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I used to be so overwhelmed by the idea of cooking family dinners every day (or even 4-5 days a week). The planning, the shopping, the getting to the store, the thawing of the meat in time to cook it, the veggie prep — it was all too much for me to wrap my head around while working from home and caring for three young kids. But we are getting serious about eating whole foods and staying on budget, and both require some planning and meal prep at home. In order to save my own sanity I’ve figured out a few things that have completely changed the way I approach the family meal and have simplified mealtime for me.
Some of my mom hacks for simplifying family mealtime are:
- An Instant Pot or high pressure cooker. If you don’t have one or have been on the fence about whether you need one (“I already have a slow cooker, do I really need a pressure cooker too?”) the answer is: YES. Yes, you do. I have this Instant Pot, so I can only speak to that one but it can cook just about anything easily and quickly. You can put meat, poultry, fish, and veggies in frozen and still have your meal cooked within 20-30 minutes for most things. And the meat is tender, juicy, and way more delicious than oven-baked (especially chicken and pork!) I cannot believe I didn’t get one sooner. I’m completely addicted and reliant upon mine and use it daily. It has also helped me to eat much healthier because instead of eating out or just making a lunch of my kids’ leftovers, I can cook myself a piece of fish or a chicken breast in no time.
- Buying organic veggies that are already chopped and frozen. If I’m making something relatively easy, like rainbow carrots or something I like to eat in a specific way, like spaghetti squash or sweet potatoes, then I buy them fresh. But when it comes to peas, cauliflower or broccoli, green beans, any diced or chopped vegetables like onions, or a mirepoix for soup — I buy them already chopped and frozen. Not only is this often cheaper, but it saves so much time and food prep and they are frozen when they are at their freshest and the nutrients are at their highest. Plus, there is less food waste because you aren’t forgetting about them and letting them spoil. My local Giant Eagle has a wide variety of chopped organic frozen veggies in the freezer section.
- Giant Eagle Curbside Express Delivery. With Curbside Express, I can shop online when and how I want without sacrificing my time or having to drag my three wild boys to the store with me (ugh, no thanks!). You can link your Advantage Card to earn points with your orders and also to save your shopping history, which is great if you tend to meal prep and stick to the same purchases and staple items each time you shop. It is basically a virtual grocery list! You can click a box that says whether or not your personal shopper can substitute an item if the one you ordered isn’t available and you can write a note to your shopper specifying any specific things you want them to know about your items. For example, my family goes through a TON of bananas, so I like to order a lot at once. But I write a note stating to “pick half ripe/yellow bananas (but not brown) and half green/unripe bananas.” I also request that they ensure the fresh strawberries I order are organic and free of mold. And I’m happy to report they followed my notes exactly. I even got a call from my personal shopper because I requested “grass-fed ground beef” but the brand I ordered doesn’t have a grass-fed option. So she called to clarify if I preferred grass-fed from another brand and to tell me that it was actually on sale! I was also able to add almond butter to my order after I placed it, since I forgot to include it in my original order. I selected a delivery time that worked for me and my groceries were delivered while my little ones napped. And you can try it for free — they waive the delivery fee for your first service! And a funny bonus that I never would have thought of: I actually spent less on groceries because I wasn’t in the store personally to make any spontaneous, impulse purchases. I cannot recommend the Giant Eagle Curbside Express Delivery service enough!
One other tip that helps me is to keep a list of meals that are healthy, yummy, and easy. I have about 14 meals on a list so if I get stuck or need an idea I refer to that (and I keep it on a dry erase board like this on my pantry door). I don’t meal plan per se, because when I did I found it very limiting and it almost felt like a chore. But when I can choose from 3-4 meal ideas that we have ingredients for at home and make a game time decision thanks to my mom meal hacks above, I find that I enjoy preparing the meals and don’t get bored with eating them. I plan to share more full recipes of some of my favorites, but a few ideas are: huevos rancheros, fish tacos, meatloaf muffins, spaghetti squash with meat sauce, flank steak and roasted veggies, bacon and egg cups, balsamic chicken over cauliflower rice, and chorizo mash and scrambled eggs.
I wanted to demonstrate how these three things make cooking dinner so much easier, so I’m sharing a recipe for the Paleo Chili that I made and had prepared within an hour after receiving my Giant Eagle grocery delivery. My items were delivered at 3:00 pm and I had dinner ready by 4 (I made it a little earlier than usual so that I could take a few photos while we still had some daylight. The recipe below is for a Paleo Chili (also Whole30 Friendly because I’m in the last week of a Whole30 now myself) but you could always add dark red kidney beans, shredded cheese, sour cream, or corn bread muffins or any other toppings you like if you aren’t adhering to a Paleo or Whole30 way of clean eating. Also, if you don’t have an Instant Pot but have more time to prep your chili, you could cook it in a heavy bottom pan like a Dutch Oven, a stock pot, or even your slow cooker. Just be sure to allow yourself more time!
- 2 lbs grass-fed ground beef
- 1 tbsp avocado or olive oil or ghee
- 1 large (28 oz) can of tomato sauce (make sure there is no sugar added in the list of ingredients)
- 1 regular can of diced tomatoes (14.5 oz)
- 1 can or jar of tomato paste (I used a 7 oz jar)
- 1 16 oz bag of frozen peppers and onions
- 3 tbsp of chili powder
- 1 tbsp of cumin
- 1 tbsp of garlic powder
- 1 tsp of sea salt
- 1/2 tsp of fresh ground peper
- 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
- 1 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional, but adds a slight cheesy type texture that I miss when I can’t add shredded cheese)
- 1 avocado for topping (optional but delicious)
- 1 can of organic dark red kidney beans if you aren’t following a paleo or Whole30 eating plan
- Press the sauté button on your Instant Pot and let it heat up. Then add your 1 tbsp of oil or ghee and swirl to coat the bottom of the pot.
- Once simmering, add peppers and onions to the oil. Stirring frequently, cook 2-4 minutes or until soft.
- Stir in tomato paste, garlic powder and sea salt.
- Add in your ground beef. Brown the meat and break it up with a wooden spatula as you go (especially if you are putting it in frozen – I also like to put the lid on the Instant Pot and let the meat thaw faster).
- Once your meat is browned, add in the cumin, cinnamon, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, ground pepper, and nutritional yeast (optional).
- Mix well, put lid on pot and lock it, and press the chili button and set for 20 minutes.
- Once chili is done, you can release the pressure, ladle into bowls, top with the diced avocado (or whatever toppings you like), let cool a bit, and serve. My whole family — even my picky eaters — gobble this right up! This recipe yields a large batch so we have plenty of leftovers for lunches and another dinner or freeze for future meals.
There you have it! My favorite tips for simplifying family mealtime and a quick and delicious family-friendly recipe using all of those tips. Thank goodness for pressure cookers, frozen vegetables, and especially Giant Eagle Curbside Express Delivery! Have you tried it yourself? Do you have any other meal simplifying tips to share? I hope you enjoy the time and sanity you’ll save by using the Giant Eagle Curbside Express Delivery service. Less time shopping means more time for cooking. Or better yet, relaxing!