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