Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What we eat for dinner...

I have a simple plan when it comes to dinners for my family. Less ingredients has seemed to equal healthier meals and less expensive grocery bills. Now and I can menu plan and make my weekly shopping list in about five minutes each week. We have made the switch to almost exclusively whole grains  (brown rice, whole wheat or corn tortillas and whole wheat pasta).  Our menu is pretty repetitive which is what makes it realistic for me to actually get dinner on the table- I don't have to think about it too hard! The kids honestly don't seem to mind.

Monday: Spaghetti or Pasta (Once a month I make a huge batch of sauce with ground turkey. I throw in extra veggies such as shredded carrots or zucchini and freeze it in one quart containers).  I serve with a big salad and we usually skip the garlic bread.  If I serve pasta (like whole wheat rotini, I add roasted veggies and bake with a little mozzarella on top). This can get boring for Eric and I, so I try to make a yummy side such as green beans with caramelized onions and cherry tomatoes if I have the time.
Taco Tuesday (Once a month I make a large batch of seasoned ground turkey or chicken with onions and peppers and freeze it in one quart freezer bags). Sometimes instead of tacos I turn it into taco salad or add tomatoes and beans to make chili in the crock pot.  I've finally mastered pinto beans in the crock-pot so that is a really inexpensive side. To mix it up I buy Baked Tostitos and make (or buy) a yummy salsa.

Wednesday: Soup or Salad My family loves chicken noodle soup (This is the one recipe where I haven't made the switch to whole wheat pasta.)  We also like minestrone. In the winter I try out different soups but those two are our favorites. During warmer months we love BBQ Chicken Salad and Chinese Chicken Salad. Sometimes the kids eat these salads "deconstructed". So maybe some bbq chicken, corn, cucumber slices and black beans. But two of the four kids will eat salad. I usually serve the whole grain loaf from the bakery at Costco. Sometimes we make sandwiches and have a picnic at the park.

Thursday: New Recipe This is when I try out something new. This is also the night we typically BBQ. We like grilled fish, skirt steak and also grilled chicken with tzatziki sauce and whole wheat pita bread.  I try to serve whatever produce is in season (like artichokes or butternut squash).  I like to have a nice family meal on Thursdays. Sometimes we will use cloth napkins and light a few tea lights. It feels like it kicks off the weekend early.

Friday: Pizza At least once a month we make homemade pizza with whole wheat dough. Sometimes we get a "you bake" (I really like Papa Murphey's delite pizzas) or we go out as a family. I typically top our pizzas with things like chicken, veggies, Italian turkey sausage or pineapple. Sometimes we do English muffin pizzas. If we eat at home I always serve a vegetable tray with homemade yogurt ranch or a big salad. I am not hard core- I do let Ben get pepperoni sometimes- because he loves it.

Saturday: Date Night I struggle with what to serve the kids on this night. I have found defrosting some of my homemade sauce and cooking pasta is just as easy as a box of marconi and cheese (and healthier). The kids never get sick of this and it is easy for our babysitter. They usually have popcorn for dessert.

Sunday: Family Dinner or Small Group We eat with our small group or we often have family dinners. If we are home, Eric usually cooks or bbqs. Typically something like turkey burgers with sweet potato fries or bbq chicken with brown rice pilaf).

My tips for menu planning and getting dinner on the table:

1. Post your menu somewhere where everyone can see it. Your family will hold you accountable!

2. Keep it really simple and don't be afraid of short cuts. Buy that rotisserie chicken or frozen pizza. There is nothing wrong with pre-washed salads and veggies that are prepped and ready. Plan on crazy nights when you don't have time to cook and keep something in the freezer for those days. Don't beat yourself up if everything isn't 100% from scratch! Paying a little extra for healthy "convenience" foods is still less expensive than eating out.

3. Make the table a positive place. We don't argue about what our kids eat. We do have them try one bite. They are not allowed to criticize what is served or be rude. I don't cook special meals to accommodate their preferences. Usually there is fruit or bread or something they will like. My theory is that if healthy, delicious food is consistently served, they will learn to love it. I'm seeing this happen  with my pickiest eater (finally!).

4. Start dinner after breakfast. I usually take out the meat to defrost. I might make up the salad or vegetable tray. I will try to make the ranch dip or salad dressing early too. Sometimes I set the table during naps or prep the taco toppings. Anything I can do with a few minutes here or there will help make that last hour of the afternoon run smoother.

Dinner time is my favorite time of the day. We shut off the television and focus on each other. Everyone shares their "highs and lows". I love connecting with everyone and enjoying that time together. It really is worth the work, time and effort to make it happen.