Tag Archives: meal plan

We Tried SunBasket. Here’s My Review.

I’ve tried those meal-box kits in the past, when they made more sense, when we were four people for dinner, every day.

They don’t make as much sense when we’re now sometimes three people for dinner and sometimes just me, and when the children  have their favorites and thanks to divorce guilt I just want to make them their favorite stuff — chicken fried rice, spinach and black bean enchiladas, homemade pizza, grilled chicken “gyro” salad — rather than try new things for them. And for me, it’s easy enough to come home at dinnertime with children and go through the rehearsed motions of making something familiar.

It’s different when you’re making a meal that says it only takes 20 minutes but you have to be glued to the recipe the whole time to determine next steps, and the timing is more like 30-40 minutes and your children are hungry and the food is new and strange to them, and they’re tired, and so are you.

Thanks to a friend, I got a big discount to try SunBasket. We haven’t used one of these kind of meal kits in years, and I thought it was time to try again.

First week: Quick Chicken Chow Mein, Seared Salmon with Pearl Couscous and Salsa Fresca, Southwestern Steak with Roasted Poblanos and New Mexican Chile Salsa. I ordered the 2-person plan, not the family plan, figuring if the kids hated it, I’d have leftovers for lunch, and if they liked it, I could open a can of sardines or something for myself.

Monday: Quick Chicken Chow Mein

The box was arriving Monday. I was picking up the children from camp Monday after they’d been away for a week. Between transitions and the Monday-ness of Mondays, I’d planned to make the Quick Chicken Chow Mein (the quickest meal) that night.

On the drive home, the older boy asked if I could make chicken fried rice, one of their favorites, that night.

“Well, I am not really prepared to make that,” I said. “We’d have to stop at the store. I was going to make Chicken Chow Mein tonight.”

Same flavor profile, kind of, right?

“OK!” he said cheerfully.

OK.

The children were really hungry but the meal was fairly quick to make. And…kind of bland. I added soy sauce to mine. The children ate seconds but said they preferred my chicken fried rice and found this kind of flavorless.

Short review: It’s fast, full of veggies, they ate a lot of it, and it makes a lot of food. I’d call this a win if it were more flavorful.

Tuesday: Southwestern Steak with Roasted Poblanos and New Mexican Chile Salsa

I’d planned to make the salmon on Tuesday night, then hold the steak until Saturday (the kids would be back on Friday, but that’s Pizza Night). SunBasket recommends using the food up within five days, though, so I asked the kids what they wanted tonight: steak or salmon.

“Steak!”

OK, then. I proceeded with that recipe, roasting sweet potatoes and red onion and poblanos. None of us really like sweet potatoes. The children don’t like red onion or any onion. They don’t like peppers, sweet or poblano or raw or roasted.

I wasn’t sure they’d enjoy having their steak rubbed all over with sweet paprika, so I left that out. I also left out the chile salsa, because they like their meat plain.


Honestly, it was too hot to have the oven at 400 degrees for that long.

Short review: Not a great summer meal unless you have AC. Not a fun meal for children (or me–I didn’t really like the veggie combo). Might be too zippy as a family meal. Meat was great quality. I would love to follow this recipe to the letter and try the steak with the paprika and the chile salsa).

Also Tuesday: Seared Salmon with Pearl Couscous and Salsa Fresca (minus the salsa fresca)

I also realized I wouldn’t have a chance to cook the salmon until Saturday (ugh), so I decided to cook that tonight, too, along with the couscous in case the kids needed a neutral side because we all hate sweet potatoes.

The salmon prep bag included a yellow pepper, a tomato, and a cucumber (and shallots, a lime, and honey) for the salsa fresca. I thought the salmon would be more interesting with the salsa fresca, but I knew the kids would be eating the steak, not the salmon, and I could use the veggies in their lunches tomorrow, so…I sprinkled the salmon with sesame oil and soy sauce instead.

The children ate all the steak. I ate some salmon. I ate the roasted veggies that went with the steak. The children did not like the couscous (MY CHILDREN DO NOT LIKE COUSCOUS, WHICH IS ANOTHER FORM OF PASTA, WHAT THE…).

Short review: Salmon was very fresh, excellent quality. Veggies for salsa fresca were very fresh (and will be great as crudites for the kids’ lunches tomorrow, because no way was I going to chop everything up just for myself). Maybe the kids would have eaten the couscous if I hadn’t put granulated garlic on it, but honestly they don’t mind garlic, so…I think we’re just not couscous eaters. I don’t love it, either.

In Short…

  1. I was pleased with the meal choices, variety, recipe layout, and quality of ingredients and packaging.
  2. I still suffer divorce guilt, and my kids are only here half-time, so when they are here, I will generally make them their favorites, which tend to have them eating a lot more vegetables than they ate tonight.
  3. I appreciate the chance to have them try new things, and it’s good for them, too.
  4. Getting out of our food rut was fantastic for a few meals.
  5. All in all (see “divorce guilt,” “favorite foods,” and “eat their veggies”), I can’t continue this.

SunBasket, you’re fine, but we’re not a great match at this time. Thanks for letting me try you at a discount.

Meal Planning? eMeals Saved the Day!

closeupIt is 5:30 p.m. You’ve just walked in the door with four grocery bags and two hungry children…at dinnertime. You hand each child a tiny snack, look at tonight’s menu, realize it’s not possible…and yet less than half an hour later you have a tasty meal on the table that your children actually eat and like.

That was me, tonight, thanks to eMeals. I’ve attempted (and failed at) meal planning in the past, having an approach much like the spontaneous Melanie in the Middle. Unfortunately, the pour-a-glass-of-wine-and-wing-it approach doesn’t work when my small children need dinner around 5:30 p.m. and I get home with them at 5:15.

Despite some posts that indicate the contrary, I don’t just throw frozen stuff into the microwave for them. First of all, they generally hate that stuff, even if it is organic and such. Second, I like to cook and want to make them (and us!) tasty meals.

Here’s a problem: I live in a wonderful neighborhood full of small children just the same ages as my children, and sometimes late in the afternoon, I’d rather my kids be outside playing with friends than indoors while I’m making dinner. Or we get home and see all their friends outside, across the street, and go over to play instead of going inside so I can cook dinner. It’s a trade-off, for sure, but I’d really rather they be outside, even if we end up in nightly dinner hell.

Anyway, I recently signed onto eMeals. eMeals is a meal-planning service that sends you a weekly menu, with recipes and shopping lists. The great thing about eMeals is they have several different meal plans: Classic, Clean Eating (what we do), Natural and Organic, Gluten Free, Paleo, Mediterranean, Simple Gourmet, Low Fat, and so on. You can also plug in the grocery store you normally shop at, and they can match a meal plan to the store. In addition, you can indicate whether you want meals for 1-2 people or 3-6 people. Our first week, I’d signed us up for 3-6 people. Way too much food for us (2 adults, 2 kids). This week, I’m shifting to the 1-2 person plan.

We get the Clean Eating meal plan. It’s sent to me on Wednesday, but I didn’t manage to print out the most recent one until the weekend. I spent a little time going over it. The plan includes seven meals plus side dishes. I knew we’d have leftovers one night and might want to use up a freezer meal another night. So I crossed off two meals that I thought my family would be less interested in.

Then I went through the included grocery list, crossing off any items that we already had or that we wouldn’t need (items for the meals I’d crossed off). The list and a pen went into some reusable grocery bags.

Could this get much easier?

Could this get much easier?

However, being our spontaneous selves, we ended up going apple-picking instead of grocery shopping. You know how it goes!

Tuesday I picked up Max from school, zoomed over to the grocery store, got everything on the list, wove through traffic to go get Ben, and got home. Naturally, all the neighbor kids were outside, so out stayed we…until 5:30, when we finally got in the door.

5:30, remember, is dinnertime.

Somewhere in those bags is the answer to, "Where's dinner?"

Somewhere in those bags is the answer to, “Where’s dinner?”

Did I panic? Actually, for a second I did. Then I went to my menu. Tonight was supposed to be Juicy Chicken Sliders, with a side of Parmesan Oven Fries. “Kid-Friendly,” it was noted. But the total time: 50 minutes. Too long! Pot roast? Nope — that’s a slow-cooker meal. Roasted Chicken: a 50-minute cook time. Penne? I’m sick of pasta — last week we went off our plan a little, in an attempt to clean out the cupboards, and ate a lot of pasta.

Taco Salad: “Super Fast,” it said. OK!

One problem: It called for ground round. Our ground beef was all frozen. But I had just brought home chicken breasts for the sliders that we wouldn’t be having tonight! I scanned the recipe and decided to go for it.

Screen shot 2013-10-16 at 11.42.41 AM

Taco Salad

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced (I completely forgot to add the garlic!)
3/4 lb ground round (or sliced boneless, skinless chicken breast; fish or tofu would also be good!)
½ teaspoon chili powder
1/4  teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper
4 cups whole-grain tortilla chips
5 cups chopped Romaine lettuce
2 tablespoons low-fat plain Greek yogurt

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; add garlic, ground round (or chicken), chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper. Cook 8 minutes or until beef (or chicken) is browned, stirring occasionally. Divide tortilla chips evenly among 2 plates; top with lettuce, ground beef mixture, Corn Salsa (see below) and yogurt.

Corn Salsa

3/4 cup frozen whole kernel corn, thawed
2 plum tomatoes, chopped (I used grape tomatoes instead)
1 small jalapeño, minced (I omitted this on purpose)
1 clove garlic, minced (forgot again! sprinkled garlic powder [not garlic salt] on instead]
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Combine corn, tomatoes, jalapeño, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl; chill until ready to serve. (I also threw some leftover edamame into the corn salsa, because why not?)

To serve it, I put things in separate piles on the kids’ plates, because they are ages three and five, and sometimes it is best if things don’t touch each other. They ate the chicken and asked for more. Then Max noticed how my plate was one big mixed-up salad, and he wanted his that way. So of course then Ben wanted his that way, too. So we all ended up with these big mixed-up taco salads on our plates, and Max loved it. Ben preferred to fly his alien spaceship tomato-and-cucumber combo. But he did eat all his chicken and some of the corn salsa.

clock

Remember those grocery bags at 5:30? Yeah. I could have been done with dinner even sooner, but I decided to slice up some cucumbers and tomatoes, too. And clear the breakfast dishes off the table because….you know.

dinnertable

Who feels like a rock star? I do.

plate

My plate. Blurry but tasty.

What’s awesome is that we had a great new meal (I never make taco salad!!) on the table fast, and we all enjoyed it. Plus, thanks to the grocery list and the quick shopping trip, I now have the ingredients in my fridge for the rest of this week’s meals, and now I know how long the others will take, so I can plan those nights.

Want to try it? Here’s a discount code for 15% off: DINNER15. Considering that the plan is pretty inexpensive even without the code, and the grocery savings are nice, and the knowing what’s for dinner is priceless, the extra 15% off is icing on the cake! Click the link (image) below to sign up!


Disclosure: I am a member of the eMeals blogger network program and am also in the eMeals affiliate program. I was not compensated for this post, and all opinions are mine.

Meal Plan: Week of July 8

I haven’t forgotten the meal plans! Last week was a little tricky, though, as we were away for July 4th. Saturday night we were up in Lowell and took the kids to a South Indian vegetarian restaurant. Yum! They didn’t love it. Ben ate more than Max did, though. We won’t give up on having them try new things.

enormous paper dosa

enormous paper dosa

This week, I didn’t make it to the farmer’s market and am trying to use whatever we have in the fridge. Also, our oven hasn’t yet been repaired and I’m trying to cook on the grill more. Our stove still works, but grilling is more fun.

I say “trying” not because I suck at grilling (I am actually pretty good at it and used to grill all the time, every night, especially vegetables), but because we live on the second floor and the grill is down in the backyard and when you have small children, grilling in this situation becomes tricky, with all the running up and down the stairs to get stuff or prep food in the kitchen (i.e., the salad), and the children would therefore be left unattended in one place or the other at a time of day when they are “not as easygoing and mellow as they are earlier in the day.” Ahem.

Monday: Jerk Chicken Satay with pineapple dipping sauce (Wildtree freezer meal), corn on the cob, shredded cabbage salad with scallions and lime dressing. We used the grill, hooray! (only because Ben was napping). Max helped with most of this meal, though I got nervous when he put on his apron and insisted on turning things on the grill (he was nervous, too, and I helped him). I flat out refused to let him use the mandoline to shred the cabbage.

Some boiled, some grilled.

Some boiled, some grilled.

Tuesday: Black beans and rice, Swiss chard. I bought a ton of black beans at Costco, and since we all like them, I think black beans and rice will be appearing weekly.

Wednesday: Pasta and meatballs, spinach salad.

Thursday: Pizza on the grill, raw beet salad (soooo good). I love making pizza on the grill but haven’t done it in years. Let’s hope I still remember how!

Friday: Turkey burgers and hot dogs, some kind of vegetable.

Saturday: ??

Sunday: ?? Probably fish.

I was discussing meal plans with a few other people, some of whom are perhaps a little smarter than me. One woman, rather than reinventing the wheel every single week like I do, has three meal plans — A, B, and C — and rotates them. Aha! That’s it!

She very kindly sent me her meal plans, which look yummy and like stuff we make. I really like that idea. I do tend to be a little whimsical in the kitchen, and I usually rely on what’s on sale and what I find at the farmer’s market. But since I’m not really building meals around this week’s supply of Swiss chard or what have you, I could easily have a plan of three weeks of main dishes, with sides varying depending on the harvest.

It got me thinking about some staples, themes, and frequently repeated meals, and here are a few:

  • Black beans and rice
  • Fish (pan-cooked or baked/broiled)
  • Wildtree freezer meal (eight of these left!)
  • Pasta and meatballs, or pasta and beans, or pasta and veggies
  • Pizza
  • Chicken (bah, chicken; I think we’re all sick of it): grilled? pan-cooked? I need a more interesting way to prepare it

In other happy food news, I was reading about cold brewed coffee and decided to make some. Basically, you mix coffee grounds and water and let it sit at room temperature for at least 12 hours, then strain it. The concentrated result is a great base for cold/iced coffee drinks — just add milk and/or ice. It tastes a lot different than brewed coffee that has cooled down — less bitter, less acidic, more flavorful.

Plus, of course, I can store it in a Mason jar, and god knows I love Mason jars!

coldbrewed coffee

cold brewed coffee

Speaking of Mason jars, jam season is almost upon us! Our raspberry patches have been really productive. I need another day or two’s harvest, and then I can make jam! I can’t wait. And then it will be peach season, and plums, and apples…

What are you cooking this week? Do your meal plans rotate, like my friend’s, or do you come up with new ones based on your whims? 

Meal Plan: Week of June 10

That’s right, a menu plan! I’m finally trying to get ahead of the game a little and plan meals (and do the appropriate grocery shopping) on the weekend to make weeknights a little easier. For more than a year I’ve been inspired by the wonderful, tasty-looking meal plans at Random Recycling. So it’s time to try it myself.

Of course, yesterday’s grocery trip involved a tired Ben while C and Max were at the nearby pet store buying fish, so my trip did not go as smoothly as planned. I came home with coconut-milk popsicles but no milk, cream cheese but no bagels, seaweed snacks and a few cans of beans but no bananas. You know. Typical shopping trip, really.

But this week I’m on it, and this is what it looks like:

Sunday: Two Bean and Corn Burgers, corn on the cob, broccoli. The recipe is from the seasonal Whole Foods pamphlet “Meals for 4 under $15.” (They have a similar pamphlet of meals for under $10.) I’m always intrigued by these but have never made one of these recipes before. The burgers sounded good but were a little mushy (maybe I didn’t drain the beans well enough?). I thought they were pretty good and much better than the usual bean burgers I make, but no one else — as usual, when it comes to bean burgers around here — seemed to like them. C ate only one. Max had one bite; he’d been expecting a beef burger. Ben opted out completely and ate mayonnaise on a bun (whatever!).

bean_burger

Two Bean and Corn Burgers

Monday: Salmon, penne, carrots, Swiss chard. We may not be doing a CSA this year after all (I dropped out due to, frankly, stress), but we’ll be hitting the farmer’s market pretty hard this year and buying from our CSA farmer. Win win! We got some lovely Swiss chard from him on Saturday, after our entire family (including Max, on his own bike) biked to the farmer’s market four miles away. Yes! C and Max rode on the sidewalks and I pulled Ben in the trailer. It was Max’s first real ride out of the neighborhood, and he did great!

Tuesday: Pizza or hot dogs, alphabet soup, birthday cake. It’s Ben’s birthday! Not yet sure if we’ll make the pizza ourselves or order it, if he decides he wants that.

Wednesday: Poached Cod in Tomato Sauce with Chorizo and Feta, London Broil with Spinach (both courtesy of Plated!), brown rice, green salad. Thanks to Klout, I scored four free meals (plates) from Plated.com, and they arrive Tuesday. Since Tuesday is Ben’s birthday and I want dinner to be something I know he’ll eat, the Plated meals will wait until Wednesday. I think I have to do some basic cooking/assembly, but basically the pre-measured ingredients arrive on my doorstep and I just have to cook them — 20 minutes or less, they say!

Thursday: Baked Mexican Rice and Beans, cucumber and carrot sticks, hummus. Also from that Whole Foods pamphlet — I’m trying a few new recipes this week, since I’m sick of our usual fare, and also I want more meatless options. This is similar to Sunday’s meal, but it has cheese and greens in it and hopefully will have a better reception than the burgers.

Friday: Leftovers!

Saturday: Grilled chicken, or possibly date night.

I like to have quick back-up meals planned, just in case something comes up. So those are spaghetti and meatballs (the meatballs are in the freezer), or macaroni and cheese.

I still have to wash and prep the chard and wash the lettuces, but otherwise I think we’re in good shape for the week!

…except we’re nearly out of milk and bread, and no hot dogs here either, and I still need snacks and birthday treats for the preschool class on Tuesday, since I’m parent helping and Ben is coming with me, so I still need a quick grocery run tomorrow. But hey, I’m meal planning! Look at me go!