One-offs: the glue to hold together a meal plan

Typically, when we do our meal plan on Saturday (or Sunday morning, right before going grocery shopping), we plan as follows:

  • Sunday – some form of fresh fish
  • Monday – crock pot #1
  • Tuesday – crock pot #2
  • Wednesday – one-off
  • Thursday – crock pot #1 leftovers
  • Friday – crock pot #2 leftovers
  • Saturday – meal to be determined that day

It’s not that we can’t make something on Sunday that lasts into the week; we occasionally do that just to relieve some of the tedium that can set in from keeping to a fairly set routine. Still, this is our most common/standard meal plan template. We then fill in with these “one-off” meals (ones that are designed to fill a single night and are not expected to generate leftovers). DH and I had identified a bunch of these before we had kids, since leftovers were never really as big of a deal in our pre-kiddo days, and our list has had to change substantially in the last few years, to accommodate the toddler/preschooler palate.

Our typical go-to one-off meals these days are those that cost very little to prepare, can be made with items that are easy to stockpile/maintain on hand, and that typically take no more than about 30-40 mins to prepare (often with very little “active” cooking time).

The list includes:

  • Turkey tacos
  • “Brinner” (breakfast for dinner)
  • Fish and chips (where fish can be sticks/squares and chips can include fries or tater tots)
  • Pasta (dried pasta or ravioli/tortellini)
  • Homemade pizza
  • Quesadillas
  • Faux Chinese (assortment of frozen Chinese food items, like dumplings, Gen. Tso’s Chicken, and egg rolls)

I’m curious as to any other one-offs that work for others. Feel free to post any in the comments section. We’re always on the lookout for new ideas, especially those that may be kid-friendly.

The other thing I’d be interested in hearing is any tips on how to get a fast one-off that’s short on active time but that doesn’t lean heavily on prepared foods. I suppose that we could manage to get some of the prepared foods out of our diet (or at least reduce the reliance on them) if I made things in advance and either refrigerated or froze them for later reheating. It’s all a matter of planning. And, since our schedule is still fairly dependent upon meal planning, I’m fine with that.

We do lean on lower-sodium, lower-fat options, when available – but all of these meals rely on some measure of convenience/prepared items. Knowing that we may have no more than 30-40 minutes to prepare a meal, it feels so daunting trying to push these prepared items out of the pantry. Somehow, I doubt that we’re the only ones fighting this battle. Or at least I’d like to hope that we’re not alone out there.

CSA Cleanout Crock Pot Pork Tenderloin

This one is a recipe of necessity: my CSA veggie boxes have taken over the fridge! The counters, the fridge…everywhere I look there are veggies that need a home: in our BELLEHS. It also didn’t help that I spent part of the evening Sunday night trying to figure out which potatoes survived the house turning into a fridge for a few days (the answer: NOT the new potatoes or the red potatoes, sadly). We also have a week coming up where generating leftovers is a bad idea.

Thus, many of the items in this dish came from our CSA veggie boxes, specifically: the onions, sweet potatoes, apples, carrots and honey. The bulk of the prep time in this dish, well – ALL of the prep time, really, came from the chopping that takes up steps 1-5, below. The rest of it is about a 5 minute process. So, if you want to do any of this the night before, I’d recommend going for it.

We have large plastic containers in our house for just such a reason – so the onions, sweet potatoes, shallots and apples were all prepped the night before. TIRED ME, I put the apples on the top of the container with the sweet potatoes. Were I being smart, the apples would’ve gone on the bottom of the container so that I could’ve just upended the thing right into the crock pot and had them in the order I wanted. (I prefer to put onions and the root veggies at the bottom of the crock pot so that they can take the bulk of the heat – they tend to stand that much better than, say, apples, which would just turn straight into applesauce.)

The carrots were cut up in the morning too, only because I was out of energy by the time I was done with a long day that I capped off with prepping onions, potatoes, shallots and apples for the next morning. And, really, if your fear is that the apples might turn brown as they oxidize: feel free to let go of that fear. First, if you have the lid on your container fairly tight, that problem may be minimized. Second, if they’re going in the crock pot, you’ll never notice whether they turned brown overnight or not.

This dish came out sweet and yummy. We didn’t pair it with a starch, but you certainly could serve this with some rice or couscous. The sauce is plentiful and light in nature, and it lends a nice sweetness to the whole thing. Because we let it go for longer than the required cook time, the pork just fell apart on us (never a bad thing), and both the sweet potatoes and apples just fell apart on the tongue. Again, this is a good problem to have.

I would say that this is a recipe that could easily be done with chicken instead of pork BUT I would then adjust the cook time down to 6-8 hrs.


CSA Cleanout Crock Pot Pork Tenderloin


Prep Time: 30-40 min
Cooking Time: 8-10 hrs on LOW
Serves: 4

2 small (or 1 large) yellow onions
2 large sweet potatoes
1 shallot
5 medium empire apples
6 medium/large carrots
1-1/2 lbs pork tenderloin
14-1/2 oz can low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup apple juice
2 Tb cider vinegar
2 Tb wildflower honey
1 Tb brown sugar

Make it Happen
1. Peel and thinly slice the onion(s); place in the bottom of a 5qt oval crock pot in a single layer. They should cover the majority of the bottom of the crock pot.

2. Wash and chop the sweet potatoes into pieces no more than about 1/2″ thick and 1″ wide. Place the sweet potatoes in the crock pot.

3. Peel and mince the shallot. Sprinkle about one-third of the shallot on top of the sweet potatoes.

4. Peel the carrots and remove the ends; chop into small rounds, no more than about 1/3″ thick. Place in the crock pot. Sprinkle about one-third of the shallots on top of the carrots.

5. Wash the apples; slice in half, remove the core and then cut the apples into roughly 12 slices. Place the apples in the crock pot; sprinkle the remaining shallots on top of the apples.

6. Place the pork tenderloin on top of the apples. Pour the broth on top of the tenderloin and pour around it, on top of the apples and veggies.

7. In a measuring cup, pour the apple juice and the cider vinegar; pour this combination on top of the tenderloin and then around it, on top of the apples and veggies.

8. Drizzle the honey on top of the tenderloin, using either the flat of the spoon or a brush to coat the top of the tenderloin evenly with the honey.

9. Sprinkle brown sugar on top of the tenderloin.

10. Cover and cook on LOW for 8-10 hrs.

11. Remove pork from crock pot and cut into 1/2″ thick pieces before serving with veggies, apples & sauce.

Adventures in CSA (week 7): Just as I suspected…

…this week’s box was definitely cheaper through the CSA than at the store. Some of that was clearly due to the contents (asian pears tend to have that effect, given that they cost $2 apiece at our store), but some of it was because there was just so much stuff in the box this week.

Week 7 CSA
Grocery Store Unit Price
(per lb)
Grocery Store Total Item Cost
Bok Choi 2.88 $1.29 $3.71
Collard Greens 0.76 $0.99 $0.75
Radishes 2.00 $0.99 $1.98
Yellow Onions 0.45 $1.49 $0.68
Carrots 1.88 $0.99 $1.86
Parsnips 1.31 $2.49 $3.27
Empire Apples 1.77 $1.59 $2.82
Asian Pears 2.00 $2.00 $4.00
Acorn Squash 0.09 $0.99 $0.09
Italian Eggplant* 0.38 $1.79 $0.69
Sweet Potatoes 1.05 $1.29 $1.36
Red Potatoes 0.95 $1.49 $1.41
New Potatoes 0.93 $2.66 $2.47
Grocery Store Total Cost $25.09
Week 7 Savings (Deficit) $5.09
Program-to-Date Savings (Deficit) $20.39
* Items were not available; closest equivalent was used.

At this point, given our current savings, we’re already ahead enough that I can see quite a lot of value from this particular CSA program – we’re getting local veggies for less than what we’d pay to buy them at the store (trucked in from farms both near and far). I’m not sure that we’ll see the same value from the winter CSA that kicks up in two weeks, but we’ll have to see. As a complete fluke of timing, the first box from that CSA will arrive only a few days after the last box from this current subscription. D’oh!!

Only a couple of the items on this list have been used up or are spoken for – the eggplant was used (recipe coming tomorrow!), the bok choi was half-used last night (another recipe coming!) and will get completely used up tomorrow, and we have some plans for the potatoes for tonight – probably just baking some potato crisps.

It also helps that a lot of the winter stuff *keeps*, so you don’t suffer massive loss if you don’t get to use everything up in a given week. Apples, potatoes, onions, etc. all generally can last for a while if kept properly, and that allows us to stretch things out a bit. It is a bit funny to plan this week’s meals (leaning heavily on the crock pot, since I’m at a conference four out of five days and dh has a big all-day meeting scheduled for two or three of the same days)…none of what we came up with really makes a dent in the CSA box. In other words, we still have a long way to go.

Some of it is also a cost issue – I can easily take carrots, parsnips and onions and toss them in a crock pot with a roast – but the roast would cost a ton more than the other ingredients. I cringe at the price of beef most days (not to mention the nutritional content), so I try to limit it. We do have pork roasts a few times a year, which is slightly cheaper, but it’s still another case of “holy cow is that expensive – and why is it so much fattier than I want?!” The one way that we found to save money on pork loins is to buy the big 10lb loin from BJ’s and then cut it into three equal parts, storing the one(s) we don’t need for the week in the freezer. It slashes the price of the meat and ensures that we have it in the house for when we need it (assuming we remember to take it out a few days early to thaw).

And again, we come back to the delicate balance between cost and nutrition. I can’t imagine making this my crusade; as one person, I feel like I have zero standing to yell at Big Farm, the USDA, and the FDA with enough authority that they’d actually listen. As a working mom, I wish it were easier; hopefully as I get more experience with CSA-based/influenced cooking, the entire process will be simpler and I’ll feel like I can do this balancing act without flailing my arms in the air all the time.