Pre-made meals. Too good to be true?

Before I go away for an extended period (as in more than a weekend), I try to empty the house of all food that could spoil and wreck havoc. That means there are slim pickings the day before we leave and even less upon return. I’ve always thought about making a batch of chili or other freezer meal that I could thaw when I get back, but um, that hasn’t worked out thus far. It’s the thought that counts, right?

This time, though, I was proactive and started researching a few delivery services that specialize in pre-made meals. Because as much as I love my Plated boxes, I knew I wasn’t going to be in any shape to whip up a fancy dinner after 20 hours in the car. Unfortunately, 95% of said services don’t deliver to my area.

With persistence, I stumbled upon GoReadyMade, a company that lets you choose the meals you want while leaving them the dirty work. And, lucky for me – there was a Groupon* that came with a significant discount. This first box included eight meals for $35 (regular price $79.92).

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Milla was so excited to check things out

What I Loved

The Plan – There are several options to fit every need – anywhere from 4-10 meals per delivery.

The Schedule – Pick the delivery days that are best for you and skip the ones that aren’t.

The Options – Select different recipes or all of the same – there are so many choices. Dishes include yummy concoctions like cauliflower mac & cheese, smoky chicken fajitas (pictured below), and sirloin steak with peppercorn sauce.

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The Ease – Many of the meals take less than 5 minutes to heat in the microwave. Just dig in!

The Taste – The dishes were wonderfully seasoned and bursting with flavor. Also, not salty.

The Rewards – You can earn credits when you invite friends to join the service.

What I Didn’t Love

The Calories – Many of the meals are upwards of 700 calories. I try to keep my meals (especially dinner) around 400 calories, so I ended up splitting up several of the meals into two portions and adding a side salad or extra veggie to my plate.

The Size – The meals are advertised as enough for one adult or 1-2 children. The tortellini with tomato sauce was barely enough to keep a toddler full (even my husband remarked on this!), yet had a whopping 750 calories.

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#stillhungry

The Inconsistency – I ordered two portions of the cauliflower mac & cheese, and while one container was nearly full, the other one was only half full. It was disappointing that they weren’t evenly distributed.

The Price – Understandably, you’re going to pay more for convenience, but at this rate, I could pick up burgers and fries for around the same nutritional value and a lot less cash.

Bottom Line: I think there is huge potential for this service, but it just wasn’t for me. While I did like a lot of the features, the calories and price weighed heavily in my stomach. This purchase served as a trial for a long-term solution of incorporating healthy, cost-effective pre-made meals into a weekly rotation. Unfortunately, this service will not be “the one” and the search to give myself a cooking break continues.

 

*Groupon may not be available in all areas and may be subject to change after this posting. Check your local deals for more info!

Finding the Balance: Home

When I was 16, I had this great idea to maximize my day. Back then I was running on the track team, lawyering up in Mock Trial club, studying for the SATs, taking three college-level courses, and tutoring or babysitting in my “spare time.” I thought that if I could just sleep for 6 hours, I’d have 18 left to FIT IT ALL IN. What a dreamer I was.

It was hard to juggle school and extracurricular activities with work and still manage to have a social life. But I was 16. I always came home to a hot meal on the table, folded laundry in my room, and had someone to schlep me around to every activity before I got my license and a car.

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This book is everything I’m feeling.

Twelve years later I’m still trying to find the time to fit it all in. And the thing I hate to admit is that there will never be enough time.

Most days I’m overwhelmed by the piles of dirty dishes and clothes – and don’t even get me started on dog hair. How is it possible to sweep up a full-length fur coat every other day?

It’s the little things

While this topic could go on for pages, I decided to stick two of the things that I struggle with daily: household chores and cooking.

Bring on those chores

Divvy em’ up

I don’t have kids, but if I did, this post wouldn’t even exist – I’d have a wheel of doom…I mean chores…to take care of that. Boom!

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Hard at work. Look at those muscles!

My husband and I do a good enough job of dividing up the chores. He does maintenance on the cars, outside work, takes out the trash, and is the main caregiver to the two pups. I prefer all things related to the kitchen, laundry, and being inside. If I had to write up instructions on what items get cold washed, ironed, no dryer, etc., I’d have a full-color manual in a 2″ binder.

It’s definitely important to find a healthy balance if you don’t already have one. When one person does more or feels like they do more, the resentment can be HIGH.

Make em’ fun

I don’t usually mind cleaning. But I’m often tired after work and doing something as trivial as the dishes, let’s say, feels daunting. There could be only ten things to wash, but it always feels like hundreds.

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Some of my current listens.

I usually put my headphones on and listen to an audio book, Netflix, or Spotify while I’m working. Anything to take my mind off the task at hand. It takes about 15 minutes to wash a sink full of dishes, and when you think about it, that’s really no time at all. I actually find it mindless and relaxing.

There’s always the dishwasher, but I try to save that for meal prep days.

Break em’ up

I like to get all of my grocery shopping done on Saturday. I also clean out the fridge and cabinets, then meal prep for the following week. If I have a lot going on, I’ll split this between two days. After all, it does take a few hours.

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One of the hairy fur children.

Little things like sweeping, picking up, dusting, etc. can be done with ease during the week. 15-30 minutes here and there can make a BIG difference. Sometimes I’ll run the dishwasher (if I have a lot) or throw a load of laundry in while watching a movie. Chores that can be done in the background are the best ones.

It’s not gonna cook itself

Some people love to cook. I am not one of them, believe it or not. I find cooking to be annoying, which is why I always look for shortcuts. And let me tell you, there are some pretty good ones.

Meal Prep

Setting aside a few hours to make a slew of meals for the week helps immensely. It also makes me feel like I have my shit together. I usually throw together one or two  breakfasts, alternate lunches, and portion out some snacks so I’m set for the week. Doing this has saved me a lot of time and tears. If you’re interested in a deeper dive of this topic, check out my #mealprep blog post.

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I can get a little prep crazy. This is like 1/4 of what I do each weekend.

Meal Delivery

I love subscription boxes, and one of my favorites is Plated, a meal delivery that has so much variety and many great-tasting dinners. You do have to cook the food, but all of the ingredients are pre-portioned and the recipes are very easy to follow. And, I mean so easy that [insert the friend you know can’t cook a can of soup] can do it!

I recommend Plated to everyone I know, but it happens to be one of the pricier companies. The box I get is $72 and includes 3 days of meals for two people. It’s worth it because it’s more cost-effective than eating out, there is no waste, you can add more meals or servings, there are always two dessert options (for an extra fee), and their customer service is STELLAR.

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One of the dinners from this week’s Plated box. Delicious.

There are many other services that offer meals from around $9-15 a dish. Some are even catered to vegetarian, gluten free, or Paleo lifestyles. They make dinners after work a breeze and take the guesswork out of what to have. Plus, the whole family can easily get involved. Win, win, and win.

Pre-Made Meals

Now, I’m not one for “TV dinners” or anything that’s frozen in a plastic black tray. In all honesty, it would probably be healthier to eat the packaging. But I can attest that having some pre-packaged food hanging around can help in a pinch.

I accidentally found a few frozen meals from beetnik and Tastefully Plated Paleo Meals while I was perusing the aisles in Walmart. When I was sick a couple of weeks ago, and could barely leave the couch, it helped to just pop one of these babies in the microwave.

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This chicken chimichurri dish from Tastefully Plated was to die for.

There will be times when you just don’t have the energy. There will be days when all you have in the fridge are ice cubes and something green and wrinkled in the produce bin. There will be moments when the only other option is digging a spoon into a jar of chunky PB for breakfast, lunch, and dinner or ordering everything on the dollar menu.

Do yourself a favor and get some emergency food in that fridge of yours.

I don’t know about you…

…but I’m absolutely loving this series of posts. While we might not ever find a good balance between anything, there are many things we can do to make the best of EVERYTHING.

Check out last week’s post and stay tuned next week to learn about finding the balance with relationships.

Peace, Love, Zen

DS

In an instant!

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Birthday present from my mom!

Last year I kept hearing about the Instant Pot and how amazing it was. “Cook pulled pork in record time!” “Hottest kitchen item around!” “You need to buy this NOW!” I did a little research and was, at first, a bit turned off by the hefty price tag. Then I started to see all of the amazing foods that could be cooked in the pressure cooker, and all of the time saved by using it, and knew I had to have it.

When my mom surprised me with the Instant Pot for my birthday, I was ecstatic. Seriously an amazing gift for a cook (or want to be cook)! I used it that day. And I’ve used it every week since.

It’s taken me a while to actually write up a review because I wanted to make sure I covered everything. I had a lot of questions in the beginning and if you’re on the fence about the purchase, I’m sure you have a ton too.

Below you’ll find some of the basics.

Pronunciation

Instant Pot, not Instapot – for some reason I keep seeing that one floating out there. Two words – okay?

Who is it for?

This product is good for people with 9-5 jobs, those who want to meal prep but just don’t have the time, people who hate cooking, people who love cooking, people who love gadgets. On second thought, this product is good for people.

Is it worth the money?

I get this ALL the time. If you look at the Instant Pot as just a cooking tool, it seems hella expensive. Retail price for the 6 qt 7-in-1 (IP-DUO60) is $99.99, albeit a step down from last year’s going rate of $129.99.

But, in essence, you’re not just buying a cooking tool. You’re getting a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, steamer, and warmer complete with a sauté/browning feature, neatly packaged into one item. That’s big. As much as I love my Crock-Pot, I haven’t used it once since getting the Instant Pot.

Instead of wondering if it’s worth the money, think about how much your time is worth. If this device can cut cook time by 50 or even 75 percent, would it help you out? Would you be more inclined to cook?

What does it do?

Literally, everything described above. It cooks good meals in record time – think 7 minutes for easy-peel hard boiled eggs, 35-minute shredded chicken, 15-minute chili. If you’ve made your own bone broth, you know it can take 24-48 hours on the stove top and 8+ hours in the slow cooker. With the Instant Pot, you can have it in two.

What are all those buttons?

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Ha. There are a lot of controls and that can be intimidating. You typically won’t use all of them. On any given day I tend to use the bottom 8 and the – + buttons because they really cover everything. The Soup, Rice, etc. just take the guesswork out of manual programming.

  • High Pressure – most meals are cooked on this setting
  • Manual – I make most of my dishes in this setting because I get to control the time (and have found that some recipes require more or less than recommended)
  • Timer – changes the input so you can adjust the time for manual cooking
  • Less & More – adjust the time needed for a particular dish
  • Keep Warm/Cancel – stops the cooking and keeps your dish warm until you’re ready/shuts off the Instant Pot entirely
  • Sauté – a good feature to brown meat before adding the rest of the ingredients to the pot
  • The other buttons are not used as frequently, but I would like to include a video of how and when to use them.

How much liquid do you need?

Rule of thumb is 1-2 cups of liquid for every recipe. So, if you are cooking two chicken breasts, 1 cup of chicken broth (or water) would be sufficient. Add more if you want extra juice. The nice thing about the Instant Pot is that liquid under pressure does not evaporate – if you start out with 1 cup, you’ll end up with 1 cup.

Is it safe?

This isn’t your grandmother’s pressure cooker. You know, the one that used rattle, whistle, and shake like it was going to explode? Now, that was scary.

There are 10 proven safety mechanisms including lid close detection (unit will beep and not start until the lid is properly fastened and locked) and high-temperature warning (pressure will not build up in the pot if there is not enough liquid or moisture).

After reading through your user manual and seeing how it works, you should feel completely comfortable using it.

Note: It is important to only use/buy items and accessories that are manufactured and tested by Instant Pot. In particular, the sealing rings have been tested and passed UL, FDA, and LFGB safety tests. The same cannot be said about 3rd party companies/products.

Does it really cook that fast?

Yes. And maybe not. I don’t want you to get discouraged here, but I have to be honest. Many of the recipes don’t account for the time it takes to pressurize the chamber. So, while hard boiled eggs only take 7 minutes to cook, there is an extra 10-15 minutes of pressure time that must be factored in.

But the unit is amazing and will cook a lot of your slow cooker favorites (think pulled pork) in record time.

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So easy to peel – I wanted to cry tears of joy!

How do you clean it?

It’s easy to clean out the Instant Pot. Just remove the stainless steel cooking pot, scrub with hot soapy water and dry. Clean the lid with a damp cloth or sponge, then remove the inner flexible sealing ring and clean in hot soapy water. The cooking pot and sealing ring can also be placed in the dishwasher. I always wipe down the surface of the unit when done in case there are any spills.

Note: After the first use the bottom of my pot was stained. I scrubbed and scrubbed, but couldn’t get it back to its original state. This has not affected cooking in any way but is worth mentioning in case you experience something similar. If this really bugs you, you can purchase a new pot for around $34 on Amazon.

What items and accessories are available?

There are a number of different accessories made especially for the Instant Pot, including sealing rings, cookbooks, tempered glass lids, silicone safety mitts, etc.

Check out Amazon for a full listing and to purchase.

Why I like it

The Instant Pot is very helpful to me when I’m meal prepping on the weekends and if – no, when – I forget to take the meat out of the freezer before I leave for work.

I’ve never been able to cook anything so fast, so good, and so tender. The meat falls off the bone and shreds easily, meals are more flavorful, and there are so many fun recipes online or you can easily adapt your own. Check Pinterest for ideas. Some of my favorites include Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole and Crack Chicken by Adventures of a Nurse.

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Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole

Thanks to the Instant Pot’s growing popularity, there are now several cookbooks specifically for pressure-cooking. My favorite it is Paleo Cooking with Your Instant Pot by Jennifer Robins, one of my favorite girl bosses. Her recipes are easy to follow and taste great.

Besides the normal slow cooker favorites, you can make all sorts of dishes including soup, bread, cheesecake, yogurt, and rice pudding. It’s really a lot of fun!

Bottom Line

This is one of the best investments you can make – and THE best investment for your kitchen. The Instant Pot is a HUGE time saver. That fact, alone, should have you running to Amazon (figuratively, or course) and buying one for you and a friend. If you use it regularly, and you will, it will quickly pay for itself. If you still have hesitations and are uneasy about the price, Amazon has two big sales where you may be able to snag one for a lower price – Prime Day and Black Friday. Be on the lookout!

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Chili in the making!

 

Please Note: This post is not sponsored by Instant Pot and I am not affiliated with the company in any way. I also do not receive any compensation from the Amazon links included above. All opinions are my own.  

Bald Beauties

img_5013How do you get perfect hard boiled eggs? Well, how do you get perfect anything, really? For me, it’s usually by accident.

You might have already realized that when it comes to cooking I rarely ever measure anything or write the process down – I find that task daunting, much like saving contacts in my iPhone. That means I never really make the same dish twice and I have a bunch of random numbers on my phone that can only be identified by text message content. *sigh*

Hard boiled eggs are the bane of my existence. They are so versatile – eat them alone, make egg salad, deviled eggs, etc. But they can be so damn difficult to peel. I’m guilty of throwing many a challenging egg straight into the trash. Sorry, Humpty, I don’t have those kind of patience.

A few weeks ago an accident happened that changed the way I make my eggs. I forgot about them. Twice. But it ended up that they were so easy to peel that I will ALWAYS forget about them from now on.

So here is my cook ’em and forget ’em tutorial – just in time for the 4th of July! I don’t know about you, but my holiday just wouldn’t be the same without some old fashioned deviled eggs. (For a spin on the traditional and a paleo friendly recipe, replace the mayo with avocado – yum!)

  • Step 1: Forget everything you know about boiling eggs.
  • Step 2: Add eggs to a pot of water. Heat on high.
  • Step 3: When water starts to boil, let them boil. 2-3 minutes; maybe 5.
  • Step 4: Remove from heat and let sit 20-25 minutes; maybe 30.
  • Step 5: Drain. Run eggs under cold water until shells are cool.
  • Step 6: Transfer eggs to a bowl of ice water. (I use an entire tray.) Let sit until the ice melts.
  • Step 7: Peel your beautiful bald and smooth eggs.
  • Step 8: Eat ’em.

Boom! Happy Independence Day Weekend.