7 Tips For Saving Time And Money on Freezer Meal Prep

So you have heard great things about freezer cooking from your sister, your co worker and the man at the supermarket and want to give it a try? The first workshop that I hosted was over 5 hours and we only prepped 10 family sized meals! There wasn’t even any cooking required! haha (Not to mention, how high the grocery bill was!) I have learned so much this past year hosting whole food meal prep workshops, so please allow me to help you with your learning curve.
Organization and planning are ESSENTIAL for a stress-free prep day. Imagine having to make two extra trips to the store for forgotten ingredients or getting to the checkout at the store, only to find you went WAY over your budget. Neither of those things, would make freezer cooking worth the effort. In fact, they may send you running for the hills (or the nearest drive-thru)! To make things go smoothly, it is imperative for you to invest an hour or two into the planning stage. I promise it will be worth it!
1. Buy In Bulk Buying in bulk can save you tons of money and that is never a bad thing! There are two ways I achieve this with my freezer meal prep.
The first is to at least double all of the recipes I am making. There are times I make up to five bags of each recipe.
The second is to overlap ingredients when possible. For example, if I am using hamburger for recipe, I may try to find a second recipe with hamburger in order to get the hamburger cheaper per pound.
2. Stay Budget Friendly Aside from buying in bulk, there are a few other ways to keep the sticker shock a little lower for your prep day:
-Look at how many higher priced items you have on your list. If you are gluten-free or Paleo, you really need to keep an eye on things like coconut aminos, honey, maple syrup, fish sauce, almond flour, etc. as these can add up very quickly.
-Protein is always a large part of the bill, so always keep a close eye on this. Things like ground beef, ground pork, chicken legs or beef brisket are going to be less expensive than something like filet mignon, center cut pork loin, chicken breasts or a porterhouse steak. Making breakfast casseroles, using only eggs, also helps to cut down on the overall bill.
-Planning your meals around in-season vegetables and fruits can really save you some money as well. And in a perfect world, you would always purchase organic; however, many of my clients, as well as myself, use the dirty dozen verses the clean fifteen when deciding what we will purchase organic and what we won’t.
-When planning your meals, try to use up any rare ingredients that you may not use otherwise, so that they do not go to waste.
3. Cooking VS Easy Assemble Prep Some meals and entrees need to be cooked before you freeze them and some can be assembled without any cooking at all. If you plan for at least half of your choices to be easy assembly, your prep day will go much smoother! There are also some recipes which only need some cooking. For example, some casseroles will have you brown the meat, but not bake the casserole itself.
4. Variety If you are like most people, you will want to ensure that you have a variety of different types of meals. It is possible to overlap many of your ingredients and still have a variety of meals. It is all about the spices! Also, it can be helpful to have a variety of cooking types in your freezer as well, such as slow cooker, stove, oven, grill, etc. Often times I will prep one type each weekend for a month. The end result is a full variety in my freezer! It definitely helps to keep my family interested in healthier meals.
5. Check Out Your Pantry Building your meals around items that you already have on hand will allow you to use up old ingredients before they expire, as well as cut down your bill at the grocery store or farmer’s market.
6. Double Check Your Math Ensure you doubled, tripled or quadrupled the recipes correctly. If there are overlapped ingredients, ensure that you included all of them from each recipe and added the ingredients together correctly. Ensure that you converted your measurements correctly as well. Don’t forget about the storage bags or containers!
7. Triple Check Your Shopping List Needed to make extra trips to the store will not save you time in the long run. It may even cost you more money, if you are like most people, because you will pick up a few extra items while you are there, that you would not have otherwise purchased. To avoid this, simply triple check your shopping list to your recipes!
I know it is tempting to skip the planning stage, but if you just put a little effort into it, your prep day will go so much smoother (and be cheaper too)! If you would like for me to do your planning for you, check out a meal prep workshop if you are around Columbia, Missouri or email me at ashley@back2basicscooking.net for help via email/skype.
Are there any extra planning tips you would add to this list? Do you have any funny stories about results of NOT planning a meal prep day? I would love to hear about it below! Good luck and Happy Prepping!

10 More Side Dish Ideas

I often refer to my post 15 Grain-Free Side Dish Ideas during my meal prep workshops for Back 2 Basics Cooking, but I wanted to add some more options. So here are 10 more ideas for clean and super tasty grain-free side dishes.

1. Mango Avocado Salsa-You can always use this salsa to top salmon with as suggested in the post, but I love to use it a simple side dish that my with happily eat.

2. Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Red Onion and Avocado This is one of my favorite side dishes, except I typically roast everything in the oven except the avocado and add it last.

3. Amazing Homemade French Fries You have never had french fries until you have had fries made in lard!

4. Watermelon Fruit BowlA quick, fun idea for fruit salad!

5. Green Olive, Walnut and Pomegranate SaladCan we say yum?

6. Paleo Apple ColeslawColeslaw made Paleo with a little twist!

7. Apple Bacon ColeslawBecause everything tastes great with Bacon!

8. Carrot and Parsnip FriesGreat way to get in more veggies!

9. Strawberry Spinach Salad with a Berry DressingTasty, simple side dish! Sub raw honey for the agave nectar.

10. Bacon Wrapped Caramelized Sesame Asparagus –A nice spin on the classic bacon wrapped asparagus side dish!

If you are around Columbia, Missouri and would like to learn some simple, but great tasting entrees to accompany these side dishes, check out the meal prep workshops! Happy Cooking!

No-Egg Breakfast Bowl

Those of us that can’t or choose not to get grains can get pretty bored with eggs EVERY morning, plus many people are allergic. Here is a simple breakfast bowl that I created from what was in my refrigerator one morning. I am not a fan of “breakfast”, “lunch” and “dinner” labels, so feel free to cook this anytime like I do! Also, feel free to use bacon or ground sausage in place of the links.
Ingredients
  • 2 Large or 6 Small Sausage Links (I got mine at Sullivans Farms near Columbia, MO)
  • 2 cups Broccoli, Cut into Chunks (Stem and Florets)
  • 2 cups Spinach
  • 1 Yellow Onion, Peeled and Diced
  • 1 cup Mushrooms (I used Baby Bellas), Sliced
  • 1/8 tsp Sea Salt
  • 1/8 tsp Black Pepper
  • 1/8 tsp Roasted Ground Coriander
  • 1/8 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1-2 Tbsp Good Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Directions

  1. Brown links over medium heat in skillet on stove for around 4-5 minutes, turning as needed. Do not cook through. (I prefer using my cast iron.)
  2. Remove from skillet and set to the side.
  3. Place the onions and broccoli into the skillet and cook for 5 minutes over medium heat, stirring as needed. Add a 1/2-1 tbsp of olive oil if needed. (There may be some left over from the sausage.)
  4. While the veggies are cooking, remove the casein and cut the sausage down the middle, splitting the sausage into two long halves. Hold the two pieces together, while slicing into 1″ slices.
  5. Mix in the spinach and 1 tbsp olive oil to the skillet. Stir around and the spinach should cook down after 2-3 minutes.
  6. Next, add in the sausage, mushrooms, and spices. Continue to cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring as needed. Ensure that the sausage is cooked through.
  7. Enjoy!

I always recommend organic, local, pastured and non-gmo whenever possible! If you are looking for more egg free recipe ideas and are around Columbia, MO then check out Back 2 Basics Cooking!

Simple Whole30 Shopping Guide

I host a semi-annual Whole30 and was asked to make a simple short shopping guide. I actually wanted to make a video instead, but there are only so many hours in the day, so maybe the next Whole30 I can make that happen. For now, please use the following when at the grocery store during the Whole30 (and remember that the Whole30 is stricter than Paleo, so there are things that aren’t allowed that even on Paleo).

MEATS

Buy local, pastured, grass-fed/finished, and wild-caught when it is available and fits into your budget. If you live around Columbia,MO, you can find all of this (except the fish) at the local Columbia Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings. If you receive EBT and have a child under 12, you may be eligible for their swap program, which allows you to “cash in” $25 dollars of your stamps for $50 in tokens.

Many people think that red meat is unhealthy, however if you get it from a source that cared for the animal correctly, where it was allowed to eat it’s natural diet and wasn’t injected with hormones etc., then you don’t need to fear it! Check out this article from Chris Kresser.

You still need to avoid added sugar so watch you sausage and bacon (almost all have added sugar). Things like bologna, hot dogs, and most lunch meat are off limits. I was able to find a no sugar added turkey from the deli at Hy-Vee. If you ask them the ingredients they can print your labels if they are unsure. Many canned tunas have soy in them and should be avoid.

While eggs are not meat, I wasn’t sure where else to add them, so I will include them here. Eggs are also not to be feared! Locate a local source when possible. Cage-free does not mean anything so don’t pay extra for these.

Short Version: Pork, Beef, Chicken, Lamb, Bison, Duck, Deer, Sugar Free Deli Turkey, Canned Salmon and Tuna, Fish/Seafood, Eggs

PRODUCE

Depending what your diet looked like before, you will probably be buying somewhere around double the amount of fruits and vegetables. Always purchase local and organic when possible. Check out the dirty dozen if you are on a budget. Eating in season is always a good idea, but isn’t a must. A local farmer’s market is always a good option.

Fruits do need to be limited to some extent, especially if weight loss is a goal; however, if you are coming from a sugar and carb heavy diet, the first week or two, it will be easier if you eat more fruits. Then the last 2-3 weeks you can cut them back. The only canned items that I personally can use are tomatoes. Avocados are an excellent fat source. If you are having trouble losing weight though, they should be limited.

Frozen vegetables are also a great option. Being so busy I use them a lot. Just cook some protein and throw some frozen vegetables and spices with it. Bam! Dinner is served. Also, after the first week do your best to try some new thing you haven’t or didn’t like before.

Dried fruit is ok, but shouldn’t be eaten alone. For example, instead of eating a handful of raisins, add them with some tuna, spinach and olive oil for a quick salad. Larabars are a great on the go option (just avoid the ones with chocolate chips), but they need to be limited, because they are made with dates. I personally am going to limit myself to no more than 3 a week this Whole30.

Short Version: Get tons of vegetables and some fruits. Maybe even double of what you typically buy. Grab a few larabars in case you need something quick.

NUTS AND SEEDS

Nuts and seeds are a healthy addition to your Whole30, but should be limited also. Adding a handful to a salad adds a nice texture though, so don’t be afraid to use them sometimes. You want to purchase raw nuts and seeds. The bulk section is a good place to get these if your store has one. If you buy them from a package just be sure to check the label for added ingredients! Almonds are high in Omega-6’s so do not overdo them especially.

You can also purchase nut butters like almond and cashew butter or even sunbutter. As always, be sure to read the labels as many of these have added sugar. Many stores have a machine that will grind the almonds right there so you know exactly what is in them. Hy-Vee and Clover’s in Columbia have these machines.

Nut flours are a great option for replacing all-purpose flour. While you are not allowed to make things like pancakes on the Whole30, you can use nut flours to bread chicken etc.

Please note that peanuts are a legume, not a nut, so they should be avoided.

Short Version: Almonds, Walnuts, Cashews, Sesame Seeds, Sunflower Seeds Etc.(Raw), Nut Butter, Nut Flowers

COCONUT

I know that coconut is a nut, but I decided to list it separately because it offers so many great options! The coconut offers us oil, chips, flours, and milk. Be sure to get extra virgin (or virgin) coconut oil and full fat coconut milk. I purchase Nature’s Valley in a can. Yum!

The oil is awesome because it has a high smoke point, so you can cook with it. You can use it on your teeth, hair, and body also!

Short Version: Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, Coconut Flakes, Coconut Chips, Coconut Flours, Coconut Milk

OILS

Since we are no longer using vegetable oils, you need to know what to use in place of them. There are lots of great options. As mentioned above coconut oil is one of them. Avocado oil is another one. Olive oil is great, but should not be heated much and is better used for dressings.

Beef fat and duck fat from quality sources are great options. This one might make you think I am crazy, but lard is also an excellent and tasty option. If you are in the Columbia area check out Sullivan Farms at the Columbia Farmer’s Market for some high quality lard that I personally use. You do not want to use store bought lard, since those pigs were probably not taken very good care of. Since fat stores toxins, this lard would be full of them.

Short Version:Coconut Oil, Avocado Oil, Olive Oil, Duck Fat, Tallow (beef fat), and Lard (pig fat)

EXTRAS

There are items that do not fall into any of the above that are Whole30 approved also. Mustard and balsamic vinaigrette are two of those. I did not cover everything, so be sure to check your labels. If you are unsure, screenshot the label and post it to the group to find out.

Short Version: Mustard, Balsamic Vinaigrette, and READ YOUR LABELS

Check out these posts if you are wondering what a Whole30 meal looks like or what our first week of the challenge was like last time. This post may be helpful also! And if you think you are fat, please check this post out! The first week or two might be rough, but you will feel better when they are over!

Make Ahead Sausage & Veggies Breakfast

I am not a morning person. My toddler on the other hand loves to wake up at 5 or 6 am! He is ready to go as soon as his eyes pop open and he is ready to eat. He does not care that I am not ready to get up and he does not care that I do not feel like making breakfast. Since we are grain (and dairy) free, it obviously limits our breakfast options. On top of that, my son refuses to eat eggs unless they are mixed into something, so there really are no quick options.

This is one of my favorite egg free breakfast recipes, but I usually brown the meat and veggies in a skillet and then place that with seasoning and the apple into the oven. This time though, I said “Hey self. Why not just trying throwing this into the crockpot before you go to sleep and see what happens.” Not only did the house smelling absolutely amazing when we woke up, but the recipe was even better than when I used a skillet and the oven….

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground sausage
  • 1/2 medium head of cabbage-shredded
  • 1 medium yellow onion-diced
  • 1 medium honeycrisp apple-diced (you can substitute for other sweet apple types)
  • 2 carrots peeled-sliced or shredded
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp garlic powder

Slow Cooker Directions:

  1. Crumble the ground sausage at the bottom of the slow cooker.
  2. Add the vegetables and seasonings.
  3. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours.

Please note, if you prefer your apples to be crispier, do not add until the last 1-2 hours of cooking. And remember locally sourced meat is always the best option! If you are in or around Columbia, Missouri like I am then be sure to check out the Columbia Farmer’s Market, where you can find locally raised Sullivan Farms (pastured, non-gmo) and Crocker Farms pork products!

The recipe will half, double or triple great! So try any of those combinations if feeding more or less people. You can add baked sweet potatoes as an excellent side dish to make this meal go farther (which also cook excellent in a crockpot).

Check out the Back 2 Basics Cooking resources page for tons more whole food resources!

What is your favorite go to breakfast choice?

Trying to Lose Weight? Focus on Your Diet, Not A “Diet”!

Say hello to the person who motivated me to start this business- My mother!

mom wow

Not only has she lost tons of weight, dropped several pant sizes and lowered her blood pressure and cholesterol over the last 9 months, but for the first time I can ever remember she is HAPPY with her body. I have watched her struggle with her body imagine my entire life. It is so awesome not to hear her putting herself down. I love that she is getting healthier, but even more so I love that she is happy!

If you are struggling with your self imagine, please don’t say you’re fat. I do not care what the scales says. You are simply a skinny person, who needs to lose a few pounds. Until you correct yourself imagine you will NEVER be skinny enough! Please check out this old post of mine.

Also, after being on almost every diet there is, she says this is the first time she hasn’t felt like she needed to go eat an entire package of Oreos. She is staying full and has tons of energy. No counting calories or points, just eating real food. For her, it is no longer a “diet”, it is a lifestyle!

Remember your diet matters (but not being on a “diet”)!! back2basicscooking.net

Mini Chef Cooking Classes

Back in June of 2014, I started Back 2 Basics Cooking. One of the services that I offer is cooking classes for children between the ages of 18 months and 12 years old (13 years and up attend the adult classes). For this mini chef class, we made the Flourless Zucchini Brownies from Lindsey over at Delighted Momma and we had children from 4-8 years old. I know that some people in the Paleo community are not fans of Paleo Desserts, but I think this is one of the amazing examples of a great use for them! Anytime you can get children to cook with (and eat) more whole foods is a win in my book. Even if that food happens to be a brownie.

We had such a blast! One of the little girl’s actually said, “This is the BEST time I’ve ever had in my life!” And while I suspect that to a 7 year old, a lot of things are probably “the best”, this completely melted my heart and reaffirmed my decision to start my business in the first place. Since we had so much fun, I thought I would briefly go over the class for anyone who might be wondering what a mini chef cooking class at Back 2 Basics Cooking looks like.

Set-Up & Zucchini Prep

After we all put on our nametags and aprons, we washed our hands. I explained how I had already preheated the oven. Then each mini chef got their own zucchini. They then washed, peeled and cut their zucchini into large chunks. And don’t worry, they used a knife I purchased from Pampered Chef that will cut, but will not cut them. The kids all did such a great job and really enjoyed this task!

brownie2brownie4brownie1

Zucchini Shredding

After this we all took turns pushing the button on the food processor (because we, of course, ALL had to push it!) and then scraping the zucchini into the bowl. The kids were very excited to see how we were going to make a brownie out of zucchini. They did not think this was possible.

brownie 5         brownie 6        brownie 7

Remaining Ingredients

We then took turns again, adding in the remaining ingredients. We talked about how we were doubling the recipe, and took the time to figure out what the doubles of each ingredient were.

Fresh Farm Eggs

Fresh Farm Eggs

Pure Vanilla Extract

Pure Vanilla Extract

Ground Cinnamon

Ground Cinnamon

Almond Butter

Almond Butter

brownie 11

Raw Honey

Enjoy Life Dark Chocolate Chips

Enjoy Life Dark Chocolate Chips

Baking Soda

Baking Soda

Mixing

And then we stirred, stirred, stirred it all up!

  mixing2                                                stir2   mixing4                                                stir

Greasing the Pan

And while some where mixing, others were taking turns greasing the pan with extra virgin coconut oil:

mixing 3greasinggreasing 2

Pouring

Then came the pouring:

pouring3pouring1pouring

Fun Activities While Waiting for Brownies to Bake

While the brownies were in the oven, each mini chef got to decorate their very own cookbook. We talked about how this was their own very special cookbook, and that if they did not like a recipe then they did not have to leave it in their book. They each gave their cookbook a personal touch with some stickers and a few markers.

bronwies24bronwies 23bronwies22brownies22

The kids were each proud of their personally designed cookbooks!

The kids were each proud of their personally designed cookbooks!

We also played simon says, red light-green light and talked about our favorite foods! Then these amazing kids all lined up at the sink and worked together, as a team, to wash all of the dishes (except the sharp food processor blade off course). All I did was get them set up and then they did the rest!

Teamwork

dishes

The teamwork that these children displayed was nothing short of impressive and better than many adults I have seen!

Are they done yet?!?

brownies23

Before we opened the oven, we talked about how hot it was and how careful we all needed to be so no one would get burned.

After much suspense, the brownies were finally finished!

done done2

Since we doubled the batch, we should have stirred once about 10 minutes into baking and the middle wouldn’t have been lighter than the outside. Lesson learned. However, the taste wasn’t affected in the least. These kids make some super yummy brownies!  The two “eye” holes are from me making sure the brownies were done with the knife and the “mouth” baked into the brownies itself. Some of the kids thought the brownies looked like a face and found a lot of humor in this!

We did not get any pictures of eating the brownies, because everyone was busy filling their tummies! All of the children and parents said the brownies were very tasty.

What Did The Parents Think?

So, by now you can probably tell that the children had lots of fun and enjoyed themselves. But you may be wondering what the parents (grandparents,etc) thoughts were. Let’s take a quick look:

“We did our first kid’s class today and it was GREAT. Ashley was engaging, friendly, and knowledgable. The recipe was delicious, and the kids had fun! We’re looking forward to next month’s class!” -Rebecca Johanning QA/Control Technician

“It was lots of fun and very well organized. Fun for kids.” -Leanne Lake, Administrative Associate

I love how hands on it is. The entertainment during the cook time was great. I love the personalized cookbooks. This is a hands on event, full of family value. It is a great way to spend some one on one time with your child, and you get a healthy tasty treat at the end!” -Jenifer Smith, Mother of 3

Other Mini Chef Classes

I hope that this post has helped answer any questions you might have about the mini chef classes. If not, please do not hesitate to ask me! Also, some classes won’t require such a long baking time so the extra activities will be less.

Please Note:At the time of this class, I have all the mini chef’s (ages 18 months to 12 years) in one class; however, as enrollment continues to pick up, I will be added an junior chef classes. At that point the mini chef classes will be for children ages 18 months to 6 years and the junior chef classes will be for children 7 years to 12 years old. If your child is 13 or above they will attend the adult classes (unless they wish to come to a junior chef class).

leanne

Conclusion

Getting your child (or grandchild/niece/nephew) excited about eating whole foods is only one of the many benefits of the mini chef cooking classes at Back 2 Basics Cooking. In this class alone, in addition to the actual cooking, the children worked on teamwork, sharing, fractions, fine motor skills, and patience! So if you want your child to learn a skill that will last a lifetime, along with practice of many other skills, sign up for a mini chef class today! Seating is very limited.

BIG THANK YOU to Jenifer Smith for taking all of these awesome pictures while her daughter was attending this class.