eMeals vs. Real Plans

When it comes to meal planning, I’ll take all the help I can get. I’ve posted before about eMeals, the very first meal planning service I used.

Last year, I decided to give Real Plans a try. Elias has a mild gluten and dairy allergy, so I wanted to see if another meal planning service may be better for my family.

After using Real Plans for a few months, I opted to return to using eMeals. Here’s why:

Real Plans offers really nice features that allow you to fully customize your meal plans. You can even exclude very specific ingredients. Once you make your selections, your plan will be delivered to you each week. It’s great. It was just too many options for me.

eMeals delivers a weekly meal plan with minimal customization. I prefer that approach. I want someone to hand me a meal plan. That’s what eMeals does – I don’t have to do anything except for choose which category I want. I subscribe to the Paleo plan and make minor substitutions when I cook if needed to accommodate the gluten and dairy allergy.

Real Plans offers breakfast, lunch and supper planning options for the price of your subscription. That’s also great. However, I found that I didn’t use the breakfast or lunch planning options. eMeals has separate subscriptions for each meal. When they offered half price subscriptions in the fall, I purchased both a lunch and supper plan.

Each plan has recipes that my family does and doesn’t like. Each plan offers a good variety. Each plan is worth the subscription fee. I’d recommend either one; you really have to test drive them to find the best fit for you and your family.

For me, eMeals is the simpler of the two, and it works for my family.

 

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Eat We Must: Facing the Supper Challenge with Two Kiddos at Home

Now that BP and I have two kids, we’re once again faced with the challenge of figuring out how to get healthy meals on the table quickly. Though I’m not staunchly opposed to take-out, I feel better about things when we’re eating a healthy, home-cooked meal.

Just when I was getting a routine figured out with Kid #1, I need to change it all over again.

I’ve written before about eMeals, a meal planning service that I subscribe to. It’s been very helpful, but while we’re still in the New Baby Stage, even those meals can be too time-consuming.

Enter: freezer meals.

Quite some time ago, I started following Once A Month Mom. The author offers entire menus that can be prepared in advance and frozen. I’m not willing to devote an entire day to preparing meals, but I recently began pulling a few ideas from her site.

Last night, for example, I put together four slow cooker meals in 30-45 minutes right after the baby went to sleep for (half) the night. I prepared two baked bean chicken bags and two rosemary pot roast bags. Those puppies are sitting in my freezer as we speak (or read, whatever)!

My plan is to put together one or two freezer meals with each grocery trip, which ends up being about weekly for us. For now, I’m choosing the meals that require no cooking before putting them into the freezer.

Of course, last week when I decided to pursue this plan, I found a crack in the crock of my slow cooker. My small appliances hate me. Last year, the salad spinner, blender and microwave all bit the dust. This year, we’re starting out with the slow cooker. *sigh*

But, I carry on, with a new slow cooker freshly delivered from Amazon.

Reaching a Domestic Milestone with Potatoes

When BP and I were first married, spaghetti was a big-deal meal. I had to get two pots dirty! Three if I made (and I really mean pull from freezer and place in oven) garlic bread on a cookie sheet! And it was all supposed to be done at the same time! Ahhhhhhhh!

Our regular meals included spaghetti, frozen pizza and take out. For years, I couldn’t understand how other women could so effortlessly just pull together a meal. I’d ask for a recipe, and they couldn’t really give me one. How much water exactly do you put in the pan? How long exactly do you simmer it for? How much butter exactly do I need? How do you know exactly when it’s done?

Fast forward 9+ years. Through lots of trial and error, and a realization that if I didn’t learn to cook, we were in for a lifetime of mediocre, unhealthy meals, our meals have vastly improved.

And I reached a domestic milestone this week: I made a dish that wasn’t pre-planned, and I didn’t even have a recipe. Holla.

Needing a side dish, I looked at what I had available in my kitchen and needed to use up. I saw half a bag of redskins sitting on the floor and without much more thought, decided to make mashed potatoes.

Without a recipe in front of me. I threw those puppies into a pot of boiling water, mashed ’em up with some butter, sour cream and milk and they were done! How much butter? Not too much! How much sour cream? A few dollops! How much milk? A splash or two!

I’m still not to the point where I can whip out an entire meal without pre-planning and at least one recipe to guide me, but I’m getting there. If you’re new to the kitchen and feeling overwhelmed, hang in there. And keep practicing.

What are some domestic milestones you’ve reached?

Product review: Beaba Babycook Baby Food Maker

Beaba Babycook Baby Food Maker: So far, so good!

Beaba babycook

the Babycook with steamed sweet potatoes in process

Pros

  • This cute little kitchen appliance makes making purees for baby food quick and easy. I even steamed and pureed a batch of green beans (fresh from BP’s garden) for my Little Bundle of Joy during my lunch hour – and I took care of laundry and let the dog outside (and back in) and washed up the dishes.
  • It takes up very little space, which is important in my little galley kitchen. Because it’s small, it’s easy to whip up a batch of food while you’re multi-tasking at home. You don’t have to devote an entire evening or day to making baby food.
  • It’s green, and very cute. I love green. This has nothing to do with the functionality of the Babycook, but it’s worth mentioning anyways.
  • It’s very, very easy to use.

Cons

  • The printed instructions were not very clear. I watched a couple of YouTube videos to make sure I was using the Babycook correctly.
  • The Babycook is pricey. If you’re only planning on making baby food once or twice, stick with traditional steaming methods and a food processor. But, if you want to make most of your baby’s food, this may be worth your dollars. I received mine as a gift.
  • The plastic steamer basket seems like it will become stained very quickly. I just started using it, and there seems to be discoloration on the basket already.
  • Steamed foods cook down considerably, and so one full basket doesn’t quite fill up the multiportion freezer tray that goes with the Babycook. In product photos, the tray is shown clear full of food. I haven’t ended up with enough puree to do that.

Accessories

In addition to the Babycook, I was gifted several accessories to go with it.

  • The travel bag is adorable and provides a nice, neat way to store the Babycook. It’s especially helpful in my house, where cupboard space is at a minimum, and the Babycook is stored on open shelving.
  • The multiportion baby food freezer tray is cute, and the portion sizes are good. The frozen food portions are easy to pop out. I put them in a freezer bag so I can re-use the silicon thing the next time I make food, rather than having tons of individual-sized freezer containers.
freezer tray

multiportion freezer tray, filled with pureed sweet potatoes ready for the freezer

  • I also have the rice/pasta cooker but have not yet used it.
All in all, I would recommend the Beaba Babycook Baby Food Maker. It’s easy to use, and it’s fun to make your baby’s food!

A Home-Cooked Meal Every Day? Yes, Please!

E-mealz - a meal planning resource for busy moms and frugal family cooks.Before my Little Bundle of Joy arrived on Christmas morning, I spent a considerable amount of time on food preparation: selecting recipes, creating a weekly menu, developing a grocery list, shopping for groceries and preparing the food.

Well, after my sweet little baby arrived and much-appreciated meals from family and friends stopped showing up on our doorstep, BP and I were once again responsible for feeding ourselves. And that, my friends, resulted in way too much take-out than I care to admit. That wasn’t going to work for me on a long-term basis. It’s not only bad for the budget, but it also is bad for the waistline. In addition, I want the Little Bundle of Joy to learn how to cook for himself, and I believe that sitting down to a well-balanced meal, as a family, is very important. Calling out for pizza isn’t going to teach him any of that.

Several months ago while browsing the Dave Ramsey website, I happened upon an endorsement for E-Mealz, a meal planning subscription service.

At first, I gave it no more than a passing thought. And then, as I ate yet another slice of take-out pizza, it occurred to me that I could really use just such a service.

It is awesome. Seriously and for real.

The entire week’s meal plan fits on one 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper, complete with really, really simple instructions. The grocery list is already done. The meals taste good. There’s variety. We even get side dishes with our main courses. BP doesn’t have to eat chicken every single day of the week, which makes him very happy. (Chicken was my go-to “quick meal” staple, but only if we were all out of spaghetti.)

You can choose from a variety of meal plans, including plans based on specific stores’ ads that week (how is that not budget friendly?), or plans for a family or just two. BP and I follow the low-fat meal plan for two, since the Little Bundle of Joy is still eating food of the pureed variety.

E-Mealz is worth every single penny of the $5/month that I pay for it. We have saved well over that simply by not resorting to yet another take-out meal due to lack of planning.

If time and money are things you’re short on, E-Mealz may be a solution for you, too. Check it out!

(And in case you are wondering, no, E-Mealz is not paying me for writing this post.)

Cast Iron Chef

my newly acquired cast iron skillet

I have joined the world of cast iron cooking.

For months and months, I have been keeping my eyes and ears peeled for an affordable cast iron skillet and Dutch oven. Just last week, an enormously generous coworker gave me both! She found them while cleaning out her mother-in-law’s kitchen, and wanted them to go somewhere they would be used.

After doing some relatively extensive research online about caring for and using cast iron cookware, it was pretty clear that there are no hard-and-fast rules. Here are a few of the articles I read: Seventh Generation‘s blog post, this one and this one, both of which I linked to from SG’s post. I did some additional reading on forums and personal blogs. Everyone had a different opinion on the subject, but all agreed that cast iron is the way to go in non-stick cookware (without the chemical coating that leeches into food).

Since I wasn’t sure when the pieces had last been used, I went ahead and did a light re-seasoning. BP used his strong muscles to give both pieces a good scrubbing with a copper scouring pad. I coated each piece with a thin layer of vegetable oil and baked them, upside down, in the oven at 400 degrees for one hour.

My excitement about using my  new cast iron pieces was bubbling over, and last night, I had the opportunity to try out the skillet. I was making pork wraps, and I cooked the pork chops in the skillet. It was grand! Those chops slid right in and out of that skillet with ease! No sticking, no burning of pieces on the bottom of the pan, nothing! And the even heating — oh! I am in love.

Next week, I’m pulling out the Dutch oven!

I Said “Bulgur,” Not “Vulgar!”

a bag of bulgur

a bag of bulgur

I am a new fan of bulgur.

“Bulgur? What the heck is bulgur? That sounds gross!” you may say.

Well, my friends, it is not gross at all. In fact, it is one of my new favorite foods to cook with.

This evening, I made chicken with bulgur pilaf. Several weeks ago, I made acorn squash stuffed with bulgur (recipe from Martha Stewart). Since I still have more bulgur left in the bag, I will soon be cooking more bulgur-inspired dishes.

Bulgur is a Middle Eastern staple, high in fiber and protein, and low in fat and calories. It’s filling, and it’s as simple to prepare as cooking rice. For more info, this site may be helpful.

Trust me, fellow eaters, you need to try some bulgur for yourself!