Life has gotten so much busier since Jack started half-day school, 5 days a week. I truly thought life would breathe a little easier once the school year began. Although I laugh every day at my naiveté, we couldn’t be happier with the decision to send him to our small, heartfelt Montessori school. He runs right into class every day. It makes me so proud to see him loving this new part of his life but I have to admit that I’ve felt a wave of emotions these last several weeks. My little boy is in school! Our long days together have come to an end. Sniff. Sniff. Etc. Etc.
In times of big change and big emotions I like to take a step back, take a deep breath, and look around at all the little things that make my day brighter. The following is a list (with helpful links) of my ten favorite things of the moment.
I purchased this bento box from Zulily.com nearly two years ago in anticipation of making school lunches. Am I the only one who can’t pass on a good deal? I thought it would be a great way to eliminate Ziploc bags and even more fun to get creative with food. Boy, was that an understatement. I’ve had a total blast (most mornings) making food fun for little dude. Sliced cheddar in the shape of tiny teddy bears was a big hit.
If you want to give yourself a kick in the pants, GET A FIT BIT. The holidays are coming up. Make sure to get your letter to Santa in the mail now.
After Pops gets Jack to school in the morning, it’s an absolute treat when his sister graces me with an extra hour of slumber because that means I can have my favorite breakfast-of-the-moment in solitude. There is no better start to the day than with a bowl of blueberry oatmeal and a piping hot cup of coffee.
On the days that I’m thrown in the driver seat full throttle I turn to my new friend The Complete Cookie. These little vegan, kosher nutritional gems are conveniently perforated into two servings. For a full cookie it’s 16 g protein and 6 g of fiber. They have many delicious flavors but at this moment peanut butter cookie is my favorite.
Two books that I would highly recommend… Mom’s One Line a Day: A Five-Year Memory Book. This is one of those grab in a fire things for me. It is so wonderful to look back on my babies’ lives and see what they were doing each day and how they’ve changed. This is a wonderful gift you could give to new parents. There have been many days when Albert has picked up the pen and taken over too. I love that this book is chocked full of love and so much pride. What a treasure!
Tortilla wraps have become a bit of an obsession for me. I’m especially fond of the big spinach ones by Mission that only set me back 210 calories. The following is a quick list of what I’ve put in wraps lately; Spring mix, spinach, artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes, smoked Gouda cheese spread, black beans, crab cake, tuna salad, Trader Joe’s roasted eggplant dip (2 tbsp 30 calories), hummus, peppers, cucumbers, pasta salad, cannellini beans, edamame, etc. The list goes on and on. The key to a healthy, happy wrap is portion control with a variety of fillings. So yummy and for someone who gets in a rut with meals, perfect.
When I saw these Saucony tennies (found here on Amazon) on the sale rack at Nordstrom ($25!!!) I knew they were coming home with me. My Emmaline has a teeny tiny fondness for all things shoes. I blame it on her Nana and her turquoise sequined house shoes that E has been after since birth. My Mom informed me recently that those slippers have been bequeathed to my sweet daughter. For now, she will have to slum it in these wee things.
Radio Flyer Ultimate Wagon. This contraption was a well thought out purchase for us. Sadly we have not taken it to an amusement park or major outdoor excursion yet, but those times they are a coming. We have been enjoying this as a way to wind down our evening taking a nice stroll after dinner and before we settle in to the night time routine. It’s easy enough for big boy to pull when he feels inclined and handles like a dream. Cup holders and a pouch that fits a good sized picnic are also a plus.
I would love to hear about all the little happy things that bring joy to your lives, especially on those slumpy days.
It’s 5:30 – pick-up time at daycare. I am – quickly – learning about the kids’ day from their teachers, collecting their things, and trying to ward off melt downs. Why so quickly? Because, with or without the meltdowns, I know the kids are hungry. And if they’re not absolutely STARVING now, they will be by the time we get home. In the car, the dinner menu is socialized with the kids to avoid a huge “I don’t like that!” meltdown at the table. (I’ve noticed that it’s helpful to do this when they are buckled up and stationary.) Luckily, the 2 year old lets her 5 year old brother do most of the what’s-for-dinner whining.
But the real challenge lays ahead. At home, my goal is to make a tasty and healthy dinner as quickly as possible. And to keep the kids from turning so hangry they won’t eat a bite of it. If I’m really on top of my game, I can get dinner done in 30 minutes. Most of the time, though, I’m looking at 40 – 45 minutes.
I’ve tried strategies to be more efficient; most of them don’t work for me. For example:
Meal plan & prep on Sunday. My husband and I both work during the week. Our weekends are spent with our kids and catching up on sleep. The last thing I’m motivated to do on Sunday is meal prep for the coming week. I’m lucky if I make it to the grocery store and have a general idea of upcoming meals.
Freezer meals. I make some freezer meals, but opportunistically. If I’m making a time consuming casserole, I’ll double the recipe & put one in the freezer for later. Or I’ll buy an extra big package of meat, use some, and marinate the rest in the freezer. My biggest challenge in using a frozen casserole is remembering to take it out of the freezer the night before.
Crock pot meals. I’ll use the crock pot on days I work from home. But when I go to the office, I don’t have enough time in the morning to put it together and my day is too long for even the most forgiving of crock-pot recipes. By the time we get home, dinner is a soggy, overcooked, unappetizing mess.
So, what strategies work for me? It’s not rocket science, but here are a few that I use:
Set up the meal for quick cooking. For example, I’ll use boneless, smaller chicken pieces that will cook quicker than a whole chicken or bone-in pieces. If I want roasted potatoes, I’ll cut them up into inch-size pieces in order to speed cooking.
Choose dishes you can cook at the same time. So, if your oven isn’t large enough to cook a meatloaf and roast the potatoes at the same time, make boiled potatoes instead.
Sequence your cooking. Start each dish so they are (mostly) finished at the same time. Start prepping the items that will take the longest first. I usually focus on the carbohydrates and protein. If I want to marinate the chicken strips before sauteing them, I’ll immediately get them marinating. Rice is always started dishes early; once it’s done, it can rest off the heat just fine until we’re ready to eat. Similarly, put a pot of water on to boil first. I may wait to add the pasta, but at least the water will be ready. And potatoes always get priority cooking treatment. Veggies are almost always last, since they cook pretty quickly.
Even under the best of circumstances, I still need to do something to quell the rumblings in the two little people’s bellies. Or distract them. So, here’s what I do:
Get them something to eat. It seems obvious, but it took me a while to come to terms with this. You spend time making a homemade meal; the last thing you want is for your kids’ appetites to be ruined. The key, I’ve found, is WHAT to eat. I give them options that, if they do ruin their appetites, I won’t mind (so much). They are welcome to eat any of the raw veggies I’m prepping for dinner. They can also grab a cheese stick out of the fridge. This is their typical choice and I love it. They can get it on their own and since neither are big fans of meat it helps them get enough protein.
Distract them. The older one is now big enough to chew gum. Giving him a stick to chew on the way home from school has cut the hangry whining by at least 80%. Once we’re home, a short TV show is just the thing I need to keep them out of trouble until dinner is ready. TV has it’s place in our home and this is it.
If you need some new dinner ideas, here are a handful of quick dishes that are proven winners in our household.
Tacos (preferably on Tuesday, since the kids LOVE to say “It’s Taco Tuesday!”). Leftover taco meat is usually used later on in a taco casserole.
Teriyaki chicken. I use a store bought marinade to make life a little easier. This is one of the few meat proteins the kids will eat seconds of.
Macaroni and cheese. If time is very short or I’m exhausted, the boxed version will do the trick. But really, homemade doesn’t take more than 30 minutes, we all like it better, and I usually have leftovers for lunches.
Chopped cucumber and tomato salad. Sometimes I had chopped peppers. Olive oil, lemon juice/vinegar, S&P go on the table so we can all season it ourselves. (If I have half a lemon, the kids LOVE squeezing the juice on themselves.) The kids eat this salad up.
Quesadillas. I can turn these babies out faster than Ming Ming can say “This is se-wious!”. Add some veggie sticks and you’ve got a meal. The adult version has sauted veggies and black beans in the quesadilla.
Pasta with garlic, cannellini beans, parmesan cheese, and a smidgen of red pepper flakes. I often don’t serve a separate protein with this meal — just a nice veggie. The kids love the cannellini beans, which always amazes me.
Disclaimer: I am not the cook in the family. I don’t like fussy things, and I don’t care about presentation. I do like to eat though, so I’m really lucky that I have a fabulous partner who likes to cook and is very good at it! Every once in a while, I’ll find a dish that I like, and I’ll cook. For the past several months, these roasted root vegetables have been my go-to dish. Even better – it’s quick, easy, delicious, and healthy!
Easy and Delicious Roasted Root Vegetables
A simple side or vegetarian main dish that requires minimal prep and does most of the work in the oven.
3PinchesCoarse Sea Salt(Or to taste - start slow!)
6DashesWhite Pepper(Or pepper of your choice)
Servings: people (sides)
Preheat oven to 360 degrees.
Gather and wash ingredients.
Chop vegetables coarsely. For wider parts, slice thinner/ shorter pieces. For narrower parts, slice longer pieces. (As you can see, I wash but do not peel my vegetables.)
Place the vegetables in a 9x13 roasting/ cake pan (or any dish that will allow them all to fit in 1 or 2 layers.
Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables and toss them, so they are completely coated on all sides with the olive oil. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and pepper to taste.
Bake for 50 minutes.
After 50 minutes, remove from the oven and test the pieces with a fork to see if they are tender and easily sliced with a fork. You will most likely need to put them back in for another 10-15 minutes.
Remove from oven for last time, serve, and enjoy!
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*Serving note: If not serving immediately after removing from the oven, transfer to another dish, so it doesn’t get too oily.
This recipe for roasted root vegetables is infinitely variable. You can use any seasoning you like. I like the taste of white pepper better, and it’s gentler on the digestive system than black pepper. (Please note that pink pepper can be an allergen if you have people with tree nut allergies in your family, like we do.)
There are so many other vegetables that can be used in this dish: celery root, turnips, beets, yams, regular potatoes, just to name a few!
Finally if you want to speed up the cooking process a little, you can cut your vegetables into smaller pieces. For half-inch cubes, you’d want to check them after half an hour.
Finally, this recipe is very leftovers-friendly. It reheats well in the microwave.
If you end up trying out this recipe, please share your results!!