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Postpartum Meal Planning part 1

a sneak peek before photo into my deep freezer

I’m expecting a second little one in June. I’m so excited for so many things, and one of those things is a freezer full of flavorful, home cooked, lovingly made meals. I think it is essential that every family put as much prep into planning for their postpartum weeks as for their birth or the baby’s room, or maybe even more! I spent a ton of energy and time planning last time for postpartum, and will do even more next time. Perhaps this is my version of nesting, because although I did a lot of organizing… I sure wasn’t cleaning the baseboards or ceiling fans last time!

I’m about half way along, so I am in the stage of finalizing my planning…. I’m collecting recipes we already love and choosing new ones to try. I’m making lists of what I want made, and approximately when I’ll be making it. Since postpartum planning is something often skimped on in our culture, I’m sharing my thought process to inspire and educate others. These meals would be great to do as part of a freezer swap, or to take along to a family with a new baby or to someone undergoing a significant hardship or change. Or they would be great for your own postpartum planning (or  even just to make busy days a little easier).

How I’m choosing meals:

Since this is my second I know what meals I will crave… the foods that made my body feel so good after my son was born. Most of my list in inspired from that. And since it will be summer I’ll be making plenty of meal kits for going straight onto the grill, especially steaks and kabobs. I can already imagine sitting by the pool, watching Noah and daddy splash around or play on the deck while I nurse the baby under the umbrella and dinner cooks. While recovering from birth and in early breastfeeding my body just loves steaks/red meat (strange for me as a former longtime vegetarian!). I also loved soups and sandwiches, so there will be plenty of that. One dish meals, hearty enough not to drip off the spoon will be on my list. They are great while nursing or babywearing. Plenty of one-handed snacks like beef jerky, granola bars, muffins, Quiche slices and more will be tidily tucked in the nooks of my freezer and pantry.

I’m also taking advice from my tribe, the mothers I know who may have ideas and advice I had not thought of. My husband is an important part of the selection, so that our entire family can be well nourished. For him I’ll have a lot of chicken pot pies, farmhouse Chicken or Turkey casserole, Chili  etc. Real man food! 😉 He isn’t much for soups and sandwiches, so I’ll plan for those as lunch foods or as school day foods, when it is just Noah and I eating dinner at home. My toddler will eat most anything, and loves most of my favorites just as much as I do.

Right now I’m compiling a huge list, and then Rob and I will narrow it down so that we have plenty of different types of options in our freezer.

Planning the cooking:

We have a big giant upright deep freezer. This is fantastic, but you can do it without. A good 4-6 weeks worth of meals will fit in a side by side or above fridge freezer if packaged efficiently. We got our upright deep freezer on discount as the back had a big dent (it’s against a wall anyhow!). If you have the space and can get your hands on a good deal I think it is a great asset to postpartum meal planning and food storage in general. Besides having more storage space, In a deep freezer things tend to last up to twice as long without having any ill effects like loss of flavor or freezer burn. This means I can start my postpartum cooking earlier and make more meals 🙂 (can you see now how this is my version of nesting???)

Soups and stews and sauces I can do up to 8 months before we plan to eat them, so that is where I’ll start, probably in mid  to late February. Beginning in March I’ll start on the few casseroles we have planned to make. In April I’ll add in doing snacks, smoothie bags, sides, desserts etc. In May I’ll start with making breakfasts, Quiche slices, marinated/ready to cook items and pizzas.

I plan on making 2-4 things to freeze per week as our budget allows. I try to fit in some inexpensive dishes with more expensive ones. Ingredients for chicken soup or quiche for example cost less than half as much as ingredients for lamb stew or marinated skirt steak. I make sure not to plan more than 2 expensive to cook meals per week.  I will likely plan a few weeks where we eat more simply (sandwiches, soups etc) so that we can stock up on extra steaks and other things. It all has to balance out, and quite easily will.

Freezing, Storing, Packing and Organizing:

When things are in the frozen I’ll organize them in a variety of ways… In my freezer I will have an area for dinners frozen in family sized portions. casseroles will be labeled and then stacked. Dinners with multiple frozen components will be stored in plastic grocery bags (somehow we do occasionally bring them home, although I try not to!) with labels (so for example chili packaged in glassware or jars and cornbread wrapped in parchment and a ziplock will be packaged separately then bagged together).  I sure hope that made sense! Stand alone items (snacks, desserts, soups etc) will be in a different area. I’ll label my freezer shelves and spaces with stickers designating areas for each type of item. convenience items (smoothie bags and such) get tucked into the door shelves.

I’m also planning to try out a system to keep inventory. We’re notorious for forgetting to erase what was eaten from the magnetic white board I currently use… but perhaps labeling individual shelves will help, so that is what I’ll do. I may even go so far as to make a menu… but I’m better at choosing what I want as I go… so we will see! I know that everything will be used eventually, so this part doesn’t matter too much.

As for packaging, we store most foods in glass. I have a huge collection of jars and glass food storage. Baking dishes will be another way to store foods. I try to not buy disposable products, but I’m making an exception because I know that this will be an invaluable resource this summer, and anything I can “flash freeze” will be wrapped in parchment then packaged in ziplocks. casseroles I’m going to try to do in the OAMC (once a month cooking) tradition…. Where you freeze them in a baking dish or casserole dish that has been *well* lined with aluminum foil, then once frozen you wrap it and have your baking dish back and ready to use again! You then wrap it in plastic wrap and stack in freezer, being sure to label it well with not only what meal it is, but what dish it fits into as well. I’m going to use the new foil I have noticed advertised that is parchment paper on one side and foil on the other. I try to keep toxins (plastics, aluminum, teflon, nonstick etc) out of our food and that is important to me, so I will likely end up adding to my glassware collection a fair amount. Canning jars are my favorite way to store single serve soups and more. The huge quart sized jars can even store saucy meals with their fabulous wide-mouth lids.

The Meals:

(please remember this is my place for brainstorming all of this) Most of these recipes are tried and true favorites, but I’ll haven’t tried all of these meals yet. I’m pretty good at knowing what about a recipe to change to suit us, and how well it will turn out…. but I do have the rare flop! One of my favorite things about the internet is recipe reviews, so that helps me to know what changes to make to suit us. I have just a few cookbooks that I get a lot of use out of, so those are also mentioned here.

We will edit and change these recipes to suit our tastes and ingredient preferences as well. I’ll write about all of this as it happens.

            Soups, Stews and Sauces

  • Autumn Chicken Immunity Boosting Soup, recipe inspired by whole foods recipes and my friend Jessica
  • Addictive Red Lentil Curry https://homemadeswapper.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/addictive-red-lentil-curry/
  • Black Bean Soup, recipe received from a food swap many moons ago.
  • Butternut Squash Curry Soup
  • Cabbage Soup with Shredded Chicken
  • Carrot Soup with Honey and Nutmeg, from NYMSCCB (Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cook Book… one of my favorite books!).
  • Chicken Cacciatore with mushrooms and plenty of Shredded Veggies. I LOVE this dish. Rob eats it with pasta usually, but it’s so yummy alone or with steamed, buttery broccoli
  • Chicken Stew with Garlic Herb Dumplings https://homemadeswapper.wordpress.com/2012/01/14/chicken-stew-with-herbed-garlic-dumplings/ I’ll be freezing this sans dumplings in half-size portions. The dumpling mix I will make up and store in a glass container on the counter, just adding milk and butter when ready to mix them up and cook.
  • Chicken and Wild Rice Soup
  • Chicken Soup (noodles optional)
  • Chilli…. oh… how soon I need to make this! YUM! I could eat this chili weekly or more often, and usually do.
  • Creamy Potato and Leek soup, recipe adapted from NYMSCCB . Freeze in jars and have with turkey sandwiches or pesto spread on toast.
  • The EASIEST French Onion Soup, adapted from NYMSCCB, 
  • Ground Beef Minestrone Soup https://homemadeswapper.wordpress.com/2011/12/27/minestrone-soup-with-ground-beef/
  • Harvest Vegetable Soup (with Shredded Chicken and without). This was one of the first recipes I created, I think I was about 15. I have been making it often, ever since.
  • Lamb Stew with root veggies in a tomato wine broth
  • Meat Sauce for Pasta
  • Pesto, frozen in small jars. Serve with grilled or sautéed chicken and pasta, or on toasted bread with a soup.
  • Ratatouille in the crock pot, frozen in jars. Serve with pasta covered in mozzarella and parm, or as the filling of a sandwich on a big crusty roll, also with melted mozzarella. For a meat meal, eat as a side with grilled chicken breast cutlets. I may also use part of this recipe for a veggie lasagna to also freeze! Recipe here: http://www.food.com/recipe/Ratatouille-in-the-Crock-Pot-52757  Changes I’ll try for the recipe include adding just a bit of balsamic vinegar and some red wine, plenty of fresh basil leaves, honey rather than sugar, and I will omit the red pepper flakes since my husband (and some nurslings) prefer less spice). I’ll cook it on low and check it around 5 hours in, as a 7-9 hour cook time seems too long to me.
  • Roasted Tomato Soup, made from fresh picked tomatoes
  • Salsa Chili (from NYMSCCB) I’ll make this from homemade salsa
  • Sloppy Joe Filling. I make this with ground beef, lentils, and plenty of shredded beets, sweet potato and carrots. We just LOVE this meal, it feels so warm and comforting. This is a grown up version of the childhood fave, and just fills a heart up. I’m thinking of freezing this in muffin tins then transferring it to a zip top bag. I think this might give me the perfect meal sized portion to heat up on the stove or in the oven, right from frozen! I’ll freeze rolls with it so its easy and ready to go. This is also a fab topping for 
  • Slow Cooked broccoli Soup with Garlic and Olive oil
  • White Bean Chicken and Spinach Soup
  • White Chicken Chili

           Casseroles and Meal Components: (start prepping in March)

  • Cheesy Pasta Bake
  • Chicken Enchiladas recipe: http://www.passionatehomemaking.com/2008/05/freezer-meals-chicken-enchiladas.html this makes 2 8×8 dishes.
  • Chicken Pot Pie (or Turkey Pot Pie)
  • Cilantro Lime Chicken Taco (filling component) http://joelens.blogspot.com/2010/05/cilantro-lime-chicken-tacos.html
  • Farmhouse Chicken or Turkey Casserole (my husband LOVES this meal!)
  • Lasagna Roll ups, with spinach/ricotta. I’ll do these as the roll-ups since Rob won’t like these filling choices. Flash Frozen then put into ziplock bags. It’ll be so easy to just pull out a few, pop into the oven and have lunch.
  • lasagna- probably I will do a few types of layered lasagna, all versions Rob will enjoy, frozen in molds to fit smaller glass baking dishes to serve 4.
  • Meatballs
  • Mini Meatloaves
  • Shepherd’s pie with ground beef, carrots, peas, green beans and topped with mashed potatoes.
  • Shepherd’s pie lamb variation, with 1” cubes of lamb, brussels sprouts, carrots and peas, topped with mashed potatoes.

         Snacks, Smoothie Bags, Sides, Quiche Slices, Desserts etc: (start prepping in April)

  • Almond clusters adapted from here: http://home-madehealth.blogspot.com/2011/03/true-north-almond-clusters-copy-cat.html I may add peanut too…. that is how the TN brand ones are.
  • Apricot chocolate nut clusters, recipe on all recipes
  • Beef Jerky (marinated 30-60 minutes in honey, worshtershire and tamari) This I won’t need to freeze, of course, just dehydrate and store. The trick will be HIDING it from my husband and little one so there is some left for a hungry nursing mama!
  • Carrot Cake Pancakes– my goal is to freeze 60 of these. Noah will eat one for breakfast, I’ll eat two, so him and I will have 20 days worth of a fairly healthy breakfast option. I’ll probably cook up a bit of beef bacon when we serve it as well, for extra protein/fats. They reheat perfectly in the toaster oven on 325 for about 5-10 minutes. http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/3050
  • Creamsicle pops, made with coconut and fresh orange juice. Hey, it’ll be summer and hot out, and we love dessert!
  • fudgepops, made with coconut milk, cream, honey and cocoa
  • Ice Cream… I would love to make a few types of homemade, full fat ice cream. What a perfect late night mama treat, and when I make it I eat a moderate amount and I know it’s as healthy as ice cream can be! (Chocolate Raspberry, Mint Chocolate Chip and who knows what else are on my list)
  • Lactation cookie Balls, ready to bake
  • Muffins, many types: pumpkin spice and blueberry from Aviva Romm’s postpartum book, and these two recipes: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/1457 http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/1463
  • Orange Black Beans with Cumin, from NYMSCCB
  • Quiche many flavors! frozen wrapped in parchment and foil for quick snacks from the toaster oven. I may do some crustless as well.
  • Roti (I may just buy these, but making them is lovely and fun. It’ll depend on my energy level.)
  • Smoothie Bags, many varieties. my goal is to freeze 20 bags/jars.
  • zucchini bread recipe from WFM: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/2580

          Marinated/Ready to Cook Meals, Pizzas, Breakfasts: (start prepping in May)

So…. now to the editing and scheduling! and on to lots of recipe penning…..

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Addictive Red Lentil Curry

I’ve been making this dish for years now. When people try it they tell me how fantastic and complex it is. But in truth, other then a lot of spices, its quite a simple dish!  It’s inexpensive and filling, and delicious enough to eat all the time. You can easily scale it up to feed a crowd.

 I have pretty much every ingredient I need for this right in the pantry, which is simply great. Anything I do not have is an easy substitute (you can use many different veggies, for example zucchini or sweet potato diced are both yummy substitutions). These freezes quite well.

Great served with salad, with rice or as a side dish with a meat curry or (my favorite) with kabob done in a simple mediterranean style marinade. I’ve taken leftovers and used them as a cold dip with crackers…. my little one LOVES dips and will eat them all up, reusing the same seed cracker many times.

Ingredients

  • 2 C Red Lentils, well rinsed. You really MUST use the red, substitutions aren’t very good. (I sometimes precook lentils and then just use 4-5 cups cooked lentils, by doing this you can skip step 1)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped (about 1 small onion)
  • 2 small golden beets, diced (about 3/4 cup) You could use red, but they’ll change the color of the dish and will need half the honey.
  • 1/2 stalk celery, diced (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 large carrot, diced (1/2 cup)
  • 1 can Fire-Roasted Tomatoes (small 14 oz size)
  • 1/2 c Coconut Milk, regular not low-fat.
  • tomato paste
  • juice of 1/2 lemon (2 tbsp)
  • 2-4 tsp curry powder (I use 2 tsp for a mild dish)
  • 2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp Cumin
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1.5 tbsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp ground yellow mustard
  •  Salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp sweetener (honey, sugar etc)
  • 1 4” stalk lemongrass (optional)
  • 1 tsp (2 leaves) kaffir Lime Leaves, chopped (optional)
  • black pepper
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp cayenne (if desired, I don’t use it typically)
  • 2 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp Ginger, minced. I prefer doubling this so the ginger is really pronounced. I love the quiet, creeping heat and aroma of ginger. I often use the microplane for part, and do thin slices for the other half.

Directions:

1. In a medium to large pot cook the lentils covered just a 1/2 inch with water on high, stir every few minutes to prevent browning/burning of bottom lentils. They are finished cooked after 10-15 minutes, when they turn a lighter color and soak up the water. Transfer to a bowl.

2. In now empty pot get onions, beets, carrots and celery cooking with the oil untill nicely caramelized over medium heat (5-7m).

 3. Add the tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, coconut milk, lemon juice and cooked lentils. Stir well. If needed to moisten use 1/4 cup water (this depends on how dry lentils are). Add in the dry spices, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and honey.  Stir well, taste for salt adding it if needed. Allow to cook 5 minutes.

4. Grind in plenty of black pepper, and cayenne if desired. Stir in ginger and garlic. Taste for spice, add anything you feel is lacking. The reason to add the heat components later is to ensure that beneath the (mild) heat the dish is full of flavor.

5. Allow to cook for 5-15 minutes on low untill the texture is thick and stew like, stirring often. Remove lemongrass stalk before serving. Eat hot or room temp or cold, its great any way!