GUEST INTERVIEW | Brilliant Tips for Fridge Organization and Menu Planning

Today’s post on The Green Turnip features a guest interview with Everly.

A friend recently asked me how to keep their fridge clean and organized. Everly happened to be sitting next to us. She started to share her tips and I was eager to hear more! I am so happy that I got to interview her. She kindly shared all her tips and tricks for keeping her fridge (and her menu planning) super organized!

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Everly is the Financial Coordinator in my department, and a talented meal coordinator! In addition to her work on campus, she plans, cooks, and serves meals for her family of four with fresh ingredients from her home garden. We talked about her tips and tricks for grocery shopping, meal planning, and food budgeting. She also shared the benefits of her meal planning, including better health and reduced food waste. Everly had tons of creative ideas for how anyone can get started with simple menu planning.

I am excited to bring you her awesome interview! Plus, she generously shared her most popular and most requested (!) recipe – Green Chicken Enchiladas.

Key Takeaways

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1- Fresh natural foods always!

As much as possible, Everly avoids processed foods. She cooks from whole ingredients. For example, instead of using (as she calls them) “cream of whatever soups,” she taught herself to make sauce from scratch. In the summer, she uses fresh tomatoes picked from her garden. When she does infrequently buy processed foods (like peanut butter), she chooses ones with fewer ingredients.

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2- Keep things flexible.

Although Everly plans two weeks of meals in advance, she keeps the schedule flexible. She posts planned meals on the fridge. Family members can choose which meal they want, crossing off options as they go. She also builds quick easy meal options into the plan. So if something runs late or they forget to defrost an ingredient, they have a healthy, quick, delicious Plan B!

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3 – Eat what you want.

To plan meals, Everly prioritizes the foods that her and her family want to eat. Instead of following grocery store sales, she thinks from the perspective of “what do we want to eat.” This question guides the shopping and weekly menu. For example just starting with meal planning, she recommends that they ask themselves the simple question – What do I want to eat – and then try to buy at least several days or a week’s worth of that food.

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4 – Efficiency

I was amazed by the efficiency of Everly’s approach. She meal plans for two weeks twice per month. She goes grocery shopping two times per month. Each trip takes her just 45 minutes! Talk about lean and mean.

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Okay, here’s the interview!

Jessy: So who is in your house?

Everly: It is my husband and me, plus my daughter and my niece. And previously my stepson, who is also an adult. So it was feed three adults and two children. Now that my stepson is gone we noticed that one less adult eating in the house makes a significant difference not only in how much food we buy but in how quickly that food is eaten. Now that there are only two adults and two children.

Jessy: It seems that you have a particular strategy for meal planning and shopping. How did you develop your approach?

Everly: So we follow Dave Ramsey. Part of that is being disciplined with your money, which translates into being disciplined in other areas of your life. We had to make sure that we were smart with our money and we found that a lot of our money was going towards food unnecessarily. We would go grocery shopping once or twice per week but end up eating two or three times a week out. So some of that food would just go to waste. So we ended up getting really disciplined about cooking at home.

We started paying attention to what we eat and cooking healthy and not buying processed foods. That’s what got it all started.

Jessy: When did you start that?

Everly: We have been doing this a lot more rigidly for about a year and a half now.

IMG_1845.JPGJessy: What is your current approach?

A normal grocery planning starts with “what do we want to make for dinner.”

Everly: We plan out meals for at least two weeks. And we eat out once per week. So instead of having 14 meals, we only need about 10 dinner meals. For the other meals, we will probably end up eating out or having leftovers. So we will think about what we haven’t eaten in a while or what we want to try new. We get input from the kids too.

Then I start going through every meal figuring out what do I need to cook this meal, everything from the seasonings to the protein to the sides. I will write that down. Then that gets translated into the shopping list. I will remove any items that we already have and then we make sure to include our staples (like milk, eggs, bread, yogurt, that kind of thing). Also we try to keep our pantry stocked with things like bread crumbs, tomato sauce, rice, beans. So we will check if we are running low and then we end up with a list. I actually do it on my phone or my iPad.

IMG_1574.JPGJessy: So you buy groceries for two weeks? Even fresh ingredients like lettuce?

Everly: Yes, we try to. I buy frozen vegetables a lot because, like carrots and peas, we don’t always eat them fresh. We eat them cooked in something. So I’ll buy that frozen. For lettuce, we buy Romaine because that keeps longer than any other lettuce. We buy fresh carrots, zucchini because it keeps a lot longer.

I have a garden. So all summer we have not bought tomatoes and I still have a lot of tomatoes growing and ripening.

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Everly grows her own veggies during the summer!

Jessy: Where do you shop? Do you go to just one grocery store?

We have been going to the commissary because my husband was in the military. But this last time we ended up going to Trader Joe’s. We got a lot of our dried goods there and then we went to the Vallarta Market. It is a more Hispanic oriented supermarket with a very large butcher shop. So I bought chorizo, which is a lot better quality than anything at the grocery store. Also we bought chicken, beef, and everything that we would normally buy at the commissary there. We also got produce there because the freshness and quality were a lot better. This last trip ended up being comparable to what we spent in the past at the commissary, so that is probably what our plan will be. Stopping at Trader Joe’s for dried goods and then moving on to buy the fresh stuff at the Vallarata Market.

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Jessy: Did your experiences from childhood guide your approach?

Everly: A little bit. My mom would always try to buy based on the grocery sales. If the apples were on sale but not the oranges, we weren’t getting any oranges. And I tried that approach but it seemed just more time consuming and a little more difficult. I was looking at al the grocery sales and sometimes that is not what we want to eat. So now I consider what we want to eat, plus also what’s on sale and more expensive versus less expensive.

Jessy: What is your recommendation for someone who currently has no plan and wants to start somewhere?

Just think about the stuff that you want to eat and make a list based on that.

Everly: Try to stick to your list as much as possible.This works at any scale. So if you only do this once a week, you can do your planning for once a week. You can adjust it for your lifestyle and preferences. I think it is a good starting point because I searched for other people doing meal planning. A lot of people buy processed foods to save money. I found a way to go around having to buy cream of mushroom or all of those “cream of whatever” soups. So I learned to make sauce. Even if you don’t plan to cook a lot of your food, you can at least plan to buy that kind of food. That way you have a plan when you are going to the grocery store. It limits how long you have to be there, and wander around and try to figure out “did I buy everything that I need?”

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Jessy: What are some of the benefits you have seen in the last year and a half of following this approach?

Everly: We have significantly reduced our food waste. Also we can monitor our salt and sugar intake more easily. I actually go shopping and look at the ingredients. Even now I cannot wrap my mind around why peanut butter has sugar. Or why ketchup has sugar. So when we buy foods like that, I check that it has the least ingredients possible. When we cook, we know exactly what is going into it. We can make sure that the food we eat is as natural as possible. Also we have been able to manage our portions better, so we know how much each person eats. So we make that plus a little more and that ends up being extra food for leftover lunches.

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Jessy: Is there anything else you want to share?

Everly: I try to do some prep on the weekend. For example this week, I cooked a pot of quinoa because I can add that to salads or to oatmeal. And I made a pot of sopita for the girls for lunch. I also made rice pudding, for something kind of sweet at the end of the day or for a snack. And on the weekend is when I make flour tortillas. It is really quick to make a burrito or a quesadilla if that is already available. In the summer I was making a lot of pasta sauce to have on hand.

I try to set us up for a successful meal week.

Thanks so much for talking to me. Now, I am honored to share Everly’s signature dish – Green Chicken Enchiladas. Enjoy~!

Green Chicken Enchiladas

For Chicken

In crockpot cook for 4 hours on low, 4 chicken breast with 1 cup of water, season with some garlic salt, a bay leaf.  Remove cooked chicken breast to shred and reserve liquid. (Tip – You can shred the chicken in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on low.)

For Green Sauce

On medium heat in large sauce pan, sauté 1 med diced onion with some oil, add some jalapenos (depending on how spicy you want them), 5-6 large diced tomatillos, add 2-3 minced garlic cloves once everything is softened. You can also use Hatch green chile or pasilla instead of jalapenos.

In a blender or with immersion blender, mix the sautéed veggies with some of the reserved chicken liquid (about a cup). Return sauce to medium heat. Mix ¼ c of flour with ½ cup of the reserved liquid and dissolved with whisk. Mix this into the sauce and stir with whisk to incorporate. Bring to a boil to thicken. Once thickened, add ½ cup of heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (Tip – add a little bit of cumin and cilantro for more flavor).

To Assemble Enchiladas

Corn Tortillas

Shredded cheese

Cooked chicken

Sauce

Baking Pan (glass works best)

Pour about ½ cup of green sauce to the bottom of the pan. Using warm tortillas, add some chicken and cheese to center of tortilla and roll. Place in the pan with the seam down. Assemble one layer, add sauce, over and sprinkle some chicken and cheese, repeat as necessary. Add additionally cheese and chicken to the top layer. Bake in over at 375* F for about 20 minutes until heated through and cheese and sauce are bubbly.

Thanks for reading! Leave any questions or comments below.

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Come back on Monday! New recipes and musings on Japan (and life) posted here every week.

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