With a full-time teaching career, a baking business, 2 ADHD kids, 2 dogs, 20 chickens, and an active husband who loves to travel as much as I do, I’ve had to learn ways to cook efficiently and creatively.
I believe that it’s my responsibility to feed my family…and feed them well. I believe that my kids should eat a healthy breakfast every morning that doesn’t come from a drive thru or a box of cereal & toaster pastries. I believe that my family should sit down to dinner at a table TOGETHER every night. I believe that my kids should not have to “fend for themselves.” No, I was raised differently and I will raise my family differently.
My mom cooked us breakfast every morning. It may not have been the traditional bacon & eggs farm style breakfast, but it was a cooked breakfast. As a sickly kid, if I was willing to eat, she would make whatever I wanted, so there were mornings that I ate spaghetti left overs, chicken & stars soup, ham sandwiches, fresh & hot crinkle cut french fries, and even homemade doughnuts. Since my own kids are ADHD and need a filling breakfast before their meds kick in, I plan breakfasts around proteins and complex carbs, instead of quick, usually sugary convenience foods.
My mom also cooked us dinner every night. Granted, there were left-over nights, when we were allowed to eat anything in the refrigerator, but she was NOT cooking something new. My parents also insisted that we eat at the dinner table. Both of these lessons are still practiced in our house.
So how do we do it? How do we manage our lives and manage to cook interesting, creative, healthy meals? Simply put…planning. I am a firm believer in planning. I have excel spreadsheets, lists, and apps to manage the chaos of life on the go.
Menu Planning 101
On Sunday morning, I make a menu for breakfasts and dinners throughout the week. The menu corresponds to the week’s activities. If we have 4-H, then we’ll have a quick meal, like tacos. If I have several bakery orders going out, then we’ll have a crock pot meal. If I have a recipe contest deadline, then we have “test” meals…and a back up plan, just in case my recipe idea bombs!
There are several menu planning templates and apps available on Pinterest. However, for me, I needed one that would allow for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and things to do, so I created my own. (menu planner) It’s nothing fancy, but it serves my need. Feel free to print and use, or assess your needs and create your own…it’s just as simple as an excel spreadsheet.
For most weeks, the lunch boxes are marked out since my kids eat lunch at school, but for those weeks of summer vacation and winter break, I have the boxes when I need them.
Meals in 3s
Since I can’t control what the school cafeterias serve, I try to pack the boys’ breakfasts with complex carbs and proteins. I usually plan in 3s…one protein, one grain, one fruit. Then, with their cups of milk or juice, breakfast will help offset the possible lack of appetite at lunch.
For dinner, I continue the plan in 3s & 4s…one protein, one grain, one fruit/veggie…but then, add in a dessert or sweet as a reward. Then, with a late evening snack, I’ve made up for some of the calories lost at lunch.
Sample Breakfasts…in less than 30 minutes
- bacon/chicken or turkey sausage, cinnamon/cheese toast, and a fruit cup
- peanut butter pancakes, bacon/sausage, and banana half (stirring in melted peanut butter boosts the protein content of the pancake)
- French toast, bacon/sausage, and orange segments
- breakfast eggrolls (eggroll skin stuffed with scrambled eggs, sausage & cheese) and apple sauce
- Chicken taquitos (not a traditional breakfast, but they love it), sour cream, and a fruit cup
- Peanut butter & jelly waffle sandwiches
- Fritata (potatoes, sausage, eggs & cheese), sour cream, and fruit
- Oatmeal bar (no, not a bar cookie…set up the oatmeal stir ins and let them “decorate” the oatmeal any way they choose)
Sample Dinners…a little bit of prep goes a long way
12 oz bag dried small red beans
3 c. water
1lb. smoked or andouille sausage-cut into bite size rounds
1/2 c. chopped onion
1/2 c. chopped green bell pepper
3 cloves garlic minced
3 bay leaves
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
15 oz can tomato sauce
3 TBSP cornstarch
1/2 c. water
The night before place red beans in crock pot and cover with water–approximately 3 cups. Chop onions, peppers, garlic, slice sausage, and store in a ziploc bag. The next morning, add ziploc bag of veggies and sausage and remaining ingredients, except cornstarch and water, to crock pot. Turn crock pot on low and let it cook all day–at least 6 hours; 8 is preferred. When you get home, turn the crock pot to high. Dissolve cornstarch into water. Pour into beans. Cook for an additional 15 minutes, while you make rice.
For the rice, use whatever you prefer. I prefer parboiled rice, but if I’m in a serious hurry, boil-in-bag will work just fine.
Serve with chopped green onion.
**For this meal, I might add fruit and corn muffins, but overall, it gets the job done and with the exception of the boil-in-bag rice, my family just got a homemade meal with very little effort.