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Five Summer Kitchen Time Savers for Busy Moms

Categories: Making Time, The Juggle, cooking

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We are deep in the midst of summer. Nate spent last week at home with me while his daycare provider took a week off, and it was pretty great to be home, just the two of us, together every day. It was also challenging in some ways.

Because I work from home and Nate goes to daycare during the day, I am usually able to get all of the various errands, housework and other domestic tasks done that need to get done, as well as the work that I need to accomplish. Having a busy three and a half-year old at home last week made this juggle a bit tricky. I’m not sure I finished any task from start to finish. The kitchen remained a disaster area for a full week! It seemed like every time I finished cleaning up after one meal, it was time to mess the kitchen up with another.

I got to thinking about some of the ways I could save time in the kitchen during the summer months, and I’ve come up with this list of five of my favorite summer kitchen time savers for busy moms.

1. Put together a snack basket to keep in the pantry. A friend of mine recommended this idea several months ago and I’ve decided to implement it. Use baggies to put together a bunch of different kid-friendly snacks such as trail mix, goldfish crackers, raisins or cookies. Keep the snacks in the cupboard at a height the kids can reach. When they ask for a snack, instead of struggling to find something appropriate in the pantry, allow the kids to choose one of the snacks from the basket.

2. Keep vegetables cut up in the fridge. They can be used as a side dish with some meals, ingredients for a salad, a snack for kids or in our case, or for taking a packed lunch to work.

3. Keep a box of wine in the fridge. I’m totally serious. It takes up less space because it’s tall and you don’t have to worry about using a cork screw to open wine at dinnertime. Pouring a glass of wine takes only a few seconds when the box is ready to go in the fridge, and it’s always on hand for summertime guests who pop over.

4. Take an hour on a Sunday afternoon to plan out the week’s meals. Shop accordingly.

Deli for Dinner

5. When the weather is hot, forget about turning on the stove. Plan a deli night. Pick up some crusty buns, deli meats, potato salad and dill pickles. Everyone can make his or her own sandwich and fill up on a cool dinner that is just perfect for summer.

What are some of the ways you save time in the kitchen during the summertime, when the kids are underfoot?

Five Easy Steps for Successful Meal Planning

Categories: Hacking Life, Making Time, cooking

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The road to becoming a successful meal planner is paved with good intentions, isn’t it?

I’m a chronic recipe collector. On a daily basis, I tear recipes out of magazines, pin recipes to the personal Pinterest board I call “Yumminess,” I print recipes from websites and stash them into a binder, I borrow cookbooks from friends and neighbours and post ideas for delicious dinners to my blog’s Facebook page. Does all of this make me a successful meal planner? You’d think it would, but no, it does not. It makes me a chronic recipe collector.

Homemade Pita Pizzas

This summer I’m determined to be a better meal planner. Planning meals makes life so much less stressful, and for busy working mothers, it can be a life saver during the time of day that is usually so rushed and when so many demands are being made by members of the family.

Standing in front of the refrigerator trying to figure out what to make for dinner drives me crazy, and avoiding that craziness is what prompts me to do meal planning. I want to go from recipe collector to meal planner!

You can do meal planning on as small or grand a scale as you’re comfortable with. When I do meal planning, sometimes I only plan a week in advance, and leave out the weekends, assuming we will do takeout one night and leftovers another. Other times I’ve done a whole month in advance, plotting each meal on a dry erase calendar, using my recipe collection as inspiration.

Regardless of the scale upon which you decide to plan meals for your family, here are five quick steps for making your dream of becoming a meal planner into reality.

Make Meal Planning a Breeze…

  1. Collect recipes. (See my habit, described above.) Make it a habit to grab recipes or dinner ideas you think your family will enjoy wherever and whenever you see them. If your kids are old enough, get them into recipe collecting too, and engage them in choosing healthy meals they’ll actually eat.
  2. Pick a day to make meal planning your task. I use Sunday afternoons or evenings, usually, to sit down with a sheet of paper and plot out five meals I want to make over the coming week.
  3. Plan your grocery list around the meals you have planned. For example, if I know I’m going to make spaghetti and meatballs on Wednesday night, I’ll see if all of the ingredients I need are on hand. Whatever isn’t in the pantry, fridge or freezer goes on the grocery list.
  4. Shop according to your plan. (Better yet, if you can afford it and want to save time, arrange to have your groceries delivered.)
  5. Post your meal plan somewhere prominent in your kitchen so you’ll easily remember each morning if there’s something you need to defrost or if you need to carve out some afternoon time to prepare the meal. Mine often gets clipped to the front of the fridge, but I’ve used a dry erase board, too.

Try to stick to the plan, but if for some reason, you can’t don’t sweat it. Meal planning is meant to make life less stressful. Swap out a meal for another night or give yourself permission to call for pizza if you run out of time.

What are your favorite sites for recipe hunting?

What tips do you have for integrating meal planning into your life?

Five Favourite Easy Meals for Working Moms

Categories: The Juggle, cooking

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It’s my job to make sure supper is made for my family seven days a week. On occasion my husband will help out by barbecuing something for supper, but even then, the planning of that meal and figuring out what side dishes will go with the barbecued portion of the meal usually falls to me.

Most days I work from home, so the planning and execution of dinner isn’t too difficult to manage. It’s those days when I’m working at the college, heading out the classroom door at 4:00 on my way to pick up my son from daycare by 4:30, and hoping to have dinner on the table by 5:30 when my husband gets home from work that are the real challenge. Phew. It tired me out just writing that sentence!

Fortunately, I have a few tricks up my sleeve in the dinner department. There are a few meals that I like to have ready to go for those hectic days when it seems like everything has to be done and ready all at once. I rely on my crock pot a lot on the really busy days, but it’s not always necessary to use the slow cooker to make a good, quick, meal that will satisfy a carpenter’s appetite.

Here are five meals that are my favorite to cook when I know I’m going to be pressed for time to make dinner for my family.

Chili: My son Nate is a picky eater, but one food that he has always loved is chili. This baffles me, but I don’t question it because chili is one of few dishes that all three of us can sit down and eat together. My crock post chili recipe is very easy and can be put into the crock pot in the evening and turned on first thing in the morning before heading out the door. There are so many chili variations out there. Pick one, practice it on the weekend, and make it work for you through the week.

Chili Ingredients

Spaghetti and Meatballs: Is there any family who does not rely on spaghetti and meatballs once in awhile when in a pinch? I buy large jars of sauce and leave frozen meatballs to simmer in that sauce in the crock pot during the day. Then all I have to do when I get home is cook the spaghetti noodles and open the wine.

“Clean out the Fridge” Chopped Salad: For this meal, a little bit of planning is needed. The night before a busy day, I comb through the contents of my fridge for any tidbits that would make a garden salad into a deluxe, dinner-sized salad. I chop lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, celery and any other vegetable I find and store this in the fridge in a sealed container. Leftover roasted chicken, pork tenderloin or even cubes of leftover steak are wonderful additions that tend to please the meat-eater of the house (my husband). I also like to add things ingredients such as chick peas, black beans, dried cranberries or small chunks of cheese. When I get home from work, all I have to do is toss everything together and choose a dressing.

Chunky Chef Salad

Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches: Because we have a preschooler at home, we eat chicken fingers fairly often. Graham and I don’t care for them plain, so we toss ours in Buffalo wing sauce and throw them on a crusty bun with a slice of tomato, lettuce and a squirt of Caesar salad dressing. Sometimes I’ll serve it with raw veggies and dip, but sometimes I’ll just serve it with fries. The prep time on this meal is low and the enjoyment factor is high.

Pulled Pork, Burrito-Style: This combination of foods is a new one to me, as my cousin’s wife just shared it with me last week. She told me to throw some pork chops or pork tenderloin in the crock pot with a pouch of taco seasoning, a jar of salsa, a can of black beans, an onion, some garlic powder and any other ingredient I’d like such as chopped green peppers or corn, then cook on low for at least eight hours. Then I shred the pork and stir everything all together, then serve on warm tortillas. I tried out her recommendation the day after she suggested it and the meal immediately became a new favourite of ours.

What is your go-to meal for busy weeknights when you’re on the clock?

Thanksgiving leftovers? Here’s what to do with them

Categories: Frugal Living, cooking, do more with less

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It’s 9 p.m. The dishes are done. The kids are eying the extra pie, calling dibs on it for breakfast. The dog is looking longingly at the bones left on the table. And I’ve got about a metric ton of leftovers in the fridge and freezer.

What do you do with your Thanksgiving leftovers?

I think we all pretty much know what to do with what’s left of the turkey — use the carcass for soup, make a congee (a thin rice porridge), chop the meat into salad or stews, etc. (and if you need more inspiration, you can adapt some ideas from these suggestions for what to do with leftover roast chicken). Pies and Cakes equal breakfast the next day. But what about the rest of those Thanksgiving leftovers? The green beans? The mashed potatoes? The stuffing?

The internet is vast, so you can find the recipes that suit your family best. But here are a few great ideas:
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My family’s vegetarian adventure

Categories: Hacking Life, cooking, do more with less

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Back in the day—that is, long before he and I were together—my husband was a vegetarian. So much so that when his first child was born, back in the early 1990s, he fed her soy butter and “not dogs” and lots of tofu.

By the time his youngest child was born, though, in the mid-2000s, he was letting the baby lick steak off of a fork at the dinner table. So when the kind folks at Tribe Hummus and Veggie Patch offered to let my family try a bunch of vegetarian goodies in honor of October being vegetarian awareness month, I thought that perhaps those long-dormant vegetarian tendencies might surface again.
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Are you teaching your kids to cook?

Categories: Frugal Living, Hacking Life, Parenting, cooking

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With the focus on childhood obesity and the emphasis on healthy eating, it only makes sense to include your kids when it comes to planning out their meals. But, as all busy parents know, working through a recipe with a tiny helper can make the meal take twice as long (or longer) to prepare—that’s a difficult trade-off when you’re dealing with the witching hour.

A recent article in The New York Times suggested that bringing back home economics classes might be the key to controlling our nation’s obesity epidemic. And I think that’s a great idea.
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Post-holiday help with leftovers

Categories: Hacking Life, Making Time, Uncategorized, cooking, do more with less

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This year was only the second one in nearly two decades in which I did not cook all or most of a ginormous feast for Thanksgiving. The first time was last year, and then I missed it so much that I cooked everything the next day, just so I could have leftovers to munch on. This year, I made two side dishes and didn’t miss cooking the main part much; my brother’s in-laws sent us home from their house with an ample supply of leftovers.

But you may be staring down half a turkey and a quart of cranberry sauce and wondering what to do with it all, let alone the sweet potatoes and the mashed potatoes and the rest of it. Here are some suggestions:
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How to cook a holiday ham (wasn’t there one at the first Thanksgiving?)

Categories: Frugal Living, Hacking Life, Uncategorized, cooking

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My youngest brother talked me into making a holiday ham for a recent family brunch, and while I groused about the extra work, it was mostly for effect. I was quite happy to “have” to make one.

(How did he talk me into it? By telling me that his newly minted 1-year-old loves the stuff. I pretty much agreed immediately. I’m a pushover that way.)

This same brother is the only one in my immediate family who actually likes turkey, so we’ve always had a ham on the Thanksgiving table as well as a small, token bird for him. But I’ve been known to make a full-on holiday ham for no particular reason, not just for a celebratory feast, because it is one of the easiest, most cost-effective ways to feed a crowd — even if the crowd is made up of people who happen to be living at my house at the time.

Cooking a ham may seem intimidating if you haven’t tackled one before. Here’s what to look for at the store, how to cook it, why it works for a busy working mom, and what to do with all those leftovers.
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