Lately I've been thinking about how difficult it can be to be a working mom. I enjoy working - I really, truly cannot imagine myself as a stay-at-home mom or Maleah a stay-at-home kid. But being a working mom comes with plenty of challenges - the biggest one being TIME. My time is divided between work and home and, being the efficiency-obsessed person that I am, I want to make the most of my time when I am home. I don't want to spend hours upon hours doing chores or cooking meals - I want to spend time with my little girl and my husband. I'm going to start writing more on my blog about what it's like to be a workin' mama in 2014 and how I balance being a full-time employee with being a full-time mom.
Meals are a huge part of our every day life. I am insistent that we eat most of our dinners at home together at the dinner table. Getting wholesome food to the table by 5:45/6pm every day is quite a challenge, but I've learned to make it work! We also make our breakfasts and pack lunches and snacks... so there's a lot of work that goes into eating at our house.
I've learned the meal planning is definitely the way to go for me. Each week, I "shop" our pantry, check the sales ads, and then make a plan. I've had to make more reasonable expectations of myself for weeknight meals (I used to make crispy yogurt chicken and lasagna and fancy meals on the weeknights). I've also learned some short-cuts and tips (meal prepping and freezer meals, to be exact!) that help allow us to have those delicious oven-fresh meals even on a toddler-filled busy weeknight.
Before, I start, here's a few helpful tips to get you started if you aren't already planning meals:
1. I have "themes" for certain nights.
We always have a pasta dish on Mondays, we either eat out or at the church on Wednesdays, we almost always have a "fancy sandwich" or soup with a baked potato on Thursday nights, and we usually have pizza and salads on Friday nights. Lastly, I usually make just one double-portion meal over the weekend so that I usually only have to cook once and reheat 2-3 times. I know this might get boring to some, but it works for us right now. And we usually don't have the same thing two weeks in a row or even sometimes in the same month so, even though it may seem like a boring way to plan, we eat a wide variety of foods that keep our taste buds happy!
2. My cooking style is "semi-homemade" and, yes, we eat processed food.
These recipes are nothing fancy! They are simple... because simple is how it gets done around here. And I'm learning about real/whole foods and how to incorporate more of them into our diet. But I'm doing things one-step-at-a-time rather than making drastic changes overnight. Lately I have been focusing on learning the art of freezing and meal prep so that we can have fresh, healthy foods quickly. Next is making certain staples (i.e. the spaghetti sauce) in large batches to freeze. I'm learning! When it comes to processed food... well... I try to choose as well as I can. While I'm definitely in favor of eating more whole foods, I also realize that I grew up eating Kraft Mac & Cheese and I am perfectly healthy, normal, and smart! We eat a well balanced diet with plenty of very healthy whole foods and we are all extremely healthy, so I think we're doing alright. :)
3. I am learning to freeze foods and how to prep meals in advance.
Did I mention that already? :) While fresh is, of course, always going to taste the best... sometimes I just don't have the time to do it all in one night. We often cook meat ahead of time to freeze, chop vegetables and fruits early in the week, and I make my own pre-packaged frozen smoothie mixes. These little tricks have really helped make our daily routine much, much, much easier!
4. Side dishes do not have to be super fancy.
This summer has taught me that my side dishes should not require recipes. Sometimes steamed or roasted vegetables with a little salt and pepper are totally enough! We also love to eat chilled raw cucumbers or bell pepper slices with meals. And... there's always the salad - my go-to "side dish" for a busy weeknight.
5. The plan is meant to be flexible.
REPEAT: THE PLAN IS MEANT TO BE FLEXIBLE.** I used to plan for every two weeks (and have even planned for an entire month!), but I've learned that's just not feasible right now. I have gone back to planning just one week at a time. This way, if something comes up one night and we don't make a meal, I can just bump that meal to the following week. Not a big deal. It took a long time, but I have learned that meal planning isn't all-or-nothing. And the more I plan, the better I get at making realistic plans. Take, for instance, the whole I-only-cook-once-on-the-weekend thing. I used to plan a meal for Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday. I would usually only end up cooking one or two things. Now I have resolved that Friday night is going to be pizza night at our house for a while. It's easy. Maleah loves it. It technically has all the food groups in it. Right? RIGHT?!? And simply having to reheat a tasty meal on a busy Sunday is definitely the way to go!
6. I try to do my shopping on Saturday morning.
Planning out meals means I can limit trips to the grocery store. I've started going first thing on Saturday morning (with Maleah in tow). I can get everything we need for the upcoming week. We might make another stop during the week if unexpectedly run out of a staple item like milk or bread that we just can't live without until the next Saturday.
7. Lastly, while I don't coupon, I do try to make very economical choices.
At the beginning of the month, I'll make one big trip to SAMs to get some meat, frozen fruits, and other staple items that I just know we will use up in a month's time. Then I might also go to Target to get some other staples - cereals, breads, eggs, sugar, etc. So, at the start of the month, I spend about 1/3 of our month's grocery budget. Then I have a weekly budget for things like produce, specific ingredients, milk, bread, and sandwich stuff - things that just don't need to be purchased in bulk. I try to spend only 80% of my weekly budget on Saturdays so that we have 20% left if we need to pick up something during the week. I shop mostly at Target and Publix. For Target, I use their cartwheel app and we have a Target Red Card so we save a lot of money! I buy all of our produce at Publix and I'll pick up other things if they have a good sale that week.
So, without further blah-blah-blah-ing, here's this week's meal plan! I'm not going to go into great detail about this week's plan since I have already written a novel.
Monday: Italian chicken (pre-cooked and frozen), fettuccine noodles with pesto, garlic bread, salad**
Tuesday: Macaroni & Cheese Casserole, salad, fresh raw veggies (cucumber, carrots, etc.)**
Thursday: Taco Soup (yes, even in the summer!) and baked potatoes
Friday: Pizza at church for church-wide movie night
Saturday/Sunday: Grilled sausage dogs with grilled squash and zucchini and baked sweet potatoes
Breakfasts: Smoothies (I have one every day), oatmeal, boiled egg, cereal
Lunches: Usually we eat leftovers if we have them... but we also keep sandwich fixin's on hand as well as peanut butter, canned soups, and Chef Boyardee. Blake and Maleah eat the Chef Boyardee. I do not! Lunch is something I'm currently working on planning out more, so I'll be doing some experimentin' and get back with you in a few weeks! But, for now, that's the usual go-to plan.
I'll try to have some pictures with next week's edition! I'll also try to add the ingredients and more recipes as well as a recipe or two for breakfast and/or lunch! I hope this is a helpful resource for someone out there!
**I can already tell you that this menu has changed! I originally wrote this blog late last week, but we had extra food from Saturday's cook-a-thon (where I cooked more food at one time than probably ever! We had company, so I had the motivation!) so we switched tonight & tomorrow's menu. Tonight we're having leftover turkey patties, mac & cheese, sweet peas, and salad and tomorrow we'll have the Italian chicken & fettuccine Alfredo. Easy peasy, right!!?