6 Real Food Menu Planning Tips

There are a thousand ways to plan a great menu. I have found different solutions suit our family better in different seasons. When including fresh organic fruits and vegetables became a priority in our home there was a major shift. Part of the shift was due to my own adventure learning to cook real food and trying to include seasonal and new foods. Another part that was hard for me at the time was not planning quite as much.

I love organizing and planning. Planning, structure, organizing, lists are fun and empowering for me. However the 90 day menu plan became more frustrating than helpful when we made the change to eating fresh foods.

Over the years my menu planning has had to grow and change through many stages. First it was just my husband and myself with neither really knowing much about cooking. During this time we attended several weekly potlucks and also hosted dinner parties regularly. This turned out to be a great blessing because several of the other people we spent time with were willing to teach and share recipes.

Around that time we were learning to cook real food and along came our first baby and we had to learn how to accommodate a baby, then toddler. Next we had three little kids 4 and under. Next they grew and then seemingly overnight we have grown to a family of seven with Grandma around often. Every season brought a change and today I plan the menu after I receive my box for the week. I am excited to share a few things that have helped me menu plan in every stage we have been through so far.

5 Real Food Menu Planning Tips

  1. If you are new to eating real food focus on progress over perfection. Clean eating is not an all or nothing endeavor. I think that some of us are too hard on ourselves especially when are just learning to eat real food or prepare food. I recently saw an encouraging video on this idea here. Evaluate where you are and take the next step. Is that making sure you get 5-10 servings of fruit and vegetables? Is that reducing how often you eat out? Is that exchanging your processed snack for a whole food?
  2. Keep extra fresh food staples on hand. For our home this is potatoes, onions, carrots, apples and usually celery. With these items even if you have no menu plan at all you have the base ingredients for thousands of meals.
  3. Stock up on the less perishable foods. I can’t even imagine how much time we have saved over the years by stocking up on the non perishables and relying on our delivery for the fresh foods. It also makes menu planning easier. Please don’t misunderstand. I am not talking about processed foods. I am talking about whole grains like brown rice, oats and farro. I am thinking of dried herbs, seasonings, dried fruit, nuts and other healthy ingredients you use often. When I had many very small children only needing to shop once a month or once every six weeks saved me time, stress and also helped our budget. I also learned a lot by using what we had.
  4. Build a flexible menu so you can swap meal plans quickly when your schedule shifts. I found this helpful in every stage; when we were both working a lot before we had children and suddenly we had a week night meeting. Later when I had just had a baby and I was exhausted some evenings. Now when our kids suddenly have school projects or other plans I didn’t anticipate.
  5. If you have lots of time every night to spend on preparing gourmet meals please ignore this step. If you have ever found yourself with a great menu plan for the evening but suddenly without the time to pull it off this tip might be for you. I love spending hours in the kitchen and cooking gourmet meals. However, these days I normally plan 4-5 very easy meal plans each week. These are the recipes we would tag “Weeknight Quick” on the blog. They are usually recipes that my husband and kids have no trouble pitching in or making. They could include using a freezer meal base and adding fresh ingredients, but I personally have not had any success with freezer meals that turn out well. I have had a lot of success with slow cooker and dutch oven meals.
  6. Plan around fresh foods. The fact is that most people plan the menu around the meat. Most people also fall woefully short of the nutrient needs because they do not consume enough fruit and vegetables. So this small shift can make a big difference. If you let the fresh seasonal foods inspire your menu you will incorporate more making it so much easier to get the 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables you need.

In any case they won’t come anywhere close to being considered gourmet meals, but they do get real food on our table and in our bodies without stress. They are more often than not very tasty. Not panicking over dinner and still getting to enjoy real food with my family makes my overall quality of life much better.

Another benefit to planning 4-5 no stress meals allows me to also plan a couple of meals each week that do take more time. I aim to attempt at least one new recipe each week to keep our table fun. I also try to include my family in meal preparation. As much as I never thought I would be a fan of incorporating so may tried and true quick recipes in my menu planning I have found that by not having a lot of pressure most days to prepare food I enjoy it all the more when I do have more time. I also land at the table a much calmer and more joyful dinner participant.

Dutch Oven Ministrone Soup

So what are my plans this week? I know every family likes different things, but I will share what we are planning in hopes it might inspire somehow. I love to look at the Variety Box and let the menu for each week inspire me. From there I just add on staples items, something we might like to try or things we might like to use to supplement. Anything we don’t include in the menu we eat as snacks or at other meals. Scroll past the menu plan to see the Bountiful Variety box and side items we received to plan for this week.

Day 1: Chicken Pad Thai with plans to meet and eat with another family who is making Thai Curry and side dishes. I will have to poste a recipe for these soon. 🙂

Day 2: Ministrone Soup and since I chopped too much cabbage and matchstick carrots for the Pad Thai they are getting used up. I made home a very simple home made French bread to go with, but I often enjoy the pre-made Mother Earth or Sourdough breads. I have been using kale instead of the swiss chard in this recipe or sometimes spinach.

Day 3: Street Tacos – one of my husbands signature meals. I didn’t even think I liked tacos before I moved to Idaho and started eating these. I still usually end up with a taco salad. I love that if you want to make this even quicker pre-cook and freeze the meat. You can also make crock pot refried beans and freeze them.

Day 4: Moo Goo Guy Pan and Asian Salad

Day 5: Grilled Salmon, Farro and Grilled Vegetables

Day 6: Date Night – eating out. (We don’t do this very often, but it is inspiring to try something new. So many of my favorite recipes were created by trying to duplicate a really great dish I enjoyed at a restaurant.) Kids are eating home made pizza.

Day 7: Lasagna and Green Salad

Day 8: Chicken and Noodles – Like home made chicken noodle soup with carrots, celery, onion and home made pasta noodles.

Here is our basic delivery order. (I included things we buy in bulk and have stocked up on like farro and frozen meat.):

  • Strawberries – we ate these as soon as they were unpacked. Some things don’t even make it to the refrigerator around here! :/ Let’s go ahead and blame this on the kids. 😉
  • Plum, Larry Ann – ate as snacks
  • Peppers, Red Bell – asian salad and grilled vegetables
  • Tomato, Grape Cherry – ate as snack and in green salad
  • Apple, Fuji – ate at lunch
  • Bananas – Smoothies with frozen fruits
  • Carrots, bunched with top  – pad thai, moo goo guy pan, chicken noodles
  • Celery – ministrone, snack, chicken noodle and moo goo guy pan
  • Ginger, Yellow Root – Moo Goo Guy pan & tea
  • Kale, Green – half in ministrone, some for lunch in Kale, Date & Orange Salad
  • Lettuce, Green Leaf – Tacos and salads
  • Mushrooms, Crimini – Moo Goo Guy Pan and grilled vegetables
  • Orange, Cara Cara – Snack

Fruit & Vegetable Added On:

  • Green Onion – split with Taco and Pad Thai
  • Plums – more for snacks
  • Baby Rainbow Carrots – snacks
  • Zucchini – Grilled Vegetables
  • Apples – quite a lot more #2 apples – made a large pot cinnamon applesauce and one dehydrator full of dried apples
  • Cilantro – Street Tacos and Pad Thai
  • 5 lb. Russet Potatoes – not in the menu – used in the morning with a scramble
  • Limes: Tacos and Pad Thai

Other items this week:

  • Organic Sour Cream
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Granola
  • Milk & Half and Half
  • 5 Dozen Eggs (we do use a lot of eggs for breakfast, protein snacks for our growing kids, baking)
  • Black Forrest Ham
  • English Muffins
  • Coffee
  • Dried Mango
  • Ground Beef
  • Salmon
  • Farro
  • Whole Chicken
  • Chicken Breast

Do you have any real food menu planning tips? Please comment!

I get my delivery at the end of the week. Here are this weeks first delivery pics – I am already feeling inspired!

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Radish, Cucumber and Snap Pea Salad

Happy Spring! The simple ingredient line up for this recipe includes three delicious vegetables that are at their peak in Spring; radish, cucumber and snap peas.

snap-peas-radish-salad

Ingredients:

·         1/2 pound sugar snap peas, trimmed and, if large, halved diagonally

·         1 English cucumber halved lengthwise and seeded

·         1 bunch radish, stems removed ad washed

·         ¼ cup sesame seeds, toasted

·         1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar

·         1 teaspoon cider vinegar

Directions:

1.    Cook peas in a saucepan of boiling salted water for about 30 seconds. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold water to stop cooking.

2.    Cut halved cucumber and radishes crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick half moon slices.

3.    Toss peas, cucumber, radishes, and sesame seeds with vinegars and season with salt and pepper.

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Know Your Produce? Lettuce Varieties

Spring is here and so are rows and rows of beautiful spring greens. Lettuce and spring greens come in all shapes, sizes and flavors. We offer nearly twenty varieties throughout the year and several options every week. While the more commotypes-of-lettucen Green Leaf still remains the best seller other lesser known varieties are closing the gap with Green Butter Lettuce especially making headway in the past year. If you enjoy our Variety Boxes you will notice that there is some
kind of green every week with many great options to customize to your preferences. If you enjoy the Gourmet Variety watch for some of the lesser known Varieties to show up in your box this season. Keep reading for great information on some of our favorites below.

Know Your Produce? Types of Lettuce

  • Looseleaf Lettuce also called; Leaf lettuce, Green Leaf Lettuce, Red Leaf Lettuce, Bunch Lettuce
    Characteristics: They have a mild flavor and are very pliable, despite the crunchy stem. Their uneven ruffled surfaces add layers of texture to salads. Because the leaves are so large, it’s best to tear them up into bite-size pieces.
  • Butterhead Lettuce also called Butter lettuce, Red Butter Lettuce, Living Lettuce, Green Butter Lettuce
    Characteristics: A type of head lettuce, the leaves of Boston and bibb lettuces are soft. And as this variety’s name implies, the texture of a butter lettuce is indeed smooth like butter. Bibb is the more expensive of the two and is usually sold in a plastic container to protect the delicate leaves.
  • Romaine also called Cos Lettuce or with outter leaves removed sold as Hearts of Romaine
    Characteristics: This large leafy lettuce is stiffer than most; a thick center rib gives it a real crunch. The rib also gives this lettuce a slight bitter taste. This is the lettuce originally used when the Caesar salad was created.
  • Frisée also called; Curly endive, chicory, chicory endive, curly chicory
    Characteristics: These curled leaves tinged with yellow and green are slightly bitter in taste, have a crunchy stem, and add a lot of texture. Their pale green, white, and yellow coloring is a result of the producer shielding them from light during the growing process. Frisée is closely related to escarole.
  • Arugula also called; Rocket, Italian cress, Mediterranean rocket, rugola, rugula, roquette, rucola
    Characteristics: Possibly the most well-known variety of salad green, arugula forms the basis of many a salad. Originating from the Mediterranean, this green tastes more peppery than bitter and is especially associated with Italian dishes like pesto. The edges of baby arugula aren’t as defined.
  • Endive also called; Belgian endive, French endive, witloof, witloof chicory, Belgium chicory
    Characteristics: The unique oval shape, soft satiny texture, and slight bitterness all mean endive’s a great addition to any salad. It’s scooplike shape makes for edible servers, perfect for small appetizers like these “spoons.”
  • Radicchio also called Chioggia, Red Chicory, Red Leaf Chicory, Red Italian chicory
    Characteristics: Pronounced “rah-dick-ee-yo,” you can find this deep-red-purple vegetable sold either as a compact round head, as pictured above, or shaped like its relative, endive. The bright coloring makes it stand out. When cooked, the red-purple hue turns brown and what was once bitter becomes sweet.
  • Mizuna also called Japanese greens, spider mustard, xue cai, kyona, potherb mustard, and California Peppergrass
    Characteristics: This Japanese mustard green is typically sold as part of a premade salad mix but can be purchased loose at the farmers’ market or specialty shop. Mizuna has a relatively strong pungent flavor when compared to other salad greens, but its flavor won’t overpower a dish. The small jagged edges that make mizuna look like miniature oak leaves add a lot of texture.
  • Escarole also called Batavian Endive, Scarole, Broad-leaved Endive
    Characteristics: Related to frisée, this mildly bitter leafy green is large and crisp. Escarole is often used in soups and paired with beans, reflecting its popularity in Italian cuisine.
  • Baby Beet Greens
    Characteristics: When the leaves of the beet top are immature, they are tender and slightly spicy. The purplish-red veins are visually striking and can dress up any salad. When wilted, the veins become brighter in color and a little bit sweeter.
  • Cress also called Watercress
    Characteristics: Pictured is watercress, the most popular type of cress sold in the United States. Other varieties include upland cress, curly cress, and land cress. A peppery taste is characteristic of all varieties. Sold in bunches, watercress has a tough, fibrous stem and small green leaves. Be sure to wash cresses thoroughly, since they often grow in sandy ground.
  • Tatsoi also called Tat Soi, Spoon Cabbage, Rosette Bok Choy
    Characteristics: The small, rounded leaves of this Asian salad green have a mild, mustardlike flavor. The texture is similar to that of baby spinach, and one can be swapped for the other. Baby tatsoi is usually sold loose, but when mature, tatsoi can be purchased whole, in the shape of a rosette, and it is often cooked intact in Chinese stir-fries. Like mizuna, tatsoi is often available only at the farmers’ market or specialty gourmet shops.
  • Mâche also called: Field salad, lamb’s lettuce, corn salad, field lettuce, fetticus
    Characteristics: Sometimes sold with its soil still attached, this salad green imparts a mild and slightly sweet flavor to a salad. Because of the small size of the leaves, trying to create a salad with a base of mâhe can be expensive. Its leaves are also very delicate and will bruise easily, so handle with care.
  • Oakleaf also called Red Oakleaf, Green Oakleaf
    Characteristics: The shape of this looseleaf lettuce’s leaves are similar to that of the oak tree, thus, its name. From a distance, one could mistake it for red leaf and green leaf lettuce, but a closer look will reveal differences in shape and texture: Oakleafs are a little shorter and more squat, and the tops of their leaves have a softer texture than their red leaf and green leaf counterparts. This delicate, tender lettuce acts a great bed for food and won’t compete with other flavors.
  • Other greens often substituted for lettuce are Green Cabbage, Red Cabbage, Napa Cabbage, Bok Choy, Baby Bok Choy, Spinach bunches, Baby Spinach, Red, Green or Rainbow Chard and Kale (many varieties).
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Kale, Fruit and Date Salad for Citrus Season

Kale, Fruit & Date Salad

Salads are just the best recipes to type out. Chop and dress, right? I am not much of a recipe follower, but I do love to record how I throw things together in case it comes out really good so I can share. This recipe was born out of an abundance of feta in my refrigerator paired with citrus which is in season and abundant right now.

Citrus is bright and delicious and I love it for a thousand reasons in the kitchen. However, I am not a big fan of eating it out of hand. I do enjoy mandarin oranges in the dead of winter and kumquats once in awhile. A grapefruit now and again is a great treat. The rest of the citrus in my diet is found in recipes like the salad below. I drink lemon water nearly every day. I knew the vitamins in lemon would help my immune system but a local doctor recently told me that it will also help break down calcium deposits that could form kidney stones and other things that could hurt my overall system.

I hope you enjoy the sweet and citrus recipe below!

~ Rachel

For the Brown Family and Brown Box Team

Kale, Fruit & Date Salad

Ingredients:

Salad:

  • 1 orange, peeled and sliced
  • 1 apples (thinly sliced)
  • 4 kale leaves, stems removed, rinsed and chopped
  • 1/2 cups walnuts (chopped)
  • 1/4 cups feta cheese crumbles
  • 6 dates, pitted and quartered or chopped

Dressing:

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 pinch salt

Directions:

  1. Place all of the salad ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Whisk together the dressing in a small bowl.
  3. Toss the salad and dressing ingredients together. Enjoy!

Notes: Make it your own! If you don’t like feta try another cheese like gouda or gorgonzola. If you don’t have dates handy try dried cranberries. Salads are fun and easy to experiment with different flavor combinations.

Posted in Apple, Citrus, Dried Fruit, Greens, Kale, Orange | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment