In cleaning out my pantries and freezers for my Eight Week Grocery Fast, I went old school to use up some tuna, peas, and cream soup. This was one of my family meals growing up. I don’t remember a lot of what my mom cooked when I was very young. I do remember roast, potatoes, and carrots; cubed steak with brown gravy and mashed potatoes; spaghetti and meat sauce; salmon patties and mac and cheese; hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill; and this tuna casserole. If you’ve been reading the blog for long, you know that I am super picky. (So this is a good place to hang out if you want to cook things in a healthier way that your ten year old will like!) Tuna casserole with canned soup and potato chips might not seem like the healthiest entree’, but let me walk you through some ideas to make it healthier and/or lower in carbs. Or make it as is and be happy that everybody in your family is eating tuna! Sometimes you take whatever you can get. (It really is a tasty casserole!)
If you’ve been following my Grocery Fast, you know that I have been trying for eight weeks to not spend much money at the grocery store but instead use up my many food stores in my pantries, cupboards, freezers, and refrigerators. (And then I’m hoping to learn to shop and cook for two of us—wish me luck!) I found a few bags of “pork” (mostly turkey products) in my freezer that I couldn’t see using as main entrees since there were bits and pieces. But with my quest to really use up all of these “bits and pieces,” my mind went crazy trying to figure out how to make a meal (another benchmark is that I am making MEALS out of what I have, not just side dishes or “add ons” to meals) out of this combination. I had been so hungry for biscuits and gravy, but with our OMAD (One Meal a Day)/Daily Intermittent Fasting), I can’t fit all the meals in that I am hungry for. (IF problems!) So I set out to make “Mixed ‘Pork’ Gravy” with these little bags of frozen meats.
When I began cooking and baking low carb, I knew that I didn’t want to add 50 carbs to a gravy or soup by using 1/2 cup of white flour to make a roux and thicken soups, stews, and gravies. So I began experimenting with various thickening agents. Since I have some upcoming gravy and cream soup recipes, I thought this would be a good time to share some of my findings with readers. You don’t have to eat specifically low carb to benefit from these tips. They are good ones for any health-conscious cook. So….if you would like to get some new tricks for thickening in less starchy/less carby ways, read on!
Two of the most common praises you hear for the air fryer are chicken (tenders, nuggets, wings, thighs, breasts–you name it!) and French fries (or potato wedges–really any “fried” potato)–and with good reason! These two, formerly-forbidden-to-many, “fried” foods are absolutely amazing in the air fryer. I love popping French fries, mozzarella sticks, and chicken tenders in my fryer for my sons when they stop by–yes, all “premade” and found in the freezer section of the grocery! See my original Air Fryer Tips and Croutons here!
We went on a grocery fast of $25 per week–so we had to start eating steak every week…..let me explain! The reason for the grocery fast was to try to empty our freezers, refrigerators, cupboards, and pantry of the excess food we had accumulated from gradually becoming empty nesters, but not really knowing how to shop, cook, or live like empty nesters! Part of this process includes using up five years worth of Omaha Steaks that were gifted to our business.
True confession: We have seldom ever cooked steaks. Sure, we made hamburger steaks, Swiss steak, chopped steak smothered with veggies, meatloaf steak, “poor man’s steak” (out of hamburger), and even ham steak. But with seven children on one income for over twenty-five years, meat was more of a “condiment”—in casseroles, soups, stews, and other combination dishes–than it was a “per person” type of meal element.
Okay…I admit it….I am obsessed with green beans. If you knew how I used to eat a couple of years ago (before Plexus), you would understand why. I had been trying to “keto” for a few years (and actually even a moderate carb average of 100 per day healed my pre-diabetes), so I would “keto” during the week then go crazy on weekends eating as many carbs and as much sugar as I could. I would only eat fruits and vegetables if I absolutely needed them to stay on my low carb plan (and ONLY during the week). So the fact that I now crave green beans and Romaine lettuce, even if they are a couple of the only green veggies I like, is a pretty big deal. I seriously eat Romaine lettuce and green beans at least five times a week (and for someone who only eats one meal a day (OMAD–Daily Intermittent Fasting), that means that I eat lettuce and green beans 5/7 of the time I eat a meal (and sometimes I eat them for my snack/opening my eating window too!). (Learn more about opening an eating window in Episode 7 of The Daily IF Journal podcast)
I have been a “freezer cook” or “mega cook for over twenty-five years. Throughout this time, I have done everything as small as making two casseroles and freezing one for later all the way to mega cooking enough meatloaves for six months–and so many things in between! I share some of these on my blog (see Crunchy Ranch Chicken), and as I add tweaks and suggestions to make them healthier, I will continue to do so. You do not have to be interested in freezer cooking specifically to enjoy these recipes. For example, the one I share below is one that we did in bulk for a luncheon that fed over one hundred and one that a friend used for our daughter’s rehearsal dinner–and I have served it at graduation parties with well over 150 guests! Bulk cooking, mega cooking, freezer cooking—they are ways to help others in need, ways to bless others who are not trained or experienced in an area that you are experienced in. We have found cooking to truly be a way to help others and serve others!
One of the beauties of creating something low carb that is as versatile as Low Carb Sprouted Crescent Dough (and the recent recipe post, Low Carb Sprouted Dinner Rolls) is being able to make so many formerly-high-carb foods into low carb foods. Once I got onto low carb bread making, dough, biscuits, crackers, Cream Cheese Dessert Base, candy, and so much more, I could look at a recipe that was previously off limits in low carb eating–and transform it into something low to moderate in carbs! Such was the case with our family’s long time favorite, Hot Hamaramas. (I have since found that they are called Hawaiian Sliders, ham and cheese sliders, baked ham sandwiches, and more. I have made these two two decades and always called them Hamaramas from a restaurant in my childhood hometown.)
Easy peasy crock pot meal today!!! With low carb and family-friendly options! I have this thing about crock pot meals (besides loving how easy they are!). I first look at every crock pot recipe and see how much “precooking” I will need to do. For example, I don’t mind tossing some potatoes (or turnips!) and carrots in the micro or Instant Pot to precook them before adding to the crock pot, but when a meat needs precooked (like ground beef for chili or pasta casseroles), I think “there has to be an easier way than all that precooking before I ever assemble the actual dish!” I think this goes back to the days of precooking 20 pounds of ground beef for freezer entrees when we still had all seven kids at home. (That much precooking will do it to you!)
In my more “family style” cooking days, I had a LARGE repertoire of recipes. Now that I look back, I realize it was too large for our size of family (nine total) and for my time constraints (managing and homeschooling a large family didn’t leave a lot of time for the level of kitchen experimentation I did—and this often left me frustrated). Fast forward to my tweaking of recipes to make them more healthful, and I have some of the same problems—too much experimenting, too many recipes, and on and on! (Doesn’t look like I have learned much over the years!)
When I revisited this recipe to make it healthier, I thought of all of those things…then dug right in to it to tweak it! ? This is one of my freezer entrees. This means that you get the original recipe to feed six….then the doubled version and quadrupled version for your freezer.
When a person asks me to help them get started in freezer cooking, I am always anxious to offer advice and help because I know how much it has helped me, blessed others, and nourished my family for the past twenty-six years.
As I stated earlier on the blog, my first piece of advice is to not make it bigger than it needs to be. Freezer cooking doesn’t have to be this all-encompassing way of life that is so huge you can’t bear to face cooking day. On the other hand, if you like to go big (which I always have!), then by all means, go big.
I recently re-created a recipe that I used to make many years ago when my olders were little, and we really liked it as it has shredded roast beef in it and isn’t tomato-based. It feels like many of my winter soups are more tomato-y. I forgot how easy it was—and how yummy it was.
On Wednesdays, I like to have something in the crock pot for lunch. We have cottage classes here, teaching over fifty homeschooled students once-a-week classes, such as writing, English, biology, economics, and more. It is tons of fun–but a super busy day, so I put a stew or soup together in the crock pot that my co-teachers (first two sons, Joshua, and Jonathan) and Jakie (our only homeschooled student now 🙁 ) can eat whenever they get a break.
Fajitas. Five minutes. Those words don’t seem to go together. And yet with my Five Minute Fajita Crisps, it is (almost!) possible. Granted, it depends on what meat and veggies you start with…..so here are some tips on that:
Spaghetti Pie. Freezer entrée. Two phrases that make me so happy together! First of all, my family loves this spaghetti pie. It’s a little less tedious than lasagna (with the more intricate layer…though I never cook my lasagna noodles anymore!). But it still tastes a lot like lasagna. Secondly, it is a perfect “batch cooking”/mega cooking entrée. It seriously comes together so quickly and freezes so well. It is simple to make several of these!
(With Freezer Entrée Options)
Since I had my bout with very symptomatic pre-diabetes a couple of years ago, I have been trying to learn to cook and bake dishes with fewer carbs/lower glycemic index. About a year into this cooking (several months ago), I realized that one of the things that I missed the most were my one-dish meals.
I have been a *freezer cook* for twenty-five years now, and one of the greatest benefits of freezer cooking is pulling a nearly-complete meal out of the freezer, adding a salad, and calling it dinner. With lower carb cooking, this was seldom a reality for me.
Instead, I would pull a meat entrée (meat loaves, meat balls, marinated chicken breasts, cheddar coated chicken thighs, etc.) out of the oven then try to figure out what low carb/healthy sides I could put with it—while still keeping college and high school boys and my husband satisfied and full.
I missed the ease of the one dish entrée desperately, so I have been on a search for more “casserole-y” types of healthy entrees for the past several months. I have a few for you that will be coming up in the next few weeks—and this is one of those.
Recently on a visit to my sister’s in North Carolina (from Indiana), my sister made her mother-in-law’s old fashioned mac and cheese. I used to make homemade macaroni and cheese a lot, but since I cook primarily low carb (and I am tired of making sauces, etc. that are so time consuming), I was especially interested in her recipe.
First of all, this could be easily made ahead. That is always my first criteria (it seems) in cooking since I have been a freezer and mix cook for twenty-five years. Secondly, it didn’t require a white sauce or a cheese sauce that you cook on top of the stove (really, one pan to boil the noodles and one dish to layer the casserole are the only “pans” needed). Third, it had a few other “lower carb” ingredients (half and half or cream, eggs, butter, and cheese), so I could envision immediately some low carb options that I am anxious to try out and share with you.
I have been talking extensively in podcast episodes (see Five Tips for Efficiency in the Kitchen HERE) and in blog posts about my cycle cooking (PODCAST) and just the general idea of preparing meats to be used in dishes. (See my Shredded Chicken post here.)
Having meats ready to use in recipes is one of the best kitchen efficiency tips that I can give people. It truly makes creating a quick meal doable.
Hopefully, you have enjoyed the ease of my shredded chicken method! It is so simple to put chicken in the crock pot overnight or in the morning and come up with a speedy meal when it is done cooking. There are actually times in which I put the chicken in without even knowing for sure what I will do with it the next day since I know I have so many options that I can turn to at the last minute. (Plus, having it cooked forces me to do SOMETHING with it!) If nothing else, I can pour some bottled BBQ sauce over it and have BBQ chicken sandwiches!
This is a follow-up recipe to my post about cooking chicken to use in shredded chicken recipes. In that post, I shared that I have been compiling recipes for my two sets of newlyweds. I thought you might like to see their sweet faces (as I ALWAYS love to see their sweet faces!), so check out the pictures at the end of this post. When the married or college kids come home for a weekend or holiday break, I always like to make things that they like, or things that are special to them. I have been scouring the internet for a couple of years to find a recipe that is similar to the Arroz Con Pollo that our newly-wed son always orders at our family’s favorite Mexican restaurant. I was unable to find anything like it. (The ones I found were large chunks of meat more in a red sauce as opposed to a shredded chicken dish in a white sauce.) So….I combined a couple of other recipes that looked similar and came up with one that worked—and that all of the kids really liked. (And my Arroz Con Pollo son thought was a good knock off!)
If you follow our Crock Pot posts, you have read about the many soups and stews that I do for our lunch on the days that we teach classes. Our oldest son is soup-crazy, so I started the tradition for him as he comes to teach with me each week.
Classes are over for the summer, but I do want to continue the crock pot tradition because so many of the entrees in the crock pot are so simple–and one dish!
I don’t eat prepared salads. There. I said it.
I don’t like mayonnaise, salad dressing, mustard, sauces, oil and vinegar, sour cream, yogurt, or anything else that is dressing in nature. (Yes, this makes it hard to share salad recipes—and make salads for my family.)
Because of this, I am known to do more of a mini “salad bar” than I am to actually assemble salads. (My family really likes these salad “bars”!)
So when I put a salad at the blog, it has been tested and re-tested by my family. I can’t taste it, after all, to see if it is yummy. So I make the salads over and over until I’m brave enough to share with others.
Wowsie, sometimes I really miss BBQ—you know the sweet, yet spicy/tangy, taste of BBQ ribs from Outback or pulled pork from a street vendor at the fair? And when I start feeling that way, I know that it is time to pull out my Sugar-Free Sweet and Spicy BBQ Sauce and make something yummy!
And in grilling season, this is just the perfect dish—without any of the guilt or sluggishness associated with sugar-laden BBQ sauces (okay, and that sweet bread AND bloomin’ onion AND homemade croutons AND…you get the idea!).
I used to have a couple of different egg casseroles in my freezer meal rotation. They were simple ways to make eggs for many, and it wasn’t uncommon for us to have the for a weekday breakfast simply because it was about as easy to stick four of them in the freezer as it was to make “yolky” eggs for seven kids on a given morning! Efficiency, mama, efficiency! 🙂
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