Just the Basics

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Finding meal-planning worksheets are easy: download a form, fill in the meals you intend to cook for the entire week, shop for the entire week, then, if you’re like me, throw away a bunch of stuff that you never got around to making at the end of the week. The standard meal-planning process just never worked for  me, not for any length of time anyway. My intentions were good, but I just ran out of steam. Time to figure out another way.

This is how I currently do things, which is definitely a work-in-progress:

Have 5 go-to meal concepts ready to go. This is what I make regularly for the family:

  • Pasta and sauce
  • Fish with potatoes and veggies
  • Grilled or baked marinated chicken breasts with rice and veggies
  • Fried rice
  • Slow-cooker roast meat (either pork or beef) with sauce, shredded. Serve on buns with coleslaw or salad

I try to have the things I need to make these on hand, except for the fresh vegetable part. I always buy those in small quantities because I got tired of paying a premium for organic only to end up throwing it in the compost. Plus, it’s much nicer working with crispy fresh vegetables.

Pasta and Sauce

When I’m feeling energetic, I put everything in the slow cooker. Sometimes I use ground beef, but we’re moving more towards ground chicken and turkey for the health benefits. Brown the meat, then use the frying pan to brown some chopped onion, minced mushroom, shredded zucchini, shredded carrot, and any other vegetables you’d like to throw in there. The zucchini and mushroom in particular “disappear” into the sauce. My daughter then eats them and never realizes she’s doing so. Add whatever sauce you prefer–I like the Costco house brand. I also add a couple of tablespoons of pesto and a clove or two of chopped garlic. Simmer on the stove in a big pan or put it in the slow cooker on low and go to work. Then, when you get home, boil some pasta (gluten-free for those who need it) and server with salad and or bread and butter. Toast the bread and spread some garlic butter on it if you feel ambitious. I like to make lots so I have plenty of leftovers. My daughter likes the pasta reheated and packed in a wide-mouth thermos for her school lunch. And I know she’s getting her veggies! Sometimes, this is good for two dinners in the week.

Marinated Chicken Breasts

The workhorse of my weekly menu. I usually make either Garlic & Herb Marinated chicken or Baked Teriyaki Chicken. Here are the recipes for you:

Baked Teriyaki Chicken

  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 Tablespoon cold water
  • 1/2 cup raw honey or sugar
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce (gluten-free tamari)
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper (or less if you like)
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast (or 12 boneless,
  • skinless chicken thighs)
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
  2. In a small saucepan, mix the cornstarch and the cold water until combined.
  3. Put it on the stove on low heat and add the honey, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, ginger, and pepper. Simmer, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens and bubbles. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
  4. Lightly oil a 9×13-inch baking pan. Put the chicken in the pan and pour the sauce over top. Using tongs, turn the chicken pieces over so they are coated in the sauce.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces over and bake until done, another 20-30 minutes. I use a meat thermometer and bake the chicken until it reads 155 degrees F, then let it sit in the pan, out of the oven for another 5 minutes.

Serve with rice (brown rice is good) and steamed veggies. I like to make a double batch of rice, so I have leftovers that I use to make fried rice.

Garlic Herb Marinated Chicken

If you buy in bulk, like I often do, this is a good way to freeze your chicken breasts. Just take the package out of the freezer the night before and let it thaw in your refrigerator. (I like to put it in a bowl just in case.) Then all you have to do is bake it or cook it on the grill that evening.

  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1/3 vegetable oil
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  1. Mix everything in a bowl, or with a blender and pour over your meat. Let the chicken marinate for 1/2 hour if you’re using fresh chicken breasts. Or you can pour the marinade over frozen chicken breasts and let them thaw in the fridge. Or you can freeze the chicken in the marinade and start it thawing the night before.
  2. Bake (as above), pan-fry, or grill the chicken until it is done.

Serve with rice, potatoes, sweet potato fries and steamed veggies and a salad. Yum!

I always make extra chicken. The leftovers get chopped up for the fried rice or sliced for sandwiches.

Fried Rice

Learning how to make fried rice is one of the best things I ever did for my bottom line. I take all the left-overs and use them up. The carrot that did not get cut up for carrot sticks. The stalk of celery that also didn’t get chopped up. The 1/2 onion left over from earlier in the week. A few mushrooms that didn’t get chopped up for the pasta sauce. Shredded zucchini from the garden. Broccoli florets. The extra corn on the cob gets the corn cut off and added. Or, add frozen mixed veggies–they work too! I usually chop up the leftover chicken (see above) into bite-sized pieces and add that. You can cut up tofu and add that if you like, or even stir in some eggs for protein. It’s one recipe that comes out differently every time, depending on what you add. Here’s how I do it (everything is in separate bowls until cooking time):

  • 2-3 cups of vegetables, chopped into bite-sized pieces. Frozen veggies do not need to be thawed first.
  • 2 cooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts or other meat chopped into bite-sized pieces. Alternatively, 3 eggs beaten with a fork will do.
  • 2-3 cups of cooked rice. You can make it a day or two before (best) or cook the rice then stir-fry it.
  • 1/2 cup or so of soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup of oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon cold water
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil (dark)
  • Cooking oil spray or 1 Tablespoon of vegetable oil
  1. Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan or saute pan (a wok works too!) over medium heat until hot.
  2. Add the vegetables and cook until slightly browned and soft.
  3. Add the sesame oil and the meat (or the eggs). Cook, stirring the eggs often, until heated through (or set).
  4. Add the rice. Mix everything together and cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add the soy sauce and the oyster sauce. Stir until well-combined.
  6. Make a well in the centre of the mixture. Pour in the cornstarch mixture and stir to combine. When everything is heated through, it’s ready! Adjust the seasonings if you like and serve.

Slow-Cooker Roast Meat

This is probably the easiest meal ever. Or you can make it the most complex. Whatever works for you. On the easy side, put some frozen boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the slow cooker. Pour a jar of barbeque sauce over top. Cook on low for 8-9 hours. Enjoy! Use two forks to shred the meat and pile it on some buns for yummy BBQ sandwiches. I’ll share some of my favorite complicated recipes in the weeks and months to come.

Here are some combos to try:

  • Chicken and BBQ sauce
  • Pork tenderloin and garlic & herb marinade
  • Beef brisket and BBQ sauce
  • Pork chops and honey garlic sauce

That about sums it up for my basic weekly meal plan. Of course, this is the basics, which means that it’s easy to jazz it up when you have the time and energy. More importantly (for me anyway), when I’m busy and/or too tired to think, I can put together a decent healthy meal for my family without relying on take out.

Please note that frozen vegetables are a life saver for the busy cook. Yes, in a perfect world we’d be eating veggies fresh-picked from the garden and prepared just so. But I don’t live in a perfect world, so frozen veggies, which are actually quite healthy, often grace my table, especially when fresh vegetables are out-of-season. Have them in the freezer for those nights when cooking up fresh veggies just isn’t an option. Peas, corn, and beans are still miles better than hitting the drive through, know what I’m saying?

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