Tag Archives: Food

Recipes for a lazy autumnish Sunday

With the start of November brings along the coziness of autumn with a whiff of smoke rising from fireplaces and leaves blowing in the wind. The official start of autumn isn’t for a few more weeks, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to celebrate it on the first weekend of November. Today’s extra hour thanks to daylight savings has inspired a day of lounging in our pajamas and snoozing to whatever sports game is on TV (soccer, in our case).

And it has also inspired a day of preparing a batch of homemade butternut squash soup and homemade oatmeal bread.

Of course, I planned out our meal yesterday when I created our full meal plan. But this autumn dinner for a lazy Sunday evening was just what we needed on a day when we recover from time changes and a kicking our ass work week. It was also perfect for a Sunday at home because, while fairly easy to create, I’ve been cooking and baking for several hours.

The soup is not my own recipe, so I’ll link to it from here. It’s by Hank Shaw who blogs over at honest-food.net all of his food adventures that include hunting, gathering, angling, and cooking. It’s like the manliest food blog you could come across.  He also just came out with a pretty kickass cookbook with all the recipes he’s blogged about along with some pretty snazzy photos.  He always comes up with something droolworthy that has me wishing I could be close enough to smell his kitchen, maybe even taste a few dishes. So when he posted a Squash Soup recipe on his blog that called for bacon to give it a bit of fatty pizazz, I was sold.

Plus, it gave me a chance to try out my new immersion blender, something I asked for on my wedding registry and was one of the items I hoped to get above everything else. The blender didn’t disappoint, and neither did the soup. Find the recipe HERE, and start making some of your own.

The bread is from my most used cookbook in my whole cookbook library, the Better Homes & Garden cookbook, you know, the one with the red and white checkered cover. Almost every kitchen I’ve been in has this book, and if you don’t, you should stop what you’re doing right now and order it. Mine is so well used it has food sticking the pages together, and you can totally tell which pages are my most used recipes.  It has the best selection of no-frills, cook it like you say it, recipes. It’s the perfect gift for your kid who’s leaving for college, or for the family just starting out on their own. And it has every average recipe you need that comes out tasting exactly as you want it too, from meat loaf to apple pie and everything in between.

This afternoon I made Oatmeal Bread, one of my favorites when it comes to homemade yeast breads. Something about it reminds me of when I was a kid and my mom used to bake us bread. This was the bread she made often, and the one I couldn’t get enough of. I’m not sure if this is the same recipe she used, but you can’t really go wrong with Oatmeal Bread recipes. They don’t have a ton of ingredients, and the majority of the time spent on making bread is in the rising time alone. If you’ve ever been afraid to try making yeast breads from scratch, don’t be. They’re really easy, and you’ll feel like Susie Homemaker when you’re done. Plus, your kitchen will smell amazing!

Note: This recipe skips proofing your yeast, which is totally fine by me. After all, if your yeast isn’t past its expiration date and has been stored in a cool, dry place, it shouldn’t require proofing.

Oatmeal Bread
found in the Better Homes & Garden cookbook

3-3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 package active dry yeast
1 ¾ cup water
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
3 Tbl butter
1 ¼ tsp salt
2 cups rolled oats

1. In large mixing bowl, stir together 2 cups of the all-purpose flour and yeast, set aside. IN a medium saucepan heat and stir water, brown sugar, butter, and salt till just warm (120-130 degrees F) and butter almost melts. Add water mixture to flour mixture. Beat with an electric mixture on low-medium speed for 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl constantly. Beat on high for 3 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir in oats and as much of the remaining flour as you can.

2. Turn dough out on lightly floured surface. Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately stiff dough that is smooth and elastic (6-8 minutes total). Shape dough into a ball. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl (use Crisco), turning once to grease surface of dough. Cover and let rise in a warm place till doubled in size, about 1- 1 ½ hours. (I generally turn on the oven while making the bread, then turn it off an place the rising bread on top of the oven-warmed stove (not in!) to keep it warm.

3. Punch dough down. Turn dough out on lightly floured surface, divide in half. Cover, let rest for 10 minutes. Grease two 8X4X2 inch loaf pans.

4. Shape each portion of dough into a loaf patting into a loaf shape and tucking edges underneath.

5. Place shaped dough in prepared pans. Cover and let rise in warm place till nearly doubled in size (45-60 minutes).

6. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 40-45 minutes, or till bread sounds hollow when tapped on top with your fingers. You may need to cover loosely with foil in the last 10 minutes of baking to prevent it from getting too brown. Immediately remove bread from pans. Cool on wire racks. Makes 2 loaves (32 servings).

Distractions, determinations, and that magical fruit.

I’ve been making a lot of progress in the novel I’m writing, about to hit the 10,000 word mark (woohoo!).  It’s starting to not be so much of a challenge to write, as I have finally reached the point in the story where something happens to change everything, and the main character will now spend the rest of the novel coping with this new reality.

I am really giving my main character a run for her money.

However, I keep getting distracted.  I’ll go to find another word for ‘noise’ or ‘crash’ or ‘whisper’ (seriously, what would I do without Thesaurus.com???), and get stuck in the vortex of finding just the right word to convey the image in my head.  And all that thinking makes me hungry so I grab the box of Mini Wheats and start eating them, so amazed at how bad they taste I have to keep eating them to make sure I’m right.  I totally am every time.  Of course, eating always brings me to Facebook, since Facebook is the perfect place to post photos of what you’re eating.  But before I can snap a photo of the crumbled up wheat at the bottom of the box, someone will post something about Honey Boo Boo, and I have to give my two cents about why our civilization is going backwards when families like that get their own TV Show.  But before I can think of something truly witty, someone posts a video like this:

And seriously, how can you not watch a video like that at least a dozen times without smiling?  I can only do one thing about that.

Blog it.

So here I am, writing about my procrastination on writing my super fun and interesting novel while it’s still stuck under 10,000 words.  That’s ok though.  I think I needed a break after those first really thoughtful 10 minutes of writing it.

P.S. on that thought:  My friend Bert gave me a serious form of inspiration regarding publishing through this article, an argument for self-publishing that is pretty convincing.  I’d toyed with the idea, and even had several people mention it to me.  But I think this was the straw that broke the typewriter’s ribbon when it comes to a multitude of rejection letters vs. having a book published as soon as I deem it finished.  It makes the finish line suddenly a million times closer.  And getting a finished product out there suddenly doesn’t seem like that daunting of a task.

In other news, today is the last day of eating beans and rice.  YAY!  (You can read about why I’m eating beans and rice HERE)  To celebrate, I ate a veggie Marsala burger that has beans in it with a fried egg on top.  It’s actually really delicious.  But I don’t think I’m going to eat beans again for a couple of weeks at least.  I had to spend all day today tight-cheeked – not because I was smiling too much, but because if I didn’t, I was going to kill someone with an odor that really shouldn’t come out of any human being.  It was probably the Mexican casserole that we had last night, a mixture of beef and several different kinds of beans and topped with cheese – the lethal combination for making a really potent stink bomb.  I managed to hold it together all day long, just taking lots of breaks to spare my neighbors.  But this evening I had to stop at the store and had no choice but to find a vacant aisle and drop a bomb.  I then hightailed it to several aisles away.  But I swear I heard someone fall to the ground gagging in the same vicinity as a mysterious mushroom cloud that appeared out of nowhere.

This week we ate bean tacos, curried lentil and yam soup (seriously delicious), eggs and beans, chicken and rice, and I even ordered a side of beans to go with my Rubio’s street tacos. 🙂  Today we had so many leftovers that I told Mr. W to take the night off cooking and we’d just finish off the remains in stinky bliss.

I wouldn’t say we suffered this week, not like 3rd world countries who are forced to eat nothing but beans and rice all day every day in severely small portions.  No, we ate some pretty good meals.  However, that first day when we started this challenge, I got a small taste of what it was like to eat so little.  I couldn’t think, speak, and had no energy.  We really have it good and honestly have nothing to complain about.

And in even more news, Taz is on the path to a healthier lifestyle.  Last night we came to an agreement that we’d work together to get him to eat healthier and get more exercise.  Moving around is the most important part, so I am attaching video game privileges to the deal as motivation.  If he doesn’t exercise, he only gets one hour of video games.  If he does a 30 minute exercise routine or a one-mile run/walk, he can have 3 hours.  It’s a decent compromise – especially since he’s been known to spend 14 hours in his room playing video games and all I’ve been doing about it is nagging to deaf ears.

Last night we worked out in the living room, doing a series of one-minute exercises from an app that’s on my phone.  Those exercises are seriously kickbutt.  He worked up a serious sweat by about 10 minutes in.  But he looked at me like I was crazy when the girl went into a side plank.  Tonight we did our mile.  He ran almost half of it through a series of running and walking.  I gave him short running goals, like running to a certain tree, then walking to a mailbox, then running to the fire hydrant, etc.  There were a little bit of tears by the end of it, but he made it.  Our goal is to run every other day, and do the exercise app on non-running days.  My goal is to continue supporting him and not leave him to his own devices – especially since I promised him he’d see some serious results in only a couple of months if he kept this up.

At any rate, it’s time to get back to that book.  My other goal is to make it to 15,000 words by the end of this 3-day weekend.  And if I keep at it, I know I can get there…and maybe a little beyond.

Here’s to being determined to anything we set our minds to.  And to know when it’s time to lay off the beans.  Whewie!

Beans and rice


Our church is challenging the congregation to take part in a Beans and Rice Challenge on Monday through Friday of this week.  Basically that means to make beans and rice the main course for every meal of the day. There are two purposes to this challenge. The first is to give us a taste of what it’s like in other countries who have no choice but to eat beans and rice for every meal.  Of course, we are still spoiled in this challenge since we can also add different things like spices, vegetables, meat, tortillas, etc.  Other countries have only beans and rice, no seasonings, and definitely no meat. In fact, many times they don’t even have clean water to cook their beans and rice in.  The second purpose of this challenge is to save the money we would have spent on groceries for the week and donate it to help build a church in India.  The goal is $10,000.  Before the challenge started, two families pledged to give $500 each, one family pledged $2,000, and a local business donated $1,000.  We are only on day 1 and already 40% to our goal!

Our family admittedly hemmed and hawed about the beans and rice challenge a little bit. Or should I say, Mr. W and I were hesitant.  He was concerned about being hungry all the time, an understandable concern since the boys in our family tend to be hypoglycemic without enough food.  I was vainly concerned because I’ve lost all this weight avoiding things like rice and too many beans.  But when the challenge got closer and we talked about it with the family, it was the Taz who was instantly intrigued.

Ask the Taz what his favorite dish in the whole world is, and he’ll tell you ‘burritos’.  The kid lives for them.  If we have refried beans in the fridge, he’s good for lunch.  He’ll even pack burritos in a brown bag for school, not even caring that they’re cold by the time lunch rolls around.  And rice?  Probably in his top 5 of favorite foods.  So a week of beans and rice sounded like heaven to him.

I went about packing mine and the Taz’ lunches last night just to set us on a good start for the first day of beans and rice.  For me, I packed a breakfast of red beans, rice, and yams.  For lunch it was red beans, rice, and avocado.  I added a little salt to each for flavor, and had an orange for lunch.  For Taz, I gave him red beans and rice for breakfast.  For lunch he had red beans, rice, and avocado in two tortillas.

I brought all my food to work, and immediately ate my breakfast.  It was a little bland, but not that bad.  But having avoided rice for so long, I felt really bloated when I was done – almost too full.  “This is going to be easy,” I thought.

An hour later I was starving.

I spent the next three hours until lunch time drinking tons of water to keep me filled, as well as half of my orange.  When lunchtime came I nonchalantly heated up my beans and rice and brought them to my desk where I proceeded to devour them.  They were even plainer than before, though the avocado gave it a nice texture.  I was full and hungry at the same time.  I ate the rest of my orange, drank a boatload of water, went pee about 50 times, and then waited till it was time to get home.

Once home, I could barely function.  I was in one of those places where it was best if I just avoided everyone altogether.  It’s luckily Mr. W’s turn to make dinner, so I sat outside and read a magazine until dinner.

For dinner we had…..wait for it….beans and rice.  But we also had all the fixings for tacos, including chicken.  I made sure to put a good amount of chicken and beans on my plate, but I avoided the rice like the plague.  Still counting calories, I couldn’t fathom filling up on something that was so lacking in nutrients when what I really needed was a proper amount of protein.

“Thanks God,” I said, when I saw everyone was waiting for a prayer before beginning to eat.  And then I bit into my first bite of dinner as if I were coming up for air.

“I find it strange that you’re doing all this challenge for a Godly reason, and can’t even pray before we eat,” DQ said with her nose up in the air.  I was just about to hit her over the head with my taco and a flurry of unGodly words when Mr. W interrupted with a much more proper prayer.  I decided it was better to be holy in my discontent at my self-righteous daughter than to say something that might make me slightly less holy in my sacrifices.  Besides, it took about two tacos worth for anything that made sense to come out of my mouth and be able to look people in the eye again.

The Taz admitted that he, too, suffered adverse effects from a day of beans and rice.  He had no energy when it came to playing with his friends during recess.  And in class, his teacher had to kept reminding him not to lay his head on his desk.  And then there were all the times he kept sneaking a left-cheek sneak, and then looking at the person next to him so that everyone in class thought it was the other guy and not Taz.

Day 1 down and I’m already sick of beans and rice.

I am re-evaluating the whole challenge for my diet by nixing the rice.  I just can’t eat it.  I hate the way it felt to feel that full and then that empty soon after.  I know, I know, there are starving children in India who are forced to eat this way daily, and I can’t handle even one day of it.  But hey, those starving children aren’t going to be fitting into a wedding gown in a month and a half, either.  Besides, this whole stomach-eating-brain-because-I’m-so-hungry thing just doesn’t bode well for being able to work properly, and especially for keeping the peace in the household.  It’s only been one day, and I feel like we’re all ready to bite each other’s heads off.

Only 4 more days.

Here’s a cool recipe I found for Bean Cookies that I plan on trying out this week just for the fun of it:

Breakfast Bean Cookies
by juliewashere.blogspot.com

2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup all-purpose flour (or half all-purpose, half whole wheat)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda (I’m guessing, since the original omitted this step)
1/4 tsp. cinnamon (optional)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 – 19 oz. (540 mL) can white kidney or navy beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup chocolate chips, the darker the better
1/2 cup raisins, dried cranberries, chopped dried apricots, or a combination of dried fruits
1/4-1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
2 Tbsp. ground flaxseed

Preheat oven to 350° F.

1. In a food processor, Pulse the oats until it resembles coarse flour. Add in flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt, and process until it’s combined.  Transfer to a large bowl.

2. In the food processor, add in beans, butter, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla, pulsing till smooth.

3. Combine bean and oat mixture in bowl and stir by hand until combined.  Add in chocolate, raisins, nuts, and flaxseed.  Stir till just blended.

4. Place large spoonfuls of dough on a greased (or parchment papered) sheet, and flatten each one slightly.  (The blog I borrowed this from suggests dampening your hand first to keep it from sticking).

5. Bake for 14-16 minutes, until slightly browned on edges but soft in middle.  Cool on wire rack.

Makes 2 dozen cookies.

Per cookie: 138 calories, 3.5 g total fat (1.4 g saturated fat, 1 g monounsaturated fat, 0.8 g polyunsaturated fat), 3.4 g protein, 23 g carbohydrate, 14.2 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber. 22% calories from fat.

Meal plan for a busy week

Where the magic happens. The normal view of my kitchen table on meal planning day.

Mr. W and I have taken to switching off weeks for cooking dinner. At first it seemed like it might be overwhelming, but it’s proved to be a brilliant plan. We might have to spend 7 days in a row cooking every single night, but the next 7 nights we get to be blissfully served dinner while the other cooks. By getting a full week off, we’re both eager to be more creative when it is our turn to cook. And we’ve both had fun experimenting with the meals to see what kids like and don’t like, and try out new recipes. Plus, it’s easier to plan on leftovers when you’re the one who’s cooking.

Another thing we’ve done for the past year is plan out our meals every week. Since our weekly cooking menus are Sunday to Saturday, we plan it on the Saturday before and then write out our shopping list from the items we need on the menu. I love that we never have to worry about what’s for dinner! And the kids refer to it constantly to know what we’ll be eating.

Unfortunately, sometimes our weeks land on a highly scheduled week. This is the case this week. It’s my turn to cook, and I have a very busy schedule ahead of me. But rather than ask Mr. W to take over my week of cooking (thus giving him two weeks in a row), this week I’m improvising the meal plan to fit our schedule.

Note: Many of these meals are not considered Paleo when eaten as a whole. I generally skip the parts that aren’t considered part of the plan, eat around them, or just implement the 80/20 rule and enjoy something not on the plan for once.

Meal Plan for June 3-9

Miso cod and miso salad with rice.

(Adult softball from 5:30-6:30)
~ Miso Cod
~ Miso Salad
~ White rice
Miso hungry!  Sorry, forgot to warn you that there was a bad joke up ahead.  For this meal, the salad dressing will be made early and set aside. The cod will marinate while we’re gone and then broils for 10 minutes max. And the rice only takes 20 minutes or less in the slow cooker. We’ll be eating by 7pm. This meal was discovered last week in The Mom 100 Cookbook, and our family couldn’t eat it fast enough. I promise I’ll include a recipe post on this one soon so you can copy it.

(Taz’ baseball game till 7:30pm)
~ Shrimp Louie Salad
~ French Bread
I chose a light dinner for this night because the weather has been so warm. Warmer weather just calls for lighter fare, you know? I will make this meal the night before so that anyone who is at the house can just serve themselves, and the Taz and I will eat when we get home.

(Taz’ baseball game till 7:30pm, Mr. W’s church group till 8:30pm)
~ Baked Gnocchi/Roasted Eggplant/Mozzarella casserole
~ Cranberry/Pecan/Apple Salad
~ Leftover french bread
The recipe for the casserole came out of a cookbook called The Naptime Chef, my latest favorite recipe collection of easy gourmet meals for busy moms. I love this book! For this meal, I will prep it the night before, and then depend on my daughter to throw it the casserole in the oven at dinner time so that Mr. W and the older kids can eat before his meeting, and Taz and I can eat when we get home. Because I have french bread thieves in the house, I will hide the bread under a rock until it’s time to eat.

(Hair appt until 7pm)
~ Chicken Sausage & Tortellini Soup
~ Buttermilk biscuits
Hey, a girl has to get her hair did, right? Unfortunately this appointment was made before I knew just hoe hectic this week was. But no worries. I can make this meal easily on Tuesday night, and it will be ready for everyone just to heat up on their own when it’s dinnertime.

(Meeting till 7pm)
~ Teriyaki chicken bowls
DQ’s cooking night! My daughter figured out that if she cooks, she doesn’t have to do any of the clean-up chores. As a result, she is now perusing my cookbooks every week and taking over one of the nights to cook us all a meal. It gives Mr. W and me a break in cooking, and she’s learning how to cook for a family of 5. This one is easy since it’s just stir fry simmered in teriyaki, and then set over rice from the rice cooker.

(Taz’ picture day for hip-hop)
~ Polenta/Marinara/Mozzarella
~ Grilled Prawns
~ Simple salad
This meal is really easy. I’ll be home by 6pm so very little prep is needed the day before. I get the polenta in a tube at Trader Joes and slice it into 1/2 inch pieces. I fry them in coconut oil on each side, then cover it with warmed marinara, sprinkling it with cheese. For the prawns, I will skewer them the night before, and then marinate them in olive oil, garlic, lemon, cayenne pepper, and a little kosher salt. These can be cooked on the grill, on the stove, or under the broiler. I’m using the broiler this time. For the salad, whatever veggies are left in the fridge from last Saturday’s shop will get thrown in.

(DQ with friends, Taz with his dad)
~ Sushi night!
We usually choose one day a week where little to no cooking is necessary. Most weeks we have leftovers. Sometimes we have breakfast for dinner. Since there’s just the three of us, we’ll be indulging in a little raw fish decadence. Yum!

What’s on your plate this week?

I broke my Lent

Rule #1 when it comes to Lent promises: DO NOT BITE OFF MORE THAN YOU CAN CHEW.

(CLICK HERE to get a recap on the millions of things I’m supposedly giving up for Lent)

You’d think I’d know this by know, what with all the broken New Year’s Resolutions I’ve created and then conveniently forgot. As far as I can tell, those 10 pounds I’ve wished away are still there. And judging by the softness in my belly, wishing them away is not going to help them vacate.

Neither are all those Paleo friendly nuts I’ve been eating.

At any rate, I wouldn’t say the whole Lent thing has been a bust. But at least half of my promises have vacated the building. However, since I believe we’re only supposed to fast from one huge thing, I still have some extra credit on board. And a little brown on my nose as well.

First the successes.

I have stuck to my Paleo diet, with only a few cheats that included corn and a Fortune Cookie I devoured when no one was looking. But beyond that, I have managed to keep away from all dairy and bread with no looking back. I have even managed to refuse, not one, but TWO Sift cupcakes (only the best kind of cupcakes there are) two days in a row. One of the days I was practically held down and force-fed the devilish treats until I raised my Lent shield and said I was fasting for 40 days. But I was still coerced into bringing some home for my kids. You guys, I didn’t even lick my fingers when icing got on them, I was so good. And I instantly went to weight myself when I got home, knowing that this kind of willpower would result in an immediate loss of 10 pounds. Unfortunately my scale didn’t know that, and I weighed the same as I did that morning. Good news though? In the almost 2 weeks that I’ve been faithful to this way of eating, I’ve lost 3 pounds, and my pants are starting to loosen up. Who knows, I might just be a Victoria’s Secret model when this is all over.

Second success, I have finished my bridesmaid flowers!

Aren't they gorgeous???

Well, they’re almost finished. Two are done, and I have one left to wrap up.  But we’re not counting that one. They are so gorgeous it’s disgusting, and I am going to have the prettiest flowers in all the land! Take that, live flowers that cost too much and start to wilt upon purchase. Now all I have left is my own bouquet, and I will officially be able to cross that off my list aaaaaaannnnndddd……

….edit my novel! (and then become rich and powerful from the royalties so I can buy my own island and crown myself queen.  The end.)

I also bought a really great wedding planning book that has encouraged me to be super obsessed with all things wedding. And I am now having a hard time conversing with anyone about anything unless it has to do with my wedding. So naturally, everyone else has gotten really boring.

Now for the things I was giving up that I gave up.

My phone is super intelligent. And Facebook is still as lame as always. I know, I’ve checked it at least 10 times in the last hour. From my phone.

I may have told my son to “shove off” yesterday when I got mad at him. Except, I didn’t use the word “shove”. Strike two for using my pirate voice instead of my inside voice.

And the praying department? Not so bad. Not so good, but not so bad. But I may have been able to have a bit more success with the top things had I just prayed a little instead of giving up because it was too hard.

However, I’m learning some things through this whole process of Lent.

First, I learned just how many food addictions I have. I mean it, I’m obsessed! It’s getting better since I’ve managed to stick to this and not eat the foods that cause me to spiral downward. But if someone were to put a box of chocolates in front of me, I’d probably make out with it. I know exactly what it would taste like to devour a whole box of cookies, and my willpower is hanging by a thread. The only thing that holds me down is knowing that if I invite even one cheat into my mouth, they will invite all their friends, have an all night orgy, forget to use protection, have a million fat cell babies, end up on my thighs, and then make me blow ass the rest of the day because I’ll have gone into shock from all that sugar sex they were having.

Second, I am a rockstar at planning my wedding when it comes to folding little tiny flowers and gluing them together. The dress thing however? It’s scaring the bejeezus out of me. I mean, first I was going to go wholesale, because I can’t imagine spending so much money on one article of clothing that will only see the light of day once in its whole existence before I put it in a box for my daughter to wrinkle her nose at when I suggest it is coming back into fashion around her own wedding day. But what if wholesale means they are sending me a dress made out of bed sheets that would fit me perfectly assuming I was a fire hydrant? But then the bridal shops are about 5 times the amount of what wholesale costs. And then alterations? A friend of mine told me today that her alterations cost as much as her dress. That’s a lot of money! And what if I gain or lose weight? I have to get it altered. Again. And what if I hate the dress I picked out as the wedding date gets closer? And I haven’t even gotten to the part where I haven’t tried any dresses on because I’m scared to go in and try on dresses.  Basically, I just want it to look totally perfect and cost next to nothing.  Is that too much to ask?

On the other hand, I’ve been watching a lot of “Say Yes to the Dress”, so I think that counts for something.

Third, I’m using my iPhone less.

Ok, just kidding. However, telling the truth isn’t part of my Lent promises, so we’re all good here.

Avoiding the 'What's for dinner?' mystery

I think one of the worst part about nearing the end of the day is the “what’s for dinner” mystery. The last thing I ever want to do at the end of the day is to figure out what I want to make that evening, and hope I have everything in the refrigerator to make it.

What if I told you a way to stop this nightly battle once and for all?

In our house, we no longer wonder what we’re making, and dinner making is a breeze. This is because we sit down every Saturday and create a meal plan for the next week. We keep the list on the door of the refrigerator so the kids always know what to expect that night for dinner. And it has taken away a ton of headaches in the dinner-making department.

I totally recommend meal-planning for your family too. However, to truly make it easier there are a couple tips to follow:

Know your schedule
When we create our meal plan, we keep the week’s activities in mind. I have a huge whiteboard calendar of the month’s events, and we chart our meals according to what’s going on each day. On busier nights, like soccer games or school concerts, we’ll plan for a meal that doesn’t take a ton of prep time or that we can prep ahead of time to just throw in the oven that evening. On nights where there isn’t much going on, we might make something a little more elaborate as well as prepping a dish for later in the week. We keep in account who will be cooking that night, planning a meal that person can cook easily and making sure to note who the executive chef will be on the menu. By the way, whoever cooks doesn’t have to clean up (and yes, we both take turns).

Plan for leftovers
Some nights I like to make a whole roasted chicken for the family. It’s cheaper to cook the whole thing, plus you can make a tasty giblet gravy from those innards. But instead of cooking just one chicken, why not cook TWO? That extra chicken will make a tasty meal of chicken tacos later in the week, chicken salad sandwiches for lunch, salad with grilled chicken pieces, crockpot tortilla soup, or chicken enchiladas for Mexican night. And even if those leftovers won’t be used that week, they can still be frozen for another week. One of my favorite leftover meals is “breakfast burritos” – a tortilla filled with egg, potato, bacon, beans, and cheese, and then grilled on each side to seal it shut. I try to fold a few extra every time I make these, then wrap them in foil for a quick meal a hungry kid can reach for in the freezer.

Create your shopping list
While planning out our meals, we also keep another piece of paper close by to plan our shopping list at the same time. When we write down a meal, we list the ingredients we’ll need. This ensures we won’t be scrambling for capers when we’re making Chicken Puttanesca or ketchup when we’re making hamburgers. Note: I can’t stress how very important a shopping list is every time you go to the store. Not only will this ensure you come back from the store with everything you need (and limit the amount of trips back to the store during the week), it ensures you’ll spend less money. Stores are designed to encourage impulse shopping – which is a HUGE money-waster. Did you really need that bag of chips or package of beef jerky? Not unless that was what you specifically came to the store for. Go through your cabinets and refrigerator and only list the things you absolutely need. And then go by that list while shopping. Having what you need written out in front of you makes it easier to spend less time in the store, and less time around things you might be enticed to buy that you really don’t need. However, impulse shopping is still a possibility, list or no list. If you see something you want that isn’t on your list, seriously question whether you really need it. More likely than not, you don’t.

Include the kids
This week, Mr. W and I were in a meal plan rut. We felt like we were just making the same thing every week, and it was getting really boring. So we dedicated the weekly menu to our kids. We asked the kids to tell us all of their favorite meals, and we used them for each night’s meal. The Taz chose spaghetti one night and pizza for another (shocker…). Mr. W’s son asked for mexican casserole at the beginning of the week and sausages at the end. And DQ requested meatloaf and mashed potatoes for a cozy night in. It took a little bit to get some meal ideas out of them, but they suddenly could think of a bunch of things we had forgotten we even knew how to make. And we know that every night this week, at least one kid will be happily chowing down.

Allow for flexibility
Things happen last minute – school project is due tomorrow, a party invite without warning, company is coming over, the zucchini needs to be used up, or that steak dinner just doesn’t sound as appetizing as it did on Saturday when you planned your meals.  We always keep some “cheat” meals in the freezer, like a frozen pizza or something equally convenient, for occasions like these.  Or we’ve been known to switch meals midweek to a day that seems better.   Always remember that the meal plan is not written in stone, and should be just as flexible as you are!  And when in doubt, breakfast makes a fabulous dinner.  🙂

Have any dinner ideas that are a winner in your house?  Leave them in the comments!

5 tips to curb mindless grazing

As you may remember, I gave up sugar for Lent – not added sugar, but anything that might resemble dessert. And while I’d love to say it was for religious reasons since Lent is a time of meditation, it was more to get over an obscene obsession with sweets following the winter holiday season.

The first couple of weeks giving up sugar were hard. I found myself snacking on anything else I could substitute for sugar. The food victim that suffered the most at my hands was a jar of peanut butter. Yes, you could argue that it has a lot of added sugar and should therefore be considered a cheat. But being that it only has 3 grams of sugar in it and doesn’t fall in the “tasting sweet” category, I used PB as an alternative to gorging on chocolate. Unfortunately, I found myself getting just as addicted to it.  I realized it needed to be on the “do not eat” list as well, especially since the scale was creeping up despite my “no sweets” diet thanks to 16 whole grams of fat in that “tiny” serving of PB.

At any rate, I made it to the other side of Lent with my cravings curbed. I also gorged on candy all day Easter Sunday. One piece of chocolate led to an invite to several more pieces of chocolate. And soon I was hosting an all-out chocolate rager in my mouth. Obviously I still need to keep strict restrictions on my sugar intake. But luckily, I came out of this experience with a few tips for curbing the sugar cravings, as well as mindless snacking that leads to unaccounted calories throughout the day.

1. Green smoothies. I have fallen in love with this little concoction. It’s a mixture of veggies and fruit to create a sweet snack without adding sugar, and while also getting the proper amount of veggies in my diet. As someone who is not very good at eating her greens, this has been my lifesaver! I make a large cup of it in the morning and sip it throughout the day to keep me from reaching for the salty or sweet snacks. And because it’s so filling, I’m not tempted to cheat. Of course, I have yet to find the exact recipe to entice my kids to enjoy these as well since I’m trying not add anything to sweeten it besides berries or bananas. But I’m getting closer. My personal favorite is banana and kale with a little almond milk and wheat germ. But you can make it as simple as adding one serving fruit to one serving veggie, and just adding water. For some healthy smoothie ideas (green or not), visit our forum discussion at SantaRosaMom.com.

2. Plan it out. If you take the time out in the morning to list all the foods you are allowed in the day, and even when you can eat them, it will help to keep you from cheating against it with mindless snacking. If you’re going to work, pack a lunch every day to avoid eating out and consuming too many calories. Stagger your eating so that you don’t have a chance to get too hungry. An empty stomach can cause you to make bad food choices, so always allow for healthy snacks like a lower calorie yogurt (my favorites are Light Yoplait at 100 calories, or the Light Dannon at 60 calories), fruit, cut up veggies, or a small plate of lunch meat and a string cheese. And get in the habit of writing down everything you eat so that you’re holding yourself accountable.

3. Water yourself. Always keep a large water at your side, and drink it liberally. Many times when we’re hungry, we’re actually dehydrated. Our bodies need more water than many of us are supplying it with, so increasing your water intake is a great habit to get into. At first, it might be hard. But once you get used to drinking more water, you’ll find that you actually crave it. Also, it’s a good idea to limit the amount of other drinks you’re having as you increase your water intake. Nix the sodas and fancy coffees – drinks that add way too many calories to your diet for being just liquid – and drink water instead.

4. Do something – anything! I found that at times I was sitting around and bored, that’s when I wanted to snack the most. But when I was busy, I didn’t even find the desire to snack. I recently took up running, and the motivation from this simple form of exercise has motivated me to think twice before snacking as I feel more energized and way healthier than ever before. Of course, there will still be times when sitting and doing nothing is necessary. But make rules or habits that will curb mindless snacking – like no eating in the living room (to keep from grazing while watching TV), or busying your hands with knitting or the like.

5. Check out the additional tips we have listed over at SantaRosaMom.com.

What are some ways you curb mindless grazing?

Eating out with kids

With practice, your children could be just as comfortable in a nice restaurant as they are at home - in a good way.

Of course we want our kids to be well behaved when we take them out to eat. Who doesn’t dream of random strangers approaching our table as we eat with our well mannered children to comment on how sophisticated our little cherubs are? However, good manners don’t just come out of a can – they have to be developed. That means our kids are not going to act appropriately in restaurants unless we work hard to give them the tools and skills to succeed in public. Here are some tips on making your cheerio throwing crumbgrinder into a perfect little lady or gentleman who remembers their please’s and thank you’s.

Start at home – Show them where to place their napkin and how to use it, how to use utensils, correct them if they start shoveling food in their mouth or talk with their mouth full… Guide them in appropriate restaurant behavior and manners by insisting on the same kind of behavior and manners at your own dinner table.

Venture first to kid-friendly restaurants – Instead of jumping into fine dining with your toddler, consider taking them on several test runs at more kid-friendly restaurants like McDonalds, Applebees, or the like. These are great places to start practicing fine dining skills outside of the home, and you’re less likely to receive admonishing stares from other diners should your children not be entirely sophisticated in their dining skills (i.e. they’re still dropping food under the table, or worse, launching it across the restaurant)

Set consequences early – Before you leave the house, and even before leaving the car to enter the restaurant, specify the appropriate behaviors you wish to see as well as the consequences for not following proper dining guidelines. Make your expectations very clear so that there’s no guessing game.

Bring entertainment – Let’s face it, most kids lack the ability to sit still for long periods of time. And where better quality foods are served, the wait time is not known for being short. So bring along crayons, coloring books, or some other item that will allow them to be quietly entertained and take away the “I’m bored” blues without bothering other diners.

Practice having conversations – One of my family’s favorite conversation games is to play “What’s your favorite ____?” and then fill in the blank with the subject of choice (car, vacation, place to live, animal, etc). The ones being asked then list their personal favorites. It’s a fun way to learn more about each other, and also introduces all new topics of conversation as we get deeper in the game. Find games like these to play while waiting for food to practice the fine art of conversation, practice not interrupting and waiting their turn to speak, and to also help pass the time.

Skip the appetizers – Appetizers on the menu are notorious for being as large as a regular entrée. And if you order a starter, your child might fill up before their meal even gets there. It’s better to just skip the before meal snack. However, if your kids are like mine where they are suddenly starving once they smell food and cannot possibly wait that long, have the server bring a bowl of fresh fruit or crackers to tide them over, or even a simple glass of milk.

Correct them privately – Should your child be acting against the guidelines for eating out, remind them of proper behavior quietly. If you’re dining with non-family members, excuse the two of you from the table and talk to your child in private to avoid embarrassment – a feeling that could lead to further misconduct to hide their shame.

Pack up and leave – If negative behavior doesn’t stop, don’t give chances over and over – just leave. While it sucks to have to miss out on a meal out, leaving sends a message to your child that their behavior will not be tolerated, and will cause them to miss out on something really special. Of course, their misbehavior may also be a sign that they just aren’t ready to eat out yet, and that’s ok. Just keep practicing at home until they are.

What are some ways your family has been successful in eating out while the kids are young?

Overweight Kids

It doesn’t feel good to be hanging on to some extra weight. And a good majority of our population knows this fact by experience. What is a common problem for adults has created a multi-billion dollar industry in ways to let go of some of that girth – from diet foods, to detoxes, to laser surgery, to good old-fashioned PhotoShop. But the issues with weight don’t stop with adults. Nowadays kids are also battling the bulge. And no wonder – the increase in technology and convenient foods high in fat have promoted a sedentary way of life for our kids. Kids these days….  When I was a kid we used to walk uphill both ways with rocks in our shoes.  Seriously, though, there was no cable television.  There was no Facebook.  And video games weren’t all that addicting, so we actually preferred to play outside.  Kids these days are way too engrossed in virtual entertainment.  And the result is a child who is growing sideways, with a self esteem that is diminishing just as fast. And their way of dealing with it is to continue hanging out in front of the TV or computer, munching on food because it feels good in that moment.

But believe me, your child doesn’t want to be overweight. They want to be a healthier version of kids their age. They may even feel “eater’s remorse” after indulging in something sinful, just like adults tend to do. They may even know what foods they should avoid, and that they should be getting up off the couch and moving around. But they don’t know how to start.

It’s up to us to show them how. And it’s our responsibility to promote a healthier way of living.

I am not immune to this dilemma. The Taz is ending the summer roughly 30 pounds overweight. Last summer, he looked just like the other kids his age. He was active in sports, could run fast, and enjoyed playing outside. But over the year, the weight crept up. He was snacking a lot more frequently, something I excused with growth spurts. He was playing outside a lot less, preferring to play with his video games. When he did go outside to play with his friends it was to hang out at their houses, eat their food, and play their video games. And the Taz stopped having the energy to play the way he used to. And soon I realized that the Taz had put on more than just a little baby fat.  The kid was actually hanging over his jeans.

And the Taz was aware of his body image. He saw how his friends were skinnier. He wasn’t ignorant of the fact that the kids on his baseball team were faster than him. Whenever I took a picture of him, he quickly sucked in his stomach and puffed out his chest to make himself appear thinner. He finally asked me to help him lose the weight, telling me of his desire to start eating healthier. Week one came and went, and the Taz was eating smaller, healthier meals and nixing the snacks in between. He was even exercising a bit with me. But after that first week, his interest in working at it wore thin. And he gave up. He’d give me lip service about eating healthy, and then go to his friends’ homes where he’d drink several sodas and gorge on junk food. And he’d sneak his money outside and buy all sorts of junk from the man who rides around our neighborhood selling goodies from his bike.

I’ll admit, I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to promote a healthy way of eating and living when my son is unwilling to be a part of the process. It’s frustrating, to say the least. And I admit, it pisses me off.  It makes me angry that he feels inferior to those around him because he is bigger, so embarassed by his body that he won’t even take his shirt off comfortably when we go swimming.  It makes me angry that he wants to become healthier, but not enough to actually make the effort.  It makes me angry that there are so many targets out there aimed at children, like video games and high calorie kid meals, that make it even harder for them to even have the desire to be healthy.  How can healthy living win out when the alternative is so much more appealing?  And it makes me angry that I have dropped the ball and have allowed him to gain weight.  But I haven’t given up. The most recent development on this path is that we’ve started taking family walks in the evening. It’s become something that we all look forward to every evening. The Taz walks with us for one lap, and then skateboards the second half.   And while I cannot easily stop him from eating unhealthy food at his friends’ homes, I can continue encouraging healthier eating at home, and continue creating a habit that will hopefully become second-nature.

I also found some great tips written by Dr. Holly Atkinson, the Chief Medical Officer and Senior Medical Correspondent for HealthiNation. She encourages parents of overweight children to emotionally support children, letting them know they are loved and accepted no matter what their size is. She also mentions that parents should be the role model when it comes to changes an overweight child should make to become healthier. “Children look to their parents as their models. If you eat healthy foods, your child will too. If you exercise, they are more likely to exercise.” And it’s a good idea to limit the amount of TV watching, computer, and video games your child is playing. To see more of Holly’s tips, check them out in the forums at SantaRosaMom.com.

What are your thoughts on weight gain in kids? Is there any easy way to prevent obesity in kids? Are there uncommonly known things about our society that is actually encouraging this weight gain? And what happens after our kids have gained an abnormal amount of weight, how can we turn things around?

The Family Meal

In our household growing up, family meals were sacred. As kids, my sisters and I weren’t aware of how significant this tradition was. We just knew that it was expected that we would be sitting at the table when dinner was ready, all of us coming from separate directions to meet in one place to enjoy our meal together. Sometimes this was the only time that we were all together as a family. We used this time to catch up on each other’s lives, share the highs and lows of our day, and continue staying involved in each other’s lives as we grew and changed. This was especially vital when we were teenagers, when our words more closely resembled grunts and nods. A good meal had the power to open up our vocal chords to include a few words in between our caveman speak.

With my own family, I have continued this tradition. With the busyness of our schedules, there are some nights that we don’t sit down until 8pm. But as a rule, we are all together, using the table as a sounding board for everything that is going on in each other’s lives. Mealtime is a perfect opportunity to improve table manners, including appreciation for the meal and clearing the table when finished. It is when difficult situations at school are brought up by one of my kids so that we can tackle it together. It’s when we share a laugh, or discuss a frustration, or just go over the schedule for the week. Sometimes we even come up with a topic for the night and discuss it wholeheartedly together (Trisha Novotsky had some great suggestions for that in one of her forum posts). There is no TV on, cell phones and computers are put away, books and newspapers are not invited. It’s when we take a break from the go-go-go and enjoy a meal together in celebration of the tight-knit unit we have become.

Of course, family meals aren’t always the perfect picture of the Rockefeller family.  For those of you with toddlers, I know you have a totally different image in mind.  Noses turned up at what’s set before them, food being catapaulted across the room, their idea and your idea of when dinnertime should be a totally different time, mom or dad up and down during the mealtime to cater to each child’s needs.  Believe it or not, this is when it is vitally important to insist upon family meal time.  Toddlers learn from imitation, and if they are witness to what it looks like to eat a meal together, they have the opportunity to learn how to calm their mealtime antics and eat properly.

And as an added bonus, eating together can help fight obesity.  Think about it, if you’re talking with each other during mealtime, everyone is eating slower.  And your body has more time to process food and let you know when you’re full.  Consider that piece of diet advice free of charge.

If your family has strayed from the tradition of a family meal, let me urge you to pick it back up.  There is something magic about sharing and enjoying food with those you love around you.  Celebrate your family, and gather around the table tonight!