meal planning

hosting for the holidays

Image from  Remain Simple blog . 

Image from Remain Simple blog

21 days til Thanksgiving! That reality might cause you excitement, panic or any feeling in between. We want to encourage a spirit of "intentionality" instead of "perfection" this holiday season. Think about being a guest in your own home this year: what do you notice, how did you feel, what was the focus? We're sharing a few practical and thoughtful ideas to create an intentional holiday gathering this week. 

Intention: your guests will see it, taste it, feel it and enjoy it. 


While there are so many moving pieces to coordinate for the Thanksgiving meal to be ready, one thing you can have prepared ahead of time for guests to enjoy upon arrival is a festive cocktail. Make it in a large batch so you aren't spending time making individual mixed drinks. Don't forget to mix up a batch without alcohol. Take a look at this recipe

Image from  The Kitchn blog . 

Image from The Kitchn blog

In order to plan well, the host needs to know the amount of people they'll be serving. Send a text or email out 2 weeks in advance to get an accurate number of guests. Take a look at this helpful chart about servings and quantities for the size of your group. 

Don't go crazy with seasonal decor. Less is more! Instead of shopping for hours for the "perfect" centerpiece or tablecloth, look outside. Bring some natural elements in to create a rustic and welcoming table. Include your kids as you gather leaves, branches, or greenery from your yard. Lighting and natural elements will create a warm and inviting ambiance for your table

If you prefer a later Thanksgiving meal, someone is sure to be hungry before meal time. Whether it be your children, new acquaintances or yourself- these cranberry brie mini tarts are a beautiful appetizer that won't require additional dishes or silverware to serve and enjoy. If cooking one more thing feels like an unbearable burden, grab some cheese & crackers and have these out to snack on. 

Image from  Fox and Briar blog.  

Image from Fox and Briar blog. 

Shift the focus outward. Your Thanksgiving table can be the launching point for a group investment in a local cause. There are so many ways to give back in our community. Take a look at this list of specific avenues to give of yourself this holiday season in Knoxville.

With just a pencil and paper, your feast can get a lot richer. Challenge your family or friends to take a moment to write out the things you are thankful for. If you want to go a little deeper, try sharing one or two of your items on your list. Gratitude begets gratitude and the thoughts shared around the table will create memories and meaningful moments.


Share your favorite Thanksgiving decor ideas, organizational tools, and traditions with us. How does your family or community celebrate?  

The Art + Benefits of Meal Prepping - Guest Post by Elevated Kitchen

Hi guys! My name is Abby and I'm a native Northeast Tennesseean (Tri-Cities represent!), wife to Stuart Jones, food blogger, wedding & commercial videographer, and dog mom to our goldendoodle, Jeff. I love cookies, pie, and cake (creating them AND eating them), but over the last few years I've also become super passionate about creating healthy dishes for my family and friends. Help You Dwell approached me recently to talk about something that has truly changed mine and my husband's lives for the better in recent months and I'm so excited to share it with all of you!

What is this life changing phenomenon? Meal prepping! I know a lot of you probably cringed when you read that. That's okay! I used to as well. In fact, not only would I cringe, but I would have closed my lap top, thrown it in the trash, and run in the other direction. The struggle was SO real.

In the almost four years that my husband, Stuart, and I have been married, meal planning and prepping has been something that felt utterly impossible. It has only been in the last six months or so that it starting clicking. 

About three months ago, I saw an old high school friend make a Facebook post about meal prepping. Whatever she was doing made me say, “I can so do that! She has a kid and all I have is a dog! I have no excuses.” That was for real my train of thought. So I thought about it a little more, and ran the idea by Stuart. He was in. The idea was to create, prep, and cook meals for a week's worth of lunches. I sat down for about an hour gathering recipe inspiration, the best freeze-proof portion containers, healthy spices, and Costco memberships. Once I felt like I did my due diligence, off to Costco we went. Stuart was overwhelmed, I was in heaven.

That next week marked my first day of meal prepping. We are now going over two months strong, and I can truly say it's only getting better, taste wise and money wise. Here are a few tips/facts as to why meal prepping has been successful for us.

  1. It is true “me” time. I am a hardcore introvert. I need alone time to thrive. Being in the kitchen for me is like therapy, so I made the decision to never make plans on the day that I prep our meals. I just turn on music, or Netflix (currently working through Dawson's Creek. Joey + Dawson 4-ever!), and cook to my heart's content! I've learned that it really helps to make meal prep something you look forward to, and it's never fun to feel rushed when you're cooking such large quantities.

  2. Getting a Costco Membership Changes Lives. Okay, probably a bit dramatic, but it has definitely made a difference for us. We are also a part of a five night a week dinner sharing group with our neighbors, so buying in bulk just makes sense for us. Costco also has some of the best prices for organic produce and meats, and we've seen a huge difference in our budget since shopping there (like saving over $400 a month difference!).

  3. Doing the work on the front end saves you time and money on the back end. This has been our biggest motivation of all. My husband and I are SUPER busy during the week. A lot of the time (read: ALL of the time), if we don't plan ahead, we end up spending money. My husband works next door to one of our favorite local places, so convenience will always win when we don't plan ahead. Since starting our meal prepping, there are multiple weeks where we spend zero money on restaurants during the week. If you know us, you know that is a huge win! It also feels so incredible to know all your lunch time meals are taken care of during the week. All I have to do is go home, pull out a container from the fridge, heat it up, and enjoy.

Briefly, I would love to share my process for what a typical meal prep day looks like for me.

  • Since I meal prep on Mondays, I typically do my grocery shopping the weekend before. I also buy enough for two weeks, which also saves on time and gas. Going to the grocery store every week is definitely not my favorite thing.

  • First thing on Mondays, I pull out any meat that needs to thaw. I buy all my meat in bulk and portion it out when I buy, so I pull out the appropriate amount of each and place it in a bowl of cold water to spend a couple hours thawing.

  • Once I do that, I put my two bases for my meals: Brown Rice & Quinoa on the stove. I cook for three people, and do 12 meals per week (Tuesday-Friday). That means I make about 2 cups of (dried) brown rice and 1 cup of (dried) quinoa. Then, after they finish cooking, I portion about ¼ cup into each meal container.

  • While my rice and quinoa boil, I start prepping veggies. I switch this up on the regular, based on whatever is available at Costco and whatever is cheapest and what I want to make. I love carrots and buy a huge 5 lb bag of them at Costco. For six meals, I will roast about two cups of carrots and two cups of another veggie (brussels and green beans are currently my jam). For the other six meals, I typically saute three bell peppers, half of a sweet onion (all of those finely chopped), and two ears of corn (cut off the cob). I season all my veggies with a little bit of kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, Old Bay Seasoning, and Flavor God Seasonings (linked above!) and I saute them in about a tablespoon of coconut oil.

  • Typically by the time I'm done with prepping and roasting the veggies, my quinoa and brown rice will be done. At this time, with my ¼ measuring cup, I'll divide those into my FitPacker containers. As my veggies finish cooking, I add those into each packer as well.

  • Now on to the meats! My meat switches every day. This is just preference because Stuart needs variety in his lunch. If you'd rather keep it simple, you can absolutely alternate between just a couple different proteins. I buy the following at Costco in bulk:

    • Chicken Breasts (12-pack; I use two chicken breast per week)

    • Ground Beef (4-1.5 lb packs; I use only half of one of these per week)

    • Wild Caught Shrimp (3 lb bag-about 70-90 shrimp; I use 8 shrimp per person per week)

    • Thick Cut Bacon (2 lb pack; I use three strips per week)

    • Spinach Florentine Chicken Sausage (12-pack; I use three sausages per week)

    • Each of these represents one day a week of meat with the exception of the shrimp and bacon. I combine those together. Shrimp and bacon is ALWAYS a winning combo. Stuart gets visibly excited for shrimp and bacon day.

    • I season each of these similarly to my veggies.

  • As each of my meats finishes cooking, I divide them into their containers and place them in the freezer. The night before each day I've prepped, I pull out my lunches for that day and place them in the fridge overnight to start thawing. This way they aren't completely frozen by the time you're ready to enjoy them. 

  • Finally, I prep a few fresh snacks to have during the day. My current go-to's are Watermelon, Baby Bell Cheeses, Pistachios, and Cucumbers. I alternate between these during the week. Along with that, I have been shredding cabbage to add into each meal for a little fresh crunch.

  • I have also been super into making a sauce to have for each meal. My current favorite recipe is a cilantro dill sauce that I'll include here at the end! Stuart is a sauce FANATIC so this makes him pumped like crazy for lunch time. I also love the organic salsa at Costco, so I'll switch between those. To save on even more time, I buy little 2 oz ramekins from Kroger and divide the sauce up so we can grab and go. So easy and mess free!

And that's it! I know this is quite a bit of work on the front end, but trust me when I say that the rest of your week is a BREEZE. One morning/afternoon of prepping for an entire week's worth of meals has been more than worth it for us. If prepping for a week seems too overwhelming for you, I encourage you to try a number of days that is doable for you. Maybe that means only three days. Or maybe you feel so pumped after reading this that you're ready to take on the world of meal prepping and cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a month!! Whichever you decide, I believe in you.

I know this topic is almost impossible to cover in just one blog post, so I would love to be available for any questions that may arise. My newly launched blog, The Elevated Kitchen, will soon have an entire “Meal Prep” section. Follow along over there as I continue to tweak & create recipes, and ramble about life with my sweet/goofy, sleep-talking husband and hilarious dog. Feel free to also get in touch via e-mail at theelevatedkitchen@gmail.com. I'm on Instagram & Snapchat as @elevatedkitchen. Go say hi! As promised, I leave you with a recipe to my magic sauce, aka: Cilantro Dill deliciousness. We use this on EVERYTHING and it is truly a magical experience. Enjoy!

Magical Herb Sauce

Ingredients:
½ cup oil
½ cup water
1 cup chopped green onions
1 cup cilantro leaves
1 cup fresh dill
2-4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black peppermint
½ teaspoon old bay seasoning (optional, but delicious)
juice of 4 limes
½ of one sweet onion, roughly chopped
1 cup greek yogurt

Instructions:
Add all ingredients into a food processor. Pulse until thoroughly blended. Transfer into a sealable bowl or divide into 2 oz ramekins. Store in the fridge. The mix will stay good for up to 2 weeks if refrigerated.

Meal Planning: Organize your Life

Fact: I'm way more likely to be organized if there is a cute and stylish way to do it. For instance.....this notepad from Anthropologie. (Which happens to be on sale for $4.95!!!)

 

If we are being really honest, most weeks I do not meal plan. In fact, the first time I ever tried was about a year ago. I'm getting better at it and the benefits seem to keep coming.

1. I only have to go to the grocery store 1-2 times a week rather than everyday before I cook.

2. I'm saving money.

3. I'm not wasting as much food.

The catch is setting aside the time it takes to sit down and look at my schedule, figure out which nights I need to cook, who I'm cooking for,  how much prep time I have, and what to make. In the long run I know it saves time because I'm not running back and forth to the grocery store multiple times a week.

I try and cook 3 times during the week. Most nights I'll make enough to have leftovers as a meal for the next night. If you are like me you have a never ending board on my  Pinterest  page of really yummy looking dishes to choose from. I usually start there, on Pinterest and narrow down my selection by the time it takes and the overall health benefits of the dish. I have started editing the captions on my pins to include the date that I make something for the first time, thoughts, recipe alterations and whether I would make it again. If it turns out horribly I delete the pin.

I'm really curious. Do you meal plan? Have you ever tried it? What did you think?