Monday, February 2, 2015


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Feeding Young Children

When talking with some friends last night, we were discussing our children's eating habits. They are first time moms who just want the best for their little one, and by baby number 3, I had learned a few tricks. So we agreed I would write out a meal plan for them, with ideas and cooking tips to get their munchkins to be as big of a pig as my daughter is. She has no fear, and would dive into a bowl of taco salad if you loosened your grip. But she also has two older brothers to keep up with. For an only child, they may not care as much about what or how they're eating, as long as they have mommy's attention while doing so. So this is my meager attempt to help these moms keep their sanity while battling meal time.

First, consider who you're feeding. Your baby neither needs nor wants fancy sushi. Simple, healthy meals can be easy and fun. The goal is to get baby all the nutrients he/she needs, while encouraging him/her to try new things. Feedings are a journey, not a destination. Enjoy the trip along the way.

The easiest way to plan meals for my kids is to make a list. I divide foods into categories, then pick one food from each column. How you combine them is only limited by your imagination. NO COOKING SKILLS REQUIRED. I use three basic things to cook: A skillet, a pot, or a microwave-safe bowl. You don't need a fancy baby food maker or food processor. So resist the late night infomercials and save some money! My list is as follows:

Milk (cow, almond, soy, any kind)
Cream Cheese

Whole Wheat Tortillas
Pita Bread

Lean Turkey


Tomatoes (I know, it's a fruit, but I cook it, so it goes with veggies)
Soy Beans

Alfredo Sauce
Garlic Butter
Nut Butter (peanut, almond, hazelnut)
Soy Sauce

I generally start with the grains list. Am I in the mood for pasta? Craving tacos? Need a meal fast? Let's say I have a hankering for stir-fry. I would pick my pasta. Then onto the meats. I prefer chicken stir-fry. Then I pick out fruits and veggies. I like peppers, carrots, peas, beans, and tomatoes. Then I choose my sauce or topping. Add in a little soy sauce. Maybe sprinkle some garlic powder. Top sprinkled almonds (not for baby, for mommy). And voila! You have an easy dish. Throw it all in the skillet and let it cook while you play peek-a-boo.

As for the shopping and having everything ready to go- that's easy! Here's your shopping list:
10 bags of frozen veggies/fruits. Any kind you like- just peas, peas-and-carrots, mixed veggies, broccoli, it's up to you.
10 lbs of meat. Either frozen chicken breast, ground turkey/beef, or a combination of both. Whatever your family likes best.
10 boxes of noodles or pasta. Rotini, ravioli, linguine, spaghetti, pin wheels, alphabet soup, egg white noodles, ramen...there's 100s of possibilities!
10 jars of sauce. Pesto, Alfredo, Marinara, cheese sauce, soy sauce, terryaki sauce- get a variety.
And most importantly- a box of Ziploc bags.

When I get home from the store, I give the kids a snack to keep them occupied while I get to work. I divide everything up. 1lb of meat per bag, 1-2 cups fruits/veggies per bag, 1/2 box of pasta per bag, and just leave the sauces in jars. Pasta can go back in the pantry, everything else in the freezer. Our deep freezer stays stocked so meals are just minutes away. For the fridge, a few packs of plain yogurt, some fresh fruits like apples and bananas, milk, eggs, and cheese. Now you always have a healthy snack on hand! Just pick 1-2 things your child likes to eat, and combine them in new ways.

Anything can be a pizza, taco, casserole, or soup. Pick up a box of Bisquick and you're never more than 20 minutes from a delicious casserole. There are more recipes on the box! We do easy chicken pot pie- mix the dough according to directions, add in chicken and bag of frozen veggies- bake. Easy as...pie! Same with soups. We keep cans (or freezer containers) of chicken stock or chicken broth, and soups are quick and easy. Running low on ingredients? Throw in everything you have left! You can't go wrong. Chicken, beef, veggies, whatever you like. Let simmer while you set the table, round up the baby and strap him in, and you're good to go!

Meal time shouldn't be stressful, it should be a time for family and conversation. Follow these tips for easy meals and watch for more recipes this week!

Sunday, February 1, 2015


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Meal Planning

Meal planning is an easy way to stick to your food budget and make your evenings a little less hectic. Meal planning may seem daunting at first, but with the right system you could plan a month's worth of meals in just a few minutes. There are countless ways you can tackle meal planning, so find a system that works for you.

My system is a little different than most, but it works for my family of picky eaters. My husband is VERY picky, and my daughter and I are are dairy free. This makes cooking for my family a little challenging in order to find a meal everyone can (and will) eat.

My first step was to make a list of all the meals I know my family loves. I aimed for at least 30 we could have a different dinner every night of the month. This was actually pretty easy once I got started. Just think of meals you frequently have and your family loves, and go from there.

Then came the tedious part- I wrote down all the ingredients for each meal. This really helps with grocery shopping and ensures I have everything I need. You only have to do this part once, then just keep the list with your meal planning pages in your household notebook.

Next I had to sort it all out. I like to grocery shop only once a month, buying in bulk and filling my freezer. To make meal prep easier, I choose one meat for each week, so I don't have ten different things thawing in the fridge.  The key here is to make a variety of meals with the same meat so you don't get bored. I sorted out my list into four main categories- beef, chicken, pork and vegetarian.

Once I had my list of meals and ingredients sorted out, I made a post-it for each meal. Of course mine were color coded, but that's not necessary. Post-its make it easy to move around on the calendar in case me week doesn't go as planned. You can find my Post-It Planner in my Household Notebook printables. 

Now on to the planning! I had to consider our weekly schedules- church on Wednesday nights, soccer on Saturdays, etc. I picked out crockpot meals or quick-cooking meals for the busy nights. I saved the meals that required more prep work or cooking time for the days I knew I'd be home. I also tried to group together meals that required the same basic prepping, such as cooking and shredding chicken. This allows me to only have to do it all once, and the prep work is done. See my post on prepping meals here. I continued picking time-appropriate meals until my calendar was full. I saved a couple "swap meals" on Post-It's in case I needed to swap out a meal if plans changed. My go-to swap meals are spaghetti, sandwiches, quick soups or an easy casserole. These are great when I am too busy or sick to cook my planned meals, and my 10 year old can help out more.

If you aren't a once-a-month shopper like me, you can do this on a weekly basis, or bi-weekly is you grocery shop on payday. Do what works best for you. You can also add a "new recipe" or "pinterest meal" Post-It to add new things to the mix. Next month, just move your post-its over to a new calendar, or just change the dates on your menu planner. Once you get all the grunt work done, it only takes a minute to label the month's meals. Meal planning is so easy, and can save your grocery budget and your sanity!

Meal Prep

Having meals prepped and ready to cook can take the hassle out of dinner time. Some people like to prep a meal the night before,  but I prefer to do it days or even weeks in advance. I'm especially grateful for this system when I am sick and just wanting a bowl of homemade soup - and knowing its only minutes away!
Meal prepping is different from freezer cooking. The entire meal is not cooked, and you can prep several meals at a time with the same few ingredients. I mentioned my method briefly in my post on feeding young children. The basic idea is that all the ingredients are prepped, cooked, and ready to assemble in a variety of meals.

We eat a lot of chicken. It's filling,  can really help stretch a meal to feed my family of six, and with sales or coupons can be pretty cheap. Soups, casseroles,  stir fry, enchiladas- a variety of meals start with the same preparations,  so why not get it all done at once?
In order to save time and make a single chicken breast stretch, I like to boil and shred my chicken. It takes the same amount of time to boil one breast or ten, and is healthier than some cooking methods.
I start with a large pot of broth. You can use water, but the broth gives it more flavor. You can use homemade or canned broth, or make some using bouillon, it doesn't really matter. I add in a few chicken breasts, how many depends on my meal plan for the month, and bring it to a boil. While the chicken is cooking, I set out and label my freezer containers. I use a combination of freezer bags, glass and plastic rubbermaid containers, depending on quantity and freezer space.
Once the chicken is cooked, I remove it from the pot and set it aside to cool. DO NOT dump the broth! Remove it from the heat and allow it to cool. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle,  I shred it all into a large bowl. The kids and husband can help with this part. I finely shred it, but you can leave it in larger chunks if you want. Then I simply add it to my storage containers and cover it with broth. Any leftover broth is frozen in an ice cube tray or freezer bowl. This is great for making soups or using in place of water to add more flavor to your favorite recipes.

If I buy a large bag of frozen veggies, I divide into two or three freezer bags. If I have lots of fresh vegetables, I clean and chop them while the chicken is cooking and divide into freezer bags. With fruit, I always do much smaller portions. Veggies can be steamed or cooked and added to almost any dish. Fruit is good for pancakes,  muffins,  smoothies, or desserts. I typically do not thaw or cook fruits before adding to a recipe.

For meats like pork and beef, I do not cook before freezing. I find they just taste better made fresh. However,  I still prep them as much as possible. For pork chops, steaks, or other cuts of beef, I put them in a freezer bag and add marinade and seasoning before freezing. Be sure to squeeze out as much air as possible. This not only keeps the meat tender, but the flavor is absorbed more without marinating in the fridge for 24 hours prior to cooking. Fish may be frozen with a slice of lemon and some herbs, or just topped with my husband's favorite dry rub.

For crockpot meals, I add all the ingredients into one freezer bag. Sauce, vegetables, cuts of meat, and seasoning fit perfectly in a gallon freezer bag. When I know its going to be a busy day, I dump the entire bag in the crockpot in the morning and dinner is done by evening. No extra time spent chopping vegetables and getting it all together means I can relax a little more in the morning.
If I can occupy the kids long enough, I can get all my prep work done immediately after grocery shopping. I throw the chicken in the pot when I first get in, then get all the dry goods and refigerated foods put away. I set out all my freezer bags and containers on the table and label everything with a permanent marker. While the chicken is cooling down, I separate and season all the uncooked meats, and bag the fruits and veggies. Then I put the chicken in the containers and load it all in the freezer. It only takes an extra fifteen minutes and all the hard work is done! Now when its time to cook, I simply combine all the ingredients and heat. Cooking pastas, breads, or rice takes less than 15 minutes and can be done while the frozen ingredients are thawing or heating. Dinner is now quick and easy.

This is also a good time to prep healthy snacks for the week. Cut up fruits and veggies and divide into snack size containers. You can fill small cups with peanut butter, hummus, or other dips for the fruits and veggies,  and a complete snack is ready to go! I do this for my kids' snacks during the week and mornings go so much smoother.
With a little bit of prep work once a week, or even once a month, the dinner time rush is no longer so chaotic.