you!  For Lunches, do the same.  For any recipes that you find on your own, download my Weekly Meal Planner above for a simple template!
  3. Last, list out any preparation tasks that can be done in advance.  This usually includes peeling/chopping veggies, marinating meats, making rice, or making meatballs or other components that can be frozen and then put directly into the oven when ready to cook.  You can even cook some casseroles on Sunday and then heat them up on the night you want to eat them.  For Kids lunches, we prep-ahead lunch components – cut up carrots, make snack bags of crackers or grapes, cut up cheese and turkey for DIY cracker sandwiches. These are just some examples. For my lunches, I have lots of salad components ready or simply bring leftovers from the night before.    

Prep-Ahead

Now that you have your list of prep-ahead tasks, start prepping!  I place the ingredients in baggies/storage containers and then in a bowl or on a pan that will be specific to that particular recipe along with any other ingredients (example, soy sauce or cumin), so when I’m ready to cook, I simply pull out the bowl/pan with the ingredients and I can get cooking!  This is also the time to prepare other items to have on hand for the nights you have NOT prepared new recipe/meals, the mix-and-match meals.  For the mix-and-match meals, I make rice and pasta ahead of time on Sunday and then again mid-week as needed to make sure there is always an easy side dish or base of a 1-pot/pan meal that can be whipped up. I also cook a few chicken breasts or a pork tenderloin or ground meat, or other simple protein so that it can be used in a variety of ways. I also keep lentils and lots of fresh veggies on hand. An example of a whipped up mix-and-match dinner is cutting up some cooked chicken breast and adding it to pasta with some cut up fresh tomato, basil, and parmesan cheese. Super Simple! Or tossing some cut veggies in a skillet with soy sauce and sesame oil and having a quick Stir Fry over Rice.

For lunches, as mentioned, I cut up carrots, make snack bags of crackers, puffs, and grapes, cut up cheese and turkey for DIY cracker sandwiches, make pasta, etc.  I prepare chicken salad and other salad additions, such as cut carrots, celery, cucumber, red pepper, hummus, feta or goat cheese, salad dressing, dip for veggies to snack on… 

If YOU have any tips that you can share, PLEASE send them my way and I will be sure to give credit in my next post!

carrie@talkingmeals.com

Weekly Meal Plan: Slow Cooker Pork – 1 pot, 3 meals!

This week’s meal plan brings back meat!  The first two weeks of January were mostly vegetarian meals, but now it’s time for easy, juicy, pork.  Maybe a bit of cheese too 😉  Not just any pork, SLOW COOKER PORK!  Make it once, use in all 3 meals in 3 very different ways with different flavors and textures.

Depending on where you live, you may have been experiencing the below freezing temperatures that feel like it is actually -5 degrees F outside.  Or, what I lovingly refer to as holy-$%*-I-can’t-feel-my-face weather!  At least we had snow so it looked pretty and the girls could play in it.

On really, really…really (!)…cold days like we have been having, I love to make something in the slow cooker.  I love that I can smell the warm and cozy flavors all day and look forward to cozying up with it at night for dinner.  This Slow Cooker Pork week starts off with a Pork Stew which is just perfect for these cold days.  So, Meal Plan Dinner #1 is  Slow Cooker Pork Stew over rice.  If you don’t have a Slow Cooker, click here to see the Crock-Pot that I have and love!

The next night you use some of the pork for delicious, crunchy, smokey Tostadas.  In the last dinner, the pork gets grilled with cheese and tomato for a gooey cheesy Grilled Cheese and Pork sandwich.  So easy – one pot, 3 meals!  Consistent ingredients = easier prep and less waste.  But, I promise that you will get completely different flavors and textures in each of these recipes.

Dinner 1 – 5 Ingredient Slow Cooker Pork Stew over Rice

This Slow Cooker Pork Stew is so simple, yet so flavorful.  It only has 5 ingredients, so what could be better?  I use cubed Pork stew meat because it cooks evenly and gets incredibly tender and is so easy to pull apart.  If you don’t have a Slow Cooker, click here to see the Crock-Pot that I have and love!

This recipe uses 2 lbs of pork so that you can use it in all 3 meals.  Even without the 3 different meals, you should make the same amount so that you have leftovers to enjoy over and over – or to entertain a larger group.  This stew can be frozen to reheat at a later date or put in the fridge for eating the next day!  The simple ingredients in addition to the pork are Carrots, Onion Soup Mix, Garlic, and Rice.  Everything (except the rice) gets tossed into the slow cooker with water and then simmers for 8 hours.  Serve over rice and enjoy!  For more details on this 5-Ingredient Slow Cooker Pork Stew, CLICK HERE or scroll down for the recipe.

Dinner 2 – Pork & Bean Tostadas with Mexican Rice

If you have never made tostadas at home, you gotta try them!  The beauty of a tostada is that all of the ingredients sit on top of the crispy tortilla so you can pile it as high as you want.  Theoretically, this means it should be a bit less messy than a traditional taco, though I’m not sure that’s the case.  My Mom made these growing up by crisping up the corn tortillas in the oven and then topping them with refried beans and a slice of american cheese.  She then put them back in the oven to get warm and melty.  It was so simple, but so delicious!  I have taken the liberty of updating that recipe here.  I add shredded pork that has been spiced with chili powder and ground cumin and change out the sliced cheese for some shredded aged cheddar.  The tomatoes can be whatever you have on hand, but I used some really amazing rainbow colored grape tomatoes.  On the side, a simple Mexican Rice flavored with tomato sauce, chili powder, and cumin….yum!

By the way, if you like this recipe, I do have another excellent pork carnitas soft tacos recipe that you should really check out!  CLICK HERE

Dinner 3 – Grilled Cheese & Pork Sandwich with Cucumber & Tomato Salad

The last Slow Cooker Pork Dinner is a loaded Grilled Cheese!  It has shredded pork, tomato, american cheese and a bit of oregano that takes the flavor over the top!  This sandwich has the gooey, cheesy-ness that you love from grilled cheese.  It is also more hearty with the addition of pork and it also has a burst of freshness from the tomato.  On the side here, is a cool and fresh Cucumber Tomato Salad with Balsamic Vinegar and a touch of sour cream.  Love it!

Another great side for these Grilled Cheese & Pork Sandwiches are Zucchini Fries!  Click here for the recipe.

I hope you try this Slow Cooker Pork Weekly Meal Plan and love it as much as I do!  Please be sure to leave your comments!

SHOPPING LIST for Weekly Meal Plan: Slow Cooker Pork

Here are 3 easy, delicious, and healthy Slow Cooker Pork meals!  So easy - one pot, 3 meals! Consistent ingredients = easier prep and less waste, but I promise that you will get completely different flavors and textures in each of these recipes.  Dinner 1: 5-Ingredient Pork stew over rice.  Dinner 2: Pork & Bean Tostadas.  Dinner 3: Grilled Cheese and Pork Sandwiches.  You get 1 Shopping List, Pre-Ahead Instructions, and 3 recipes. Here is your Shopping List. For any item with an * this means to purchase the smallest amount package as possible as you only need a small amount. Be sure to check your pantry and fridge before shopping!!

Author Carrie Tyler

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs Pork stew meat cubed
  • 2 Carrots, large
  • 2 Cloves Garlic
  • 3/4 Cup Grape Tomatoes any tomato you prefer will do
  • 2 Tomato, Beefsteak, large
  • 1 Cup English Cucumber, chopped about half of 1 cucumber
  • 3/4 Cup 6 oz Shredded Aged Cheddar Cheese
  • 8 Slices American Cheese
  • 8 oz Sour cream
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 8-10 Corn Tortillas
  • 2 cups White Long Grain Rice, uncooked
  • 8 Slices Bread whole wheat
  • 1 can Refried Beans 15-16oz can
  • 1 packet Onion Soup Mix
  • Chili Powder*
  • Ground Cumin*
  • Dried Oregano*
  • Salt*
  • Ground Pepper*
  • Balsamic Vinegar*

Instructions

  1. Check your pantry and fridge to see which items you already have on hand.

  2. Purchase the remaining items a day or 2 before you start prepping.

PREP-AHEAD for Weekly Meal Plan: Slow Cooker Pork

Here are the ingredients that you can prepare day(s) in advance to make your life even easier on the meal night. I like to do all of my prep for the 3 meals on Sunday and then cook on the night of. 

Author Carrie Tyler

Ingredients

  • 2 Carrots, large
  • 2 Cloves Garlic
  • 1 Cup English Cucumber chopped about half of 1 cucumber
  • 2 cups White Long Grain Rice, uncooked

Instructions

Pork Stew Prep - 1-3 Days Prior

  1. Peel and Slice Carrots for Slow Cooker Pork Stew.  Store in baggie in fridge.

  2. Mince 2 cloves of garlic for the pork stew and place in storage baggie or container in fridge.

  3. Rice: I would wait until the day you are eating the Pork Stew Dinner #1 to make the rice.  If you make it right before serving, it will be fresh and warm.  You will make 2 cup of uncooked rice to cover dinners 1 and 2.  Once it is done cooking, simply separate half of the cooked rice out into a storage container for the Mexican Rice in Dinner #2.  

Cucumber & Tomato Salad Prep - 1 Day Prior

  1. If you purchased an English Cucumber, you can eat the skin, as it is thin and good for you.  These cucumbers are typically longer, so you likely only need half.  Cut in half, then cut in half again, this time lengthwise.  Seeds should be tiny enough to eat, but if needed, take a spoon and scrape out the seeds.  Then cut in half again lengthwise and then slice into bite-size pieces.  If you bought a regular waxy-skin cucumber, you may want to peel the skin first and discard.  

5-Ingredient Slow Cooker Pork Stew

This Slow Cooker Pork Stew is so simple with only 5 ingredients, but so flavorful.  I love to use Pork stew meat that has already been cubed for me by the butcher because it cooks evenly and gets incredibly tender and is so easy to pull apart. This recipe uses 2 lbs of pork so that you have leftovers to enjoy over and over – or to entertain a larger group. This stew can be frozen to reheat at a later date or put in the fridge for eating the next day! The simple ingredients in addition to the pork are Carrots, Onion Soup Mix, Garlic, and Rice. Everything (except the rice) gets tossed into the slow cooker with water and then simmers for 8 hours. Serve over rice and enjoy!

Course Main Course
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 8 hours
Total Time 8 hours 10 minutes
Servings 4 people
Author Carrie Tyler

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs Pork Stew Meat, cubed
  • 1.5 Cups water
  • 2 Carrots, large
  • 2 Cloves Garlic
  • 2 Cup White Rice, uncooked
  • 1 packet Onion Soup Mix
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp Ground Pepper

Instructions

  1. Peel and slice the carrots.  Mince the garlic.  

  2. To the slow cooker pot, add the pork, the onion soup mix, garlic, and carrots.  Fill with 1.5 cups water or enough to cover the pork. 

  3. Set slow cooker to 8 hours.

  4. Make rice according to package directions.

  5. Serve and enjoy!

Pork Tostadas with Mexican Rice

The beauty of a tostada is that all of the ingredients sit on top so you can pile it as high as you want and theoretically, it should be a bit less messy than a traditional taco (not sure I have experienced this, but maybe you are less messy than I am!). My Mom made these growing up by crisping up the corn tortillas in the oven and then topping them with refried beans and a slice of american cheese and then putting them back in the oven to get warm and melty. It was so simple, but so delicious! I have taken the liberty of updating that recipe by adding some shredded pork that has been spiced with chili powder and ground cumin, as well as changing out the sliced cheese for some shredded aged cheddar. The tomatoes can be whatever you have on hand, but in this pic I used some really amazing rainbow grape tomatoes. On the side, a simple mexican-flavored rice with some tomato sauce, chili powder, and cumin….yum!

Course Main Course
Cuisine Mexican
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4 people
Author Carrie Tyler

Ingredients

  • 1 + 1/2 cups Pork, shredded
  • 3/4 Cup Grape Tomatoes
  • 3/4 Cup 6oz Shredded Aged Cheddar Cheese
  • 8-10 Corn Tortillas
  • 1 Cup White Long Grain Rice, uncooked
  • 1 can Refried Beans
  • 1 tsp Chili Powder 1/2 for pork, 1/2 for rice
  • 1 tsp Ground Cumin 1/2 for pork, 1/2 for rice
  • 1/2 tsp Dried Oregano
  • 2 tsps Salt 1 tsp for pork, 1 tsp for rice, 1 tsp (or less) for tortillas
  • 1 tsp Ground Pepper 1/2 for pork, 1/2 for rice
  • 1 Olive Oil Spray Can amount varies
  • 1/2 cup Sour Cream Optional for garnish

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

    Slice the tomatoes in half.

  2. Make the rice according to package instructions.

  3. Place all tortillas flat on a sheet pan and spray each side with Spray Olive Oil.  If you don't have a spray, then brush the olive oil on lightly.  Lightly salt each tortilla on one side.  Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.  Flip the tortillas over and bake for another 10-15 or until crisp and browned, but be sure to watch so they do not burn.  Remove from oven, but keep tortillas on sheet pan, ready for assembling.

  4. For the Shredded Pork, use previously roasted tenderloin or Pork stew meat that has been slow cooked to be very tender and shred-able.  Shred the pork with forks or with fingers.

  5. Add the shredded pork to a saucepan with the chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper.  Add 2 Tbls Water and mix all together until all seasonings coat the pork.  Heat through.

  6. In a separate saucepan, warm the refried beans through.

  7. While the tortillas are baking and pork and beans are warming, make the rice.  To a bowl, add the rice, tomato sauce, chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper.

  8. Assemble: To the tortillas, spread a layer of the warmed refried beans.  Layer some shredded pork, then sprinkle the cheese.  

  9. Now, you can put these back in the fridge to melt the cheese or you can eat them just like this.  If you want cheese melted, put back in the oven for 5-10 minutes.  

  10. Add the tomatoes at the end for a fresh burst of flavor.

    Enjoy!

Grilled Cheese and Pork Sandwich

This is a loaded Grilled Cheese recipe with shredded pork, tomato, american cheese and a bit of oregano to give it that secret ingredient that takes the flavor over the top! This sandwich has the gooey, cheesy, meltiness (is that a word?) that you love from grilled cheese, but it adds heartiness from the pork and a burst of freshness from the tomato. On the side here, is a cool and fresh Cucumber Tomato Salad with Balsamic Vinegar and a touch of sour cream. Love it!

Course Main Course
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 4 people
Author Carrie Tyler

Ingredients

  • 1 cup shredded pork
  • 2 Tomatoes, Beefsteak, large
  • 1 Cup chopped Cucumber
  • 1 Lime
  • 1/2 cup Sour Cream
  • 8 Slices American Cheese
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 8 Slices Bread whole wheat
  • 1/2 tsp Dried Oregano
  • 1 Tbls Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 Tbls Sour Cream
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 tsp Ground Pepper or to taste

Instructions

  1. In a medium-size bowl, add the balsamic vinegar, sour cream, salt & pepper.  Whisk to combine.

  2. If you purchased an English Cucumber, you can eat the skin, as it is thin and good for you. These cucumbers are typically longer, so you likely only need half. Cut in half, then cut in half again, this time lengthwise. Seeds should be tiny enough to eat, but if needed, take a spoon and scrape out the seeds. Then cut in half again lengthwise and then slice into bite-size pieces. If you bought a regular waxy-skin cucumber, you may want to peel the skin first and discard.  
  3. Dice 1 cup of Tomato.  Thinly slice the scallion.  Add tomato, cucumber, and scallion to the bowl with the dressing and mix to combine.   Add salt & pepper as needed to perfect seasoning.

  4. For the Shredded Pork, use previously roasted tenderloin or Pork stew meat that has been slow cooked to be very tender and shred-able. Shred the pork with forks or with fingers.
  5. Slice the tomato into 4 slices that are about 1/4 inch thick.

  6. Layout 4 pieces of bread to start to assemble.  First, put a slice of cheese on the bottom slice of each of the 4 reads.  Layer 1/4 cup of shredded pork on the cheese.  Next add 1 slice of tomato.  Sprinkle oregano on the tomato.  Last add the second slice of American Cheese.  Cover each sandwich with the second slice of bread.  Very lightly butter the outside of each sandwich.

  7. To a preheated large pan (large enough to fit 4 sandwiches or do 2 sandwiches at a time), add the sandwiches Pork side down.  Grill for 3-5 minutes, until the bread face-down is golden brown.  Flip the sandwiches and allow to grill for another 2 minutes, then cover so that the sandwich heats through and the cheese fully melts.

  8. Remove from pan, cut in half, and serve with tomato & cucumber salad.

    Enjoy!