August 29, 2013

Week 34 - Back to School Series, Part 1 and The Freezer Reveal

Printable Version of Meal Plan

I'm super excited about this weeks post.  First, it's the big freezer makeover reveal which was a huge success!  Second, this is the first of a four part "Back to School" series.  More on that in a minute...

Freezer Makeover - After


Let's talk about my freezers.  They were a mess and long overdue for a major cleanup.  We have the standard freezer on top fridge and one of the biggest challenges I have is finding things that get pushed to the back.  So I took a trip to the Dollar Store to buy some cheap baskets to act as drawers.  I'm using them to store loose bags of fruits and vegetables and snacks such as apple sauce and yogurt tubes. The rest is labelled and stacked nicely.  The door is now only holding freezer packs, electrolyte freezies and "Boo-Boo Bags" ( or little cold packs for tending to boo-boo's).  I highly recommend them if you have basic sewing skills and little ones.

Fridge Freezer - After


Fridge Freezer Door - After



The deep freezer was a much bigger job.  I followed these instructions for defrosting, using the hurry up and wait method.  As the ice started to melt I'd break off big pieces so they didn't thaw in the freezer leaving me with a big puddle to mop up.  Sadly most of what was in there ended up in the green bin because I could no longer identify it.  But the freezer is now sparking clean and housing our boxes of blueberries and a few other things.  My plan is to keep extra servings of meat and well packaged leftovers here, while the fridge freezer will get the snacks and items I need while cooking.



Deep Freezer - After


Now that that job is done I vow to clearly mark everything as it goes in!!  If this has inspired you to clean out your freezer I'd love to hear about it in the comments below!


Back to School Series


So what's this back to school series all about??  As mentioned, I love back to school time - new year, fresh start!  But for me back to school also means the end of summer hours (I get off work 1/2 hour earlier in the summer) and an end to easy breezy commutes.  This is what my summer commute looks like some days...


Halifax Waterfront from the Dartmouth Ferry


This means I get home about an hour later every day so I'm dealing with getting supper on the table, cleaning the kitchen and packing lunches for the next day with less time.  It's a bummer.  But... staying organized helps.  So I thought that "Back to School" was too big a topic to cover in just one week and therefore it's turned into a four part series, all designed to make meal time easier at this hectic time of year.

Part 1 - Freezables
Part 2 - Healthy Lunchbox
Part 3 - Fast Fix Suppers
Part 4 - Double Duty Meals


The freezer cleanup and theme this week was very much inspired by a recent post on 100 Days of Real Food - Real Food Tips: 10 Recipes to Freeze for School Lunches.  For those of you who have kids heading back to school this post (and blog) is full of great ideas!

Freezable items on the meal plan this week


Hamburger Buns - I never use a full pack of hamburger or hot-dog buns, leftovers always end up in the freezer and can be taken out individually as needed.

Soup - Soup is a perfect thing to big batch.  I had always been freezing leftovers in one big container so I could never thaw just one serving.  Lisa Leake from 100 Days of Real Food freezes individual servings in mason jars.  My sister-in-law freezes hers in freezer bags that she lays flat so that they stack nicely.  I'm leaning towards the bags so that I can "file" them in a basket, taking up less freezer space.  And now that I've had this "a-ha!" moment of freezing soups, chili, spaghetti and meatballs, etc... in single servings I can see myself big-batching these things more often.  This week I had a Sweet Potato and Peanut Soup on the menu which is absolutely delicious.   However, not peanut free obviously.  If this is a concern for you just substitute your favorite soup.

Rice - Brown Rice takes almost an hour to make so sometimes I'll make a double batch and freeze leftovers in single serving sizes.  It freezes well, thaws quick and is very versatile for easy last minute lunches.  Some ideas...
  • Mix rice with black bean, shredded cheese and salsa and roll in a tortilla.
  • Saute vegetables and whatever protein is leftover from supper. Stir in rice, a scrambled egg and some soya sauce for a quick "fried rice".
  • Serve it with a stir-fry
  • Make sushi rolls or a Sushi Bowl
  • Make rice patties such as Tex-Mex Rice Cakes

Berries - I often buy frozen berries, they're perfect for smoothies, mixing in with yogurt, adding to your cereal and for baking.  You can also freeze fresh berries if you're not able to use them right away.

Nuts - If I buy nuts in bulk I store them in the freezer to keep them from going rancid.

Herbs -- I don't know how many times I've bought a big bunch of herbs only to use a small amount and have the rest go bad.  I've used the ice-cube tray method before but find the herb cubes don't work well for all recipes.  A friend recently gave me a great tip - wash the herbs and dry well, chop and place in a freezer bag.  When a recipe calls for fresh herbs they're all ready to go!  Another "a-ha!" moment here!

Pancakes - If I make whole wheat pancakes on the weekend I'll toss the leftovers in a freezer bag.  I pop them right in the toaster to defrost and reheat.  If I had a waffle maker I'd freeze those too!  Maybe Santa is listening??

Tortillas, Pita or Naan - I'm still blown away that I was able to make tortillas and I've recently come across a recipe for naan that I'm going to try soon, but these don't have to be homemade.  If you buy a pack of tortillas, pita, naan, etc... stash leftovers in the freezer so they don't go bad.  They can be used for wraps, quesadillas, pizza, cut into triangles and toasted (or not!) for dipping, etc, etc, etc...

Smoothies - This week I froze both "smoothie packs" and "smoothie pops".  In each smoothie pack (freezer bag) I put strawberries, banana and spinach or kale, enough for a single serve smoothie -perfect for a quick grab and go breakfast.  While I had everything out I made a smoothie with these same ingredients plus plain yogurt, avocado, milk and honey.  I poured it into Popsicle molds for little after daycare treat.  They've been a hit this week!

Hamburgers - Either homemade or boxed... I loved having burgers on hand for an easy supper.

Muffins - I rarely get through a whole batch of muffins before they start to get mouldy so extras can be tossed in a freezer bag in the freezer to be used as an easy snack.  I've got a Blueberry Spelt Muffin in my lunch today!



Recipes


Chicken & Avocado Salad
(from The Australian Women's Weekly Cookbooks)


Citrus Chicken & Chickpea Salad

This is a recipe I stumbled upon years ago and use to make often.  I haven't made it in ages but it's a good one!

Ingredients:

  • 4 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
  • 1 Tbsp each lemon & lime rind
  • 300 g can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 Medium Red Onion, finely chopped
  • 2 Medium Tomato, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp Fresh Cilantro, chopped
  • 1 Medium Avocado, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice

Directions:

  • Combine chicken with lemon and lime rind, cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.  I left them overnight.
  • Combine remaining ingredients and mix well.
  • Grill chicken until cooked through.
  • Spoon Salad into bowls and top with slices of the cooked chicken.

Whole Wheat Cheddar Crackers (Weelicious)

I mentioned last week that Marin had an epiphany that we should add feta to the Cheddar Crackers.  So we made a batch this week and I replaced about 1/2 cup of the Cheddar with Feta.  As expected - delicious!  She thought she quite the little genius.



Whole Wheat Cheddar Crackers


What are your favorite freezables?

Sandra


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