Tag Archives: meal planning

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.

Home After a Week Away

We’re home again! We were gone for almost a week, out near St. Louis, at a state park for a family wedding celebration for my niece: the niece I’d never met before! (She’s delightful!) We got to spend time with the “other side of the Mississippi” part of my husband’s family, whom we very rarely get to see. My kids were thrilled to spend some time with their grown-up guy cousins and uncle and aunt. It was wonderful to have some time with my in-laws.

Plus, we went out on a boat, swam in a lake, rode in a golf cart (fun for kids!), played with dogs, had a late-night campfire with s’mores, and I saw fresh bear prints in the woods (alas, I didn’t have my camera with me). We saw the Arch (but did not go up in it), swam in a hotel pool, and in general had an excellent trip.

Then we had a three-hour weather delay, got home at nearly 2 a.m., and the kids didn’t get to school until 11:30 a.m. Yes, that means the little one will be at school for a whole hour and a half today. We’re all tired and out of sorts and the laundry pile is up to here and the fridge is empty.

I might cheat and make pasta and meatballs tonight, but I’m also turning to my meal-planning sources hard. Why? They provide grocery lists! And tell me what to make for dinner! And offer variety! I’m sick of making the same old lunches every day, and we’re all tired of the same old dinners.

What I’m craving is a Chopped Kale and Roasted Corn Salad with Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette posted on my pal Melanie’s blog (go check it out right now—-aren’t you craving it now, too??).  I think that salad needs to happen here tonight.

Then I grabbed the free sample lunch menu (with shopping list, yay!) from MOMables, because damn if I am going to throw out one more turkey sandwich or scrape any more uneaten hummus into the trash. Maybe there’s only a few weeks of school left (yikes—only ONE week left for my older son!!), but we need some fresh ideas around here.

Next up, eMeals. I’ve posted about them before, and here too. Honestly, I haven’t been using the site as much lately. Even though they send me a weekly meal plan, and I still change it up sometimes (Mediterranean, Clean Eating, Low Calorie, Kid-Friendly), I kind of got out of the habit.

But today, I’m happy to go through my inbox, find the one from eMeals with the comforting subject line of “Your Mediterranean Plan for Two provided by eMeals” (we do the 2-person plan, usually, instead of the family plan, because I found that since half of our family consists of very small children who may or may not eat much dinner, we had too many leftovers). In a few minutes I’ll print out the menu and shopping list, and over the next week we’ll be eating Honey-Lemon Grilled Salmon, Zucchini and Tomato Pasta with Olives, and so on….with everything I need right in my kitchen, thanks to the shopping list.

(I realize I’ve said “shopping list” or “grocery list” about eight times in this post, but it’s such a lifesaver. Right now I have the energy to feed/dress/clean up the kids, keep the kitchen clean, get the laundry done, and meet my work deadlines. I don’t have time for meal planning and grocery lists. Thus, eMeals!)

So here I go. Print, work, pick up Ben from preschool, and hit the grocery store….with a little help from my online meal-planning friends (and food bloggers–because I cannot WAIT to have that kale salad!!).

You can try eMeals for 15% off. Click the picture below to save yourself time and hassle. You know you’ll probably be traveling this summer. Wouldn’t this be nice to come home to?

 

 

Kale Pesto and Smug Salad: Beyond Kale Chips

Tonight I had one of those “Oh crap, what can I make for dinner??” moments…long after the time I should have already started cooking dinner.

I am meal planning these days and have been using Six O’Clock Scramble but recently switched to eMeals (review coming soon!!), but even so, this week things fell apart. Last night I made boxed mac-and-cheese (Annie’s, at least) for the kids. I NEVER make them boxed mac-and-cheese. It’s absolute emergency food, in my opinion. My special snowflakes only eat wholesome fresh dinners made from organic scratch.

Except, you know, last night.

And then my husband, when he got home, suggested that he go pick up burritos or maybe order from our favorite Szechuan place, and I pointed out that now that we’re sending one child to private school, I’m going to be the budget bitch. I pointed to the can of Trader Joe’s Turkey Chili on the counter.

Granted, they could really brighten up their label. It’s dismal, black and dark red, like something you only eat if you hate yourself and it’s raining out and you’re in a sad motel room alone with a plastic spoon. He promised to keep our Szechuan order in check, but I got too hungry to wait and opened that can.

The chili, once heated, was pretty good. I added the kids’ leftover frozen-but-heated-now-cooled veggies (sorry, at this point are you wondering why I ever claimed to be a locavore foodie or a one-time chef in a fancy restaurant? I promise, I am the former and was the latter. It’s just that these days, sometimes I just have to cope, like last night).

Tonight, though, I rocked it so hard in the spontaneous dinner department. Once again, the afternoon got away from us, so I left the kids out in the yard* and went up to cook.

I took some kale, put it into the blender with plenty of olive oil, added raw pumpkin seeds and some nutritional yeast, garlic, and salt, and blended away. The resulting kale pesto was spectacular.

pesto

I ate this for lunch today, spread on bread.

 

Then, I was determined to cook out of our cabinets (since it was way past dinnertime and I had to think fast and there was no time to thaw anything) and ended up making food that the kids loved. Why have I bothered with “fancy” recipes for tomato ragu (“I hate this pasta! I want spaghetti, not fettuccine!”) or lemon chicken and couscous with spinach, feta, and pine nuts (“What is this gross stuff?? Get it off my plate!”**) when I could have been tossing hot dogs at them all week?

Meanwhile, I cooked whole-wheat shells, adding frozen peas and corn near the end. I drained it, added canned salmon and olive oil and grated Parmesan, and served it, holding my breath.

pastapesto

They loved it so much Ben ate it for lunch today, too…as did I.

They LOVED it.

As Max asked for his third plateful, he said, “Mom, you know what would be really good with this? That green sauce.” He meant standard basil pesto but I offered him some kale pesto. Unfortunately, he got a big chunk of raw garlic (“too spicy!!”), so I offered him basil pesto instead.

Ben wanted both kinds of pesto and ended up eating the kale pesto with his hands (this is how the child gets away with everything–because if you are willing to eat raw kale pesto by the handful, child, you are the winner).

I, of course, doused my plateful of pasta with the kale pesto and later ate some remaining kale pesto with a spoon. WHAT??

So here is the basic rule: If you have kale, you need olive oil and some salt. Cooked, raw, roasted, whatever– with those three ingredients, you rule the world.

We get olive oil in big jugs. I really think we should buy the gallon cans, except I worry about BPA.

We get olive oil in big jugs. I really think we should buy the gallon cans, except I worry about BPA.

I also made what I’m calling Smug Salad: raw kale, half a red onion, the old red cabbage from the lower left produce drawer (chopped), sliced scallions (because don’t you just feel smug using kale and the tired veggies from your fridge…plus nutritional yeast??). Massage chopped kale leaves with olive oil. Add the other stuff. Sprinkle with nutritional yeast and sea salt and raw pumpkin seeds. Spritz with fresh lemon juice and serve, knowing you are an acai berry and some pomegranate away from Utter Superfood Salad.

kale cabbage

[One other confession: This kale was from a bag. Whole Foods sells these 16-oz. bags of washed, torn kale. It’s awesome if you haven’t made it to the farmer’s market in a while and you want kale in a hurry and you just can’t deal with washing it because your sink is full of dishes.]

Why didn’t I take a picture of the finished salad? I don’t know! But it is beautiful.

*This is kind of a huge deal if you live in the city and your yard isn’t fenced. But I could hear them the whole time and occasionally popped down for surprise checks. They, as directed, stayed in the backyard and did not kill or blind each other with sticks. And I got to make dinner. Win-win-win!!

**Oh yes, that got sent him away from the table IMMEDIATELY.

Meal Plan: Week of June 24

Things got off track a little bit last week. For example, on Tuesday night we had neither of the things I’d planned on for dinner. Instead, the kids and I made vegetable alphabet soup and quesadillas. Max made most of the meal, with Ben stepping in at the end to help cut the quesadillas.

Totally kid-friendly meal, right? Plus they say that when you let the children help cook, they are more likely to eat the food.

quesadillacutter1

I realize this looks like a recipe for disaster. Both kids still each have 10 fingers and no scars from this use of the pizza wheel.

Ha. Hahahahahaha. The boys did not like the soup (which came out pretty thick, more like a pasta dish than like soup) or the quesadillas. Ben ate some of his, but Max didn’t eat his until bedtime, when he insisted he was hungry and I pointed out that he hadn’t touched his dinner. Offered no other options, suddenly the food became more appealing to him and he ate it.

quesacutter2

You would not believe the fight that broke out about who got to use the pizza wheel.

The Plated meals last week were a flank steak with black bean/corn salsa and potatoes, all spiced with chipotle and lime and poblanos. The children ate most of the meat (leaving me one bite and C a few strips), so C and I ate the side dishes and some leftover grilled chicken. The food was pretty tasty, with flavors we don’t normally use.

A few nights later, the kids ate hot dogs (no baked beans) and romaine lettuce and I made the Plated swordfish siciliano for me and C, later. I didn’t think I would like it much (the sauce looked busy: golden raisins, capers, olives, garlic, onion, tomato) but it was unbelievably good. I practically licked the pan. I’ll definitely make that one again.

Oh, and I swear we don’t feed them hot dogs that often, and when we (I) do, they are always Applegate.

We had leftovers on Friday instead of pizza, and Saturday we went out for pizza, with Sunday (tonight) being leftovers again.

This week is a little tricky. We have potlucks Thursday and Sunday. Plus I have to empty my freezer (fast!!) because I’m doing a Wildtree Organic Freezer Meal Workshop on Tuesday, whereby I will get together with several other people and, in about an hour, prepare ten meals, each of which serves 4-6 people. Awesome, right? But like much of my life, when I open my freezer door, things fall on me. So in part due to the need to make space, this week’s menu looks like this:

Monday: Salmon, green salad, rice or quinoa or who-knows-what. This meal planning is hard, you know? UPDATE: On Monday it was about 98 degrees in my kitchen. We ate room-temperature tortellini with jarred sauce. And watermelon and popsicles. Plus, the little one was sick.

Tuesday: Mexican Beans and Rice, raw veggies, watermelon. The casserole was in my freezer, and I need to make space. This meal was for the kids. They loved it last week and rejected it tonight.

Me? I had a blogger event followed by a Wildtree freezer meal workshop. Basically, my dinner was wine and cheese (and, once I got home, the melted popsicle of the feverish child). But I made 10 meals, which will actually be 20 meals. They’re generous portions.

Wednesday: Was going to be chili. Ate it thawed and cold last night (part of freezer clean-out). Either PIneapple Chicken Fajitas (from the Wildtree workshop ) or else….um….leftovers? Meal planning is hard.

Thursday: Preschool Graduation Potluck. I’m bringing either beans and rice or else a raw beet salad.  With Ben sick (and thus home) all week thus far, I haven’t had any time to work or plan or write or check the Evite to see what everyone else is bringing.

Friday: Pizza (homemade).

Saturday: Date night. Kids can fend for themselves (KIDDING). Pasta and meatballs for them, probably.

Sunday: Neighborhood potluck. I’m bringing a raw beet salad.

The only thing still mostly in the way in our freezer is some ice cream and a 6-pack of cupcakes from Whole Foods that we ended up not using for one of the boys’ birthdays. That may sound awesome to some but I don’t like the ice cream and, frankly, it’s too hot to eat cupcakes. Did I just say that? I did. Even frozen cupcakes.

Wish me luck making room in the freezer for our freezer meals!*

 

* Follow-up: I made room. I made all the freezer meals tonight, and they fit in our freezer even with the ice cream in there! Plus I went a step further and bought a small chest freezer. I’m so excited. I’ve been wanting one for years.