Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Food Week Q & A (Part IV)

lori said... I am impressed by the healthy and delicious looking foods you post on your blog. How do you do make it happen while both working and parenting 3? Do you have any tricks, techniques, or organizational skills you could pass along? Thanks for your great blog!
Heather said... Here's a question for you -- when do you plan and shop for your meals? Do you have a set routine? The planning is always a major challenge for us . . .HCP
Dear Lori & Heather and anyone else out there reading:
Are you MWC's? (Moms-With-Careers) If so, then you know how hard it is and you know how important being organized is.... If not, then you can probably imagine... so, please be sure to tell me what your tricks are too!!! I feel pretty much clueless about this virtually all the time!!! Having said that, I will say this: being organized is at least 75% of the battle. I seriously believe that. Now, I am not sure whether being organized matters so much because of its actual relevance and/or importance to the whole logistical operation, or whether being organized matters so much simply because of the mental health related side-effects (i.e., feeling in control of something that is utterly out of control; believing we're on top of it when we can never actually get on top of it; thinking that we have it covered when it is never truly covered)... but regardless... organization is key (at least for me). Key key key. And one thing I have going for me is that I can be (when I want to be) a super organized person. Thinking strategically comes naturally for me. And I'm always trying to improve on my system(s) and flex things as they need to be flexed (which is, alas, ALL THE TIME). My mom is also good at this kind of thing and she often helps me to tweak my system when she visits. Anyway... even though I'm pretty well organized, I do not have any secret recipes for making it all work. In fact, there are significant periods of time during which I feel like it is not working at all for me. We can be cruising right along, everything grooving and feeling like it is all holding together... and then... smack!--seemingly out of nowhere the whole thing crumbles and it feels like it will never come together again. It is a roller coaster of organization-(or perception thereof)-disorganization-(or perception thereof)-organization------ you get the idea; it just goes on and on like that. In regards to organizing our life where food/eating/meals/food-prep is concerned, I've tried tons of things. Tons of things. Right now here is where we stand...
Top Ten: Things That I'm Currently Doing That Seem To Make Me Feel At Least Somewhat Organized Where All-Things-Food Are Concerned~~
  1. I food shop once per week and try to avoid any/all food shopping whatsoever the rest of the time. I go to a big supermarket and buy what I can there. If I can't find it there, I don't get it. Every once in a while (like, maybe every 2-4 months) I stock up on things from a specialty/gourmet shop that I can't get at my regular big-name market.
  2. I keep a notepad and pen on the counter next to the fridge and we write down what is needed there. I spend some time organizing and polishing that list before I head to the store with it. I try hard to stick to the list.
  3. Currently I'm grocery shopping on Sunday mornings. I am sort of pondering what we'll have all the time, and thinking ahead to the next week of things that I'll want to make for dinners. I cook, and we eat, very seasonally. Sunday morning while I'm having my coffee I try to start writing out my food plans for the week and my shopping list. I take requests from Braydon, Kyle, and Owen. I always try to plan for one pasta meal each week, one fish/seafood meal per week, at least one vegetarian meal per week, and one meat meal per week. At 9:00 I put Meera down for her morning nap and then I'm immediately out the door to the store. [important note: I absolutely HATE HATE HATE that I have to sacrifice precious weekend time to grocery shop. HATE IT. Unfortunately, it is how it is working out right now and no matter how hard I've tried it seems to be the only halfway workable time to do it. So it goes.]
  4. I avoid, at all costs, food shopping with all three kids. I try to go alone whenever possible, and this is my preference, by far. Lately, however, I'm taking either Kyle or Owen with me because it gives them each some alone time with me (and the other with Braydon while they stay home for Meera's nap and do projects around the house).
  5. I have a "lunch station" in the kitchen. It is the counter area closest to the fridge. The lower cabinets store all of the lunch packaging stuff (the bento box systems, thermoses, lunch bags, napkins, water bottles, etc.). The drawers there contain zip loc baggies, saran wrap, clips, etc. The upper cabinets contain all non-perishable lunch stuff. Right there on the counter is where we keep our breads. So... when I make lunches each night it is relatively easy. Everything is literally right there (including the fridge), literally within an arm's reach. It cuts down on time tremendously.
  6. The "lunch station" also makes road-trip or picnic lunches easy on the weekends. I can easily and relatively painlessly put together lunches-(or snack)-to-go for us to eat in the car or at the park. This saves us a ton of time, fat/calories, and money on the weekends. [photo below of a typical weekend K & O lunch-to-go]
  7. I have a "Meera station" in the kitchen. A cupboard that is dedicated solely to her stuff, including her bottle system and all things baby-food related. We keep all of her non-perishable baby food in one basket on the counter. This makes Meera feeding easy. [it also makes packing up food-for-Meera easy when we're heading out to a restaurant or a friend's house]
  8. I already mentioned the "Snack Drawer" in a previous post.
  9. For dinners........ (the toughest)..... I've tried different things (like planning out menus for each day, not planning menus at all, and everything else in between)... and what is working for us is this: I plan ahead for a week's worth of meals and shop for the ingredients for them on Sunday. I try hard to be realistic and plan for quick/easy/healthy meals that we will actually want to eat and enjoy. Each week I have 3-5 solid dinners ready to go...
  10. ... carry over from 7 above... The other 2-4 nights we choose from the following options: a] order pizza to be delivered or some other kind of take-out (note: we do this on average once per week); b] have leftovers (note: we all -- K, O, H, and B -- truly hate leftovers and I wish it wasn't so, but it is, although I still try hard to make us eat leftovers whenever possible); c] have soup and bread and cheese for dinner (note: we've found some great organic high-quality canned soups that we like, I also make soup pretty often and always freeze the leftovers for easy re-heating); d] eat one of our staple stand-by meals (note: these include for K & O things like macaroni & cheese, tortellini or ravioli, etc. and for H & B these include things like egg-and-cheese-on-a-bagel, a big salad, sandwiches, etc.); e] my favorite----- GO OUT TO EAT.

Dear readers, please leave a comment here-- WHAT ARE YOUR TRICKS AND TIPS???????


Heather said...

Thanks, Heather! Yeah, I'm a MWC, for sure!!! I'm an attorney with a busy litigation practice, my husband owns his own business and we're parenting our 3 y/o son with autism (who also is adopted and African American -- he's got the market cornered on the "A" qualifiers, since he's Awesome and Amazing, too!). So, yeah, most of the time I feel like a MWTC (or mom with THREE careers)!!!!!!!

Great tips, especially the lunch station! For now my guy eats school lunch, which I kind of hate but his food choices are so limited (think normal toddler pickiness times about 1,000) that I like him to be exposed to the different choices at school lunch. I'm so inspired by your Part III answers that I'm trying to incorporate that into having B try new things -- rising to the challenge over here!

I do something similar to you for the meals -- I try to plan menus on Sunday, make shopping list,and my husband goes the store (hooray!) that morning. On slower weekends I try to prep some of the food for the week or even assemble some dishes to be thrown in the oven. Things go much more smoothly when I take this time to plan -- I just don't always do it . . .

Like you, we also build in leftovers/take-out/soup'n'sammie nights.

Oops, I've written a novel on your blog! Thanks for all your good tips!


Anonymous said...

Well, I am a single Mom of 2 (one 16 month old), working on my PhD, with 2 dogs and 2 cats with a house and garden. What can I tell you ... I tell my self "Look what you achieved today. That great."
That of course includes getting something healthy on the table. I like to have everything somewhat neat. We all do best if we stick to a set programm.

Juli said...

as far as organization goes...

i developped a checklist of food staples and household items that i run through while making my grocery list. if i don't do that, there's always something forgotten.

also, i've developed a by-aisle grocery shopping list template. i shop at the same store every time and using this list keeps me from missing an item along the way. i hate to backtrack!

and i never ever shop with my kids! there would be no room in my cart for the food!

Life in the Bend said...

I've enjoyed these food posts so much! Did your boys ever go through a phase where they were picky eaters? We have always been bold about introducing our kids to all types of foods and they were very willing to try everything. Now, as they approach two years old, they have gotten much, much pickier and often reject foods they used to love.

We recently signed up for It puts together a weekly dinner menu according to seasonal items and creates a grocery list for you. I'm insulin resistant, and the program has a menu option that works for me. So far, this has been a helpful tool for us.

Cheryl said...

I have a similar system for lunches. We have a cupboard with bins in it. One bin has 'sweet' choices such as cookies, fruit snacks, etc. Another bin has 'salty' choices such as crackers, chips, nuts, etc. Another bin as fruit choices such as applesauce cups, fruit cups, etc.

Very early on our kids learned how to pack their own lunches. They may choose a fruit or vegetable (also available in the frig), a sweet and a salty. The parent provides the sandwhich or main part of the meal (sometimes leftovers in a thermos)

Katie said...

I am also a career Mom with a 16 month old. I love MS Excel and use it in my daily life as much as possible. It is totally dorky but it works for me!

I created a master grocery list in Excel a couple of years ago. It includes all of the staples I always buy and items I occasionally buy. The list is organized by food category: vegetables, fruits, dairy, meats, grains/bread, canned goods, frozen, etc. There is also a category for Misc items that I infrequently buy. When I make my list, I go through the master list and highlight what I need. This way I don't have to think as much and I'm less likely to forget something.

My other suggestion (if the service is available where you live) is to get groceries delivered to your home. You can get same day delivery most days as long as you schedule it by a certain time. In fact, I have a delivery coming this morning! I only do this when I really don't have time and/or energy to go shop. Another great time to use this service is to replace that first awful trip to the store after getting home from a vacation! It requires a little advance planning but feels like a life saver.

With the store that I use, if you buy $150 or more, the delivery is free. This is a little more than my average weekly trip, so I make sure to stock up on misc items like canned beans and dish soap.

Thanks for sharing your recipes and tips!