How to Adapt Your Meal Plans for Sports Season

Dinner during sports season

Sports season –  I’m not actually sure that it’s just a season.  I think it’s the norm.  It seems we’re always juggling things for soccer or volley ball.  I know many of you are in the trenches too with various sports.  It’s fun, and there are a lot of benefits for our kids, but there are trade offs too.

Family dinner is often the big loser during sports season.  It gets trampled under a schedule that has enough cleats to punch holes in the best laid dinner plans.

How to handle it?  Here are my top tips to keep the family eating together (at least most of the time) and avoid the drive-thru.

1.  Make a plan for the off nights

Be very intentional about planning meals together when you can get everyone gathered around the table.  And if having everyone there seems impossible (and with various teen schedules, it really is nearly impossible) go for as many family members as you can.

The way this works in our family is that if I’m home around dinner time, I will make dinner.  There may be two of us at the table or five of us.  Sometimes the kids bring a friend too.  I tend to cook for 6-8 people, no matter how many will be eating that night.  Leftovers get eaten up for lunches and late night boy snacks over the next couple of days.

We also aim to have at least one meal a week with all of us – and that includes our daughter and her husband.  This one takes some planning for all of us, but it’s so worth it.

Dinner gets harder on nights when I’m out to drive a child to a game or practice.  But there are strategies for that too:

2.  Use a slow cooker

If you’ll be home at a reasonable time to eat dinner, grab the slow cooker and fill it up early in the day.  Here’s a list I wrote a few years ago that categorizes slow cooker recipes for 5-10 minute prep, cook all day, and minimal sides required.

The key is to choose a recipe that works for your day.  If you’re looking for a big list of slow cooker recipes that can cook all day, check out this one.

22 Slow Cooker Recipes that can cook all day

And since that list is old, I think I need to do an update post for each of those categories with even more recipes.

3.  15 Minute Meal

If you’ll be home in time to eat, plus have 15 minutes to spare ahead of time, try a 15 minute recipe.  You really can get dinner on the table in just 15 minutes.  Here’s a list of 15 minute recipes.  Scroll down on the page to find the recipe links.

15 Minute Meals for Back to School

4.  Pack it

There’s no shame in eating on the sidelines or in your car.  I have a reputation on our kids’ soccer teams of showing up for games with a picnic.  It’s never fancy, but I never regret packing it either.  What I do regret is a run through the fast food place when I haven’t taken the time to pack a meal.  That’s expensive, doesn’t taste great, and not good for us either.

This week we had three soccer games.  I made packable food for all three, although two were so early we didn’t really need to do it.  No worries though.  Having a meal all done like that, meant that other family members at home were able to eat as well.

Here’s what we had this week:

  • Egg salad sandwiches (made with Greek yogurt), carrots and celery sticks
  • Pasta Salad with grilled chicken
  • Hummus Wraps, Green Bean and Tomato Salad (recipe coming soon)

Here’s a post with a few tips and ideas for packable meals that aren’t sandwiches.

P.S. Would you like a menu of easy meals, along with a color-coded grocery list all done for you? One of our Weekly Meal Plan members shared that she saves at least 2 hours each week by using the meal plans.  She also saves a minimum of $60 each week on food!  Find out how you can become a member by clicking here. Find your perfect Eat at Home Weekly Meal Plan here.

 

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How to Use a Pizza Steel, a Pizza Peel and Parchment Paper to Make the Best Homemade Pizza Ever!

How to use a pizza steel, a pizza peel and parchment paper to make the best homemade pizza ever

 

Have you ever heard of a Pizza Steel?  Until a month or so ago, I hadn’t.

But this one tool has transformed the way I make homemade pizza.  More than any other purchase for my kitchen, this pizza steel has made a huge difference in the outcome of our homemade pizza making.

Now we turn out pizzas with crisp crusts.  The edges are soft and full of air bubbles.  The pizza doesn’t droop when you pick up a slice to eat it.

Basically, our homemade pizza is pretty amazing.

I’ve already shared 5 Ways to Improve Your Homemade Pizza, the Best Homemade Pizza Sauce, and our Pizza Dough recipe.

It’s possible to get decent pizza results from a regular pizza pan or baking stone, but using a pizza steel is a game changer.

Homemade pepperoni pizza

What is a pizza steel?

I bought my pizza steel from Falls Culinary.  It’s the Dough Joe Samurai.  It’s a 15″x15″ slab of steel that’s 1/4″ thick.  It won’t break or wear out, unlike pizza stones.

You place the pizza steel on the highest rack in the oven about an hour before you’re ready to bake.  Crank the oven as hot as it will go.  For mine, that’s 550 degrees.  I also turn on the convection fan, which gives it another 50 degrees.

The steel gets super hot.  Pizzas only need about 6 minutes of baking time when you use a steel.

The pizza peel.

You’re going to need a pizza peel as well.  The peel is how you transfer the uncooked pizza to the oven and then get the pizza back out again after baking.

I have this one from Epicurean.  Any pizza peel will work though.

How to get the pizza on and off the steel – parchment paper.

After trying flour and cornmeal on the pizza peel and still having the dough stick, I gave parchment paper a try.

We place the dough circle (sometimes ours isn’t as circle shaped as we’d like) on a piece of parchment paper.  Then pull this onto the peel.  Transfer the pizza on parchment to the hot steel in the oven.

uncooked pizza on parchment

 

In the photo above you can see an uncooked pizza on parchment paper.  It’s ready to go onto the peel and into the oven.

Six minutes later, I use tongs to pull the parchment and pizza back onto the peel and transfer it to a cutting board.  The parchment sometimes gets charred, but doesn’t catch fire or anything scary.

And it doesn’t interfere with the crisping of the crust.

leopard spotting on pizza

 

See the brown spots on the bottom of the crust?  That’s called leopard spotting and it’s what you want in pizza.  The crust was crisp, browned and perfect!

If you want to make really great homemade pizza, I recommend investing in a pizza steel and pizza peel.

Honestly, I’ve always thought that pizza was not something you could make at home and have anything that compares to getting it out at a restaurant.  But using the pizza steel has changed my mind.  Not that we won’t ever buy another restaurant pizza – that would be crazy.  But now I know we can have excellent pizza at home too.

P.S.  Do you want to save an hour each week on meal planning, plus more by cooking faster?  Sign up here for Weekly Meal Plans!

 

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What to Serve With Tacos and Enchiladas – Beyond Chips and Salsa

What to Serve with Tacos and Enchiladas

When I asked on Facebook about what meals you have trouble finding side dishes for, tacos and other Mexican and Tex-Mex meals made the list.

Chips and salsa and guacamole (here’s a tip to keep it from turning brown) are natural choices.  They’re quick too.

But what about other options?  Here are a few ideas:   [Read more…]

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What to Serve With Spaghetti or Lasagna (that’s not salad)

What to serve with spaghetti or lasagna that's not salad

 

Tossed salad is so easy with spaghetti or lasagna or any type of pasta with tomato sauce.  It hits everything that makes a great side dish.

But sometimes you just want something different.  Or something extra.

There’s always garlic bread.  Or hot, crusty bread with olive oil for dipping.

But what if you want something else?  Here are a few ideas to get started:

Antipasto Plate

A platter filled with marinated vegetables like artichokes and roasted red peppers, along with deli meats, cheeses and olives is a change of pace.  This works especially well if you’re feeding a lot of people, as it will really stretch the meal.

Roasted Vegetables

I’m becoming a fan of roasted vegetables with all kinds of meals.  My favorites would be brussels sprouts or broccoli.  Use good quality olive oil, kosher salt and black pepper to season.

Raw Vegetables tossed with Italian Dressing

Try cauliflower, carrots, cherry tomatoes tossed with vinaigrette.  Its’ still a salad, but it’s a little different than tossed salad.

What do you like to serve with spaghetti or lasagna?

P.S.  Do you want to save an hour each week on meal planning, plus more by cooking faster?  Sign up here for Weekly Meal Plans!

 

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How to Make Homemade Pizza Dough

Homemade Pizza Dough Recipe

 

We’ve been talking pizza here the last few weeks.  We talked about a few pizza game changers you can use to improve your homemade pizza.

And I shared our favorite homemade sauce recipe.  It’s easy and simple so that’s an added bonus.

Today I’ve got a pizza dough recipe for you to try.  This is not a quick dough to make, but it is worth the time.  I adapted this from the free Craftsy pizza making class.  Mostly, I simplified and clarified the recipe.  The original recipe calls for measuring everything on a scale.

While I’m sure using a kitchen scale will yield more consistent results, I’m resistant for a couple of reasons.  First, I don’t own a scale and I know many (probably most) of you don’t either.

And second,  I think there’s something to be said for learning to trust your own judgement when it comes to working with any type of dough.  There’s a satisfaction in making something enough that you begin to know when it needs more flour or when it could use some water.  When to leave the dough to rest a while and when to keep working it.

I’m still in the process of learning to really know my way around the pizza dough, but I am learning.

Before I share the recipe, let’s talk over a few tips.   [Read more…]

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What to Serve with Fried Rice and Stir Fry

What to serve with fried rice and stir fry

 

We’ve talked about the basics of choosing side dishes.  And last week we talked about side dish options for pot pies and other casseroles.

Today, we’re taking on fried rice and stir fry.

These dishes can be tough to pair with a side dish.  Honestly, I often skip other sides and just leave it with rice with the stir fry.  Or fried rice alone.

But there are times when you’d really like to have something else to round out the meal.  Here are a few ideas:

Vegetables

Try steamed or roasted broccoli, brussels sprouts, or green beans.  Or do a quick stir fry of zucchini, onions, mushrooms, carrots etc.  Season with garlic and soy sauce.

Fruit

Fresh cut oranges or pineapple can serve as a side/dessert.  The citrus sweet flavor is a nice opposite for the main dish.  Canteloupe in season is also really good with Asian main dishes.

Egg rolls, dumplings or spring rolls

This one is pretty obvious and not quite as high in nutrition either.  But they’re so good!

Salad

Green salad with Asian Vinaigrette, Asian Ginger Dressing, or Asian Sesame Dressing.  Asian Broccoli Salad, Hawaiian Cole Slaw or Tropical Salad would be good too.

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What to Serve with Pot Pie and Other All Inclusive Casseroles

What to serve

Last week we talked about side dish pairings and how to choose sides that will compliment your main dish.

This week I want to focus on sides that go with pot pies and casseroles. When I asked about recipes that are hard to choose side dishes for, pot pies were at the top of the list.

After all, pot pie already has a meat, vegetable and bread element. It makes it hard to know what to place with it. And yet, it does feel like the meal needs something to round it out.

Here are a few ideas. You may opt for just one side if it’s a simple, weeknight meal. If you’re feeding more people or serving a Sunday dinner, you’ll want to add more than one of these options.

Fruit or Fruit Salad

Sweet Potatoes

Green Veggies

Pot pie and casseroles usually do have vegetables included, but not as many as we should be eating in a meal.

Whole Grain Bread or Rolls

We love breads, but they don’t bring a lot of nutrition.  Make it whole grain to redeem them a bit.

What do you like to serve with pot pie and other casseroles?

 

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5 Reasons My Homemade Pizza disappointed Me and What I’m Doing to Fix It

5 Ways to make great homemade pizza

I’ve made homemade pizza many times over the years.

And I’ve been disappointed in my results quite a few times too.

From soggy crusts, to pizzas that don’t bake evenly to those that just don’t taste great. (To be fair, there have been many homemade pizzas we really enjoyed too.)

A while back I found a free Craftsy pizza making class.  It’s an online video course that comes with some recipes and shows how to really up your homemade pizza making game.

I watched the course recently and gave a few of the tips a try.  And I learned a lot about pizza making, even though my first attempt didn’t go quite as planned.

But I’m determined to master the homemade pizza.  I’ll be sharing tips and recipes with you here.  I’ve got a great sauce recipe to share.  And I’ve got a dough in the fridge right now that I have high hopes for.  It feels lovely already, unlike the last recipe I tried, which never gained the soft, elastic quality you want in pizza dough.

For today I want to share 5 reasons why I’ve been disappointed in my previous pizza making attempts and what I’m doing to fix that.

Baking in an oven that’s not hot enough

Pizza needs a seriously hot oven.  Way hotter than I ever would have guessed.  Previously, I would bake my pizzas at around 400 degrees.

But I’ve learned through the Craftsy class and other reading I’ve done that you really need to crank up the oven.

Turn it to 500 degrees or hotter.  Mine goes up to 550.  Then turn on the convection bake if you have it.  This will add 50 extra degrees to the temp.

With the oven heated as high as it will go, pizza will bake in just 5-6 minutes.

In case you’re wondering, baking stones such as you buy from Pampered Chef cannot take this kind of heat.

Proof:

pizza stone cracked

Takeaway – Turn up the oven the next time you bake.  But be sure to use a metal baking sheet or iron skillet if you don’t own a baking steel or pizza stone.

Pizza takes patience

Homemade pizza is not a 15 minute meal.  I love, love, love a quick dinner, but pizza is not in this category.

And I think that may be why I’m drawn to it now.  Learning to bake great pizza at home feels like a hobby and creative pursuit and less like the “get dinner on the table” routine that I do every day.

Good homemade pizza crust needs to be made at least 24 hours before it’s ready to be worked with.  The dough needs time to become strong and elastic.  Without that time, it won’t be possible to get it to stretch and form the crust.

Homemade pizza

Takeaway – Try making your crust at least a day ahead of when you’re planning to bake it.

If you want round crust, start with a round dough ball

Last week I made homemade dough, but didn’t separate it into individual pieces until I was ready to work with it.  I ended up with triangle shaped pizza crusts.  (My dough had a few other problems that didn’t help either.)

I’ve since learned that dividing the dough before storing in the fridge and storing the balls in a round container will help with keeping things round.

pizza dough in round ball

Takeaway – Store your dough already separated into pieces in a round bowl or dish.

Great flour really helps

I usually use bread flour for my pizza crust, but still wasn’t getting the results I wanted.  This time I bought King Arthur bread flour and it’s made a huge difference.  I could tell as I was running the mixer that this dough was a higher quality.  And as I worked with it, I knew for sure.

High quality flour that is high in gluten will produce the best pizza crust.

Homemade Pizza slice

Takeaway – Pick up a bag of high quality bread flour the next time you’re in the grocery.

Pizza tools are important

Pizza stones or baking steels that can take the heat are preferable to baking on a regular pizza pan.

I’ve recently ordered a pizza steel from Dough Joe.  These have the best price that I could find.  It’s still an investment, but it won’t ever break.  The steel is HEAVY!  15 pounds of metal.

dough joe pizza steel

 

We used this for the first time last Friday and I love it!  It’s a pizza-baking game changer!

Dough Joe also sells pizza stones.  I almost went with these.  They come as a 4 or 5 piece set, so they aren’t as prone to breaking as one solid stone would be.  They also aren’t as heavy as the pizza steel.

A pizza peel is essential for slipping the pizza into and out of the oven.  I have this one that I bought from Bed, Bath and Beyond.  I think it was in the Beyond section ;)

Takeaway – Consider purchasing a steel or stone and peel.  Or use your iron skillet to bake your pizza if you’re not ready to invest.

Pizza making parties are fun

I gather all the ingredients on the kitchen island.  Everyone gathers around to help work the dough, add toppings, talk and laugh.  We eat each pizza as it comes out of the oven.

It’s messy, noisy, delicious fun!

Takeaway – Invite your friends and family into the kitchen with you to experiment and have fun!

IMG_5562

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The Art of the Side Dish – What Goes With…

Art of the Side Dish

Side dishes are my dinner downfall. Only because I have a habit of forgetting about them when I’m prepping dinner.

I’ve written about easy side dish ideas a couple of times.

But how do you know what sides pair well with different main dishes? Some things are easy – Spaghetti and salad. Meat, vegetable, roll.

There are other recipes that present more of a challenge. Sides to go with stir-fry. Moving beyond chips and salsa with a Mexican meal. What to serve with potpie and other all-inclusive casseroles.

We’ll be tackling some of these in future posts, but today I want to share a few things I keep in mind when planning the meals for Weekly Meal Plans.

A good side/main dish pairing will do a few things for your meal:   [Read more…]

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Why and How to Freeze Cooked Meats

One of my secrets to quick meals is having cooked meat in the freezer.  This is by far the biggest time saver you can do for your meal prep.

 

Ground Beef

You can cook ground beef (or ground chicken, pork, sausage etc) on the stove-top.  Or use this trick to do it in the slow cooker.

Grilled Chicken

If it’s nice out, fire up the grill and cook the chicken outside.  Slice and freeze. The smokey flavor will bring summer to your winter meals.

Rotisserie Chicken

3 Costco Rotisserie Chickens yield 5-6 meals. 13 possible recipes

 

If you’re not in the mood to cook it yourself, grab several rotisserie chickens.  Pull the meat off the bones and freeze it.  You can find meal possibilities here and 10 more meal ideas here.

Whole Chicken 

Or bake a chicken yourself.  Use the slow cooker or do several at once in the oven.

Freezer Friendly Meatballs

how to stretch ground beef

 

Meatballs are so versatile for quick meals.  I have this recipe that includes rice to stretch the ground beef and make it go further.  Or try this more classic meatball recipe that still makes a bunch.

Turkey Breast

turkey breast in slow cooker

 

You can get a lot of meat off a turkey breast.  It’s a great deal if you find a sale.

Pulled Pork

Pulled Pork is always good to have stashed away in the freezer for quick meals.  Serve it as sandwiches.  Add pineapple and cheese for a Hawaiian version.  Serve it over rice, like haystacks.  Lots of possibilities.

Virtual Freezer Cooking Party

 In case you’d like to have grocery lists and plans done for you, we’re running a sale on 12 Slow Cooker Freezer Meal Plans.  Click the image  below to find out more and use the code PARTY to save $2.

200 lp12 slow cooker freezer meal plans

 

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