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My Winter Monthly Menu Plan 2011-2012

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I have been a fan of monthly menu planning for the past couple of years because of the simplicity it provides for my life. It enables me to decrease my grocery shopping excursions to twice a month and have more free time to focus on my family and home. How do we do it? Learn more with my step by step guide on this process here. It may not be for everyone, but it is a fun adventure to try it out. It really takes one solid chunk of a few hours time to plan out a monthly menu that can be rotated for several months. I usually make two monthly menu plans per year – one for winter/spring and the other for summer/fall. This season we are utilizing the crockpot a lot more. I wanted to be able to prepare nutritious real food meals without consuming too much time. With three little ones, getting dinner prepared in the morning is so much easier! There is less clean up and less hassle. You will notice many of recipes below come from Crockpot 365, which we will be sampling and experimenting with this year.

Here is our updated winter/spring menu plan for the new year!


These remain the same on a weekly basis with some variety:

Monday – kefir green smoothie, fried eggs, bread (muffin or toast)
Tuesday – Soaked Oatmeal w/raisins & apples
Wednesday – French toast
Thursday – Soaked Oatmeal w/raisins & apples
Friday – Eggs (Breakfast burritos) or Fruit salad, yogurt & granola
Saturday – Soaked Pancakes
Sunday – Granola or cold cereal (a quick breakfast before church), hard boiled eggs


Lunches are a bit more flexible, as often times we will have leftovers on hand to eat from a previous meal, but if not, I keep the ingredients on hand for these ideas:

Monday – Salmon Melts
Tuesday – Egg Salad Sandwiches
Wednesday –Tomato Soup & grilled cheese sandwiches
Thursday- Ham & Cheese sandwiches, fruit/vegi, Crockpot Mac & Cheese
Friday – Peanut Butter & Jelly or regular sandwiches
Saturday – Leftovers (Saturday is generally leftover day or clean out the fridge day)

In addition to our weekly menu, we have a baking day on a weekly basis. Every Tuesday afternoon, we will rotate through restocking some nutritious snacks and baked goods, such as granola, protein bars, granola bars, muffins, and/or biscuits for various meals. 


I like to choose dinner themes for each night to work around. This time around we are using the following themes:

Monday – Stir Fry/Date night
Tuesday – Soup
Wednesday – Chicken
Thursday – Beef/Mexican
Friday – Family Night – Pizza (homemade pizza is a family favorite)
Saturday -BBQ (my hubby likes to BBQ, so I am happy to give him the opportunity!)
Sunday – leftovers, hospitality (BBQ beef sandwiches), or Baked Potato Bar

Other themes could include: crockpot, Italian, etc. I have heard other creative ideas such as Meat Monday, Taco Tuesday, etc. Have fun and be creative! Anything to make meal planning enjoyable for your household.

Here are our four weeks of dinners which we rotate monthly:

Week 1:

Monday – Stir Fry
Tuesday – Clam Chowder
Wednesday – Whole Chicken in the Crockpot (followed by slow cooking the bones to make broth)
Thursday – Beef Bourguignon in the Crockpot
Friday – Pizza w/homemade soaked crust
Saturday – Hamburgers
Sunday –  Burritos w/homemade refried beans

Week 2:

Monday – Date night
Tuesday - Zuppa Tuscana
Wednesday - Chicken Curry in Crockpot (using shredded chicken from the whole chicken I made the previous week)
Thursday – Spaghetti
Friday – Fish Tacos
Saturday – Ham/Ribs on the BBQ
Sunday – Sloppy Lentils in Crockpot

Week 3:

Monday – Stir Fry
Tuesday – Chili in Crockpot (cook beans the day before in the crockpot)
Wednesday – Coconut Chicken
Thursday – Crockpot Lasagna
Friday – Pizza
Saturday – Pork Chops on BBQ or crockpot
Sunday – Baked Potato Bar

Week 4:

Monday – Date night
Tuesday – Garden Chowder
Wednesday – Chicken Cordon Bleu in Crockpot
Thursday – Fajitas or Mexican Casserole in Crockpot
Friday – Blue Cheese & Cherry Meatloaf in Crockpot
Saturday – Pot Roast
Sunday – Hospitality (BBQ Beef/Pork Sandwiches in Crockpot or Pasta Presto)

Free Templates

Winter Menu form
Monthly Menu Planner form

Looking forward to trying some new recipes this season and simplifying my life at the same time! Real food crockpot recipes here we come! What recipes are you excited to try this season?

For more on the topic of monthly menu planning, check out Simplifying Grocery Shopping & the Benefits of Monthly Menu Planning.

Comments { 37 }

Yummy Pumpkin Bread/Muffins

I love fall and the smells, colors, and sounds that it brings! I have been getting excited about apples, pumpkins, harvest festivals, and simply enjoying a hot cup of homemade cocoa as the cold weather sets in. Today we made some yummy healthy pumpkin muffins with good wholesome ingredients and it turned out heavenly! They were light, fluffy, and full of rich flavor. They are being consumed very quickly around here. The kids and I enjoyed them over a hot cup of homemade cocoa…ahh! The sugar and oil in this recipe can be easily adapted to what you have on hand. We just prefer these more natural choices.


2 cups pumpkin puree (or 1 – 15 oz can)
1 cup coconut oil, melted
2 cups rapadura/sucanat (a natural unrefined whole cane sugar – learn more here)
4 eggs
3 cups & 2 Tablespoons whole wheat flour (I used a combination of whole wheat & spelt)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves


1. In a large bowl, combine pumpkin puree, coconut oil, eggs, and sugar. Mix until smooth.
2. In a second bowl, combine all the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
3. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the first bowl of wet ingredients. Gently fold in, just until mixed. Do not overmix.
4. Grease your pans or muffin tins. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes for muffins or 45 minutes for loaf pan.

Yield: 2 loaf pans, or 20-24 muffins

For a cup of homemade cocoa to accompany your muffins, mix 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder with 1 1/2 tablespoons of honey in 8 oz of water or drizzle this homemade chocolate syrup into hot water to your taste. Enjoy!

Comments { 39 }

Simple Snacks for Busy Mamas

Post by Contributing Writer, Michele of Frugal Granola

Although it’s nice to have healthy snacks available for everyone in the family, there are certain seasons of motherhood where they’re pretty essential.

During early pregnancy, small protein-dense snacks can help with morning sickness. Later on in pregnancy, snacks can fuel you through the day, when you feel like your tummy is too “full” with a baby to eat much of a meal. Then during seasons of breastfeeding- especially those early days, when you’re always nursing- it’s important to keep up those extra calories as you nourish a little one and maintain a milk supply.

Busy mamas are likely often munching “one-handed,” as they juggle a nursing baby, a toddler on the run, a stroller, or other tasks. Hopefully, you’ll have a chance to sit down and rest, but you might still be holding a little one with one arm (and maybe sharing a bite or two of that snack, too).

Here are a few of my “one handed” snack favorites.

(Some take a bit more prep-work than others, so choose what works best for you. If you have help available at times, hand them this list! If you have a chance, make a big batch ahead of time & stash it in the fridge.)

  • Hard-Boiled Eggs + a bit of Sea Salt (If you have an extra moment, you can mix them into egg salad.)
  • Crockpot Oatmeal or Brown Rice + a little Whole Milk and/or Peanut Butter or Cheese (My husband would measure it into the pot in the morning, and I just had to flip the “on” switch and stir in any additions. Hint: It’s easier to eat one-handed out of a mug than a bowl.)
  • Homemade Fruit & Nut Snack Bars (I like Katie’s Reverse LaraBar recipe), or if you’re really desperate, buy a box of packaged bars at a bulk discount. I like to stash a couple bars in car compartments or diaper bags.
  • Healthy Fudge Balls (similar to the snack bars)
  • Homemade Trail Mix, with nutrient-dense nuts, dried fruit, coconut, & a bit of good dark chocolate or a savory-seasoned mixture (Buy ingredients in bulk for best cost economy; your toddler will be glad to help pour into a mixing bowl for you.)
  • Smoothies (Frozen berries or pre-diced fruit pieces are easiest, so you don’t have to chop up anything; just pour ingredients into a blender. When my baby was afraid of the blender noise, I used to run to the garage & turn it on really quick!)
  • Natural Jerky (Grass-fed meats are most nourishing; dehydrate your own or purchase from your favorite local farm or meat market.)
  • Cheese Slices/Cubes (You don’t have to buy special cheese stick packages; a regular block of mozzarella will tear into pieces just the same.) 
  • Prepared Sandwich (A friend shared this tip with me: prepare a sandwich or two ahead of time, cut it into quarters, and then just grab a piece from the fridge when you need a small bite to eat.)
  • Cooked Salad Shrimp (You can often find this in the freezer section or at the butcher/deli cases. Look for seafood from safe, sustainable sources. Mix with a bit of mayo or yogurt, and salad greens if desired.)
  • Avocado + a bit of Sea Salt (Scoop out with a spoon, and slice if desired.)
  • Baked Yam + a sprinkle of Walnuts, Butter, & Sea Salt or Raw Honey (For simplicity, bake it whole in a baking dish or crockpot.)
  • A bowl of Cultured Cottage Cheese Eat plain or stir in some fresh berries. (A mere 1/2 cup contains a whopping 14 grams of protein, plus good probiotics!)
  • A glass of Coconut Water for rehydration and nourishment

What are your favorite “Mama Snacks?”

Comments { 24 }

5 Simple Steps to Freeze Summer Berries

What a blessing to be finishing up stocking my freezer with good produce for the upcoming year! It is so important to our family. We love having an assortment of frozen berries for smoothies, berry sauce, berry desserts, and more. We find local sources of fresh berries when in season that have not been sprayed with various chemicals to preserve. I usually get an assortment of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries for our freezer each summer. Our methods for preservation are very simple. I don’t worry about layering them all out on individual cookie sheets to freeze as it requires too much space and time.

1. No rinsing required! I buy non-sprayed berries so there is no worry of chemicals on them. I will only rinse if I noticed excessive dirt on the berries, but having dry berries is key to preventing them from sticking together in the freezer.


2. Layer the berries in individual gallon size freezer Ziploc bags. Chose the quality brand that are specifically designed for freezer use because you want them to protect your investment of fruit! I empty two pints of berries per Ziploc and gently spread them out in a thin layer. I want to avoid them sticking together, so make sure not to overcrowd them. One to two layers of berries is most effective.

3. Place them on various shelves of your freezer. I simply put one bag on top of each shelf. Try to avoid stacking bags until they are completely frozen. This will again help to prevent sticking berries.

4. When frozen, I like to combine two bags together. I gently break the frozen berries apart so they are only individually frozen. If you didn’t put too much in each bag, then there will only be a few stuck together that easily will separate. I add two bags into one which helps consolidate and save bags. I like to rinse out the other Ziplocs and use them for another purpose.

5. Make sure to press out all the excess air from the bag before sealing. Consolidating bags makes this much easier as well especially after the berries are frozen. A helpful tip for getting all the air out is to place a drinking straw at the very edge of the bag and suck out the air before sealing completely in a quick fashion. Lastly, label the exterior of your bags with a permanent marker to highlight the date that you put them in the freezer. This helps you know which berries need to be used up first, especially if you have leftovers from the previous season (like me!).

Frozen berries should be consumed within 12 months for best results.

Comments { 18 }

Adapting Your Favorite Recipes to Increase Nutrition

So you are on a quest for eating more nutritionally as a family and yet the task appears rather daunting. Do I have to develop a whole new menu plan with healthy recipes? Who wants to throw out all your family favorite recipes that have been passed down? Or those favorite comfort foods that make your family feel so satisfied and rejuvenated? The last thing any of us moms want to do is start from scratch when it comes to healthy real food eating.

Today, we would like to offer a resource of ideas for helping you adapt your favorite recipes to make them more healthy. The truth of the matter is, you don’t have to throw out your favorite cookbooks and recipes. In fact, practically every recipe on this site has been a family favorite for quite some time, and have only been adapted in the past several years to replace the ingredients with more real whole food alternatives. The flavors may have changed slightly, but overall, choosing to use real food ingredients only increases the flavor and intensity of each recipe.

I have provided here for you a simple chart to convert those standard ingredients in your everyday recipes to real, whole food ingredients.


Learn about these healthy sweeteners here.

White sugar: Replace with equal amounts of rapadura or sucanat (both of which are whole cane unrefined sugars), or 1/3 less of raw honey or pure maple syrup (Vermont or Canadian sources). You can run rapadura/sucanat through the blender to get a less grainy texture, a perfect alternative for powdered sugar.
Brown sugar: Replace with equal amounts of sucanat or rapadura which have an excellent darker texture and tone similar to brown sugar. If you desire that wetter texture of brown sugar, simply add a Tablespoon of blackstrap molasses to the sucanat or rapadura.
Powered Sugar: replace with powdered sucanat/rapadura, or a dash of stevia.


White Rice: Replace with brown rice. Basmati brown rice is very similar in texture to white rice. Brown rice takes a longer time to cook so make sure to check the packaging. I usually use 1 cup brown rice to 2 cups water.
White Flour: The Colorado State University Cooperative Extension recommends the following for substituting flour when baking.
1 cup of white, all-purpose flour for baking can be substituted with the following:
• 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs;
• 7/8 to 1 cup corn meal;
• 1/2 cup cornstarch plus 1/2 cup rye, potato or rice flour (sift together 6 times, use with 2 tsp baking powder per cup in quick breads as wheat flour allergy substitute);
• 5/8 cup potato flour;
• 7/8 cup rice flour;
• 1 1/3 cups rolled oats;
• 1 1/4 cups rye flour;
• 1 cup minus 1 Tbsp whole wheat flour.

If you are new to using whole wheat, try using half and half with unbleached white flour (choice unbleached to avoid the dying process), and gradually increase the whole wheat content until you can make it 100% whole wheat. Sourdough options are my favorite for getting a light fluffy texture and delicious results even when using whole wheat.

Bread products: Try to find sprouted whole wheat options (Dave’s Killer Bread, Food for Life or Alvarado Street Bakery are all good sprouted bread companies) & or make sure to check labels that they are made from 100% whole wheat without the addition of high fruitose corn syrup or enriched wheat flours.
Pastas: Your best option is brown rice pastas (Trader Joe’s and Tinkyada are great brands), as they are both gluten free and low in phytates. You can get most varieties of pasta in brown rice varieties now.

Learn how to use more variety in your grain choices here.


Generally, choose whole milk alternatives for any recipe calling for low-fat, non-fat, or skim. Whole milk is essential for getting quality fats from dairy products. Low or non-fat alternatives have been processed and are very difficult for the body to digest. If you have access to raw milk, this is your best option. Otherwise, choose whole milk cultured dairy products. Substitute them for equal portions in recipes. Other good alternatives include coconut milk, hemp milk, or organic milk based products.

Margarine: Replace with real butter made from whole milk.
Buttermilk: Replace equally with cultured kefir or yogurt. (Coconut milk kefir is a good choice as well.) You can also make your own milk kefir.


Your best choices here are olive oil, coconut oil, or butter.
 Read more about healthy oils here and part 2. Choice cold-pressed unrefined options. I use these three oils exclusively in all my cooking and baking.

Canola/vegetable oil: replace with olive oil for salad dressings, melted coconut oil for baking, and melted butter or coconut oil for sauteing. Real butter can be used for baking or sauteing.
Crisco/Shortening: replace with palm oil, coconut oil, or butter in their solid state.


Look for pastured grass fed varieties for best nutritional value. These are animals raised on pasture that are fed a variety of greens rather than corn products. Wild fish products are preferred to farm raised. Find local sources here.

Canned Goods

The main concern with condensed soup is the MSG content. Either just eliminate these recipes altogether or replace with the following options:

Condensed Soup (Mushroom, Chicken, etc): replace with this easy homemade version or with cultured sour cream (as used in my enchilada recipe which originally called for cream of mushroom soup).

To learn what canned food brands do not have BPA in the lining, check out this list or Treehugger’s list.


Table Salt: Replace with sea salt (I recommend RealSalt for its high mineral content). Or replace salt with herbs, either fresh or dried, and other seasonings. Freshly ground pepper and fresh seasonings have so much flavor, you won’t miss the salt.
Thickeners: Replace cornstarch or white flour called for in a recipe to a smaller portion of arrowroot powder (i.e. 1/4 cup flour = 1-2 Tbsp arrowroot powder).
Bouillon cubes: replace with homemade or organic free range chicken/beef broth. Usually a recipe will say 1 bouillon cube and 1 cup water, and you can simply replace both with 1 cup homemade broth. You can also freeze homemade stock in ice cube trays to replace the bouillon cubes.
Pancake Syrup: Replace pancake syrup (the fake HFCS sugar syrup) with pure maple syrup (Vermont or Canadian sources), honey, or fruit syrup.
Mayonnaise: Make your own homemade mayonnaise or purchase coconut oil mayonnaise or safflower mayonnaise.
Ketchup: Make your own or choice fermented ketchup or an organic variety that does not use HFCS.
Bread crumbs/croutons: Make your own!
Vanilla Extract: Use pure vanilla extract (not vanilla flavoring or imitation vanilla) or make your own.
Salad Dressings: The best nutritious salad dressing is a simple balsamic vinegar and cold pressed olive oil. But you can also make your own recipes of salad dressings using healthy fats, as described here.
Worcestershire Sauce (this often has corn syrup): replace with equal amount of white vinegar
Baking powder/baking soda: Chose aluminum free varieties (Bob’s Red Mill or Rumford brands).

For further help, please check out Baby Steps to a Real Food Diet.

Did I miss an ingredient? I am sure I did…let me know and I’ll add our source to the above list. Have a favorite recipe that you are just not sure how to adapt? Share below and I’ll try my best to offer some suggestions.

Photo Credit

Comments { 79 }

(Effortless) Freezer Cooking

VegetablesPhoto Credit

Written by monthly contributor, Natalie Didlake.

I love having frozen food to pull out in a pinch!

But how and when to get it in the freezer, in the first place?

With a little planning ahead, it’s easy to make a little extra here and there, and stick the extra in the freezer. Soon enough, the freezer will be full of homemade meals! (Or at least meal starters.)

Getting Started

The best thing I did when I got started was to sit down and brainstorm. I thought about all the meals we typically ate, and wrote down what steps I could complete in bulk, and freeze ahead…things like chopping veggies and pre-cooking meat or beans. Now, I can open the freezer nearly any night, and find at least some of my meal prep there, ready to go!

Here are some of my favorite things to keep in the freezer.


Chopping fresh veggies every night for cooking is time consuming! I love having them in my freezer, ready to throw in the pan.

I’ve had success with carrots, celery, green pepper, and onions (double-bag onions so that your ice doesn’t taste oniony!)

Someday, I might even make my own custom, frozen “mixed veggie” bags, for standard dishes in our house.

What to do:

  • Buy in bulk, and plan to freeze, when a veggie is on SALE! I bought green peppers recently for $.35 each! A perfect opportunity to buy and freeze!
  • Peel/chop vegetables in large quantities.
  • Put them in zipper bags and freeze! Break off a chunk when you’re ready to cook.


Having frozen, pre-cooked meat really cuts down on dinner prep time ! Getting it into the freezer doesn’t even require much extra planning or time…just a little extra money up front. I wait to buy extra until I can get it on SALE! Sometimes I can diffuse the cost of the extra meat, by planning other, cheaper meals, like bean dishes or pancakes.

The great part is, once you have a stocked freezer, you won’t have to buy and cook multiple meats in one week…because you will have already have them frozen! You will then only need to buy and cook what needs replenishing.


  • Begin by planning a meal into your weekly menu that uses beef. Buy several extra pounds (like 5 lbs. of ground beef, instead of 1 lb.)
  • Cook, divide, and freeze in zipper bags.

But don’t just cook a bunch of plain ground beef! Think meal prep. Some of my favorite beef meal starters are:

  • Taco-flavored meat
  • Italian sausage
  • Turkey burgers -make and freeze patties
  • Meatballs – separate into 1-meal portions and freeze separately
  • Meatloaf – mix, form, wrap, and freeze. Thaw in fridge 24 hours
  • Stroganoff meat -brown ground beef with onions/mushrooms


We all have our different ways of buying/cooking/serving chicken…but I can’t resist mentioning my new fave way to do chicken. I have started cooking 10-15 lbs of bone-in breast at once, at the beginning of the month! Sometimes I’ll take a bit out to freeze raw, for cooking later. But the rest, I cook, bones and all. From that, I fill my freezer with LOTS of chicken stock, and tons of cooked, shredded chicken. Chicken for the month, done!

Here’s a link to a great how-to if you want more details.

Breakfast Ideas

  • Muffins – Making a double batch, and freezing the extra, is a painless way to stock the freezer. I like to make mini-muffins for breakfast-on-the-go or trips.
  • Pancakes -My husband doesn’t care for thawed, reheated pancakes, but the smaller members of my household could care less! (Especially when they contain chocolate chips.)
  • Yogurt – freeze yogurt in small cups. Thaw for an hour or so, toss in fresh fruit and granola.

Other Meal Starters

  • Pizza – make multiple pizza crusts, wrap extras well, freeze. It might be fun to put the toppings on first…homemade frozen pizza!
  • Quiche – One of my fave freezer meals! Making multiples is so easy! Mix all ingredients of your best quiche recipe together, freeze, one quiche per zipper bag.
  • Beans – Canned beans are easier, but dried beans cooked at home are cheaper and healthier. I cook large quantities and freeze for later use. Be sure to label, or you’ll end up with “unidentified frozen objects”!
  • “Leftover Soup” – Throw any extra cooked veggies in a med/large container. Put in the freezer. Once it starts to fill up, throw it all in the crock pot with some seasoning, a little tomato sauce, and you’ve got veggie soup! Cook on low all day. Or, even better, add leftovers from a beef roast, and have veggie beef soup. Yum!

What are you going to freeze? Can’t wait to hear your ideas!

Comments { 53 }

12 Efficiency Tips in the Kitchen

Since I spend a lot of time in the kitchen between preparing meals and cleanup, I am always looking for further ways of increasing my productivity in this environment. Here are some of my favorite recommendations:

1. Multiply your meals – cook for a small army.

I always like to double if not triple my dinner meals because it gives plenty extra to spread out over other meals – leftovers are a huge time saver and makes the most of my limited time and energy. I double casseroles and freeze the second for another easy dinner when I am weary, or double soup and freeze the extras, while always reserving enough to cover lunch the next day. When you have all the ingredients lined up…why not cook for tonight and then another?

You might be surprised by what is freezable: not just stews and soups but pre-baked potatoes (stuffed or not), quiche, bread and cakes, sauces of many kinds, pesto, hummus and much more. If you’re not sure, try freezing a small quantity and test later to see how it worked out.

2. Get all your supplies together before you start.

Another favorite tip from the kitchen is to gather all your ingredients together before you begin the recipe. This helps me make sure I have everything on hand before I get out a mess, and it also speeds up the process by having all items within arms reach. Looking for this or that halfway through a recipe is no fun.

3. Clean as you go.

When you are done with that spice or dairy product, simply put it back where it belongs. It cuts down on the final dish duty but also spreads it out to make it more manageable and enjoyable. Who wants a pigsty when you are finally finished preparing a meal?

4. Keep a simple kitchen.

I keep only the essential spices on hand for my cooking so I’m not searching high and low for a spice in a huge collection. Many spices can be substituted for others (read more here), but if you keep to simple down home cooking, you don’t need that many any way. The basics include: parsley, oregano, garlic powder, paprika, basil, seasoning salt, chili powder, cumin, rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper, etc. I also keep one simple drawer of all my basic tools – measuring cups, measuring spoons, rolling pin, grater, can opener, wooden spoons, and garlic press. No random gadgets here to dig through when cooking time comes.

If you find yourself swamped in to many gadgets, ask yourself: Have I used this tool/gadget in the past 6 months to a year?

5. Invest in some equipment.

Having a few reliable quality kitchen appliances can save you time and energy. One reason I love my Blendtec is because of it’s auto turn off feature, enabling me to start on another task while it is going. Having a trustworthy blender and mixer have been truly a blessing to my kitchen. For my larger appliance recommendations, read here.

6. Prepare staples in batches.

Buy cheese in 5 pound blocks and grate it all at once and store in freezer ziplocs. Prepare a large crockpot of beans or lentils and freeze extras. Freeze homemade stock/broth in ice cube trays. Whip up larger batches of your favorite seasoning mixes. Consider setting up a monthly baking day for your bread making or other goodies.

7. Keep only every day use tools on the counter top.

If you are not using it every day, it doesn’t deserve a place on your counter-top. Keep your counter tops clutter free and you will find it takes less time to clean up and your kitchen will look more organized.

8. Keep simple storage tools.

I love storing leftovers in basic quart and pint size glass canning jars with these great little plastic lids. A great way to reuse what I have plus safe and economical. And they all are the same size so they are easy to store in the fridge or cupboard.

9. Organize according to area of use.

Store your items of similar use close together so you don’t have to go here and there around your kitchen when preparing your favorite apple pie. Pots and pans by the stove. Set up a baking center with all your spices, baked goods, measuring cups, spoons, and mixing bowls all in one spot. Plates and silverware should be kept close to the dishwasher for easy transfer.

10. Keep a running shopping list on the fridge.

Keep a running shopping list on your fridge with a pen right by it so that you can add things as soon as you realize you’re running low. This helps as a simple reminder not to forget it at the store and you’ll have the next package before your completely finish the last one.

11. Adopt a menu plan routine.

Whether it be monthly or weekly, adopt a menu plan routine. It will save you time and money.

12. Keep your knives sharp!

This is one I need to take care of now! Keeping my knives sharp will certainly speed up my meal preparations. Who wants to labor over a dull inefficient knife? I’ve heard they are more dangerous as well. No wonder I cut myself last week…although maybe trying to cut a frozen piece of meat wasn’t such a good idea?

Random efficiency tips:

- Hard boil your eggs - bring it to a boil and then turn off for 15 minutes. Cuts down on your electricity or gas consumption and is just as effective as letting the flame run!

- Flaxseed binder – Running out of eggs? This is a frequent occurrence at our house especially when I get randomly inspired to do a baking spree. This little trick has saved me time and time again!

Have any favorite productivity tips to share for the kitchen?

Comments { 22 }

Easy Summer Meals: Fish Tacos

We are huge fans of fish tacos at our house – it is one of my hubby’s favorite dishes and a wonderful summer meal. Plus it is super easy and healthy at the same time. A fun way to add some good nutritional fish to your diet, especially if you are like us and don’t really care for it alone. This recipe uses a fish taco seasoning mix, but you are welcome to explore making your own seasoning. This mix contains a combination of: paprika, garlic, salt, red chilis, onion, cilantro, cumin, pepper, and coriander. I use the mix because it makes it especially simple to throw this meal together last minute and I have not found any recipe to compare to the flavor that is in the Simply Organic mix. It’s that good!


1/2 head green cabbage
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
2-3 limes (or 2-3 teaspoons lime or lemon juice)
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon sweetener (sugar, honey, sucanat, etc)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 pound wild cod or halibut fillets (I buy frozen wild Alaskan cod fillets from Trader Joes)
1 package (1.13 oz) fish taco seasoning (we use Simply Organic brand and love it! I buy it by the case from Azure Standard.)
1 avacado
Peach or Mango salsa (Trader Joe’s sells a fabulous peach salsa that we enjoy!)
7-8 corn tortillas


1. Cut up the fish into 1/2 inch strips or chunks, as desired. Place in a medium bowl and toss with fish taco seasoning mix and the juice of one lime. Allow to marinate as you prepare the rest of the recipe.
2. Thinly slice the cabbage and toss with mayonnaise, sour cream, chili powder, remaining lime/lemon juice, sweetener, salt, and apple cider vinegar.
3. Cut the avocados into small chunks and set aside in a small bowl.
4. Saute the marinated fish over medium/high heat until cooked.
5. Heat corn tortillas in another frying pan with a bit of olive oil or butter on both sides to warm and soften the tortillas.
6. Layer each tortilla with a layer of fish mix, dressed cabbage, avacados, and salsa. Top it off with a bit more lime juice, as desired. Serve and enjoy!

Yield: 4 servings (approx. 7-8 tortillas)

Comments { 17 }

Four Secrets to Thick, Creamy Yogurt Every Time

Written by contributing writer, Trina Holden

Yogurt is one of the simplest traditional foods and a staple in the real food kitchen. Everyone should make their own. The problem is, many have tried to master this simple technique only to have it turn out runny, flavorless, or sour. Eventually they return defeated to the expensive, overly sweetened, store bought version that is all-too-often stripped of good fats.

I have been making yogurt for sixteen years and only in the last six months been able to obtain consistent results with a yogurt that is creamy and thick as custard. (See  the photo – my yogurt is so thick it can stand on its head!) My kids crave it and even my husband will eat it–hooray!

If you have not been satisfied with your yogurt attempts so far, I encourage you to check out these tips and see if there isn’t something here that was missing from your previous attempts. Many of my friends have finally achieved the goal of making their own yogurt by following this step-by-step recipe and keeping in mind these tips…

The Four Secrets to Thick and Creamy Yogurt Every Time

  • Keep it fresh! Get new starter every month or so. You can use your own yogurt for starter several times over, but if your yogurt starts turning out runny or has a funny consistency, it’s time for new starter.
  • Keep it clean! Sterilize the jars you will incubate and store the yogurt in. You want to have control over what bacteria and cultures are growing, so always start with a clean slate.
  • Respect your starter! Don’t beat it to death – let it retain some of its form and dignity and it will work well for you every time.
  • Let it rest! A long incubation time gives the yogurt a full flavor and thicker consistency. Don’t be afraid to leave it overnight!

Yogurt in 10 Simple Steps

1. Pour 1/2 gallon of milk int a large, heavy bottomed sauce pot. For vanilla yogurt, add 1T. vanilla extract and 1/2 c. maple syrup, honey, or sucanat.

2. Heat milk to 180 degrees, or until it bubbles and forms a sking. Turn of heat.

3. Cool milk to 120 degrees. or until you can keep your finger in the milk without burning yourself. Place pot in sink of cold water to speed up this step.

4. Meanwhile, sterilize 2-3 qt. jars by pouring boiling water over them and letting them drain.

5. When milk has cooled, scoop one cup milk into a small bowl and gently swirl in 1/2 c. yogurt (any fresh plain yogurt from the store will work or you can use a yogurt starter)–no stirring!

6. Pour starter mixture back into pot and swirl gently. You are introducing the starter to the milk, not incorporating it.

7. Pour the milk into sterilized jars, if you see chunks of yogurt, you know you did steps 5 and 6 right! Try to divide these chunks between your jars.

8. Cap jars and set them in the pot you warmed the milk in. Fill pot to rim of jars with hot tap water and leave in sink or on counter.

9. Let yogurt incubate 10-18 hours.

10. Move jars to fridge to chill.


Note from Trina: This recipe is from my new ebook, Real{Fast}Food. It’s full of time saving tips for the real food kitchen, teaching you how to plan better, cook faster, and eat healthier! You’ll find lots of great recipes and techniques to get you through the busy summer months. For more information, visit Real{Fast}Food.

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Easy Summer Meals: Burritos w/Homemade Refried Beans

I love easy simple meals that are full of healthy ingredients but don’t require a lot of time or energy to prepare! Burritos is one of those that provides a well balanced meal with lots of flavor and as much variety as you desire. You can add meat of any kind and spice it up with a little taco seasoning mix, or keep to a basic flavorful refried bean for the frugal minded. There are numerous recipes out there for refried beans, but here is our concoction to get you inspired! We make a large batch of refried beans at one time and I freeze them in smaller batches for future easy meals (lunches or dinners). I will put quart size mason jars of refrieds in the freezer for easy access. This cuts down on your work and makes it more simple.

Refried Beans

8 cups dry pinto beans
1 1/2 Tablespoons sea salt
2 teaspoons cumin
4-6 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, chopped
dash of hot sauce or 1-2 jalapeno, seeded
pepper, season to taste

1. Soak your beans overnight in a crockpot with fresh filtered water and 1-2 Tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, or lemon juice. This helps to de-gas the beans and break down the phytates that inhibit proper digestion.
2. Rinse the beans and fill your crockpot again with fresh filtered water to cover the beans by about 2 inches. Turn on low for 5-6 hours. Keep an eye on them and add more water if needed.
3. After the beans are soft, drain and reserve about 1 cup of the liquids.
4. In a large stock pot, saute your onions and garlic. Add the cooked beans and just enough liquids to make a smooth paste. With a hand mixer, blend up the beans till it reaches your desired consistency. Add more liquids as necessary. Add your salt, cumin, hot sauce, and season with pepper to taste.

Our favorite toppings include: salsa (our fermented salsa is a huge hit!), sour cream, raw cheddar cheese, tomatoes, limes, lettuce, and guacamole! For a gluten free variety, we serve on brown rice or corn tortillas! Simply heat them up on both sides in a pan with a bit of butter or olive oil and you have a wonderful pliable tortilla to fill with goodness.


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