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Easy, Flexible Meal Planning Lists for Stress-free Meals

Meal planning takes away the daily stress of deciding what’s for dinner. I’ve never done well with creating weekly menus by day, though. With a set schedule, I sometimes felt like I had to make what’s on the menu, rather than finish up the leftovers first. Silly, I know. Then there were the days that ended up busier than expected and I either didn’t have time to make the planned meal or I was too tired by the time dinner rolled around and needed something simpler. 

The solution I’ve found to traditional menu-style meal planning is making meal lists. Not only does it offer day by day flexibility, it makes it easier to work in sale items, saving money at the grocery store.

For us, breakfast and lunch are usually either made from the same basic staples or leftovers, so I only use my lists for dinner. You can easily use the same method for all meals, if you like.

Meal Planning Lists

Step 1: Make a Master List

Start by writing down all your favorite meals to make. This isn’t the time to pull out cookbooks or look for recipes online. You want this to be a brain dump of your go-to meals. I would aim for at least 10-14, but a bigger list gives you more variety. If you don’t have that many to start, don’t worry. You can always add to this list later.

You can leave your master list as-is, or sort it into categories such as grouping it by the type of protein, ease of prep, cook time or type of appliance used if you have lots of Instant Pot or slow cooker meals. My list is just one big list.

You could also make note of what sides you like to serve with each dish, but I usually add them later.

Step 2: Decide what types of meals you need for the week

For this step, consider things like what you have on hand that you need to use up, what’s on sale and how busy you’ll be during the week. If you know you’ll be eating out any days, make note of that, too. I don’t usually make a list for this step, but if it’s a busy week you might want to make some notes.

Step 3: Make your meal list for the week

Consider the things from step 2 and pick 5-7 meals for the week from your master list. I like to cook things like big pots of soup or chili at least once a week, so I know leftovers will take care of one or two days, so I usually make a list of five. If your meals won’t include leftovers, you’ll want to list seven, or as many days as you’ll be eating at home.

This is where I consider sides and make note of them alongside the meals I plan to make.

If you’re looking to expand your master list or just want to try something new, you can add a new recipe as one of your meals and make note of the cookbook or other source. Once you’ve tried it, if you like it, add it to your master list.

That’s my meal list for this week.

While I don’t add these to my list, I like to keep staples for one or two really quick backup meals on hand at all times. You can read more about this here. If this is new to you, you’ll want to consider picking a backup meal or two before moving on to the next step.

Step 4: Make your shopping list

Make a shopping list from your weekly meal list, including sides and staples for your backup meal, if you don’t already have one. From your list, shop your pantry then grocery shop for everything else you need.

Step 5: Using your list

If one meal relies on lots of fresh produce or other time-sensitive food, you’ll want to make it early in the week. Likewise, if one day is busy and you have one slow cooker or really simple meal on the list, you’ll want to save it for that day. Otherwise, you know you have everything to make all the meals on your weekly list, so pick whichever one you like for now and one for next. Picking your “next” gives you time to thaw out or presoak anything needed for that meal. Every day, think about what meal you want to be next and do the necessary prep. If that day’s meal has lots of leftovers, you can use them as your “next” and push the rest of the week’s meals down.

Each meal you make gets checked off the list. At the end of the week, if there’s anything not checked off, add that meal to next week’s list.

Customize Your Meal Planning Lists

Planning one week at a time works best for me because that’s about the longest we can go without needing to restock staples. If two weeks at a time works for you, make your list 10-14 meals instead of 5-7. Repeats are fine if you want or need.

If you want to be super organized, turn your master list into index cards with one meal and all the ingredients listed on each card. You can even make them full blown recipe cards, which is helpful if someone else does some of the meal prep or it’s a new recipe. Sort them into whatever categories work best for you, then pick out your 5-7 meal cards for the week. Now your grocery list is as simple as copying the ingredients from the cards.

Background image by Goumbik from Pixabay
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Kombucha Questions

Here’s a few common questions about kombucha. I’ve answered them based on my research and personal experience.

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How much should I drink?

If you’ve never had kombucha before, you’ll want to start slowly. Kombucha can have a detoxifying effect that can be unpleasant if you rush it. It is recommended to start with about an ounce per day at first and gradually increase until you reach a comfortable level for you. If you notice any ill effects cut back or stop for a few days to let your body catch up. Drinking lots of water can help, too.

Of course, you should always listen to your body. If you feel like you can’t tolerate kombucha don’t push it. There are plenty of other ways to get probiotics. Also, I’m not a doctor, and the above might not apply to everyone depending on your personal health. If you have any concerns, definitely consult your doctor.

Can I use metal utensils when making kombucha?

Metal tea kettles for boiling the water are fine. It’s fine to stir the tea and sugar together with a metal spoon before adding the SCOBY. What you want to avoid is the SCOBY coming into contact with metal as that can damage the SCOBY. Even then, I have heard very brief contact is ok, such as when cutting up a giant SCOBY. I prefer to peel apart the layers and avoid metal touching my SCOBYs, though.

Can I use honey/stevia/coconut sugar/some other sweetener?

The sugar is food for the SCOBY and plain white sugar is recommended because it is easy for the SCOBY to digest. I have heard of some people having success with other sugars, but I haven’t tried it myself. If you want to try another form of sugar, I would start with a small batch and keep another SCOBY in a tea/white sugar brew as backup.

Stevia or other zero calorie sweeteners will not work because they don’t provide food for the SCOBY.

Can I use flavored teas?

Not for the main brew. You can use flavored teas to add flavor in a second ferment.

Can I use decaf teas?

This is another one where I’ve heard conflicting information. Most say not to use decaf tea. If you want to try decaf, as with different sugars, I would start with a small batch and keep another SCOBY in a regular tea/white sugar brew as backup.

My SCOBY looks funny. Is it bad?

Most SCOBYs look funny. They can be smooth and creamy colored or have air pockets and brown spots. The bottoms usually have brown stringy tentacle things hanging down. New SCOBYs grow on top of older ones until they look like a stack of slimy pancakes. (Eww.) All of this is normal, and there’s probably a million variations I haven’t described.

There are two main things to watch for: mold and black. If your SCOBY molds, it will look like blue-green dusty mold, just like what grows on bread. If you get mold, throw it all out and start over.

Black means the SCOBY is dead or dying. Toss it.

My kombucha tastes like vinegar. What happened?

Kombucha is supposed to taste vinegary, but if it’s too strong you can always mix it with something like juice to make it more palatable. You can also use super-vinegary kombucha in place of apple cider vinegar in recipes. If it’s straight vinegar with no sugariness left, you could use it as a hair rinse or for household cleaning where you would use ACV.

To make future batches less vinegary, there’s a couple of things to try.

1. Kombucha brews faster in warmer weather. If it’s been hot, try a shorter brew time and/or increasing the amount of sugar in the brew.

2. If your SCOBY is getting super thick, split off some layers. More SCOBY = shorter brew time.

My kombucha is too sweet. What happened?

The easiest fix is to let it brew longer. If it’s cold, moving your jar to a warmer location may help. I think the ideal range is somewhere around 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit. 

You should also check the condition of your SCOBY. If it is turning black, you’ll want to replace it.

Should I store my SCOBYs in the refrigerator?

No. You want to avoid extreme temperatures because they can damage the SCOBYs. The best range is between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit.

To store your extra SCOBYs, place them in a lidded jar with at least enough kombucha for them to float and store in a cool-ish location, such as a pantry or shelf out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources.

Find more of my kombucha posts here:  http://mycrazycottage.blogspot.com/search/label/Kombucha

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Kombucha Tea: Continuous Brewing

To set up continuous brewing KT, you’ll want to have a jar with a spigot. There’s some debate over the best materials for the jar and spigot. The biggest thing to watch for is something non-metallic, although I think I’ve heard stainless steel is okay. Most people like to avoid plastics to prevent any weird chemicals from leeching into the KT. I went with the cheapest, most available option of a glass sun tea pitcher with a plastic spigot.
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Continuous brew before replenishing with fresh sweet tea. I also need to separate the monster SCOBY.
Keep about half of the finished KT and the SCOBY in the jar and bottle the rest. Brew about half a gallon of tea. I use two black tea bags, one green tea bag and one half to one cup of sugar. Let it cool and add it to the jar with your finished KT and SCOBY. Since you replaced half of the KT, you’ll want to wait a couple of days before drinking from the new batch. After that, you can drink some fresh from the tap every day. Just replace what you drink with fresh sweet tea. Because you are only adding a small amount of fresh tea in relation to the KT, you can drink a little every day without the wait time. I like to keep a small pitcher of sweet tea in the refrigerator to replenish what gets taken out each day. 

Find all of my kombucha posts here: http://mycrazycottage.blogspot.com/search/label/Kombucha

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How I make Kombucha

For those who aren’t familiar with it, Kombucha Tea is tea that is fermented with a culture of beneficial bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). There are many claimed health benefits to it, although the most widely accepted is as a probiotic. It can be a bit fizzy, so many people use it as a soda replacement. It’s becoming much easier to find in mainstream supermarkets, but usually runs about $4 for a small bottle. Yikes! It’s really not that complicated to brew your own and the way to go IMO if you want to drink it daily.
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My first batch of Kombucha Tea brewing.
Ingredients to start 1 gallon: 
3 Black tea bags
2 Green tea bags
1-2 cups Granulated white sugar
1 gallon Filtered water
1 Kombucha SCOBY (I got mine from here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/OKposeyMom)
2 cup Starter Kombucha tea (KT) or distilled vinegar

Supplies:

1 gallon glass jar (with spigot for continuous brew)
tightly woven or knit cloth or coffee filter larger than the mouth of the jar
rubber band or elastic big enough to securely fit around the mouth of the jar.
Wooden or plastic spoon (metal is fine unless you need to stir after adding the SCOBY)

Make sure all jars and utensils are clean. Rinse everything really well to be sure there’s no soap residue. For the first batch, you’ll need a full gallon of tea. I use both black and green tea with three black and two green tea bags. As long as you are using unflavored, caffeinated tea, any ratio should work. Brew the tea like normal and add the sugar. Stir to dissolve. It needs to be plain white granulated sugar to make it easy for the SCOBY to break down. The sugar can be adjusted to taste, but for the first batch I like to use a full 2 cups. I’ve also found that in warmer months the brew gets strong really fast, so I add closer to the full 2 cups then to compensate. In cooler months, I can cut back on the sugar.

When the tea is cooled to about 80 degrees, add the SCOBY and starter Kombucha Tea (KT) and/or distilled vinegar. The temperature really isn’t that important as long as it’s cool enough to not kill the SCOBY. I usually just feel the jar. When it feels no more than a little warm, I add the SCOBY. If you don’t have enough starter KT you’ll use distilled vinegar to make up the difference. Do NOT use cider vinegar. Cider vinegar contains some of it’s own culture “mother”. If you use cider vinegar you’ll end up with some sort of hybrid culture.

Cover your jar with the cloth or filter and secure with a rubber band or knotted piece of elastic. This allows it to breathe while keeping dust and ickies out. Wait. and wait. and wait. lol.
The KT usually takes about 7-10 days to develop. It brews faster in warmer weather, so keep that in mind. Starting around day seven, use a straw to siphon off a little from under the SCOBY. You want it to have a little bit of a vinegary zing to it, but other than that the taste is up to you. My first batch tasted like cider made from honey crisp apples-tart but still really sweet.

The longer it brews the less sweet and more vinegary it will taste. If you think it needs to brew longer, leave it for another day or two and taste again. If you like the taste, great! Time to bottle it and brew batch number two.

For batch brewing, you’ll basically be doing everything you did for your first batch. All but 2 cups of KT from your first batch can go in to bottles. I use Mason jars. If you want to add flavorings you’ll add them to the bottled KT. I’ll do a post about that later. The 2 cups you reserve and your SCOBY will stay in the jar to start the next batch. (Every few batches, you will want to transfer them to a non-metallic bowl so you can wash the jar. If you keep a second jar on hand, you can just switch jars every batch.)

Repeat the above steps including the wait time for each new batch.

With each new batch, you will grow a new SCOBY. Usually the new SCOBY will grow on top of the old SCOBY. Technically you can separate the new SCOBY each time to use in your new batch. I like to leave the SCOBYs alone until it gets to be about a half inch to an inch thick. After that,  I’ll separate off a few layers by pulling it apart between two layers. One SCOBY keeps brewing while the other goes into a big jar with some KT and a lid, aka a SCOBY hotel. Many SCOBYs can live in a hotel as long as you have enough KT to keep them moist. It’s always a good idea to have an extra SCOBY or two on hand in case your batch gets contaminated. You can also give your extra SCOBYs to friends so they can start their own brew.

Next week I’ll cover how to move from batch brewing to continuous brewing.

Find all of my kombucha posts here: http://mycrazycottage.blogspot.com/search/label/Kombucha

How I make Kombucha was originally published on SubEarthan Cottage

How I make Kombucha was originally published on SubEarthan Cottage

How I make Kombucha was originally published on SubEarthan Cottage

How I make Kombucha was originally published on SubEarthan Cottage

How I make Kombucha was originally published on SubEarthan Cottage

How I make Kombucha was originally published on SubEarthan Cottage

How I make Kombucha was originally published on SubEarthan Cottage

How I make Kombucha was originally published on SubEarthan Cottage

How I make Kombucha was originally published on SubEarthan Cottage

How I make Kombucha was originally published on SubEarthan Cottage

How I make Kombucha was originally published on SubEarthan Cottage

How I make Kombucha was originally published on SubEarthan Cottage

How I make Kombucha was originally published on SubEarthan Cottage

How I make Kombucha was originally published on SubEarthan Cottage

How I make Kombucha was originally published on SubEarthan Cottage

How I make Kombucha was originally published on SubEarthan Cottage