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my new (easy!) approach to meal planning

You know what time is not typically the high-point of my day?

4 o’clock.

The kids are home from school, my work day is over (at least until bedtime), and the next big thing on my task list is dinner. Ugh.

It’s not the actual cooking that is problematic and not the eating or even the clean up. It’s the part where I have to figure out what to make that gets me every time.

Except when I’ve taken the time to meal plan.

Each time I schedule out our meals, shop for all the necessary groceries and know ahead of time what I’m preparing, I’m good. But stand me in the kitchen with four hungry children staring at me asking what’s for dinner? when I don’t have a preset plan and my mind goes blank. There are many things I’m good at, but whipping up healthy dinners on a whim is definitely not one of them.

I have tried coming up with a monthly schedule of meals (this was one of my more valiant efforts) and while it does go smoothly, it just doesn’t stick. I’ve joined meal clubs where they create menus for you, and that doesn’t always work for our family either. If we could we would eat out or get take-out every night, but that is not the most practical solution, nor financially feasible.

So what’s a terrible meal-planning mama to do?

Make it SUPER easy.

5-meals

Here’s the plan: we’re eating the same 5 meals every weeknight.

5-meals-scheduling

This was actually Ryan’s suggestion and I’m fully on board. It really couldn’t get any more simple and I’m excited to see how it works for us. We like good food, we like variety, we like seasonal options, but goodness, I just can’t keep up. Limiting our weekly meals to five of our go-to basics will *hopefully* reduce that stressful 4 o’clock what’s for dinner madness.

planning-5-meals-per-week

The five meals I chose for this season are decidedly fall-ish and proven family favorites. We’ll grow tired of them, I’m sure, so the plan is to switch out the meals every couple of months.

planning-5-meals

Here’s our menu:

MONDAY// Turkey Chili, salad, cornbread (or flatbread)

This is our busiest weekday so we’re doing a favorite soup that can cook all day and be ready for us in between ballet class and soccer practice. This turkey chili is delicious and can be doubled or tripled and then frozen. Each week I’ll pull out a frozen batch, put it in the slow cooker on low, serve it with a quick green salad and cornbread.

turkey-chili

TUESDAY: Taco Soup + chips

Another favorite soup that is also very healthy and great the next day for lunch. The kids like crunching up blue corn tortilla chips and sprinkling with grated cheese, sour cream and cilantro.

taco-soup

WEDNESDAY // grilled chicken + mediterranean quinoa salad + grilled flatbread

While the weather holds up, we’ll keep grilling the chicken outside but once it starts raining, I’ll switch to baking it. The quinoa salad recipe below is great, and so is this one.

mediterranean-quinoa-salad

THURSDAY // burrito bowls

We eat these once a week usually, so everyone will be happy keeping burrito bowls modeled after Chipotle’s on our weekly menu. I make cilantro lime rice (like this), add black beans, refried beans, lettuce, salsa, avocado and sour cream. Shredded rotisserie chicken, grilled flank steak or seasoned ground beef are all options (just depends on what’s on hand or what sounds best).

FRIDAY // pizza night

I’m excited to start a new tradition and make our own pizza like Myquillyn & her family.

As for other meals, I have a bunch of ideas jotted down to help the kids figure out what they want packed in their lunches and what (besides cereal) they can eat for breakfast. Having this list helps me keep our refrigerator and pantry stocked with healthy choices. Anything to make this feeding a big family thing easier!

lunch-and-breakfast-ideas

So that’s the plan. Nothing fancy and probably a little boring after a while, but it will simplify a task I don’t excel at, removing stress and extra unnecessary eating out. If you’d like more ideas for dinner ideas, check out my dinners pinterest board.

Now it’s your turn … do you have a favorite meal you eat weekly? Or a meal planning strategy that works for your family?

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perfect for your easter brunch: cranberry orange scones

In case you are looking for a last minute addition to your Easter brunch this weekend (or any time, for that matter), these scones are perfect.

cranberry-orange-scones

Some scones are dry and break into tiny crumbs when you bite into them and these are not like that at all. They are soft and flaky with a hint of orange and sweet cranberries. The recipe is from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa at Home cookbook. Her cookbooks are amazing. Every recipe I’ve made of hers is an instant favorite (like her apple crisp and chicken noodle soup and coconut cupcakes). And the pictures are really pretty.

Okay, back to the scones. They are fairly easy to make. Just dump all the dry ingredients in the mixer, add the zest of one orange and cut in cold butter (just try not to think about how much butter you’re using).

ingredients-for-scones

Then you add heavy cream and eggs until just combined to form a sticky dough. Before adding cranberries (craisins, actually) she has you toss them in a little bit of flour. Genius idea, this flour-covered-craisin-thing, as they mix in to the dough rather than sinking to the bottom.

Gently roll out the dough on a floured board and cut with a pastry cutter. Or a cup if you don’t have one. #makeitwork

use-cup-to-cut

Bake for 20 minutes, drizzle on a light glaze and you have the most delicious homemade scones ever.

cranberry-orange-scones-brunch

I made these for my college girlfriends when they came into town last month and again yesterday afternoon just because. I may even make them again on Sunday. Enjoy!

Cranberry Orange Scones

recipe from Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa at Home

i n g r e d i e n t s

4 cups plus 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
3/4 pound cold unsalted butter, diced
4 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup cold heavy cream
1 cup dried cranberries
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water or milk, for egg wash
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
4 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice

d i r e c t i o n s

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix 4 cups of flour, 1/4 cup sugar, the baking powder, salt and orange zest. Add the cold butter and mix at the lowest speed until the butter is the size of peas. Combine the eggs and heavy cream and, with the mixer on low speed, slowly pour into the flour and butter mixture. Mix until just blended. The dough will look lumpy! Combine the dried cranberries and 1/4 cup of flour, add to the dough, and mix on low speed until blended.

Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it into a ball. Flour your hands and a rolling pin and roll the dough 3/4-inch thick. You should see small bits of butter in the dough. Keep moving the dough on the floured board so it doesn’t stick. Flour a 3-inch round plain or fluted cutter and cut circles of dough. Place the scones on a baking pan lined with parchment paper. Collect the scraps neatly, roll them out, and cut more circles.

Brush the tops of the scones with egg wash, sprinkle with sugar, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops are browned and the insides are fully baked. The scones will be firm to the touch. Allow the scones to cool for 15 minutes and then whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and orange juice, and drizzle over the scones.

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let’s make sea salt caramels

sea-salt-caramel-recipe

Growing up, we could always count on my grandpa to make two things for our family christmas: rich, chocolaty fudge and creamy, chewy caramels. Both were delicious and have become seasonal favorites in my family now. Yesterday I made both of these treats. Edie has an easy and oh so yummy fudge recipe {right here} and these sea salt caramels are my go-to recipe. I’ve shared it once before, but thought I’d show you step by step in photos because sometimes that takes the fear out of cooking.

sea-salt-caramels-up-close

These little caramels are irresistible, they make great gifts and can be refrigerated for up to three weeks {although there’s no way they would last that long in my household}.

Here’s what you need:

sea-salt-caramel-ingredients

1 3/4 cup sugar
1 can evaporated milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup light corn syrup
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 Tbsp. coarse sea salt
Oil or cooking spray

sea-salt-caramel-tools

medium heavy bottomed pan
wooden spoon {I like this flat wooden spatula to scrape the bottom of the pan}
candy thermometer

STEP ONE // prepare a 9 x 13 baking dish by lining it in parchment paper and lightly oiling

sea-salt-caramel-prepare-baking-dish

STEP TWO // In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring sugar, evaporated milk, and heavy cream to a boil over medium heat.

sea-salt-caramel-step-one

sea-salt-caramel-bring-to-boil

STEP THREE // Add corn syrup and continue cooking until mixture reaches 230°

sea-salt-caramel-add-corn-syrup

Stir continually and watch that thermometer {or two}. It takes several minutes and it’s important to get it to the exact temperature.

sea-salt-caramel-boil-to-230

STEP FOUR // Add butter and vanilla; continue cooking, stirring constantly, until caramel reaches 240°

sea-salt-caramel-add-butter-and-vanilla

The caramel starts to look more caramelly and thickens and it feels like it takes forever to get to the right temp. Just keep stirring and pull it off the heat right away when it hits 240°

sea-salt-caramel-boil-to-240

STEP FIVE // Remove from heat, stir in salt

sea-salt-caramel-add-salt

STEP SIX // Carefully pour into a lightly oiled 9″ x 13″ baking dish and sprinkle with additional sea salt

sea-salt-caramel-pour-in-prepared-dish

Let cool for an hour or so.

STEP SIX //  Remove from baking dish and cut the caramel into 1 inch pieces

cut-sea-salt-caramel

STEP SEVEN // To serve candy-store style, wrap individual pieces in parchment paper

sea-salt-caramel-on-parchment-paper

and secure the ends with a simple twist.

wrapped-up-sea-salt-caramel

Enjoy!

Servings: Makes about 125 one-inch pieces

Sea Salt Caramels
created by the ladies of Liddabit Sweets courtesy of O magazine.

1 3/4 cup sugar
1 can evaporated milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup light corn syrup
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 Tbsp. coarse sea salt
Oil or cooking spray

Directions

Active time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring sugar, evaporated milk, and heavy cream to a boil over medium heat. Add corn syrup and continue cooking until mixture reaches 230°.
Add butter and vanilla; continue cooking, stirring constantly, until caramel reaches 240°. Remove from heat, stir in salt, and carefully pour into a lightly oiled 9″ x 13″ baking dish (parchment paper in the bottom of the pan is helpful).
Let cool at least 1 hour. Invert onto a cutting board covered with waxed or parchment paper and cut into 1-inch pieces with a sharp, lightly oiled knife. Caramels can be wrapped in waxed or parchment paper or cellophane. (To serve candy-store style, wrap individual pieces in parchment paper and secure the ends with a simple twist.) Store airtight at cool room temperature (around 65°) or in the refrigerator; will keep up to 3 weeks.

 

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