Hi guys, it’s been a while! Since my last post, I graduated with a Master’s degree and just yesterday I re-joined the military as a Captain in the Army Reserve. That doesn’t sound all that complicated until you throw it on top of the regular stuff: a 40-hour/week regular job, wifehood, motherhood, home maintenance, laundry, and a new doctorate program starting up this month. Because I’ve used the phrase “spinning plates” to capture the status of my life right now, I thought it would be fitting to write up a little ditty about how I keep up with nourishing my family during these chaotic times. (Confession: I don’t always keep up; but I do an “ok” job and so can you.)
First and foremost, I would be sorely remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the tribe of amazing people that make it possible for me to continue to push forward in my career. I have an absolutely amazing husband that somehow knows how I need help before I even ask him (I am starting to think he can literally read my mind). I have the world’s best nanny/friend/sister/other-mom-to-my-kids who does so much to help keep my kids clean, fed, happy, and so much more. There are many more people I’d thank in my figurative Academy Award speech (don’t you guys practice that? Just in case?), and I’m guessing you all know who you are. But despite the amazing load of help and support I get from so many directions, there is still a considerable bucket of responsibility I hold; part of my duties include procuring and preparing rations for my littles, my other half, and myself.
Without further ado, let’s talk food. First of all, if you find yourself wondering when the heck you are going to have time or energy to gather the food you are expected to cook, please look into online grocery ordering. I use King Soopers’ Grocery Pickup (formerly ClickList) almost exclusively for my grocery shopping. I order online, then I pull into one of their designated parking spots to have it delivered right to my car. It is the best thing in the world. Apparently, Walmart does the same thing. You could also pay a little extra and have stuff delivered to your home, which is mind-blowing to me. Anyway, I’ve only used the online order and pick up option, and it is an absolute lifesaver. I’m sure you have your hesitations, but the first few times are often free; so check it out.
Work smarter not harder when it comes to prep. I recently had a day where I had two slow-cookers simmering away simultaneously. One contained a beef chuck roast and carrots and one contained chili. If you can spend a little time on a weekend preparing anywhere from 1-3+ meals at the same time, you have just created homemade TV dinners to help you survive the week. Making spaghetti? Triple your ingredients so you have leftovers intentionally. Remember, when you make several meals at once, you only clean the kitchen once. On a Sunday, I might make a tuna casserole, enchiladas, and a whole roasted chicken. Monday night for dinner we heat up one of the leftovers. Home-cooked goodness ready in about 2 minutes per plate.
If you’re not into leftovers, there are many ways to make a healthy meal that involve minimal prep but a little forethought. One of my absolute favorite easy meals consists of a handful of baby greens (I typically adore arugula), some of that leftover roasted chicken, a handful of blueberries and cottage cheese. My littles are not really “salad people” just yet, so I might give them a little bit of the leftover chicken, cottage cheese, some raw vegetables, fresh fruit, and whole grain crackers. These are just ideas to get you thinking; it’s not like I’m saying you “have to” have chicken or cottage cheese…just examples of what we literally do at my house.
If you’re not confident in your chicken-roasting skills, you can pick up a rotisserie chicken and do the same things I mentioned previously. If you’re not into meat, you could substitute hummus or seasoned beans in all of the above examples. Healthy does not have to be complicated, expensive, or gourmet. Just the other night for dinner, we had tuna sandwiches made with avocado mayo and Dave’s Killer Bread, and a mountain of raw vegetables on the side. You could have hummus, Triscuits, and baby carrots for dinner and it meets the specs of a healthy dinner. I really like my little makeshift caprese salad with (you guessed it) arugula, fresh mozzarella slices, fresh tomato slices, and a little extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar splashed on top. YUM.
Some other tips to take advantage of include the prep that is already done for you. For example, for a slightly higher cost, you can purchase pre-diced peppers and onions in the produce section to have ready for your super-quick egg scramble in the morning. I buy “baby” greens because the leaves are small and I don’t have to cut them up before making my salad. You can grab a vegetable tray like you would for a party for grab-and-go side dishes or snacks. Some grocery stores have salmon that’s already been marinating and stuffed mushrooms ready for the broiler. If you have the means, sometimes these little shortcuts are very useful. If you don’t have the means and/or you don’t want to shell out the extra cash for someone else to prep stuff for you, set up a little DIY factory the same day you get your groceries. Get out all the produce you bought, wash it, and slice or dice RIGHT THEN. Your future self thanks you for doing this, I promise.
Sometimes the meat is the most time-consuming part of cooking. Therefore, I like to do that way ahead of time. I already mentioned cooking up a whole chicken during your batch-prep day. However, sometimes I will also brown a bunch of grass-fed beef or bison and add [homemade] taco seasoning, then freeze it for later use as super-fast taco night. Remember earlier I mentioned the chuck roast in the slow-cooker? Well, that wasn’t meant for dinner that night; rather, I was actually only cooking it in anticipation of making sandwiches and casseroles with that luscious, tender, slow-cooked goodness. Most weeks, if I don’t roast a whole chicken, I will throw several chicken thighs/legs/breasts in a couple pans and let them roast for about an hour and a half during the evening while I am doing homework or watching TV. Once they are done, I let them cool and now I have cooked chicken for salads, sandwiches, quick casseroles, soups, whatever. Simple.
A healthy meal consists of mostly non-starchy vegetables (think leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, etc.) and protein-rich foods (eggs, meat, fish, nuts, beans, etc.) with a little healthy fat (avocado, extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, tuna, salmon, butter, etc.) and a little bit of good-quality carbs (100% whole grains, starchy vegetables [potatoes, corn, peas, beans], milk, yogurt, fruit, etc.). Try your best not to overcomplicate things. Eat foods with few ingredients. Speaking of ingredients, that is about the only useful information on the Nutrition Facts label as far as I’m concerned. Get to know what it is you are actually eating. Eat more plants. Eat meats that don’t have so many things done to them. Simplify your meal planning, shopping, and prep, and your sanity will come back to you! Don’t forget to ask for help from others when possible. Odds are that people want to help you. And ordering a pizza once in a while isn’t the worst thing in the world…
xoxo – Casey