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How to Meal Plan: The Empowered Cook Way *Free eCourse*

Would you like to learn how to meal plan for your family? I will share my top tips for meal planning in this article, and I also have a free email eCourse for you – that will walk you through each step to get a meal plan done for your family.

Meal Planning forms part of the foundation of my kitchen. Learning how to meal plan was a game changer for me. Yes, my Mum had shown me the basics – but it wasn’t until I created a system that I really saw the effects of meal planning in my kitchen and for my family.

Would you like to learn how to meal plan for your family? I have a free eCourse that you can join where I walk you through the very simple steps to add meal planning to your kitchen rhythm. It includes a daily email with a 10 minute task each day - and a bunch of free meal planning printables!

Meal plans save you time. Meal plans save you money. And they save you Thinking Time.

You know what I mean by that last one? This is the critical one for me. Walking in the door after work, and NOT having to think about what we’re going to have for dinner is very important for me.

Yes, it does mean that I need to dedicate some time during the week to actually meal plan. But really, this can take me about 15mins. And I think that is a good investment of my time.

I have however found meal planning onerous in the past. I used to sit down with a pile of cookbooks or magazines and dream about the meals I could cook during the week: an italian inspired pasta dish with a smooth creamy sauce served with a side of greens and some crusty bread. But then when it came to the day I’d scheduled this meal, I would have had a crap (I mean intense) day at work, and my train home was delayed – and then I’d check the fridge to find the greens had wilted and I had forgotten to buy cream. Those are the nights we used to end up with take-away or a pub meal.

Now that we have Oliver though (our little boy), we can’t really just duck down to the local pub for a meal (oh how I miss those nights!). I need to be more organised – but more importantly, I need it to actually work.

So I researched. I tried many different meal planning tips and tricks. And now I have a pretty good system.

So how do we do it?

It is a simple 3-step process: Family Favourites, Inventories, and Meal Plan.

But most importantly – it is about creating a habit. Meal Planning can be great – but you really need to embed the steps into your weekly rhythm of your kitchen.

So – to help you really embrace how to meal plan for your family – I’ve created a free eCourse to walk you through the process, simply and easily.

Simply click on the image below to sign up. I’ll need your email address to get started. The content is delivered over 7 days – with a new email each day. I will give you simple steps to complete – taking around 10 mins a day.

By the end of the 7 days, you’ll have a Meal Plan for your family. AND you’ll know the system that you need to repeat to create another meal plan.

Please come along and join us. I’d love to have you.

You can join the eCourse here.

Join The Empowered Cook FREE Meal Planning eCourse

And don’t forget to jump on over to The Empowered Cook facebook page or Instagram account and share some photos of your meal plans! I’d love to hear how you go!

 

How to Eat Brussels Sprouts

Knowing how to eat Brussels Sprouts is important. No more soggy, boiled sprouts. No one likes those. Brussels Sprouts can be delicious – you just need to know how to eat them.

I grew up with steamed or boiled sprouts. I still ate them. But not many others did.

Today I’ll share my favorite options for how to eat Brussels Sprouts. Even if you try just one – do it. Buy some sprouts and enjoy them. You’ll be surprised.

Three delicious options for how to eat Brussels Sprouts - stir-fry, roast and hash. All easy and fast - to help your family eat their Brussels Sprouts!

#1 – Stir-Fried Brussels Sprouts

When I was at University, I lived with a Thai flatmate for a while and she made the most delicious sprouts. They were stir-fried with garlic and fish sauce – and served with rice. Wow. I still salivate thinking about them.

You’ll need to chop up your Brussels Sprouts for this one. I chop the bottom off, and then slice into quarters. Yes, the leaves may fall off – but that’s ok. You’ll also need to chop about 4 cloves of garlic.

To cook: start by heating your wok (or frypan) until hot, and then add a dash of oil (I use rice bran oil or coconut). Add your Brussels Sprouts and stir-fry until they are softer but still crunchy. Add your garlic and quickly stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Then season with fish sauce. About a tablespoon is how I like it. Alternatively, you can use some soy sauce.

Serve immediately over some steamed rice.

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

#2 – Roasted Brussels Sprouts

While working on the options for how to eat Brussels Sprouts – I knew I needed to include a roasted option. This is probably my favourite way to eat them. Firstly, because it is easy. And secondly, because I’ve had success with others this way. My little one is still pretty hesitant – but he has eaten them this way.

To roast them, I cut the bottoms off, and slice in half. I put these on the tray (lined with baking paper) and then drizzle with a good amount of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. You can throw on some garlic cloves if you like too.

Roast in a hot oven (200 degrees celsius) until crispy brown on the edges.

I particularly like these served with something creamy. They are super delicious served alongside a creamy pasta – like a macaroni and cheese. Trust me. They are yum.

Also – feel free to simply add Brussels Sprouts to your tray of roast vegetables. Nestled among potatoes, pumpkin and carrots – they are a great addition of greens and another bonus option for how to eat Brussels Sprouts.

#3 – Brussels Sprouts and Bacon Hash

Bacon makes everything taste better, doesn’t it? Adding bacon can entice even the most hesitant family member to try these.

To improve my chance of success even more – I like to make hash. This means shredding everything up, nice and fine and cooking into a big delicious mess.

To make this dish, I shred my Brussels Sprouts in a food processor using the grater attachment. You can finely slice them by hand of course, but the food processor just makes the prep faster.

I also slice some leek (or onion), and some garlic. Chop a few slices of bacon too.

In a hot frypan, add a little olive oil and start to cook your bacon. After a couple of minutes, add your leek or onion. Cook until the onion is soft. Next – add your garlic, quickly followed by the Brussels Sprouts. Now, keep stirring this, but press it down as you cook it. You want the sprouts to fry off in the bacon fat, and to start to crisp up.

This should take around 10 minutes or so.

I like to serve this hash with a poached egg. Again, the runny egg yolk with the bacon becomes the dominant flavour – and the Brussels Sprouts simply become a dose of green in the background. Really yum.

How do you eat your Brussels Sprouts? What do you think of my options? Are you going to give it a go? Add it to your weekly meal plan? Tell me in the comments below.

Waste Not, Want Not: Tips to Reduce Waste in the Kitchen

I am here to help you reduce waste in the kitchen. Did you catch the show War on Waste on the ABC last week? If you didn’t – go watch it on iView. Seriously. It will change the way you think about food and the wastage that we all perpetuate.

Unless you grow your vegies and compost everything, you are probably part of the problem and therefore part of the solution.

We are wasting tonnes of food each year. The average family wastes multiple tonnes a year. This was mind-blowing to me. I’d like to think that I am at the lower end – but if that is the case, that means that there are families that waste more than us.

So – how do we change? How do we reduce waste in the kitchen?

The Empowered Cooks shares tips on how to reduce waste in the kitchen. Meal Planning, Pantry Organisation, Shopping at the butcher - and more!

Here’s some useful tips to employ in your life, in your kitchen and with your family.

#1 – Get Organised

This sounds scary and big – but really it’s not. Simply having an organised fridge, freezer and pantry will mean that you can see what you have available – and that means that you are even more likely to use it.

My guide to Setting up a Pantry walks you through this process, step by step. It even talks about basic stock control processes like keeping the older items at the front of the shelf, and stocking newer items at the back. Simple processes like these will mean that your kitchen runs more efficiently – and you will reduce waste in the kitchen. No more tossing that expired packet of pasta. You’ll have seen it and noticed it – so you’ll likely have used it before it expires.

Plus – keeping your fridge and freezer running in the same fashion will mean less wastage too. Having room to store leftovers, to cook in bulk and to freeze those items before they hit expiry – is a big ticket to reduced waste.

#2 – Meal Plan

Groan. Fairly obvious right? Yes. But you need to do more than just simply plan what you are going to eat during the week.

You need to make sure that before you meal plan, you do a full assessment of what is in your fridge and freezer and pantry. Don’t go writing some fancy meal on your meal plan if you have a pack of chicken in the fridge that needs to be eaten. Meat wastage is possibly the worse of the lot – an animal lost its life to feed you, and if you waste that – then that is terribly sad for that animal. Not to mention disrespectful.

So – use what you have. Start from there, and create meal plans around what you have on hand. I do this every week – and it means we still eat a variety, but it also means that we have good turnover in our stockpile.

If you are after more tips on meal planning, then come read my post on the best way to start meal planning.

#3 – Use (and eat!) those leftovers

Leftovers can be super boring, I know. But not if you USE them – rather than just serve them up again the next night – or worse, leave them in the fridge untouched.

I like to do two things with my leftovers:

Lunch the next day

This is our first option. We will take the food for our lunches the next day where we can. It will also form part of my little one’s lunchbox where possible too. He loves a little bit of mashed potato in his lunchbox 🙂

We’ll freeze for another time

Sometimes you just don’t feel like eating the same thing again – or you’ve made a double batch of something. So – freeze what is left.

We will also freeze these in appropriately sized containers. I have some small rectangular PYREX 3 cup dishes that we use for single serve dishes – so we’ll package up the leftovers just like we would pack a lunch – just enough for one person. And then we’ll label and freeze it. This makes a great lunch for work. Or a combination dinner one night when we feel like eating different meals.

If there is more than just a single serve left, we will simply pop this in a larger container, and freeze a family size portion. The key to this is to only store in a single size for your family – and to label it. That way, you know what size the portion is without having to guess.

By doing these things, we rarely have leftovers that go to waste. And generally it will only be because we’ve been slack and haven’t packaged it up – or we’ve changed our minds about lunch. Poor excuses, but they do happen.

#4 – Keep a Scrap Bag for Stock

Do you make your own stock? I hope so! Such a money saver! And so good for you.

But do you do this?

I keep a large snap lock bag in my freezer – and I simply fill this with veggie scraps. Think carrot peel, onion ends, celery tops, broccoli ends. When the bag is full, I add the contents to a big pot and fill it with water. Simmer this for a while and you will have a delicious vegetable stock. Add chicken bones and you’ll have chicken stock. Super delicious – and you’ve not wasted anything.

#5 – Shop Outside the Mainstream

Go back to your roots. Go back to the weekly grocery shop at the butcher, and the green grocer, and maybe even the fishmonger. Seek out a quality butcher that you trust. My Mum always said you could tell a good butcher by his sausages – so maybe start there (it’s only now, as I write that, that I wonder if that was an euphemism and I have maybe taken it literally! lol).

How often as a kid did you go to a single big supermarket? I rarely did. We always went to the butcher and the bakery. And then to the fruit and veggie shop. And last, we went to the local grocery store.

It’s time to go back to basics. Shopping at the butcher will mean that you have less packaging – they’ll simply wrap your food in paper – or at most, with a single plastic bag. You’ll likely find that they’ll give you a single chop if you need it – so need to buy 4 if you’re only cooking for one. They’ll also give you access to all the cuts of meat too – not just the pretty popular ones that the supermarket stocks.

The same goes for your fruit and veggie shop – you can buy as little or as much as you want. And you’ll find the variety is larger and more suited to your local area. There isn’t a franchise watching over your shoulder on what you’re selling.

So next time – skip the mainstream. Head to your local butcher, and try their sausages.

Got more tips to reduce waste in the kitchen? Tell me in the comments below.

How to Organise your Kitchen to Help Get Dinner on the Table

Getting dinner on the table every night is a challenge. Cooking something wholesome and homemade – that the family will eat – is just hard sometimes. The Empowered Cook is all about sharing simple strategies that will help this process. Whether that be recipes, or freezer cooking tips, or meal planning inspiration – I am ultimately here to help you get dinner on the table. How to organise your kitchen is a good place to start.

The Empowered Cook shares how to organise your kitchen to help get dinner on the table. An organised kitchen will make your cooking easier and faster.

Today I’m sharing my top tips to organise your kitchen. Having an organised space to cook your meals will help you get dinner on the table. It makes everything you do more efficient – and therefore easier, and faster. It is also much more appealing to cook in a clean, clear space. Trust me.

How to organise your kitchen – here we go.

#1 – Locate Utensils Near the Stove

Keep things where you use them. Simple. I have a big pot next to my stove. In there – I keep everything that I use for the stove: wooden spoons, egg flip, spatulas, tongs. They are right there, so that when I need them – I can easily grab one. It is much easier to grab from a pot, than to rummage in a drawer to find what I need.

#2 – Use Compartments in “THAT” Drawer

Everyone has one. A mess of a drawer. Where things fall out when you open it. Where all the lost items in your house go to die.

I have found that I can deal with “THAT” drawer by popping in some small containers – to create compartments. This has meant that I can divide the mess. And by dividing the mess, it is actually easier to make less of a mess. Give it a go.

#3 – Declutter, Declutter, Declutter

Do you really need an egg slicer? How often do you really slice eggs? I mean, really?

Go through you drawers and remove everything you haven’t used in the last few months. Donate it, throw it out – whatever works. But just remove it from your kitchen – and your life.

You will be surprised by how much you can actually toss. And you will be surprised how your ingenuity will come into play. Like when you next need to slice eggs (maybe just use a knife!).

#4 – Embrace and Be Ready for Leftovers

Store your leftover containers close to where you clean up after dinner. Always have a good supply, ready to go. A couple of years ago, I invested in some glass containers for single serve meals for the freezer. Best thing I’ve bought in a long time. I bought 12 – they are 3 cup in size and Pyrex brand – this is not a sponsored post. I just really love them. They are the perfect size for single serve leftovers. And for my family of 2 adults and a toddler – they also hold the perfect amount of a casserole or similar. I bought mine here – but google and see if you can find a good deal.

#5 – Have Blank Labels and a Pen in the Kitchen

Following on from embracing those leftovers, you need to be able to accurately record what is in those containers. Or else, you’ll likely stumble across a frozen block of something brown in a few months time and have no recollection.

I use the small white labels that you can buy pretty much anywhere. They are cheap and easy to use – and will easily wash off.

But you can just as easily use a roll of masking tape.

Just make sure you use a permanent marker – so it doesn’t wash off.

#6 – 3 Step Rule

This is probably one for those of us who have the option to reorganise our kitchen layout. If you don’t, feel free to skip to the next tip!

When organising the layout of your kitchen – follow the 3 step rule. One step from fridge to sink to stove. This is the best way to use the space. It makes cooking and cleaning far more efficient. You’ll find the best kitchens follow this principal in some way – pay attention next time you see a kitchen you love.

#7  Herbs, Spices, Oils – store near the stove.

I keep these all close to the stove. This is where I use them – so it makes sense that they are close by. Just like tip #1 – keep them where you use them.

#8 – Make Cleaning Easy

Store all your cleaning supplies in easy reach. Paper towels, dish cloths, tea towels, hand towels – there should be a good supply of these. I keep all of mine under our kitchen sink. I have them in baskets mainly – so that they are kept neat and tidy. Pinterest has some great inspiration for this sort of thing.

Your main goal should be to have enough clean tea towels and dish cloths that you can use a clean one every day. At the end of the night, as part of our night time routine, I will completely wipe down the sink and the kitchen bench. I’ll then lay out some clean linens – and pop the others in the wash. This is a really nice way to wake up the morning.

#9 – Pot Holders Ready!

Where do you keep your pot holder?

Mine is on the handle of the stove. And I have a couple of other ones in the cupboard with the saucepans. They are close by – and easy to grab quickly. Safety first!

#10 – Put a Pinnie On!

Always have an apron ready. I own a number of aprons – and I always wear one. On the rare occasion that I don’t – I will bet my bottom dollar that I will somehow splatter something on my clothes. My little one even has his own apron – and he will put it on before helping me with dinner. Teaching the next generation, I am.

What tip are you going to try first? Tell me below!

 

Recipe: Sausage Rolls

This week, I am sharing my Sausage Rolls Recipe. These are simple to make and a staple in our house. My family loves them – and I often make them for parties (a great addition to a buffet!).

Sausage Rolls can be easily and cheaply bought – but they are full of… well… who knows!

Making your own, from ingredients that you choose, is so much healthier. And it is quite easy.

I sometimes make a double-batch if I am looking to store these in the freezer. But generally I make the batch for lunch, and store the leftovers in the freezer. We either eat them for lunch, as a snack or we serve with mashed potatoes and vegetables for dinner.

Let’s get started with the recipe.

A recipe for homemade sausage rolls that your family will love. They can be enjoyed as lunch, dinner or a snack. Leftovers can be frozen too!

Ingredients

500g beef mince

2 cups of breadcrumbs

1 large carrot / 2 small carrots, grated

1 large zucchini / 2 small zucchini, grated

½ brown onion, finely chopped or grated

2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 pack of puff pastry

1 egg, lightly beaten and set aside in a small bowl

Sesame seeds or poppy seeds (optional)

Method

Step 1 – Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius/ 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a few oven trays with baking paper (optional – but saves on washing up!).

Step 2 – Slowly separate the frozen puff pastry sheets and lay them out so that they can defrost. I use a large knife to kinda leverage them apart. Leave the plastic wrap on the bottom of each sheet.

Step 3 – Combine all the ingredients (except the egg and seeds) in a large bowl. Don’t overmix – just enough to combine the ingredients together evenly.

Step 4 – Each sheet of puff pastry will make 2 long sausage rolls. To do this: cut the puff pastry sheet in half horizontally (i.e. from left to right across the sheet). On the long edge of the now cut half, pile and squish the meat mixture into a sausage roll shape. Next, gently fold over the puff pastry and meat mixture to make the roll. Lightly brush the edge with a little egg to help it stick as you roll. Press it lightly together. You can choose to leave this as a long sausage roll or chop in half or quarters – it is up to you. Lastly, pop the sausage rolls on your tray, leaving a little gap between. Repeat with the rest of the puff pastry and meat mixture.

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Step 5 – Brush the top of each sausage roll with beaten egg. You can also sprinkle these with sesame seeds or poppy seeds – but this is optional.

Step 6 – Bake in the oven for 20 – 25 minutes, until golden brown.

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Will you give this recipe a try? Go on! Share your photos with me – don’t forget to tag #theempoweredcook and I’ll be sure to come have a look at your creations!

How to Eat from the Freezer – Yet Still Eat from Scratch

Eating healthy freezer meals all starts with planning ahead. When I meal plan each week, I always start by thinking about the week ahead. Am I working late this week? Is there something on that means we’ll need a quick dinner? Or is there a lazy weekend ahead where I can take my time and prep something from scratch?

Once I know this – I then start slotting in my meals.

For those nights when I am coming home late from work – or towards the end of the week, when we’re all just tired and won’t feel like cooking – I simply jot down “Freezer Meal”.

In my freezer – we have a bunch of different types of “freezer meals”. These are a saviour. They have saved me when I was pregnant, when I had a newborn – and they continue to save me today with a toddler.

Convenience is clearly a big tick for Freezer Meals. However, they also bring more to the table.

I also know that even if I choose a Freezer Meal, I am still providing my family with a healthy, wholefood meal – that I have cooked myself.

This is HUGE for me. One of the biggest barriers that people quote when they start to think about cooking from scratch each night – is time. Who has the time to cook a meal from scratch every night of the week? Dinner needs to be on the table in minutes not hours.

And you know what? They are right. No one has the time to do this every night of the week. Well – there are some of us – and I am envious of you!

But in my kitchen, on a Wednesday night with a toddler who is hungry and tired – and a partner who has been at home all day with said toddler, and a Mama who has been in back to back meetings all day with very little breaks apart from a Nursing Mother break where she multi-tasked pumping milk, eating lunch and answering emails – we need dinner on the table pretty much as soon as Mama walks in the door.

But I don’t want to feed my family junk or processed food. I want us to eat food that I know – and that I have made. Eating from scratch is the best way to skip any processing, and to ensure I know what is in my food.

So not only do I need dinner on the table quickly, I also want to feed my family as if I have still cooked the meal from scratch.

Freezer Meals are what enable us to do this.

The Empowered Cook shows you how to eat from the freezer while still eating from scratch - meaning healthy freezer meals for you and your family.

What exactly are Freezer Meals though?

They can vary – but I tend to stick to the following types. I find these work best for my family.

Pinterest is full of inspiration too. I have a Freezer Meals Pinterest board here too.

#1 – Frozen Leftovers or Pre-Cooked Meals

This is the easiest and fasted way to get a meal on the table. Simply defrost, heat and serve. Easy.

Our supply of these Pre-Cooked Meals is added to constantly and built up over time. Whenever I make a meal, I always make more than we eat (I think this comes from being taught by a Mum who was used to cooking for a lot of people). We either use the leftovers for lunch the next day – or we freeze them.

An example could be a pasta bake, or a curry and rice. We’ll simply package these up in containers, label the meal and date it, and then pop it in the freezer.

The fun part is that sometimes we only have enough leftovers for a single serve. Why is this fun? Because it means that we can have a freezer meal ‘potluck’. We can all choose something different from the freezer and yet all still eat a meal together at the same time. This is one of my favourite dinners. My partner might opt for Sweet and Sour Chicken, I might have Baked Tofu and Fried Rice, and our toddler will enjoy Spaghetti Bolognaise (his favourite). Mind you, our toddler will also help himself to fried rice and chicken too – he can’t miss out!

At any one time, we have probably 4 – 5 meals like this in the freezer. And we eat from the Freezer at least once a week, sometimes more. This keeps a good cycle going in the freezer – so just be conscious to choose the older meals first, and you’re set.

#2 – Frozen ‘Ready to Cook’ Meals

The other item we have in the freezer are meals that are almost ready to eat. They just need to be baked.

For us, this is mainly casseroles. Things that I have assembled, but that just need to be popped in the oven to cook for about 30-40 minutes (or longer if you cook from frozen).

My favourite is this pumpkin mac and cheese or any of these spring casseroles. We simply prep these to the point of going in the oven, and instead freeze them.

To save on freezing my casserole dishes (I only own a couple!) – we line the dish with aluminium and baking paper – with excess hanging over the sides. Pop your casserole in, and freeze for about an hour or until it has hardened. Then remove it from the casserole dish. Use the excess foil to cover the top. You might also need to wrap it again in another layer of aluminium foil to make sure it is air tight.

When it comes time to defrost, I take out the nicely wrapped package from the freezer and put it back in my casserole dish (if you have many different dishes – make sure you label which one you used on the package to save trying to play a game of mix and match when you take it out the freezer). I then defrost and cook.

The only thing to remember about these meals is that you do need to remember to defrost them. Because I meal plan – I have made it a habit of checking my meal plan the night before, so that I can defrost what I need to. If that is one of these meals, I simply pop it in the fridge overnight and it is defrosted by dinner time. I do check this throughout the day though – and will sometimes defrost this on the kitchen bench if it isn’t defrosting quickly enough in the fridge. Note: this is something you’ll need to research and be comfortable doing. There are some safety concerns about defrosting food on the bench. I always make my own educated decision about this (like not leaving it in the sun, or out for hours at a time), and recommend that you do too.

To reheat these – I put the cold casserole in the cold oven. And then the dish and the oven heat at the same rate. This avoids a potential disaster of putting a cold dish in a hot oven. Been there – done that! Maybe that is why I only have one casserole dish now…

#3 Slow Cooker Freezer Meals

This is a Pinterest Phenomenon.

It seems there are thousands of ways to do this – but they are all based on the same premise.

In a large snaplock bag, pop in a protein (meat or legumes), vegetables and a sauce – and then freeze the whole lot raw.

To cook, you simply defrost the bag (or in some cases, don’t!), and then add the lot to your slow cooker and cook as normal.

I was wary of this option – it seemed weird to freeze everything raw together. I mean chicken and sauce and vegetables together? But in a way, it is kinda like a marinade.

I have also had some very dodgy recipes fail miserably. I think this is possibly related to how different I think the American tastes and flavour requirements are to my own – or it could be that my slow cooker is different. Either way – I had to play around with finding some recipes that worked well.

I like Sweet and Sour Chicken, Beef Stew, and Chinese Beef and Broccoli.

I also have a Pinterest board where I have pinned quite a lot of recipes that I have either tried, or that I want to try. You can check it out here.

And there you have it – this is how we eat from the freezer – and yet still eat from scratch.

What are you going to try first? Do you have any other tips you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below.

Ingredient Prep: Roasted Vegetables

Easily one of my biggest time savers for getting dinner on the table every night of the week – is Ingredient Prep.

Sure I do prep whole meals in advance (stay tuned for that one!) but prepping individual ingredients has just worked a whole lot better for my life right now.

By Ingredient Prep, I simply mean that you prepare some key ingredients ahead of time – and then store these in the fridge or freezer.

I like to do this on a Saturday or Sunday, over the course of a few hours. But you could also just do this when you have a spare 15-20 minutes. Sometimes I’ll just do this as part of our normal making dinner routine. 

I will store things in the fridge first, but I often have a duplicate stash in the freezer – my best friend in the kitchen.

Then, during the week when time is a little limited, I will pull these out and use them to build a meal. It saves me so much time and effort, and there is something really lovely about opening the fridge and seeing all these containers full of yummy goodies just waiting to be eaten.

So – where to start? 

The Empowered Cook shares how to roast vegetables - a key to good ingredient prep. This will help get dinner on the table, every night of the week.

What’s a Prepped Ingredient?

This can vary depending on what you like to cook. I also find it varies depending on the season. In Summer, I tend to prep salad ingredients – like chopped vegetables, leafy greens, dressings, and grains. In Winter, my Ingredient Prep is more likely to be hot food items like cooked meats, baked potatoes, grains, curry bases.

The only guide to good Ingredient Prep is that it needs to be something that you can then use later to build a meal.

How do I use it?

Have you ever been to a salad bar? Or noticed the mise en plus that a restaurant operates with? All those little dishes of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, grated carrot and zucchini, nuts and seeds, leafy greens and sprouts. They always look so delicious. AND inspiring!

This is what I aspire to in my fridge! I keep prepped ingredients in glass containers (so that I can see what is inside) in the fridge every week.

Then for dinner – I might just cook some sausages, or some steak – and then serve this with a salad that I’ve pulled together from the prepped ingredients from the fridge.

I also build very hearty ‘Buddha bowls’ – or basically a collection of delicious items in a bowl. This could be a burrito bowl – with beans, rice, salsa, corn, etc. Or a bean bowl – with lentils, roast vegetables and a poached egg on top.

By doing a little Ingredient Prep and having these already prepped in the fridge or freezer means that you can be creative with your meals. Keeping it simple also means it will be healthier than a heavy, stodgy take-away meal.

Where do I start?

Ingredient Prep is fast and simple.

I have found the easiest thing to start with – is Roast Vegetables.

And when I say vegetables, I mean vegetables – plural. It can be ANY vegetable. I have roasted everything from the normal old potato and pumpkin through to asparagus, broccoli and brussel sprouts (please try these!).

It is also very little active time – you can prep vegetables at the same time as you are preparing dinner one night, or prep them ahead of time on the weekend or through the day. 

How To Roast Vegetables

  1. Select your vegetables – I like to use a variety, but you can also just roast single vegetables at a time. Whatever you have in your fridge, or whatever you have bought from the grocery store this week.
  2. Chop them (peeling optional) – It is really up to you if you choose to peel your vegetables. I think this is a little bit of personal preference. So I will leave that for you to decide. The only guideline is to try and chop things evenly and according to their cooking time. So if you are roasting a bunch of root vegetables – chop these all about the same size. But if you are adding some softer vegetables into the same tray (like zucchini) then chop this larger, because it will take much less time to cook.
  3. Drizzle with oil – I like olive oil or coconut oil. But there are loads of options here. Be a little daring!
  4. Season – this can be as simple as salt and pepper. But you could also try chilli flakes (on cauliflower – this is just heaven), cumin seeds (so good on pumpkin), garlic – give lots of different ones a go, and see what you like.
  5. Cook – I roast at 190-200 degrees celsius. A big tray usually takes around 40 minutes. But you should experiment a little and always keep an eye on them – no one likes completely blackened veggies. Although a little bit of crispy edges is nice.

To store these, I keep them in the fridge for up to a week. I also sometimes freeze these (except potato – which I don’t love the texture of when frozen) for up to 3 months.

You can then reheat and serve as a side with dinner, or eat cold with a salad or just as a snack.

Bonus Tip

You can freeze the chopped root vegetables raw. This has saved me even more time. I will often peel and chop a whole heap of sweet potatoes, or pumpkins and then store these in snaplock bags in the freezer. When I have some time to roast these – or I want a quick side dish with dinner – I will simply pull a bag from the freezer and dump it out on an oven tray. Drizzle, season and cook! Voila – fresh roast vegetables.

Need some more inspiration?

Check out my Pinterest board of Side Dishes or my Vegetarian board. Both have some great recipe ideas for roasted vegetables.

Will you give Ingredient Prep a go? Let me know! Share your thoughts below. And please share this post with your friends if you think they’ll like this idea too.

Weekly Food Prep: How to Eat More Vegetables

Have you ever noticed that the consistency across all diets is about eating vegetables? Some skip grains, some skip meat, some skip fruit – but they ALL contain vegetables. Funny that.

If we ate more vegetables, we would be a far healthier people. It is just that simple.

The question then becomes: how do you eat MORE vegetables?

If you think about this in terms of volume only – it can be slightly depressing. No one really wants to eat a big pile of carrots with their nightly meal. Or a few extra bunches of broccoli every week.

What we really want to do is this:

  • Increase our variety, and
  • Increase the number of times we eat vegetables in a day or week.

The main reason we don’t do this, I believe, is because of our lack of time. It is far easier to grab a bag of frozen peas from the freezer and cook those, than it is to peel and chop 3 or 4 different vegetables to serve with your family meal.

I used to be stuck in this same rut – we would have frozen peas, carrots and broccoli most nights of the week. It just become so boring.

And then – I started to change our preparation process. And it has increased the amount of vegetables we eat.

As soon as we buy our vegetables (or as soon as practical – we do have a toddler after all!), I wash and prep them all – right down to the peeling and chopping.

This saves me so much time during the dreaded dinner hour, it’s no longer a rush job – and being able to just grab a handful of a number of different vegies from the fridge and plonk them in the steamer at night, has changed our boring old peas to a glorious variety of vegetables on our dinner plate.

So today – I’m going to take you step by step through the process I follow.

Starting a weekly food prep routing will help you and your family eat more vegetables, and will help get dinner on the table every night of the week.

Step 1: Buy a variety!

It can be easy to get stuck in a rut with vegetables – buying the same old carrots, broccoli and cauliflower each week.

But there are so many more options: zucchini, squash, silver beet, asparagus, radish (yes that is a vegetable!), pumpkin, turnip, parsnip, swede, spinach, capsicum, leek – I could go on!

A simple trick to get you thinking: shop the rainbow. Try and find a vegetable from every colour of the rainbow. Think: Capsicum, Carrot, Eggplant, Squash, Silver beet – all different colours and all very different vegetables.

You don’t need to buy mountains of any one vegetable. Buying smaller amounts of each one will make it more likely that you and your family will eat and enjoy them. No one really wants to eat broccoli 3 nights a week. Well – maybe me, it is one of my favourites! But I think I might be the exception to the rule.

In order to bounce us out of our broccoli and carrot rut – we buy a vegetable box most weeks. This is something we order from Aussie Farmers, but Coles and Woolworths have a similar product – as do most of the smaller online grocery delivery services. I also love that most of these suppliers have an organic option too – which is a great choice if your budget allows.

Buying a mixed vegetable box helps immensely with the variety. We simply eat whatever comes in the box – and this changes depending on the season and what is available from the farmers each week.

OK – so now you have a variety of vegetables that you need to eat this week. What next?

Step 2 – Washing Your Vegetables

Washing your vegetables is an important step. Unless you are buying organic – your produce will likely have been sprayed or treated with chemicals of some sort. So washing the vegetables one more time is a step I wouldn’t want to skip. Plus – think of how many people have touched those vegetables before you! Ew.

If you were to google washing vegetables, you’d probably see a bunch of recommendations on vegetable washing products that you could buy. They will all claim to remove chemicals and get your vegetables clean.

I personally use water. And, if I remember, a small dash of apple cider vinegar. This removes any leftover dirt and anything else that might be lurking in my green leafys (I once chopped up my silver beet and in doing so, chopped a snail in half. Oh my – I was horrified!)

To make this process easy and quick – I fill my sink with cold water (and a dash of apple cider vinegar) and lay out some tea towels on the bench. I then pop all my fruit in first: apples, pears, etc. I swish them around and then take them out and pop them on the tea towel.

Next, I do other hard vegetables – like carrots, zucchini, capsicum, squash etc.

And then I empty the sink – and refill it with more cold water. Next I do all the green leafys. I lay these on a separate tea towel. I then use my salad spinner for these. It is very important to remove as much water as possible from the your leafy vegetables – otherwise they will go soggy and slimy very quickly.

Step 3: Prepping Your Vegetables

In order to make grabbing vegetables each night easy – they need to be ‘ready to cook’.

So – for things like carrots, capsicum, zucchini, broccoli, I slice these up just like I would for dinner. Carrots and zucchini goes into rounds, and capsicum goes into strips. I also chop some carrots into strips too so that we can have this for snacks.

For leafy greens –  I don’t mess with these too much. After I’ve spun them in the salad spinner, I remove any dodgy bits of greenery and that’s about it. Slicing these right before dinner is a 30 second job, and leaving it until then will mean that my leafy greens will last longer.

Step 4 – Storing Your Vegetables

I store my hard vegetables in glass containers in the fridge. I chose glass for a couple of reasons. Firstly, glass is better for you than plastic (google BPA and you’ll understand why). Secondly, glass allows me to see the contents. And this increases the likelihood that I will use what is in the container.

For my leafy greens, I pop a damp paper towel or cloth napkin in a glass container (or zip lock bag) and then gently place my green leafys on top. I can sometimes get mine to last me longer than a week if I do this step.

Once you have finished this step, you should have a number of containers in your fridge all full of prepped vegetables.

Step 5 – Using Your Vegetables

The most basic way to use these is to simply add them as a side to your normal meal. I will often steam a bunch of vegetables for dinner, and then serve these alongside some lamb cutlets or sausages, lentil loaf or other protein.

You can also use them as healthy snacks: like carrot, cucumber and capsicum strips with some hummus. They are quick to grab and pack into lunches too.

A stir-fry is also super fast now using this method. The actual stir-frying takes minutes – and now with all the chopping already done, you can have dinner on the table in 15 minutes! (Yes – Jamie Oliver, eat your heart out!)

At the end of the week, I usually grab anything that is left over and make a fridge frittata or a fridge pasta. Basically this just a throw everything into a pot kinda meal. It means we don’t waste anything, and it means the fridge and our containers are all clean and ready to be filled again for the next week!

 

And that is it. This process takes me less than an hour each week. My toddler enjoys helping – so sometimes it takes a little longer!

But it saves me the 20 minutes per night that I used to spend trying to find vegetables, cutting and prepping them for dinner.

We now eat more vegetables, and getting dinner on the table is a much easier process.

Give it a go. And let me know in the comments below how you went. Don’t forget to share this post too if you think your friends would find these tips useful too.

 

Want to start Meal Planning? Try this easy first step!

Do you want to start Meal Planning but are not sure where to begin?

Or have you tried before and failed by Wednesday?

Think it’s all too hard?

Well – how about we try together with a very easy first step.

Want to start meal planning? The Empowered Cook shares an easy first step - and includes a free printable!

Meal Planning doesn’t have to be hard or complicated or time-consuming.

It also shouldn’t be a way for you to set yourself to fail. What do I mean by that? Well, if I created a meal plan every week full of Pinterest recipes that I had never cooked before – I would certainly not make it past the first day of the week.

I have always meal planned in some way. Another life lesson from my Mama – this is just the way we always did it at home.

But importantly – and this is the key – we never really had one tried and true method. We had different methods that worked at different times.

And sometimes the method was: open the pantry and take a stab in the dark. Lol.

I’ll be sharing some meal planning methods with you all as part of The Empowered Cook – but first – let’s start with an easy step.

In order for your meal plan to work – you and your family have to eat the meals that you make.

No one wants to cook a dinner that no one will eat. Been there – done that.

So – let’s make this easy for ourselves.

Create your meal plan full of dinners that your family loves to eat.

No one is going to judge you if you eat spaghetti bologanise every week. We do.

No one is going to care if you eat sausages and mashed potato every week. We do.

I keep these things on our meal plan because I know that a) my family will eat them and b) they are such second nature to me, that I can whip them up quickly and easily without any hassle.

That’s a win-win in The Empowered Cook’s books!

Now to answer some questions:

#1 – Won’t we get bored eating the same stuff every week?

Well – maybe, yes.

But it’s a good place to start.

And I don’t think you will get bored to soon anyway.

I think I have been eating spaghetti bolognaise once a week since I was about 10 – and I am not bored. Same with sausages and mash. Two of my favourite meals!

Also – ask yourself: Are you really eating that much variety now? I mean, really? Don’t you just dish up the same meals every week now anyway?

The trouble now though is just the total number of different meals that you can choose from. You might only have 4 or 5 meals that you just recook over and over again.

So I’m going to show you a way to make that total number much larger. And then you’ll have a greater selection to choose from.

Which brings me to the other very common question…

#2 – How do I know what my family will love to eat? I can’t think of anything!

This is where I can help.

I’m sure there must be some meals that your family will eat. The trouble is remembering them and then being able to recall them when you need to meal plan.

So – let’s start a Family Favourites list.

Firstly – get the family involved here. Let them tell you what they want to eat. Grab their ideas and jot them down on the list.

Next – keep the list on the fridge or somewhere where you see it often.

When you next make a dinner that everyone seems to love – write it on the Family Favourites list.

By just doing these things, you’re set! Soon – you will have a list that you can use as the base of your meal planning.

My Family Favourites list is often 6 out of 7 nights on my meal plan. It’s only when I know we’ll have some extra time that I might add something new to the menu. But we have a solid Family Favourites to work from – and that is the key.

So – last question:

#3 – Where do I write these? How do I keep track of them all?

Easy!

I can help with that!

I have a free printable for you to download. It has the Family Favourites broken down into categories for you: Quick + Easy, Pasta/ Rice Dishes, Slow Cooker / Pressure Cooker / Oven Bakes and lastly, a section for Other.

This will be really helpful when you meal plan.

But first – get this list printed and start writing down all your Family Favourites.

And don’t forget to SHARE this post with all your friends who might need some help with meal planning (use those little icons below – it’ll be very easy to share this free printable around!)

Free Printable: Want to start Meal Planning? The Empowered Cook shares an easy first step: The Family Favourites List!
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How To Get Dinner on the Table: 5 Freezer Must-Haves

My freezer is critical to my “Empowered Cook” status. It is more than just a place to store some frozen peas and bananas. It is as equal a tool as my fridge, pantry and kitchen sink.

And it is a fundamental tool in my How to Get Dinner on the Table kit.

You don’t need a huge freezer. For years, I lived with a mini bar fridge with a tiny box freezer inside. I still used the same methodology with that freezer that I do now with a much larger freezer at the top of my fridge.

We also have a small chest freezer – which I love, but it is not essential. We bought it when Oliver was born so that I could stock it with meals for us to eat.

That is really the main purpose of my freezer. We eat “from the freezer” at least once a week – sometimes more. It is also very handy if we’re having a budget week and want to save a bit of cash. We usually have enough meals and bits and bobs in the freezer to feed us for a week or more.

Honestly – best investment ever.

So where do you start?

How to Get Dinner on the Table: 5 Freezer Must-Haves

Let’s begin with my 5 Freezer Must Haves.

These are the items that are ALWAYS in my freezer. They are pretty much a constant on my shopping list. We use them frequently and they are constantly restocked.

#5 – Frozen Fruit

Critical for smoothies. For a quick berry crumble for dessert. For a nice little snack. To soothe sore gums when bub is teething.

I always have frozen bananas in my freezer. I simply peel these when they get all spotty and black and then freeze a bunch in ziplock bags.

I use them mainly for smoothies. Just pop a banana, some milk of choice (I use almond), a dollop of honey or maple syrup, a spoon of peanut butter and blend. You have a delicious smoothie. Or be a little decadent and add a dollop of chocolate peanut butter. OMG. My favourite 3pm snack right there.

I also use the bananas for baking too. They defrost really quickly. And then you can whip up a banana cake or muffins.

Buy bananas when they are on special too. Bananas can get rather pricey if the season isn’t going too well. So next time you see a glut of them at the supermarket, buy up! And then freeze!

Berries are also always in the freezer. My partner Brendon is allergic to bananas – so his smoothie of choice is always berries with almond milk. And yoghurt and sometimes peanut butter.

But you can also make a quick berry crumble for dessert with frozen berries (pop in a dish, top with a nice crumble mix and then bake in the oven). Or you can use these for baking too. I love this recipe for a berry cake. It is simple and easy to make. We serve with a dollop of yoghurt.

The other fruit I have in the freezer is frozen cooked fruit. Sometimes we’ll get to the end of the week and we’ll have a bunch of apples left over. So instead of just letting these go soft, I’ll cook them. I peel and chop them and then steam them. Once soft, I’ll cool them and then pop in the freezer. I often put them into a glass ovenproof dish in the freezer, so that once I defrost these, I can top with granola or crumble and it can go straight into the oven. Oh how yum on a cold winters night.

Pretty much any fruit can be frozen – you just need to work out if it is better frozen raw or cooked first. I find melon, berries, bananas freeze best raw. Apples, plums, stone fruits all freeze better after having been cooked first.

#4 – Frozen Vegetables

There has been a bit of stigma around frozen veg for a long time. I’m not sure if it comes from the days of getting frozen veg served up overcooked and soggy – but whatever it is, it isn’t true.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a good bag of frozen vegetables. I will say that again: there is absolutely nothing wrong with a good bag of frozen vegetables.

You can whip out a bag of frozen broccolli or caulflower and roast this up into a delicious side dish so easily. Just pop onto a roasting tray (still frozen), drizzle with oil and add salt and pepper. Both are also delicious with a good shake of dried chilli flakes. Then roast in a hot oven until cooked and golden brown.

Frozen corn is a staple in our house – the easiest way to eat corn. And so much healthier than the corn in a can (often full of sugar). I add corn to most of my mexican inspired meals: enchiladas, chilli, burritos, etc. But sometimes, it will just get steamed along with my other veg and we’ll have some corn with our dinner.

And who can forget the frozen pea. I haven’t – keep reading…

#3 – Stock

I have two versions of stock in my freezer. I have containers of made stock, frozen into 1 or 2 cup portions. But I also have a stock scrap bag in there along side the already made stock.

What is a stock scrap bag?

It is possibly the best use of vegie scraps (besides a compost) – and saves me so much time and money.

Next time you peel a carrot, chop the leaves from celery, peel a garlic clove or an onion – pop the scraps in to a big ziplock bag and store it in your freezer.

Once the bag is full – dump all the scraps into a stock pot or a slowcooker – add water, and then simmer for as long as you’ve got.

Voila – you have vegetable stock.

Add a chicken carcass – and you have chicken stock.

Add some roasted beef bones – and you have beef stock.

I do this almost weekly. And we nearly always have stock in the fridge and freezer. I fill old jars to keep stock in the fridge, and small plastic containers for the freezer.

I use stock for casseroles, soups, stews. But I also like to cook rice and pasta in the stock. Plus – I will sometimes add some to the pan if I’ve defrosting some leftovers, or even stir-frying some veges for dinner.

It just adds such a nice complexity of flavour to whatever you are cooking. And it does not cost you a cent. Is there anything better than that?

#2 – Cooked Ingredients

No only do I freeze meals and leftovers, I also freeze cooked ingredients. This is a huge time-saver and such a big help when getting dinner on the table. And if you stick around here long enough, you’ll soon know that this is my number one tip for how I feed my family without the fuss.

What do I mean by cooked ingredients?

Think roast pumpkin, blanched vegetables, pesto, spaghetti sauce, cooked brown rice, cooked quinoa. I freeze these in small single-serve portions and then add these to whatever meal we’re serving.

A great way to use brown rice for example is to make fried rice. I often do this to use up leftover veges in the fridge before shopping day.

But you can even make a quick and easy version by just frying up an egg omelette and setting that aside, and then stir-frying the rice with some frozen peas. Add in some soy sauce and then toss in the sliced omelette. It can really be that easy.

And that way, you’re serving a healthy, wholesome, filling dinner – but because you’re grabbing your main ingredients from the freezer, dinner can be on the table in under 10 minutes.

#1 – Frozen Peas

These are such incredible little beauties – they get their own special section as a Freezer Must Have.

I will always have a bag of these. Always. Sometimes two.

I am sure we’d all love to have a quaint memory of sitting on our verandah with our colanders while we shell our peas.

But in reality – how often do you see peas in the supermarket fresh food section? Never.

Frozen Peas are the place to be.

They are quick to defrost, quick and easy to cook, delicious on their own or in dishes – and they are cheap.

We use frozen peas in the following:

On their own – I add them to a pot, cover with water and a pinch of salt, and bring to the boil. Once they hit boiling, I turn them off and drain them (this stops them overcooking and going dry and mushy). I add a swirl of olive oil (or a bit of good butter), and some salt and pepper to season. Also delicious with a dash of lemon juice. And some chopped garlic. Yum.

In pasta – we regularly make Bacon and Pea Pasta. This dish unashamedly appears on our meal plan at least once a week. It is fast, delicious and a family winner – everyone eats it. It is just as it sounds: fry up some chopped bacon while you cook your pasta. Throw a handful or two of frozen peas in with the bacon, then add to your cooked, drained pasta. Serve with lashings of fresh parmesan. Easy but oh so yum.

In Savoury Mince – oh this is a yummy meal. You can do a complex savoury mince, but a quick method is simply to brown an onion, brown some beef mince, add a bit of flour and cook it out. Then add a spoon of vegemite, a few dashes of worchestershire sauce – and about a cup or so of beef stock. Simmer until thickened. Add frozen peas and let simmer until they are cooked. This is a great fast weeknight meal – and is very good on hot buttered toast.

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See how much value a well stocked freezer can make to you and your family?

Add these 5 things to your shopping list – and always keep them in stock.