Make Ahead Father’s Day Menu

Father’s Day is just on the horizon! In my family, we have a string of mom’s birthday, Mother’s Day, Dad’s birthday, Father’s Day. It’s a whole spring of special days! And I don’t know about you, but at our house, Sunday’s can be a little bit crazy–or at least Sunday mornings. My husband and I get up early to be at worship rehearsal (thankfully the kids are old enough to dress and feed themselves), I co-lead the first half of the service, we visit with folks a bit, and by the time we make it home we’re beat.

The LAST thing I want to do is make a giant meal.

So throughout the winter months, I got into the habit of crockpot Sunday dinners or make ahead meals like this one. Just find a day when you have a moment to put a few things together and pop them in the freezer for Sunday. Take a freezer meal out to thaw before you leave for church or overnight in the frig. I even use my programmable oven (LOVE this thing) to come on at a set time and gently warm our food so it’s ready when we walk through the door!

Since I didn’t want to be stuck in the kitchen all Saturday or Sunday, I put the majority of our Father’s Day meal together on Thursday this week. BBQ meatloaf (cause it’s a man’s meal–and there must be much meat), twice baked cheddar bacon potatoes and green beans (which I’ll just pop out of their jars and season up right before we eat).

meatloaf and potatoes

In the interest of helping us all work smarter in the kitchen, I thought I’d share my strategies for getting it done quickly, easily and with as many layers of flavor as possible.

  • Always start with the bacon. If ANY part of your meal includes the need to brown up some bacon, do that first. I diced up a bit and browned it in my big cast iron pan. After I removed the brown pieces with a slotted spoon, I used that same pan to soften and brown the onion, pepper and garlic for the meatloaf. That equals extra savory bacon flavor in the meatloaf without adding any actual bacon (cause it’s expensive and I’ve got to make it stretch). To get even more mileage from that nicely seasoned pan, I made that night’s dinner frittata in it as well.
  • Make your oven do double (or triple) duty. Whenever it’s possible, I try to condense the time my oven is on. It’s energy and money that I’m saving, not to mention heating up the house in the summer. That means I’ll bake up an entire week of muffins at once. Or I’ll do two loaves of sourdough at the same time. For this meal, it was as easy as popping the baked potatoes on the top rack and the meatloaf on the lower. Another tip–if you’re using two or more racks at once, especially for baked goods like cookies or muffins, set your timer for just half the baking time and switch the trays half way through to get more even results. 
  • Use the “flash freeze” method for individual items. For the twice baked potatoes, I scooped out the baked potato skins, seasoned them and mixed them with butter and cheddar and bacon, spooned the filling back into the shells and put them on a flexible mat in the freezer–uncovered and with space between them. A couple hours later, they were hard and ready to put into a freezer bag. So Sunday I can easily pull them out and warm them in the oven. Flash freezing keeps things from sticking together (like berries) and keeps ice crystals from building up.

If you have the time and ingredients today, why not get ahead for your weekend? Here’s some other easy make ahead meals that Dad is sure to love…

  • Lasagna or other pasta bake
  • Chicken fried steak strips
  • Spinach bacon quiche (yes, men do eat quiche!)
  • Spaghetti (prep the sauce today and just boil pasta on Sunday)
  • Pulled BBQ chicken or pork (can even let the slow cooker do all the work!)
  • Steak hoagies (brown the meat, peppers and onions today and just assemble later)

I’m sure there’s a slew of others. I’ll also be making my dad a special dessert and my daughter and I will be baking up some treats for my husband. But Sunday’s dinner is out of the way and tucked in the freezer!

What special treats are YOU making this weekend?


My Verdict on Whole 30

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was starting out on a food challenge known as Whole30. A quick recap–it’s an elimination diet that excludes most inflammatory foods like grains, dairy, sugar and most starches. It’s very Paleo-like.

The whole point of this (for me) was to overcome some tummy upset I had developed after a necessary round of meds, lose that bloated feeling and hopefully improve a few areas like energy, PMS and skin health.

So how did it go?

Overall, I was really happy with the program and results for me. I had two major improvements. First, the tummy issues went away rather quickly. I had been dealing with the fallout of antibiotics and my belly was grumbling at everything. So taking out foods like gluten and sugar and uncultured dairy for a time, while enjoying my probiotic rich coconut milk kefir, did wonders for digestion.

kefir

Second, I had a ton more energy. Which was especially helpful since we were in that time of year when you’re trying to wrap up school, there are a thousand performances to attend, and there’s a ton to do outside.

But to give you the nitty gritty of my humble opinion, I thought I’d do a little pro and con list for you.

The Pros of Whole30

If I had to pick the biggest perk of this eating plan, it would have to be the veggies. If you’re doing it right (and not having bacon as the center piece of every meal) then the bulk of what you’re eating involves vegetables. I had veggie fritters and salads and slaw. I ate seared cauliflower and sauteed zucchini with pasta sauce and grilled peppers and onions. I made sweet potato hash and butternut squash fries.

I ate a LOAD more veggies than what might normally cross my plate. Lots of vegetables that deliver a ton of benefits. More vitamins and minerals from real food sources. More fiber. Less bloating bulk. And I begin to think that some of the results that I (and others) have on this diet aren’t so much from the things you don’t eat, but from all the new things you are eating.

I also believe that the uptake in energy had a lot to do with the increase in vegetables. Usually, if I go without my beloved multi vitamin for more than a few days, I feel a significant decrease in my energy. But while I was on this eating plan, I frequently forgot, with no loss at all.

slaw prep

Other positive things I noticed:

  • The skin on my face cleared up
  • I slept a good bit better
  • My moods were more even, probably because the meals kept me fuller, longer and evened out my blood sugar.
  • My sugar cravings went significantly down.
  • I lost a few pounds (and I didn’t really have the time to exercise much)
  • Some PMS symptoms were a little better (though I’m figuring you’d have to do a whole lot more than a month to see long term changes there)
  • I was a lot more mindful about what I was eating. No mindless noshing on whatever is closest, whether I’m hungry or not.

 

The Cons

But to be completely honest, there were a few drawbacks for me.

  • Having to plan, plan and plan some more. It became a little mentally draining to have to think that hard about what I ate constantly. I suppose for folks who eat this way all the time, it become second nature.
  • Making separate food for me. The entire family was not eating this way. And although I tried to plan dinners that were easy for me to adapt, I was still doing an extra step a lot of the time.
  • The detox period. You have to weather the first few days when your body is crying out for sugar or wheat or whatever. I had a non-stop splitting headache for about four days. Now, I think a detox is good for all of us every now and then. None of us need to be addicted to certain foods. But you should just be aware that it can be rough at first.
  • Not baking! I LOVE to bake, and the Whole30 program discourages you from baking even Paleo versions of your favorite baked goods. The idea is to have you stop associating a certain treat with the way you feel. So even if it’s a brownie sweetened with honey and made with almond flour, it’s still out for a time. Fortunately, I was still baking for customers who ordered bread and for my kiddos. Cause yes, I have a NEED to bake. (And no, I didn’t sample.)
  • The price tag. I know there are people out there who say that healthy diets don’t have to cost more. But in reality, they usually do. Coconut milk costs more than regular dairy. Meat costs more than beans and rice. And a cart full of veggies (even in season ones) will usually run more than pasta or sacks of flour. I did a number on my grocery budget that month, and it was only one of us eating this way. Yes, your health and quality food is worth the investment. But the bottom line is the bottom line. And if you only have so much in the bank, then that’s what you’ve got to work with. (To that end, I’m putting together a little post of the biggest bang for your buck veggies.)

dinner

So, was it worth it? I’d say, yes. Yes it was. It was very good to break the sugar cycle, remind myself to eat mindfully and to increase my veggie intake. And everyone loves it when their jeans are a little roomier.

What I’ll keep in my back pocket are lots more meals of grilled veggies (after all, grilling season is in full swing!), salads from the garden and saving the sweets for special occasions. (Unfortunately, getting the kids in bed does NOT constitute a special occasion.)

What about you?

Ever done an elimination diet? What was your verdict on the experience?

 

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Lemon Blueberry Muffins (with gluten and dairy free options)

*This post is linked up with Gluten Free & DIY Tuesdays at Allergy Free Alaska and Jeanie of the Baking Beauties. Check it out!

I was having a bit of a diva in the kitchen fit that Saturday. I had declared the night before, in no uncertain terms, that I was NOT going to bake anything in the morning. I was tired. My feet hurt. And it was time (I again declared with great flare) that the children learn to do for themselves a bit more at meal times.

So there. I sure told them. (Hangs head in shame.)

I got up the next morning and made my coffee. I threw together a pan of scrambled eggs (cause I was hungry, mind you–and note there was still no baking).

But then the blueberries in the frig caught my eye. And the wheels started spinning. I remembered the leftover lemon glaze in the frig from a scone order I’d made. The NEED started building. Cause sometimes a girl needs warm fluffy muffins studded with fresh blueberries and lemon zest. Yes need.

So I looked up a few recipes and found one that I had all the ingredients for (Yay!) and I could adapt for my daughter’s food allergies. (It wasn’t totally about me.)

 

blueberry muffins 1

 

This is the gluten/dairy free version I made that morning. For the fluffiest and yummiest texture, I really recommend the flour ratio I used. If you have some other gf mix you’d like to use, feel free, just note that I can’t say for sure what it will be like.

(This recipe is adapted from this one at Heavenly Homemakers. While I’m at it, I’d highly recommend you check out this blog. Super encouraging, practical, and everything Laura makes is real food and tasty!)

blueberry muffins 2

Lemon Blueberry Muffins (gluten and dairy free)

blueberry muffin thumbnail

  • 1 1/2 cups flour (I used a mix of 1/2 cup almond flour, 1/2 cup sorghum flour–millet would work well too–and 1/2 cup tapioca starch. Couldn’t even tell it was gluten free!)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 melted coconut oil (or butter)
  • 3/4 cup coconut milk (I buy this brand) + TB lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup blueberries
  • Zest 1 Lemon, plus the juice
  • powdered sugar (enough to make a glaze, about 1 cup)

In a large mixing bowl, whisk all the dry ingredients (including the lemon zest) together until well blended. In another, smaller bowl, whisk together egg, melted oil (make sure it’s not too hot) and coconut milk plus the TB lemon juice. Add the wet into the dry and mix well. Gently fold in the blueberries. Divide the batter among the muffin tins (makes 10-12 muffins). Make sure they are well greased or use paper liners. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until tops begin to brown slightly and a toothpick comes out clean. (Keep in mind that gf baked goods don’t often brown as much as wheat.)

Carefully remove the muffins to a cooling rack after they’ve baked. Juice your lemon into a small bowl and whisk in enough powdered sugar to get a thick, but pour-able glaze. Once the muffins have cooled completely, drizzle with the glaze. Allow the glaze to harden up a bit before serving–but I have to confess I didn’t posses the self control to wait that long!

So, yeah, I ended up baking anyway. Which no one was really all that shocked about. And now we will enjoy these muffins repeatedly while the fresh blueberries are in season. And I promise I’ll try to be a little nicer :). 

 

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Our Favorite Afternoon Treat–Almond Banana Chocolate Pops

 

popsicle

This post is part of Gluten Free & DIY Tuesday at Allergy Free Alaska and The Baking Beauties. And also at Pennywise Platter Thursdays at The Nourishing Gourmet.

It’s getting hot out there folks! We’ve been practically living outside the last couple weeks. And with all this heat and activity, my people need a cool, refreshing, and filling snack. I’d like it if it were on the frugal side and super low in added sugar.

This little treat fits the bill. You can make it allergy friendly. Whips up incredibly fast. Creamy and it’s surprisingly sweet even though we don’t add any sugar to it!

It’s more of a method than an exact recipe, so play with it until you find the perfect version for your family!

Almond Banana Chocolate Pops

  • 1-2 frozen bananas, broken into smaller pieces (I probably end up with a total of 1 1/2 bananas, but I just pull chunks out of the freezer that I’ve put in there previously. Great use for over ripe bananas!)
  • 2 rounded tablespoons of almond butter (or nut butter of choice)
  • 2 rounded tablespoons of cocoa powder
  • tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • milk (dairy, coconut or almond)

Break out your blender and add all ingredients except the milk. Pour in the milk until it’s nearly 1/2 to 3/4 the amount of other ingredients (The amount of milk you’ll need depends on how powerful your blender is. You’ll want something in the end that’s really thick–like a stiff milkshake–but still pour-able. If you’re blender is on the wimpy side and you have to add more milk to get it moving, don’t worry, it will still be great!)

Blend on high until it’s moving around in there pretty good and all the ingredients are well combined. Give it a taste. We find that it gets plenty of sweetness from the banana and vanilla. But if it’s not quite enough for you, feel free to add a drizzle of maple syrup or stevia powder and blend some more.

Adjust the flavors to your hearts content!

Pour the mixture into popsicle molds (Don’t have any? These are a good buy.) Freeze for a few hours and then enjoy!

And totally off topic…I thought I’d be totally real and show off the piles of yard sale stuff in the background of my daughter’s picture. Your welcome.

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Feeding a Crowd of Kids–the Nacho Bar

In case you can’t tell, I love feeding people. I’m kind of like that little old lady in The Wedding Singer who got excited watching Adam Sandler eat her homemade meatballs. (Except I don’t rap. If you haven’t seen the movie–never mind.)

And believe it or not, I like my kids’ friends. (A perk of homeschooling is having a little more input in the friend department.) Middle schoolers were always my favorite group to teach way back when and I like having a crowd of kids in my house from time to time.

Abby had some of her friends over for a birthday celebration recently. And I gotta feed them, right?

There are a few tricks to this whole thing. There are different diets. Different tastes. Different appetites. Plus, I wanted something super simple that was make ahead friendly, easy on the budget, and nutritious to boot.

nacho bar

Nacho Bar to the rescue. This is crazy easy, people. Brown up a load of seasoned ground beef (being generous with salt, pepper, chili, garlic and onion powder). Add some bowls of shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa, guacamole and a big ole bunch of chips (I do like to choose organic for tortilla chips) and you’re done! Let the kids dig in and help themselves.

They can customize their plate to their hearts’ content. They can easily get seconds. So simple, I actually have time to eat.

And if you want to be super lazy (like me) you can buy pre-shredded cheese and jarred salsa. (I know I usually do that myself. But every once in a while isn’t going to hurt anyone.)

nacho bar 2

I did actually make the guacamole myself. Cause anyone can smash an avocado.

taco salad

Everyone’s bellies were happily full and all I had to do to clean up was put a bunch of bowls in the dishwasher. Yay! Another victory in low stress entertaining.

How do you feed a crowd of kids?

* Want another easy entertaining idea? Check out the Sandwich Bar post!


What I’ve Been Eating On My Whole30 Journey

whole30 collage

Last week, I came out and told you that I was beginning a eating plan known as Whole30 to help me reset my cravings and deal with some other pesky issues. I know you’ve been breathlessly waiting to find out what I’ve been eating these days. Right? Well, if not, I understand. No hard feelings. However I would encourage you to read on. Because whether you’re on a specific eating plan or not, we can all benefit from this type of food.

All the Creative Options

Once I started looking into this idea, and doing a little recipe research, I quickly realized that I had been in a recipe rut. My creative dinner mojo was missing. So it was a little exciting to do some looking around and find so many tasty options. Because, yes, I could easily eat salad for just about every meal, but this lady needs a little culinary interest. Creating in the kitchen, playing with new flavors, trying a new vegetable–it all energizes me and makes me forget all about that block of cheese calling to me from the frig…almost.

The Prep

The first day or two of this little plan, I went shopping. Actually, I went shopping a lot. I bought veggies. Eggs. Meat. Berries. Then, a day or two later, I got a little more. You know, just in case. I made piles of my Veggie Bacon Fritters (you can’t hate a plan that involves bacon) and salmon patties and froze about half of them. I shredded a big bag of cabbage, carrots and radishes for a quick and easy slaw. I cooked up a few jars of our garden green beans. I put a big old turkey breast in the crockpot and then made broth the next day.

slaw prep

veggie patties

I (shamefully) began to realize that perhaps my worst fear in this whole thing was running out of food.

But that’s the truth, isn’t it? The worst thing that can happen is coming home from a long day, starving, and having no options for you except that dang loaf of bread staring at you. Taunting you. Then you cave in. Then you beat yourself up.

A little planning and prep work can help a lot.

Dinner Strategies

dinner

Sometimes, I feel like a short order cook around here. Especially at lunch. One thing for my oldest two. Another (or a variation) for my youngest (because of her food allergies). We watch my niece most days, and…well…you might just say she’s a little picky. (I count about 4 things she’ll eat for me.) And then, finally, about a billion minutes after I get everyone else settled, then I eat.

Lunch is one thing. But I am not going to do that for dinner. No way. Especially with afternoon activities or errands just about every day. So at dinner time, I employ a strategy like I shared in this postFor instance, one night we had these amazing chicken legs. I made some slaw with Asian dressing, and baked potatoes for everyone else. I had a sweet potato. Doesn’t get easier than that. 

When they had veggie fried rice, I just had a heap of the veggie part (didn’t hurt that there were yummy bits of ground pork and eggs in there too). When they had nachos, I had a taco salad, sans chips.

Little substitutions. Almost no extra work. And I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.

My favorite new discoveries

Coconut milk kefir. Mmm. If you’ve never had kefir, think yummy, creamy smoothie (when you blend in some fruit) that packs a huge probiotic punch. My mom has been making kefir for her and my dad for a few weeks now. She has these awesome mutant kefir grains that keep multiplying to infinity. She kindly agreed to make some coconut milk kefir for me (since I’m off the dairy variety for now). I blend it up with some frozen strawberries and blueberries and slurp it up with breakfast or as an afternoon treat. No extra sweetener required, because the coconut milk is a little sweet and the berries take care of the rest.

kefir

Sweet potato hash. I have to give credit yet again to nomnompaleo for this one. Shredded sweet potatoes fried in clarified butter. I added minced onion and grated in some fresh ginger. So good. With just about anything.

sweet potato hash

I’m only a couple weeks into this thing. But, hey, I’m half-way there! It seems to be definitely worth it for me. At the end, I’ll let you know all the benefits I’ve reaped. But for now, as I sit and sip on my kefir, I’ll enjoy the journey.

And learn some new tricks in the kitchen along the way. 

 

What favorite food “discoveries” have you made on a new eating plan?


Abby’s 12th Birthday Party (and a solution to my cake woes!)

abby's 12th

When it comes to kitchen gadgets, I like to keep things simple. I DO NOT like uni-taskers. I dislike them so much that I was actually excited to discover that my pastry blender also works great chopping eggs for egg salad.

But Abby got one of those dang uni-taskers for her birthday. It’s one of those cake pop makers. (affiliate link) Like a little waffle maker (also a uni-tasker I have a love/hate relationship with) but it makes small round balls of…well, cake.

She thought it was a load of fun though, so I relented. And then shortly thereafter, I had an evil, brilliant idea.

But first, a little backstory. I love to bake. LOVE IT. Give me a sack of flour and I’m a happy girl. Bread, scones, muffins, cookies, biscuits, pizza dough…I crank ’em out in rapid fashion, all week long. But there is one thing that is my baking Kriptonite.

Cakes.

I just can’t seem to make a really good cake. They’re either too dry or too dense or the crumb isn’t right. (Fortunately I rock in the buttercream department, so I can hide the crummy cake well.) Also, I really don’t love any fancy cake decorating projects. Cake Boss I am not. Makes me want to take a sedative just thinking about it. I’d rather just slather the icing on and call it done.

Back to the little cake pop thingy. What if, I thought, what if we made a bunch of those little cake pops and let the girls decorate them? You know, as part of the “party activities?” Then I wouldn’t have to really make a *cake* and they’d have fun!

plain cake pop

Yes! This little uni-tasker was going to come to my cake rescue. So, we made about a billion little cake balls (With a mix. Judge if you want. My sanity was worth it.). We picked up some sticks and sprinkles at the store. That afternoon I whipped up a few different colored glazes and some chocolate ganache. Then we laid out the spread and the kids dove in.

sprinkles

 

icing glaze

It was messy. (I think I’m still finding sprinkles all over my house.) It was crazy. It was without any redeeming nutritional value. But it was fun!

And other fun

Cake pops weren’t the only thing decorated that night. We also had a pedicure party complete with fashionable toe separators (do those things have an actual name?) and fancy files for everyone to take home.

nail polish

My house smelled like a salon. We may have lost some brain cells.

pedicures

I really do love the kids’ birthday parties at this age. Once they get to a certain point, you don’t have to entertain them so much anymore. No one cries because their balloon got popped. We’ve come a long way from Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

All around, I’d call the evening a success.

Especially since I escaped cake making.

 

Out with it. What’s your baking Kriptonite?