Meal Planning: An Update

Chicken chili verde, from this week’s Fresh 20 menus.

No one has really asked me about The Fresh 20, which I started using in early February, but I’m going to talk about it here in this completely made-up Q&A. In my imagination, these are things you want to know about The Fresh 20 and by extension, meal-planning services in general. SO NOW YOU’LL KNOW.

1. How’s it going, in general?
Pretty well! I am still enamored with the service, which is a good thing.

2. Do you make every menu, every week?
No. No one’s life allows for that. There have been maybe two weeks that I haven’t used the menus at all, because we’ve had other plans on weeknights or were just too busy to get the requisite shopping and prep done. Fresh 20 works best for me when I can do all the shopping on Sunday and then do the prep. The advance prep isn’t mandatory, of course, but it does make throwing dinner together a lot less daunting. None of these recipes are “hard” of course, but sometimes you just can’t bear the thought of chopping another onion.

3. What adjustments have you made to the menus? What makes using them easier for you?
The absolute number-one thing that has made using these menus less annoying is buying jars of minced garlic. I love garlic but that doesn’t mean I want to mince 12 cloves of it per week. Perhaps if I had a press I’d feel differently but using minced works juuuuust fine most of the time. It doesn’t jive with some recipes but I can live with that.

Also, Fresh 20 is big on brown rice, white whole wheat flour, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat tortillas and on and on and on. In theory I don’t have a problem with this. I love whole wheat bread and most times I actually prefer brown rice. But you know…I use what I have. All things in moderation.

This is also a good place to include A Word About Kale. Kale makes its way into a lot of Fresh 20 recipes and again, while I have no problem with this in theory, our friend kale can be kind of a pain. I don’t do well with washing kale and I’ve made my share of sandy chili. Buying prepared kale is a good way around this, except that the prepared kale I can usually find comes in such huge bags that I can never quite use it all before it goes off. And even the prepared kale needs (in my opinion) to be gone through and separated from the tough ribs that never quite cook down. I have taken to using spinach where kale is called for in a lot of recipes, or skipping it altogether. I realize the latter is somewhat missing the nutritional point, but I hate wasting food (and time) and this seems to be a workaround for the time being.

4. Are the pricing estimates accurate?
Yes and no. I’m buying groceries for two people, not four, so I can adjust on some of the quantities. The estimated total weekly cost is supposed to be around $75 but it more often hovers around $80. (I use the “Classic” menu, which includes meat.) And sometimes the estimates are wildly off—this week’s menu called for four halibut filets and estimated the cost at $16. Halibut is easily $24 per pound where I live, so we bought salmon instead.

5. How’s the variety?
It’s good! I would say the biggest retreads are chicken and salmon, neither of which are surprising. Both are fairly ubiquitous in typical grocery stores and price-wise they fit well into a budget (if you are somewhat flexible on your salmon criteria). The chicken thing can get old after a while. I often substitute chicken thighs for chicken breasts—I prefer them flavor-wise and they are much less expensive.

If you can live with all the chicken, the variety otherwise is very good. You can do a lot with an onion, zucchini and bell peppers and Fresh 20 does well to make the most of these staples.

To sum up, I’m pretty delighted with the service. Even when I don’t use the menus, I save them for reference at a later date, so the $5/month never goes to waste. It’s so inexpensive. If you’re struggling with meal planning, I highly recommend this type of service. For me, it’s been a very stress-free way to handle a stressy issue.

Chicken Chili Verde
2 Tablespoons grapeseed oil
1⁄2 Jalapeno pepper, stem removed and cut in half lengthwise (if your Jalapeno is large or you are sensitive to spice, start with a fourth)
3⁄4 medium red onion, cut into quarters
1 pound tomatillo tomatoes, peeled and rinsed (I used a jar of Frontera tomatillo salsa instead)
4 garlic cloves
1⁄4 cup or 1⁄4 bunch of cilantro, washed
1 1⁄2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1⁄2 lime, juiced
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
1⁄4 teaspoon black pepper
2 pounds boneless skinless organic chicken thighs (I used chicken thighs)
4 – 6 inch organic corn tortillas, warmed

Heat a large soup pot over medium/high heat and add oil. Once the oil is hot add in the jalapeno, onion, tomatillos and garlic. Stir the vegetables to coat in oil and allow them to toast slightly, turning a golden brown on all sides – about 5-7 minutes. (I added the jar of salsa after sweating the veg, then blended in place with an immersion blender.) Remove the pot from the stove and carefully place cooked vegetables and cilantro into a blender and blend until smooth. Add a few tablespoons of water if necessary to get them moving. Return to the pot and stir in broth, lime juice, seasoning, and salt & pepper. Add the raw chicken to the pot. Bring to a boil then reduce to a low simmer and cover with a lid. Cook for about 15 minutes. At this point the chicken should be tender enough to shred on a cutting board with two forks. Return the shredded chicken back to the pot and simmer until ready to serve. Serve chili verde with warm tortillas; garnish with fresh cilantro, lime wedges, and a dollop of Greek yogurt or light sour cream.

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