An instant cloud forms over my head… I feel grouchy, trapped, panicked, and taken advantage of all in the same moment. The problem? I do not know what to make for supper.
It's amazing how much chaos, panic, and even resentment can build from something as simple as feeding your family, but believe me, it happens. I've been making meals for a family for 15 years and on most days, it feels really, really old.
I have discovered, however, that there are simple steps you can take to get really healthy food on the table – even if you don't want to. In fact, you can find eating enjoyable again 😉 Here are my top tips:
Let Somebody Else Do the Planning
I thought about starting this section by saying something like “when you're pregnant or have a new baby, it really helps not to have to think about meals.”
But I'll be honest with you, it helps to have somebody else plan the meals no matter where you are in life's journey!
There's a simple truth: if you know what you're making for dinner, it takes the sting out of mealtimes. You already know what you need to do when it's time to prepare or cook your food. There's a sense of peace!
I won't wax poetic on you or talk about the transcendental qualities of meal planning (honestly, there probably aren't any), but I do believe that it makes a big difference to know what you're going to do in advance. You still have to make it, but you don't have to think about it beforehand.
A variation on this strategy is to have a solid list of meals that your family enjoys – usually 30 meals to make up a month. Then you keep the ingredients for those meals stocked at all times. You pick the meal that suits your fancy, but you know you have everything you're going to need on hand. This works really well if you like spontaneity but dislike feelings of panic when you realize you appear to have spontaneously run out of all your ingredients.
You can do your own menu planning. It works really well if you find you like planning out your family's meals (I enjoy it sometimes, and other times, I don't). I still recommend you first come up with a list of “tried and true” family favorites. Those can be a backbone to your plan. Then add in meals you'd like to experiment with each week as you plan out based on those family favorites.
Or, you can let somebody else do the grunt-work for you and use a pre-made meal plan. These are always really nice because they have grocery lists for you, too! Pre-made meal plans have been wonderful me in the past several months. My mom has been very sick and I've had to fit in monitoring and arragements for her care (as well as long-distance visits) along with working in our family business. It has been stressful, to say the least, but the weeks that go most smoothly have been those where I printed out a pre-made meal plan and followed it.
Some meal planning services have a library of meals and you can “drag and drop” meals onto a calendar to prepare something customized to your family. The service then generates your ingredients and instructions. This is really nice if you want to save time, but also want some control over the meals (or you want meals without specific ingredients).
Bottom Line: Meal Plans are probably the biggest sanity saver in your home management toolkit!
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Drink it Down
Your blender is a sanity saver.
Throwing a bunch of stuff into your blender, pressing a button, and then pouring it into a cup can give you a quick, easy, and health-enhancing meal. Smoothies and other blender goodies are often very appealing to children, as well.
I've gotten a lot more into my blender over the past year, and have been a fan of the health-boosting properties of smoothies since I first fell pregnant with Sadie over two years ago (click here and scroll down for my super-charged pregnancy smoothie recipe). I've discovered that smoothies can be packed full of super-foods, but still taste delightful – and decadent.
Smoothies a way to have your treat all wrapped up into a healthy food.
I believe the foundation of every smoothie should be probiotic foods. Blender recipes make it simple to use a probiotic base (such as yogurt, kefir, water kefir, coconut water/milk kefir, etc.), and food-based probiotics are great to have on a daily basis. You don't need a lot, but using one as the liquid or part of the liquid portion of your recipe is a great idea.
You can also open up a probiotic capsule or use a probiotic powder to give your smoothie more strains of “good bacteria.” This is what I do with our smoothies.
Resistant starches are starches that good bacteria can digest, but your body cannot. A teaspoon full of potato starch (not potato flour) is a great choice. Plantain flour or green banana flour also works but is more expensive. You can build up to a tablespoon or so over time. This gives your little good guys a great boost (the perfect pregnancy smoothie I linked to above includes resistant starch).
Next come additional super-foods 🙂
Try as we might (and I have tried everything) we just do not like kale. But, as you probably know, kale is a super-food! It's packed with nutritional goodness. Not liking it is not a problem with a blender because you can't taste it in there!
There are other options that come with their own difficulties, like nettle, which have had a long tradition of super-food status. They're great in a smoothie because it takes all the “sting” out of the stinging nettle but preserves the health benefits.
Greens, stinging nettle, resistant starch, and more pack a lot of nutrition into your tasty smoothie.
If you need extra energy or some high-quality healing, your smoothie will help with that too. Add a teaspoon to a tablespoon of MCT oil for clean, natural energy. And a scoop of collagen or high-quality gelatin brings healing along with a protein boost.
You can easily add hormone balancing energy boosters like maca powder in, too.
Of course, the real benefit of the smoothie is the stuff that tastes good. I like to add cocoa powder and peanut butter (or de-fatted peanut flour if you don't want quite as many calories) along with strawberries to our smoothies.
Berries are a good choice if you want to keep your mixes low-carb: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc.
I will sometimes make smoothies with peaches for a treat, but I try to keep those smoothies low in fat overall (no peanut butter and just a dash of MCT oil) to help balance the fact that I'm using extra carbohydrates. When we're making mixes for the kids, we typically add in a variety of fruits, including bananas, peaches, apple chunks, etc., since they're not quite so concerned with the higher carb load.
I want to note that I never use juice in a smoothie. Like many “smoothie bases” you can buy in the store, juices are essentially pure sugar, and you don't need them to make a favorful, nourishing blend.
All-in-all, a smoothie is an excellent way to pack nutrition and super-foods into an easy package. One tip: don't “hide” what you're putting into your smoothie from your kids. Let them see all the healthy things so they make the connection between those greens n' things and the delicious smoothie they drink after 😉
And cleanup? That's a breeze with some warm water, a dash of soap, and blend your way to clean (just watch it or you'll overflow the top of the blender with soap like I may have done… once or twice… ahem).
Freeze it Simple
Though I believe that meal planning is an incredible sanity saver, I know that freezer meals are the #1 hack for busy families. They also complement meal planning perfectly, because you can plan a meal or two a week to double.
On a hectic afternoon you just pull out your frozen dish, pop it in the oven, and in a couple of hours you have a delicious, home-cooked meal.
Meals in the freezer are especially good for weeks when you haven't been able to plan well – or during seasons of life where cooking feels almost impossible. I have started stocking the freezer during pregnancy so we have plenty of meals postpartum – and I've done it when I first got a positive pregnancy test with my last two babies! It meant that when I didn't feel much like cooking, I still had healthy meals for my family 😉
When I know we're going into a time of holiday busyness or another hectic time, I try to double several meals in the weeks ahead of time. My kids are active in 4H, so this year I froze quite a few “straight from freezer to slow cooker” meals and we took those to the camper at the fairgrounds with us. Each morning I simply popped the freezer meal into the slow cooker, turned it on, and supper was ready for us after a long day of 4H events.
My favorite freezer meal is probably lasagna (I'll admit it!), but aside from that, I really like meals meant to go right from the freezer to the slow cooker, or right from the freezer to a single skillet. These meals are simple to clean up and generally please everybody, so they're a win-win all around.
Again, if you're intimidated by freezer cooking, start by finding some simple freezer recipes and try them to see if your family likes them. If they do, plan to double the recipe next time, putting one dish in the freezer and eating the other for dinner that night.
I have managed to stock my freezer with at least a few meals after every baby since my third-born – you can get a few stowed away even if you only have a small freezer, and you will be so glad on a hectic day!
Go For More than One Meal
Stretching your meal plans to cover more than one meal is really handy. If you have an average sized family with just one or two kids, you can probably do this regularly. If your family is a bigger family, like mine, it's harder to do but with some advance planning it can work.
A good example of this is with a roasted chicken (if you have never roasted a chicken before, I promise it's very easy and the results are delicious!):
Pair your roasted chicken with a dish of roasted vegetables (also simple) and a simple side-salad for a tasty supper. Then take the rest of the cooked chicken and put it in the fridge for another meal (if you have a big family, you can roast two chickens at once, and put the meat from the second up). Then take the bones and cartilage and put those in a large pot with a quickly chopped carrot and celery and a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. The vinegar helps to pull minerals out of the bones. Simmer for 24-48 hours for rich broth.
Now you've had a delicious dinner that feels fancy 😉 And you have leftover chicken to use in chicken soup, chicken salad, as a topping for a large, lunchtime salad, meat for a chicken sandwich or wrap, meat for a stir-fry, etc. Last (but not least) you have rich broth to salt and sip for a healing drink, or to make into a base for any number of soups.
This one meal has likely stretched for several and you have certainly gotten your money's worth for that chicken!
There are other dishes that stretch in much the same way. One of my family's favorite Sabbath suppers is baked spaghetti squash halves:
I have Scott cut the squashes in half and I bake them, flesh side down in a baking dish with water around them. While they're baking I make a simple, but thick, spaghetti sauce with mushrooms, onions, green peppers, ground beef (or turkey), etc. I check the squash periodically to make sure the water is not all evaporated off. When the squash is soft, I turn them over (empty any remaining water) and fill the inside with the spaghetti sauce. Top with shredded cheese (we use Mozzarella), then bake again until the cheese is melted and a little golden on top. Then serve. It's delicious and really filling.
There are always a few squash halves left, and I can take these and bake them into a tasty squash casserole for lunch on Sunday. It's great with a salad on the side.
Of course, these are meals that suit my family well and there are countless other options. The key to making this work is to think ahead. Like the freezer meal, it's something that is really helpful when you make it a regular habit. You might choose to do a roast chicken once a week, then the extra meat and broth can be used for unique meals throughout each week.
Think for a moment about each supper meal you make and ask yourself if you can double it for a freezer meal, use leftovers for a lunch, or make another meal with what's left – you'll find that your time in the kitchen is streamlined just from these tips alone!
Dress Up the Table (Just a Little)
This doesn't really have to do with making food or meal preparation any easier – but I do believe that it will make a difference in your life.
Take a minute to dress up your table before you eat. It doesn't have to look fancy (we're not going for a scene from Downton Abbey here folks!). But you can do small things to make a big difference. Put a fresh tablecloth on in the evening (we have a few that we can rotate – some seasonal, some just for a pretty table). Set out a pitcher with water and ice, or just ice (we have used a plastic restaurant pitcher – it works!). Add a quick centerpiece – a bowl of fruit works well and is multi-purpose. A single flower works nicely for a quick lunchtime setup.
You might even consider some candles. We light candles for our Sabbath dinner and it is amazing how they transform our table and our dining room into something much more peaceful, something much more special. I'm actually thinking of lighting a fat pillar candle for our other meals (saving two candles for the Sabbath ;)) – just because it immediately changes the atmosphere.
Meal times are a wonderful time to bring family together, and creating an intentionally peaceful time in the midst of busy life is a gift. I think that most of us desire to have a close family where we feel (and give) love and value, and where we can talk and share in peace.
Maybe you also have a heart to reach out to others and offer some hospitality. It doesn't take a table that looks like it came out of a magazine! Focusing on simple touches for your family dinners for awhile can help you quickly create that atmosphere of welcome, connection, and conversation that you hope for – and then you can reach out to others in your community to bless them along with your family 🙂
Like I said, this goes a little beyond “easy meals” but I think that adding those simple touches can really help you recapture the rest and refreshment that can be part of mealtimes. You can stop and savor a few minutes even if you've had to do all the cooking. And you'll be surprised at how candlelight or a few flowers can signal to children that now is a time to be calm(er) and quiet(er) – and it might help you to relax and stay calmer, too 😉
Would it be nice to get simple, healthy meals on the table consistently – without feeling stressed (or resentful?) This year's Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle is packed with everything you need to make that your reality:
- Smoothie recipes
- Meal plans
- Meal planner software
- Recipe guides
- Freezer cooking
- Instapot and pressure cooking courses
It even includes a book dedicated to helping make suppertime a time of calm and connection for your family. Plus I've got a special class exclusively for NBBC visitors – Solids, Supplements, and Suppertime Too: Feeding Your Child for Optimal Health.
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