That Time I Stopped Buying Cold Cereal

Breakfast

This spring I took a huge risk.

I wanted my family to eat differently for breakfast–healthier, and more filling breakfasts (the teens were averaging $10 a day on school lunch items). But I was sabotaging myself.

I was asking the kids to eat differently–on their own, while I continued to buy the very thing that was keeping them from eating a healthy breakfast–cold cereal.

Now, It is not like I was buying them Sooper Frostie Goofy Puffs or anything. I was purchasing decent, often organic, whole grain cold cereals.

The problem is, a grain, even topped with some nice whole milk, does not a complete breakfast make.

I was offering eggs, and fruit, and even bacon–but the kids kept going back to the cereal. It was safe, it was quick, and, in the case of the little girls, half of it sat in the bottom of their bowls untouched.

So I waited until our cereal stash was used up. In a family of 8, that does NOT take long! Then, the very next Sunday, I bypassed the cereal aisle. I stocked up on eggs, and whole grain bread and sausage and bacon and bright, juicy, strawberries. I bought quarts of Greek Yogurt, and I baked up a batch of granola to top it. I baked some of the kids’ favorite whole grain and flax seed muffins.

Then, I woke up early on Monday morning, brewed my coffee and I sat in the kitchen and waited. One by one, my groggy kids shuffled into the kitchen and opened the pantry door. They dug around, muttered under their breath and dug some more. Then, one by one, they poked back out of the pantry and complained about the lack of cereal.

At this point I offered them a litany of breakfast options. None of them looked convinced, but grudgingly agreed to at least one or two items. By the end of the week I was happily frying up eggs, or making smoothies (making sure there was a good balance of fruit AND protein).

The kids (and my husband and I) were eating better. But this was not the biggest benefit I noticed.

What happened when I ditched the cereal was that breakfast time became an actual family meal time–much like our family dinners always have been. We were sitting around the table, slowing down a bit, actually TALKING to each other.

I know that this time in our kids’ lives are all too fleeting. I know that eventually our household of eight will whittle down to a blessedly quiet household of two.

I knew that I wanted to impress on my family the importance of a good, healthy breakfast (if it is the most important meal of the day, why do we outsource it so much?). What I did not anticipate was how much focusing on breakfast would improve our family life!

So, we still buy cereal sometimes. But now it is a “treat”, and not the norm. And improving breakfast added to my busy workload. What shocked me, though, is that it did not increase our grocery costs. As a matter of fact, the more I focus on real food, food that has been minimally processed, or, as my kids call it–shopping the outside of the store, our food costs have actually gone down.

I found that I actually eat breakfast if we eat as a family. I’ve never been much of a breakfast person (unless coffee counts!) But when I sit and eat with my family, I have far fewer cravings through the day. A good breakfast can carry me through lunch–and our kids’ lunch accounts have demonstrated the same.

Want to ditch the cereal and feed your family better breakfasts? Here is what worked for us:

  • Cold Turkey For the first month or so, I had to just make sure the cereal was gone. If the kids found a box, that was what they wanted to have.
  • Be Present If you are going to cut out cereal, you need to make sure you are actually in the kitchen to offer alternatives.
  • Prepare Options Know going in what your family likes to eat and make sure that you have those choices available. My family enjoys all kinds of eggs, so that was easy. Brainstorm breakfast ideas together.
  • Prep Ahead On Sundays I prep much of our dinner food for the week. I also like to try to take time to bake a batch of muffins or banana bread, or even make up freezer bags full of smoothie ingredients (then you can just dump and go!)
  • Make it Fun! Play some fun music, set out pretty plates, do whatever it takes to make breakfast time a pleasant experience.

I’d love to hear how you make breakfast the best meal of the day. Leave a comment here or pop over to the Facebook page!

28 Easy Lunches For Busy Working Moms!

I admit, I am addicted to the convenience of fast food. BUT, I know better, so I work on doing better! Here are 28 great ideas for easy lunches for the busy, working mom!

This meal plan from Litehouse includes a shopping list and directions to prepare 7 healthy lunches in one day. I already do a ton of meal prepping on the weekend, thanks to PrepDish, so prepping these lunches will not add much more work than I am used to. And, my goodness, prepping ahead saves me so much time and money!

I always have a container of my Super Tuna Salad on hand! It is great on sandwiches and on its own. Plus, it makes my husband smile!

These 12 High Protein lunch ideas  keep me full, focused, and keep my hands out of the candy jar at work!

Try these Greek Chicken Lunch Bowls From Super Healthy Kids.

I am obsessed with these lunchbox ideas from Bless This Mess. 

You can get a lot more inspiration from my Pinterest lunch board!

 

Go Ahead and Eat Those Weeds

So, it is girl week in our house. That means a few things. It means that pajama time starts at approximately 5:15. Our Netflix queue has a decidedly juvenile female vibe, and I’m  crocheting like mad on this NDSU themed afghan for an upcoming charity event. 

afghan
cables, my new crochet trick!

AND, most importantly, the menu at our house has taken a rather (ahem), low-key turn. And sometimes it takes a low-key AND experimental turn. 

I’m going to preface this by admitting that I am NOT a gardener. At all. I dream of one day waking up to someone standing at my door offering to take over the yard–for free. I’m kind of an accidental gardener, in that I *think* I have a stalk of corn growing in my front garden patch. I did not plant it. One year we had accidental pumpkins. I ALWAYS have accidental purslane. Recently I learned that purslane is a trendy, healthy, vegetable. 

So, I decided to harvest some of my garden treasure. 


After washing and trimming it, I took my other treasure out of the fridge–my bacon fat jar! 


A little swish in my cast-iron fry pan. . .

In goes the purslane!

A few minutes later and dinner is served!


The verdict? The purslane has a nice, fresh flavor. The downside is that the very same property that makes purslane a great additive to soups and stews for its thickening properties also gives it a slightly slimy mouth-feel, similar to that of okra. For me, that is a game changer. (It could be that nothing can compete with a perfectly cooked steak). I think I may add some to my Italian Wedding Soup, or just serve the leaves in my next salad. I can’t beat the Omega 3s or the price!

Chime in! Have you harvested any surprises from your garden lately? Share in the comments! 

February Working Mom Meal Plan

 

working mom meal plans

I have not been so excited about a blog project in a long time. I get to share my love of meal planning (along with some of the detective work that goes along with it) and my love of teaching my friends how to eat better for less money, and my love of cooking for my family!

My goals for these plans are simple. Real food, short prep time (or advance prep time) and large family and kid friendly.

I have a “rule” for my kid friendly meals. Out of my six kids, any meal cannot have more than two “yucks”. I have to allow for at least two, because one of my (unnamed) kids is quite contrary, and each of the others have at least one thing they just don’t like. And that, my friends, is why God invented peanut butter. If at least four of my kids like a meal, I’m still pleasing six family members, so that is a pretty good deal.

I try to minimize box mixes and “doctoring up” things like boxed mac and cheese, but you will see convenience food on occasion. My goal is to stretch you and your cooking skills.

Most meals are 30-minute meals, crock pot meals or freezer meals, but the weekends have some more complex meals slated. It is important for your families to enjoy “slow food” on a regular basis. This is a gift that you give to them, and it can be some valuable family time spent together prepping the meals. I suggest that you set the table in a “fancy” way for these meals. Use your real plates, and if you have China set aside for a special occasion, consider Sunday Supper a special occasion.

Saturdays will be the most kid-friendly of all the meals. They also are the meals that are perfect for teaching a budding cook knife skills. For example, the Jambalaya scheduled for February 6, is what I use when I teach the cooking merit badge  to eager young Boy Scouts. Kids who help prepare food are more likely to try new foods.

Feel free to re-arrange according to your schedule. Note that. I did schedule either fish suppers or meatless meals on Fridays for those who abstain during Lent.

You may notice that the menu skews heavily toward chicken. I like that chicken is an affordable protein, and it is extremely versatile. Feel free to swap out proteins as you see fit.

At least three of these meals adapt well to be cooked ahead and frozen, or double the recipe and make two, freezing the second, or bringing to a family in need. They will be marked with a * on the list.

I do not always indicate side dishes. Our family really enjoys rice and we serve several varieties as side dishes. Invest in a nice rice steamer and the side cooks itself! I try to serve brown rice instead of white at least once a week. It takes about an hour in the rice steamer, so plan ahead! I usually set it up in the morning and call home around 4 and have a teen press start in the afternoon. Minute Rice also has a great, quick, mixed grain, rice pilaf available. It is in a white and green box near the instant rice in the grocery store. It is under $3 a box, takes 10 minutes to cook, and is a hit with our entire crew (even the contrary one).

I also ALWAYS have fresh broccoli and green beans to steam. In a month or so I will add fresh asparagus. Fresh veggies steam up quickly and the bright colors appeal to young eaters. I also keep frozen corn and frozen peas on hand. My family will not eat Brussels sprouts (I love them), though they will eat all kinds of cabbage. They are just not very consistent.

If you subscribe to my newsletter, a printable, downloadable, calendar and a link to the Pinterest board will hit your inbox around noon today. If you have yet to subscribe, you will get the printable and link in a welcome email when you do subscribe.

I can’t wait to cook along with you and hear what you and your families think!

The Meals:

Feb. 1: Chick-Ful-A Chicken Nuggets, Sweet potato fries (If your kids will eat them, mine won’t), steamed vegetables

Feb. 2: Taco Stuffed Zucchini Boats, rice, corn

Feb. 3: Lentil Alphabet Soup, crusty bread

Feb. 4: Slow Cooker French Dip Sandwiches, Cole slaw, chips (if you feel like being the “cool Mom”

Feb. 5: Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells*, tossed salad

Feb. 6: Jambalaya

Feb. 7: Roast Turkey Breast with Gravy, mashed potatoes, steamed veg.

Feb. 8: Taco Casserole (make one, freeze one)*

Feb. 9: Slow Cooker Ranch Chicken Tacos, rice

Feb. 10: First Snow Chili, corn bread

Feb. 11: Salisbury Steak Casserole, peas

Feb. 12: Baked Penne*, tossed salad

Feb. 13: Hot Dog Bar (personally, I cannot STAND hot dogs, but this meal makes my family so happy. I eat salad.)

Feb. 14: Marinated Steak, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, heart shaped breadsticks <3

Feb. 15: One Pan Ranch Pork Chops, potatoes and green beans

Feb. 16: Cream Cheese Chicken Taquitos, Rice, steamed veg

Feb. 17: Easy Tuscan Bean Soup, crusty bread

Feb. 18: Hot Ham and Swiss Croissants, fruit salad

Feb. 19: Parmesan Garlic Crumbed Fish, fries, corn

Feb 20: Chicken Mozzerella Pasta Pasta, fruit salad

Feb 21: Stuffed Pork Chops, mashed potatoes, steamed veg.

Feb. 22:  Chicken Lazone, pasta, tossed salad

Feb. 23: (my birthday, so I will be out for Chinese food!) Creamy Chicken Enchiladas, rice

Feb. 24: Loaded Potato Soup

Feb. 25: Chicken Tetrazini

Feb. 26: Tuna Patties on a bun, peas (my kids used to call these “choo choo” patties!)

Feb. 27: Chicken and broccoli shells and cheese

Feb. 28: Classic Pot Roast

Feb. 29: Pull the other Taco Casserole out of the freezer!

Desserts:

Glazed Cinnamon Apples

Black Forest Cake

Snacks:

Winter Fruit Salad

Granola Cookies

Breakfasts:

Slow Cooker Cranberry Apricot Oatmeal

Cinnamon Sugar French Toast Sticks

Breakfast Casserole Muffins

New Working Mom Meal Plan Debuts this Week!

Working Mom Meal Plans

 

I’m a planner. Sometimes the planning is more fun  than the doing for me. I really enjoy cooking and I love getting tasty, healthy, affordable meals on the table for my husband and six kids.

But I know that the planning part does not come easily for everyone. And I know that meal planning can be a challenge.

I’ve used several “ready-made” meal plans over the years, and I mostly liked them, but they did not always take into account my need for quick meals (but not necessarily boxed meals either). Some meal planning advice leans heavily on repeating the same 7 or 8 meals over and over again. And that may work for some people, but my family has gotten used to variety. Heck, I need the variety to stay interested in the actual cooking.

I know that when I meal plan a few things happen:

  1. We save money.  Going to the store with a plan in hand ends up costing less over the long run–even if it seems to cost more during that one trip to the grocery store.
  2. We eat better. Even the best quality take-out has a lower nutritional value than a home cooked meal.
  3. Dinner time becomes special. When I take the time to prepare a well-planned meal, my family notices and it changes the tone of our dinner table.

So, this is what I want for you too! I am working on releasing a monthly calendar of dinner plans. The weekday plans can mostly be prepared in 30 minutes or less OR can be prepared and frozen ahead of time, or can cook (all day) in the slow cooker (I do NOT have time for 3-hour slow cooker meals!). I have some longer, more involved meals slated for Sundays. Let’s bring back the old-fashioned Sunday Supper! I think it is important for kids to see that food can be prepared quickly and easily, but that there is also value in a long food prep as well.

I will release February’s calendar on Wednesday, in order to give you time to shop. It will have links to all of the recipes. Then, every Monday I will have a post discussing some specific tips for preparation of each week’s meals.

Readers who subscribe to my newsletter (I promise not to spam you!) will have access to a printable PDF of the calendar, as well as access to a Pinterest Board with all of the recipes. We will also have a little competition on the Pinterest board. The three recipes with the most likes at the end of the month will be carried onto the next month’s calendar. At the end of the year, we will see which recipes lasted the longest!

I am super excited about this new project, and I know you are too! Please share it with all of your friends!

And, if you have a recipe that you would like featured, leave a link or a recipe in the comments!