Non-Recipe Posts

Faith, Simplified

Since this past weekend was Easter and that meant I was busy with family (making memories and enjoying together time all weekend back at my parent’s farm and the house I grew up in) I thought I would venture back into a thought based post rather than a recipe based post. Frankly, I’m still so full from all the amazing food consumed over the weekend that I’m not up to the task of cooking quite yet 😉 Please know upfront with this post that I’m not out to convert anyone’s faith or to tell anyone who/what to believe in. What I would like to chat about is how important I wholeheartedly believe it is to have a simple faith in something.

The phases of faith…

As a mom, I’m now at the point in adulthood where I’m not only choosing to make my own faith a priority, but I’m also forming my child’s faith. This is a huge responsibility and one, quite frankly, I’m not entirely sure I’m equipped to handle. But, alas, I have faith that I was put into this role for a reason and that I will find a way to handle the responsibility.

When my daughter was an infant it was so simple to bring her to church each week nestled in her baby carrier sound asleep (after keeping us up most of the night before). It was easy to sit in the pew surrounded by fellow believers and feel that sense of community and an overwhelming need to thank someone much higher than myself for giving me such a precious gift.

Gradually, it became more and more difficult to keep up that routine of going to church each week because trying to corral (and repeatedly shh, shh, SHUSH) an overactive and ridiculously curious toddler was no easy feat. Let alone the fact that it was increasingly hard to feel that sense of belonging and gratefulness for the so-called gift of a child who was currently throwing her crayons over the pew while simultaneously shrieking for no apparent reason. It became easier to feel embarrassed of the attention drawn to us instead of the sermon and became more frustrating that I was missing the message of the day due to my child who was getting zero effects of the service.

Now, as we have entered the next phase of church-going-with-kids, it’s back to being easier because she’s school age and knows (most of the time) what appropriate behavior in church means. This, in turn, equates into me getting to hear the message again and gives me the chance to explain things now that my child is old enough to at least vaguely understand.All those frustrated mornings spent in the hard toddler phase are suddenly distant memories and I’m so glad we have kept this routine as a constant in our family’s life.

It’s ironic how easily these phases of faith in a religion can be compared to a general faith in anything. What do I mean? Consider your faith in your own abilities..one day you feel like the best mom or manager ever, the next you feel like you have no idea why you would even dream of being qualified to do that job. Depending on your current circumstances, you may find it insanely simple to think positively that everything will turn out alright after getting that tax refund or a promotion at work. Or, after a rough work week or bad news or unexpected price tag dipping into your savings, it may be just as easy to be a Debbie Downer and think that things will just keep spiraling out of control and never get better.

Same concept applies to kids and faith outside the church. Take a child’s faith in say, the Easter bunny. Simple enough to introduce that faith when they are an infant and could care less about those adorable bunny ears you perched precariously on their head for the cutest picture ever! It then goes on to be perhaps even more simple as kids go into the toddler phase and begin to grasp the concept of faith..believing that the Easter bunny will come around once a year with sweet treats for them. Then, somehow it gets difficult again, as kids get older and friends without their same faith try to shed your own child of their faith. Or, as their intelligence level climbs and suddenly things don’t add up (a giant Easter bunny who brings basket and hides eggs..really? Why wouldn’t it hide carrots?).

Believe in something..anything!

I’ve found that faith is just as important to adults as it is to kids and it’s somehow not important that faiths are the same. Meaning that some kids might not believe in Santa while others would literally fight you to defend his honor but, chances are, both those kids have total faith that their parents will pick them up from daycare/school each and every day without fail. Similarity, you may not believe that you are a good mom but your friends and family are looking at your same actions and believing you’re doing your best and doing quite well. I may attend one denomination of church while my parents attend another, but we all believe that we alone are not in charge of our lives and that there is someone/something guiding us. I don’t write in a journal or pray every day at the same time like some of my friends but you can bet your bottom dollar that if one of those friends of mine hit a rough patch then you know I will be first in line to pray for them and ask others to do the same.

Alright, I hear you, what’s the moral of this story? It really doesn’t matter what your faith is in as long as you have faith. It’s bound to be hard, then easy, then impossible, then effortless depending on the current phase of your life. It’s bound to change from time to time and it will unfailingly frustrate you when attempting to explain your faith to someone who doesn’t share that same faith. It’s alllllllll good!

That faith (whatever kind) is part of what makes you, you! Whether it makes you the parent you want to be, a rock solid work manager, or the friend that your friend needs, hang onto that faith. Personally, today I choose to have faith in myself that I’m doing the best I can, I choose to believe that prayers really do make a difference, and I choose to hope that anyone reading this will take just a moment to reflect on their faith, however simple it may be!

Simplify Extra Food!

When my husband and I got married about 7 1/2 years ago, I remember having to push fairly hard on our catering vendor to be allowed to bring home the extra food from our event (that we paid quite handsomely for might I add…). We did this after learning that the food remainders weren’t donated, they had to be thrown out. We got to taste test the food beforehand and no way was I going to let that deliciousness find it’s forever home in some dumpster behind the building! Anyone who knows me (and/or my mom) won’t be surprised to hear that we did eventually get the vendor to relent and allow us to have the extra food and cake packaged up at the end of the night for us to bring home.

I couldn’t believe it would even be a question that had to be asked…why in the world wouldn’t they want the food used? Oh yeah…liability and all that jazz. Heaven forbid someone leave the roast beef out overnight before consuming then sue the vendor for food poisoning, right? Le sigh… that’s a rant for another day 😉 Seriously though, thinking of this and also reflecting on some questions asked by followers about how to handle extra food, I realized there are so many simple ways to avoid waste that I’d love to share. A lot of the ways that I do this personally involve meal planning and budget skills along with cooking, prepping, and freezing food tips I’ve picked up over the years. I thought I’d share some insight with all of you today so we can all do our part to simplify extra food! 

Question 1: How can I avoid wasting food but still make that delicious recipe I found?

Answer 1: Let someone else do the math so you can cut that recipe down to your size!

  • Check out this website I found where you can copy in (or type out) recipe ingredients and tell it if you want the recipe doubled, cut in half, cut down to a certain portion size, etc: https://www.mykitchencalculator.com/vhowtouserecipeconverter.html
    • They even have an app so you could copy ingredients from a Pinterest recipe (or… from this very blog!) and have the new measurements at your fingertips.
  • What if you cut down a recipe but now have too many leftover ingredients? Too large of a package of chicken or too many veggies? No problem, just prep and freeze them for later. I’d recommend cooking the chicken simply with some salt & pepper & olive oil then shredding and tossing in the freezer for a simple customizable wrap or salad topper. Extra veggies? Slice or chop and freeze with some broth or olive oil so you can saute right out of the freezer.

Answer #2: Meal plan to re-purpose leftovers into a different meal that week!

  • Speaking of meal planning, let’s circle back to a previous post and use our  meal planning brains here. Making a pot roast but know you won’t want leftovers 3 times that week after enjoying the initial meal? Yeah, join the club.
    • What if you planned ahead and bought a couple extra grocery items (hoagie buns, provolone cheese, green peppers, au jus)? Just sauté those sliced green peppers and warm up some of the leftover roast beef and onions to fill the sliced hoagie buns. Top with some provolone and broil in the oven for a few minutes and serve with some au jus. Use some of those delicious leftover roast juices and/or buy one of those handy dandy gravy packets. Then dip and slosh that cheesy French dip sandwich for a messy and oh-so-satisfying twist on roast leftovers!
    • Or, prep a vegetable beef soup and use the super flavorful extra roast juice to “beef up” the soup broth and/or use the extra potatoes, onions, carrots, roast meat and toss in the soup. Same flavor profile but totally different meal. Too similar to serve in the same week? No problem! You can just prep the soup broth and freeze that or go ahead and prep the whole soup then freeze for another time! 

Question #2: I want to freeze food to reduce waste don’t know how to go about that, help?!

Answer #1: Research before making the recipe to make sure it’s able to be frozen and, if so, any tweaks may need to do!

  • There are plenty of websites and cookbooks out there with tips on what foods freeze well as well as what you should not freeze. That doesn’t mean you can’t make that meal if it has an ingredient that doesn’t freeze, it just means you need to think ahead and leave that ingredient out when prepping it. Did I lose you? Soups are an easy example.
    • Chicken noodle soup freezes really well but noodles aren’t always the best to freeze so you could prepare a large pot of soup without the noodles, freeze portions of it and make a note to just warm and add noodles.
    • Or, I personally love the homemade version of Olive Garden’s sausage, potato, and kale soup but I know that dairy isn’t always the best idea to freeze. Same idea here: make the soup but don’t add the half and half at the end. Freeze the rest of it with a note to just add half and half after warming.

Answer #2: Use your budget skills to freeze your savings!

  • Do you love saving money but avoid those great bulk meat sales because you will never need that amount of food before it inevitably will go bad? Not to fear, freezer meals are here! On a week when you have extra budget money or need fewer items so you can squeeze in that bulk purchase, go ahead and get that ridiculously large package of ground beef/chicken breasts/pork chops/etc. Depending on your level of ambition, you can either freeze the extra protein right away without prepping so you have that meat at your disposal when you need it and/or when your budget isn’t feeling so generous. OR, you can do a little prep work before freezing to save yourself not only that money later on from not having to purchase it but also save yourself the time in prepping it! Simply make up a couple of your favorite marinades and split the meat up into different vacuum sealed baggies to use later.

Answer #3: Freeze in portion sizes that work best for you!

  • When you finish out that tub of butter or cottage cheese wash the container and save it to use as freezable Tupperware. That way, you have all sorts of sizes you can pick to freeze different portions of food in. Bonus: you are reducing waste by not using disposable containers and also saving yourself the confusion later of being short on your “good” Tupperware because it’s all in the freezer 😉 Yes mom, I am finally seeing the genius of your ways and promise not to make fun of your 5 different butter containers in the fridge/freezer next time I come home!
  • Think ahead when freezing items so it saves you time later on. Freeze that sauce in the saucepan itself then slide it into a freezable bag after it has solidified so you can just take that bag out of the freezer and put it directly back into the pan when you are ready to warm it up to use for a later meal!
  • Make a double batch of time consuming items like lasagna and split that second batch into a couple different freezer meals. Freeze 2/3 of that full pan as a family size freezer meal and split the remaining 1/3 into a couple individual freezer meal portions.

Let’s ‘wrap this up’, shall we?

Do I tend to get on my soap box and start preaching on things once I get on a roll? Yep. Will I be able to sleep at night without sharing these thoughts? Nope. So, there you have it folks, I needed to get this one off my chest in the hopes it will make a difference to a few people out there. I sincerely hope some of these tips can be used (or already are being used) by you and your family. Please comment with other tips you have on this topic and, as always, thanks for reading!!!

PS – stay tuned for more family recipe posts coming soon, trying to track down origins of some of our favorites so I can give credit where credit is due ❤ 

Meal planning simplified!

I’m going to come right out and say it, I love meal planning! No, I am not crazy and yes, I do honestly mean that. I know what you’re thinking but honestly, once you get in the groove of regular meal planning you will love it too. I can say that confidently because who doesn’t love saving time, knowing not one but multiple options to have for meals, and saving money?

I have been happily married for lucky number seven years now and I can say, without a doubt, what my husband and I fight about most: what are we going to eat? Neither of us wants to decide, neither of us wants to run to the store for that one missing ingredient we need to make a meal come together, and neither of us wants to go broke from eating out every day. Ready for my simple solution? Meal planning!

Follow the steps below and yes, it really can be simple!

I started meal planning years ago when we were going through that lovely phase of life where we weren’t technically struggling but we weren’t technically not struggling. Where we had graduated college, gotten married, bought a house, and had a baby (yay us!) then realized that all those exciting accomplishments we thought made us functioning adults actually made us have student loan payments, house payments, daycare payments, etc, etc. Kind of takes the joy out of being an adult when you have to face real life doesn’t it?

Anyway, back to my earlier point of not wanting to be broke from eating out all the time. We resorted to eating out due to the earlier mentioned recurring fight of neither of us having a plan or wanting to figure out what to eat. At that stage in our life, ‘eating out’ would have consisted of some sweet dollar menu combinations and us convincing ourselves we’d start working out at home to offset all the low quality food going into our bodies…starting next week 😉

I was blessed to be raised in a family of amazing cooks and grew up in an area that didn’t have places with dollar menus. If you wanted to eat out in my hometown it was at the combination bar/bowling alley/restaurant in town and the quality of food there beats anything I’ve yet to experience from a dollar menu here where there are options around every corner. Needless to say, my body wasn’t happy switching from homemade deliciousness to frozen, flash cooked, chemical ridden fast food. I also want to point out that I do enjoy cooking and am capable of doing so, my issue has always been deciding what to cook. Thanks to meal planning, I’ve come up with simple solutions to solve all my past dilemmas!

Stacie’s Simplified Tips to Starting Meal Planning

  1. Start a note on your phone or a word doc on your computer or a draft email and list out some of your favorite meals. Get detailed here: favorite foods to order at restaurants, favorite dishes your co-workers bring to food days at work, favorite dish you ate growing up, recipes from your family, foods you’ve pinned and been meaning to try, etc. If you have others who rely on you regularly for meals (spouse, kids, in-laws, neighbors, friends, siblings, etc) make them do the same thing and send it to you so you have a master list of recipes.
  2. Take that massive list and skim it, breaking it down into major food categories. What do I mean? If you listed five cheese ziti al forno, your kid listed mac n cheese, and your hubby said spaghetti then Italian is going to be a food category you should likely include in your meal planning regularly. If you’re not big into cooking and/or a lot of your ideas tended toward minimal prep, I’d suggest including Crockpot Meal as a food category (keep it simple people!). If there are a couple favorite restaurant meals you know you just can’t replicate, how about adding Dinner Out – ________’s Choice as a category and rotating weekly who gets to choose. Keep in mind that some things are seasonal, I like to include things like Soup or Casserole for fall and winter categories and Grill Out or Salad for spring and summer. We also like to be able to bring lunch to work so I have lunch categories that are simple things such as Sandwiches or Wraps.
  3. As you are listing the food categories and/or as you meal plan each week, always have that master list of recipes handy and jot down any additional ideas that come to mind. Did you list Mexican as a food category then start craving crunchwraps or chicken enchiladas with white cheese sauce and green chiles? Add them to your master list! Each week, you can pick a couple food categories and use that master list to combine recipes without you having to think up new ideas each time (brilliant, right?).
  4. Speaking of meal planning each week, be sure to rotate out the food categories and keep it fun so you don’t get sick of Italian every Monday. If your family loves Italian as much as me and it is a staple food category almost every week, that’s fine! Find ways to keep it interesting by doing different proteins (chicken alfredo with broccoli one week then spaghetti with meatballs the next and italian sub sandwiches for another). Proteins and ingredients and variety are the real MVPs with meal planning. You can cut down on your grocery list (and cost!) drastically by meal planning smart. Say wha…? Yes, you can. I will have a new post next week titled Meal Planning Budgeting Simplified. Stay tuned for tips on how to make the most of buying in bulk, taking advantage of sales, reusing ingredients or leftovers in multiple meal plans for the week, etc!
  5. I strongly recommend marrying your two lists of food categories and recipes into one master list so it’s easier for you to pick options each week. Did I lose you? Not to worry, I just mean that if you have a Food Category of American, cut and paste all the recipes from your master list that fall into that category next to it (burgers, hot dogs, sloppy joes, etc) so you now have one large organized list you can reference each week and to as you go.
  6. If you’re someone like me who enjoys cooking and loves Pinterest, I’d suggest making Pinterest as a food category and making it a goal to make a new recipe found from there regularly as part of your meal planning. Fun right? Another great tip is to make meal planning food category boards on your Pinterest and save recipes into them so you not only have ideas readily handy, you also have the instructions and ingredient list at your fingertips. Make an Italian Food Planning Board, Crockpot Food Planning Board, etc and get to pinning! Speaking of this, I will be making food category boards on my Simplified by Stacie Pinterest page so feel free to follow me and re-pin to your own boards.
  7. Now it’s time to figure out when works for you to devote time eack week to meal planning. Yes, this seems OCD but it helps to have a schedule and stick to it. Personally, I like to meal plan on Thursdays because I’m random like that. There is a rhyme to my reasoning for this which I’ll circle back to in my final tip. I make time each Thursday to pick a couple food categories and look through my master list/brainstorm for what recipes I want to include in each category so I can make a full fledged meal plan for the week. Make sure to account for lunches, sides, snacks, desserts, etc so you have everything in one place for grocery list time. I strongly recommend keeping your meal plan list handy in the kitchen so you can reference it when you inevitably stare in the fridge after a couple days wondering why you have a pork loin (oh yeah, forgot raspberry chipotle pork loin with baked potatoes and green beans were on my meal plan!).
  8. Ok, it’s time for my final tip and (total honesty here) FAVORITE tip when it comes to meal planning. Online grocery shopping! I don’t care if you choose to utilize the delivery or pick up services (although I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to at least for the vast majority of the items on your list). Either way, download the app for your favorite grocery story and have your meal plan list for the week handy then go through your fridge and pantry and start adding all the ingredients you’ll need for the week on the app. This changed my life with how simple it made meal planning AND grocery shopping. Pull up recipes for any meals you aren’t familiar with and make sure you have enough of each ingredient (got a cream based soup planned for Wednesday? Make sure you have enough milk for that AND your kid’s cereal each morning). As you go through each meal you’ve got planned, you’ll realize a lot of the ingredients for them overlap which cuts down on your groceries. The real genius behind this is that you now know how much you are spending, you’re only getting what you need, and you’re avoiding multiple trips to the store which saves you time. Remember when I said I like to meal plan on Thursdays and you were thinking to yourself that I’m off my rocker? I do that because then I’m at home while going through my fridge & pantry and starting my grocery list. The next morning, I have everything saved on that app and head to work only to realize I forgot I’m in charge of snacks for my daughters class this month and need to add a bulk package of cheese sticks. No worries, I just pull up my app, add them to the list and submit it for pick up after work that day. Having the groceries Friday night allows me time to meal prep over the weekend when I have more free time-it’s a win win for me and hopefully will be for you too once you figure out what works best with your schedule!

Thanks for reading and overlooking all my rookie mistakes as this is (very obvious I’m sure) my first blog post ever and I have no idea what I’m doing. My only hope with this first rambling post is that it made enough sense for you to follow and maybe made the thought of meal planning seem less daunting and help you realize it really can be simple!