Discussion at the Table…with Kids

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by Laura

Trying to have a conversation at the dinner table is HARD work for two reasons.

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Frosting our cookies after dinner.

1. We are just trying to PUT THE FOOD IN THE MOUTH.

Who cares about talking when there are kids who don’t want to eat, need their food cut, need more milk from the fridge, need a napkin, need us to “Airplane Spoon” their food into their mouths…

We’re tired from the day, and our energy, patience, and good parenting ideas are rapidly coming to a close.  Sometimes my team-mate husband and I are just trying to “get through” with our dignity in tact.

2. We are fighting with modernity.

Today, we text, message, and inbox.  I am guilty of being out of practice with listening, speaking responsively, and making quality conversation especially with our family.

Hard to talk to Grandpa when your baby wants kisses!!!

Hard to talk to Grandpa when your baby wants kisses!!!

I have definitely experienced the draw toward friendships that center around black and white words.  Texting is easier, I can communicate when I have time, when I feel like it, and in short blurts.

But to engage, to invite, to put the phone down, to walk away from Facebook Messenger; it is there that I can see three-dimensional smiles on my kids faces when we laugh together. I am available for a welcome home hug to my husband.

So, what are some things we CAN do at the dinner table to encourage conversation.

Start Talking!  About anything, everything!  When Eric and I realized our table conversation was pretty non-existent it took us a while to get good at it again. Our first attempts at conversation were a little rough, but we kept going.

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A wonderful meal in San Diego!

Eric and I start the conversation between him and I.  This makes us feel united, like it’s him and I together. Whatever might be going on food wise doesn’t get to rob us of our relationship.

Eric and I normally start with giving a few quick recaps from the day.  If I just go from beginning to end of my day: that’s a great start.  It might sound silly, but that’s all I could do mentally for a while-recite facts and information.

My brain can now handle a little more, so we sometimes discuss current events, talk about what we’re reading, or talk about plans for our future.  That is more of the fun stuff we talked about when we were dating!

Our kids are expected to be good listeners and not interrupt. While Eric and I are talking, we try to do it in short bursts and give the kids time to interject so we don’t try their patience while they’re listening.

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All my loves.

As for leading the kids to share about their days, it goes better when I comment, not question.  For instance, if I say, “Eva tell Daddy what you made in art at Pre-School”. She will freeze up and not say anything.  But, if I lead with a comment about Eva’s art at preschool and stop talking, she will usually pick up the conversation ball and tell us everything.

It is amazing what a change has taken place at our table.  When Eric and I are less focused on the bites going into the kids mouths and talk about our days, we look down and see our children have been eating well while they are listening to us.  That was an unexpected, but wonderful benefit!

We also didn’t expect that we would be teaching our children about communication and that they would be better communicators through our modeling.  We are also setting up an expectation in their minds of what good speaking and good listening looks like and we HOPE that carries into their dating years.

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Chat Pack!

For school-aged children all the way up to high school we think lead off questions are a wonderful idea.  Angela used these Chat Pack for Kids and loved them.  Our family also likes the un-game,  there are many different versions to choose from.

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The ungame was a staple growing up and my family uses it now.

I think the main thing is to try. Try to have a conversation, even when you are interrupted 50 times, even when you haven’t had a proper conversation with your husband in a few years, even when someone at your table looks down at phone alerts and moves their thumbs instead of their tongue at your table.

Try to win back the art of a good conversation.  IF you make your table a place where your children feel listened to and loved they will bring their friends home to YOUR table instead of going somewhere else to eat.  IF you make your table a place where you can dream of a new deck and a kitchen renovation you will feel excited even if they are never built.  IF you make your table a place where your husband sees your face light up when he tells you he did well at a work project, he will love and cherish that dinner table.

May your food be delicious, but my friend, may your conversation be SO DELIGHTFUL.

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Meal Prep Challenges/ Questions

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by Angela and Laura

During March Meal Makeover on the blog, I, (Angela) was doing a live Meal Planning/ Cooking Class with 8 women from my church. We had so much fun prepping and eating meals together. We shared meal plans and recipes and just enjoyed talking all things food. One of the most interesting part for me was hearing the challenges that many face with meal planning.  We have also heard from many of the It’s So Delightful readers. I couldn’t list them all here, but we wanted to tackle a few to see if they would be a help to you too!

Cultivate Ladies

Challenge 1:  Kids Activities during dinner prep/ dinner time

Plan a picnic style meal, (not just a quick pb&j) into your weekly Meal Plan. Buy some sliced deli sandwich meat and tasty rolls. Slice your tomatoes and pack up your pickle into a separate container so that your bread doesn’t get soggy! Buy your families favorite chips. Place some ranch dressing into little containers to go with some carrots and celery. Make some chocolate chip cookies. Use paper plates instead of just eating out of the Ziploc bags and ice chest. This will be a meal to look forward to when you are on the go.

Use your oven pre-set option. Most ovens have one.  When my son was in Kindergarten we drove over an hour to take him to Speech Therapy every Monday afternoon. I began to plan in Baked Potato Night. I got the potatoes ready and into the oven before I left. I would ready the “fixings” to go on top and always included a chili to give the meal more substance. I set the oven to come on while we were gone so that the potatoes would be just about ready by the time we were due to be home.

Butternut soup

This is the first step to making my Butternut Soup. This recipe is one that I double every time I make, it is so good.

Double your recipe the night before to insure leftovers.  Begin to make a note in your Recipe Capsule what are good leftover meals. Not all meals are so great. You know the ones I mean. Soups are wonderful leftovers and sometimes taste even better the next day as all the spices and flavors mix together. We also like to double our taco meat and then the next night we make up fresh tortillas and rice/ beans or make nachos using the meat which heats up great!

If your family schedule allows- eat a bigger meal at lunch time. I had a friend whose hubby worked evenings and they had their dinner meal at noon most every day so they could eat together as a family. Then the Mom and kiddos would have a lighter snack style meal in the evening. They didn’t miss Dad so much this way. This will work well if you have preschoolers, during summer time or if you home school.

Another idea is to vary your dinner time each night so that you still eat as a family as much as possible.  I know a family that has SO many sports, show choir, youth group things, but they have a window where they are all home, so they work hard to eat together during that small window.

Challenge 2: Navigating through Organic and Fresh Food Options

Our family has personally had to balance organic buying and budget. Finding a balance that works for you and your family of good/ real foods needs to be a family decision. And though it’s easy to compare yourself to other families and feel discouraged that you are not doing enough, I encourage you to do some research and decide what will work for you!

Find local Co-ops. I know many friends who have joined various co-ops. Some get their fruit/ veggies. There are other co-ops where you can buy eggs, grass fed beef and non pasteurized milk. There are lots of resources online that you can find of the benefits of, or what is worth spending the extra money for the fresh/ or organic options.

Our family has recently invested in chickens. They a time commitment. We read up on how to care for them and what is best to do. We have enjoyed our new experience with them. They are growing fast and we are looking forward to the fresh, free range eggs they will begin to lay for us. Chickens

I am not going to list the reasons to do organic or not do organic. That is for another post and a guest blogger. I want to encourage you to do your research. Find out how much the options and cost are and make an informed decision.

Q: What happens when my kids are hungry at a certain time, but my husband doesn’t arrive home until later?

Laura: Our kids have always been early eaters, early for lunch, early for dinner, so when the kids were ready to eat at 5:00 and Eric didn’t get home until 5:30, I struggled with wanting to eat as a family, but not exasperate the kids.

I started to push their snack back to 3:30 and make it more substantial.  Maybe a piece of bread, hearty vegetable, yogurt, cheese, or some peanut butter with apple slices.

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Eric and I had an understanding that he would call every day at 4:15 and give me his status, and then call again when he left work so I could help the kids wait for daddy. I made sure the table was totally set, dinner was on the table, and Eric came home knowing the kids would need to eat immediately and that we wanted him to come sit right away.

If, Eric had to work later then we did a two-part meal depending on HOW late we needed to push back dinner.  Maybe the kids started with just their vegetable or a yogurt and then got down to play until he got home.  Other times they ate their full meal while I sat at the table with them.  And then once Eric was home, they would come and sit and eat cheerios or something at least for a few minutes together as a family.

Q. What are good freezer meals and how is best to reheat to serve?

Many things can be put into the freezer for a later day or another meal. Casseroles, shredded chicken, black beans, pancakes and ham bone are a few current things in my freezer! When you do freeze something- be sure to make note of it on your meal planner so that you can use it up in the next few weeks. Using it quickly within the month will eliminate freezer burn. Be sure to freeze in a good sealing container or wrapped tightly in foil and mark and label it so you remember just what it is.

Here is a Pioneer Women Creamy Spaghetti Casserole Recipe that one of the girls in my class said was the best for making up and freezing. Assemble as normal and then freeze before you bake. You can thaw or add a little extra cooking time and take right out of the freezer to put in the oven.

The best way to thaw something that is frozen is in the fridge or counter. Watch to make sure it doesn’t get too warm on a counter top. Once a your item is thawed- bake to the normal directions.

Laura here! One of my favorite things to freeze are breakfast items.  I normally double a recipe for pancakes, french toast, muffins, scones.  Make all of them, and then I freeze half the output in small quantities.  Label and date your ziplock bags.

When it comes to a busy week where there’s a lot of rushed mornings or I’m not feeling well it is SO nice to feed my kids something warm and special and it takes less time than a bowl of cereal!

Frozen pancakes and french toast get heated up in a simple toaster push.  Muffins and scones can be microwaved for a short time, (start with 30 seconds), or set out on the counter the night before.

Q: Are their other items I should be freezing?

Yes!  I have learned to freeze more and it saves me SO much in waste.  I would meal plan, but then our schedule would need to adjust and meals would get bumped so many times that the chicken intended for Friday would get pulled out Monday and be BAD.  I HATED throwing it away.  SO, I started looking into what could be frozen.

So now, As soon as I get home from the grocery store, the following items go into the freezer.  Cheese, butter, bread, (buns too), and any meat (excluding lunch meat, and the meat for that evening’s dinner).

Freezer Compartments

Cheese, and bread thaws in just hours on the counter.  Or bread can even be microwaved. We used to buy a package of hamburger buns for 1 meal, put it in the pantry and they would get yuck.  Now, we use the buns for that planned meal and the rest go into the freezer for the next time we use them.  Same with sliced bread too.  They thaw perfectly.

For the meat, this is where having a meal plan comes in handy.  I can look down the line and thaw as I need to.  I put the meat that will be served the following night into the fridge, about 24 hours before.  If you wake up and notice it hasn’t made much un-freezing progress, you could put it on the counter for a while, (with a dish under it so it doesn’t leak on the counter).  YUCK!

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I reference my meal plan often! Be sure to post yours somewhere you can reference it daily!

Q . Any tips in dealing with Raw Meat?

Raw meat, especially to a pregnant woman can be horrible.  Here’s a few tips.  The fresher the meat, the better it is to work with. (See the question above).  Use very sharp-I like Victornox, knives, (sharpen before every use) or kitchen shears to trim fat.  I use large wooden cutting boards with a built in rim to catch juices.  You can put your cutting board in a rimmed cookie sheet if you want too.

When I handle ground beef/turkey I LOVE putting it in the Kitchen Aid/mixer.  Making meatballs, meatloaf, hamburgers etc. is much less hand-freezing, pink-under-fingernails, yucky mess.

As for cleaning up the counter.  I once again use Norwex for this!!! Norwex products use only water, (no bleach or chemicals getting into your body), and they sanitize the surface you are working on. S.A.N.I.T.I.Z.E. They have been such a wonderful find for us, both in the home, and their personal products.

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Have other questions or challenges? Leave a comment and we will do our best to answer them!!

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Simple Easter Egg Dye Recipe

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by Angela

Need a quick, simple Easter Dye Recipe? From ingredients you most likely already have in your kitchen? Now that is what I am talking about!!!  This is a tried and true recipe that my parents made for my sister and I to dye our eggs 40 “yikes” years ago! And I made it for my kids too!

Hard boil your eggs!! Ever almost forget that step before you were ready to dye your eggs? Here are great directions to follow.  I thought I knew how to boil an egg- how easy can it be, until I looked it up on Pinterest and found that I was overcooking them.

Egg Dye Recipe
1 Tablespoon Vinegar
1 cup boiling water
Food Coloring (So many more colors now to choose from then the old 4 primary colors!)
Mix vinegar and water in mugs/cups. Put a few drops of different color food coloring into each mug. Place a spoon in each mug.

A Few Extra Helpful Tips:
  1. Use a white crayon to color on the egg before you dye them. The dye doesn’t adhere to the crayon wax.

DSC_00492. For little hands place the egg into a whisk for dipping.

DSC_00053. Have an Egg Coloring Party on the Saturday Morning before Easter with some yummy brunch foods. Keep it simple.

DSC_00414. What are you going to do the next week with all those hard boiled eggs your kids have colored? Check out these two recipes from the Pioneer Women.

Egg Salad Sandwich (include your leftover ham- genius right!)

or for a lighter variety

Egg Salad with Avocado (Add an avocado on your grocery list…you will won’t regret it!)

Laura and I wish you a Easter that is “So Delightful”!!

 

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Little Kids at the Table

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by Laura

As Eric and I transitioned from married without kids, to married with kids, we never imagined the way a simple dinner could change. We went from where two people sat, conversed, ate, and rose, into a CIRCUS and a feat to overcome every single meal.

Today we’ll talk about the varying stages of young children and their relationship to meal time.  There’s a LOT to say on this topic.

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Sweet Malachi loved to eat.

Babies (4mo.-1 year)

When our kids were tiny babies, if they were awake, we would put the bouncer/bumbo/highchair at the table so they could watch and observe what we did at dinner time.

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Ridiculous spreadsheet I made to track Eva’s solid food introduction.

When it was time for the kids to begin solid food I found SO many different ways to go about this.  Some start with rice cereal and introduce different foods one at a time, some make/buy pureed baby food, and others give the baby whatever food they are eating from the table-as long as it is not a choking hazard.

We’ve done a little of everything.  With Eva, around 6 months, I observed she wasn’t sleeping as well through the night so that was my cue to start solids.  I started with rice cereal, started mixing in banana, then I made my own baby food, using that <— book as a guide.

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Eva enjoying a spaghetti dinner.

By one year, we didn’t prepare a separate meal for her, she was able to eat what we had for dinner.  This was the beginning of our desire to have One meal for One Family.

Then, with Malachi, I started with the rice cereal, made a little baby food, but started offering him what we were eating much sooner.  My sister, skipped the cereal and baby food part and put food from their adult meal on Addy’s tray. Otherwise known as baby led weaning. Today pediatricians are recommending you introduce as many foods as you can starting at 6 months, (except honey).  With all these book recommendations check your library first.  So helpful and you can read several books on the topic to get well versed before you decide.

If I were to do it all over again, I would probably skip pureed baby food 🙂  Now, some people don’t get to choose, and their babies have reflux, allergies, eating disorders, or texture problems.  A doctor, specialist or therapist would help guide those decisions.

Communicating with your baby right from the start is going to be SO helpful.  We learned the signs for “more”, “all done”, “milk”, and “please”.  You can find these easily with a quick google search.

As for issues with babies, here are a few we’ve run into.

1.  Baby is not hungry, refusing all food.  Your baby might not be hungry.  If they are nursing, bottle fed…eating is a bonus at this point.  Don’t worry if they don’t eat.  My kids would eat in a three day rotation.  They would eat ALL THE FOOD on day one and then day 2 and 3 they would barely eat anything.  They might be teething and food hurts their gums.  When this was the case I went back to rice/oatmeal cereal with mashed banana.  Another reason could be because they are ill.  My kids wouldn’t eat and then BAM the next day they would be at the Dr. for ear infection.

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She looks very innocent.

2.  Baby throws cup/spoon/plate on the floor.  Oh boy. 1 week after Eric left for deployment my 9 month old Eva took her cup, looked at me, smiled, and threw it forcefully on the floor.  The first time this happens, TAKE CARE OF IT.  I’m not even going to give suggestions because I don’t want comments about being to soft or too harsh.  You are smart-make a plan for that.

Some equipment I would recommend for 0-6 mo.

Baby Spoons.  Try to get thin spoons, but deep enough to hold food!

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Plates/Bowls.  When you buy plates and bowls make sure they fit on whatever eating surface you have, (high chair tray)!  Seems like a no-brainer but we have two plates that don’t fit on the tray!  Sectioned plates with a high lip help the kids push the food against the edge, or scoop against with a spoon.  Rectangle plates roll less in the dishwasher and are easier for kids to eat from.  I’d buy all the same kind of plates, so they stack in your cupboard.  Bowls-I like the flattest bottom possible for less likelihood to tip over.

Cups.  Oh man.  When we introduced water to the kids or whole milk in a cup we went through SO many.  They leaked, the milk didn’t come out fast enough, there were too many parts to clean…The Nuk cup with handles turned out to be our best starter.  I wanted them to have to tip the cup to get the liquid.  Then as they got older we moved to the Camelback for water.

High Chairs and Boosters.  When you look for a high chair, I think it’s nice if you can find the following:  High enough where you can see that baby over the dinner table. High enough that if you stand to feed them you won’t break your back.  Not much recline.  A strap that actually holds your little 6 month old baby in place.  A tray that detaches and has a high lip to keep the plate IN PLACE, and not pushed over the edge.  Least amount of cleaning surface as possible.  It will get SUPER messy, so the less to clean, the happier the mama.

We loved the bumbo with tray for 3 months and then we moved on to the highchair.  The stability it offered was worth it to us for that short time. Borrow/craig’s list them. They have a new bumbo that includes tray, has harness, seat straps, and grows with the kids (take out the green part).  Wonderful idea!71SkxnxCzBL._SX425_

For Malachi he still uses a booster that he’s had since he was 1.5.  We like this because we can take it with us to Grandma’s/others houses and he’ll have a place to sit.  The tray is adjustable to his size and it has great straps.

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Face wiping cloths.  You will have to wipe their face, and hands down after every meal.  These Norwex cloths are SO wonderful because they rinse well, I can use them for days, DAYS people, and they have a good grip to remove food! They are also great with eczema. ANYWHO, we hang our face cloth on the oven handle with a shower ring, so it doesn’t get mixed up with the dishwashing rag.

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GOOD Yogurt.

Bibs.  I think cloth bibs are adorable and good for rice cereal/baby food days, but I do not like how often I had to wash them.  The silicone bibs I don’t like because they often got in the way of the tray and the baby’s line of sight to the food.  I DO like plastic bibs that I can rinse and hang on the oven handle to dry and can use a few days before throwing in the wash.  The IKEA ones are AWESOME for super messy meals.  Or feeding kids who are already dressed for church.  We use them to paint in now.

Toddlers (1-3 years)

Teaching toddlers how to feed themselves is one of your tasks during this stage.  They are most likely proficient at picking up bites of food and putting it in their mouths, but what about utensils?

You go about teaching this skill as you do any another.  Slow, with praise, and knowing when to quit for the day.  You could start by showing them how you do it and have them mimic.  Put food on their spoon/fork and have them put it in their mouth.  And when they get tired of the practice, and when they make a big mess; No scolding, just smiles and let’s try again tomorrow!

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Cutting up our whole wheat pizza for lunch today. Can’t do without shears.

Some food at this age is better eaten when you make it bite sized.  We use kitchen shears to cut spaghetti, pizza, etc. for the kids.

Sometimes they get tired of taking their own bites.  It takes a lot of concentration and hand eye coordination to feed themselves.  So they might still be hungry, but are just too tired to do it themselves.  I think it’s ok at this point to encourage them by helping them to get bites on their food, or making a fun game out of taking bites.

When they aren’t hungry or refuse food.  Don’t panic.  Think through all the reasons.  Are they teething, getting ill, tired, full from a snack?  Is the texture of the food on their fingers or in their mouths bothersome?  You can always try again in 30 minutes.  If they like clean hands, maybe they need to start having a napkin or a damp cloth they can wipe on as they eat.

Here's Malachi's plate. Not very much food, but he had seconds on everything.

Here’s Malachi’s plate. Not very much food, but he had seconds on everything.

The amount of food you give them could be daunting.  We like to start with putting 75% of what we think they should eat on their plates, and maybe no fruit until the end. Our children will eat all the fruit and lose appetite for the important stuff.  Milk too-our kids can and have sat down to dinner, drank their entire cup of milk, and then lose appetite.  There can always be seconds for hungry eaters, but this will help you relax when they finish their plate, instead of getting tense about a full plate of food that expected too much of their appetites.

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I’ve found there is usually a sweet spot for meal times especially with toddlers.  If you have them eat too early or too late, you may have fussy fussy children.  We eat within the first 30 minutes of waking up (6:30ish) .  Lunch is the same every day (11:30), so that dinner can be the same each day (5:00).  This helps keep their hunger cycles balanced so you have hungry children when it’s time to eat.

If you prepare snack, make sure your morning or afternoon snack doesn’t steal from meal time food.  If they didn’t finish their breakfast-their morning snack can be the remains, same with lunch!  Helps cut down waste, and teaches they can’t wait for a snack.

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As you can see, sitting at the IKEA table is a HOOT.

When they sit for meals, make a place they can reach food easily, a booster seat without the tray pulled up to the table is our system right now.  But, for breakfast and lunch our kids sit at their kid table in the kitchen.  They love it! This is so great for when we have company and not enough boosters or places at the big table.

When they are finished with their meals.  They can ask to be excused, clean up their area, even pick up 10 pieces of food off the floor, and get a CLEAN kiss from mom after their face is wiped!


Soon, we will talk other kid topics like: foods/snacks I serve throughout the day, difficult eaters, and kid manners.

What tips do you guys have for little kid eaters?

Happy Eating!

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Meal Prep and Food Hacks

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by Angela and Laura

Laura and I are chicken Salad friends. Whenever we are together we eat it. Whenever we eat it apart we txt each other when we are eating it. Chicken Salad FriendsWe eat it at special friends baby showers, on the Mississippi River, (yes I spelled it out loud when I typed it) and we have even eaten it in Wickenburg, AZ on a sidewalk picnic in front of Mc Donalds in about 110 degree weather. We heart it! 🙂 We have found some helpful hacks to make it!

We like grapes in our chicken salad. It gives it the most refreshing taste.  Cutting grapes in half is slow. We saw this Kitchen Hack and it works! Do it every time you have to cut grapes in half! Here is a video of me doing it live.

Laura taught me to shred my chicken in my Kitchen Aid Mixer! SOOOO fast. I use this to shred my chicken for chicken salad. This chicken shredding trick can translate to your pulled chicken sandwiches, and when you need shredded chicken for enchiladas. You get the idea. Don’t shred for too long unless you want smaller pieces.

Now, we have some tips if you aren’t eating Chicken Salad too!

1.  Strawberry Slices

Perfectly even cut strawberries: Use an egg slicerStrawberry Hack

2. Cut a Mango

Watch How to Cut a Mango Video– it works too. I was always afraid of Mangos until I watched this.

Great tips Angela!  I have a few too!

3.  Straining Ground Meat

When it comes time to strain your ground beef or pork, it can take a lot of work.  You have to find the strainer, get it into a container so the grease doesn’t mess up your pipes, and then you have to not burn yourself while you do it!  I watched my sister use a turkey baster to get the grease out, and put it RIGHT where it was supposed to go as I smacked my head and said, “how do I not know how to do this”!  Now, turkey basters get a bad wrap and I’ve been through my share of leaky, irritating ones so get a good one!

4.  Butternut Squash

My husband loves butternut squash, but for years I was intimidated by it.  Where is it in the grocery store?  How do you cut through such a hard shell?  What in the world would I do with it now that I cut it up!  Well, I watched a you-tube video that made cutting it a cinch and now it is one of the easiest most delicious things for me to toss in EVOO, salt and pepper, and roast up the diced pieces for 20-25 minutes.

5.  Yeast

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BBQ chicken pizza used leftover chicken from another meal that I shredded in the Kitchen Aid.

Now, if you ever want to delve into the world of yeast rising breads, rolls etc. give yourself a trial recipe.  These Pioneer Woman cinnamon rolls or this pizza crust are pretty much no fail.  But, remember the following things.  Yeast needs a warm place to rise.  Put your oven on warm, close the windows that blow cool breezes in, if you keep your house cold, maybe think about turning up the furnace while you let your goods rise.  Most recipes can be frozen or refrigerated so the time it takes to mix and rise on day one, can be held off for use at a later date so the project is not so time sensitive.

6. Fresh Water Fish

My favorite way to bake fresh water fish is in a rimmed cookie sheet, on parchment paper.  This makes clean up almost non-existent, because scraping burnt on fish off a cookie sheet is a HOOT, said no one ever. If you have never cooked with fish, start with tilapia. Give yourself permission to try a few simple recipes.

My go to Tilapia Recipe is:

1 pound tilapia fillets • 2 T coconut oil

Spice Mix • 3 T Paprika • 1 t salt • 1 T onion powder • 1/2 t black pepper • 1/8 t cayenne pepper • 1 t thyme • 1 t oregano • ½ t garlic powder

INSTRUCTIONS 1 Preheat oven to package directions 2. Mix rub and put in ziplock bag 3. Line cookie sheet with parchment and put down evoo, or coconut oil 4. Put each filet on the parchment and sprinkle each with between 1/2- 1 t of spices 5. Bake as directed on packaging, flipping once halfway through if desired.

There are some hacks that go beyond specific foods and help us as we prepare for whole meals!  

 1. Prepare as early in the day as you can

After the breakfast dishes are in the dishwasher, the morning routine is done and the middle of the day is about to begin, go play with your kids.  Yes, really!  Let me delicately explain one trickle down benefit from spending time playing, coloring, or reading to your children for 15-30 minutes.

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Eva and I reading a Carl book one Sunday after church.

As you spend time you show love and value to them, and you make them feel safe, secure and… here’s the trickle down: it provides you time later to work independently of them because you have invested in that play time.  Now, I would never say, parents play to get independent time.  We play because we love.  But, I do believe my children are able to allow me 15-30 minutes of work because of the time I spend with them.

Back to this tip.

The earlier in the day, the more energy you have.  So I tend to do some dinner prep in the morning or during a kid’s afternoon nap.  If there are veggies to chop, potatoes to boil, chicken to trim, I get it done.  I might tell the kids, “Mom is doing her kitchen chores, I’ll set the timer for 30 minutes and then I’ll be done!”  Then I go go go as fast as I can and get as much done as I can.

When it comes time to put the meal together in the evening, there are less dishes, less work, less mental strain, and dinner can be at the table in a more timely manner.  We are also less likely to eat out since I’m halfway invested!

Now, if you don’t know what you are going to eat for dinner this will be a little difficult.  Go peek at our Weekly Meal Plan and gain some inspiration for a week of think free meal planning!

If you work outside the home, you might need to decide to get up 30 minutes earlier, or do your prep at night to relieve the post work rush to put food on the table.

2.  Prepare WITH your children

Your kids can participate with you of course.  Fussy babies go in the wrap, toddlers eat Cheerios in the high chair next to you and older children…well because you start in the morning and aren’t in a rush to get dinner on the table, you can take your time helping them dump ingredients in, holding on to the knife while you chop, etc.  What a sweet memory maker.  And, soon your children will be able to work along side you-they tearing lettuce for salad, and you sautéing salmon.

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Princess Malachi unloads the dishwasher. Every thing except the knives. He’s 2.5 years old.

Or maybe they work next to you.  Emptying the dishwasher while you prep, or give them a dry mop to sweep the kitchen while you do it together.

3.  Control your Meal Prep time

If your family evening is usually consistent, try to determine a dinner time.  I know most families are going this way and that, so you can make your dinner time variant every day.  But, this dinner time tells you when to start making your meal.  For me, I try to spend between 45 min.-1 hour making a meal.  So we aim to eat at 5:00 and I know that I need to start my prep at 4:00, (if I didn’t do any that morning eh?).  Or, if there is a long baking time, I can easily count backwards and maintain my prep time constraints but just bump it back earlier.

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I mixed up the meatballs that morning, boiled the potatoes that morning. So all I had left to do before dinner was cook the meatballs, warm the potatoes, and slice the avocado.

I choose meals that stay to this time frame. I have a few more complicated meals, so maybe once a week I’ll do a special meal that takes longer.

4.  Keep it Simple

As a mom with small children I have gone from our life before kids; preparing a wonderful protein, grain, vegetable and chopped fruit, to a new evolution.  Today we do many frozen or steamed vegetables, shorter versions of the yummy proteins I used to make, and easy to prepare fruits and applesauce.

Love lasagna?  Great! My favorite lasagna takes a béchamel sauce, and forever to prepare.  So I save that for 1-2 times a year and make a simpler lasagna when I am craving it.

This has greatly reduced my time investment, and we still eat well, delicious food, healthy food.  I make about one meal per week that takes more time, and tastes more gourmet.  So, allow yourself some grace in your self-expectations for dinner.

We hope these hacks lighten your load!

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