Vacation Meal Plans and Food Prep

I just got back from two weeks away from home, staying with my family in New Jersey. We planned to prepare most meals at home, and for us to use what we had in the fridge, freezer and pantry packed up in the car, so that we just had to buy a few fresh items before settling into our vacation. This being our first time giving this a try, I’m pleased to say that it worked out better than I anticipated and we used all but two items we brought, and only ate out once.

Our chance to disconnect from normal life, enjoy time outdoors, to prepare fun, new and fresh meals at whatever pace and time we wanted as exactly what we needed to relax and spend time catching up with everyone without having a strict schedule, and we stocked u on all the favorites so there were always multiple options to choose from.

There were anywhere from 3 to 8 of us for meals each day; and we managed to keep meal prep to about 90 minutes per day, mainly at dinner / evening time. Check out what we planned for meals, our general “bring from home” list and what we bought at the store on our way into town. Where is everyone heading this summer? Do you bring your own food, or rely on take out?

What we brought with us:


  • Pancake Mix (Krusteaz Just Add Water)
  • Bacon
  • Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate (homemade)
  • Smoothie Packs
  • Shelf-Stable Oat Milk
  • Shelf-Stable Almond Milk
  • Stevia Packets


  • Sandwich Bread
  • Sandwich Rolls
  • Mayonnaise
  • Mustard
  • Bags of Chips
  • Pasta Salad
  • Large Tortillas


  • Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs
  • Ground Chicken
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Onions
  • Pizza Dough
  • Tube Biscuits
  • Large Shrimp
  • Chuck Roast
  • Salmon Filets
  • Farro
  • Rice
  • Broccoli
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Dressings
  • Tomato Sauce


  • Popcorn
  • Pretzels
  • Oreos
  • Brownie Mix
  • Cookie dough


  • Butter
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Garlic Powder
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Chicken Stock
  • Syrup
  • Slow Cooker
  • Egg Bite Cooker
  • Ziptop bags
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Parchment Paper
  • Sheet Pans
  • Single Blender

What We Bought

  • Fruit: Bananas, apples, peaches, etc.
  • Iceburg Lettuce
  • Eggs
  • Sliced Cheese
  • Cheese Blocks
  • Sliced deli turkey
  • Sliced deli ham
  • Corn on the cob
  • Pizza Toppings
  • Lemons/Limes
  • Wine, Beer, mixers
  • Soda and Juice
  • Bottled Water

Our Meals

  • Pancakes
  • Eggs and Bacon
  • Egg Bites
  • Breakfast Sandwiches
  • Sub Sandwiches
  • Deli roll-ups
  • Lettuce Wraps
  • Grilled Chicken Skewers
  • Grilled Shrimp Skewers
  • Chicken Parmesan Pasta
  • Grilled Pizza
  • Slow Cooker Beef
  • Cookie Bars
  • Brownies
  • Seasoned Popcorn
  • Pasta Salad

A Few Tips

  • Prep what you can ahead of time
    • Cut and marinate meat prior to leaving home, freeze / place in cooler so it can marinate and then freeze when you arrive at your rental home
    • Wash fruit and store ready to eat
    • Measure and mix all dry rubs or marinades that can’t be used ahead of time so that it’s all measured out and ready to use and you don’t have to bring multiple containers of components
    • Create smoothie packs to cut down on large bags of frozen fruit
  • Plan a few “random” or leftover days so you don’t have to cook, and so that all of the food is eaten
  • Invest in good coolers and ice packs!
  • Make sure to re-freeze your ice packs so that you can bring home whatever is unused
  • Be flexible – what you started with as a plan may shift, and that’s ok!
  • Have fun! Try something new.

Who else chose to rent a lake house this summer? What did you pack or prepare for the family while you were on vacation? If you are planning some time away, I hope the ideas included here help you easily get out of the house and on the road to some rest and relaxation!

Unsure where to begin? I’m here to help! Comment below or email me and we’ll make sure you get out of the house easily and with everything you’ll need to put fun and creative meals on the table with little kitchen time while enjoying some time off!


College Apartment Food Prep Essentials

The last two days we focused on food prep when living in the dorms. Now we need to tackle the college apartment days – where you have an oven and a freezer to go with your refrigerator – and let’s be honest, your small dorm fridge, well you either sold it to the person moving in after you, or it’s quickly become the “beverage fridge” in the living room!

This time, we’re going to focus on growing the Dorm Room Food Prep Essentials list(if you missed it, click on the link to read about those!) for the college apartment days.

  • Set of Pots and Pans
    It’s worth getting a set that can carry through to the last years of college and a few more apartments. I got my first set of Cuisinart pots and pans when I was 22 and over 15 years later, I still love them – definitely recommend getting a stainless steel set that is multi-functional, and long lasting!
  • Set of Plates and Bowls
    Go to Marshall’s and have fun! Get at least 8 of everything – they will be used! Plus, plates and bowls break so often, not worth spending too much extra. There’s also places like Target that have options that are plastic and also dishwasher safe. As a friendly reminder – always make sure whatever you choose can go in the dishwasher, whether there is one in the apartment or not – some day there will be one and you’ll want to use it!
  • Serveware
    Maybe a larger plate and a larger bowl to get started – these also make great gifts to request on the holiday wish list! Just in case some parents or family stop by for a quick bite to eat!
  • Kitchen-in-a-Box
    Totally worth the $25-50 for a starter kit for the kitchen – then add on with other items as needed (again great to add to the holiday wish list). This set has the essentials and will arrive on your doorstep.
  • Set of Mixing Bowls
    Use them for mixing, serving and everything in between – these are a must-have for any college apartment! Someone brings a bag of chips? Put them in a bowl. Making a birthday cake? Mix in the large bowl. You get the idea! This set is durable and nested so easy to store in smaller spaces too!
  • Glass Food Storage Containers
    Food storage will always be needed – and the glass containers won’t get stained or smell strange after you cook something in the microwave, and you can always put the glass containers in the oven, and straight onto a plate – less dishes that way! I recommend this set as a starter set – I have had two of them for over 10 years, and they just last.
  • Bakeware
    Who doesn’t love a good box cake or cupcakes, or even a serving of baked frozen fries/appetizers? You can’t go wrong with a couple of sheet pans, a couple of casserole dishes and a muffin tin. This set is inexpensive and a great place to start. Whether using a box of mix or making something from scratch with 15 ingredients, you’ll use them ALL the time.
  • Casserole Dishes
    Best way to a quick dinner that reheats really well is a good casserole or dump dinner (more on that tomorrow!). This set of casserole dishes works great, can be tossed in the dishwasher and even go in the freezer if there are leftovers/someone preps for you ahead of time. They can also be oven to table or just used for serving whatever you’re preparing.

As we all know, the list is endless of the things that are “essential” in the kitchen, but this will get every college apartment renter started – and make great gifts when heading back to school, or over the holidays as well. Tomorrow, I’ll share some recipes that can be made in an oven/on the stove, etc. again expanding on our Dorm Room meals options!

You know how to find me if you’d like more suggestions or details of what works best for those just starting out, and happy to work with anyone/everyone to feel confident in the kitchen, no matter what the circumstance!


Meals in Minutes: Dorm Room Edition

I didn’t have the opportunity to live in the dorms when I was in college, but I spent my time shuttling between home, campus and working as a full-time baby-sitter/nanny for a few amazing families.

I ate almost every meal on the go, and at the strangest times, generally prepping ahead or using a microwave/hot water to prep my meals….but a lot has changed since then in the food prep in a dorm (or hotel room for that matter), and it can be fun/cost effective and sometimes be more sought after than cafeteria options.

Yesterday, we talked about the essentials a college student should have in their dorms, and a small list of pantry/shelf-stable foods that can come in handy when cooking “at home” in dorms. In case you missed it, you can read that post here.

Below, you’ll find a list of foods that would be good to generally have on hand (always makes a great holiday/birthday/any day gift to send a college student back restocked with the pantry essentials or new smaller appliances/utensils to use!) and ways to use them throughout a week with various meal options for any time of day. They may be listed as a snack or meal but we all know anything goes – these can be prepped and eaten whenever it’s wanted!

Breakfast –

  • Waffles
    A small batch of waffles makes 3-4 waffles (generally) – and they can easily be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator and heated quickly in a microwave or toaster for a meal on the go!
    • Appliances / Utensils Needed
      • Mini Dash Waffle Maker
      • Fork or Whisk
      • Measuring Spoons/cups
    • Ingredients
      • Pancake/Waffle Mix (I like Krusteaz brand, you just add water)
      • Water
      • Non-stick cooking spray
      • Butter, Syrup and/or fruit for topping
  • Cereal and Milk
    Nothing could be easier! Cereal from a box, and milk or yogurt. If the dorm doesn’t come with a fridge, cereal is easy to store, and grab a small milk or yogurt from the cafeteria or local convenience store.
    • Utensils Needed
      • Bowl
      • Spoon
    • Ingredients
      • Cereal
      • Milk/Yogurt
  • Instant Oatmeal (not from a packet)
    Instant oatmeal is easy to make at home and have on hand in a dorm room, adding boiling water or microwaving with milk and it is completely customizable. Here is a basic recipe with variations to use as a guide, but feel free to make it your own!
    • Appliances / Utensils Needed
      • Bowl or Mug
      • Spoon
      • Microwave
    • Ingredients
      • Oatmeal
      • Mix-ins
      • Milk/Water

Lunch / Dinner –

  • Spaghetti and Meatballs
    As long as you have the microwave pasta cooker, you have homemade spaghetti any time! If you have a small refrigerator that you can store some frozen meatballs and any leftover sauce, you’re set. No refrigerator? Just buy the smaller jars of sauce and skip the meat, still a homemade meal that might taste just a bit better than the special served in the cafeteria.
    • Appliances / Utensils needed
      • Microwave
      • Microwavable Pasta Cooker
      • Bowl
      • Fork
    • Ingredients
      • Pasta
      • Jarred pasta sauce (tomato, alfredo, etc.)
      • Meatballs (optional, only if you can refrigerate/freeze them in your room)
      • Parmesan Cheese (optional)
  • Tortilla Pizzas
    A great use for some tortillas, leftover vegetables/meat from the week and maybe a jar of pasta sauce that’s left over. Thinking Chicken Alfredo Pizza, or a Pepperoni and green pepper pizza. Here is a suggested recipe to use as a guide!
    • Appliances / Utensils needed
      • Microwave
      • Plate
      • Fork/Knife/Spoon
    • Ingredients
      • Tortillas
      • Sauce (leftovers work!)
      • Cheese
      • Toppings
  • Loaded Baked Potato
    “Baked” in minutes, and the toppings can be as simple as salt and pepper, or as elaborate as butter, sour cream, shredded cheese, bacon, green onions, etc. You can even use a sweet potato instead. Here’s a simple process to follow for cooking the potatoes!
    • Appliances / Utensils needed
      • Microwave
      • Bowl/plate
      • Fork and knife
    • Ingredients
      • Baking or Russet Potatoes / Sweet Potatoes
      • Salt, Pepper
      • Optional Toppings
        • butter
        • Sour Cream
        • Bacon (you may need a microwave bacon cooking plate for this)
        • Vegetables
        • Cheese
        • Protein – shredded chicken or pork

Snacks –

  • Chex Mix
    I don’t think anyone can go wrong with chex mix – especially in the microwave. It’s rather foolproof, takes just a few minutes and it’s just so good. Take a look at this recipe, they have the option for microwave cooking or oven baking.
  • Rice Cakes with Cream Cheese and Jam
    Simple as that – spread some cream cheese on 1-2 plain/salted rice cakes and then add your favorite jam – sweet and salty all in one. You can also make it a crunch peanut butter and jelly sandwich by spreading peanut butter on one side and jelly/jam on the other and putting them together for a transportable treat.
  • Nachos – in the Microwave
    So easy, and so fun to change up the toppings, like so many of the other options above. Here’s a quick recipe/guide to start with, and of course, as with all things, you can change things up to your liking!

Food Items to Keep on Hand

These are suggested items, based on recipes above, but you can look at what will be consumed most frequently/easily, and create a “standard” list from there, and just add what is needed when planning to head to the store(s)!

  • Sandwich bread
  • Pancake/Waffle Mix
  • Tortilla Chips
  • Pasta
  • Jarred sauces
  • Jarred Salsa
  • Tortillas
  • Peanut Butter/Nut Butter
  • Fruit Jelly/Jam
  • Cereals (particularly Chex cereals if you plan to make chex mix often!)
  • Quick Oats
  • Butter
  • Crackers/Rice Cakes
  • Quick Oats
  • Boxes of Milk, shelf-stable (i.e. Horizon Brand, or Almond Breeze (8oz almond milk)
  • Condiments – this is where those take out packets come in quite handy!

It may still be a bit unconventional to cook in your dorm instead of eating with the rest of the campus, but I know there will be days or nights that require a meal made in minutes, with limited supplies – so I hope this is a helpful resource, whether a new college-bound student, or in the home stretch to graduation.

If this seems overwhelming, or anyone needs additional ideas/suggestions; more detailed information about how to pack or store anything for easy food prep in small spaces/minimal refrigerator space, and only one or two ways to heat meals up, please comment below, email me or call us. We are here to help make preparing and heating meals, don’t hesitate to reach out!


Dorm Room Food Prep Essentials

This week we’re talking about college life, at least from the food prep perspective. Everything from what to send your college student to their first year of college/dorm life. Whether you’re a parent getting your college crew ready, or a friend/family member looking for a creative gift to give to a college-bound kid in your life, I’ve got the best gift for any high school grad heading to college/dorm life in the next few weeks/months.

A “Dorm Room Food” kit. All the essentials and a few shelf-stable items to get them started….and have options for those late night snack cravings, study breaks and any time in between. You can mix and match everything shared below, or give them everything, it’s up to you!

  • Microwave
    This might be something you’ll need info from the school for – if the room doesn’t come with any appliances…but get the largest you can for the space/wattage allowed!
  • Mini Fridge
    Same as the microwave, confirm that your student won’t receive one from the school, and get the largest one you can for the space/electricity allowed. One that is a great size/price is this one from Target.
  • Microwave Pasta Maker
    Meals in minutes, with so few ingredients! And – you can do more than just pasta – think about rice, quinoa, oats, steaming vegetables, macaroni and cheese…definitely something that can be used more than one way. I recommend this one.
  • Dash Single Waffle Maker
    Works for waffles, hashbrown waffles and grilled cheese (with ridges). And, it comes in so many color choices! Click here to view.
  • Measuring Cups (for dry and liquid measure) and Spoons
    Dry Measure: These are a great deal!
    Liquid Measure: These are easy to clean and won’t break easily either!
  • Large ceramic mug
    From drinking coffee, making tea, making oatmeal to mug cakes, to heating soup or leftovers….we all need a large ceramic mug or two! Give these a look:
  • Personal Water Filter Bottle
    No more purchasing water bottles or worrying about the water fountain water – it will now be filtered when this is part of the dorm room arsenal! Grab one of these for filtered water, that stays cold and creates less garbage/recycling to take out!
  • Microwave Bowls
    For making snacks like check mix or seasoned pretzels, to heating up larger quantities of food or popping popcorn (if you run out of bags), and serving up a few snacks, this bowl is a great multi-purpose bowl to cook in as well as serve your guests!
  • Plates, Bowls, etc.
    The Target brand Room Essentials collection offers great options for as little as $0.50/piece! Check out their options here and grab a few for the school year.
  • Coffee Maker
    I know single-cup coffee makers are getting all of the attention these days, and I love mine too – but, there’s something to be said for the combo of a carafe and single-serve brewing options…think running out the door to class and needing a single cup, vs. making a pot of tea or a study group coffee break. This one is one of my new favorites, it’s an investment, but if brewing in the dorms, saving money at the coffee shops close by!
  • Food Items/Small Pantry Items
    • Jarred pasta sauce
    • Dry pasta
    • Popcorn
    • Olive Oil
    • Canola Oil
    • Quick Oats (not instant oat packets)
    • Coffee
    • Tea Bags
    • Cereal
    • Milk Boxes (like juice boxes / shelf stable)
    • Plastic Pitchers with lids (small for fridge)
    • Salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, sugar/stevia packets, cinnamon,
    • Paper Lunch/Sandwich Bags
    • Glass storage containers, such as these
    • Can Opener
    • Wooden Spoon
    • Large Plastic spoons
    • Silverware (20pc sets are great for dorm room needs!)
    • Scrubbing sponge
    • Dish Soap
    • Small bin to transport dirty dishes and keep cleaning supplies when not in use

A few fun ways to pack up all of these items are in a large moving box with handles, in a rolling cooler, in a laundry basket or a few reusable bags – all can be repurposed when they are at school!

Coming up later this week – Dorm Room meals, Late Night snacks and eating on campus on a budget….stay tuned!

If you have any questions or need any more suggestions or more personalized gift packs, please call, email or comment below!


Farmers Market Finds – June

Farmers Markets are where you can find me every weekend! I love finding new versions of fruits and vegetables to try; all the colors and bright produce for these warmer summer days. I’m always intrigued by what is “in season” at the farmers markets from late April through mid-Fall….and how much better it tastes than what we get at the grocery stores during these summer months.

There is something about supporting local businesses, walking through the market aisles and learning new ways to prepare some old favorites. Here’s a round up of my first few trips to the farmers market, and what was offered through June. We’ll see what the markets have on hand as we roll into July….so we’ll consider this Part One.

Heirloom Tomatoes
These don’t last long in my kitchen. The ways we go through these are endless. Grilled tomatoes, tomato salads, bruschetta, tomato toast, fresh tomato salsa….so many ways to use these before we get to Monday morning! But, we always keep a few thinly sliced just for the fresh sandwiches we make for lunches when we work from home.

Persian Cucumbers
These mini cucumbers are honestly the best. You can use them with humus, in a salad, as an appetizer, the list goes on. But, they don’t have a thick skin, which makes them easy to eat, they are small, so kids love them, and they are a bit more tender/sweet from a regular cucumber. My latest favorite has been spreading a bit of cream cheese or goat cheese on them, and sprinkling Everything but the Bagel seasoning on top!

Sugar Snap Peas
Hands down my FAVORITE thing at the farmers markets this year. I buy larger containers each week and still can’t get enough. I eat them raw, as a snack, as dinner, in salads, with dips (though it’s not my favorite served with dip), cooked in pasta and I’ve tried to freeze some to use in a fall or winter dish, we’ll see how that goes!

I don’t know about you, but grocery store carrots are just not as good once you’ve had a fresher farmers market carrot. Sweeter, easier to chew and absolutely amazing with hummus.

If you’re looking for something different to do with carrots – throw them on the grill and then toss with some olive oil and herbs; or roast them in the oven and serve with a tangy dipping sauce.

Red, Yellow and Blue Potatoes
These have always intrigued me – but the farm to table ones are so tender, easy to cook and taste amazing. Roasted, grilled, with dips and spreads, in salads, etc.

Always go with high heat and a bit of olive oil and salt for the crispiest and fluffiest potatoes – nothing worse than a soggy potato or par-cooked but charred on the outside potato.

Grilling potato slices is always a favorite around here -served with a fancy ketchup or dipping sauce for some different flavor combination.

What’s fun and great about Farmers Market (and all summer) produce is that they don’t take much fuss to taste great and satisfy a crowd. And, you’re helping support food producers in your own neighborhoods and regions – shopping local is always better than shopping big, when you can!

What are your favorite Farmer’s Market purchases and what do you anxiously await each year? I’ll be on the hunt for corn and more fruit options in the coming weeks, so make sure to check back for our “Part 2” of Farmer’s Market Finds!

Have a great weekend!


Food, Friends and Fireworks for the 4th!

I am the person who will always find a reason we should get together, and will always offer to host or bring the food. The psychology of the how and why of my need to host or bring all the food/prep, etc. will likely be part of a future post. But, today, we’re talking all things 4th of July and enjoying the chance we have this year, to expand our social circle a little bit more.

Normally, the 4th of July signals the wind down of summer for me, anyone else have the same thought process, or is it just me? Anyway, in 2020 it actually became the “start” of summer. It was the first time since February 29th, 2020, that anyone aside from my parents and sister had been at my house, inside or out. And, it was so exciting. My aunt and cousins came for a BBQ, hadn’t seen anyone for months….it was one of the best “parties” of the year – completely relaxed (which is a feat for some who attended), grilled food, pool time and catching up on months of nothing and a lot all at once.

Luckily, this year, we have plans, but they aren’t overwhelming. It’s more a weekend of smaller parties/gatherings, spread across a few houses and different groups of people, so it’s not all on me or anyone else along the way. I, of course, want to bring to the food for all of them, but that’s just how I do. So, we have Friday night happy hour with family, an outdoor party at a friend’s house Saturday and a pool day with my cousins on Sunday. Might go to our local fireworks, might not.

If you are looking for some ideas for this weekend, I put together a few menus that you might just see at my gatherings this weekend, and I hope you use them! If you do, let me know what you think and how your guests enjoy!

Summer Holiday Happy Hour

Weekend Backyard Party

  • Grilled Sliders + Toppings Bar from Dad with a Pan
  • Veggies and Hummus – Bonus – make the hummus at home, it’s super easy, see below
    • Blend a can of drained chickpeas, juice from half a lemon, 1 clove of garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and about 1/4-1/2c olive oil. Pureed and chilled until ready to serve!
  • Potato Chips – Purchase your favorites! I also recommend Utz or Lays brand
  • Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches

Fireworks BBQ

Festive Cocktails and Mocktails

The key to having a fun holiday weekend is planning ahead – and not going to the store on the holiday weekends! Plan to shop by midday Friday and when in doubt, get extra ice or ask your family/friends to bring ice when they come to your house! You can never have enough ice.

I look forward to hearing what you make and how you celebrate this year’s 4th of July – post and if you use any of the menus or ideas above, be sure to tag Plan Prep Pack Plate on your posts!


My Go-To Meals when I Don’t Want to Cook

You know those days…the ones where you literally can’t deal with life anymore, and no matter how well you planned meals and prepped everything ahead of time to make it easy….it’s just not happening. Well…..I fully support the occasional take-out order or drive-thru run….but, in case that’s not an option either – read on for some ideas of easy meal ideas that will get dinner on the table quickly, meal plan or not, and you might even be able to convince your kids to make for you instead!

If you keep a bag of tortilla chips on the shelf, a jar of salsa and queso in the cabinet, and a few staple vegetables on hand, you’ll never be without a platter of nachos. Whether it’s for a last minute sports viewing party with unexpected company or a long day of work that leaves you spent.

  • Turn on the broiler
  • Place the tortilla chips on a sheet pan, spray lightly with cooking spray for extra crunch (once they come out of the oven)
  • Broil for 2-3 minutes, toss chips and broil 1-2 more minutes to get all the chips warmed and a little bit golden brown (a few chips here and there, nothing crazy)
    • While the chips are in the oven, chop a small amount of onion, and if you have tomatoes or avocado, chop those as well
  • Top with the queso cheese (yes…the kind in the jar that is a shade of yellow that isn’t normal)
  • Top with salsa and chopped onion, tomatoes and/or avocado (whatever you chose to chop during the broiling process!)
  • Add protein if you have on hand (ground beef, chopped chicken, shrimp), but not required
  • Place on the table and everyone can enjoy!

Spaghetti and Sauce
Not much is easier than pasta with some tomato sauce. Weeknights (or busy weekends!) don’t require a sauce that simmers on the stove for hours. Grab a pound of pasta from the cabinet and a jar of sauce from the shelf and you’re set!

If you want to get a bit more creative, you can always add some additional spices to the jarred sauce, such as oregano, crushed red pepper, etc. If the sauce is acidic or bitter, just add a teaspoon of sugar or stevia and it’ll be set to stir into cooked pasta.

Not stocked with a jar of sauce? Grab a can or two of tomatoes. Add a few spices (oregano, garlic powder, salt, pepper and a small amount of sugar/stevia) and warm it through before stirring with cooked pasta and you’ll have dinner on the table in minutes.

Breakfast for Dinner (or any time of day!) –
Whether you have a full breakfast spread on hand (and defrosted) or just a few items, you can make breakfast for dinner in minutes and any time! It might look different every time, but it’s always great comfort food when you just don’t want to look at 100 ingredients for a meal.

  • Egg and Cheese Biscuits
    • English muffin toasted with a piece of cheese and eggs anyway you like
    • Refrigerator (like the pop-the-can type) biscuits with a piece of cheese and eggs any way you like
  • Fried Egg Sandwich and fruit
    • Fry and Egg
    • Toast two pieces of sandwich bread
    • Spread cream cheese, butter or mayonnaise on bread
    • Add egg (cheese too, but optional)
    • Serve with whatever fruit you have on hand
  • Toaster Waffles with butter and syrup
  • Yogurt with berries and granola (perfect for hot summer days)
  • Avocado Toast (this is good for any/every meal!)

Pasta with Chicken Sausage and Corn
This can be completely customized to whatever you have on hand, and scaled for as many or as few people as you need to feed! Don’t have corn? Use peas. Have half an onion that needs to be used? Toss it in. Random boxes of half used pasta? Add them all. Recipe below is for 4 people.

  • Put a pot of water and 4 chicken sausage links (I prefer Aidell’s or Gilbert’s, but whatever you have you can use! And, it can be frozen) on the stove and bring to a boil.
    • I recommend 1 link per person, but you do whatever works for you/your family!
  • Start a large skillet with 2T olive oil and 2T butter (don’t have both? you can use all oil or all butter), once butter is melted or olive oil appears thinner, add the vegetables and turn the heat down to the lowest possible setting.
    • I usually use corn, green beans (if I have left over), shallots and garlic, but again, use whatever is easiest!
  • Once water comes to a boil, check chicken sausage, and if soft/heated through, remove from water and place on cutting board. If it needs an extra minute or two, keep in boiling water until ready, don’t add pasta until you remove the sausage.
  • Once you remove the chicken sausage, add a pound of pasta (any shape works, or a combination of shapes if that’s what you have on hand!)
  • Cook pasta as directed (if using a few different kinds of pasta, make sure you pay attention to cook times for each kind and adjust accordingly)
  • Cut chicken sausage while pasta cooks and add to skillet with vegetables.
  • Once pasta is cooked and drained, put back into pasta pot and add the vegetable and chicken sausage and “sauce”
  • Stir, adding a bit more olive oil if needed), season with salt and pepper and top with some grated cheese.
  • Serve!

Appetizers for Dinner –
Keep a variety of frozen foods on hand for fast dinners that are fun flavors, generally can be tossed in the oven and left to cook and it’s like going to a restaurant for happy hour – but you can enjoy your meal in your pajamas on the couch!

  • Egg Rolls – I generally keep a few different kinds on hand: chicken, pork, cheesesteak, veggie…if you’re ambitious during some of your food prep days (or a rainy day!), you can always make a variety of egg rolls at home and freeze them before cooking them to use for meals like this
  • Popcorn Shrimp – served with cocktail sauce or a cajun street taco, these are versatile, and everyone seems to love them! (if you like seafood)
  • Pretzel Bites or Soft Pretzels – not up for a salty snack? You can bake them without a topping, or a fun dessert is to dip them into cinnamon sugar instead or the salt packet provided. Serve the salty ones with honey mustard or cheese dip. Serve the sweet ones with whipped cream cheese or plain.
  • Jalapeno Poppers – no explanation needed – just bake them and enjoy!
  • Mozzarella Sticks – add some red sauce and ranch to the plate for some dipping options
  • Chicken Tenders – keep these plain with some dipping sauces such as BBQ sauce, Honey Mustard, and Ranch; or –
    • Bake them for half the time, take them out and brush a sauce on top of them, then bake the remainder of the way
    • Spray them with cooking spray and then sprinkle your favorite seasoning on top (like a buffalo powder, ranch dry seasoning, BBQ seasoning) before baking them
  • Baked Meatballs – serve with tomato sauce, ranch, BBQ sauce, etc. Just take a bag of frozen meatballs, bake according to package directions and serve with sauces!
  • Lil Smokies in blankets –
    • Mini (or full size) sausage or hot dogs
    • Crescent rolls
    • Wrap mini sausages or hot dogs in crescent rolls and bake!

Platter Salad
Great for using up the bag of lettuce you bought and didn’t get to yet, and the random leftovers of vegetables in the fridge. There are no rules – and it’s like a surprise every time!

  • Lettuce (bag(s)) or Chopped lettuce from container
  • Leftovers from week
    • Chopped/Sliced onion
    • Corn (from cob or frozen)
    • Peas (from freezer works!)
    • Shredded or chopped zucchini
    • Shredded or chopped carrots
    • Dressing from earlier meals
  • Layer lettuce on a large plate/platter
  • Add other toppings either in layers or mixed across the top
  • Drizzle dressing acros entire platter
  • Serve!

What do you make (aside from reservations, take out orders and/or nothing!) when you need to eat, but just don’t have any interest to face the kitchen? What is the best thing you’ve made on a whim that’s now part of your normal rotation?

If you are looking for help to set your kitchen/freezer up so you can always pull something together if you need to – reach out to me in the comments below or via email so that you don’t have to face coming up with dinner when everyone is staring at your awaiting something on the table for dinner (or breakfast/lunch too!)!


HOW TO: Use EVERYTHING but the Bagel Seasoning

Everything Seasoning, Everything but the Bagel seasoning, Everything Bagel seasoning… many names, but it’s all the same. The perfect blend of salt, white sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, dried minced garlic, dried minced onion and poppy seeds.

You can buy it in every grocery store now, or make it at home. And, it can go on just about EVERYTHING! I buy mine multiple bottles at a time and keep it in the fridge (the sesame seeds can go rancid if on the cabinet shelves too long). Read recommendations below!

Everything Bagel Seasoning Cucumbers
Slice 1-2 Persian cucumbers lengthwise, scoop out the seeds (doesn’t have to be perfect), spread some cream cheese (plain or flavored) and sprinkle a generous amount of the Everything seasoning on top. Slice or eat whole.

Everything Bagel Crackers
Spray some butter crackers or saltines with non-stick spray and sprinkle Everything seasoning on top. Bake in a 300 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until crackers are slightly brown. They may not crisp up until they cool slightly on the pan. Place in a snack bowl and enjoy or serve to guests!

Everything Seasoned Salmon
Salmon filets drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled generously with Everything seasoning and a small sprinkling of brown sugar. Grilled for 8-10 minutes (depending on size of filets and preferred level of doneness). This an also be broiledif grilleing isn’t an option.

Everything Chicken Tenders
You can use chicken tenders or chicken breast cut into long strips, whichever you have on hand! Take a sheet pan and line with parchment or a cooling rack inside the pan. Spray each chicken strip/tender with olive oil or canola oil spray and press Everything seasoning onto the pieces until it adheres. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, until check in opaque throughout and temperature registers 165 degrees on an instant read thermometer

Everything Avocado Toast
Toast two pieces of whole wheat Italian bread (or whole grain bread of your choice). Slice and fan out half an avocado on each piece of bread. Drizzle with olive oil and then sprinkle with Everything seasoning and crushed red pepper flakes (pepper flakes optional). Cut each piece of toast in half and serve.

Everything but the Bagel Popcorn
Heat 1/4 c. coconut oil in a large pot. Add 1/2-3/4 c. popcorn kernels once the oil has melted in the pot. Cover and let popcorn pop over medium-low heat until you only hear a couple kernels popping over a few minutes. Dump hot popcorn into a large bowl and toss with Everything but the Bagel seasoning. Enjoy warm!

From breakfast to lunch to dinner to snacks, Everything but the Bagel seasoning is a winner in my book. How do you use this seasoning each week? Are you a fan or do you prefer a different “all-purpose” seasoning in your spice cabinet?

Tell me more and hopefully some of these recipe ideas start to make the rotation in your kitchen. If they do, be sure to take @plan_prep_pack_plate on Intagram!

Come back later this week for more discussions of food obsessions, favorite summer activities and life’s ups and downs!


It’s Been a Minute.

Hello again, I’m back after an unintended quick break. Thanks for coming back and hopefully you can relate, and maybe offer a few suggestions for the next time things get out of control.

To be honest, I had a bout of being completely overwhelmed with life. My schedule seems to have suddenly gotten back to a normal busy schedule of work, home maintenance, social gatherings and family time. And, though I’m so ready for it; I haven’t reacclimated to not having down time anymore.

I struggle to not allow side-hustles, family, friends, etc. overtake my daily plans to get to my life goals – but that’s where I’ve found myself. It’s a balance they say – but I keep putting everyone and everything ahead of myself…why? I have come to the conclusion it is because I don’t ever want anyone to feel that they are alone in the world. Having found myself without a support system to turn to many times in my life, I sometimes go into overdrive so others don’t feel that same pain.

But, back to the social aspect first (we’ll get to the emotional part later)…has anyone else found themselves going 100mph on the highway after the last 18 months on the side streets? I am having so much fun catching up with friends and family without a screen or phone in between us, though some days I do miss the endless days of going from daytime yoga pants to pajama pants without having to worry about anyone seeing me!

My meal plans have adjusted – so many more “party” foods or recipes I would never make unless there was more than 3 people around. It’s been so fun to try new food combinations, get more reactions than my parents who always tell me our meals taste good. Though, I now have to be more cognizant of how much I’m making, what kinds of leftovers they will make, etc. Which has been a fun challenge.

During most weeks, I focus on eating whole foods, lean proteins, and whole grains Monday – Friday lunch; and don’t have as strict a menu Friday night through Sunday. Generally, it’s because weekdays need to be simple and meals need to pack a punch of flavor (even during pandemic weeks, I was working 12-14 hours a day, so the time was still limited, just differently spaced out); and on weekends, I want to enjoy something if gathering socially, or just because I have more time to spend on creating a meal/experience.

Having more social events on weekends, and now during the week – I focus on how I can transition “party food” into weeknight or weekday meals, that are healthy and balance, instead of a dish that will leave me needing a nap in the middle of the day. I’m readjusting the meals I plan, the groceries I buy, and how to use all of this amazing summer produce when entertaining, without it being “boring” or just another veggie tray. Another element that I always went overboard on, but seem to have reigned in was the amount of food I make for social gatherings – guess what? There will always be plenty of food – and the more variety you have, the less “recipe doubling” you need to do! Don’t worry – we’ll be exploring entertaining and serving sizes in a future blog soon.

Has anyone else hit a mental or emotional wall after socializing lately? I struggled not having social things to keep me busy for all of those months, but then I fell apart after those first few gatherings because it was just so much to the other extreme. And then there’s that sneaky “FOMO” that comes along to let you know that you’re human, and not everyone is at the same place they were before, and where you fit may have changed….or you realize that the pandemic gave you the chance to see a situation or people differently/more honestly (this hurts the deepest, I’m pretty sure).

So – how did I get through this recent moment of overwhelm? I pushed through, because we have to sometimes. And then I wrote, to get some of the raw emotion out, to be able to separate what any of the “real issues” were and how I can adjust to get to these goals I’m not giving up on. This will mean re-prioritizing some of my side-hustles. This will mean I might have to choose between a couple of social events in the next few weeks. This will result in a couple of acknowledgements and conversations with those I’ve held close and been fiercely loyal to, that made the choice to cause me to question my trust of them.

Those of you who have read my posts and heard some of my stories, know that these types of moments in life can stop me in my tracks, and derail the work I’ve done to keep a safe relationship with food and activity. What I can tell you, is that I was able to rely on my meal planning and food prep process, focusing on adjusting to what I could stomach; and I’m now back to a regular eating and activity schedule. There are setbacks that I will work through, but nothing permanent or “unfixable”.

How are you adjusting to the slow roll out of post-pandemic life (I don’t think we’ll be out of the woods for a bit, but slowly things are getting back to a sense of maintainable normalcy)? How are you managing getting back to balancing social and personal time? Did you stumble recently and need to reset? How did you do it/

I want to hear from you! I want to learn about others’ experiences, especially lately, and we’ll be back with some fun food plan ideas and recipes later this week!

As always, reach out to me in the comments, via email or on Instagram!


Top 10 Items for Outdoor Entertaining

Until I had a backyard and outdoor space to use, I saw all the fun outdoor serveware, dining sets, glasses, decor, etc. and tried to find all the reasons to make the purchase….but I did not.

Last year, I moved in the middle of winter (January) and couldn’t wait until Marshall’s, HomeGoods and TJ Maxx had all the summer entertaining items….until the world came to a halt and all the stores closed for months. I got a table at Target, which was great to have for the very small gatherings we would spend the summer enjoying. To my disappointment, even when the stores opened back up, the inventory wasn’t as great as in years past, so the options were limited.

We made due, and this spring, despite many big life changes, I made sure to take time to expand my outdoor entertaining inventory. Check out my recommendations below – they’ve done me well at the end of last season (some were gifts from friends and family when they were able to finally visit) and multiple gatherings so far this year.

Ice Bucket and Stand
I recommend this one from Crate and Barrel. I received it as a housewarming gift, and I absolutely love it. You want to have something that is large enough to fit a variety of beverages, and tons of ice – in the summer, you can never ever have too much ice. I also use this for storage of outdoor items such as cups.

Rolling Cooler
You can’t really have enough, and helpful to have a few different sizes – make sure they have wheels! There is nothing fun about carrying a full cooler. They are great for keeping ice frozen during backyard parties, keeping food and drinks cool for a day at the pool, beach or on a boat. I love using them to transport freezer meals to friends and family as gifts and keeping groceries cold in the car during the summer months. I recommend keeping an eye out at warehouse stores or Target for deals throughout the year. If you can’t find a cooler, or it’s a bit out of your price range, another option is a kiddie pool filled with ice!

Insulated Cups/Tumblers
These are useful not only for outdoor parties, but for hot days all around. Keeps drinks cold longer, keeps your hands from freezing or a drink slipping out of your hands. And, they are generally different colors….built in “name on cup”…just in color form. I highly recommend these tumblers, they are multi-functional, and come in many different color sets.

Melamine Serveware
Consider getting a few platters, large serving bowls, snack bowls, chip and dip platters, etc. You’ll appreciate the variety, they are all generally dishwasher-safe so you can easily wash and use again the next time. You don’t have to worry about serveware breaking as easily when outdoors, it isn’t single-use or disposable, so you won’t waste.

Melamine Dinnerware
Same as above, there are so many different sets, so many options for designs – and somehow, they all fit together! I find having 12 dinner plates, dessert/appetizer plates and wide bowls are a good number to keep on hand at all times.

Folding Tables
These are great for outdoor and indoor entertaining. You can easily store these when not in use, they can seat an extra 6-8 people or be used as a buffet table for all your food offerings. I recommend having 2-3 on hand to use throughout the year. Think backyard BBQs, happy hours and then consider the option to use indoors for a Thanksgiving or New Year’s feast.

Outdoor Games
Have a few easy games on hand for adults and kids alike. Whether a frisbee or two, a game of tennis ball catch, bags, ring toss, etc. it keeps everyone happy, and having fun while the weather is warm. Check out sales and clearance sections throughout the year to help buil your game collection without breaking the bank.

Citronella Candles
For all the mosquitos and bugs – they get to be a nuisance sometimes – but the candles keep them at bay, and add a bit of ambience to the outdoor entertaining space.

Sunscreen, Bug Spray and Anti-Itch Spray (for bug bites) –
Keep a bin of outdoor essentials for your guests, to keep them comfortable before the sun starts beating down and the bugs start to fly around at dusk. I find great deals on sunscreen of different strengths at Marshalls, and similar stores – so that your guests have options of what would work best for them (suggested: 15spf, 30spf, 50spf). Bug spray can be found on sale at hardware stores often. Nothing is worse than getting a bug bite and not being able to calm the itching. I recommend Hydrocortisone spray or ointment for guests to be able to quickly medicate a bug bite if needed. Remember to check your supplies before each party – and if you’re not sure what to have people bring when they ask to help, you can always request some of these supplies that you want to keep on hand.

Outdoor/Washable Chairs, Blankets, Pillows
Whether plastic, wicker, metal or a combination; chairs, blankets, and pillows not only add color to your outdoor space, but provide options for all who visit Kids and teenagers can sit on the ground/blankets, parents can use pillows when sitting with their kids on the ground, and adults can use chairs or move their chairs to visit with different people throughout the party/parties. Purchase blankets and pillows that can be washed/cleaned with a hose, and same with chairs (most are easily cleaned). Makes for easy cleanup and prep for the next outdoor gathering!

What are your go-to outdoor entertaining items? What makes your summer gatherings easy to host and execute? Keep an eye out for sales and for all the cute outdoor items that will not only look great this summer, but also make your lives easier!

Don’t forget to comment below or email me with any questions or suggestions for summer entertaining!


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