So, how are we all faring with back-to-school/work/reality aka end of summer? Has this week caught you by surprise or did you spend a little bit of time on the weekend prepping meals or even batch cooking so that you don’t have to worry about meal time during the week? Believe it or not, even though I don’t have kids, if I don’t want to be stressing about “What’s for dinner?” on my way home after work, I need to do a little pre-planning as well. Especially in the first few weeks of school, I’m often so exhausted that I can barely think let alone come up with something nutritious for dinner!
So when Longo’s asked me if I’d like to review their “Make Ahead Weekly Menu” – basically a “cook on Sunday, prepare all your weeknight meals in one go” type scenario – I jumped at the chance! Even better – the meals were developed by Longo’s food expert (and, full disclosure – my friend, Emily Richards who has worked with my Petits Chefs a few times, so I knew they would not only be tasty but also nutritious and fuss-free. In short, perfect for the first few weeks of school. As a bonus, this meal plan has you making 5 meals under $100 (excluding pantry staples like olive oil, rice etc…) – meaning dinner time will be easy, nutritious and budget friendly!
Longo’s provided me with the groceries to make this meal plan via their (and my!) ultimate time saver – the Grocery Gateway online delivery service. Neil and I have been using Grocery Gateway since 2000 (!) because Neil doesn’t like to grocery shop at a big supermarket (unless he’s travelling and then it’s deemed “interesting”) and I don’t drive, so for heavy or bulky items (cat litter etc…), it’s perfect. Over the years, they have expanded their online offerings to include local, organic produce and meats too so if we need to, we can order items like that as well. We do a lot of produce (and now, meat) shopping locally in our neighbourhood, but we still swear by Grocery Gateway for many items (and must be one of their most loyal customers!). With weekend (and now Sunday) deliveries, it’s my secret weapon in being organised to cook for this blog! I love that you can fill your grocery cart online through the week as you think of items (or as you plan meals or dishes you want to cook) and choose for them to be delivered on Friday evening or Saturday morning so you’re ready to get cooking as soon as the weekend starts!
Emily’s recipes and instructions on how to shop once and eat all week are designed to help ease the back-to-school juggling act for parents but even non-parents Neil and I found it incredibly useful just for the two of us. Emily’s step-by-step plan, includes a grocery list (and a check list of pantry staples) and instructions for making a few of the larger components on Sunday then basically assembling and/ or reheating dishes during the week. I took advantage of the long weekend get together with friends to assemble a few more of the dishes on the weekend than the plan calls for but basically, by spending just a couple of hours in the kitchen on a Sunday, I was set up for the week (and beyond – since most of the recipes serve 4-6 people, we have a lovely lot of leftovers of some of the dishes in the freezer!)
On the menu for the week:
Monday – Meatloaf Patties with Baked Creamed Spinach and Roasted Lemon Cauliflower
All sorts of good, real food that I imagine would be great for those feeding a family as well. I know the boys in my cooking club would love to help with and/ or eat at least one component in each of these meals so if your kids are at the stage where they can help with food prep, why not involve them too?
The grocery list was actually the first thing I looked at when I was offered the chance to test these meals. What I found was a lot of foods that are common to most pantries, fridges and freezers with a few really smart shortcuts in there. Jarred salsa in the meatloaf, shepherd’s pie and chili, frozen spinach instead of fresh, pre-made breadcrumbs, dried herbs, pre-mixed steak spice, jarred broth and canned tomatoes all feature on the shopping list and whilst many people prefer (or have the time to) make such items from scratch, I think the point is, if you don’t have time, it’s ok. You can still make a nutritious, mostly from-scratch meal using a few shortcuts. I mean, I certainly use all sorts of shortcuts in my kitchen and I think the intention here is to get people cooking again in a way that feels “do-able”. There was nothing difficult or too challenging in the recipes themselves – mostly figuring out the timing and the order in which to do stuff but Longo’s have you covered there with precise, concise instructions as to what to do, when (down to “Thaw chili for tomorrow night”). I mean it’s catering to real life. To busy people who want to cook for their families but who are juggling a million and one things. This type of plan makes it not only do-able but also starts you thinking about ways to better plan meal prep time on weekends.
On Sunday, I spent a couple of hours in the kitchen (and admit I didn’t start out as organised as I might have been so it might have been less time had I planned it better) and had basically prepped Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday’s meals (or the majority of components that could be prepped ahead of time). The instructions were easy to follow and the way the “Sunday Prep Plan” is laid out will have you thinking of how you can cook and organise your prep time in the kitchen differently. I had at least 3 dishes in the oven at all times (cleverly planned so most things cook at the same temperature) and though it was hot in the kitchen, it got a lot of the prep out of the way in one hit. I spent a bit of time (maybe 10 minutes) prepping Tuesday’s dinner (on Monday!) but apart from that, my “meal prep” during the week has involved re-heating things or assembling quick components (slaw, rice). Bonus? The leftovers (would not happen for a family of four since that’s who the meals are targeted at, though I have found the portion sizes generous). Each recipe includes nutritional information and a costing per person (most expensive meal? Chicken chili at $5.30 per serve).
And the food itself? Tested by a variety of people who all pronounced every component excellent. I’ll definitely be making most of these again soon (or at least versions of them) and I’ll of course, be using the time saving and organisational tips in my own kitchen prep.
I was really very impressed with this menu. From the dishes themselves, to the easy-to-shop with grocery list, the helpful and easy-to-follow plan for prepping the meals on a Sunday, it’s really well laid out and clear, even for someone with less experience in the kitchen. It’s easy enough that kids would be able to help with many of the steps and it definitely gets you thinking about being smart with prep time and multi-tasking – in turn, helping you be more organised and more likely to shop for and cook meals in advance so you are set up for eating well during the week. I am a planner myself but tend to get as far as planning blog post food or assignments I am working on without looking at the big picture (“Oh dear, I seem to have only baked desserts this weekend, what will we eat during the week?” kind of thing!) so this opened my eyes to actual real “meal planning” as opposed to planning to make random dishes which, as a whole, are disjointed and don’t work together for a complete meal plan. This showed me just how very useful advance-planning a week (or even a few days) can be in order to preserve my sanity through a busy work week!
What are you waiting for?
A Longo’s $100 gift card giveaway
That’s right – in order to experience the Make-Ahead Weekly Menu for yourself, Longo’s has generously offered a $100 gift card* for one lucky eat. live. travel. write. reader!
How to enter:
There are 2 ways to enter (maximum of two entries per person for the duration of the contest).
1. Leave a comment on this post telling me your tricks for back-to-school meal prep.
2. Tweet the following message: Enter to win a @LongosMarkets $100 gift card on @eatlivtravwrite ! Details: http://bit.ly/WejBie then come back to leave a second comment letting me know you did.
Eligibility and contest rules:
* Longo’s store locations where the card can be used can be found here.
– No purchase of any product necessary for entry.
– Winner will be chosen randomly (using www.random.org) from all qualified entries on Wednesday September 10th 2014 after 6pm EST.
– Winner will be notified via email Thursday September 11th 2014.
Disclosure: I received compensation and groceries in return for reviewing this meal plan. Longo’s has not reviewed this material before publication. All opinions are my own.