Part 2 of a 3-part series. If you missed part 1, you can access it via the sidebar on the right under "Recent Posts."
Right here is the key to success: PLANNING. You need to be planning the menus for your family, and making your grocery list based on those plans. There is no reason in the world why you cannot do this TODAY. Whether you have lots of money or zero money, whether you have a gourmet kitchen or a closet, whether you work or stay at home, whether your family is picky or adventurous, you can sit down and make a menu. And you should. Maybe I need to write a whole article on this subject. Hmm…
For years I have been making weekly menus and grocery lists. I choose to do it once a week but there are no rules, just do what works for your family. Be flexible because your family’s schedule, tastes, and budgets will change over time. To make my weekly menu I list each day of the week and quickly jot down the activities that never change week to week – taekwondo on Tues/Thurs, art on Mon, piano on Thurs, etc. Then I add in the extras – haircuts, evening meetings, field trips, etc. This shows me which days need to have a crock pot meal because I won’t have time in the afternoon to cook. After I’ve assigned a menu to each day, I make notes to remind myself what needs to be done ahead. For example, I might write a note for Monday reminding myself to get out meat to thaw for Tuesday, or to soak some beans for Tuesday. These are things that are easily forgotten and result in wasting all your time planning. I tend to save my old weekly menus to refer to because it gets hard coming up with something every week. Some smart moms have a meal rotation where they rotate through the same series of meals every 30 days or so. It is all a matter of coming up with a method that works for you. The only rule is: just do it.
Supplement your meal planning with your own homemade convenience foods. It will make life much easier. Think about what your family eats the most and stock your freezer accordingly. It is a huge help to have my own homemade convenience foods at the ready although it does take some advance planning/time/effort to have them there. Most often I bake in bulk – such as when I make tortillas I will make 4 recipes at a time and freeze the tortillas into one meal amounts, or when I make pizza dough I will do as much as my mixer can hold, then freeze each ball of dough. I will soak a couple of pounds of dried beans overnight, and then let them cook all day in the crock pot. When they are done, I freeze them in can-sized portions. There have been times when I have devoted a full week to stocking my freezer with homemade “convenience” foods. It was work but well worth it. The freezer was loaded with muffins, tortillas, stock, spaghetti sauce, sloppy joe mix, pizza dough, lasagna, etc. If there are ever left over pancakes or waffles, these go straight into the freezer for quick kid-breakfasts. Every refrigerator comes with a freezer attached – use yours for something more than a holding place before throwing mystery leftovers in the trash. A deep-freeze is not required in order to bake and freeze a few things in advance, and it will be well worth your time and effort to do so.
The Meals – Breakfast and Lunch:
There are some amazing moms out there who cook a family breakfast and/or lunch every day. For some, due to the family’s schedule, breakfast or lunch is their main meal of the day. Think outside the box and come up with a plan that is tailored to your family. I would love to get up and prepare a real meal for my family every day. I think everyone would be better off but so far I have not been able to make it work. Sometimes, I will manage to get up and prepare oatmeal for everyone (topped with maple syrup or honey, cinnamon, and my husband likes to slice a banana into it), or biscuits and sausage (using ground turkey which I season myself and shape into patties). Once we even had breakfast burritos. Sometimes for the kids I will mix up pancake batter before going to bed, let it soak all night on the counter (this makes the grains more digestible), and have it ready for them in the morning. This is really easy because all you do in the morning is add the eggs and leavening, then pour it straight onto the griddle from the blender. Sometimes I will cook some sausage links from the farm, either to go with the pancakes or to just eat alone. The norm for us, however, is I will have a fried egg on toast and a glass of milk and the kids will have either an egg, a leftover biscuit, yogurt, or toast. They always have milk to drink and sometimes a small glass of OJ. Often my son will have a banana also. Sometimes they like beef sticks (from the farm – think “healthy Slim Jim”), and my middle daughter really likes grapefruit.
For lunch, I may have any of the following: leftovers, cheese and an apple, occasionally I’ll have an almond butter and honey sandwich or grilled cheese, a cheese tortilla or even a tortilla spread with peanut butter and honey. Sometimes I will have a big salad with farm fresh lettuces and carrots, loaded with chunks of cheese, raisins, maybe some toasted nuts, and homemade dressing. The kids will usually have a sandwich – peanut butter, cheese, turkey…If they didn’t have yogurt for breakfast, they might have it at lunch. Sometimes, especially in summer, I will make kefir or yogurt smoothies for everyone. Sometimes they will have leftovers from dinner. Most days I will cut up an apple or orange which everyone will share. In the summer we enjoy strawberries and peaches. The kids also like the beef sticks or jerky for lunch along with a slice of cheese and piece of fruit. A lot of our breakfast and lunch foods are interchangeable as you can see.
Snacks typically include fruit, carrots, celery, nuts, beef jerky… My son has taken to having some crackers and peanut butter. If there is an open bag of chips I can’t keep them out of it. Popcorn is a favorite snack and dessert. I make this with organic popcorn which I pop on the stove in coconut oil and top with melted butter. Sounds decadent but this is a very healthy snack!
Finally I have to mention a favorite pantry essential: Larabars. I forgot to list them in my pantry list, but there is always a box in there. I love these things and buy them by the case! They come in decadent flavors such as cinnamon roll, cherry pie, chocolate mocha, gingersnap, yet they are nothing more than a combination of spices, ground nuts, and fruit (mostly dates). This is my choice of breakfast or lunch when I am on the go, along with a couple slices of cheese. Another on the go lunch (or breakfast) for me, is raw cheese slices and a handful of almonds.
And now, dinner. My ultimate goals for a meal are: healthy and simple. Secondary goals are to always have an animal food and vegetable or fruit (preferably raw). Here is a week of meals from earlier this month…. Sunday night: eggs, biscuits, sausage; Monday night: beef stew with salad and cornbread; Tuesday night: bean soup in the crockpot, salad, cornbread; Wednesday night: baked chicken with rice, salad, green beans; Thursday night: mini-meatball soup with blueberry corn muffins and orange slices; Friday night: slow-cooker beef and bean burritos. You can see that all of the meals came straight from my pantry, I used the crock-pot 3 of 5 nights, and we had soup/stew 3 of 5 nights. These were all very easy meals to prepare and also very healthful. We often have breakfast for dinner, whether it is eggs and sausage or pancakes or waffles (although I try to limit heavy grain-based meals). Soups are the best meals for meeting all the goals mentioned above. This is one reason why I always try to have stock on hand. You really don’t need a recipe to make soup and you can use a crock pot or simply set it on the back of your stove to simmer a while. Chili is another favorite. Other simple favorites are beef roasts, pork roasts, or roasting whole chickens. Slow cooking with low heat is the most healthful way to prepare meats, and it is also simple to do. With different roasts I usually serve some type of potato or rice, a cooked vegetable or two, and maybe a salad. It helps to think “meat ‘n 3”, i.e. have some type of meat dish and a few sides (2 veggies and bread, or just 2 veggies). This is one of the easiest ways to cook. Don’t get fancy. I save more involved recipes for weekends or days when I know I’ll be home. This includes chicken pot pie (totally homemade, including crust), quiche, drumsticks, wings, pizzas, and other “gourmet” type meals. My menus are not revolutionary, they are just regular ol’ foods. Often it feels like country cookin’. I simply cook meats and vegetables, and skip the pre-packaged seasonings and pre-prepared foods (unless I made them myself).
You may have noticed an entire food group missing from my kitchen. ? Have you? It is fish. Personally I hate fish. It makes me gag to think about it. However fish is a really healthful food, despite the mercury fear, and I really need to learn to like it and add it to our diet. My kids need to be exposed to it, and my husband loves it. So I have challenged myself to give it a try. I have collected a few recipes which I might be able to tolerate and plan to try salmon cakes this week. I’ll let you know how it goes, and will post the recipe in part 3 of this series.
Why am I telling you this? Because I know that some of you out there think that some of this whole foods stuff is gross, and you need to decide now to overcome. The food that God created is not gross. It is good for you and your body needs it. Some of you have called or emailed to tell me about your cooking accomplishments as you try out new foods and new techniques. This is great! Don’t be embarrassed at what you haven’t done before; be embarrassed about your refusal to try. So let’s work on this together, shall we? I will try to like fish, and you will branch out with new veggies and get your hands deep into the cavern of a whole chicken.
Well, now you know how it is in my kitchen. Sometimes things flow along pretty smoothly in here, other times it isn’t so great. Hopefully this peek inside my kitchen will help you revolutionize your family meal plan. It has been a little uncomfortable going public, but if you have found the freedom to move from “I don’t know where to start” to “I can do that!” then it has been worthwhile. Changing a few things in your diet is hard enough, but to change an entire philosophy of eating and grocery shopping is really hard! Especially when it involves an entire family. Don’t let your job, your kid’s activities, your husband’s work, your lack of space, your budget, your tiny dilapidated kitchen, or your picky eaters be your stumbling block. I know of people with far less money and resources than all of you, without your support systems, who are making this work well. Know that you CAN make changes, decide that you WILL, and then DO IT. Instead of thinking about what you can’t do right now, think about what you CAN do. You will be surprised at the number of changes you can make NOW – just think about it and pray about it. This is a good thing and God will guide you.
Remember, eating this way will take more time and effort but with some thought, planning, and creativity it CAN be done!
Proverbs 14:1 Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.
Proverbs 31:14, 15 She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar. She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household…
Next, in Part 3, recipes…