Tag Archives: meals

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!

Busy Day Dinners

recipesBecause school is in, during the next few months there will be plenty of blogs and forum topics by me about the lack of time available. I know I am not alone in this boat, so I have been trying to share as many time-saving tips that I have. And the one area that takes a beating because time is so scarce is dinner time.

It is tempting to skip a nutritious dinner on busy nights in favor of a high-fat quick choice like McDonalds or Taco Bell. Or maybe you have a cabinet or freezer full of processed food like Macaroni & Cheese or TV dinners that you can make in 5 minutes flat. Yes, the kids love it and will eat all of it. Yes, it really is quick to make. Yes, that is your derriere getting larger, your kids getting chunkier and slower, and your wallet getting slimmer. But it really isn’t that hard to get everything done in your schedule AND sit as a family over healthy, home-cooked dinner.

The most important rule when it comes to any meal is making a weekly menu. This heads off the annoying “What’s for Dinner” question. But it also allows you to create a shopping list while you are planning your meals. As I write out my menu, I also write out the ingredients I will need on a separate piece of paper that will become my shopping list. I cannot tell you how important it is to make your weekly menu BEFORE you go shopping, or even how important it is to go with a list. Just those two tips alone will save you lots of calories and money that is wasted on impulse shopping.

Here is an example of a weekly menu, something that my family would most likely have throughout the week. Notice that some days are dedicated to leftovers. It is always a good idea to make more than you need, and to get your family used to eating leftovers. I make sure to have a container of freshly washed, cut up lettuce to make a quick salad to add to most meals. Also, we do most of our more involved meals on the weekends, and save crockpot cooking and easier dinners for the weekdays when we are busier. Finally, we eat a LOT of chicken and a bit of fish. It’s healthier than other meats, and our household enjoys chicken and fish much more than red meat.

Crockpot BBQ Chicken

Chicken Roll-ups (using leftover BBQ Chicken, wrapped in a tortilla)
Zucchini and bell pepper stir-fry (to add to the roll-ups)
Shredded cheese, salsa, and NF yogurt (instead of sour cream)

BLT’s (bacon, tomato, mozzarella, basil, lettuce and mayo on whole wheat bread)*
*I don’t generally eat bread in the evening, so I actually use lettuce leaves and just make wraps out of this. It tastes incredible, and is extremely easy on the stomach

“Wine Country Meal”* (the kids nicknamed this one. It’s when we make a smorgasbord of foods that don’t need cooking, and arrange them in a special way. We will usually drink sparkling apple cider in wine glasses with it, and may even have lit candles to create ambience)
*This meal will be Caprese (leftover mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil with drizzled balsamic), grapes and apples, and crackers with cheese and turkey lunchmeat, or a tuna salad to spread on the crackers.

Rotini Pasta

Crockpot Tortilla Soup
(more on the Crockpot below)

Crockpot Tortilla Soup leftovers
Buttermilk Biscuits

When I make my menu, I try to use a lot of the items I already have in my house so I don’t have to do a huge shopping trip. And I try to buy in bulk those items that I use consistently: tomato sauce, garlic, pasta, etc. We generally go grocery shopping once a week, and our weekly total is $75 – $100. This not only includes dinner items, but also items for all of our lunches and healthy breakfasts, and necessary household items like TP or toothpaste. When you think about how much it costs to eat dinner out, and then multiply that by 7, you can see how tremendous the savings are!

I can’t end this without giving major props to the best invention ever made. Every busy household will agree with me, it’s all about the Crockpot. I love my Crockpot. I still don’t feel like I use it nearly enough. But when I do, I seriously question why I even put it away. It is way too easy to prep your meal in the morning, or even the night before, and come home in the evening to a home that smells wonderful and a home-cooked meal waiting to be served. Honestly, I don’t know how I handled sports and school before the Crockpot. There are so many quick and healthy recipes that can be made in the slow cooker. And with a little bit of extra planning, you can actually be free from cooking meals in the evening and enjoy sitting as a family around the dinner table at a decent hour.

The best website I have come across for slow-cooking is “A Year of Slow Cooking”, by Stephanie O’Dea. She blogged for a whole year, a recipe per day. Her blog is filled with so many great ideas, from Tortilla Soup, to soap, to Christmas ornaments, to BBQ pulled pork. I own several great Crockpot recipe books. But most of my recipes come from her site. She even has a book: Make It Fast, Cook It Slow: The Big Book of Everyday Slow Cooking, coming out next month.

I hope this helped a little bit. Do you have some tips for busy households? How about some great dinner recipes? Leave a comment or mosey on over to the SantaRosaMom forums and leave your two cents!