A Sample of Simple Meal Ideas

March 30th, 2006

The following is a selection of some of my favorite and most often prepared meals.  These generally have the kids in mind so they are just pretty basic, but David and I like them too.  These have been developed over the years and are probably a little different each time I cook, as I don’t usually follow a recipe.

I like to try to provide some variety on any given week, such as including a vegetable or two. I also use the freshest ingredients.  Hint: By spending the few extra cents to pick up a fresh baked loaf of French or Italian bread at Wildflower or a nearby bakery adds a special, tasty and thoughtful touch.

Spaghetti
Try using a different shape noodle now and then for variety, such as penne, thin spaghetti or mostacolli. If the Italian brands Barelli or DeCecco are on sale, pick them up.  They are made with better semolina wheat flour and have a heartier texture. Serve with a nice green salad or substitute broccoli spears for a change, and some nice fresh sour dough or Italian bread, rolls or Ciabatta heated in the oven.

Spare Ribs
I buy mine at Costco. This is a great meal for Sundays when all you have to do is stick them in the oven at 350 degrees for about 2 ½ hours, dredging them with your favorite bar-be-que sauce (ours is Masterpiece) over the last 45 minutes.

Serve with Middle East brand Rice Pilaf and cole slaw (I usually chop mine from fresh cabbage, but if you are in a crunch for time, just buy the pre-packaged slaw mix, add some fresh diced bell pepper, grate a little carrot and dress it the slaw with mayonnaise, a splash of red wine vinegar, a tablespoon of sugar, salt and pepper.)

Chicken (bone in breasts or whole)
I like to bake my chicken by easily seasoning it with salt, pepper and rubbing in a few sprigs of Rosemary from my garden. (Rosemary grows into a big bush, providing a never ending supply and requires absolutely no care!)

There are a lot of options for what to serve with chicken. Depending on what I have, I may quarter red potatoes, throw them on a cookie sheet and drizzle them with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika, and bake them right alongside the chicken for about an hour.  Then I’ll add a salad or vegetable-green beans work nicely, some bread and wallah! A simple, yet delicious meal!

Vegetable Soup
Serving this is a great way to use up vegetables. This can be used as a main dish, or a side dish, like with the baked chicken, with some crunchy crusted bread or hearty wheat rolls. Try serving with a chunk of good cheese or use parmesan as a topping, too.

Macaroni and Cheese (homemade and baked)
When I have a busy week ahead, I make a double recipe to have enough for dinner one night,and serve as a side dish another night, or as an after school snack.  This is one of the kid’s favorites! Serve with a carrot salad, or frozen peas steamed with fresh sliced carrots.  It’s a nice change of pace from meat.

Pork Chops
I know we all try to steer away from pork, but  once in a while it makes for a great alternative. They are very easy. Simply fry up the thin ones for about 8-10 minutes, and just salt and pepper them to taste.  Serve with some leftover macaroni and cheese, and/or a baked sweet potato, cole slaw and some apple sauce.  Fresh rye bread on the side goes great!

Meat Loaf
Husbands love this one ladies! Meat Loaf is an easy way to do something different with ground beef, especially in the winter.  Bake some potatoes at the same time, and serve with any fresh  vegetable such as  carrots or broccoli.  If you’re feeling industrious, try making mashed potatoes using the gold Yukons, and make some beef gravy using a can of beef broth and your basic recipe.

Tacos or Enchiladas (cheese or chicken)
Serve with Middle East Spanish rice and beans, tortilla chips and homemade salsa.

Quesadillas (cheese)
Serve with fresh made guacamole, salsa, beans, and for variety, buy some chorizo and scramble eggs into it.

Mexican Pizzas:
Take a flour tortilla, brush some barbeque sauce all over it, smear some beans on, use up that chicken by shredding the leftovers on top, add some steamed broccoli bits, a little red or green onion, some corn (again a great way to use leftovers), or diced up potatoes if you have them. Top with some grated cheese and broil or microwave until melted.  One per person usually fills them up.

Ham
Usually from Honey Baked Shop.  Serve with Middle East long grain and wild rice, and perhaps a vegetable medley consisting of cauliflower, broccoli, carrots (whip up a cheese sauce to camouflage the cauliflower for the kids).  Grated cheese from Trader Joe’s works great.  All pork dishes deserve apple sauce on the side for dipping.

Breakfast for Dinner
This usually consists of my own egg n cheese muffins. These are so easy to make and are just about the right amount of food for the gang when they aren’t too hungry. An omelet works too, or pancakes and fried eggs, serve with fruit or O.J.

Meal Planning and Preparation

March 27th, 2006

The first and most important thing to remember is that as a wife and mother, we are all gifted differently and our strengths and weaknesses are as well.  Some of us are more organized, naturally, and some of us live life more spontaneously.  For some, taking the opportunity to sit down and meal plan is a form of relaxation and enjoyment, where for others, it seems like an impossible task filled with drudgery, and who has time for it anyway?

Secondly, be encouraged, we are all a work in progress.  Developing our gifts as homemakers is a lifelong process.  Many of us have had years of experience, having had to practice this gift in order to care for our family, where others of you are just starting out.  You are just learning about your role as a wife, and perhaps a mother. You may be feeling inadequate at best, and don’t know where to turn to for help. Some of you have been around the block, but you are always eager to meet with someone who can give you new ideas and refresh your enthusiasm.

No matter where you are at today, I hope you will benefit from the experience and life lessons I will share with you, and find inspiration for loving your family with a little more investment of your time and creativity.

Here are just a few other thoughts for you to consider:

The importance of eating regular meals.
Eating healthy meals regularly provide you and your family with more energy, a better disposition and less illness.It is something we have to do to survive, so why not learn to enjoy the process?

Recognize the need.
Small children need small amounts of food more frequently.  Teens need larger amounts more frequently.  Husbands need to come home to dinner.  And, you need to eat to keep up with everybody else’s needs!

The hardest part of meal planning begins in the mind.
Taking the time to create and chart out a few meals for the week can seem so hard and time consuming that you will resist it at all costs.  Then comes the shopping, preparing and clean up.  Let’s face it.  It is a lot of work!  But believe me, the more you think and prepare in advance, the more enjoyable your mealtimes will be!

Be willing to adjust your own expectations.
Your husband or children will be grateful for just about anything you have prepared for them.  They really do appreciate the thoughtfulness of you going to the trouble to put food in front of them.

Getting started.
Remember, just do it.  This will be the hardest part of all, being motivated to sit down with a piece of paper and a pencil.  There are several different techniques that you will be able to choose from.  My planning is less structured and works out good enough for our lifestyle.  However, the more I plan the smoother my lifestyle!  I may set out by asking what am I in the mood for?  I may go to my freezer and write out what I have in stock, then plan my meals using up ingredients I already have and just shop for the extras.  I will write out the food I have, and list the days of the week.  Then match up my schedule with the meal ideas I have come up with. More than ever, I simply do my shopping at the farmer’s market and plan my meals from there-what’s in season, fresh and how can I plan a meal around it?

Will Dave be home?  Is it our date night?  Do the kids have a big event where I want to be sure they have some extra energy?  Will we be having company for dinner; might one of our other kids stopping by?  I also use whatever season we are in to help determine the types of dishes I might select to prepare.  Sometimes, the kids make a special request. This always helps because I tire easily of trying to come with ideas, and then I’m reminded, kids are just happy with kid’ food.  As long as I make it healthy, I am satisfied and they are pleased.

Be creative. I have fun rotating through American, Italian and Mexican foods.  But remember, in other countries, they just rotate through the same basic food items over and over again.

Organic produce. A lot is being said today about the benefits of buying and cooking with organic produce. The Department of Agriculture adopted a new seal that will be placed on truly organic foods in grocery stores. Along many benefits, this seal will make it clear to customers what produce was raised without conventional pesticides or fertilizers, antibiotics or growth hormones. It also reinforces the ideal of buying food that won’t hurt the water you drink or the soil you depend on, and it supports small farmers. But your best bet is shopping at your local farmer’s market. Seek out the producer’s who grow organically as much as possible.

Organic produce also tastes better, lasts longer in your refrigerator and is better for you.

Recently, I joined an organic food co-op.  This aids my meal planning by providing me with a predetermined selection of produce to plan from.  I am surprised by what seasonal vegetables will arrive, making part of this job an adventure! Sharing these vegetables with a friend gives us the opportunity to come up with ideas on how to use up this abundance of crop.

Cooking for children. When I asked my daughter what she thought I should be sure to include in this article, she told me to tell the young moms to be sure to teach their children to eat their vegetables when they are small, so they wouldn’t grow up to be picky eaters.  She also said I should tell you not to offer them too many choices, just get them used to eating what you put in front of them.  And lastly, when they turn into teenagers, ask them what they want, and make that!  I thought this was very good advice, so I’m passing it along.

The only other thing I would like to mention is to teach your children at a young age to participate and enjoy life in the kitchen.  Each of my children knows how to bake cookies and will occasionally cook a meal together with me.  As a non-crafty mom, I realized this was the one area of creativity I could share with my children, and you can too. Why not start with the recipe for Dandy Candy? I’m sure they’ll love it!

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