Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How Do We Eat?

   When people find out that Mark and I are both training for half or full marathons, the first question we always get is "How do you have time for that?" Mark and I always just look at each other and always come back with "We just make time." But I have been thinking about that question a lot recently. While I am lucky enough to be able to be a stay at home mom, the opportunity comes at a cost. Mark works from 8 AM until 5 PM or later. And because of his position as a manager, he is always on the clock for texts, e-mails, and at home work from time to time. Because of the inflexibility of his job, he wakes up extra early to cross-train and we run after he gets off work (something that is difficult to do in the dark months of winter). And because of our 3-year-old, that means we are trying to get in our runs quickly after work so that we can get dinner and bedtime in by 8:30. Plus, I have to plan leftover's for our lunch the next day. This takes planning.
   This is where my crock pot comes in extremely handy. If dinner is ready to go as soon as we walk in the door, there are no excuses to eat poorly. But even crock pot meals take some planning. Last fall I started doing some mass meal production research (which means one day prepping, then several meals are in the freezer, ready to go)  and started trying lots of recipes out. Some were really tasty. Some were really nasty. Some were just okay. But that is how I spent my fall and winter. The meals came in handy, like when our dishwasher started leaking, unbeknownst to us, and we had to replace our floor and ended up with an impromptu kitchen remodel the week before Thanksgiving. Even with people coming to help us, our crock pot was able to feed us almost every meal (out of 39 meals, we only ate out 4 of them!). Talk about a life saver.
   So after months and months of trying out different recipes, tweaking them here and there, I have come up with an arsenal of recipes and instructions on how to prepare meals that I am now ready to share with you.

Getting Ready To Cook

     We usually go on weekly shopping trips. Every other week is a bigger trip, while the other week is a smaller trip. In order to make these meals, I make a list of all the ingredients of the recipes and do one big trip. To do this, we go to Costco, Smith’s and Winco. Smith’s has the best meat selection in small packages. We hit up Costco for organic chicken stock in a box (can also get organic vegetable stock too!), organic canned tomatoes, cheese, and produce we know is cheaper there like broccoli and colored bell peppers. We then hit Winco for everything else. We buy a lot of bulk food items, like spices and baking supplies, which are much much cheaper by the pound. We also like the bulk food, meat, and organic produce section at Sprouts Market, or the awesome produce and pantry items at Trader Joes. Whenever we are in Salt Lake, we hit up these stores to get whatever we need.
    All the cooking starts the next day. Shopping with a 3-year-old is a lot of work, so I decided to split my shopping and cooking days up. Since the cooking took me 4 hours, I am glad I broke it up. Hint to the wise, be very methodical when you are doing this stage. I got my spreadsheet and stapled it to my recipes so I could see how much of each thing I needed. Then I gathered and washed all my produce at the same time. Then, following the instructions for each item, I chopped, sliced, minced, and grated each time at the same time so I could put all the meals together at once. If you have a food processor, this step will be much faster. Mine broke, so this took me 3 hours.
     Once all my produce was ready, I prepped the meat and got all the other ingredients ready like the canned goods and spices. Once everything was in order, I started marking the bags. Make sure to put all the heating and serving instructions on the bags so you know how to cook each dish without having to look up each recipe later. Very smart! Then, one by one, I filled the bags.
     After 4 hours of cooking, we had 9 bagged meals, and one in the crock pot. In all honestly, it wouldn't have taken much longer to cook double or even triple this amount. And because I do have a 3-year-old, it probably took me much longer than it should have. And 4 hours is nothing considering that I have 2 weeks or more of freezer meals ready to go.

There are a few tips I would leave you with:

·    Clean out your freezer before you start.
·    Have every bowl you own clean so you can use them to put in all your prepped produce and meat. You also will need several cutting boards, knives, measuring spoons, and measuring cups. In other words, be prepared.
·     Make sure your dishwasher is completely empty before starting so you can put your dishes right in for easy clean-up. 
·     Get yourself a treat to reward yourself with while you are working. I couldn't have stood there for that long without my Mt. Dew (I know, a runner drinking Mt. Dew. What is the world coming too?).
·     If you have a food processor, use it!
·       Be organized. This is where A-type personalities will do well.

     The Recipes

Stuffed Bell Peppers

5 assorted bell peppers, tops cut off and seeds removed
1 pound of ground Italian hot sausage.
1/2 head of cauliflower, grated or chopped into a rice consistency.
1 small (8 ounce) can of tomato paste.
1 small white onion, medium dice.
5 cloves of garlic, minced.
2 tsp. dried basil
2 tsp dried oregano.
2 tsp dried thyme.


Mix all ingredients and stuff into seeded bell peppers. Place in gallon zip lock bag and freeze. On cooking day, place in slow cooker and cook on low for 6 hours

Sloppy Tamale Pie

1.5 lbs ground beef or turkey (can also use 2 cans of rinsed beans instead of meat)
1 carrot, shredded
1 zucchini, shredded or finely diced
1 onion chopped
1 bell pepper finely chopped
2 cups frozen corn
1 can whole olives (sliced – buy them whole then slice them yourself)
1 packet taco seasoning
2 15 oz cans tomato sauce
Serve over cornbread


Brown ground beef, carrot, zucchini, onion and bell pepper until done (if going meatless, just sauté veggies). Drain and cool. Add to a gallon zip lock bag with remaining ingredients. Freeze. Thaw and cook in crock pot on low for 5-6 hours or high 3-4 hours. Serve “sloppy joe style” over cornbread.

Savory Pepper Steak 

3 pounds of round steak cut into ½ inch thick strips or stew meat cut down
½ cup flour
1 tsp of salt
1 tsp pepper
1 large onion chopped
a few garlic cloves—I like to put 4-5 crushed into each bag
1 green pepper sliced
1 red pepper sliced
2 16oz cans of tomatoes—I prefer Italian style
2 tbsp beef bouillon
4 tsp of Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp of steak seasoning
2 tbsp of steak sauce


Toss steak strips in mixture of flour, salt and pepper.  Mix together beef bouillon, Worcestershire sauce, and steak sauce and divide evenly into two bags.  Add remaining ingredients.  Cook on low 8 hours.  Serve with rice and a side salad.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

1 pound chicken (Can be made without meat too! Just add another can of beans.)
1 (15 ounce) can black beans
1 (15 ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, mashed
1 (10 ounce) can enchilada sauce
1 medium onion, chopped
1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chile peppers
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 (10 ounce) package frozen corn
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro (topping)
7 corn tortillas (topping)
vegetable oil (topping)
Combine all ingredients into a Ziploc bag. Freeze. Thaw and put into a slow cooker add 2 cups water and one 14 oz can of chicken broth. Cover, and cook on Low setting for 6 to 8 hours or on High setting for 3 to 4 hours. Shred chicken in crock pot after cooking is done.
Serve with:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
Lightly brush both sides of tortillas with oil. Cut tortillas into strips, then spread on a baking sheet.
Bake in preheated oven until crisp, about 10 to 15 minutes. To serve, sprinkle tortilla strips over soup. Serves approx. 5-6 people.

Bean Stew

6 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth (add when putting in crock pot)
1 cup dry beans, picked over and rinsed
2 medium carrots, peeled and finely diced
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely diced
3 tablespoons uncooked white rice
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence or dried thyme
½ teaspoon salt
1/8teaspoon ground white or black pepper
Combine ingredients in a gallon zip lock bag (minus the broth). Freeze. Thaw, add broth and bag to slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 to 5 hours. Serves 4-5 people.
   Here is a start of my recipes. I will post more in other posts, but this should be enough to get you started. Happy running, and eating!

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