Single Lady’s Cookbook: Sunday Meal Prep

[Disclaimer: I am not, nor will I ever be a professional food blogger. I don’t cook with the intention of sharing, so rarely do I make note of measurements for my own inventions—unless baking. I don’t take photos; I don’t have a $500 professional camera, only my cracked android phone. I have no idea what a ring light is, nor do I want to because they probably cost more money that I am willing to spend, and as I said before, I am not a professional photographer, videographer, vlogger, etc. 

But sometimes I cook food, and sometimes it tastes fairly decent, and sometimes I want to tell people about it. So here’s me telling people about it: my Single Lady’s Cookbook.]

This past Sunday was all about meal prep! I’ve hit a plateau in my weight loss journey, hovering around the same number I reached on Thanksgiving of last year.  While it is possible that this is the weight I’m supposed to be at, it was only four years ago that I was another twenty pounds lighter, and that’s the eventual goal. For now, my short-term goal is to lose ten pounds in five weeks, just in time for my cruise to Alaska. And yes, I understand that an Alaska cruise isn’t really the best reward for finally obtaining the coveted bikini bod, since average temperatures for Alaska in mid-July range from mid to upper 50s, but I would prefer not to look like the Michelin man in a winter coat and gloves while on vacation, thank you very much.

So I’m kick starting my weight loss diet 2.0. The main reason why I’ve stalled at this number that once brought me great joy is because I’ve stalled on my eating habits. About a year ago today, I dedicated myself to an all natural, whole foods diet. I was almost vegan, but I still ate chicken and eggs and fish. I stopped buying dairy products, most of my groceries we from the fresh produce aisle, I started making my own plant-based milks for smoothies, I started making more foods from scratch to avoid the added sugars, added preservatives, added God knows what else, that often come in package foods. This also helped me to save money, because I stopped emptying the store shelves of package and frozen dinners, and I also stopped eating out. On top of all that, I went to the gym at least four to five times a week. Those pounds were flying off. Before I even realized, my clothes were hanging off me as if off a coat hanger. I couldn’t believe it! I don’t think I’ve ever lost weight that fast—except maybe when I was a broke college student. And I did it in a healthy, sustainable, balanced way.

In the past several months, I’ve gotten lazy, almost settling for the weight that I’m at. While I’ve thankfully managed not to gain any weight back, I do eventually want to lose those last twenty pounds. That was my original goal, and I won’t change it.

So what has helped me to successfully lose weight and keep it off? Meal prepping.

I work a Monday-Friday, 9:00-5:00 office job, and while we do have a cafeteria, I started packing my own lunch to save money. That’s when I realized how beneficial making meals ahead of time can be for weight loss. For one, it keeps you from mindless snacking, which has always been my problem. I typically pack breakfast (smoothie, peanut butter banana toast, oatmeal, etc.), a mid-morning snack (usually fruit or nuts), lunch (usually soup and salad), and a mid-afternoon snack (again, usually fruit or nuts).

So on Sunday, as part of my meal prep, I made a big pot of chicken noodle soup. That day, I was also reaping a harvest of fresh, fragrant herbs from my herb garden, so I also decided to make homemade spaghetti sauce with the fresh, Italian flavors of basil, thyme, parsley, and marjoram.

But first I had to make the base for my soup.

Homemade Vegetable Stock

Yes, you read that right. I make my own veggie stock. Seriously, once you realize how easy it is to make it at home, you’ll wonder why you ever bought the stuff at the stores.

You’re probably asking why I decided to make veggie stock for a chicken soup. Seems counterproductive right? Why not chicken stock? The short answer: veggie stock is just easier for me, plus if I have any left over, I can use it to season other non-meaty dishes like rice or my spaghetti sauce.

So how does one make homemade vegetable stock? It’s really quite simple. I start by roughly chopping up onions, peppers, carrots, celery, and a couple cloves of garlic (no need to mince them) and tossing them into a large soup pot. I also add one tomato because I like my stock a little sweet. I let these cook for about five minutes or until the delicious flavors start to smell. Then I add what ever vegetable scraps I’ve stored in my freezer. I make a lot of salads, so this is usually cucumber and tomato ends, carrot and onion peels, the leafy stems of celery, plus any other scraps or ends of vegetables I might have cooked that week. I mix everything together in the pot, let the frozen scraps thaw down a little, then add about ten cups of water. This may change depending on how much vegetables you use and how big your pot is. I try not to add too much water, because I want a stock with a robust flavor and deep color. I also don’t want to be left with too much because I only use between six and eight cups for my soups.

As far as seasoning the stock, I add a teaspoon of salt and a tea spoon of whole black peppercorns. Next I toss in my fresh herbs, a few leaves of basil, some parsley sprigs, and some thyme sprigs as well. No need to chop these up; I just throw ’em in whole. Occasionally, I’ll add a bay leaf, but this time I forgot and the soup turned out just fine. So it’s really your choosing what herbs you want to use. I used what I had, but the flavor combinations are endless!

Bring your stock to a boil then let it simmer (covered or uncovered—I typically leave it slightly uncovered) for about an hour and a half to two hours. When it’s done, strain out your vegetables, and you’re left with a flavor packed, richly colored vegetable stock you can use in soups, sauces, whatever you like! If you don’t use it right away, you can keep it in the refrigerator, and try to use it within the week, but there’s always the option of freezing it as well.

Unfortunately, I do not have a picture, because of the above disclaimer, so you only have my word for it, but I promise the next time I make stock, I’ll be sure to snap a picture with my beat up phone to share with you.

By the way, my stock never made it to the refrigerator. I used it all that day. Most of it to make my chicken noodle soup.

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

I did manage to take some pictures! 😉

Chicken noodle soup is probably the easiest soup to make. It’s so simple, yet mouth-watering and so satisfying! I started my soup by sauteing onions, carrots and celery in some olive oil. I didn’t do exact measurements, but if I could guess I would say I used about a quarter of an onion and then one whole carrot and one whole celery rib with about a tablespoon of oil.

While the vegetables were heating up, I cut two freakishly large chicken breasts into strips, seasoned them with salt and pepper, then chopped up some fresh thyme, parsley, and marjoram and tossed them into the chicken to coat it. I let it marinade for a while, then added it to the pot and poured six cups of my stock over it. I cooked it covered over medium heat for about an hour. When the chicken was done, I scooped it out and cut it into smaller pieces, added it back to the pot, along with about half a package of Barilla fettuccine pasta.

I will say that at first it’ll look like you don’t have enough pasta. DO NOT ADD MORE! Half a box might be a little much, but I like to know I’m eating noodles. Besides, who doesn’t live for slurping and flapping noodles in chicken noodle soup? Trust me, when the pasta cooks through, it’ll swell up and fill the pot. I learned this the hard way the first time I made homemade chicken noodle soup. I added about 3/4 of a 16oz bag of extra wide egg noodles and ended up with more noodles than I had soup. I learned my lesson, and I pass it on to you.

I surprised myself with how little I seasoned this soup, which is to say I didn’t season it. All the flavors came from the stock, plus what I put on the chicken, which other than the herbs really wasn’t much. No additional seasonings is always a plus, especially if you’re trying to watch your salt intake. This soup makes between 6 and 8 servings, depending on how large or small your bowl is. I try to get at least five servings out of every batch of soup I make for a five day work week. Although, if the soup for that week is particularly tasty, I may have a little helper at home eating it for me, and it may not last quite to five days. In any case, if I did my math right, you’re looking at between 300-400 mg of salt (of course, this may be slightly more or less depending on your serving size), which is well in range for the heart conscience dieter who wants to eat no more than 1500 mg of salt a day (the recommended amount of 2300 mg is rather high).

I would say that this soup is definitely great for someone trying to maintain a healthy diet, because you know exactly what’s in it. From the ingredients, to the stock base, to the flavors, and if you’re trying to watch your carbs, you can always cut down on the pasta.

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

The picture is a little deceiving; I bought those tomatoes after I made my sauce. 😀

Last but certainly not least, I made a batch of my homemade spaghetti sauce. I’ll try to make this quick since my word count is approaching 2,000, and part of me wonders if you’ve even stuck around this long without the abundance of pictures.

I started my sauce by sauteing about a quarter of an onion and a quarter of a green and red bell pepper in a tablespoon of olive oil. Once the vegetables start to become fragrant, I dumped a whole can of tomato paste into the pot (I think it’s either 6 or 8 oz.) along with a can of no salt added diced tomatoes (around 15 oz.). Sometimes I use fresh tomatoes if they look good in the store. If not, I just pick up a can; sometimes a can is easier.

I poured in the rest of my stock and stirred everything together. I use tomato paste because I like my sauces to be on the thicker side, but not too thick, which is why I thin it out with the liquid stock.  After that simmered a bit and had a nice, not too thick, not too runny, consistency, I added my fresh Italian herbs, basil, parsley, thyme, and marjoram. I also seasoned it with some dried oregano, paprika, crushed red pepper flakes for a little kick, and salt and pepper.

And that’s it! Homemade spaghetti sauce is done! I usually put my sauce in an old Prego jar or mason jar. This batch made about two and a half jar fulls. More than enough! My mom just used one jar last night to make a pan of baked spaghetti. I also use this sauce for chili recipes. Store this in an air-tight jar in the refrigerator, and it’ll last you several weeks.

And that was my Sunday meal prep, guys! I hope you’ll give these “recipes” a try and tell me how it turned out for you. Also, does meal prepping and homemade meals work for your weight loss? What do you do to stay on track? Let me know in the comments. By the way, do you like posts like this? I’ll try to post more single lady recipes that I’ve developed along my weight loss journey. Though, let me reiterate, I am not a food blogger, so the posts and especially the photos (when I remember to take them) won’t always look as pretty and polished. I’ll leave that to the pros, who obviously have more time on their hands!

Food. Family. Football

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17; NIV)

I love Thanksgiving! I love being around family and friends, pigging out on good food, watching my Cowboys whip some Deadskin ass on my granddaddy’s big screen TV (because I haven’t met a grandparent or great aunt/uncle who didn’t have a big screen TV in the living room, as if they don’t only watch the news, Wheel of Fortune, and Jeopardy!).

This year, we’re having Thanksgiving dinner catered, so I don’t know how “delicious” the food will be, I just pray it isn’t canned. My mom and I have decided that we’re going to cook some extra sides to go with dinner just in case it’s not good—black eyed peas, wild rice, cabbage, sautéed zucchini & yellow squash, spinach dip (I’ve convinced her to make it with plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. Shhh, don’t tell my brother), and I’m going to venture out and make some homemade cranberry sauce for my brother who literally drinks the stuff, and try my second attempt at hot for food’s pumpkin spice muffins now that I have all the ingredients.

Click image for recipe
Click image for recipe

I actually wanted to make the muffins with fresh pumpkin instead of canned because 1.) fresh is always better, and 2.) I recently watched a YouTube video (Is there anything you can’t learn from YouTube?) on how to puree a pumpkin. It’s much easier than I thought (now that I know you don’t use Jack-o-lantern pumpkins)! For now, I’ll stick with the canned, but in a future “pumpkin” recipe (because it’s the holiday season, and I’m gonna be cooking pumpkin til New Year’s), I may use sweet potato or butternut squash (my new favorite vegetable . . . even thought it’s really a fruit) because they’re sweeter than pumpkin, and I won’t need to add as much sugar (but who’s really counting calories this time of year? 😉 ).

I have a food obsession—can’t you tell? Since changing my diet and focusing more on whole foods and made from scratch meals, I’ve discovered a new appreciation for food and fresh ingredients. I feel like an artist every time I cook now—combining all the ingredients, like paint on a canvas, the intoxicating fragrances filling the kitchen as the meal comes together. So this is how it feels to be Italian!

But before I gnaw off the inside of my cheek with all this talk about food, I want to take the time to remind you what this holiday is truly about . . .

Food. Family. Football.

Kidding! But seriously, guys, while the story we all learned in elementary school about Pilgrims and Native Americans coming together for the first Thanksgiving may have been fiction, the message is very real. Be thankful today. Eat with gladness in your heart. With the breath from your lungs, be appreciative of what you already have—the love of God, of family and friends, that you have a roof over your head, clothes on your back, a hefty meal in your stomach. Give your dinner time to digest before your break down the doors to Belk, or JC Penny, or Macy’s, or Wal-Mart for something you don’t need that’s really not on sale.

There are so many people in this world who aren’t so lucky. Even as I type this, Native Americans in this country are fighting for basic human rights, and they are getting shot at with teargas and rubber bullets, sprayed with water hoses in subzero temperatures, reminiscent of the attacks African Americans historically suffered while fighting for their civil rights (a fight that continues today).

Enjoy what you already have, and pray for those who have less.

The only plans I have for today are prepping for dinner (even though we won’t actually be cooking that much food), stuffing my fat face, enjoying quality time with my hilarious family, and trying to stay awake as I lie on Granddaddy’s very comfortable couch and attempt to watch the football games. Tomorrow, I’ll probably start my morning with a run in the park, come home and avoid the leftovers (hey, I have all week for that), and get to work on Christmas plans. It is the kickoff to the holiday season, after all.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:20)