I’m Done Deciding What’s For Dinner

2-24-15.  I wrote that date on the bathroom mirror and the number that showed on the scale.  I could no longer button 95% of my pants comfortably.  Enough feeling sorry for myself and pouting.  It was time to make a change.

Step 1:  Overhaul the weekly menu plan.  Our predictable rotation of pizza, hamburgers, pasta, pancakes, and nuggets just wasn’t cutting it.  The kids were happy with it, and cooking was easy.  But that miserable feeling each morning of trying on four pairs of pants that don’t fit trumps happy and easy.  Ugh.

So like every other week for nearly the past 10 years, I got out the yellow spiral notepad and tried to decide what we would have.  Another ugh.

Enter Why-Didn’t-I-Try-This-Idea-Sooner #167:  A four week menu plan.  Hello!?!

I remember I spent one of our many snow days creating it.  Four weeks seemed long enough that it wouldn’t feel like we were always eating the same thing, but short enough that I could come up with enough different ideas to make it work.  I typed it up in Google Sheets, shared it with Jay, and verified with him that it wasn’t too heavy on the Mexican themed meals.  He agreed.  Woot!

I’ve been done deciding what’s for dinner for a little over two months now…I just see what’s next and plan my grocery list accordingly.  Sure, I still have to figure out which meal goes which night each week, but the hard part’s already done for me.  And because I needed some sort of break from grading SOL review papers this afternoon and I have a few friends who have seemed at least a little interested in the idea, I decided to share it with you.  So…here goes…

Week 1

Grilled Chicken with Fiesta Bean Salad  We have grilled chicken once each week because neither of us get tired of it, and it’s one of the few proteins both kids will eat.  Most weeks we get it from Fresh Market on Tuesdays when it’s on sale for $2.99 a pound.  That husband of mine knows how to cook a pretty perfect piece of chicken.  If you come to eat at our house some night, this is most likely what we’ll feed you.

Santa Fe Turkey Stuffed Peppers  If you follow any of the links, you’ll discover pretty quickly that they all come from Skinnytaste.com.  I found her site several years ago when we were doing Weight Watchers because all of her recipes have points values included.  I can honestly say that we’ve never cooked something from this site that we didn’t like….this one included!

Crock Pot Creamy Tomato Soup & Grilled Cheese  Since I made my meal plan in the winter, I have a soup each week.  This is one I’m ready to swap out already for something more summer-friendly.  I also have a crock pot meal each week, so it would be great to find something that can cook all day to replace it.  Send me your ideas if you have any!

Baked tilapia, quinoa, & steamed broccoli  I know it’s not the healthiest way to eat it, but we get breaded filets from Sam’s.  This is our gotta-have-dinner-ready-quick-night meal, so I try to keep it as simple as possible.  We get these microwaveable bags of rice and quinoa, and I also steam the broccoli in the microwave.  So easy.

Week 2

Grilled chicken with edamame & strawberries I’m going to just go ahead and admit that my kids don’t eat much of these things on my menu.  I know it goes against all good advice when it comes to feeding little people, but I often end up fixing them something different.  I still give them mostly healthy choices (*see my list below), but it’s just not a battle that I’m up for fighting right now.  I keep offering the other stuff and hoping that by the time they get to college, maybe they’ll learn to eat real food like I did!  All that being said, this is a meal they actually love!  We’ve tried these two brands of edamame recently, and both were great from the microwave tossed with a little bit of salt.

Taco salads Nothing fancy here.  We usually do 1 lb. of hamburger, lettuce, a few chips, cheese, diced peppers, and the best salsa ever.  This week we’re having company, and I need to have it ready when I get home.  I learned from my friend Ashley that you can just put chicken breasts in the crock put, dump a jar of salsa over it, and leave it on low all day for perfectly shred-able chicken when you get home.  That’s how we’ll have it this week!

Crock Put Buffalo Chicken Lettuce Wraps  I was mostly joking when I suggested this recipe to Jay.  He agreed to try it, and it has turned out to be one of his favorites.  Who knew?  We’ve been using the living butter lettuce for the wraps with broccoli slaw and blue cheese dressing for the topping.

Kale and Potato Soup with Turkey Sausage This is another one that I was surprised that Jay liked, however it’s time to swap it out for something that doesn’t make you think of a cold, rainy day.  This week we’re going to try this pasta recipe as a possibility.  We’ll see how it goes.

Week 3

Grilled chicken with roasted veggies  I like to cut up peppers, zucchini, squash, red onion, and a few potatoes for my roasted veggies.  Broccoli and mushrooms work well too.  I toss them with olive oil, garlic, thyme, rosemary, salt, and red pepper flakes.  I just make it up as I go along each time, but here’s the basic idea if you need a recipe.

Shepherd’s Pie  This is definitely one the kids won’t touch.  The good part about that, though, is that lunches are done for Jay and me for the next 2 days.  We only plan to cook 3 or 4 meals a week because we can cover the rest of the days with leftovers, the occasional dinner out, or a meal with the in-laws.

Crock Pot Chicken Taco Chili  Jay’s instructions were to go easy on the cumin and chili powder meals, but this is one I just couldn’t pass up.  We have a standing agreement that he’ll eat it for dinner and maybe one day’s worth of leftovers, but I have to take care of all the rest.  Fine by me.  This is a ridiculously easy recipe, and it makes a ton.  Give it a try the next time you have to feed a bunch of hungry people!

Petite Crust-less Quiche, asparagus, quinoa  Last time I made this I used ham instead of the sausage that the recipe calls for.  The kiddos will eat ham on a good day, so they had it on the same night as us.  When I cook the asparagus, I use a little bit of olive oil, garlic salt, and crushed red pepper and put them under the broiler until they are crunchy.  Yum.

Week 4

Salads with grilled chicken  I could eat this several times a week, but Jay…not so much.  Most weeks I end up eating the leftover chicken on a salad a few times as my lunch.  This is our favorite dressing these days.

Pasta  Nothing especially creative here.  The kids like pasta (Bubba with sauce…Chica without), so it’s another meal where I don’t have to think too hard.  We’ve lightened it up by cutting the amount of pasta we’re eating, halving the amount of ground beef, and adding sautéed zucchini, squash, peppers, and onions to make it seem like a bigger meal.

Slow Cooker Pork and Green Chile Stew  This is a really ugly meal, but it’s so yummy and easy!  Don’t skip the avocado if you try it.

Mini Meatloaves, green beans, strawberries  My only meal from a real cookbook!  I did some digging and found the recipe online though.  Here it is.  I like to use ground turkey for this.  I used to serve this with mashed potatoes or rice, but now I try to skip the extra starch.

*What the little people eat…
Main dishes:  English muffins with Laughing Cow cheese or pizza toppings, mac & cheese, cheese toast, ham, chicken nuggets, grilled chicken, pasta
Sides:  yogurt, applesauce, craisins, bananas, apples, edamame, broccoli (under duress), carrots, grapes, cucumbers, pretzels, Cheez-Its, pepperonis, strawberries

 

So…there you have it.  All you never wanted to know about what we eat in our house.  Maybe you do your menu planning every day at 5:30, each weekend, or once every two weeks.  Whenever it happens at your house, maybe you’ve found a new idea or two you can use here!

I’d love for you to leave me a comment with your go-to healthy dinner idea.  Once Jay has finally had enough of the taco chili or salads with chicken, I’ll have a new idea ready to go!

P.S.  I realized I started out by saying that my menu overhaul was step #1 to getting back into those pants I couldn’t wear.  We’ve done lots of other things, but it all really boils down to this:  Eat less.  Move more.  Two months later….my pants fit again.  Woot!

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Recipe for a Perfect Spring Saturday

Ingredients:

3 flat miles of creekside trail
5 tiny seedlings of mixed variety (Roma tomatoes, sweet peppers, basil, etc.)
6 classic children’s books on CD
2 dozen pieces of toddler boy clothing (YardSale brand preferred)
3 free market-fresh tomatoes
1 sweet conversation with a finally pregnant friend
6 cubic feet of potting soil
5 hideous orange buckets
4 bowls of ice cream on the porch
2 new pairs of kiddie shoes
6 clean-out-the-fridge quesadillas
80 photographs with a new camera
4 chapters of a Flat Stanley book
2 100-piece puzzles
600 papers to grade

Directions:

  1. Awake late and run three fast miles with a delightful friend. Talk non-stop about school and summer and everything in-between.
  2. Collect seedlings from Master Gardeners, in-laws, Home Depot, and the market. While these are waiting, peruse the library, childless and slowly.
  3. At the yard sale, gather a mound of 4T and 5T clothes for less than the price of one item at the store.
  4. Spot the pudgy belly of a friend while scoping out the first of summer tomatoes. Throw caution to the wind and ask. Celebrate because the fourth time’s a charm for this blessed mama.
  5. Take the whole family to Home Depot to complete Project Bucket Garden. Move quickly to combat the grumpiness that comes with no lunch and no nap.
  6. Soak in the perfect day while eating chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and willing the tiny seedlings to grow.
  7. Catch another whim and take both kids to get summer shoes. Pray your kid will follow through with soccer camp while buying tiny cleats, shin guards, and socks.
  8. Eat dinner with no yelling. Whatsoever.
  9. Practice with the new camera while the little people fight the tree in the front yard, David & Goliath style.
  10. At bedtime, read a book that both mom and baby girl enjoy. Work a puzzle together to fight the I’m-not-tired complaints.
  11. Leave the papers in the car. Don’t worry about them until tomorrow.
  12. Serve it up with joy. In Joy.  Enjoy.

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Smack-Ya-Mama (And Not Your Four Year Old) Black Beans

The black beans tonight at dinner were smack-ya-mamma good.

Too bad Chica didn’t figure that out until she was almost the one getting the smackin’.

We’re in a bit of a dinner time rut.  We bought ¼ of a cow recently, so every meal includes some kind of beef.  We stopped trying to be creative, and we’re stuck on a predictable cycle of pasta, hamburgers, hamburger steak, and calzones.  Seeing as how Chica doesn’t do beef in any form (by her own choosing), feeding her is quite a challenge these days.

In theory I really like the idea of making both kids’ plates with exactly what we are eating and just saying, “too bad, so sad,” if they don’t find something they like that night.  We’ve tried that, and some nights when I’m feeling particularly strong, we give it another whirl.  But most nights we just feed them what we know they will eat because, well, we’re tired.  And we’d rather enjoy a conversation about our day then endure a battle over the plate.  So it’s macaroni and cheese or pasta or grilled cheese or hotdog….over and over and over again.

Beside the usual sides of carrots and craisins, I usually serve her one more thing from our plate, hoping that one day she’ll magically morph into a kid whose menu includes more than just ten items.  So tonight it was the black beans.  And the rule was one bite.  One lousy spoonful.  Our standards have reached a new low.

What follows is a brief survey of some of the tactics used over the 30 minutes of dinner in efforts to get her to down that one spoonful:

“MMM…..maaaaan, these beans are good.”

“Ohhh, Bubba likes these beans.  They must be good.”

“They taste like bacon and salt….two things you like.”

“I’m going to have ice cream.  Don’t you want some too?”

“You don’t know that you don’t like them because you haven’t tried them.”

“No, you can’t get up until you’ve had that one spoonful.”

“You can have some more pasta when you’ve eaten your beans.”

Meanwhile, the offer-it-and-maybe-they’ll-like-it strategy has worked for Bubba.  He’s downing them like they’re going out of style.

beans

When he finishes his two servings and helps to finish mine, I finally ask Jay to take out Chica’s one required spoonful and give Bubba the rest of her serving.

So while he’s literally licking the bowl, we’re still fighting her.  Finally we busted out the, “Enough.  Eat them now or we will start yelling and there will be a consequence,” line, and it worked.

“Hey.  They didn’t taste like anything!  They were good.  Can I have some more?”

And so it goes.

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Smack-Ya-Mama (And Not Your Four Year Old) Black Beans

Ingredients:

1 can of Walmart brand black beans (drained but not rinsed)
1 cup of chicken broth
¼ cup bacon bits (the good kind…not the crunchy ones)

Directions:

Combine in a small pot, and cook on medium heat until the rest of your dinner is ready.  Serve hot, but don’t expect anybody to eat them until they’re cold.  They’ll still be good.  Promise.

Make You Fall in Love Pasta Salad

Our family is big on food traditions.  Friday nights mean dinner at the Yellow Sub.  Breakfast at Grandma’s house means chocolate covered donuts.  Christmas morning means oyster stew, and any good picnic most definitely needs pasta salad.

Jay’s birthday is next week, and he chose a family trip to Peaks of Otter picnic area tomorrow to celebrate.  Since a picnic means pasta salad, and it just wouldn’t be right for Jay to do all the work for his birthday lunch, I had to make it.  Tonight as I boiled, chopped, and mixed, I couldn’t help but think about how Jay won me over with this pasta salad 9 years ago.

See, I lived a pretty sheltered food life growing up.  When half of your family members refuse to eat all but one fruit or vegetable (and I’m not even exaggerating, folks), there are a pretty limited number of meals that can be served in your house.  I came to college never having tried pretty normal things like pineapple, spinach, mushrooms, Chinese food, and baked beans.

I started dating Jay the summer before my senior year of college.  He had yet to learn that I had some pretty strange and picky eating habits when he planned and prepared a fancy dinner for me one evening.  I’ll never forget his momentary look of disappointment when I told him I wouldn’t be trying his shrimp cocktail that he had slaved over.  (He wants you to know that he double seared the shrimp, and the cocktail sauce was not from a jar.  He was really trying to impress me!)  I say momentary, because then he realized that meant more for him, and he got over it pretty quickly.

Luckily I didn’t hold the shrimp against him, and I gave him another chance to cook for me.  He planned a picnic for us and again prepared everything himself.  He brought us cracked pepper turkey sandwiches and pasta salad.  I can’t say for sure whether or not I had ever had pasta salad before that, but a turkey sandwich was definitely more my speed.  Let’s just say, I think I ate enough pasta salad that day for at least four people.  It was amazing.

There’s that saying about the key to a guy’s heart is through stomach, but I think this has got to be at least partially true for girls too.  He won me over that day in a big way.  The lunch and then a walk down by the train tracks…it was all perfect.  Sure, there are other things he did that summer that made me know he was a keeper like washing my dishes, taking my car to get it fixed, and playing countless hands of cards.  But the memories of that particular picnic are a little less fuzzy than many of the other memories.  That clarity is definitely thanks to the pasta salad.

So, nine years later he still does the dishes, takes care of my car, and makes a mean pasta salad.  I know the bowl I made for tomorrow is nowhere near as good as that first batch, but it has brought up lots of good memories just the same.  Happy Birthday, Jay.

In case there’s somebody that you are trying to get to fall in love with you, here’s the recipe.  Don’t make it unless you are serious about that person because it really works.  It goes best with turkey sandwiches on a paper plate.

Make You Fall in Love Pasta Salad

1 box of mini shell pasta
5 green onions
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 small cucumber
1 bunch of cilantro, stems removed
grape tomatoes
1 Italian dressing seasoning mix pouch
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
apple cider vinegar
salt
water

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box.  While it cooks, dice up the onions, peppers, and cucumber.  Chop the cilantro.  Mix the Italian dressing by following the directions on the package with one exception:  use half apple cider vinegar and half balsamic vinegar.  When the pasta is done cooking, drain it and cool it off using cold water and/or ice cubes.  When the pasta is cool, add the chopped vegetables, cilantro, and about ¾ of the Italian dressing.  Mix well.  Add salt to taste.  Refrigerate for a few hours.  Right before serving, cut the tomatoes in half and add them to the pasta.