Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Menu

Because I have three small children, I try to serve meals that have a lot of color and are appealing to both kids and adults. I admit that I am lucky because Vivi is a great eater and the babies are also pretty enthusiastic about food so I haven't had to travel the limited culinary road of noodles and butter. Our general house rule is that you don't have to like it but you do have to try it. Oh, and if you have room in your belly for dessert, then you certainly can finish what is on your plate.

That being said, here is a sample menu for a week at our house. In the winter, I tend to make more soups and one pot comfort meals. In the summer, I make a lot of salads and sandwiches. There are examples of both in this menu.

Sunday: Fish, Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans (We have fish about twice a month and I usually broil it with some olive oil, lemon, and herbs. I make a huge amount of mashed potatoes so I'll have lots of leftovers, and then saute green beans with almond slivers.)

Monday: Tacos and Corn (This meal is a huge hit. I put out taco shells, some sauteed, crumbled tofu, shredded spinach or lettuce, diced tomatoes, cheese, salsa, and homemade guacamole. We have corn on the side.)

Tuesday: Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie (I boil some lentils, chop and saute whatever vegetables I have on hand, mix them altogether with some salt, herbs, and broth, put leftover mashed potatoes on top of lentil mixture, grate some cheese on top of potatoes and throw it in the oven until heated through. I usually broil it for the last five minutes because I like the top to be crispy. This is a great one dish meal.)

Wednesday: Goat Cheese Omelets, Sauteed Greens, Crusty Bread

Thursday: Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce, Spinach Salad with Oranges and Red Onion (I doctor my Trader Joe's marinara with extra garlic and whatever else I have-- usually mushrooms. My husband makes the salad with our bulk spinach from BJs, a little onion, and some sliced oranges. He makes a simple lemon juice dressing and it is delicious!)

Friday: Pizza Night! (I make a whole wheat dough in the bread machine and then we just pile on the veggies. I usually have leftover spaghetti sauce from the night before which becomes our pizza sauce.

Saturday: Hummus, Tabbouleh, and Greek Salad (This is our go-to summer meal. Our garden is always full of lettuce, mint, and parsley so it's quite easy to throw together. You just have to remember to have your beans made in advance.)

I just realized I didn't do any crock pot examples so I'll share my favorite slow cooker meal in my next post. Hope this gives you some good ideas!

Monday, April 12, 2010

FOOOOOD!

Since I seem to post a fair amount about our family's adventures with food, a few of you have been asking just what exactly we do. As many of you know, we are pretty particular about what we eat and I try to steer clear of making separate meals for my kids. Here are some general guidelines we follow:

-Avoid canned food and heavily packaged items (like yogurt cups and pre-packaged snacks)
-Try to buy locally produced food and grow some of our own
-Avoid processed food
-No high fructose corn syrup or items with ingredients I can't pronounce
-Purchase as much organic produce as we can afford
-Put the time and effort into making a decent meal for my family
-Stay away from genetically modified food

This isn't really as hard as it looks. It just takes some organization and planning. Admittedly, there are days when I am just too tired but I don't beat myself up over ordering a pizza. Here is how I generally pull it off:

On Friday night or Saturday morning, I make a menu for the week. I try to plan meals that use ingredients that I already have on hand and incorporate items that are on sale.

Saturday, I grocery shop with a list and stick to it. I usually buy most of my fruit and vegetables at Trader Joes because organic is so much cheaper than Whole Foods or Stop and Shop. I get bulk items like rice and such at Whole Foods because the organic is less than any place else. Things like dried beans, I generally purchase from the regular old grocery store since they are faily low in pesticides and I don't think the high price for organic is worth it. I also go to BJs where I can buy one pound bins of organic baby spinach for $4.99. In the summer things get a bit easier because we can walk to our local farmers' market and pick up what we need. Plus, our own garden gives us the basics like lettuce and kale.

Sundays, I prep ingredients for the week. Usually, I get out the food processer and chop my vegetables, shred cheese, or puree beans for hummus or other sandwich spread.

During the week, I look ahead to each meal to make sure I soak my beans or do whatever other prep that I wasn't able to do earlier.

While we don't use a lot of "easy" food, I do rely on my appliances. I make a lot of things in the Crock Pot so while the babies nap in the morning, I can put the ingredients together and have a good meal by dinner time. I use my bread machine to make pizza dough once a week and a couple of whole wheat loves twice a week. If we are running low on yogurt, I make it at night before bed and then it is done in time for breakfast.

So what do I do for snacks? This is a question I get asked a lot by other moms. The simple answer is fruit. I used to buy tons of Annie's cheddar bunnies or goldfish but there's not a whole lot in them and they can really add up on your grocery bill. Now, my girls take a banana or an apple or I cut an orange into wedges. I hardboil eggs and put peanut butter on celery. I cut up cheese cubes. I do still buy dried fruit like raisins and apricots and rice cakes and organic cheerios for the babies.

Here are some other tips:

-Don't assume that if the food requires more work that it is better or cheaper. A pound of shredded mozzarella cheese at Trader Joes is cheaper than the one pound block. Compare unit prices of items.

-If the item is made from corn and soy and they aren't organic, it is almost certainly genetically-modified. Any fresh produce that as a plu number that begins with 8 indicates that the fruit or vegetable came from GM seed. Some people don't care about this but I like nature to produce my food, not scientists.

-Frozen vegetables can be a great alternative if fresh is too expensive. I often buy frozen organic corn, peas, and stir-fry vegetables for a fraction of the price of fresh that is shipped in from California. Of course, the bag gets thrown out but it allows us to eat organically when we otherwise wouldn't be able to afford it.

-When using beans for recipes, double the amount you need. That way you only go through the soaking and cooking once and then you have extra beans for dips, salads, or any other dish. Plus, a Crock Pot is a great way to cook beans. If you're a vegetarian, beans are a great source of protein and if you enjoy fennel seed, add some to your bean dishes. It will...ahem...temper the effects of a legume-based diet.

-Don't feel like you have to be totally rigid. My husband was away all weekend so I took my girls to the bakery for breakfast (which I vowed never to do this year) and we had a pizza picnic for dinner because I couldn't face the clean-up. I still buy a box of cereal now and then or Trader Joe's Green Curry Sauce.

-Think about packaging. A jarred tomato sauce like the organic marinara at Trader Joe's would be much better for you than canned tomatoes with high levels of BPA. I use the marinara as pizza sauce and then I doctor it with vegetables for pasta.

-Hold on to your menus and you'll see themes. I made a note of meals that my family loved and others that were disasters. We were eating homemade pizza once a week so now Friday or Saturday night is always pizza. We also have a baked pasta dish one night and soup another. That way you don't feel like you are menu planning from scratch every week.

That's it for now. Leave a comment if you have any questions. Later this week, I'll share some of my weekly menus.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Coming Out

The birds are singing. The trees and flowers are blossoming. The sun is shining and I'm coming out. Well, not in that way... but I feel like a spectacular change is upon me. A change that feels so good.

The change: I am really enjoying my children. I know. Sometimes I don't believe it either.

That is all but, in many ways, it is everything. While I had a lot of mixed feelings about the Turtles turning one, we are no longer in survival mode and that feels like a reason to celebrate. I see my girls, all three of them, interacting in ways I never could have imagined when I was so desperately sleep-deprived and trying to keep my sanity. They giggle with one another. They comfort one another. They talk and sing and explore together. They all gather in our bed and snuggle. And now, above all else, they sleep.

When I envisioned having my own family, these are the moments I pictured. There weren't any deafening cries from colic and constipation. There were no tears from extreme exhaustion. There certainly wouldn't be any distance between me and my husband. And, by god, there never ever was going to be two babies at once.

Somehow, with all of these curve balls, we are coming out the other end. My husband and I are getting to know each other again. Our Turtles brighten my day with their beautiful smiles and curiosity. Vivi entertains me and challenges me and when we cuddle at night, she says things like, "You're my best mama in the whole world and that is why I love you. You're a good cooker too."

With the passage of time, I can finally say thank you to all the other moms of multiples out there who told me that it would get easier. It is and I couldn't be happier.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Measuring Success

Lately I've been thinking about what it means to be a success. When I was a career woman, I could point to publications and results from our legislative advocacy. It was thrilling to see my name in print or to know that the work I did led to a better life for someone who had been tortured. All in all, it was a tangible offering for my resume and made me a rather marketable gal in the world of human rights.

Ahh, that was SO three years ago.

I think I measure success a little differently today. My kids and husband are healthy and my house is in one piece. Sometimes, that feels more like a miracle than testimony to all the work I put in but I'll still take it.

Here's a highlight of a few other successful moments:



A backyard picnic which resulted in next to no clean-up!


Preventing a child from being run-over by a rouge Turtle on a Cheeky Chick.

Three happy girls in the tub.
(This is one of those miracles.)

And, of course, my biggest success is happy kids who can make their own fun.