Sunday, November 27, 2011

The best part of waking up...

is already having a plan for breakfast.  I had a conversation this past week about my breakfast meal plan.  And, yes, it may seem a little uptight to some. I have used some variation of a breakfast plan for years, tweaking it as my family's needs and our nutritional awareness has changed, and it has made life so much easier in the mornings.

What's wrong with Fruity Pebbles?

Our cultural norms for breakfast tend to be bread-based.  Navigating bread, crackers, cereals and the like is a path full of landmines of food substitutes, additives, trans fat, and high fructose corn syrup.  Studies performed on lab rats have shown breakfast cereals to be at best extremely limited in nutritional value compared to whole wheat and at worst (when eaten exclusively) to cause organ failures from insulin shock.  Even the "healthier" options for cereal are not that good for you.  Not to mention they cost a pretty penny.

"But I don't have time to fix breakfast!"

Mornings are not my thing, so let me tell you I am NOT up at the crack of dawn cooking up breakfast.  Plus, we have four children (and ourselves) to get ready and out the door on time for work/school.  I looked at our family's schedule and nutritional needs and created a weekly breakfast plan.  And it works for us.  I don't have to try to think at 6:30 in the morning, and the children like knowing what's coming which makes for smoother mornings. One night my son asked me what was for breakfast in the morning. When I told him I wasn't sure, he said, "Look at your calendar, Mom."

Below is our family's breakfast meal plan. I included links to some of the recipes mentioned.  Feel free to use it as a starting point to plan for your family.  Keep in mind that nutrition isn't one-size-fits-all, so you may need to adjust accordingly.

Mondays- Baked good and fruit-I make some kind of quick bread or muffin on Sunday for breakfast the next day.  I vary it by the season or what we have on hand, such as banana bread or muffins, pumpkin bread, blueberry muffins, or cinnamon rolls if I made bread over the weekend.  Another option is to make a large batch of muffins or bread once a month or so and freeze it for later use.

Tuesdays- Cereal and fruit-I know I just said boxed cereal isn't good for you.  It isn't.  And we don't eat it.  We eat homemade granola, oatmeal, or we make a muesli-type breakfast that we call "make-your-own-cereal."  Granola is one of those things I make on the weekend.  Although, it doesn't take a whole lot of effort so I do sometimes throw it together during the week.  If you're not a fan of oatmeal, try making your own from raw oats or steel cut oats in the crock pot overnight.  I never liked oatmeal as a kid, but love the stuff I make myself with pecans, apples, cinnamon, and honey stirred in.  I had to play with the amount of water and the cooking time for both kinds of oatmeal because I do not like my oatmeal mushy. Yuck!

Wednesdays- Yogurt and fruit- I start my own yogurt in the crock pot on Sunday nights (can you tell I love my crock pot?)  It is soooo easy and soooo yummy.  If you don't want to make your own, pick up a large container of the plain organic yogurt in the store.  We stir in fresh or frozen fruit and honey or make smoothies and serve it with a half slice of toast or leftover bread from Monday.

Thursdays- Toast and fruit- I make my own bread most of the time, which I'll cover in a later post. When buying bread from the store pick one that is 100% whole wheat without partially hydrogenated oils or high fructose corn syrup.  

Friday- Eggs-This is kind of my Friday treat.  The kids aren't here so it's a little easier for me to take care of breakfast, although I could probably cook eggs on a kid-day occasionally.  Eggs actually are healthy and good for you, believe it or not.  Normally I make an omelet or a breakfast burrito to get some veggies in with it.  (Salsa counts, right?)  Breakfast burritos can be pre-made in a large batch and frozen to be reheated later. Supposedly you can mix omelets in Ziploc bags, freeze them, and then cook them in boiling water, but I'm not really comfortable with cooking my food that way. It takes me maybe five minutes to cook up breakfast, so not that big of a deal. It can take some searching to find tortillas without the yucky stuff. Whole Foods is the only place I have found healthy flour tortillas at a decent price.

Saturday & Sunday- Chef's Choice- Homemade biscuits, pancakes, waffles, coffee cake, or whatever we feel like cooking up.

Helpful Tips

-Look ahead at your week on Sunday to see what you might want to pre-make or to see if you need to tweak your plan for some reason.

-After dinner look at your plan to see if you need to get anything started that night for breakfast the next morning. Have a backup plan if you forget. In our house that's usually toast.

-Set a time for waking up, breakfast, and leaving the house. For example: the kids wake up at 6:30, breakfast is at 6:45, we clean up and leave at 7:00.  If they miss breakfast once or twice, I promise they won't starve, but they will start learning to manage their time.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Don't Throw that Out: A Thanksgiving Tale

Last Saturday night we had a Thanksgiving-ish meal since my parents were in town and the kids were with us.  Since all of us would be eating another Thanksgiving meal, and because we like to get creative in the food department, we decided to put a little twist on the traditional meal.

The Menu

Pumpkin Soup 
(I did NOT actually serve it in it's own shell. I cooked the pumpkin first and then made the soup.)
Glazed Ham with Pecan Crust
Scalloped Potatoes
Zwieback Rolls
Cranberry Apple Crisp

The pumpkin soup was not such a hit with the kids, but Ben and I liked it.  Everything else was a definite hit. And I have finally fulfilled my responsibility to the family heritage by making Zwiebacks.

The Leftovers

Of course Thanksgiving always brings to mind leftovers and endless days of eating leftover turkey sandwiches.  Which is an option.  We don't often buy lunch meat because the better options are EXPENSIVE, so some of the ham will be used for sandwiches as a treat.  (Side note: I remember turning up my nose at sandwiches made with leftover turkey as a kid because I was accustomed to slimy packaged lunch meat!) However, my favorite way to use up leftovers is to turn them into a "new" meal.  For example, the leftover scalloped potatoes and some of the ham became part of this morning's Farmer's Breakfast casserole.  

We don't often eat ham, so I am in the process of finding some decently healthy recipes for the leftovers to be spaced out over the next couple of months.  I searched for freezer meals, but a lot of the recipes I found don't really fit into our eating habits.  Also, my preference is to cut up the meat and freeze it in about two-cup portions to be added to recipes rather than pre-make the entire meal.

These are my initial findings in the recipe department:

Lentils with Ham and Rosemary
Southwestern Bean Pot
Split Pea Soup
Ham and Scalloped Potatoes
Cut up ham to add to homemade pizza, breakfast burritos, etc.

(Not a very long list, I'd love to hear any recipe ideas!)

The leftover pumpkin soup I froze in two-cup portions.  I often freeze the leftovers from soup or beans in smaller portions to be used in the future as quick-and-easy lunches or dinner.  Cheaper and healthier than Lean Cuisine, just add a salad, raw veggies, bread, or piece of fruit to round out the meal.

Other Ways to Save Food

I also spent a little time this morning taking care of fruit that was on its way out.  Pears that were getting overripe are sitting in my crock pot with apples and ginger about to become Apple and Pear Sauce with Ginger.  Grapes are flash-freezing on a cookie sheet in the freezer to be added to future smoothies.  Overripe bananas also go great in smoothies, banana bread or muffins, and pancakes.  Old (not moldy) bread can be frozen for use as bread crumbs or turned into croutons.

Yes, this does take a little time in the kitchen, but the alternative is throwing out the food and going to the grocery store to buy more food (think time, gas, and food money).  Saving the food you already have costs little-to-no money.  Plus, it probably doesn't take as much time as you'd think.  I spent about a half hour getting the food started this morning and then walked away to do other things.

Note: Several of the recipes I mentioned can be found in Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook, my favorite slow cooker cookbook.  I checked it out at my local library before buying a copy for myself.