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Meal Stress

Last post 01-25-2012 2:14 PM by jos41. 21 replies.
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  • 01-10-2012 4:02 PM

    Meal Stress

    Hi everyone.  This is my first post but I'm a long, long time lurker.  This seems like a really warm place to get advice so I wanted to ask for some help with meal ideas.  I'm a single parent to a great teen girl - 15.  I had her young and I'm really at the point in my career where I'm burning the candle at both ends.  Meals at our house are super stressful.  I'm looking for lunch and dinner ideas.  This is the one area where I could be more frugal.  We both take our lunches.  I have access to a microwave (for leftovers), she does not.  I struggle with planning because I work during the day and teach yoga part-time.  My dd has a tough academic schedule (AP) so we spend a lot of time at the kitchen table with text books at night and then mornings are...well...hectic. :)

    Now here's the tough part.  Neither one of us can eat processed/packaged foods due to chemical allergies.  Even canned vegs/beans/soups have to be limited.  Dairy also has to be kept at bay - only very small amounts of hard cheeses and very rarely.  Cooking whole foods is my passion but it is hard to plan/prep/cook with my schedule so meals have become very uninspired and stressful.  You all seem to pull together great meals but I just can't seem to make it work.  Any advice would be so helpful. 

    “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi
  • 01-10-2012 5:02 PM In reply to

    Re: Meal Stress

    Unfortunately, you're both at the point where you need great meals to help you get through your hectic days.  It's going to have to become a priority, and sacrifices will have to be made to get to your goals of healthy foods in a timely fashion.

    Some of the advice that I have for you is as follows.  (By the way welcome from Lurkedom!)

    1.  Take a look at your schedule, is there a block of time that you can both work together to get to your goal of healthy eating?  I would spend a couple of hours on the weekend to work with DD to spend some time together and prepare some meals ahead of time.  The night before you plan to work, I would put a pound of dried beans on to soak overnight.  During your work session, plan on doing something first with the beans.

    You can use those in pasta salads, lettuce salads, chili, bean and vegetable soup, in rice, etc. 

    Having reactions to food(s) is difficult but not impossible.  I'm going to stick with a meat, starch, vegetable fruit because I'm not sure what you can eat.  This is just for inspiration. 

    During the work session, you can roast a large chicken.  You can keep it healthy by stuffing it with citrus and herbs.  It doesn't take long to make a nice chicken dinner.  If you like you can have a meal of chicken, roasted potatoes, lettuce salad and a fruit salad.  After dinner on the first night, you can carve the meat off of the bones, and put the bones on to make a nice stock.  Garlic, onion, carrots and celery will help make a nice rich broth.  The rest of the chicken you could package into baggies to top salads, or to make some sandwiches. 

    While working on your weekly meal plan, I would make either a quick bread or muffins, for great sides that require little work after they're prepared.  For the menu below I used corn bread and muffins.

    If you want a little dessert you could bake up a cake, cup cakes, crisp, cobbler.

    To help streamline lunches, I would make a huge lettuce salad and a fruit salad.  The fruit salad can be eaten as dessert, breakfast, lunch, dinner sides, or as a snack.

    You could also whip up a pasta or vegetable salad too, to help with lunch preparation.

    For that same work session, I would put in another type of meat.  For instance a pork loin would be nice. 

    Here's a sample way to use your food bank of investments.  I would try and prepare food on Sunday to help us get through the week.  Saturday night then I would put the beans on.

    For this menu you are preparing three proteins (Roasted Chicken, pork loin, and a pot of chili) two salads (lettuce and fruit) two breads (corn bread and muffins).  The rest is just individual pieces of fruit, vegetables, and either noodles, sweet potatoes, or rice. 

     Sunday: Dinner: Roast chicken, roasted vegetables, lettuce salad and fresh fruit salad for dessert.

    Monday: B: muffins, yogurt, fresh fruit salad.

                  L:  Lettuce salad topped with chicken, whole wheat roll and a piece of fresh fruit.

                  D: Chili, corn bread, and fresh fruit.

    Tuesday: B: cereal, milk (or soy or almond)

                  L:  Yogurt, peanut butter sandwich, piece of fruit

                  D: sliced pork, baked (microwaved) sweet potatoes, steamed broccoli

    Wednesday: B: scrambled eggs, toast, fruit.

                        L: Chili with cornbread, piece of fruit.

                       D: In the morning in a slow cooker, put in stock, chicken, vegetables and allow to cook all day.  Add noodles when you come home. Chicken Noodle Soup with muffins. 

    Thursday: B:  cereal with milk

                   L:   Chicken sandwich with lettuce and tomato, packaged separately from the bread.  Piece of fruit.

                   D; Pork Fried rice, chicken consomme and piece of fruit.

    Friday: B: Toast with fruit.

               L: Pork fried rice, fruit  (This can be eaten cold too.)

              D: Chicken Noodle Soup, lettuce salad.

    Saturday: Omelettes with toast and fruit.

                   L: Leftovers

                   D: Something fun to reward yourselves for a great week.

    Here are some ideas that work for me, maybe you'll have some success with them, too.  When clearing up the dinner dishes, prepare the lunches at the same time.  You'll only have one clean up time.  Since mornings tend to be hectic this could save you some time too.  I also use this time to put the food in the crock pot.  That way I just need to remove from the fridge and put into the crock pot as I'm headed out the door.  A great morning time saver.

    When preparing food for ahead make sure that you're refrigerating when you're finished with that food.

    Good luck!



  • 01-10-2012 5:03 PM In reply to

    • Mimi
    • Top 100 Contributor
    • Joined on 05-04-2008
    • Posts 980

    Re: Meal Stress

    Welcome Jetamio!

    I can completely relate to needing fast, super easy, but healthy meals!  I do not have the energy to spend much time in the kitchen, but I want something nutritious.

    One of my best go to meal has become roasted chicken. It only takes about 5 minutes of prep, and then I pop it in the oven and in a little over an hour I have a wonderful meal.  Just buy a package of chicken pieces like thighs or quarters that have bones and skin.  (Thighs fit better in the dish.) Open a bag of your favorite frozen veggies (carrots, potatoes and onions work really well) and put it on the bottom of a roasting or caking pan.  Put the chicken over it in a single layer skin side up.  Drizzle chicken and any exposed veggies with oil and sprinkle with salt and your favorite spices.  Put in the oven at about 400 degrees for about an hour until skin is golden brown and chicken is completely cooked.  (Check and adjust temperature and time as needed based on your oven.)    

    I use the drippings to make gravy/sauce for a noodle casserole or rice dish the next day. I freeze any unused pieces to use for future meals.

    I hope this helps and you get a lot of other useful ideas!


    "...for the happy heart, life is a continual feast. Better to have little, with fear for the Lord, than to have great treasure and inner turmoil." Proverbs 15:15b-16 NLT

    The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.--Winston Churchill
  • 01-10-2012 5:38 PM In reply to

    • Mimi
    • Top 100 Contributor
    • Joined on 05-04-2008
    • Posts 980

    Re: Meal Stress

    Lots of great ideas from Striving1!

    Here are a few other ideas...

    You can bake or microwave "baked" potatoes.  Since dairy is an issue, you could drizzle it with olive oil and herbs.  Make it a baked potato bar with whatever you like and can eat.

    Hard boil some eggs to either eat as they are on the go or use them to make egg salad. (There are dairy free versions.)

    Chicken breast, salmon and tilapia filets all come individually sealed in bags and can be cooked very quickly in a skillet or on a George Foreman-type grill.  Top with lemon juice and dill for flavor.  To round out the meal you can have salad or baby carrots, apples, pears, oranges, nuts if you can eat them are all good options.

    New potatoes cook quickly and don't require peeling.  You can toss them in with a roast (along with baby carrots) or cut them up and fry them in a skillet.

    The smaller the pieces the faster something cooks, so you can cut up any cut of meat into strips and add peppers, cabbage or whatever you like to make a stir fry very quickly.

    Striving mentioned crockpot beans. That's a wonderful standby.  Someone on here was the first one to tell me that Great Northern beans don't necessarily have to be pre-soaked. They just have to cook longer. Wash them, put them in a crockpot with plenty of water, salt and a little oil.  After about 12-14 hours you've got tasty beans.  Use them for soup and as they cook down to more of a paste, they go well in burritos, as a dip or as a sandwich spread.  

    Hope these help!

    "...for the happy heart, life is a continual feast. Better to have little, with fear for the Lord, than to have great treasure and inner turmoil." Proverbs 15:15b-16 NLT

    The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.--Winston Churchill
  • 01-10-2012 6:05 PM In reply to

    Re: Meal Stress

    Wow!  These are are really good ideas.  Thank you all for such thoughtful responses!  They seem so common sense but when I sit down to plan or try to get things going, I've been coming up empty handed.  Maybe I have kitchen burnout?  LOL 

    DD can be a bit picky sometimes.  I ask her to help plan means but she never gives any requests.  Then, when it comes time to make dinner, she's disappointed in what is on the menu or it's not what she is in the mood for.  I'm pretty unsympathetic because I've given her a choice beforehand but it definitely adds to the stress.

    “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi
  • 01-10-2012 9:02 PM In reply to

    Re: Meal Stress

    You've got a lot of great suggestions here!  (Welcome by the way!)  If I were in your position, I would not hesitate to buy more than 1 programmable slow-cooker.  You could make chili on Monday in 1 of them while you're roasting potatoes in the other; then you could come home a nice meal of baked potatoes topped with HM chili.  If you have a large batch of chili and you only want 1 dinner and maybe 1 lunch of leftovers with it, you could freeze the rest and mark it on your calendar to pull some out in a couple of weeks.  You can make your own rotisserie style chicken in a slow-cooker, too.  And then later, like the PP said, you could make broth -- also in a slow-cooker.  Whole chickens are cheaper generally and with just 2 of you, you could several meals from 1 chicken.  There could be a night of roast chicken with veggies on the side; a night of chicken salad on crackers or as a sandwich; a night of chicken tacos; chicken soup of one kind or another.  Many possibilities.  By have 2 slow-cookers you can have 2 things going at once, or, if one of them is dirty from the previous night, you've got the other one to use.

    I was a single mom once when my DD was little and I wish I had known then what I know now!  I would have been a slow-cooker queen at 25 years old!  LOL  I'm married now, but I have a commute and work full-time and the kitchen is mostly my domain, so I do a lot of prep work on the weekends to make weeknights easier.  And I only have 1 slow-cooker, but it gets quite a bit of use.

    Officially Recognized Stretchpert in the General forum
  • 01-10-2012 9:34 PM In reply to

    Re: Meal Stress

    Welcome Jetamio. I look forward to having you aboard Stretcher! Striving and Mimi have given some great advice here! I read your response about your daughter and menu planning. I was wondering if a weekly Mom-daughter date would be arrangeable where you two got together and menu planned as a team, then maybe did some grocery shopping and later cooked your dinner together. It might be a great way to get more organized with meals, work within your budget and also bond together. I am sure you two could dish up some great healthy meals! Menu planning over here really helps. Also making a list of top favorite meals/menus helps for future rotation of them. You can start this out by sitting down together and thinking about what foods sound good for the week ahead. Then start to meal idea/menu plan. Know what you have on hand prior to shopping and make a list of what is actually needed. Browsing the circular ads prior to shopping will help you know what's on sale and help you budget better when menu planning.

    My Mom and I never had cooking dates like that when I was growing up and now that I think about it I wish we did. Do you think she'd enjoy something like that?

    "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." ~Chinese Proverb~
  • 01-10-2012 9:36 PM In reply to

    Re: Meal Stress

    I'm a mom and a university student, so I totally understand about burning your candle at both ends!

    I often cook a roast or a chicken and what I call "emergency protein" -- ground meat that I season and saute with thinly sliced/chopped veggies, it varies each time I do it -- on my cooking day (usually Saturday). Rather than specific meals, I find that sometimes it's easier to have the pre-cooked components of meals in the fridge, ready to be put together into a quick meal. Sometimes I would roast a batch of veggies to eat with the roast the first night and use those leftovers later in the week.

    For example, say that I cook a huge pork roast with several roasted sweet potatoes and roasted broccoli (or just steamed broccoli would work... I have a toaster oven in addition to my regular oven and make it work for me a LOT). I pop them in the oven that night and let them cook while I cook up some chili seasoned ground beef with some chopped onion, chopped bell pepper, and some grated carrot. Afterwards I put everything into containers in the fridge.

    Dinner the next night is either roast pork with a sweet potato each and broccoli. The night after that, I open a can of black beans and a can of diced tomatoes, chop up some of the pork and leftover sweet potatoes, and have pork-sweet potato-black bean chili. The pork can also become pork fried rice, pork tacos/burritos/quesadillas, and BBQ pork sandwiches.

    Say I come home one night and just don't have a lot of energy. I can mix the emergency protein with some leftover rice and scramble an egg with some of the leftover broccoli, add some soy sauce and have fried rice. I can pull out some tortillas, some shredded cheese, add the emergency protein and make cheesy beef quesadillas with broccoli on the side.

    Mama to a teen and a preschooler KINDERGARTENER!! -- oh, the fun! Also co-parenting 3 other awesome kids. :)
  • 01-11-2012 4:53 AM In reply to

    Re: Meal Stress

    Spider, great feedback! I love your emergency protein idea and how well you stretch and mix up bulk batches of various foods like the sweet potatoes. Yum. I love them. They are great in the morning as a nice treat too! I really need to work on my own emergency protein source with chicken and also a vegetarian one with lenitls. Both would work well since I don't do ground beef and prefer chicken or fish or legume sources. I was considering buying a dorm size freezer to include for purposes just ilke this and I can keep things better organized with it as well.

    "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." ~Chinese Proverb~
  • 01-11-2012 5:01 AM In reply to

    Re: Meal Stress

    Jet, I also want to add that whole food cooking is your best bet and a true nutritional blessing. It is great you two are into natural foods. If you tell us some of your favorite foods maybe we can suggest more in depth meal/menu plan ideas. Are weekends less stressful? do you both have more time then? Also, do you own a slow cooker? It's by far one of the best investments for frugal and bulk batch cooking and tine saving on your end.

    "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." ~Chinese Proverb~
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