I'll start with the good stuff. Butter.
There's no deep meaning or catch to this one. It's just that. Use more butter. And it's probably because, just by chance, I've been cooking several recipes that started (and sometimes ended!) with butter. To name a few, Pioneer Woman's spinach artichoke pasta. Please cook this for your family. It does not disappoint. I could dive head first into the cheese sauce and I'd never come up for air. Ever.
And secondly, how about a good recipe for a creamy tomato basil soup? Ok, here ya go. (This recipe is courtesy of my aunt Amanda, and I'll ask her where it's from!)
1 stick of butter. Amen.
3-4 cans tomatoes with basil and oregano (4 if you want it more tomato-ey)
1 red bell pepper (I used about 1/4 jar of roasted red peppers, equally delicious and a tad bit sweeter) , chopped
1 sweet onion, chopped
1 tsp minced garlic
a couple handfuls (or heck, a whole bag) of fresh spinach
1 T. sugar
1.5 cups heavy cream. Amen.
salt and pepper
Saute butter, onion, red pepper and garlic together until onion is translucent. Add tomatoes and spinach and sugar. Cook all this down a bit (10 min or so.) Add salt and pepper and heavy cream. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer, cook as long as you want (the longer the better!) Top with shredded mozzarella.
So basically, if you make these 2 dishes you will realize why I am resolved to use more butter.
And my #4 resolution is to cook more. To cook breakfast, lunch and dinner more. To eat on real dishes and not buy paper plates as much. To refrain from grumbling and complaining when mealtime rolls around and quit acting like it's the most stressful thing in the entire world.
Now, before you think I'm rolling around on the floor pitching a fit when dinner time hits, I'm not.
I do cook a lot. I probably cook 3-4 times a week. This resolution is about more than cooking, though.
It's about my family and the gift we have of all being home and being able to eat together.
I just want to cook and eat and enjoy my family this year.
I want to meal plan better so that I can cook and eat and enjoy my family. I want to utilize our dining room because 90% of the year it sits there with no company. It's pretty to look at, as most dining rooms are, but what am I waiting for? Why do I even have a dining room or dining room table (or nice dishes for that matter) if I'm going to leave them alone to collect dust for the majority of the year? Sure, we use it for parties and entertaining. But I feel like my own family should be my most treasured and honored guests of all. So we're going to use the dining room for dinner as much as we can, and we'll continue our breakfasts and lunches at the kitchen table.
Better meal planning is a huge part of this resolution, and I am open to any and all suggestions on this front. It seems like I'll have spurts when it comes to cooking; one week I will meal plan for the entire week, buy all the groceries, and cook every night. The next week, I either can't think of any new recipes or I'll be tired of cooking. And this is the cycle that never ends. But over the past couple weeks I have tried to put together a list of the things that do help me and that work well for my family. I'm going to write them here in case anyone else is in the same boat as me.
Don't forget to buy for breakfast and lunch. When making a grocery list, don't forget to add items for healthy breakfasts and lunches. So many times I forget to include meal planning for these 2 meals and I'll end up grabbing a box of granola bars or frozen waffles and NOTHING for lunch. I do this all the time. And then I'm starving at lunch time and I'm like, "Well crap, we got nothing, come on kids! Chick Fil A! Woo hoooo!" And secretly I might be a little excited, but once it takes me 30 minutes to load the kids in the van I'm wishing I'd planned ahead and just bought some decent lunch food. So usually on my good weeks, I'll plan for breakfasts and lunches too. Even if it's a loaf of good bread and some decent sandwich meat and cheese, at least you've got something!
Breakfast. I have to have some sort of protein at breakfast or I get really shaky, so I usually eat a scrambled egg and cheese sandwich with hot sauce. I eat it on a toasted sandwich round. (cook the egg in the microwave - takes 1 minutes and if you use a small bowl, it comes out in the perfect shape for the bread!) My kids love any kind of waffle, pancake, toast or muffin. Usually I try to give them some sort of protein too; they like scrambled eggs with cheese; sometimes it's a cheddar cheese stick if we're out of eggs; sometimes even yogurt. I'm trying to mix it up now and give them a little of each. They drink the Dannon yogurt smoothies like they're going out of style and they are so easy! Just pop in a straw and you're good to go! They don't even have to have a drink. I'm also a fan of the canned biscuit, cinnamon roll and the blueberry muffin mix. Oatmeal and cereal are also good. Endless choices for breakfast. (Another thing I love to do is make a breakfast casserole or a quiche at the beginning of the week. Usually one recipe will make 2 casseroles for our family and I can freeze one and break it out mid week after the first one has been gobbled up. This makes breakfast options easy; just heat up your casserole and serve with some toast/a muffin and some fruit!)
LUNCH. For lunches, it's usually easiest for me to eat leftovers from the night before's dinner. The main reason is because if we don't eat them at lunch, they'll likely get thrown out. We don't usually eat leftovers the night after (unless it's soup.) If there are no leftovers, I like simple stuff: frozen ravioli; ham wrapped around a cheese stick and rolled up; peanut butter and banana sandwiches. I try to give them broccoli with lunch. I almost always buy a couple jars of spaghetti sauce at the grocery and have some sort of pasta on hand for 'poor man's spaghetti.' (I can add broccoli to it and some parmesan and the kids eat it up.)
Another idea I've used lately is to brown some ground beef or ground turkey at the beginning of the week and use it for tacos for a couple days. Roll it in a tortilla with some shredded cheese and microwave for a few seconds. You can also use the ground beef in some elbow macaroni noodles and add a jar of tomato sauce for instant meat-sauce spaghetti. Or add it to regular mac n cheese. Main goals here are to get them their protein and veggies. Use any tricks you can. As for my lunch, here are my favorites:
a) I love a good sandwich; can't go wrong with a good ham and cheese or a BLT.
b) Lean Cuisine/Smart Ones. (Usually I can't find any of these that suit my taste, but these two are good ones.) One of my favorites is the Lean Cuisine mushroom tortelloni with sundried tomatoes and peas (comes in the steamer bag.) I also love the Smart Ones Santa Fe rice and beans; it is even yummy rolled into a tortilla for a lunch burrito.
c) One of my favorites is a sweet potato, baked and filled with black beans, guacamole and a little cheddar cheese and salsa. This sounds weird but sweet potatoes are YUMMY with mexican ingredients!
Prepping ahead of time. I find this to be one of the biggest factors in whether or not I feel like cooking a meal at night or not. I've found that on the weeks when I go ahead and prep all of my ingredients when I get home, I'm much more likely to not be stressed about cooking a meal. For me, this means, washing and chopping the fruit (strawberries, pineapple) and washing berries and grapes in a vinegar rinse (1 part white vinegar to 10 parts water, rinse and drain). And put them in tupperware containers. I go ahead and rinse and spin all lettuce/salad greens and go ahead and make a huge salad a head of time (greens, cucumbers, bell peppers, sometimes purple onion); it goes in a big bowl in the drawer of the fridge. I also chop ingredients that I'm going to use for my meals, like onions, bell peppers, anything that needs chopping and/or prepping in some way.
And you definitely don't have to do ALL of this right when you get home from the store. Some weeks I use naptime to do it or get up the next morning and do it. Sometimes I do it on a daily basis and just prep the ingredients I need for that night's dinner. I love it when I have an entire list of ingredients measured out and chopped and all I have to do is dump them in the pot one at a time. :)
Eat your veggies! Veggies are important. Did you know that half of every plate you eat should be filled with vegetables? That's a huge challenge for me. It's a huge challenge to make sure the kids get their veggies too. My children will not eat raw veggies (carrots, broccoli, celery) and I didn't either as a child. But they'll eat just about anything cooked. They LOVE steamed broccoli, green beans and Mary Ella loves salad. So I buy a ton of broccoli at the beginning of the week, wash and chop it, and put it in a tall tupperware container in the fridge. For lunch or dinner (or sometimes even a snack), I'll grab a handful, steam it in the microwave, add a little salt or spray butter or cheddar cheese, and they'll gobble it up. If you can find one vegetable that your child is crazy about, let that be their veggie; buy a lot of it and feed it to them every chance you get. Veggies also play a huge roll in our bodies immune systems, and Lord knows during these cold months a little boost in immunity could help us all.
*Spinach and kale smoothies are a super easy way to give your kids their greens without them ever knowing they are eating something healthy. I don't make these every day or even every week, but I probably should. Here is my favorite recipe: 1 banana, 1 handful of spinach or kale (or both!), a handful of frozen mango, half a cup of water and half a cup of any juice; I've used pomegranate juice and OJ and both are good. You can also keep adding juice/water until it is to your desired thickness. I like mine to be pretty thin.
*Another way to get kids their veggies easily is to use the organic baby food pouches. Since my kids won't eat raw veggies, I send the Ella's Kitchen brand baby food pouches in their lunches. She uses combinations like "Spinach, Peas and Apples" or "Pumpkin, Sweet Potatoes, Apples and Blueberries." My kids call them smoothies and its so easy.
*And speaking of kids lunches, another tip I use is to pack the kids' lunches during nap time and stick them in the fridge for the next day. I have too much to do at night (baths, dinner, cleaning kitchen, picking up toys, bedtime routine) to worry about having to get out all the lunch stuff and pack lunches. And let's face it; I do NOT want to do it in the mornings. Mornings are hectic enough! I almost always take care of this during nap time and stick them in the fridge; then in the morning I just grab them and go!
Planning Meals. This is probably the hardest part for me. I don't like doing the same thing over and over every week. I've found that I like to mix it up. Pinterest, my own cookbooks, E-Meals, MyRecipes.com and AllRecipes.com are my go-to meal planning tools. I have tried solely doing E-Meals before and I liked it when they first started, but now it is totally different than when I tried it the first time. I do subscribe though, because it is cheap and they do have good go-to menus. I use the family 'classic meals' plan. But they have several plans you can choose from including paleo and clean-eating plans. And of course I make my favorite recipes a lot, too, which I have a list of on the blog. (You can click the RECIPE label under categories to see some of my favorites.)
Have a Go-To 'Emergency' Meal On Hand All the Time. This is something I've also found to be super helpful. This can be anything you want it to be. For me, it's BBQ chicken. I almost always have frozen chicken breasts in my freezer. Anytime I go to the store, I always buy a bottle of BBQ sauce, a can of baked beans and a Coca-Cola Classic (20oz) to have on hand. Then when I've neglected to go to the store or just don't feel like cooking or something comes up and I realize I need to be out all afternoon, I can throw the frozen chicken, coke and BBQ sauce in the crockpot and have a meal when I get home. We happen to live near a great BBQ joint so I'll pick up some slaw or buns on the way home or have Chad grab them after work. Then when I use the emergency meal, I always make sure those items are back on my list for the next grocery run. This has prevented us from eating fast food several times. :) (And you can throw frozen chicken breasts in with cream of chicken soup, cream of broccoli soup, cream of mushroom, just about any "Cream of ___" soup and serve it with rice or pasta and it'll turn out decent!) For frozen chicken breasts I usually cook for 6+ hours depending on your pot.
ALDI. I may or may not have mentioned my love for Aldi on the blog before, but if you haven't been, it is so worth the trip (even if there isn't one near you!) They offer nearly everything that you could find at most chain grocery stores but they have their own brands. They are not 'off' brands, they are just the Aldi brand. It would be like shopping at Publix and buying the Publix brand of stuff. So most things are equally as tasty and cost WAY less. Way less. I've saved so much money shopping there and have found a few favorite staple items. (The only thing I've found to be a disappointment is the peanut butter; but that could be because I am very much a peanut butter snob and Peter Pan is my boyfriend. Seriously, I can taste the difference between Peter Pan and any brand you throw in front of me.) I do not buy meat there because I get most of my meat at Publix but I have bought the frozen shrimp and it's wonderful. As far as relating to this post, I was going to say I buy whatever I can buy at this store. ESPECIALLY all of our snack items like chips, granola bars, cereal and oatmeal, yogurts, applesauce, cheese sticks, fiber bars, fruit snacks, nuts, raisins, even dark chocolate. Those are the items that can really run up your grocery bill, even if you coupon and shop at Publix (trust me.) I also buy our milk there because it is usually less than $3 a gallon. They have organic milk as well and Almond Milk which is what we drink. Some of my other favorites are the frozen rigatoni that is stuffed with feta, ricotta and spinach and artichokes and also the chicken salad with cranberries and almonds. And the red pepper hummus! I could go on and on. (Know that when you go there, you will have to bag your own groceries and you'll need to bring your own bags unless you want to purchase them there; you can purchase plastic ones for 10 cents each or the big reusable ones for maybe $1. And you 'rent' the buggies there so you put a quarter in, get your buggy, and then get your quarter back when you return the buggy. (And for you readers up north, a buggy is a shopping cart.)
And if you need further inspiration on shopping at Aldi, go and visit my friend Jamie G's blog. She makes a once a month trip to Aldi and gets everything she needs for an entire month of meals! For CHEAP.
That is just about all I can think of right now as far as planning meals go! I would love to hear your ideas too; you can comment here (even if anonymous) or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or if you have any favorite weeknight dinners you'd love to share with me, I'd love to share them on the blog! So please feel free to share any tips and advice!
I'm going to try and post a weekly menu plan and grocery list when I can get around to it. This week will be a little different as Chad will be gone for business so I'll probably have a "eat whatever is in the pantry week" instead of making another grocery run.
Yall have a blessed week!