Monday, August 19, 2013

Meal Planning | At the office

I spend a lot of hours away from home. On most days I eat both breakfast and lunch in my office and occasionally I'll work late enough to have dinner here, too. Since I've had Max, I've noticed that my hunger is urgent and I need to eat good food at more regular intervals. On my most outrageous days I'm up around 5:00 am and I start my 10-hour workday (including commute) by 7:00 am. If I don't plan properly, I'll be famished by 9:00 am and angry at the world. When I'm hungry, I often make unhealthy choices...

I used to stop at Wawa on the way to work several days a week. (For those who aren't familiar, Wawa is an awesome Philadelphia-area convenience store with a cult following.) I enjoy their coffee and their breakfast sandwiches and it was the only place I passed during my 36 mile commute. Last year Wawa moved to the opposite side of the highway, thus making it a time suck to stop there for food, so it became clear that I needed to stop relying on a convenience store for emergency meals and start planning better. Between Wawa being inconvenient, the office vending machine malfunctioning one too many times, and my desire to eat better and save cash, I knew I had to do something else.

So I applied my meal planning techniques to my workday meals. I still end up eating out about twice a week, but that's nothing compared to the damage I used to do before Max was born. And I'm human, so some weeks I go out to lunch twice in a row, or I skip breakfast, or I do well all day and end up eaitng Chinese takeout for dinner.

Here are some tips that keep me on track with workday meals and snacks:

1. I always have breakfast at my desk. I usually don't have time to eat breakfast before I leave home, but I normally walk out of the house with a green smoothie (I need to share that recipe!) and a cup of coffee. When I get to my desk I have instant oatmeal ready (yes, I need to share that one, too!) or I have Greek yogurt in my lunch bag. That normally holds me until about 11:00 am.

2. I immediately pack dinner leftovers into lunch portions. I try to cook dinners that reheat well in the microwave (spaghetti vs. crab cakes) and I place single servings into clear, shallow containers so I can just grab them on my way out in the morning. We waste less food and there's no "what's for lunch?" discussions when the food is sitting front and center.

3. Make your own vending machine. I keep single-serve snacks at my desk. Single servings aren't always economical, but I like the portion control. Shop sales or shop in bulk. I like to keep trail mix, nuts, Sun Chips, and even a few cans of soda (for weak moments).

4. Buy an office refrigerator. Some offices have a refrigerator for employee use. If yours doesn't have one and if you have the space and it's permissible, put a refrigerator in your office. Sure, it may cost you close to $100, but think about what you'll save when you can have perishables on hand. You can keep yogurt, coffee creamer, fresh fruit and milk for cereal right at your desk.

5. Keep utensils and cups handy. I always have paper plates, paper towels, plastic utensils and a water bottle at my desk. I drink water from the water cooler throughout the day and I also use the water to make instant oatmeal. If you keep your work space well-stocked you won't end up eating  yogurt with a fork.

Since I've returned to work I've had problems grocery shopping, doing laundry and cooking at regular intervals like I used to. I use my iPhone's Reminder app to keep running grocery lists for ShopRite, Target and Costco and I also have Siri give me reminders, too. If I find myself buying an item from a convenience store or vending machine I always consider adding it to my shopping list. Why pay $1.00 for a banana when you can get four for that price? Why pay $1.20 for a ginger ale when you can purchase smaller cans in single-serve portions for much less?

Consider how much money you could save if you carried your own food to work. Even if my husband and I spend just $5 per day eating out, that's $50 per week or nearly $250 per month for the two of us. I'd rather spend that cash sitting down and enjoying a few real restaurant meals during date nights.

Do you plan out your meals? I know a lot of people are on the dinner planning bandwagon, and that's saved me a ton of frustration and money. But how about lunches? Are you prepared with healthy options for a mid-morning or mid-afternoon hunger attack? If not, why not try?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Buttermilk Corn Fritters

I guess it goes without saying that I've been really, really busy this summer. You may notice that I've been active on Pinterest and Facebook, but I haven't been as active on the blog as in the past. I've been cooking and baking, but I've also been working, taking care of Max, and we've been settling into our new home.

Despite the chaos and excitement, I'm still finding time to cook, especially on weekends. I've always loved cooking breakfast and I find that rich, heavy meals are best served in moderation (Saturdays and Sundays only). I also love that eating a great breakfast gives me fuel to do whatever we need to pack into our weekends. Normally a big breakfast means we'll only eat two meals in a day.

I grew up eating corn fritters. My mom tells me that her mom made them for her. I never met my maternal grandmother (she passed away long before I was born), but I remember my mom mixing up corn fritters for us since forever. She used a boxed pancake mix and until recently I did, too. Now, however, I've modified my favorite scratch pancake recipe to create our family favorite: buttermilk corn fritters.

When I was dating my husband I think he may have found it strange that we put corn in our pancakes and called them "fritters". There's another type of corn fitter out there, but it's more of a fried little nugget of cornmeal and whole corn kernels. This isn't that. This is a fluffy, moist buttermilk pancake that is enhanced with creamed corn. It may sound a bit odd, but it's so good! Good enough to make you  look forward to getting up at 6:30 am on a Sunday when your baby wakes you up with "dadadadada". Good enough to make your mom drive to your house to bring you bacon at 7:15 am (because you ran out) just so the family can have the perfect breakfast. Yes, they are that good.

I hope you enjoy one of my favorite breakfasts.

Buttermilk Corn Fritters
serves 4
adapted from Buttermilk Pancakes from Short Stop

2 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 (14-ounce) can of creamed corn

Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Whisk together eggs, milk, buttermilk, vanilla and butter.

Keep wet and dry ingredients separate until you are ready to make your pancakes. Gently combine wet and dry ingredients (do not overmix!) by hand. Gently stir in creamed corn.

Preheat griddle to medium heat. Ladle pancakes onto griddle and cook until done. This batter is thick, so it will take a few minutes longer than thinner recipes. Mine take about 3-4 minutes per side.

I preheat my oven to 200 degrees to keep the pancakes warm until I am ready to serve the entire batch. Serve hot with butter and syrup and enjoy!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Baby Food | Roasted Zucchini with Smoked Paprika

Roasted zucchini with smoked paprika? Sounds fancy for a baby, right? Since my husband is picking up zucchini three for $1 on his way home from work, I figured I'd add it to the baby food rotation. Max likes it, it's easy to make, and it smells so good that I'm even willing to take a bite.

I've been making Max's baby food since he started solids (well, since he was born if you count breast milk) and I like letting him enjoy all of the seasonable flavors that we like, just adapted so he can consume them easily. I keep all of Max's food, including frozen breast milk, in the top drawer of of our freezer for quick and easy from-scratch meals. The only foods that I don't make from scratch are puffs (those dissolvable, cereal-like baby snacks), Mum Mums (these awesome rice biscuits that Max loves), and the occasional jar of baby food if we're traveling. In all honesty, Max hates jarred baby food, so I bought it for emergency purposes only. At this point I'd rather just give him food off my plate than give him jarred food.

My goal is for Max to have an adventurous palate. I was a relatively picky eater as a child (and teenager), but I started trying new foods in college. While there are still a few foods I'll never touch (hello, mayonnaise!), I love trying new foods. My hope for Max is that he develops an appreciation for real (not-processed, from-scratch) foods now and that it helps him make healthy choices for the rest of his life.

Even if you're not ready to make ALL of your baby's food, you can at least experiment with a few options. Here's how I do roasted zucchini with smoked paprika.

I use about 3 zucchini for this recipe, but you can use whatever you have. First, I preheat the oven to 400 and line a baking sheet with foil, sprayed with non-stick spray. I slice and dice the zucchini. I also like to add a little onion or green onion for extra flavor. I sprinkle the entire mixture with smoked paprika (which can be hard to find for some reason, so regular paprika is just fine) and I drizzle the whole thing with a little olive oil. I toss it together to coat all of the vegetables.

I roast everything in the oven at 400 for 30-45 minutes or until it's softened and starting to brown.

Then I transfer it to my Vitamix. A food processor, blender, or immersion blender can also do the trick. But I love my Vitamix... that's a different story.

Once it's blended to your liking (I puree Max's foods pretty smooth, but I leave a little texture), it's ready to eat. I usually freeze it in ice cube trays and then transfer it to quart-size freezer bags for future meals.

When Max is hungry, I mix up my cubes of food to make him a meal. One of my favorite combos is 1 carrot, 1 chicken and 1 zucchini. For "dessert" Max has unsweetened applesauce. He's one happy baby and his food smells good enough for me to eat! As a matter of fact, we have an entire drawer in our new freezer dedicated to Max's meals... it's convenient for everyone.

I'm looking forward to trying out even more food combinations as Max starts feeding himself more and enjoying foods with more texture. Anyone else out there a fan of homemade baby food?

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