Brown Bag Lunch: Layered Thai Rice Salad Bowl

I’ve been analyzing our family’s finances lately.  Gosh, doesn’t that sound fancy!  At any rate, I got curious about how our food budget plays out over the course of a month, and as it turns out, we spend way too much money eating out.

Mostly, this is because my husband and I grew accustomed to eating lunch in the very reasonably priced corporate cafeteria before we moved out here to California.  Out here, there is no corporate cafeteria with healthy, fresh food, so we got into the habit that so many very busy people do of eating out in the nearby restaurants.

When I had hyperemesis gravidarum, restaurant fare became even more of a deeply ingrained habit because for some reason that other HGers will probably understand, homemade food just did not sit well on my poor stomach.

Frankly, I was pretty appalled when I looked at what we were spending on food.  I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know how bad.  I am a little terrified to confess to my readers that 30% of our food budget had been going to groceries and the remaining 70% went to eating out. At lunch, on weekends, and on and on and on.

That is not okay.

It’s an easy decision to make: Take my lunch to work.  But I will admit, eating out is a tough habit to break.  What do I take?  What do I pack?  How do I keep things interesting and avoid a ham sandwich every day?

I started easy.  I visited Trader Joe’s and purchased a few of their prepared lunches.  Is this cheating?  A little bit, but if you can get a salad for $3, that’s a darn sight better than $9 for a meal out.

That first week, I ate TJ’s salads.  I immediately learned that a single salad does not contain enough calories to make a meal for me.  I learned to pack sides.  A string cheese here, an apple there.  By Thursday of that week, I felt brave enough to slice some leftover meat and augment my store-bought salad.

Giving myself a week of TJ’s salads helped me to learn how and what to pack to make up a lunch for myself.  That following weekend, I didn’t have time to go to TJ’s and the regular grocery, so I decided to make my own “TJ’s” salads.  I took their ideas of multiple, fresh ingredients and made it work for me.  I haven’t looked back since.

Here’s an example of a lunch.  This is what I had today in fact:

Layered Thai Rice Salad Bowl (layers listed from bottom to top)

  • Leftover Trader Joe’s microwaveable brown rice
  • Dollop of leftover homemade Thai Peanut Sauce
  • Lettuce
  • sliced mushrooms and sliced yellow squash from my garden
  • Sliced leftover Coconut Crusted Chicken (basically just breaded, baked chicken, but instead of bread crumbs I used unsweetened coconut)
  • limes and Asian salad dressing

It was easy and filling.  Plenty of protein and calories in the chicken and peanut sauce, and packed with interesting and delicious flavor.  I ate it with an apple and a piece of string cheese.

It’s so easy to do variations on this theme.  Salads don’t have to be boring.  Mixing in things like rice, quinoa, and other non-standard ingredients keeps things interesting and appeals to my creative spirit.

I’ve also been saving money!  We’re on track right now to cut our food budget by $400!

It may seem like a simple step, but it’s a change that’s made a big and positive impact on our family.

Do you pack your lunch for work?  What goes into your lunch box?

Advertisements

Pantry Organization: My Excuse for Not Blogging this Weekend

You might have noticed that I didn’t post yesterday.  There’s a really good reason for that!  You see, the spring bug came by my house and bit me.  I spent the weekend working like a maniac on spring cleaning.

Okay…

I didn’t exactly clean the house.

But I did organize the pantry!  And that is a big job!

Part way through, I decided to take some pictures so that I could share the shame of my pantry with the public.  Because I’m wild and crazy like that.  So here goes!  Are you ready?

This is what my pantry looked like before I got started. (Wow, that is a blurry picture!)

Ignore the top shelf. I didn't start taking pictures until after I cleaned and organized it.
Ignore the top shelf. I didn’t start taking pictures until after I cleaned and organized it.

It’s blurry because I wanted to hide just how filthy it was.  Not because I am a horrible photographer.  Yeah.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

It doesn’t actually look so bad from here.  Let me assure you, though, that it is bad.  Behind the books (that fell out every time I opened the door) were piles of junk.  Stuff we never, ever used.  Ever.  The bottom shelf was a total junk shelf.  I don’t even know what that is piled up on the middle 3rd shelf from the bottom in this picture.  And the second shelf from the top?  That’s The Spice Shelf.

Oh, let me tell you about The Spice Shelf.

Back in my youthful and carefree days, I used to cook Indian food.  It’s so delicious.  It requires so many spices.  My spice shelf is incredibly well-stocked.  Trouble is, I can’t find any of my darn spices.  This means, I end up thinking I’m out of oregano and I purchase another bottle only to find that I’ve already got an open bottle plus another new bottle waiting in the wings!  It’s a problem!  Plus, a lot of my spices are 9 years old.  You stick your nose down in them and you can’t smell what they are.  Stale spices do not a flavorful meal make.  Here’s another problem.  That area over on the right?  That’s where my oils and vinegars live.  Those guys sometimes drip.

Here’s a shot of the shelf once I emptied it out.

Oh, my. Would you look at that grunge?

I guess it doesn’t seem so bad from here.  I mean, that could just be where cans and bottles scraped the shelf right?

Wait…

Oh.  Oh, no.

Oh, no. Oh, nonononono.  I mean... Why?  It's just... No.
Oh, no. Oh, nonononono. I mean… Why? It’s just… No.

Yes, folks.  That is what the inside of my pantry was like.  Gross.

I cleaned it with vinegar, followed with a grease cleaner, and finished again with water and some more vinegar.

In the meantime, this is what my kitchen looked like.

As my mom says, "Sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better."
As my mom says, “Sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better.”

My poor, organized husband seemed very concerned that the kitchen would stay like this for the rest of the week.  I tend to get sidetracked, you see.

But I managed it.  I got my shelves emptied and cleaned.  Items that were previously in floppy, sloppy bags, I decanted (that’s a great word) into tidy mason jars.

Ignore the top shelf. I didn't start taking pictures until after I finished it.
Ignore the top shelf. I didn’t start taking pictures until after I finished it.

 

I have restored the shelves to their former cleanliness.  I tossed the old, stale spices.  I placed a plastic place mat underneath my oils, vinegars, and sauces to catch drips.  I have added a variety of items that we don’t use at all to the donation box.  I freed up enough space to put the baking pans, muffin tins, and cookie sheets into the pantry where they will be easy to reach.  The snacks are down where the Grasshopper can actually get to them if she’s hungry.  I made space in my other cabinets so that things don’t fall out when I open those drawers.

It looks good!  It feels good!

It may not look that different from the outside, but if you stick your head inside, it's like a whole other world!
It may not look that different from the outside, but if you stick your head inside, it’s like a whole other world!

So that is why I didn’t post this weekend.  Legitimate excuse?  You be the judge.  I’m just glad I can find the oregano now.

Exploring Farmer’s Markets with Kids

I love, love, love going to the farmer’s markets here in California.  I love wandering around and seeing all of the fresh fruits and veggies.  I love getting to taste samples of things.  I love the delicious tamales they sell there.  I love the people-watching, especially the free hugs guy and the poetry guy.  Most of all, though, I love going with my daughter.

At 3 years old, she’s so full of natural curiosity.  She enjoys the sensory experience of the market just as much as I do.  We hold hands and just wander around.  I let her take the lead.  We look at the strange things like the purple carrots and the fancy mushrooms.  I involve her directly in the shopping in a way that just isn’t possible at the grocery store.  I let her taste the samples and pick which item she wants.  We talk about the colors, the smells, the tastes.  We talk about where the food comes from and why we eat certain things.  There is something magical about experiencing a farmer’s market with a kid.  I heartily recommend it.

This morning, the Grasshopper and I went to our local farmer’s market for fun and to see what interesting things we could find for the long weekend.  We each came home with our own treasures.  I chose swiss chard, fresh white cheddar cheese (pasteurized so I can eat it!), fresh focaccia bread, and a Texas sweet onion.  Is it a Texas 1015 bred by Texas A&M?  WHOOP!  The fellow I bought it from wasn’t sure, but if it’s a Texas bred onion, that sounds good to me!  The Grasshopper got to choose some treasures of her own as well: raisins and a bag of Rainier cherries that we will have to help her to eat in a careful way to avoid choking on pits.

I’ll be honest.  I’m not a serious Farmer’s Market shopper.  For my family, it’s more about the experience than the shopping.  Most of our food comes from the big store up the road, but there are some things I’ve found that I just prefer getting at the market.

I always get my honey there.  I eat local honey to help with my allergies, and at the market I can talk to the apiarist (beekeeper) to find out just what “local” means.  In this case, it means just up the road from my house!  I’ve even been able to find honey specific to my allergies.  Since I’m allergic to flowering weeds, I go for a wildflower honey as opposed to an orange or lemon honey.

I also like to treat my family with good cheese from the market.  It’s more expensive, so we eat it as a treat.  I also like to get onions there.  The fresher the onion, the milder the flavor.  They just taste better.

Berries are also a good bet from the market.  Strawberries at the grocery store always seem to be just on the verge of getting furry.  The fresh berries from the market keep a little longer so there’s not as much pressure to eat them same day.

So if you haven’t been or if it’s just been a while, head out to your local farmer’s market.  See what’s there.  Explore the colors, the flavors, and the people.  You won’t regret it!

If you are a regular farmer’s market attendee, what are your favorite things to get there?  What kinds of things do you enjoy exploring?