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Meal Planning: Reconciling Convenience and Good Eating Habits

So, last Sunday as soon as I hit publish on this post, I pulled that turkey from the freezer, all 13.5 pounds of it. Last night, it was still icy. Not sure what gives! But, this morning, before I’d even had my coffee, I popped that bird in the oven. Several hours later and much goop on my hands, I have 10 cups of chopped turkey meat, 2 sliced turkey breasts for sandwiches, and a full crockpot of homemade stock cooking. Yeah for turkey!

Since I didn’t have the stress of a big Turkey Dinner to serve — we’d already had lunch — I was more patient with the carving and got a lot more meat off it than I might normally have done. I’ll make chili, soups, enchiladas, and maybe a pot pie with the chopped meat. But, for now, it’s chilling in the fridge while I decide.

Turkey is rarely photogenic. Just saying.

Now that that’s off my list, I can move on to our meal plan for the week. Yesterday I mentioned how we’re at a crossroads of convenience, quantity, quality, and cost, as regards to the foods we eat.

  • My family’s appetites are growing and I will need to be more creative in keeping snacks on hand and in serving “enough” food at mealtimes.
  • I don’t want to spend all day in the kitchen, so I’m strategizing my freezer cooking this month so that we have a lot of ready-to-eat choices.
  • While I am leaning more toward unprocessed foods, I just can’t do it all and I don’t want to — or feel that I have to. I’m trying to be wise about the store conveniences I do buy. Hello, Trader Joe’s?

I am in the process of reconciling convenience with good eating habits. As such I need to step up my game a bit when it comes to make ahead meals. That pantry challenge last month made me a little lazy. I see a big freezer cooking day in my future, sales on meat or not.

I also have a kitchen list to work my way through this fine Sunday afternoon:

  1. Clean out the fridge.
  2. Prep veggies for snacking.
  3. Prep cheese sticks and cracker cuts and grated cheddar from a large block.
  4. Bake cookies and zucchini bread and zucchini cake.
  5. Roast poblano chiles.
  6. Make more granola.
  7. Make waffle mix.

As you can see, I have my work cut out for me. But I know that if I do it tonight or tomorrow, I’ll have a smoother week when it comes to feeding the hobbits that call me Mom.

(Edited to add: I didn’t realize I’d actually do this today. But, I’m doing it, so I thought I would chart my progress. I’m thinking this is the way to go for Sunday afternoons/evenings.)

Here’s my meal plan for the week:

Breakfasts

served with fruit

Smoothies
Fried Eggs and Toast
Yogurt and Toppings (like honey, maple syrup, granola, nuts, or fruit)
Rice or Oatmeal with Toppings
Cinnamon Zucchini Waffles
Maple Granola
Pancakes

Lunches

served with fruit and veggies

Sunbutter Sandwiches
Grilled Cheese/Quesadillas
Cheese and Crackers
Sandwich Bar
DIY Pasta Salad
Beans and Rice
Salads for me

Dinners

served with a green salad

Turkey Sandwiches
Turkey Taquitos
Pasta with Red Sauce
Meatloaf and Rice Pilaf
Grilled Fish and Israeli Couscous
Poblano Enchiladas
take-out (let’s be real)

Snacks

Farm-style Oatmeal Cookies (egg-free)
Trader Joe’s Dunkers
Veggies and Trader Joe’s Hummus (yes, I know I could make homemade)
Crackers and Cheese
Sunbutter and Celery
Zuccchini Bread
Chocolate Zucchini Cake

How do YOU reconcile a busy life and good eating habits?

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Comments

  1. I thought I’d share a quick, high protein snack that my aunt used to fix us in preschool. It might help fill those boy tummies…

    1 c. rolled oats
    3/4 c. dry milk
    1/2 c. honey
    1/2 c. peanut butter
    a handful or two of raisins or chopped nuts

    Take out a 1. c. measure. Use it to measure the oats and dry milk. Then spray with cooking spray and eyeball the honey and the peanut butter. Add nuts or raisins. Roll the mixture into balls and refridgerate. That’s it! I serve this with already cut up fruit as a quick lunch sometimes….

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll have to see if it works with sunbutter as we have a peanut allergy in the house. Sounds like they would like it, though.

    • Thanks for sharing that recipe. I am going to try it today!

  2. My boy is going through a growth spurt too – he is eating every two hours and has put a serious hurtin’ on my snack stash! I feel your pain!

  3. For us it’s all about keeping healthy snacks in the house. Because of schedules it may be 6pm or later before I get dinner on the table. Having healthy snacks available for the kids is necessary. My son is better at reaching for healthy snacks than my daughter, the rule is she can have a couple of Oreas after school if she has a healthy snack to go with it. Here are the kinds of snacks I keep available for the kids.

    String Cheese
    Mandarin oranges
    Apples
    Bananas
    Yogurt
    Craisins
    Mushrooms (my daughter loves these raw)
    Raspberries, blueberries or strawberries if in season or I can find a good deal

  4. For me the answer is to plan, plan, plan! We are so busy that if I didn’t have a plan in place we would always order out or eat heavily processed foods. But if you have a plan, the healthy foods are there for the snacks and for the meals. And with you doing the freezer cooking like you do (and I need to do) that should really be a big help cost wise. Once the turkey goes on sale right before Thanksgiving I need to bake one like you did for all the different meals. Keep up the good work, you are an encouragement to me.

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      Thanks for your kind words. You are half right about the plan. The other half is that you have to follow it! ;) I am notorious for these great plans that never grow feet. I guess that’s where we can all encourage one another.

      Now go get freezer cooking.

      • Amen to that! It does no good to plan if you don’t follow through! And yes I do need to do some freezer cooking. We just purchased a deep freeze! Yay! Now I have room to stockpile and do some freezer cooking. I just put 27 bags of fresh sweet corn in there yesterday!

  5. I am right with you mama! I try my hardest to minimize processed foods but sometimes it is hard especially when THEY WANT SOMETHING TO EAT NOW! I have learned to do what I can every week to plan and prep and not to be hard on myself if everything does not go as planned. I think you do amazing. Seriously! You are such as inspiration. All us moms do our best and that is all we can do.

  6. My oldest, who is also 14, calls himself a hobbit and frequently has second breakfasts!

  7. I am anxious to see how you handle the bigger appetites. My 15 year old is a huge eater, and my 7 year old is following in big brother’s footsteps. I need help!

  8. This is sort of a random question, but does your child with a peanut allergy have allergies to any tree nuts too? If you are unsure, do you keep him/her away from tree nuts just to be safe? I have a 6 year old with a peanut allergy and we were advised to keep him away from all treenuts as well, and our allergist won’t test him for any tree nuts, so it’s mainly a precaution. The rest of us love almonds and I would love to work almonds into our menu on a regular basis, but we can’t for this reason. What’s your experience with tree nuts?

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      It would seem that advice really varies from doc to doc. Mine is allergic to most nuts (peanut, walnut, pecan, hazlenut). The only one she is theoretically “fine” with is almonds. But, I avoid testing the theory because I’ve heard that the allergy can develop later. I bought almond butter once for the bigger kids, but they prefer sunbutter, so we’ve just switched to sunflower seeds in a lot of things. I had to use a variety of nuts when I was testing the cookbook, so I just made sure she didn’t eat whatever that was.

      She’s also allergic to eggs, though baked goods are fine. But, it’s really hard to avoid cooked eggs (such a cheap protein) and mayo (a component in a lot of my homemade dressings).

      Thankfully, we know what the problem is, though.

  9. That first picture of the salad looks so delectable I wanted to reach through my screen and grab it. What is the grain that you put in there? quinoa? It looks amazing. Thanks for making me hungry!!!!! :-)

  10. I think you need to pass off the granola making and waffle mix prep to some of your big kids! My five year old makes our instant oatmeal packets and is so proud of herself–she tells everyone we see how she made breakfast.

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      Thanks for the nudge. My perfectionist first born balks at this because he had a cooking fail years ago. That has made me hesitant to delegate.

  11. We love Costco’s hummus. The brand they sell is Sabra. It is less that six dollars for a super large container– our family of 10 can get lots of protein for a reasonable price.

    Seeing you work through the changes as your family grows is an encouragement to me. Thanks for all you do.

  12. Wondering if you know how long a frozen turkey lasts? I have had an extra turkey in the freezer since before Thanksgiving and you have inspired me to pull it out and make some meals. Thanks for sharing all your recipes, and ideas with us,

  13. I, too, have found that menu planning is SO worth it… both in saving money, eating healthier, and in getting creative reusing leftovers so less food doesn’t go to waste. I have several friends who say over and over that they can’t believe I do this every week, but I just can’t believe why anyone WOULDN’T do this! It makes the rest of the week so much less stressful!
    I spent Sunday “baking” a chicken in the crock pot and a cake and my homemade bread in preparation for the week. I love your ideas and recipes. Thanks so much for sharing.
    http://loishouston.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/menu-plan-monday-15-august/

  14. A friend and I were talking about how there is a lack of Titus 2 woman to train younger women in the art of homemaking and raising children. But for me you fill that position quite nicely. Not that you are much older but you are farther along with your family. I only have a 2 year old right now.I look forward to rereading your post as my family grows in size and age. I really appreciate your time and energy you put into showing us how you make your life work. And not placing unrealistic expectations on yourself or us. Sorry to gush but I could not help myself!

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      YOU are too kind. Thank you. 15 years ago I had a really hard time finding an older mom to guide me. Everyone was too busy! I’m touched that you see that in me. Thanks.

  15. Yes, do get your kids to do as much as possible. And if they feel like eating cookies, for example, let them make some. Or popcorn. Or veggies, fruit, or whatever.
    After a busy weekend with lots of unexpected guests, including a trio of travelling athletes we picked up at church, I’ve been reflecting on the importance of having healthy options in the house.
    To stretch our meal last night, I grabbed a jar of homemade pickled beans, added a tin of kidney beans and some purple onion from the garden. It was quick and made all the difference.
    And when, 90 minutes later, our houseful of young people was hungry again, we ate homegrown cucumbers and freshly made popcorn.
    In the morning Miss 8 made cornbread for everyone. Now we’re back to just the few of us, and I’m making shopping lists to replenish the pantry and freezers.
    It’s a lot of work, but we had good fellowship and fun, and we didn’t break the bank doing it.

    Annie Kate, mom of 5 and hostess to many more

  16. I use my crockpot as my little servant on those busy days of running errands. I also try to remember if I’m so busy that I can’t get a hot meal on the table for my family on a normal day then I’m probably getting too busy. : ) Busy-ness is so epidemic these days, it seems to be worn like a badge of honor.

    These recipes look good, thanks for sharing!

  17. Thank you for all the recipes and encouragement through your posts. I also have 6 children. 5 boys and 1 girl. My daughter is the youngest. Theya re not eating me out of house and home yet but I am noticing an increase. I need to search your recipes again this week!

  18. It’s so encouraging to see you posting about this as well as all the responses to your last post on the subject. I’m trying to eliminate as many packaged foods from our family’s diet as well and it’s getting hard. I don’t mean things like Hamburger Helper either (not that I’m judging those you use that, of course). The past six months I’ve started making all our bread, salad dressing, yogurt, kifer, and I’m even starting to make ricotta and mozarella cheese. Packaged snack foods are also on my hit list but that’s the hardest for the kids to deal with. I’ve also been trying to make all our stock from scratch rather than buying it which is going to be a huge challenge with all the soups I make in cold weather. I only have two kids and sometimes it gets overwhelming so I can’t imagine what you’re dealing with. Thinking about getting back into the swing of things for the fall is starting to stress me out so I realized I have to compromise for the sake of my sanity. My older son will be in school the whole day this year so I need to pack lunches. And you know what? The world, and our health, isn’t going to end if I put tube yogurt in his lunch box a few times a week. Balance, balance, balance. It’s my constant quest.

  19. centsability says:

    When you roast the poblano chiles, do they store well afterward? How do you do it if so, or do you use them pretty quickly? I’d love to find a way to keep some of those on hand.

  20. I saw Israli Couscous on your list and I thought i’d share a recipe. We get our couscous from TJ’s and my husband loves this simple preperation!
    Cook the Israli couscous according to package directions.
    Meanwhile, saute thinly sliced scallions (4-6, which is usually 2-3 TJ packs) in butter or olive oil until carmelized.
    Stir scallions into couscous and finish off with a squeeze of lemon and freshly chopped parsley. So Good!!
    I think I found the recipe in a Martha Stewart magazine. If your family likes onions then give this a try with your next box of couscous!!

  21. Feeding teens is a never-ending task. When my kids were teens they would go through spells when they could eat 3 plates of food at night. Then other times, not much. I can’t imagine trying to feed a houseful of boys now, with the way prices are. As moms, we have to find that happy middle ground between eating healthy and keeping our sanity. SOME convenience foods are an evil necessity with hungry teens. Have you considered doing an extra make-ahead cooking day for snacks and homemade convenience meals/mixes. Definitely involve the kids though, even boys need to know how to cook. (it will impress their future wives.)

  22. I missed the previous post so I went back and read it.

    I have 5 kids. The 15 year old eats like his dad, and the 7 year old is trying to catch up. I try to make as much as I can from scratch including food like yogurt. I also make a loaf of bread almost every day though once school starts, I plan to make bread once a week.

    I do have a very few convenience items on hand, and I make sure that they’re organic. I find them at a local grocery outlet which makes them affordable. I’d love to make everything, but I can’t. I do grow a lot of our veggies and some of our fruit.

    One thing I do in August in preparation for the school year is making snacks for the freezer. I’ve done 3 batches of cookie dough, and now I need to make some bar cookies. I’m also going to make up a big batch of granola since I have about 60 lbs. of oats on hand, thanks to the grocery outlet.

  23. AllieZirkle says:

    Keeping prepped veggies on hand makes a HUGE difference for us. I keep the plastic Sterilite box size boxes in the fridge filled with veggies for dinners and veggies for snacking (different cuts…) sliced red peppers, sliced carrots (baby carrots are too thick for my kiddos in braces) both sticks and circles, sliced cucs both sticks and circles, zuchinni both sticks and circles… and then baggies of sliced onion and sliced red onion. Easier dinner prep, easier snacks, happier mama, quieter kiddos lol

    :) Allie

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