Chicken Salad Salad

Guys. I am so excited about the jar salads I made this week. They were so good.

We got home from Japan late Friday, so I had all weekend to meal plan and prepare food for the week. (Side fact: I’m doing another Whole30! My third. I started Monday, so this is only day 3. The last I did was a year ago. I’d pretty much decided to do it post-Japan even before I left for the trip. I’d been eating crap just because it’s there and not feeling great and not being mindful and just wanted to take time to be more intentional about my food choices. Actually, it’s about habits. I like to reset and reform good habits. Then eventually they wear away, and I come back to reset them. Anyway, and then, when I was in Japan, I was craving vegetables. I usually eat so many vegetables and could not find enough vegetables. I loved the food there, but I was very excited to come home and do a Whole30. We’ll see how long that enthusiasm lasts. :-). Anyway.) Instead of falling back on my default salads, I googled for some inspiration. I found this Chicken, Apple, and Pecan Salad from Damn Delicious, and it is damn delicious.

Chicken salad is still sort of a new thing for me. I had never liked mayo until I started eating frites several years ago (they were sort of a thing for a while, right?) and realized that aioli is mayo. So I started making my own. Store-bought mayo still just seemed unappetizing, but homemade was yummy. I used to make it with canola or vegetable oil, you know, before I knew better. Now that I limit those oils, I haven’t found a good way to make it anymore. I tried avocado oil once and really didn’t like it. However, I do like the Primal Kitchen mayo from Thrive Market made with avocado oil. I still don’t use it a lot, so it’s been sitting in my fridge for a while, and it was nice to find an excuse to use it.

To Whole30-ify the recipe, I did not use dried cranberries nor Greek yogurt. Instead, I used a little bit more mayonnaise and a lot more freshly squeezed lemon. Also, my experience with kale in jar salads is that it smells terrible after even a day in a jar (tastes okay, but coworkers give you funny faces), so I used spinach instead.

Ohmygod, so good. I took the picture below after my first bite while sitting at my desk at work because I was so excited.

For better or worse, it takes a while to eat. Not sure why – so many chopped up parts maybe. I was trying to eat really quickly at my desk in between two meetings yesterday. My coworkers were waiting for me to walk with them to the second meeting in another building. I finally had to give up and put some of it back in the jar to eat later. Probably better to not force eating so quickly anyway.

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How I (Loosely) Meal Plan

Sometimes I meal plan, sometimes I don’t. When I have free weekend mornings (which are important for my mental health, so I try to have them as much as possible), I like to sit down with my calendar, think about what’s in my fridge, make a food plan for the week, then go grocery shopping.

My schedule shapes my plan, of course. I have a general meal plan template for the week based on my typical schedule. For example, when I can, I like to make something with lots of leftover on Sundays (whether it’s crockpot shredded meat that I can then add to recipes throughout the week, some sort of casserole, meatballs, or soup that freezes well). I currently telework Tuesdays and Thursdays, which allows me to stay up later on Mondays and Wednesdays, so I’ll often plan to make meals those nights, unless I have other plans. (I actually often have plans on Wednesday evenings, so can’t always cook those nights. I meet up with my best friend for coffee in DC after work every other Wednesday so get home later, and about once a month or so I have book club on a not-coffee Wednesday.) I also have time Tuesday and Thursday mornings to make breakfast rather than needing one ready. I recently decided that I would like to incorporate more fish into my diet, so I aim for one of those weeknight meals to include fish.

My default when I don’t meal plan is to make sure I have staples in the house:

  • vegetables to roast (broccoli, asparagus, root vegetables, brussels sprouts)
  • leafy green like spinach, sometimes kale
  • easy protein (chicken sausages, leftover frozen shredded meat, boneless/skinless chicken thighs or breasts that I can bake in a pinch, frozen salmon fillets). I almost always have frozen chicken thighs and breasts and ground beef in the freezer because Dan gets it for me at CostCo every time he goes.
  • starchy vegetable, usually potatoes (sweet or not)
  • eggs
  • peppers and onions
  • fresh fruit and smoothie staples (frozen fruit, bananas, coconut milk or yogurt, etc.)

With these, I can make a breakfast scramble of eggs, spinach, onions, and peppers, which is my go-to breakfast most telework days and weekends. Depending on my activity level, I’ll often try to add a starchy vegetable. Occasionally when I’m feeling decadent, I’ll add a meat (sausage, bacon) and/or avocado. This morning (a weekend), I had leftover roasted butternut squash on the side of three fried eggs cooked over sautéed spinach. On non-telework days, for breakfast, I typically heat up a chicken sausage or eat pre-made hard boiled eggs, and combine it with something else – lately, pre-made smoothies that I take out of the freezer the night before. I can also make lunches of a salad of leafy greens topped with various things like peppers, roasted vegetables and/or starchy vegetable, and easy protein (which, if you’ve seen my recent Instagram posts, I do regularly). And I can make dinners of an easy protein (baked chicken, broiled salmon, chicken sausage) with a side of roasted vegetables and/or starchy vegetable. I also usually have frozen leftovers from previous weeks that I can rely on if I don’t want to or have time to cook.

That all works when I don’t have time or motivation to plan, but it can get a little repetitive, and I like to cook and try new recipes. So when I do sit down to plan, I’ll often deliberately include the meals described above into my plan, usually with specifics noted (Monday: salmon, Tuesday: chicken) and make sure that I get those items at the grocery store if I don’t have them already. Sometimes the specifics I choose are based on what I have left over from the previous week, especially produce, or what I’ve received in my Hungry Harvest box on Saturday morning. That’s also a starting place for recipes I choose. For example, I bought mint last week. Why? Stupid really – I had been looking for it a few weeks ago and couldn’t find any (see post on Basil Vinaigrette), so when I DID see it, I bought it. But I didn’t have a plan for using it, and now it’s in my fridge, going bad. Need to use it. Also, I got an eggplant in my box this morning. I wouldn’t typically seek out an eggplant, but since I have it, I’ll want to use it. So I’ll look for recipes to use those two things.

When I do plan, I’d say I only plan one to two recipes a week and rely on my defaults or leftovers the rest of the week. One of those recipes is often made on Sundays with leftovers for the week. That might provide dinner on Sunday, or the sole purpose may be to eat through the week. If it’s the latter, I might also make a recipe that’s just for Sunday dinner, often one that doesn’t lend itself to leftovers as well (either because it’s best fresh – generous salads – or just doesn’t make a lot of leftovers). And I might make a recipe one other night of the week. So I guess that’s up to three recipes a week, but usually life gets in the way, and I don’t actually do that many.

So then it’s a matter of determining which recipes I want to make. As I mentioned, sometimes that’s driven by ingredients I have on hand, so I’ll just google recipes with those ingredients. (A Google search of ‘mint eggplant recipe’ just brought up tons of roasted/grilled eggplant with mint recipes. That’s the sort of thing that probably wouldn’t be as good as leftovers.) I also follow several bloggers and podcasters, mostly paleo ones that I’ve mentioned before like Paleomg, Fed&Fit, BalancedBites, Lexi’s Clean Kitchen, and I might hear about one of their recipes that I’d like to make. This week, I came across a recipe for Moroccan Turkey Meatballs on goop and recipes 20 Spring Salads on The Everygirl, several of which I saved to make. The meatballs would be a good recipe to have some leftovers. Meatballs usually freeze well. The salads are advertised for being meal-prep-friendly, so I might consider making them in salad jars for lunch for the week.

So this is how my week looked before meal planning:

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I love this Ink+Volt planner, but I wish it started the week on Sunday, because that’s usually how I think about my week: Sundays are prep for the rest of the week. Most of my planning is actually for Sunday, so not pictured below. Tomorrow, I am running a trail half marathon (hence not being sure if I’ll go to CrossFit on Monday morning), but I expect to be home by early afternoon, which still gives me time to make food. I have plans Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights, so don’t need to think about those nights (on Wednesday, I’ll likely get food – Chop’t? – at Union Station before heading home on the train). Next Sunday I’ll be totally free, but I don’t usually plan this far ahead for next Sunday. I’ll think about that next Sunday :-). Sometimes I take Dan into account, usually I don’t. It’s hard to keep track of whether we’ll both be home in an evening, and generally anything I make can feed two people, so it’s fine either way.

Below is the result of my meal planning. Not every meal is filled in. I’ll just use my defaults there. Not pictured: Sunday (tomorrow), I’ll make gp’s meatballs and roasted eggplant and mint for dinner. (I wouldn’t normally white things out – I’d just cross them out if I changed my mind – but I used white out for your benefit :-)).

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These are the recipes I’m planning to use:

One last piece of my meal prep process: I use Evernote to collect, tag, and make notes on recipes. I clip webpages of recipes, tag them with things like ‘want to make’ plus other relevant tags, and then rely on that rather than the website when I’m making them. After making, I also take notes on the substitutions I made, how it turned out, whether I liked it, and the nutrition info if I try to calculate it.

So that’s it!

Lately – February 2017

Lately:

Things I’ve been reading:

  • The Bone People. About three people – a man, a woman, and a child – all damaged. Set in New Zealand. Really beautiful, really hard to read at points, and really wonderful.
  • Big Little Lies. I read this on a short vacation in Park City last weekend. I was in the middle of reading Underground Railroad, but switched to this so that I could start watching the HBO series. I thought I had read it already, but I hadn’t. (Instead, I’d read The Husband’s Secret by the same author.) Anyway, a quick, fun, suspenseful read!
  • The Underground Railroad. Currently reading. Isn’t everyone? I’m going to a book club for this book on Wednesday (in three days!) and I’m only 30% into it. I should not have deviated last weekend to read Big Little Lies. Sigh. Anyway, I’m into it, it’s not that I’m not into it. I was just feeling a little beaten up after The Sympathizer and The Bone People and not wanting to read something with torture and abuse. Hence the deviation. But I’m back at it, and maybe I’ll be able to read enough by  Wednesday.

Things I’ve been watching:

  • Big Little Lies. I’ve watched the first two episodes. I think it’s good. It’s so hard to watch things based on books I’ve read. So far, it has only minor deviations from the book. I think it’s good. Certainly good enough to have on while I’m cooking dinner!
  • The Putin segment of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. I don’t actually usually watch these types of shows (I group this with The Daily Show, SNL, Colbert, etc.). But I always wish I watched them more, and on the particular evening I watched this, I really wanted some perspective and comic relief on the media.

Things I’ve been eating:

  • Many of the recipes from Cassy Joy Garcia’s Fed & Fit book, including:
    • Cold Cut Roll-ups
    • Basic Pork Tenderloin and Easy Parsnip Mash
    • Roasted Fruit Pops
    • Anti-inflammatory Smoothie (I added spinach.)fullsizeoutput_aa9a
    • Buffalo Ranch Bison Burgers and Braised Greens (Really enjoyed these, and have been eating the leftovers in a salad with roasted sweet potato chunks and leftover homemade paleo ranch dressing, also from the book.)fullsizeoutput_aa99
    • Plantain Protein Pancakes with Salted Raspberry Jam (Yum.)
    • Sausage & Cranberry Stuffed Acorn Squash with Rosemary Orange Cream Sauce (thought I would love this, but I think I could have cooked my acorn longer, and citrus-y anything is really hit or miss for me. The orange cream sauce was a bit of a miss.) (Photo is from before I cooked it. You couldn’t see any red after I cooked it.)fullsizeoutput_aa98
    • Lemony Kale & Sausage Soup (wasn’t sure I would like this because, again, citrus. But turns out it was delicious and the lemon wasn’t lemon-y tasting, just bright.)
    • Sweet Potato Breakfast Hash Casserole (quite a lot of prep but pretty good).a2e19108-4b8a-401e-ba8e-3a1021aea263
    • Buffalo Chicken Casserole (made for the Super Bowl, and made with spaghetti squash instead of potatoes, which I didn’t have. Very good.)

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  • And… HelloFresh! Dan and I tried it out for two weeks. We meant to only do one week (we had an introductory offer), but I forgot to cancel it in time. I have to say, all the meals were really, really, really good. Easy to prepare, not too time consuming. I’ve always sort of pooh poohed these home delivery dinner things, since I have no trouble prioritizing grocery shopping and making dinner. But. It was convenient and delicious. And I was able to make them all paleo/Fed&Fit compliant. We’re trying Blue Apron with an introductory offer next week 🙂 (but those will be more difficult to make paleo/compliant). Some photos:

Races I’ve registered for:

Fitness I’ve been doing:

  • Still CrossFitting at CrossFit Federal Hill. 3x week, except the past two weeks. I developed some fairly intense low back pain throughout January, and it got so bad a few weeks ago that I totally put the halt on everything. Then I saw a PT and met with the gym owner and gained back some confidence to keep moving but taking it easy. So now I’m back at it, with lower weights.
  • Still running 2x week. Yesterday, I did a 6-mile trail run in Patapsco State Park. I combined the Soapstone Trail with the Grist Mill Trail and road, then the River Trail, and returned on the Grist Mill Trail from the swinging bridge. Clio had a blast (so did I). It was near 70 degrees! I’ll be doing more trail runs to get ready for the half marathon. Fun!
  • Easy C1 yoga at CorePowerYoga in Fed Hill and Canton. This has been amazing for my back. I hadn’t been in a while, but have been 3-4 times over the past two weeks.
  • Skiing at Snowbird and Deer Valley in Utah last weekend.

So that’s that! I’m going to do a cooking class tonight with Baltimore Delta Gamma alumnae at Pier Point Restaurant. Looking forward to it!

Revelstoke

Six or so years ago, my husband and his best friend spent a day skiing with a classmate of my husband’s and her father. They raved about the skiing in this place called Revelstoke in British Columbia, Canada. I think it was a new resort at the time. (Wikipedia just told me it opened in December 2007.) My husband and his best friend have fantasized about skiing there ever since.

The two of them have been skiing together out west at least once a year (and usually more) for the past ten years. For the first six of those years, it was just the two of them and occasionally me and/or someone else who was available for a somewhat random ski hill meetup, like with Dan’s classmate. But for the past four years, it has been a bigger group/reunion, with a core group of six of us that all went to the same college, plus a few other friends or significant others each year. Four years ago, we rented a house outside Park City. I believe there were 7 of us that  year. The next year, we got a house (the best house ever) in Big Sky, Montana. We were… 12? that year. Again, friends from college, Atlanta, a friend of mine from Madison, and friends of friends. Last year was thrown together a little late – we were 8 staying in a not-as-great house in Salt Lake City and driving to ski resorts, but I had one of my favorite days skiing ever at Powder Mountain. And this year, finally, we made the trek to Revelstoke, Canada. This year there were 8 of us total.

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It took 17 hours of traveling to get there, and 17 hours to get home yesterday. Both travel days, we had to wake up at 3 am local time. But it was worth it.

We got to see friends:

 

There were some amazing views of Revelstoke and the Columbia River:

 

And Lake Louise in Banff:

 

Plus I got to go for a short 3-mile hike, all by myself, fresh tracks, in Mount Revelstoke National Park (with snow up to my waist when I accidentally stepped off the path – the pictures don’t quite capture it):

 

And see wildlife. In the middle of the Trans-Canada Highway:

 

And eat good food. Some of which was only good-tasting if not good for me:

As far as eating goes, our MO has become a huge Costco shopping trip as soon as we arrive to purchase food for the week. Each person/couple takes a night to cook and populates a shared grocery shopping list in advance. We spend the last night (or in this case, two) eating leftovers. One or two people also take on sandwich-making duties each morning for everyone for on-mountain lunches. It works out great. Our Costco trip for 8 people this time for the week was under $500. That’s about $60/person for food for the week. Not bad. And everyone makes really good food. In the picture above, Dan is eating a taco filled with mole chicken we made together. For dinners, we ate:

  • Saturday (arrival day): burgers and sausages, salad, and sweet potato fries
  • Sunday: meatballs and pasta (atop kale for me)
  • Monday: homemade pizza
  • Tuesday: chicken in mole sauce, plus taco fixings
  • Wednesday: tofu stir fry
  • Thursday and Friday: leftovers

We did pretty well this time not wasting any food. In past years, we’ve eaten at least one dinner out. This time, we didn’t do any (though I did fill up on that poutine in the picture above on the last day at the Lake Louise ski resort), but we probably should have eaten out the last night. We were really scrounging. But we got back from Lake Louise late after a harrowing 3.5 hour drive through fog and snowy roads along the Trans-Canada Highway and then had to get up at 3 am the next morning to drive 2.5 hours more, so eating out wasn’t really in the cards.

I skied 4 days – 3 at Revelstoke and 1 at Lake Louise. Two friends and I (we are known as the ‘Blue Crew,’ but have sort of graduated to the ‘Blue-Black Crew’) took a private lesson on the second afternoon that was a lot of fun. I like doing stuff that challenges me (i.e., not just the blue groomers), but I like having my hand held when I do it.

Revelstoke was amazing. It has the longest vertical in North America (5,620 feet). The longest run (the green run that goes from the top all the way down) is 9.5 miles long. It was exhausting. We got a fair amount of snow mid-week and had a lot of powder on Wednesday, which was incredible. So fun. Longer lift lines, unfortunately, but worth it.

Lake Louise was okay. It was kind of icy in parts and had less varied/interesting terrain. The view across the valley of Lake Louise was incredible, though. Pictures don’t do any of this justice. And I was sort of cold that day and pretty tired from the week. I only skied about 3.5 hours. Then I went to the pub and drank a hot toddy and ate poutine.

I always try to hike at least one day while on these ski trips. I love hiking in the snow. I’ve been fortunate to find  hikes that are manageable without snow shoes. (Except for that time two years ago in Big Sky when Dan and another friend and I hiked six miles into a canyon and definitely should have had snow shoes.) This hike was easily accessible from town, didn’t feel too remote to make me feel nervous, and elevated my heart rate at times but didn’t leave me exhausted. It was a rest day, after all.

All in all, a very good trip. I’m very glad to be home, though, and back to my routine. Like  most Sundays, yesterday I grocery shopped and made lunch for the week. And I was back at CrossFit this morning at 5:30 am…

Chicken Pumpkin Stew

Last Sunday, Dan and I put up our holiday decorations. It was two days after Thanksgiving, which had been nice and filling, but not incredibly painful and indulgent. Nevertheless, I was in the mood for something filling but not super-heavy to round out the weekend and to enjoy after we set up our house for the holidays.

I wanted to use the small butternut squash from our Hungry Harvest box the week before as well as some of the pumpkin purée I’d made in October and have frozen in the freezer. I decided to make a pumpkin stew. I looked up a couple recipes for ideas but didn’t follow any particular one. On the stovetop in my Lodge enameled cast iron Dutch oven, I progressively added each of the following (all amounts ‘ish’):

  • 1 tbsp bacon fat
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 small butternut squash, after peeling, removing seeds, and cutting into 1/2 to 1 inch cubes. Ish.
  • About 1.3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • About 1.3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 4? Cloves garlic
  • 3 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper powder
  • 1 tsp chipotle chili powder
  • 4 cups homemade pumpkin purée
  • 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 4 cups low sodium chicken broth

I let it come to a boil, then put the lid mostly on and put it on low to simmer for 90 minutes. I then added a bit more chili powder and salt. I definitely should have added more spices at the beginning. It was tasty, but not spicy (or spiced-tasting).

We garnished with lime juice, cilantro, green onion, and Dan added some shredded cheese. We froze the leftovers and have been continuing to eat them. It’s thick and hearty without feeling too heavy.

And our house is decorated! We put on holiday music and got it done. Dan spent most of the time getting the lights on the outside railing while I put ornaments on the tree. Penelope had a blast hanging out in the box with the newspaper that had been used to wrap the ornaments.

Real Plans

I’ve been saying I would write about Real Plans. Here it is! Real Plans is a web app/online service that provides a meal plan for the week and a corresponding timeline and shopping list. It’s pretty user friendly and very customizable.

When starting (and at any point after starting), you set diet and meal preferences. For diet, you can choose from things like traditional (I think that’s just everything), paleo, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc. From there, you can further customize to include or exclude certain food groups or ingredients. For meal preferences, you can select which meals each week you want it to plan for you, how many servings you want those meals to default to, and what kinds of meals they’ll be (soup/salad, quick, make ahead, etc.). After adjusting all your settings, you click a button, and voila, it spits out a meal plan for the week according to all the settings you entered. It pulls from it’s own database of thousands of recipes, and you can also import your own into the Recipe Box. You can then further customize it by modifying or replacing the meals, adding notes, deleting meals, etc. It creates a shopping list for the meals for that week; you can check off what you already have or add additional things to it. And it creates a timeline, so (as long as you think to look at it), you are reminded to take meat out of the freezer to thaw on time and what not. Pretty snazzy.

So let’s break this down into some pros, cons, and things I’ve learned to maximize my experience.

Cost

I started with the one-month plan ($14, plus $1 to add on a subscription to Paleomg recipes, because that’s where I heard about Real Plans, so wanted to support Juli Bauer). After a couple of weeks, I liked it enough that I decided to go all in and change my subscription to annual, which is $6/month ($7 with the Paleomg subscription). I figured if I got tired of it before the year was out, that’s fine, the net difference in cost of doing a few more months versus a whole year wasn’t too different. Real Plans credited my initial one-month subscription to my year-long subscription, which seemed like good Customer Service to me, and they were really easy to deal with (all over email – quick and painless).

The argument could be made that Real Plans saves costs by preventing one from buying more than they need and letting things go to waste. I never really had that problem, so that wasn’t an issue for me. And actually, I started to have a little bit of that problem when I first started Real Plans because I was having it plan too many meals for me (more than I could actually make, ending up with too many leftovers). I faithfully followed the shopping list so ended up with all this food (especially produce) that I had to use, but was having trouble keeping up. I think I’ve now found a good balance, though.

All in all, I think the cost is totally worth it. I kind of see it as in between something like totally going off the cuff or doing your own thing and something like Blue Apron. It takes some of the guesswork out, but still allows some creativity or changes – and doing my own shopping.

Recipes and Variety

I’ve generally liked all the recipes. They’re all very manageable (reasonable number of ingredients, relatively low complexity, don’t take too much time). I have felt like there hasn’t been quite enough variety this month since I’ve chosen a strictly paleo diet (while doing a #Whole30), but that’s partly also a factor of the types of meals I’ve chosen. For example, for Sundays, I have my settings for a big make-ahead meal. That means that Sunday is typically slow-cooker-meat day, although it’s been a different slow-cooker-meat recipe most weeks. Wednesday night is set for soup/salad, so there has been a homemade mayo chicken salad often on those nights, though the actual recipe has been different most weeks with different flavors.

This feeling that there hasn’t been enough variety has led me in the past few weeks to add some recipes from other places that I’m interested in making or making again. It’s fairly easy to import recipes from other places on the Internet (although there usually ends up being some manual entry or correction of ingredients). You can also just enter a recipe, although that of course requires manual entry. But it’s been nice to have that option. I’ve gone back through various recipes that I’ve grabbed on Pinterest or in Evernote that I want to make and imported them and replaced some of the Meal Planner meals with those.

As I mentioned in a previous post, since I’ve chosen strictly paleo, the majority of my recipes have been from Paleomg, which, as I noted, is fine, but I’d like more variety. I’m thinking of subscribing to another paleo blogger source (options include WellFed, nom nom paleo, Wellness Mama, and others including some sources for other diets), but I don’t want to have to subscribe to multiple different subscriptions just for more variety. I definitely see a value in supporting these bloggers and their recipes. I think I’d be willing to pay $2-3 more per month and have access to all of them (with Real Plans spreading the wealth among them) and would prefer that to having to choose which specific ones I want to subscribe to. Dunno. Or maybe I’ll ask Real Plans if I can change which one I subscribe to for a few months.

But overall, I find the recipes pretty good. Easy to follow. Nothing too crazy, but not boring either. Definitely solid.

User Interface/ Usability

Overall, the user interface is good. Not amazing, but pretty good. It looks pretty nice and clean, there are pictures for all the recipes, it’s fairly intuitive. The negatives are sort of minor nitpicky things, but they are there nonetheless. A good example: on the Meal Planner page, you are able to move things around (drag and drop like)… but only after you click on Actions, then Modify. It would be more user friendly to just be able to click on something and move it. I often want to be able to look at something’s ingredients/directions and immediately after move it… but to look at the ingredients, you need to be in the not-modify mode and to move it, you have to be in the modify mode. So it’s just a lot of clicking. That’s probably the issue that affects me the most, but there are just little usability things like that.

Also, the phone app feels pretty limited. You can see your meal plan schedule, the recipes, and the shopping list (and interact with the shopping list), but you can’t edit your settings, move things around as easily, or see the nutrition information. They recently updated it, and parts of it are better – such as the shopping list, which used to have a time lag when you checked something off which was super annoying. That’s fixed. But there’s still something about it that’s not super intuitive.

Oh, and speaking of the nutrition information… it’s nice to have that, but it’s not always the most helpful. It’s not always totally clear the amount that the nutrition information is referring to, how it corresponds to the number of servings made. But still, a useful bit of information sometimes.

Other Thoughts

First, I’ve come to rely on Real Plans a lot, which is mostly great… but I also feel like sort of a slave to it sometimes. I don’t want to waste the groceries that I bought at the beginning of the week, so I feel tied to whatever the ‘plan’ was, and then I feel constrained from choosing not to cook one night, or just eating leftovers, or just making something easy. This is partly why I’ve really cut down on the number of meals I have it plan for me. Some weeks I’ll just do 2-3 dinners, and the rest are flexible. If I end up not being able to do something one of the nights, there are still plenty of other nights that I could make it up. But I definitely have come to enjoy sitting down on Saturdays and looking at what the next week’s plan is and making adjustments as I like, then preparing to grocery shop on Sundays.

Second, I don’t know how long Real Plans has been around, but it seems to be taking off a bit right now, so I think there will be more improvements to come. As I mentioned, they recently updated the app, and it’s definitely improvement. They also recently added a #Whole30 package (of course, now that I’m almost finished with this Whole30… but it costs more anyway and I’m doing just fine). But the point is, it’s a dynamic thing and I think will keep getting better.

My Setup

Currently, I have my diet set to paleo, no dairy, and I’ve also excluded non-Whole30 compliant things like alcohol and any type of added sugar or sweeteners. I’ve also excluded shrimp in any form (Real Plans has 14 forms of shrimp as an ingredient) because I really, really hate shrimp.

I have it set to do breakfasts on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. I often don’t end up making the Thursday one, and one of the other ones often ends up being a casserole, quiche, or something with a lot of leftovers that I end up eating throughout the following week for breakfast. No lunches. And five dinners, but I often edit it at the beginning of the week down to 3 or 4 for the flexibility I mentioned. These are a mix of make-ahead, quick, soup/salad. I’ve been able to mostly bring leftovers for lunch the next day (or two).

I have my default number of settings set to two. Most recipes are not actually written for two, so this has not always translated. I’ll often have to review a recipe beforehand to make sure that it’s translating right. For things that it’s hard to make half of (quiche in a pie pan, for instance), I’ll bump the servings back up and freeze the leftovers. Same with things like slow cooker meat. That freezes easily, so if I’m going to the effort to slow cook something all day, I’ll do the full amount and just have leftovers.

So that’s that! Overall, I’m really liking it and will stick with it for a while. At some point I might want to throw off the crutch, but at other points I’m sure I’ll want to come back. I’m really glad I’ve discovered it! Below are some photos of meals I’ve made (many of which are also Paleomg recipes, so credit there!).

Tahini Yogurt Sauce

Guys, my love of roasted vegetables knows no bounds. Like, I’m pretty sure that I would be perfectly happy for a really long time to eat nothing but roasted vegetables. But I can’t have everything I write about be about roasted vegetables, so for this I’m choosing to highlight the tahini yogurt sauce that I smothered my roasted vegetables in recently.

I forget what inspired me to make this. It was probably something like, “Oh, I want roasted vegetables. Again.” Followed by: “I should probably also have some protein. Let’s roast some chicken thighs. Oh and you know, I have a shit ton of leftover lettuce from the salad bar lunch we prepared to celebrate my boss’s upcoming baby arrival. I like putting tahini on roasted vegetables, but I need something more… liquidy… to put on a salad. What can I mix with tahini? Yogurt? Yeah, okay. Oh yeah, and I have frozen cauliflower rice in the freezer I could thaw and put on this and it’ll sorta be like a ‘grain’ salad.” Anyway, turns out it was delicious, and I have made this yogurt tahini sauce several times since then.

 

You can google yogurt tahini sauce (like I just did) and find any number of recipes. I unfortunately can’t remember which one I used originally, but I don’t think I followed it exactly then (I may have doubled the tahini because, um, delicious) and haven’t looked it up again since. It was something like:

  • 3/4 – 1 cup of plain yogurt (Greek would probably taste the best and be a good consistency, but I usually eat plain grass-fed yogurt [like Maple Hill Creamery’s which I can find at my local Harris Teeter] and I don’t think I’ve ever seen grass-fed Greek  yogurt. And yes, I know the yogurt itself is not grass-fed.)
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2-4 tbsp tahini
  • salt
  • pepper
  • green onion (both the green and white parts) or shallot

Mix it all together and slather some on those roasted vegetables (in this case broccoli, asparagus, and brussels sprouts), cauliflower rice, chicken, and lettuce. Yum. Or just use it as a dipping sauce for whatever.

The second time I made this, I doubled the recipe and stored the leftover in the fridge for a few days. It got more and more tart (in a good way) as the days went on. I wondered if the yogurt was curdling… but I googled and became maybe 70% sure that I wasn’t creating anything dangerous. I feel like I need to spend more time looking into this. In the meantime, if you know any real science in this area, let me know, and until then, maybe eat this all in one go.