Friday, September 27, 2013

A week of locavore meals in late September

The easiest month to eat local in New England might be September. This is what we ate---and shopped for---this week to feed two.

I’ve had a couple of requests for our weekly meal plan and grocery shopping list. We keep a spreadsheet where we track our appointments for the week in a condensed form, as a reminder, and columns for food we must plan to eat, as well as what we eventually plan to make and eat each day.

Sunday morning, we sit down with our coffee and update the “Considerations” column for each day of the coming week: any appointments that shifted, or other plans we have that will affect available prep time, or put extra restraints on the hour dinner is served. Are we expecting company? We’ll make a note of that.

Once we map all that out, we take a look at what’s in the fridge and freezer. Since we’re at the end of the last quarter beef and half pig we bought, we’ve been keeping a list of what’s still in the freezer that we need to incorporate into meals. Anything still left in the fridge that needs to be used goes in another column of the spreadsheet.

We plan each day’s dinner around a piece of meat or entree, decide what starch we want to eat with it, and then I plug in the vegetables after I see our farm share haul on Monday night. Here is this week’s meal plan:

Main meat

out of food
sausages, red sauce, pasta
Farm share pickup, J chiro at 2
pork chops
pork chops, sweet and white potatoes, quick salad
J - Jason @2, K - Jason @7:30
tongue, potatoes, roasted vegetables and/or greens
J writer's group 7 - 10

J - chiro at 4:30, dinner with the boys
baked dk meat chicken, fresh and cooked vegetables, rice, cornbread

leftovers or cod/mac

cod and mac n cheese, vegetables incl fresh tomatoes


We just got back from vacation, so the fridge was particularly bare on Sunday. We always plans at least a couple of leftovers days, which I manage by cooking more than four servings at least a couple of times during the week, if not more, so there will be extra beyond lunch the next day. Right now there’s a serving of beef tongue with cabbage and carrots still in the fridge that I showed our friend Dave, mostly out of foodie pride because he’s also a foodie, and forgetting that he’s kind of squeamish about strange meats. Kevin grabbed a slice and popped it in his mouth right there, knowing it makes good cold sandwich meat, and I offered it to Dave, too, but he wasn’t even considering making a move on it. “Dave’s going to tell people I tried to slip him the tongue,” I said.
Tongue: the meat that tastes you back
Also, this is the plan we made, but I don’t always stick to it. The vegetable part of the plan is always very loose. I just let the vegetables inspire me as to what I should make from them, for the most part, while also making sure to get from the farm what I know is in season and that I’ve made particular plans for. Like right now, it’s tomato season, so I can plan to make tomato sauce. That sauce we had Monday, however, was some I’d made before we went on vacation and I still had around that we needed to use, so we bought sausages from the meat counter and I simmered them in my leftover sauce.

Meal (planned)
Meal (actual)

sausages, red sauce, pasta
Mild Italian sausage (from co-op), homemade ragu (leftover, made from farm share tomatoes and 2# beef bones from freezer) with rice pasta, ricotta, parmesan.
pork chops, sweet and white potatoes, quick salad
Pork chops (co-op), sweet & white potatoes (TJ’s), spinach (farm share)
tongue, potatoes, roasted vegetables and/or greens
Stewed beef tongue (freezer), braised cabbage and carrots (farm share), salt roasted potatoes (leftovers)
Various leftovers: pork chops, sausage, eggs, potatoes; and freshly made pan roasted kohlrabi, carrots, and broccoli stems (farm share)
baked dk meat chicken, fresh and cooked vegetables, rice, cornbread
Baked dark meat chicken from 2 birds (freezer), macaroni and cheese (homemade w/ quinoa pasta), roasted tomatoes and green salad (farm share), pumpkin creme brulee (farm share pumpkin)
leftovers or cod/mac
Planned: leftover chicken, etc
cod and mac n cheese, vegetables incl fresh tomatoes
Out to dinner
Planned: buy sausage and roast it with eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers; polenta

We have to keep the plan flexible, of course.

In our meal plan this week, we forgot to schedule in Date Night, which is Saturday, and we’re making plans to go do things during the day, like the Big E or King Richard’s Faire, so instead of thawing cod and heating leftovers, we’ll go out somewhere, if we don’t get to the co-op first and buy sausages to roast. (Fresh sausage and eggplant is Date Night food, even if we have to make it from scratch, but leftover dry fish isn’t. Go figure.) I had the idea when yesterday I looked in the produce bins and realized we have a lot of eggplant and peppers. Making it this weekend will give us something to eat for lunch on Monday next week. 

Lunches are usually leftovers. Sometimes breakfasts, too.

We usually eat leftovers for lunch, or I’ll have eggs and toast, or eggs with leftovers. I also make leftovers part of the meal plans for dinner. Sometimes I make extra entree, and other times I make extra of some side dish that we’ll eat several times throughout the week. This week, it was salt roasted white and sweet potatoes. I made them Monday, before the farm share arrived. When Kevin got home with it, I washed up the spinach and we ate it with pork chops. Tuesday, I processed a lot of greens: I blanched and froze kale for the winter, and washed salad for the week. 

On Wednesday this week, when leftovers came to a head, Kevin packed pork chops and cabbage and potatoes for his lunch, and I had eggs over spinach with butter fried slices of baked sweet potato for lunch. I boiled four more eggs and yesterday took them and half the leftover salt roasted potatoes, minced half an onion, and made egg and potato salad, which I ate on garlic toast with a green salad for lunch. When I got back from writer’s group, I ate a big pile of pan roasted vegetables on buttered bread, a page right out of Tamar Adler’s “An Everlasting Meal,” which I brought with me on vacation and took inspiration from this week in my cooking. I ordinarily do a bit of “striding ahead” and “catching my own tail,” as she eloquently puts it, but giving these activities poetic names makes me more apt to do them.

Yesterday, which was Thursday, we had a couple of friends over for dinner, so I “monster cooked,” as someone described it. I made lots of food, of which we had some leftovers, but not so much mac and cheese that it’s going to do double duty. However, we have three eggplants and maybe half a dozen peppers, and a bag of Romas getting ripe, so I’m going to make an Italian meal again this weekend with some more sausages, roasted eggplants, peppers, onions, tomatoes, garlic, and whatever herbs and soft or hard Italian cheese I still have around by then. Eating it over polenta is half of what makes this a treat worthy of Date Night.

Because we have a farm share, freezers in which we keep meat we buy in bulk direct from farmers, and a well stocked pantry, we don’t have to buy every single food we eat each week. This is what we did buy, and made sure to pick up at the farm:

Middle Aisles/Household
Health and Beauty
Parsley (lots)
peaches, apples, grapes
ginger chews
half and half (2 qt)
pork chops
bread - any good plain loaf
udi's gf bagels
fluoride toothpaste
pasta for tonight
Ital sausages

chocolate ice cream
sw potatoes
backup laundry soap and softener


white rice
cottage cheese

peanut butter


dried cherries

We also keep running lists of items we want to buy the next time we go to Costco or Trader Joe’s, and will run down to the Liquors 44 and the Stop N’ Shop whenever we run out of wine or milk.

What else do we eat, besides dinner?

Kevin keeps a jar of trail mix at work that he keeps restocked with dried fruit and nuts from the bins. We both eat peanut butter as an occasional snack, breakfast, or lunch food, as well as to pill the dog. We split a pot of coffee each morning, and Kevin still drinks a fruit and yogurt smoothie each day, though I’ve fallen out of the habit. Now I’m more likely to have toast with a spread and some fresh fruit. We like to snack on potato chips, wine, and ice cream in the evenings.

Every week’s different, and our diets change over time and with the seasons. I’ll do this again soon so you can get another idea of a typical week for the two of us. Let me know what kind of information you’d find helpful, too.

Friday, September 6, 2013

More lunch, please!

Are your kids getting enough to eat?

Sometimes in the winter, I didn’t get enough to eat at lunchtime when I was a kid. I wouldn’t get enough to eat all day, actually, until dinnertime, when my father’s presence relaxed the rules my mother laid down about pretty much everything. At dinner, I could take as much as I want as the serving bowls went around the table and chops were removed from the platter onto plates. I could even have seconds.

A typical breakfast in summer was a bowl of Cheerios, and in winter of Cream of Wheat (131 calories) and a glass of orange juice (112 calories) with a multivitamin (0 calories) that I usually skipped because it gave me a stomachache.

On school days, I’d eat my single bowl of cereal around 7 AM. On Saturdays, eating my second, third, or fifth bowl of cold cereal in front of hours of cartoons, I’d hear again and again, “part of this complete breakfast.” I studied the examples given: a bowl of the advertised cold cereal with milk, surrounded by toast, a glass of milk and a glass of juice, sometimes a grapefruit half. Weren’t the toast and milk beverage repeats? I wondered. There’s cereal and milk in the bowl.

On schooldays, some five hours after breakfast, I would join my classmates in the cafeteria and in winter, opened my lunchbox to two Thermoses: one filled with milk (150 calories) or fruit juice (100 calories), the other with chicken noodle soup (only 60 calories). The Saltines (66 calories in 5 crackers) laid on top of the Thermoses (Thermii?) hardly made a difference. After a 240 calorie breakfast and perhaps 270 calories for lunch, it’s no wonder that after school my sister and I were like starving animals, prowling the kitchen for junk food before dinner. We were seriously hungry, underfed for most of the day on a regular basis.

I have to assume that it was not because our parents were too poor to feed us properly---we were working class, my parents homeowners---but because they didn’t know how. Hot soup in winter: it must have sounded like a good idea to my mother. When I finally identified the liquid lunch as the source of my discomfort in the afternoons, she stopped sending two Thermoses, and instead allotted some of the precious real estate to more calorie dense food, like a sandwich, and let me buy my milk in the cafeteria.

In the warmer months, the food she packed was enough---PB&J (343 calories), juice or milk, a granola bar (190 calories), some fruit---at least in calories, if not a well balanced meal. Cereal, milk, and fruit juice… more bread, more milk or fruit juice, fruit, yet more cereal… there were just three food groups repeating, without much variation. Only at dinner were there vegetables and meat.

I feel like I’m making excuses for my mother, but in truth, I wondered then and I do now, whether she tried to estimate whether what she made us to eat was balanced, healthy, and sufficient. (I don’t even ask if my father knew: I’m sure he did not.) My personal history with food is why, when I look at the slate of “Back to School” blog posts on lunches you could pack for your kids, or quick and easy breakfasts for the before school rush, I scrutinize them eight ways from Sunday. I reality check them against prep times (not their estimates, mine), kids’ nutritional needs, and whether they will eat it: children are notoriously choosy eaters. For a while, all my son would eat in my presence were turkey sandwiches, and raw carrots, apples, grapes, and lettuce. I let that phase play itself out without comment, because the meal met my heuristic for a minimally healthy meal. What was I looking for?

Is it enough?

Preschoolers eat about 1000 calories a day. Then their requirements increase, from around 1200 kcal/day for a four year old to as much as 2200 kcal/day for a large, active 16-18 year old. For an active kid of 8 or 9 years old who needs about 1400 calories a day, divided by three, that’s around 466 calories per meal.

Find out what your kids are supposed to need according to the charts---heck, do you know what you need?---and keep an eye on what they naturally eat, without prodding, to confirm that figure. If you’re always monitoring their food consumption, you’ll notice that kids will go through phases where they eat more or less. These are normal; if you’re used to these, you will know if some other change is cause for alarm.

Always offer enough. We take our cues for what to eat from serving sizes. When you pack your kid’s lunch, you’re sending a lesson on what to eat and how much. See what comes back: lots of kids won’t bother to dump the leftovers. If there’s nothing there, day after day, ask whether they’re eating it, giving it away, or throwing it out.

Is it healthy? Will they eat it?

I feel like these are related questions, because the answers to both come down to what you typically make and serve at home. What you eat is a powerful model. If you want your kids to eat good food and make wise food choices, you have to show them by doing it, yourself, most or all of the time.

Being raised on Wonder bread isn’t a life sentence, but it’s hard to break. It took me years of cooking for myself, experimenting with cigarettes and fast food in my twenties, before I came around to a way of eating that was healthy and all my own.

When I study those cute bento boxes from the mommy bloggers, I wonder how much they resemble what they feed their kids at home. In The Huffington Post not long ago, registered dieticians admitted to feeding their kids crap, saying their kids won’t eat healthy food. How did this come to be? At some point, these mothers must have given their kids this unhealthy food they now can’t do without: babies aren’t born clutching a bag of Cheez-Its. Why do these RDs sound so bewildered about how their kids got so addicted to junk food? I know: it’s because the parents don’t eat what they wish their kids did.

Is it balanced?

There were foods my parents enjoyed that we thought were weird and wouldn’t touch---foods they made occasionally, like BLTs or eggplant parmigiana---not the stuff we ate every week. Those foods, we ate without complaint: baked chicken with Shake N’ Bake coating, and London broils coated with garlic powder, pasta with red sauce and meatballs. Lunches were sandwiches on white bread. Breakfasts were cereal, French toast on Sundays. On the whole, not many vegetables, and too much processed food: very typical for Americans.

What does a balanced meal look like? I look for balance in three ways: calories, macronutrients, and food groups. I’ll cover these next week.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

What to pack for lunch

You can pack a better lunch than the experts.

It’s back to school time! Looking for something to pack for lunch that is somewhere on the spectrum between the nutritional horror show of a Lunchables and getting up at three to pack the perfect bento box for your child? Here are dozens of foods that are delicious cold. You could make a few of these on the weekend to lunch on all week, or when you shop and cook for dinner, plan to make a couple of these foods that are good hot, as well as to eat cold as leftovers the next day. Before you leave for work or school, pack one food from each category, and you’ve got lunch. Works for all ages!


Just about any lean roasted meat is good cold. They’re good mixed into a salad, can be assembled into a sandwich on the spot, or eaten as finger food.

How to roast beef:

Buy a beef round roast (top, bottom, or eye: it doesn’t matter), season with salt (and garlic powder if you like), roast it at 375 degrees for 20 minutes per pound until a probe thermometer reaches 125 degrees at the center. Allow to rest until it reaches room temperature for ease of handling and even distribution of the juices. Slice thinly.

When I was a kid I thought roast beef was the height of luxury. Now I know that’s what you do with the cheap cuts: roast them for maximum flavor, then slice them as thinly as possible for tenderness.
While the fatty shoulder of pork should always be served hot, loin roast is good cold.

Chicken drums and wings can be good, cold and on the bone, if they were roasted until the skin is really crisp. Chicken, turkey, or duck breast meat can be sliced and enjoyed cold like roast beef or pork. You can buy a frozen turkey breast any time of the year and roast it for lunches. Why not?

Tuna is a versatile staple you can keep on hand in the cupboard for when there are no leftovers. Another kind of tinned fish that you can dress with mayonnaise like tuna, is sardines. Tasty on a cracker, with a shot of hot sauce or spicy mustard.

Ceviche: If you’ve avoided taking fresh fish to work because you don’t want to stink up the communal microwave, find a good recipe for citrus marinated fish. The marinade cooks the fish, so no need to nuke, and because it’s traditionally served as a cold luncheon item, there isn’t that fishy smell.

Sliced boiled eggs, cubed or sliced cheese, and whole milk or yogurt are other good sources of protein and animal fat that are easy to pack for lunch and easy to eat.


When I’m planning a meal, I consider whether it provides what I need. One heuristic is to ask whether the meal provides an even ratio of calories from fats, carbohydrates, and protein. I look for vegetables, too: they don’t have many calories; they don’t weigh much on my first heuristic, so my second one is to look for vegetable food groups. Are there any cultured or raw veggies? Orange or red vegetables? Is one a dark leafy green or pod vegetable?

A quart size plastic yogurt or take out container can become the home base for your whole packed lunch. Fill one up with salad greens and chopped raw vegetables. Pack salad dressing and other ingredients that become mushy (tomatoes, croutons) separately. When it’s time for lunch, add chopped up meat and other toppings, pour in the dressing, close the container and give it a shake to make your own tossed salad.

If you prefer to dip your vegetables, pack crudite and salad dressing. There are so many vegetables that are delicious raw. Try something new. Right now it’s high summer, so I’m eating tomatoes, sweet peppers, summer squash, and cucumbers on my salad.

Another way to enjoy vegetables at lunch is to eat roasted vegetables, cold. These are especially good when they’re seasoned. I use a variety of spices and fresh herbs on roasted vegetables: the Tunisian roasted vegetables I made from a Cooks’ Illustrated recipe is one example of a roasted vegetable mix that’s good, cold. I’ve eaten mixes like this in sandwiches with a bean spread like hummus, and in wraps with meatballs (kofte are also good cold). Aloo gobi, a delicious curry of cauliflower and potatoes, served at room temperature with some pickle and yogurt is a traditional Pakistani schoolchild’s lunch.

There are more kinds of salads than a few raw vegetables on a bed of greens, though that’s not at all a bad place to start. You can add nuts and seeds, dried and fresh fruit, cold cooked meat and vegetables, croutons, and whatever else you like, and try new salad dressings. Then, you can try something entirely different, like a bit of shredded daikon or some cucumber dressed with vinegar and sugar, sprouts with sesame oil, or a carrot and raisin salad. There are lots of different ways you can dress and combine vegetables.


You’ve gotten this far in putting together a lunch: have you included a good source of fat in the salad, dairy, or meat? If not, get some: whole fat dairy, or good oils in the salad dressings you buy or make.

Avocados are a delicious addition to salads and sandwiches, as well as a source of monounsaturated fat.

To make avocados lunch ready: 

Slice an avocado in two the long way, going around the pit. Remove the pit but do not discard it. Slice through the fruit, but not the skin, to make thin slices or cubes. Put the pit back and put the avocado halves back together. Pack a spoon. When it’s lunch time, take the halves apart, remove the pit, then use the spoon to scoop out the avocado. It will come out in slices or cubes, depending on how you sliced it.
Nuts make a good snack, by themselves or in a trail mix, and nut butter is a tasty spread or dip. (Some schools have banned peanuts. Know the restrictions of your school or workplace before you pack.)


There’s bread, of course. You can pack the fixings for a pretty awesome sandwich: sliced meat, cheese, and vegetables (raid your salad for sandwich toppings), as well as condiments. It’s sad that bacon isn’t that good, cold, but there’s always avocado, and meat. Right now, I wouldn’t let a sandwich go by without tomato, but come winter, you can use a little shred of cabbage, maybe even a bit of something cultured, like sauerkraut or kimchi, to give your sandwiches some crunch and flavor.

But you don't need to make a sandwich to get carbs into your meal. You could bake some zucchini muffins. Make (or buy, but carefully---some of these are full of added sugar) granola or trail mix. Make a little roasted beet salad, or a potato salad. Potato salad doesn’t have to be the same old thing. Have you ever had it dressed with vinegar and mustard, or fresh dill?

Also right now, we’re in the height of fresh fruit season, and will be for a little while. Succulent stone fruit can ride in the salad container, cushioned by the lettuce, or you can pack a little bowl of cherries, berries, or fresh fruit slices. Good mixed into yogurt, dipped, or plain. There’s melon right now: that also makes a delicious, refreshing treat as a salad, in melon balls or wedges, with a touch of salt or nothing at all.

Don’t go crazy: this is just one meal. There will be another lunch tomorrow.

What's in your lunch box?