One of the biggest struggles of running a household with a baby and toddler is meals. In this season of “survival mode”, many things can be put off. The bathroom doesn’t have to be cleaned today, the garage can stay messy for another couple of months, and those projects I have pinned to various boards on Pintrest can wait a couple of years. But we have to eat today. To be precise, we have to eat several times today and these people are going to be hungry again tomorrow! It would also be preferable if most of these foods are healthy.
Our family is still small enough that every meal doesn’t need to be planned out. Breakfast is usually cereal, bagels, or oatmeal. Lunch is either leftovers or sandwiches. Snacks are fruit, cheese, and graham crackers. So that leaves supper, that tricky time of day when Sweet Pea is less likely to nap and Babykins is having her pre-bedtime crazies. Fancy dinners that require constant attention and precise timing just can’t happen right now. Consequently, I’ve been relying heavily on two kitchen appliances these past few months: my slow cooker and my rice cooker.
Many people are familiar with slow cookers–throw in your ingredients in the morning and have a meal by dinnertime. My requirements for slow cooker meals is that it doesn’t take a lot of precooking. The point of using the Crock Pot is so that I don’t have to cook! About the only thing I’ll consider precooking is browning ground beef. Anything else means the recipe is a no-go.
It used to be that I wanted recipes that contained the entire meal so I wouldn’t have to worry about making a side dish during the afternoon. This made finding simple and yummy meals extremely difficult. Then I got a rice cooker for Christmas and it has been a game changer! Since I can program my rice cooker to finish the rice at a certain time (and it also has a “Keep Warm” setting), I can prep the rice during quiet time. Easy peasy!
Here are some of my tried and true favorite recipes that helps keep dinner on our table:
Broccoli Cheese Soup: This recipe takes a little more hands on work at the end but my husband enjoys this soup.
BBQ Pork Tenderloin: I put carrots and potatoes in with the meat to make a full meal.
Potato Soup: An extremely simple recipe!
Whole Chicken: The leftover chicken is perfect for things like quesadillas or fried rice.
Make with Rice
Honey Ginger Chicken: Typically I make this in my 3 qt. Crock Pot and cook it on high for 2.5-3 hours.
What are your favorite slow cooker meals?
We’re going to our friends’ house for dinner tomorrow night under the guise of a “Corn Festival” (they weren’t able to go back to their hometown’s Corn Festival this year, so I think this is something for their kids to look forward to). Consequently, I had the bright idea to make popcorn balls this morning.
The thing about making popcorn balls from scratch is that you essentially have to make caramel from scratch. That takes time. And since making caramel pretty much involves a million pounds of sugar and heat, Babykins couldn’t “help” me much.
The good news: I made the popcorn balls this morning and they are edible (although some of them have started to come apart since I took the picture).
The reality check: I pretty much gave Babykins anything to distract her while I was stirring the caramel and she was still tearing around the kitchen, yelling with boredom, by the time I was done.
The cat also enjoyed finishing a bowl of oatmeal and milk that Babykins had started eating.
In our world of Pinterest and DIY blogs, it’s good to remember that this whole scenario is most mothers’ reality.
During the school year, Wednesdays are my husband’s long work day. Confirmation every week and most weeks there is a 7 p.m. meeting. During Advent and Lent, he’ll often have confirmation class, followed by evening service, followed by a meeting. Yes, Wednesdays are long days.
By the middle of Lent this year, I was feeling the drain of the extra work and long Wednesdays. There needed to be a bit of excitement in the evening. So I declared Wednesday night to be Popcorn Night for Babykins and me.
Now, after dinner is cleaned up and Babykins has finished her bath, I pull down my trusty Whirley-Pop and pop up some popcorn. Babykins gets a small bowl for a treat and I have a large bowl set aside to eat later as a reward for getting through bedtime by myself. Bam! A little excitement for those long Wednesday nights.
Babykins likes to eat Cheerios. Specifically, she likes a small bowl of Cheerios on the floor. Then she can dump out the bowl and eat them off the floor. We call them Floor-i-Os.
I bought Babykins a fancy snack container that allows a child to grab food from the container while leaving the lid on. I actually bought the container for an upcoming road trip, but I thought it might help with the Floor-i-O issue. Consequently, this afternoon I put some Cheerios into Babykins’s fancy new snack container. This was the end result:
We still wound up with Floor-i-Os.
It is an unwritten law of babyhood that food is always best when found on the floor.
My husband told me the other day that I’m into competitive parenting. What he meant is that I’m determined to find the best way to mother Babykins, as well as become intensely focused on finding the perfect solution for any problem she displays.
While the desire to do what is best for my child certainly isn’t bad, the obsessive tendencies I display in this quest can quickly consume me. That doesn’t help either Babykins or me.
Unfortunately, people like me have all too easy access to information to fuel this parenting obsession. Browse a bookshop and you’ll find shelves devoted to keeping your child happy and healthy. Likewise, Google anything child related and you’ll easily have a hundred websites and blogs to peruse. Most of these books and websites have conflicting information, making the search for the perfect parenting plan even more maddening. But it’s also an addiction that I can’t seem to quit.
I’m finally starting to realize that obsessively researching all things baby doesn’t give me any perfect answers. Rather, it just slowly drives me insane (yes, Mom, I know you told me this months ago). So to help me take a proverbial chill pill, I’ve started to take up this mantra:
What is “WWMIS?” It stands for “What Would Ma Ingalls Say?” Because nothing can help you take a parenting chill pill more than thinking about a pioneer mother.*
For example, sleep is often an issue that tortures parents of infants and toddlers. Do you let them cry-it-out or do you cuddle them throughout the night? Is it okay to feed your 3-month-old during the night? What about your 9-month-old? What if your baby isn’t sleeping through the night by 6 months, have you failed at parenthood? What if your baby only naps on you? Will you emotionally scar your baby if you sleep train? Will you kill your baby if you co-sleep? WHAT IS THE RIGHT ANSWER?!
And then I imagine Ma Ingalls would say:
Food is another issue that causes great divides among parents. Is exclusively breastfeeding far superior to any other form of feeding? Is a little bit of formula okay? When should you offer a bottle? When should you start solids? Should you start with rice cereal? Purees? Finger foods? If you don’t give your baby organic produce and grass-fed meat, will they sprout a tail? WHAT IS THE RIGHT ANSWER?!
And then I imagine Ma Ingalls would say**:
Play is another hot topic issue among parents. How much time do you spend focusing solely on your infant? Are you hindering their budding genius if you skip over Kindermusik and don’t bother with the “Mommy and Me” classes? How much “free play” do you schedule into your day? If you let your baby watch a Baby Einstein DVD, will their brains ooze out their ears? WHAT IS THE RIGHT ANSWER?!
And then I imagine Ma Ingalls would say:
There are many more examples of things that parents get worked up about today that didn’t matter one whit on the frontier. Education decisions? You hoped there was a one-room school house within a couple of miles. How many children a your family should have? Well, contraceptive options were limited and you usually assumed a few of your children would die before adulthood. Parenting style? You went about your business during the day and hoped your children stayed close enough that they wouldn’t get eaten by a bear or a wolf.
So, if you’re a competitive parent like me and you find yourself becoming consumed by your quest to find the perfect solution for every problem, just ask yourself:
*Note: I realize pioneer life wasn’t perfect and that infant mortality was high. Likewise, I also realize that many pioneer families went back East because it was a hard life. I’m not saying I would do everything that pioneer family would do, I’m just trying to give myself some perspective on parenting options. Remember, I’m trying not to go insane here! 😉
**Another Note: I also realize that breastfeeding didn’t work 100% of the time even before the introduction of commercialized formula (even what is “natural” isn’t perfect because of a sinful world, blah, blah, blah) and sometimes babies were given something other than mother’s milk. Again, I’m not saying we should do everything a pioneer family would do, I’m just trying to give myself some perspective!
When I was growing up, my mother made sure we had some sort of home cooked meal nearly every night. She was very diligent about this. Consequently, she would take the time every week to plan the dinner menu on a little slip of paper while making the grocery list. I didn’t think much about it then, but now I realize how impressive her commitment to meal planning was because every magazine and every organizational blog recommends doing this as a way to get organized and save money.
Now that I’m back to manning the home front, that means I’m in charge of dinner most nights (admittedly, pregnancy is starting to catch up to me, so “making dinner” sometimes means giving a sad look at my husband when he comes home from work and asking him if he can make the planned dinner). Since I’ve started to understand the value of meal planning, I try to write the dinner menu on our dry erase board before my weekly shopping trip.
For the most part this method has worked well (I used it on vicarage), but I realized that I was having problems remembering dishes I could make. My mom saved her menu slips for reference and as a nanny, I wrote down the meal plan in my nanny planner. But with the dry erase board system, I had no way to reference what recipes I had used in the past.
After spending way too long thinking of a meal plan the other day, I finally had an idea. First, I cut up index cards into thirds and punched a hole for a ring. On the front card, I color coded the meal categories I use.
After that, I brainstormed all the meals I knew my husband and I liked and wrote one meal, color coded, on each card.
If I didn’t have the recipe memorized, I made sure to note where to find the recipe.
I then hooked it onto the refrigerator for easy access. Ta-da!
The idea behind the little booklet is that I have easy access to the meals I can make for dinner. When I’m preparing the weekly meal plan, I can say to myself, “We’re not doing anything with chicken yet this week. What can I make?” and then flip to the section with chicken meals. Also, because of using a ring, I can easily add new meals to the booklet. I’m pretty excited to use it!
How do you meal plan?
It’s no secret that moving is expensive. Renting a truck (or hiring movers), paying for gas, and setting up services at a new place are just a few of the costs that quickly add up. This is our 5th move in 5 summers, so I like to think I have some idea beforehand about how much we’ll spend on a move (Thankfully, our last two moves and this current move is paid for by a congregation. That means we don’t have to worry about paying for a truck and we get help with the gas money).
Despite my experience with both in-town and out-of-state moves, there are always costs that take me by surprise. Sometimes they take me by surprise every year.
1. Packing material
We’ve managed to save quite a bit of money over the last few moves because we hoard all of our boxes and any newspapers that we receive. We still run out of certain materials–typically in the packing tape and bubble wrap departments. Some things just need to be bubble wrapped and you don’t want to buy cheap packing tape only to have it not keep your boxes closed. Packing tape costs even more if you aren’t able to keep your boxes intact between moves.
I know that it costs money to eat on the road–that isn’t what I’m referring to. In the last few weeks before a move, we start working on eating the things stored in the pantry and fridge. The closer to moving day we get, the weirder food combinations we start having. Finally, we just reach a breaking point.
Admittedly, the cats are a new factor this year, but they are already proving to be an additional expense. When we adopted our kittens, they were 1 pound balls of fuzz. We bought a small carrier and they both fit inside it without any problem. Then they grew, but we happened upon another small carrier at the Co-op. They each fit in their individual carriers comfortably. Then they grew. Their small carriers are okay for a trip to the vet, but probably not so great for an 8+ hour car ride. Consequently, we need a bigger carrier or cage for them and those things aren’t cheap.
These are the things that are already proving to be sneaky moving expenses for this move. What sneaky moving expenses have you had?
As I grow older, I realize that my reaction to tastes change. Things that used to be unpalatable are now tolerable:
Other foods that used to seem delicious just aren’t as tasty as they used to be:
However, I think I will always have the same reaction to cough syrup: