dinner

Five ways to organize your summer meals

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Summer is a busy season for everyone – between summer camps, trips, and day-long activities, there is usually little time to prepare and cook a meal. However, with these tips, you can ensure that you will have a meal ready to eat without the stress or cost of ordering out:

Pre-purchase ready to eat protein options

When the weather is hot, the last thing people want to do is heat up their homes by turning on the oven. Instead, stock up on pre-cooked protein options, like rotisserie chicken or shredded pork from your local grocery store. Canned tuna and hard-boiled eggs can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge for recipes like these. You could also pre-cook your meat early in the morning or at the beginning of the week, so you can avoid using the oven during the heat of the day.

Take advantage of the fresh vegetables

Summer is prime time for fresh vegetables, so why not take advantage of them? Stock up on your family’s favourites and incorporate them into easy meals, like stir-fry, salad and sandwiches. Vegetables can be washed and cut up at the beginning of the week or earlier in the day, so you don’t have to worry about doing all of your preparations right before the meal. To save time and avoid your oven, you can also use your vegetables raw instead of cooking them. Most vegetables taste even better when they are fresh during the summer, so incorporate them into your meals like this recipe for Shaved Squash Salad with Tomatoes and Ricotta.

Utilize your kitchen appliances

Instead of always using your oven, utilize your other kitchen appliances to plan your meals in advance, like a slow cooker. Your meat, vegetables and grains can all be prepared the night before and turned on in the morning so they are ready for you to eat in the evening. You can even use a rice cooker to cook up rice at the beginning of the week, so you have a side dish ready to go for multiple meals. Get creative and use your other kitchen appliances to put together stress-free and tasty meals like these over the summer.

Use your leftovers!

Don’t feel bad about having a “leftovers” meal night when you are out at the lake or park all day! Save any leftovers from your meals throughout the week, and plan on having one meal made up of all your leftovers. If you don’t quite have enough food, supplement your meal with a quick side salad or fresh fruit.

Stay simple

Most importantly, don’t feel the need to plan large, complicated meals. They take a lot of time, ingredients, and energy that could be better spent on outdoor activities or gatherings with friends and family. When the weather is hot, many people don’t feel like eating multiple courses or rich dishes, so it’s okay to stick to simple meals with simple ingredients. During the summer months, there are plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to purchase at the store or grow in your own garden that are full of flavour. It’s easy to organize meals for the week because they are so readily available and quick to prepare.

This summer, don’t stress about making meals when you’re busy soaking up the sun, or break the bank because you’re always ordering out. Cook simple meals with ingredients that are ready to go and don’t require using your oven, so you can avoid heating up your home. By following these tips to organize your meals, you can relax and enjoy your summer without the stress at mealtime!

Avoid stress: Get ready for Christmas ahead of time!

There are many elements that make up the holiday season, but one of the most important events during Christmas is the dinner itself, whenever you may be celebrating it. For those that are hosting, this event is even more important – and stressful! With many activities on the go, the holidays may seem like one massive headache, but it doesn’t have to be if you plan ahead.

While most of the food can’t actually be cooked until the day before or the day of, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything you can do ahead of time. On the contrary, planning out the meal and making a list will make the day of go a lot smoother!

First things first: plan out the dinner menu. You will have to make note of who is coming, and what, if any, dietary concerns there are and if you will need to make changes to your menu. For example, will you need to make your menu gluten free? If so, you will also need to be aware of any cross-contaminations between non-gluten and gluten dishes. 

Consider what dishes can be made ahead. Many desserts, casserole dishes, and sides are easy to make up or prepare a couple of days before, so all you have to do is place them in the oven before the meal. We recommend making a mashed potato bake recipe.On Christmas day they get popped in the oven and there is no mashing and no mess.

The oven is a popular place and time should be organized beforehand depending on what needs to be cooked, when, and for how long. To save time and space, consider cooking vegetables the day before so you can just heat them up in the oven or microwave right before the meal. Instead of completely cooking vegetables like carrots, take them out early and run them under cold water to help keep their texture and colour. On the day of, they’ll only need a couple of minutes to warm up.

Also important to consider is the look of your food. Aim for colour! Meat and potatoes are all bland colours, so add some bright and vibrant vegetables like Brussel sprouts, carrots, beets, and salad to make your dinner plates pop.

You can even add garnishes to colourless dishes to add colour and texture. For example, green beans with almonds, mixed seasonal vegetables, roasted peppers – a mix of complimentary colours!

Karen recommends a “favourite” salad of hers that includes pomegranate, candied pecans, feta cheese, and maple dressing. This salad is a “colourful and beautiful taste combination” that can be made ahead of time by prepping the ingredients and washing and drying the salad greens the day before.

Simple is always best. Cook dishes that you are comfortable with and have made before. If you are trying something new, do a test run and try the recipe ahead of time so you have a better idea of what to expect the day of.

Beverages can easily be prepared ahead of time. Make sure the fridge is stocked with wine, water, and any other beverages so they’re ready to enjoy at dinnertime.

Last but not least, make sure that your table is ready for the food. You can put on the table cloth (after it’s been washed, cleaned, and ironed, of course) and set out clean dishes the night before if you have a separate table. If not, these items can still be taken out and set aside until the day of, and can be set out when you have time while the dishes are cooking.

A plan of action will help ensure you are prepared and not stressed the day of. Getting steps done ahead of time creates a clean and uncluttered space in your kitchen so you can worry about what’s important on Christmas day: spending time with friends and family, and cooking a perfect turkey!  

Getting Ready for the Holidays

November is here, which means it’s time to get organized for the upcoming holiday season!

First things first, one has to determine what needs to be done. To break things down, we can look at the holidays in terms of gifts and cards, the meal, decorating, and holiday activities, and organize these topics chronologically.

All of these topics require planning, thinking of ideas, and making lists. This time-consuming task doesn’t have to be done all at once. While waiting for kids to finish lessons, on the train to work, waiting for an appointment – use these moments of time to think of gift ideas, guest lists, menus, shopping lists, etc.

Another important thing to remember is that it’s hard for a person to do these tasks by oneself – get family and friends to participate and help out!  

 

Beginning of November

-       Gifts and Cards

o   Start shopping: Especially when buying items online, it’s best to get them ordered sooner rather than later to make sure you receive before the holidays. Buying gifts is usually cheaper if you purchase them ahead of time, because they are more likely to be on sale and the stores are usually not as crowded, which makes for a less stressful shopping experience!

o   Create Christmas cards: Although they don’t have to be sent yet, get your kids to make up an ecard or design a print-out online. There are many websites that will offer easy print out picture options that are great to send out as well.

-       Holiday Activities

o   Charity/donations: A lot of people want to give back or support local charities by volunteering, but around the holiday time there are almost too many people that want to help. Consider making a donation or volunteering earlier – these charities don’t just need help around the holidays.

 

Mid-November

-       Gifts and Cards

o   Send U.S./International holiday cards and presents: A list of the deadlines for Canada Post’s letter and parcel shipping for the U.S. and International destinations can be found here. Don’t leave this to the last minute!

o   Wrapping: Now is a good time to make sure that you have the wrapping paper and gift bags that are needed for this year. As you purchase Christmas gifts, wrap them when you have time in the evenings in front of the T.V. or on the weekend.

-       Holiday Activities

o   Christmas parties: A lot of companies tend to host Christmas parties around the middle to end of November. Make sure you have an outfit to wear, item for donation, and potentially a food item to bring if it’s potluck!

 

End of November

-       Gifts and Cards

o   Send out Christmas cards: It may seem early, but get cards printed or make sure all of them are written and addressed, and send them out during the last couple of days of the month. That way, they are guaranteed to be received during the beginning of December and you will have one less task to worry about!

-       The Meal

o   Create a guest list and menu: Decide who will be coming, when you’ll be hosting, and what you’ll be eating. Is it sit down, potluck or buffet? Get this figured out now so you can start preparing your schedule for December.

o   Bread cubes: Another item that can be checked off the list early. Cube up the bread, dry it out, and pop it in the freezer.

o   Baking: Get some of the Christmas baking out of the way. A lot of cookie dough, squares, and cakes can be made ahead of time and stored in the freezer.

 

Beginning of December

-       The Meal

o   For a break down of managing and planning out a meal, check out our previous post for Thanksgiving Time Management. Different holiday, but the same guidelines apply!

-       Decorating

o   Christmas lights: Lights can be put up anytime throughout the month, but can be very dependent on weather. Watch out for warm chinook days and take advantage of them!

o   Christmas tree: Depending on whether you use a fake or real tree, it can be set up earlier in the month along with the rest of the decorations. It’s nice to get the house set up ahead of time! Get the family involved and make it a fun holiday activity.

All that should (hopefully) be left by this point is the rest of the meal preparation, most of which can’t be done too far ahead of time. Now, you can enjoy caroling, Christmas parties, and other activities instead of rushing last minute to buy gifts, decorate the house, and send out Christmas cards. Getting gifts and cards, decorating, and holiday activities done early allows you to enjoy the rest of the holiday season stress-free!