I love food–I love eating it, I love reading about it, and I love cooking it. Unfortunately, I just don’t have as much time to devote to preparing food as I used to. Between the hours of 4:30 and 6:00 when people without children are enjoying happy hour, we have our daily “Meltdown Hour”. I think the kids know that I have to feed the baby, clean up the house for Daddy’s arrival (see, I AM a good little wifey!), and get dinner ready at that exact moment. It’s really quite terrible. The other day during Meltdown Hour I just put both screaming, crying boys on the couch and laughed at the whole situation. How am I supposed to get ANYTHING done with the chaos that comes at that time every day?
I have learned that it really is impossible to cook a healthy dinner every night of the week and actually have it on the table at a reasonable time. That is, unless you have a really solid game plan. Enter the meal plan.
Every Sunday I sit down and fill out my schedule (which I mentioned in an earlier post). Part of my schedule is my meal plan. I decide each meal I will cook that week and I enter it into my schedule. I then go through my menu day by day and add items to my shopping list that I will need to pick up so I can prepare all of that wonderful food. This saves me from getting to the grocery store and wandering aimlessly through the aisles searching for who-knows-what to put in what’s-that-stuff. I always do my grocery shopping on Tuesday mornings (because I just have to catch up from the weekend on Mondays. I can’t add anything else to my repertoire that early in the week). Going into our week with a meal game plan also means we eat healthier since we don’t have to resort to chicken nuggets (at least not often) or a trip to a restaurant (which is actually quite stressful with young children. Bummer, cuz I kinda like that alternative).
When I’m planning my meals, I always try to plan for at least one item that will create leftovers (or parts that I can “re-purpose” in another dish), one dish that I can make an extra-big batch of for freezing, and one meal that is already prepared (in my freezer or by someone else). We also have a potluck dinner at our Bible study on Tuesday nights, so that cuts out one day of the week that I have to whole meal. With this plan, I only end up cooking from scratch 4-5 days a week instead of all 7. I also try to plan my weeknight meals to be something that is easy to prepare ahead of time so I can get it all ready to go while the boys are napping (or at least when the mischievous toddler is napping. Things always go smoother when he’s not “helping”).
One little side note. I am not a short-order cook. That means that everyone in my house eats what I cook–no separate meals for kids and parents. I barely have time to cook one meal, let alone two! Now, there are times when I will modify the meal for David’s tender 2-year old palette. For instance, if I’m making a spicy curry dish, I’ll make his portion relatively bland with just a touch of the curry. I still want him to grow accustomed to all of the foods we eat, but at the same time I want to make the food inviting for him to try. And, now that Jacob is starting to experiment with solids, I also serve the baby a bit of what we’re eating. For instance, when I’m making butternut squash soup I’ll save out a bit of the squash to puree into baby food. I’m no expert on kids’ eating habits, but it seems like offering kids “normal” food is as good a way as any to avoid the dreaded picky eater. Sure, kids wont’ eat everything–but they won’t eat ANYTHING if you don’t let them try!
Here’s how that all looks practically speaking. This was our menu from last week:
Sunday: Rotisserie chicken and mashed potatoes
Monday: Shepherd’s pie (using up mashed potatoes from the night before.) I made the “pie” during nap time and just popped it in the oven at 5:00.
Tuesday: Potluck at Bible Study (I was in charge of bread this week so I brought store-bought roles. Win!)
Wednesday: White Chicken Chili (using up leftover rotisserie chicken and making a double batch for freezing. Double win!)
Thursday: Sweet and Sour Chicken– A recipe from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food magazine that I’ve been wanting to try
Friday: Pasta- I got some free boxes of pasta with coupons, and made a simple sauce out of diced tomatoes, garlic and olive oil.
Saturday: Curry- I love making curry. I have a few different curry pastes in my fridge and I just add whatever meat and veggies I have on hand, then serve over rice.
And, in case you want to give it a try, here’s my recipe for super-easy White Chicken Chili. I got this recipe from a family friend and it’s one of our go-to meals. This is a great recipe because it’ fast (10-15 minutes of prep), it can be made ahead in a crock pot, it only gets one dish dirty, and you can freeze the leftovers. Oh yeah, and it’s delicious! Have I sold you on it yet?
Easy White Chicken Chili
Meat from 1/2 rotisserie chicken
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 can chicken broth
1 4 oz. can diced green chilies
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/3 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 cans white beans (great northern beans)
(optional) squeeze of lime juice
**sour cream, cilantro and crushed tortilla chips for serving**
Cook onions in a bit of chicken broth until they are translucent, about 3 minutes. Add all other ingredients and heat through (this can be done in a crock pot–just cook on low for 2-4 hours). If desired, top with sour cream, cilantro, and tortilla chips for serving.