Do You Meal Prep?

There are things that come up every now and then, especially for me as an empty-nester, that really make me feel old and perhaps a bit behind the times. This whole “meal prep” explosion is definitely one of them. 

The popularity and power of the meal prep craze hit me hard on a beautiful Sunday afternoon last month when we asked our 26-year-old son, Kai, if he would like to join us for a sunny afternoon of golf. His immediate reply was, “Sorry, I can’t go. Molly and I are meal prepping this afternoon.”  What? And then a few weeks later while on the phone with our other son, Ryan (28) and his wife Erin who live in St. Louis, they casually mentioned they were meal prepping for the week. I immediately thought to myself, “Well, it appears everyone is meal prepping. I feel so out of it!” I have to admit a smile came to my face when I pictured both newlywed couples sharing time and working together in their kitchens. Maybe a secret to love and romance is through food!

Anyway, as a young girl, I remember my parents making big Sunday evening meals that we would then eat off for days. In that era of my life, we called those follow-up meals “left-overs.”  And with our own family, Phil and I would make big soups, chilis, or casseroles on Sunday nights and we’d enjoy those “left-overs” for the entire week. Usually those meals would even taste better the second night. Who knew?

So here’s my question…is meal prepping the new left-overs?  From what I’ve read, meal prepping is basically a nutritional and controlled portion-size way of eating. The more I think of it, Phil and I could really benefit from this method of eating. I’m just not sure I have the patience to spend the time preparing a week’s worth of meals, or the will power to only eat what’s in my container. Ha! We would love to know if there are any empty-nesters out there who have gotten on the meal-prepping band wagon. We’d love to learn and share your ideas with others!

Here’s another consideration – if you are considering meal prepping or have been meal prepping, you know the meal storage containers are an important part of the “prep.” There are quite a variety of meal prep container options and they are everywhere! I literally almost ran into this display at our local HyVee grocery store just last week. 

The different container options have their pros and cons especially as it relates to BPA levels, environmental concerns, keeping food fresh, and budget friendliness. Just take a peek online for a few ideas!

Conventional wisdom suggests older generations can learn a thing or two from our own kids and/or the millennial generation. I think the concept of meal-prepping is one of them. I’m still not sure I can change my ways and commit to ongoing meal-prepping, but I think we should at least give it a try. It might even turn into a good conversation topic to bring up with our kids on Sunday afternoons!  “Hey, what are YOU meal-prepping this week? Send us the recipe.”

Yummy Winter Meal Prep

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So this just happened. Our “living-at-home-soon-to-be-married adult son,” Kai, totally earned his keep the other day. I think the Millennials call this “meal prep,” but whatever you call it, I’m loving it. And we’re not talking McDonald’s here. All in one day, during another cold Kansas City weekend, Chef Kai cranked out a giant Crockpot full of soul-warming chili AND a melty, golden, mouth-watering Pyrex-filled pile of chicken enchiladas. He even shared his work with dear old dad.

The empty nest is a bit wonky at the moment as Lailan has been in Hawaii for an indeterminate amount of time to be with her rapidly declining, 93-year-old mother. So, with her out of town, I find myself staring at the pantry wondering what I can do with various cans of corn, beans, tomato paste, olive oil and other basics.  So, perhaps you can appreciate my complete and utter joy when Kai steps up and knocks out the chili and enchiladas!  If you’re interested, here’s an untouched photo of the enchiladas and the simple recipe below.  Enjoy!

Kais Enchiladas

SOUR CREAM CHICKEN ENCHILADAS

Prep Time:   10 minutes                                                                                                Cook Time:   20 minutes                                                                                                Total Time:   30 minutes

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb chicken, boneless/skinless, diced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 8-10 flour tortillas
  • 1-1/2 cups Mexican cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 C butter
  • 15 oz. chicken broth
  • 1 C sour cream (or greek yogurt – yes!)
  • 4 oz. green chiles
  • Optional: add some spinach (always Lailan’s idea). I say chop of some jalepeno and throw that in.

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In a medium skillet, cook chicken and onion in the vegetable oil until chicken is cooked though and onion is tender. * Add 1 tbsp taco seasoning for added flavor!
  2. Divide chicken evenly between the tortillas.
  3. Place 1-2 tbsp cheese on top of chicken in each tortilla. Roll tortilla closed and place seam side down in a greased 9×13 baking dish.
  4. In medium skillet, melt butter.
  5. Add in flour to create a roux. Kai says “it’s like gravy.” Allow to cook about 2 minutes.
  6. Slowly add in chicken broth and heat until bubbly and thickened.
  7. Remove from heat and stir in sour cream (or yogurt) and chilis. Pour sauce evenly over tortillas.
  8. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top of sauce.
  9. Bake in preheated oven (400) for about 20 minutes, or until bubbly.

Road Trip Ice Cream Challenge

The Road Trip Ice Cream Challenge began earlier this year on a drive to St. Louis. We were with our son, Kai, and we were reminiscing about when the boys were young and how on every road trip they begged for an ice cream cone – especially when seeing a Dairy Queen sign. You don’t know how many DQ’s there are in the world until you travel with children!

Anyway, Lailan and I went on to tell Kai that some traditions never die! Even as empty nesters, we have found stopping for an ice cream cone while on a road trip makes for a pretty darn nice rest stop. It’s also our incentive to not pack the car full of junk food while we travel.

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Back to the Road Trip Ice Cream Challenge. On our drive with Kai, we explained how we often stop at McDonald’s for their $1.00 ice cream cone. Hard to beat in our humble opinion. But then Lailan happened to mention her best friend in Hawaii adamantly argues that Burger King has the best cone by far! So, right then and there the Road Trip Ice Cream Challenge was born. Somewhere between Kansas City and St. Louis, on that fateful day, we decided to taste test the McDonald’s and Burger King cones.

We decided the test should be not who has the best ice cream cone, but who has the best overall value cone. It’s a simple value equation. Taste + Availability + Size + T-Bills Required + Yummy Factor = Maximum Ice Cream Cone Value or TASTY Rating as we like to call it.

We began the search by setting the bar surprisingly high at…drum roll please…McDonald’s. Yup. Here’s our TASTY Rating:

McDONALD’S

Taste: Smooth, solid vanilla structure, creamy and downright yummy.

Availability: Duh, everywhere. Unless you get the “uh, we’re so sorry. Our ice cream machine is currently broken.” What?  Say it isn’t so!

mcdonalds-vanilla-ice-creamSize: 3” extension beyond top of cone. Can be inconsistent based on ice cream machine operator. Expert tip: egg them on, cheer them on, ask them to break their cone swirling personal best. It works!

T-Bills: $1.00 in most locations. We’ve occasionally found cones for $.50 and that always blows the MICCV out of the water.

Yummy Factor:  Super dee duper yummy. Very subjective rating system we have here!

Overall TASTY Rating:           9.0 on a scale of 10

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However, after sharing our McDonald’s success with our good friends in Hawaii (experts in all things shaved ice, ice cream, and ice in general), they vehemently argued that McDonald’s rival, Burger King, had the best ice cream cones. So, we excitedly took on the challenge, jumped in the car, and made our way to the nearest Burger King. Here’s our TASTY rating for the King:

BURGER KING

Taste: Smooth, creamy, but our sample tasted a little funky. I hesitate to describe it as sour, as that would be super gross, but it didn’t seem to match the McDonald’s cone.

Availability: Also found on every corner in America. We did come across “we’re sorry, we’ve been waiting for a part for two weeks,” at one BK location. So much for “just in time” logistics!

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Size: 2-3” extension beyond top of cone. Slight “cone lean” to the side and that tends to lessen the enjoyment just a bit!

T-Bills: $1.00 in most locations.

Yummy Factor: Refreshing, slight hint of vanilla bean extract with a bouquet of crispy cone wafer flavoring.

Overall TASTY Rating: 8.0 on a scale of 10

With Summer 2018 just beginning, we all have time to scream for ice cream, and to find the highest TASTY Rating! Think Beyond the Nest has McDonald’s in the lead so far, but we’d love to hear from all of you. Let’s hear from DQ fans. Does Wendy’s Frosty qualify as a cone? What other cones rank high on the TASTY Rating? Check out our Road Trip Ice Cream Challenge Poll on our Facebook page.

Enjoy your summer and an occasional sweet treat along the way! Say yes to the ice cream test!

 

Trader Joe’s – A Quick Recap of Your Faves!

Wow! Thank you for all the awesome feedback on our Trader Joe’s post! We loved hearing your customer service stories, your favorite products, and your love of aloha shirts! Me too! Below are the items many of you shared with us. We are eager to try them, but to be honest, I am scared silly to try the Salted Caramel Gelato and the Gone Bananas! I’m a tad bit afraid I’ll like them a bit too much. Thank you for taking the time to connect with us, and happy shopping at Trader Joe’s!:)

 

 

 

Why We Love Trader Joe’s – And It’s Not Just About Food or Wine!

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Like many of you, Phil and I have been long-time fans of Trader Joe’s, and more so recently since we have become empty nesters. It’s hard to believe our Leawood, Kansas store opened almost seven years ago! Yes, Phil and I have our favorite TJ items that we will share with you, but I first wanted to highlight something that has really endeared me to the store even more – the customer service.

About a month ago, while I was in the store, I picked up a sympathy card for a friend who had recently lost her parents in a terrible accident. As I was paying for my items, the checker commented on the sympathy card I had found. (By the way, does it seem the Trader Joe’s checkers always comment on what you are getting?:)) We started chatting about the reason I was purchasing the card, and before I knew it, the checker was telling me how sorry he was and handed me a beautiful bouquet of flowers! I was completely blown away by the kindness and thoughtfulness of that employee and awed that he had the freedom to easily do something like that without having to first consult a manager. The expression of thoughtfulness displayed by that TJ’s employee that day made a lasting impression on me and made me wish we had more companies with this kind of warm, friendly and “going above and beyond” type of customer service. Thank you for the inspiration, Trader Joe’s!:)  Continue reading

Costco For Two – Top Products July 2017

Thanks for the huge interest in our previous list of awesome Costco products. Fortunately for us, and hopefully you, there are so many fun Costco products to feature that we’re back with another compilation of favorites! Without any further delay, here we go: Continue reading

Costco for Two – Top Ten Products: June 2017

Lailan with egg whites

You know the Jeff Foxworthy bit about “You know you’re a redneck when (fill in the blank)? We now bring you the Think Beyond The Nest version, based on the idea that ever since becoming empty nesters we’ve seen our shopping habits at Costco dramatically change.  We’ve had to be much more thoughtful about what we can buy in bulk and what we can’t.  One day it occurred to us that “Costco for Two” sounded like a pretty interesting blog post!  So, we made a trip to our local Costco and have highlighted some of our current favorites.  We’d love to hear your favorites too!  Please, do share!:) Continue reading

Flipping Over Flapjacks

Kodiak from Nikon

I can only eat so much steel-cut oatmeal and blueberries for breakfast. I know it’s good for me and it’s certainly harder to keep the weight off these days, but I need a good stack of pancakes every once in a while.  Thanks to a tip from our super healthy friends in Honolulu, I now have permission to fire up the griddle more often.

Our friends turned us on to to Kodiak Cakes Power Cakes.  I guess the brand has been around since 1995, and was even featured on the TV show, Shark Tank, but we were not in the know.  While visiting in Hawaii, we found the product at the local Costco.  Worried it was a “Hawaii-only” phenomenon, Lailan immediately called our nearest Costco in Kansas City.  Boom! They had the product and that was our first stop when we got back to KC.

Packed with protein, 100% whole grain wheat flour, and other ingredients including no added fat, sugar or cholesterol, we feel much better about the occasional pancake splurge.  Too bad I found an old bottle of Mrs. Butterworth’s Original syrup in the pantry!