I certainly hope I’m not holding the Fitness Friday Girl image up as an impossible standard to meet.
I realize I’ve portrayed myself as both a Body Builder
and a Super Hero.
Maybe even as Susie Homemaker.
But let me put all your little minds at ease. I do not feed my family perfectly balanced, organically grown, homemade meals every single day, while simultaneously lifting weights. In fact, I often feed my children things that make other adults raise an eyebrow at me. Consider the following:
Cooper Case Study One: Yesterday Elliana had the free cookie from Kroger for breakfast. Yes, Ma’am she did. She also had some orange juice and a Ziploc bag of cheerios with her. But technically, she ate the cookie first; so technically, the cookie was breakfast.
Cooper Case Study Two: Tuesday night I took Rebekah and Elijah to worship practice with me. In an attempt to keep them happy and allow me to rehearse for a full hour and a half, I gave them each an entire row of Peeps (again in a Ziploc)
and then allowed them to play Tackle Tag (i.e., run as fast as you can and tackle your sibling when you catch him or her) in the church sanctuary (Pastor, forgive me) to burn off the sugar rush, until rehearsal was over; at which time I had to literally drag both of them out the door screaming. Screaming, I tell you. Rebekah has rug burn on her hip from the last tackle. No lie. That one ought to win me some sort of parenting award, I reckon.
Cooper Case Study Three: Last Thursday after school, I took all the kids to the fancy Target Cafeteria and, just for the heck of it, fed them ICEE’s, Cheetos and some sort of gummi fruit snack (with nary a fruit ingredient to be found) After they got over the initial shock of Mom allowing not one, not two, but THREE junky things at once, all three children ended up with stomach aches, and, consequently, blamed Mom for allowing them to eat so much junk. I’m not sure, but this one may actually qualify as child abuse.
OK, now that I completely obliterated any credibility I previously held as Fitness Friday Girl, let’s discuss quick, healthy dinners for the entire family.
Eating healthy doesn’t have to break your budget or keep you chained to the kitchen all day. In fact, with a little bit of planning, you will find dinnertime to be virtually stress-free, nutritious AND yummy, even if you only have less than 30 minutes to get dinner on the table.
Here are some general meal planning tips and principles that have helped me make meal times enjoyable, healthy and quick—most of the time. Every once in a while we just have cereal. No shame in that.
1. The 80/20 Principle: I do not make my kids eat perfectly 100% of the time (evidenced by above Cooper Case Studies). But I do make them eat something healthy–usually a fruit or veggie–with every meal and snack (except that one day at Target). If they’ve over-indulged extensively, (say for a holiday, a vacation or a birthday party), I will normally require they eat only healthy food for the next day or two. In the end, it’s all about balance: eat healthy most of the time and you can enjoy a treat once in a while (again, except that one day at Target).
2. The Education Principle: I make it a point to educate my children while I’m feeding them. We read labels, we discuss ingredients, we talk nutrition. All. The. Time. When it comes time to leave the Cooper nest, I want my kids to understand how to put together a healthy meal. I don’t want them to run to the nearest fast food place and finally order all those things Mom wouldn’t let them have as kids. I want to them to understand what hydrogenated oils and sugary, processed snacks will do their bodies. This is why the occasional tummy ache doesn’t bother me so much…I use it as a teachable moment. Yes…a teachable moment! Note to self: Remember to say “teachable moment” at the child abuse hearing.
3. The Repeated Exposure Principle: Did you know it may take 10 to 15 exposures to a new food before a child will like it? My latest case in point: raw cauliflower. I would often have this fresh veggie on hand for Jon and me, but never offered it to my kids. One day, one kid saw it on the veggie tray and asked for it. The kid liked it. A few months later, another kid asked for it, and also liked it. Yesterday, I offered it to the third kid just for kicks, and to my sheer delight, she took it and liked it too. Nothing warms a mama’s heart like finding a new veggie that the entire family will eat.
4. The Variety Principle: For nearly every dinner, I try to offer three different fruit and/or veggie options, and tell the children to pick two. That way, they feel like they have a choice, they are eating what they like, and they are constantly exposed to more options—thus expanding their taste preferences for healthy food.
5. The Crock Pot Principle: I think the Crock Pot can be a busy mom’s best friend. I’ve come to use mine at least once a week and plan to use it more when the weather is cold again. You can dump everything in a crock pot first thing in the morning (meat, veggies and all!) and it’s ready when you walk in the door at dinner time. Plus, it makes your whole house smell all home-maker-ish. For an entire year’s worth of crock pot recipes check out A Year of Crockpotting.
6. The Fresh Fruits and Veggie Principle: I don’t serve fancy vegetable dishes. A big-ole plate of fresh produce is my normal side-dish. I cut everything up ahead of time and have it ready to go in Ziplocs or Tupperware. If you don’t have time to do the cutting, spend the extra money and buy pre-cut. It’s totally worth it. When you run out, it’s time to make a trip to the grocery store. Or it’s time to move to your freezer for Principle Seven…
7. The Frozen Veggie Principle: Five minutes in the microwave and those babies are ready for the table. That’s the amount of time it takes all my kids to wash their hands, fight over who gets to stand on the stool, get a Band Aid for the kid who got pushed off the stool, and sit down at the table ready to eat!
8. The “I’m-no-Short-Order Cook-but-I-will-modify-your-meal” Principle: I will not make a separate meal for each picky eater. However, neither will I force my kids to eat something I know they don’t like. It’s not worth the stress. So I will, on occasion, modify a meal or substitute a dish for the kids if Jon and I want something more suitable to an adult palate. For example, on the night we have grilled fish and asparagus (none of my kids like this), I may make the kids chicken nuggets and cucumbers. No biggie. Someday, I’m hoping the Repeated Exposure Principle will take effect. But until then, I don’t mind modifying on occasion.
9. The Meals for a Month Principle: This is something I just started about three months ago, and it’s totally rocked my world. Not only do I have healthy meals every night, but I have been able to remove my brain from the process entirely, by having my menu posted on the fridge and my grocery list pre-made.
This way I can direct even MORE brain power to discover fun ways to use Ziploc bags.
Here’s how you can build your monthly meal plan:
a. On Sunday night of Week One, make up a menu of meals for the entire week. Include any days you will eat out, order in or have left-overs. On a separate sheet of paper, write out all the ingredients you need to make every meal (even if you have the ingredients on hand, write them all out) and attach this to the meal sheet. File this somewhere in your kitchen. You’ll need it every week.
b. Use the ingredients list to check it against what you have on hand and to make your grocery list for Monday.
c. Write your weekly menu on another piece of paper and post it where you whole family can see. My kids LOVE having the menu posted. Especially when they see one of their favorite meals coming up!
d. Do the same thing each week for four weeks (or more if you want more variety)
e. When you get back to Week One, all you need to do is pull out Week One’s menu and ingredients list and repeat the process. This is where you can zone out and go into auto pilot, because you’ve already done the hard work.
f. To utilize even LESS brain power in creating your meal list, make each night of the week a “theme.” Like Monday-chicken, Tuesday-Mexican, Wednesday-pizza, etc. Kids love theme nights. If you can’t come up with four weeks of new meals, maybe have one night be “try a new dish night.” Until you find enough meals to create the full month.
g. And finally, just when you thought this couldn’t get any easier, you can double some recipes (like casseroles or soups) and freeze for next month! That means every once in a while, you will actually have some frozen meals to thaw.
Now let’s see how all of these principles translate into an actual Cooper weekly menu! Isn’t this so exciting??
Week One—this happens to be one of the weeks I do not have to modify for the kids, but I don’t always eat the meat I serve everyone else.
Monday: Chicken night. Crock Pot whole chicken (just rub with olive oil and your fav herbs and pop it in on low for 8 hours), baked potatoes (in the micro if you’re in a hurry), fresh veggie tray
Tuesday: Homemade chicken noodle soup (using chicken carcass from Monday—I actually make this on Monday night so it’s ready to go and there is no prep time before dinner. I often double this and freeze half), fresh fruit tray
Wednesday: Pizza night . This week we have delivery, but each week I rotate through delivery, homemade, take-and-bake and frozen. I always add a salad (make enough for Wednesday and Thursday)
Thursday: Spaghetti, garlic bread (frozen or bakery), salad
Friday: Breakfast for dinner—whole grain pancakes, eggs, turkey bacon and fresh fruit
Saturday: eat out
See how easy? You don’t have to have a bunch of complicated recipes to eat well-balanced dinners. All you need is a little time and a box of Ziplocs.
And do you want to see how to make this quick, yummy and healthy dinner?
Then go check out my friend Alyce at Pots on the Stove.
Before I sign off today, I just wanted to give a shout out to some faithful readers. First off, hello Donna in Beaumont, Texas!! Yes, YOU. I heard you read my blog but fail to leave comments. Oh, honey…just so you know, I love the comments, so please let me know you stopped by!
And speaking of not leaving comments, hello to my new friend Michelle—I told you I’d call you out!
And last, but not least, props to my military/high school friend John, who along with my niece Jennifer, inspired me to write this post! Even when I’m rich and famous, I’ll think you are awesome.