It's nearly back-to-school time, so be sure to check out some of my previous posts about that (like this one, this one, and this one).
In the meantime, don't forget to enjoy the last gasp of summer with fun tips like this one!
Here’s a quick and organized way to serve lunch to your kids.
When my kids were little (and occasionally even now that they’re bigger), they loved the surprise of a muffin-tin lunch. The novelty of having several different foods in separate little compartments got them to try new things and to eat a more balanced meal.
After all, who doesn't like cute, tiny food and meals that give you a taste of everything? We grownups just call it tapas!
You can put all kinds of things in the tins, but it works best for two kids (or as a snack for 3-4, dividing the holes by row) with each child getting 6 muffin holes-worth of food.
Pictured here is a lunch of salami, tortilla chips and salsa, Kalamata olives, cheddar cheese, and watermelon spears. Other cute ideas are mini-salads, trail mix, crackers and cheese, nuts, beans, dried fruit, baby pickles, sandwich bites, whatever will fit. Even small servings of soup, pudding, or mac & cheese will work.
Let your creative juices flow and see how excited your kids will be to eat lunch!
A quick tip for keeping your spices organized: alphabetize them!
If you have the space, it’s great to keep spices in a shallow drawer, making it easy to line them up alphabetically so they’re a cinch to find. As you can see from the photo, I love square spice jars because they don’t roll around.
Don’t have a spice drawer? Try a rack that fits on the inside of a cabinet door (click here to see some). This will still keep all the spices visible (rather than when they’re stacked in a cabinet or on a lazy Susan) and also keeps them away from the heat of the stove, which leaches the flavor out of them.
Alternatively, if alphabetizing doesn’t make sense for the way your brain is organized, you can group spices by category. For example, make a row of baking spices (allspice, cinnamon, clove, ginger, nutmeg, etc.), a row of Italian spices (bay leaves, basil, pepper flakes, oregano, rosemary, etc.), a row of French spices (chives, dill, fennel, tarragon, thyme, etc.), and a row of your favorite go-to spices.
Have fun organizing your spices this week. Don’t forget to throw away any that are past their prime (Sniff them – if they have no odor, they have no flavor.) and don’t forget to use them to add extra zest to the next dish you cook!
As I was writing about freezer organization last week, I started thinking of some of the many ways you can use your freezer as a shortcut to help with meal preparation. Here are a few ideas.
1. A hot breakfast from your freezer: If your morning is rushed but you like a hot breakfast, create a grab-and-go breakfast area in your freezer. You can freeze oatmeal (with fruit, canned pumpkin, spices, whatever you like already added), breakfast sandwiches or burritos, and mini frittatas or quiches made in muffin tins. Reheat in the microwave for an instant hot breakfast.
2. If you’re a big smoothie drinker, make your own smoothie mixes (fruit, veggies, protein powder, etc.), put single-serve portions in freezer bags, and store them horizontally until they are frozen flat. Once frozen, you can store them vertically like file folders. In the morning, grab a bag, break the frozen food into chunks, pop the pieces in a blender, and add liquid for an instant smoothie.
3. Convenience lunch: My cousin invented this clever idea when she was a busy high school student. Take an entire loaf of bread, make pb&j (or other) sandwiches, wrap each sandwich in wax paper, put them back in the bread bag, and freeze. Pop a sandwich into your bag in the morning and it will be thawed and ready to eat by lunch. Bonus: you won’t need an ice pack to keep the rest of your lunch cool.
4. Dinner: Of course, you can make entire meals and freeze them or make double the amount of one meal and freeze half. But I don’t have a huge freezer to store lots of meals, so what I prefer to do is freeze foods so they are recipe-ready. I freeze meats in marinades so that when I thaw them they can go right into the oven or skillet. I blanche or pre-cook vegetables so they are ready for the next step such as mashing (mashed cauliflower = yum! Potatoes don’t freeze well.) or adding to a soup or casserole.
Do you have some other freezer tips to share? Please feel free to submit a comment.
Your freezer should be set to 0°F.
I once had an argument (spirited discussion?) with someone who insisted that the freezer could be set at 32°F because that’s the temperature at which water freezes. I guess that would be fine if all you stored in your freezer was ice, but the freezing point of many things is lower than 32°F, which is why my ice pops (sugar water) were still liquid in the 32°F freezer.
Even if food freezes solid at a higher temperature, keeping your freezer at 0°F slows the food’s deterioration so much that it can keep for months or even a year (though taste might suffer).
Unlike the fridge, which requires good air circulation to maintain temperature, the freezer likes to be full. All those frozen-solid foods packed together help the freezer stay at temperature more efficiently.
To get the most out of your freezer, you’ll want to create zones for different types of things.
I hope you're enjoying my weekly tips. Please feel free to forward them to others!
Today’s tip is a request by my friend Renee. I’m going to break it into three tips, so be sure to check back here for the next two weeks to get your fridge in tip-top shape.
How do you organize the refrigerator?
It’s not so different from organizing other things like desk drawers and bookshelves. The tricky part is that the contents of the fridge are always shifting as you use things up and buy new things.
The first aspect we’ll tackle is temperature, which guides the basic layout of the fridge.
Even though you set it to the recommended 35-38°F, the temperature isn’t constant or consistent throughout the fridge. Here’s the breakdown:
One big rule for the fridge is not to overcrowd it. The cold air needs to circulate to keep things fresh. Better to have to make another trip to the store later in the week than to have to throw out a whole bunch of spoiled food.
Next week, I’ll help you de-clutter the fridge and group items for convenience. Stay tuned!
With Thanksgiving fewer than two weeks away, it's time to whip your pantry, fridge, and freezer into shape.
You'll need to make space for the holiday staples you'll stock up on, the cookies you'll freeze, and the leftovers the big meals create.
This is the perfect time to use up all those items that might be close to their expiration dates or those canned goods you bought thinking, "This might be good to have on hand."
Step 1: Quickly sort through your fridge and pantry, tossing anything that's past the expiration date. Check those condiments!
Step 2: Get creative and come up with meals based on whatever is left that you want to use up.
Sites like Allrecipes and Supercook that allow you to search for recipes based on ingredients you have can be a big help.
For the next week or so, try to shop only for perishables (e.g. milk, eggs, vegetables) to round out the meals that you'll make with all those pantry finds.
Need help coming up with ideas? Here's my fancy-ish take on tuna noodle casserole (no noodles) that my family loves, even though my kids don't like canned tuna served any other way. It uses up canned tuna and frozen peas. As long as you keep the butter, flour, milk, and eggs the same, everything else is flexible and you can vary the ingredients and quantities to suit your needs.
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
1 cup milk
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
1/2 teaspoon Herbes de Provence or other herbs that you like (dill is yummy)
1/2 cup grated cheese (Parmesan, cheddar, gruyere, swiss, or a combination)
2 cans of tuna (Best if packed in water, but whatever you have will work.)
about 1/2 bag of frozen peas, thawed (or canned if that's what you have)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Butter a 1-quart souffle or casserole dish.
Melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in flour and blend until smooth and cook over low heat until golden. While whisking butter and flour, add the milk all at once. Stir constantly and cook until thick. Add salt, pepper, and herbs. Remove from heat and cool for 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, beat eggs. Add cheese, tuna, and thawed peas. Stir to combine. Add cooled milk mixture and stir. Pour into buttered dish and bake 30-40 minutes until eggs are set and top is puffed and golden.
Serve immediately. Souffle will fall a little, so don't worry about that. It's great with a simple green salad and some French bread.