Zero Waste Dinner: Chinese Hamburger

Once,  I listened to a podcast about a working lunch which was served to a group of 40 world leaders who were gathering at the UN. Sam Krass, who had served as the Obama family’s personal chef, along with a team of other chefs, served these world leaders, most of whom were presidents of their respected countries, a dinner made of trash.

That’s right, the entire meal was made out of perfectly good food that was intended to be thrown away out of NYC restaurant kitchens.

We, as a culture, waste a lot of food. This includes my own kitchen.

This week, I have been noting ways to use Zero Waste Cooking strategies in my kitchen.

Are you familiar with Zero Waste Cooking? This is an term I encountered while pre-reviewing Erin Odem’s book, More Than Just Making It, which will be released in bookstores in September (affiliate link).

As far as I know, I haven’t encountered this exact term before, but the idea behind it is very familiar to me. Zero Waste is a strategy that my mother and grandmother often used in their kitchens to stretch the weekly food budget. It’s actually very common in kitchens around the world, although not so much in the U.S. these days.

The idea behind Zero Waste Cooking is to use every food to its fullest potential.

For instance, this lettuce. It’s not bad or rotten, but it’s wilted after spending several long days in the fridge. It would make a very sad salad.

What do you normally do with lettuce like this? Do you just chop it into a chewy salad?

I normally just do what my mom did: make Chinese hamburger for dinner. And soon, before the lettuce goes bad!

The really nice thing about this dish is that it’s easy to keep the other ingredients on hand. Frozen ground turkey, a box of beef Rice-A-Roni, butter, and water.

Isn’t it nice to have a back up plan for wilted lettuce??!

Of course, there are considerations to be made when trying to elimate wasted food in your kitchen. The first consideration is food safety. (And, food safety has changed over the years as the bacteria changes. For instance, you can’t rely on your grandma’s method for thawing meat on the counter anymore, folks.)

But, at least you can stretch some overlooked lettuce from the back of the fridge instead of throwing it away!

Print

One-Pot Chinese Hamburger

This easy recipe is a great Zero Waste Cooking strategy for using wilted lettuce!

Servings 4

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground turkey
  • 1 box Beef Rice-A-Roni
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 head lettuce
  • reduced-sodium soy sauce optional

Instructions

  1. Heat ground turkey in large skillet over medium heat until cooked.

  2. Add butter and rice-vermicelli mix and sauté over medium heat until vermicelli is golden brown, stirring frequently.

  3. Slowly stir in water and 1/2 bag seasonings (to lessen sodium), and bring to a boil.

  4. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer 15-20 minutes until rice is cooked.  Chop lettuce into bite sized pieces.

  5. Turn off burner, but keep pot on stove. Stir lettuce into pot and cover. Leave 1-2 minutes to allow lettuce to wilt.

  6. Plate, sprinkle with soy sauce, and enjoy!

This easy recipe is a great Zero Waste Cooking strategy for using wilted lettuce!

Summer Reads

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It’s the Fourth of July, and I leave on vacation later this week. For me, rest and relaxation would never be possible without a big stack of books on the nightstand ready to be plowed through during the cracks of busy summer life. As mom, those afternoons of lazy beachside reading seem way out of reach, but I still find myself reading late into the night, sometimes hiding the light so I don’t wake anyone else up. It makes me feel like a kid again!

Included in this list are cookbooks, fantasy, Christian fiction and non-fiction.  This is a LONG list? Can I get through them all??? I don’t know, but I’m sure going to try!

THE MISTBORN TRILLOGY

This trilogy was part of my Christmas present from my husband, and I’m loving it! Currently on book two. This book is perfect if you enjoy reading sci fi or fantasy books and are a fan of the Lord of the Rings but uncomfortable with some of the content in the Game of Thrones series.

If I were to have a conversation about this trilogy in a college literature class, I would have quite a lot to say about the treatment of women in this book.

BROWN EGGS AND JAM JARS

By Aimee, the editor of Simple Bites. This book has been on my to read list ever since it came out, and I snagged it when I noticed it displayed in the Children’s section of our public library last week. It’s a gorgeous book! Description via Amazon:

“Aimée’s rural homestead upbringing,  years working as a professional chef and everyday life as  a busy mom led to the creation of the hugely popular blog  Simple Bites . Raising three young children with husband  Danny, Aimée traded her tongs and chef whites for a  laptop and camera, married her two passions—mothering  and cooking—and has since been creating recipes with  an emphasis on whole foods for the family table, sharing  stories and tips and inspiring readers to make the family– food connection on the Simple Bites blog.”

WE SURE CAN!

Description via Amazon:

“Perfect for fans of the growing locavore movement and those who are empowered by the idea of “putting up” their own preserves, this book will inspire readers to start their own jam sessions as soon as the year’s bumper crop of fruits and vegetables becomes available. Can anybody join the movement? We sure can!”

IF I RUN

It’s been AGES since I’ve picked up any Christian fiction, but Terri Blackstock has produced several enjoyable reads for me. A friend recommended this, and I’m expecting it to be very thrilling (and possibly end on a cliffhanger…).

IS THE BIBLE GOOD FOR WOMEN?

I can’t get over the fact that this book reads like it was written by my mom! I think it is because Alsup is an algebra teacher, just like mom! 😀 This book was sent to me by the publisher to review on the blog, and I’m about half way through it.

MEALS FROM MARS

Also sent to me by the publisher. Description below via Amazon.

“When talking about race, it helps to have something specific to talk about―a story we can all wrap our heads around. In Meals from Mars, Ben Sciacca provides that story: two men from different worlds forced by circumstance to see and hear and consider one another. It is a novel that demonstrates the social challenges and relational potential for racial reconciliation.”

GRACE BASED PARENTING

I’m reading this with a couple of friends. I initially borrowed a copy, but ordered it half way through the first chapter because I wanted my husband to have a chance to read it too!

“Rejecting rigid rules and checklists that don’t work, Dr. Kimmel recommends a parenting style that mirrors God’s love, reflects His forgiveness, and displaces fear as a motivator for behavior. As we embrace the grace God offers, we begin to give it-creating a solid foundation for growing morally strong and spiritually motivated children.”

GIVE YOUR CHILD THE WORLD

I used to work with international students at a large university, I am very aware of the importance of imparting a global perspective in my parenting! While Kansas doesn’t exactly sound like a diverse place to live, when my son and I attend Baby Rhyme Time at the local library, as white US citizens, we are typically in the minority. Our neighborhood houses the majority of international peoples in our city, and I want to make sure that we are doing our part in keeping our eyes open and in creating a safe and welcome environment for our neighbors and community.  I’m really appreciating this book, and I’m already feeling stretched outside of my comfort zone in many ways!

Give Your Child the World includes more than 600 children’s book recommendations from around the world. Reading lists are organized by region, country, and age range (ages 4-12). Each listing includes a brief description of the book, its themes, and any content of which parents should be aware.

Parents can introduce their children to the world from the comfort of home by simply opening a book together. Give Your Child the World is poised to become a bestselling family reading treasury that promotes literacy, develops a global perspective, and strengthens family bonds while increasing faith and compassion.”

A FAMILY SHAPED BY GRACE

I’m so excited that this book exists, and I can’t wait to read it! Gary Moreland has been extremely influential and encouraging in my writing life. Description via Amazon.

“‘Gary Morland is a gifted communicator who has learned many lessons the hard way.  He grew up in a dysfunctional family and went down that road himself, bottoming out as a confused alcoholic with a wife, two daughters, and no idea how to change. God transformed Gary’s life through his grace and the practical advice of wise mentors. Those lessons are passed along in this powerful and insightful book.’–John Fuller, cohost of Focus on the Family”

AT HOME IN THE WORLD

I followed Tsh Oxenreider’s blog as she, her three kids, and her husband packed their lives into 5 backpacks took a year long trip around the world. Now she has published a book about this experience, and I know it will be a wonderful read! Description via Amazon.

At Home in the World follows their journey from China to New Zealand, Ethiopia to England, and more. They traverse bumpy roads, stand in awe before a waterfall that feels like the edge of the earth, and chase each other through three-foot-wide passageways in Venice. And all the while Tsh grapples with the concept of home, as she learns what it means to be lost—yet at home—in the world.”

MORE THAN JUST MAKING IT

Last but not least, this book arrived in the mail yesterday, and I am SO EXCITED! I am on the release team for this book, so I get to review it before it is officially released on September 5. While you are waiting for the book to be released, check out Erin’s blog, The Humbled Homemaker. Description via Amazon.

“When you’re trapped in a cycle of financial frustration, and you feel like you’ve tried everything only to end up with more month than money yet again, More Than Just Making It is your promise and pathway to thriving again.

Take it from someone who’s been there. Erin Odom grew up in the private schools and neatly manicured lawns of Upper Middle Class America, but was thrown into low-income living during the economic crash. She was a stay-at-home-mom, her husband was supporting the family on a teacher’s salary, and despite the fact that they had no debt to their name, they were scrambling to make ends meet. Suddenly Erin found herself standing in line for food stamps, turning down play dates because she couldn’t afford the gas, and ultimately walking into bankruptcy court in the eighth month of her third pregnancy.

More Than Just Making It tells the story of their breaking point, as well as the triumph of their comeback. It took hard work, creativity, and faith in God’s provision to reset their bank account as well as their hearts, but ultimately they found a new way to thrive and freedom from financial anxiety. You can do the same. Learn how Erin and her family saved enough money to put $30,000 down on a home, buy a minivan in cash, and begin sending their daughter to private Christian school. More Than Just Making It will encourage readers to rise above their circumstances, empower them with money-saving tips, and reimagine the good life as God designed it outside the myth of the American Dream.”

It's the Fourth of July, and I leave on vacation later this week. For me, rest and relaxation would never be possible without a big stack of books on the nightstand ready to be plowed through during the cracks of busy summer life. From cookbooks to fiction to non-fiction, check out my "to reads"" this season!

Simple Life in the Kitchen

I recently signed up for an email course about simplifying life… 30 days and 30 emails later, and my life was feeling a lot more complicated.

Someone else telling me how to show gratitude, journal, be healthy physically and mentally, purge my closets, and avoid screen time. By the end of the course, I was so overwhelmed. Every new e-mail caused a twinge in my gut; I stopped opening them about a third of the way through.

For the last decade or so, our culture has become obsessed with simplifying life. Resources are everywhere. Topics ranging from organization and planning techniques (keep stuff) to purging techniques (toss it).

Along with those techniques come a entire new set of standards we aspire to meet. Combine that with a thousand Pinterest “to do’s” and that perfect Instagram images being bombarded at us every day and HOLY COW. It’s easy to quickly work yourself into a panic attack in the process of trying to have a “simplier” life.

The thing is–and I don’t know why we as a culture haven’t caught onto this by now–life is different for everyone. EVERYONE. Even a simple life varies from person to person.

You don’t have to “fit” to simplify. You don’t have to call yourself a “minimalist” or a “crunchy mom” or “thrifty” or “green” to live a simple, happy life.

You really, really don’t have to be any of those things to simplify life in the kitchen.

For me, what it all really boiled down to is this question: does my life currently align with my values? And, if not, what do I need to do to change to make that happen?

Are the choices in my own kitchen lining up with the way I really want to live?

How it applies to the kitchen

What does simple living look like in the kitchen?

Fair question.

Well, for starters, simple living in my kitchen is not going to be exactly the same as yours! (Ahem, see the section above if I haven’t beat that point into the ground yet.)

In my kitchen, I have some very specific values that I aspire to.

Time

I want to take time to connect with my family every day.

This means that we set aside some — not all, but some — evening time each night to sit around the table and enjoy a meal together. We pray together. We share the family news.

It’s really not as romantic as it sounds.

My one-year-old son rejects food by throwing it and usually demands whatever I forgot in the fridge (usually his cup of milk) the second I sit down.

I have a needy dog who started begging for food the second she spotted me through the animal shelter cage bars seven years ago and hasn’t stopped.

My introverted husband is usually unwinding internally from his socially demanding job while simultaneously listening to his extroverted wife lay out every monotonous detail of the last 9-10 hours.

Sometimes we end the meal more frustrated and disconnected than when we began. That’s just how life goes sometimes.

Overall, it’s worth the effort. Today at lunch, we had cereal and scrambled eggs. (There’s a lazy lunch idea if I’ve ever heard one!) We all sat there quietly spooning raisin bran into our mouths and collecting ourselves after a busy morning. It’s moments like this.

And, the moment after when my 16 month-old started drinking the milk out of his little bowl without missing a drop! It’s moments like that too. (I wonder who he learned that trick from? Oh, right, me. Every. Morning.)

Parenting

I want my son to be exposed to a variety of textures and flavors in his first years of feeding himself.

I have been blessed with an adventurous toddler. I think I fed him two bites of that infant cereal before he grabbed the spoon and started feeding himself.  Then, a couple of days later, he started grabbing for whatever was on my plate. He knew that whatever I was eating had to be better than that mush I was pushing toward him.

But even an adventurous eater has to be encouraged. We went through a phase where he was only eating words he could sign. Cracker, apple, milk. Getting out of that rut of him always eating the same foods was a struggle.

Nutrition

I want us to eat with health and nutrition in mind.

When it comes to nutrition, the rules in my kitchen are simple: everything varied and in moderation.

Carbs, fats, protein in various forms and in moderation.  Dessert in moderation. Sodium in moderation.

Frankly, it’s more fun to embrace a creative, balanced plate!

At the age of 28, why am I so conscious of this?

Two generations ago on one branch of the family, almost none of my family survived past the age of 55. Heart disease was rampant.

One generation ago in another branch, diabetes grabbed ahold. It feels like we’re genetically set up for failure here.

I look to my parents and my husband’s parents, both of whom are very conscious eaters, and I can see how their food choices have assisted them in staying healthy.

Our bodies are much more likely to succeed in the battle to stay healthy if we give them the tools they need.

For me, what it all really boiled down to is this question: does my life currently align with my values? And, if not, what do I need to do to change to make that happen?

Financial

I want to live within our means and on budget.

Part of reality of living a simple life as parents is that we choose to live on one consistent full-time income. Yes, I do work a little from home, but there is nothing glamorous about our income or our lifestyle.

I choose to stick to a grocery budget and stretch every dollar because I chose this life. Because me staying home right now is important to me, to us, and we love it!

So, here’s the question I ask myself often: are the choices in my own kitchen lining up with the way I really want to live?

3 Ways to Keep Your Kitchen Cool in Summer

This website uses affiliate links, which means that at no added cost to you, I get a small percentage of every sale. I do not endorse anything that I myself would not use. You can view my full disclosure policy HERE. Thank you.

Summer is officially here! Beat the heat by using some strategy in the kitchen!

Enjoy these three quick tips! Your electric bill will thank you later…

1. Avoid the oven and stovetop! Use countertop appliances instead!

Small countertop appliances like the microwave, rice cooker, and slow cooker are your best friends this time of year! Give the range a break, and plan your meals for the week around these smaller appliances.

I particularly like to use a rice cooker with a steamer basket (aff) this time of year! I load rice in the bottom, meat and veggies in the top, and let it all cook at the same time! It’s quick and versatile for healthy weeknight dinners!

Related Post  Summer Vegetable Ravioli Salad

2. Serve cold meals!

Salads, sandwiches, Current favorite at my house: a kid friendly version of an antipasto platter. On a hot day, a variety of our family’s favorite fruits, vegetables, cheeses, hummus, and/or deli meats make for a really fun meal! You can make it as healthy as you desire by being choosy about what you include!

3. Take it outside!

Keep the house cool by cooking on the grill! Then, when you are done, come back in and enjoy the A/C!

Minimalist Meal Planning

“WHAT’S FOR DINNER?”Uggh, even just typing that question out makes me stress out a little.

I’ve been there, on a busy weeknight, when all of a sudden a room full of hungry eyes lock onto you like an interrogation spotlight.

Are you overwhelmed by meal planning and grocery shopping? Or are you just winging it on any given night? I know I have been this way before.

I finally decided to simplify. You have no idea how much I wish I would have simplified my meal planning years ago!

How did I simplify?

Are you overwhelmed by meal planning and grocery shopping? Or are you just winging it on any given night? I know I have been this way before. I finally decided to simplify. You have no idea how much I wish I would have simplified my meal planning years ago!

I stopped eating out.

I know that cooking at home seems more complicated, but it’s really not. Why?

  • It’s healthier. Eating at home means you have better knowledge of what you are putting into your body and control over the size of your portion.
  • It’s cost effective. There was a point in our marriage where my husband and I were eating well at home for less than $40 a week. You read that right — it only took two President Jacksons cover 21 meals. These days, we are also concerned about using wholesome ingredients, so we traded out the boxed mac and cheese for a produce coop and local meats and still spend well under $100 a week for a family of 3.
  • Cooking and eating together at home strengthens relationships–whether it’s friends, family, acquaintances. If your meals are in sync, your lives will be more in sync.
  • Self-esteem booster! Choosing a healthy meal can positively affect the way you see yourself, which may be one of the most important benefits of all.

I simplified grocery shopping with my Minimalist Grocery List.

A well-stocked pantry is the first step to simplifying your meal prep.

But uggggh I do NOT like grocery shopping. I REALLY don’t like having to go back to the store at the last second. I REALLY REALLY don’t like wasting money on groceries.

So, I came up with a system, and IT WORKS! I call it the Minimalist Grocery List!

Are you overwhelmed by meal planning and grocery shopping? Or are you just winging it on any given night? I know I have been this way before. I finally decided to simplify. You have no idea how much I wish I would have simplified my meal planning years ago!

What’s special about this list?

–I freed myself by eliminating the foods from my diet that leave me feeling icky! It’s amazing, when you start to pay attention, how many foods on grocery store shelves are junk. Instead of eating boxed snacks, we now eat fresh fruits and veggies. If you don’t want to eat the junk, don’t allow it in your house! (And, bonus, I’ve lost a lot of weight with this strategy!)

–It’s easier on your budget by allowing you to stockpile the items you use while they are on sale.

–Save time grocery shopping by limiting yourself to easy to find ingredients.

–MOST OF ALL, save time on planning meals and cooking because you will already have everything you need in your pantry!

You will already have EVERYTHING you need in your pantry! And that feels GOOD.

I created a Minimalist Meal Plan schedule.

A well-stocked pantry is the first step to simplifying your meal prep. The second step is having a reliable dinner schedule to default to.

I plan our dinner schedule by categories. I loosely follow the routine below:

  • Mondays: rice bowls
  • Tuesdays: tacos
  • Wednesdays: sandwiches
  • Thursdays: salads
  • Fridays: pasta
  • Saturdays: pizza
  • Sunday: soup

Don’t forget to make a meal plan every week!

Every Saturday, after picking up the produce from my co-op, I sit down and make a plan for how we are going to use that food in our meals that week. I post the plan on the fridge so that everyone in the family is able to access it. We are more successful at eating at home when we start the week with a stocked kitchen and when everyone is made aware of the plan!

The Weekly Nutrition Reflection Checklist

It’s easy to default to a few quick meals, but I try to use the practice of reflection to expose my family, especially kids, to a wide variety of flavors and textures and to encourage us to eat a variety of highly nutritious foods in moderation. My questions change over time and in different life chapters. Take some time to think of one or two questions of your own to add!

  • Did I utilize a wide variety of vegetables and fruits in a variety of colors?
  • Did I use more fresh foods than packaged foods?
  • Did I primarily use lean meats and protein sources?
  • Was my family exposed to a high level of sugar or sodium throughout the week?
  • Did everyone in the family feel like they were able to contribute to our meals together in some way?

Keep it in perspective

Above all, meal planning is an opportunity to serve your family and provide a safe and consistent place to gather together daily. There is much more to life than meal planning.

I have to remind myself of the purpose of shopping for and preparing tacos on any given Tuesday. It’s not because I love to shop or because I love to cook; it is because I love my family. I love spending time with them. I want them to eat nutritious food and have healthy, strong bodies. I crave the dinner conversation, even though the majority of the conversation in this chapter of life is interrupted with “No no, please don’t throw that on the floor.”

And, as a Christian, I ultimately find my perspective in this Bible verse.

Maintain a larger perspective. If you are feeling overwhelmed, take some time (yeah right, who has time… but seriously, try) to spend some time listing some things you are grateful for about this meal planning process. Contemplate what is meaningful to you. Life is fragile and can change in an instant, so keep track of what you are thankful for in everything today, in this moment, before it is passed.

I’ll be your cheerleader! You can do it!

Grocery shopping and meal planning does not have to be a difficult, expensive, and time consuming process. If you are overwhelmed by meal planning, I can help. Here’s how: my blog, Brohgan.com, is committing to making delicious meals from a standard list of common ingredients that can easily be stockpiled in a pantry.

Would you like to be friends? Me too!

If you provide me with your e-mail below, I will send you a weekly newsletter on Fridays. This newsletter includes a meal plan for the upcoming week and some encouraging weekend links. If you sign up below, my gift to you is a quick, printable guide to assist you as you begin your minimalist meal planning journey!

Subscribe to my weekly newsletter & meal plan and receive your *free* minimalist meal planning guide!

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How to Survive Cooking with Babies and Toddlers

Moms, cooking with a baby or toddler is not easy. In fact, this is a chore that seems nearly impossible most days. Here are some tips that might help!

The core sounds simple: cooking dinner. But, the reality of the situation is that moms are trying to complete a task that requires a moderate amount of focus in a room FULL safety hazards. The hot pots, pans and knives are of course a concern, along with the chemicals under the sink, but with littles around there are countless minor accidents and injuries in the kitchen involving the hard non-cushioned flooring, the countless furniture corners at a toddler’s head level, and all the cabinet doors and drawers for pinching fingers.

(And each bump and scrape pulls you away from your cooking task.)

Since my son was born, I doubt I have spent any significant amount of time in a kitchen without something happening.  Whether it was him as an infant demanding a series of cluster feeds right in the middle of making dinner, him throwing toy after toy off the high chair tray at 9 months, or him now, at 15 months, trying to crawl into the dishwasher to retrieve a favorite cup, it’s always something.

Just as you start to find a strategy that works, a strategy that keeps those little hands busy and that little mind occupied, these kids grow up and change a little bit, just enough that yesterday’s perfectly formulated plan no longer applies.

Every day is different. Every. single. day.

And that’s awesome! Because when I think back to all of those daily kitchen moments over the course of the last 15 months, I realize that I was watching my son grow every day right before my eyes. It’s messy and stressful, but that’s so cool!

But it also makes the simple chore of cooking dinner DIFFICULT.

Cooking dinner is a chore that you can’t just skip, either. At least, not most nights. There is now an additional mouth to feed (and diaper and take to the doctor and put through college etc. etc.). Eating at home is a financial decision for most families, and getting take out every night is just not realistic.

Moms, cooking with a baby or toddler is not easy. In fact, this is a chore that seems nearly impossible most days. Here are some tips that might help!

Ask for help.

I don’t know why it was so difficult for me to ask for help with cooking.

When my son was first born, I would try to be the one who made dinner every night. I enjoy cooking. It’s a creative outlet and it’s stress relieving for me… normally… before I became a parent.

But, in those crazy early baby days, making dinner would ALWAYS seem to be timed with a feeding.

(And forget those lies that all the baby books say about nursing every 3 hours… my son was an every hour kid from the day he was born until he started eating solids.)

So, cooking became the thing that I did while someone tiny was grouchy with me. I was pretty hesitant to give up the only chore that I actually enjoy. I was brand spankin’ new to this food blog thing, and I was relishing every minute in the kitchen possible.

So, I had to ask my husband for help.

There were a few days that I would try and do the cooking while he attempted to pacify the unhappy bebe. Often we would switch half way through.

The point is that I often needed help. There were days when cooking dinner was something that required two people to accomplish, and I had to ask for help in some way every night.

Snacks are a game changer!

Hallelujah, there came a day when the baby grew up and SNACKS became my help. Do you know how long it takes an older baby to get one of those rice puffs off the high chair tray and into their mouth? Usually long enough to at least put something frozen into the oven.

Involve babies and toddlers in the shopping process.

This is going to sound easier than it is, but involving my son in the grocery shopping process early on and continuing through toddlerhood was a good decision for me.

First, it has built his food vocabulary. I remember holding up all the produce for my son to examine from his infant carrier (and feeling like a crazy woman while doing so). Now, when he sees a banana, he starts flailing around making the sign and just about jumps out of the cart.

I narrate the names and flavors and colors and anything else I could think of about every food we see. I remind him why we don’t buy cookies EVERY time (just most times… haha).  I tell him why I am buying it. “This green zucchini squash is going to be for dinner on Wednesday.”

Also, it makes new foods, or foods we don’t eat often, a tiny bit less foreign.

When Wednesday comes around, and we pull out the squash, it’s a tiny bit less foreign (even though it will, inevitably, be tossed onto the floor… all part of the learning process).

And yes, there are some trips to the store where I’m tired and grouchy and I don’t do this. And, those trips are usually quick and more difficult.

Just a note: after learning the hard way, I really prefer building vocabulary at the store vs. at the dinner table. We hit a rut where my son would only eat the foods he knew the words for and he was asking for, which was only fruit bars, apple sauce and bread. Now I just plop something in front of him and tell him it’s dinner without telling him any of the names for the foods. He’s much more willing to try “dinner” than 10 foods with new names all mixed together.

Hand out age appropriate tasks.

When it comes time to cook the squash on Wednesday, I usually try to involve everyone in the family in some way. My son can help me wash it in the sink. And, after I cut it, if I need the pieces transferred into a bowl, he could probably help with that.

When he was younger, I might have him hold one of the big spoons, or he would help get the pot out of the oven drawer.

When he was even younger than that, old enough to be alert, but not old enough that he was mobile, he would just watch from his bouncer on the floor while I talked to him.

There is always an age appropriate task. It takes patience and some creativitiy to think of it. It also takes some willingness to let go of the adult agenda and just have fun together.

Yes, handing out these tasks takes A LOT of time. I can wash a zucchini in 10 seconds, but with help it might take a minute, if all goes well.

Manage your expectations.

Every day is different, and every dinnertime is going to be different. You could cook frozen chicken nuggets every evening for a year, but it’s still going to be nearly impossible to do some days.

Here is how I manage my dinnertime expectations:

1. I always ALWAYS have a quick back up on hand. Usually, that back up is bread with peanut butter. I’ve said it before: peanut butter is the glue that holds this family together.

2. I limit myself to trying new recipes. If you subscribe to my newsletter and receive my weekly meal plan, you probably notice that I typically try a new recipe on Tuesday. I spend the rest of the week cooking things that are familiar staples, many of which I have written about here on the blog.

3. Some chores can be saved for tomorrow. There are some nights when dinner, bath, bed goes bang bang bang, and all of a sudden the house is quiet and I’m exhausted. Except, nobody remembered to scrub that one pan. THE PAN CAN WAIT UNTIL MORNING. I promise you, that one friend of yours with a spotless house will never know (if they knock on the door, just hide it under the sink). You’re a mom of littles, and that takes some serious energy. Allow yourself the time you need to take care of yourself while you are able.

Best of luck to you, friends! If you have an more tips that are working for you, would you please share with everyone in the comments section below?

Chinese Restaurant Green Beans

These green beans with a sweet garlic ginger Chinese restaurant glaze are always a crowd pleaser, but they’re also great to eat at home, because they’re also terrific reheated!

We have an ongoing debate in my house: what cut of green beans is best?

French style? The skinny whole bean? The squat cut version?

Each member of the family has their own preference. (Skinny whole is mine!)

But no matter who wins the green bean cut debate, we always ALWAYS want green beans to taste like the magical green beans at a Chinese restaurant.

Do you want to know what the secret is to the magical Chinese restaurant beans?

No, really, do you want to know?

SUGAR.

So. much. sugar. (It’s like the owners of these restaurants know the way to our hearts, or something!)

So, I use honey. I try to lighten up my version of the beans at home a little, although it still is pretty sweet. We really don’t need more sugar in our lives!

I try to keep this recipe fairly casual. I taste and taste again until I like the flavor. I find that the flavor can vary greatly depending on the quality of ingredients you buy, especially the soy sauce, the fish sauce and the ginger.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil (or more, depending on if beans begin to stick to the skillet)
  • 1 lb bag of frozen green beans, any cut
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic (approx 4-5 cloves fresh)
  • 1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
  • a dash of fish sauce (This is a magical ingredient! Can be purchased at any Asian grocery store.)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp dried ground ginger (Fresh ginger would also be great! I just usually don’t take time to mess with it.)

Instructions:

  1. Pour about a tbsp of olive oil into a large skillet or wok. Warm over a medium heat.
  2. Dump green beans into skillet, and stir occasionally. (If the skillet is hot, this may spit!)
  3. Cover with cookie sheet or lid utnil beans are warmed. Stir occasionally to avoid sticking and encourage even cooking.
  4. When beans are no longer frozen, turn the burner down to medium-low and add the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine ingredients evenly, and then stir occasionally so that the sauce doesn’t burn.
  5. Remove from heat and serve warm.

Pesto Ricotta Pita Pizzas

Personal pita pizzas smothered in a garlic three cheese mixture (ricotta, mozarella, parmesan) and topped with a thin decadent layer of pesto. Such a simple recipe. This personal pizza only takes minutes to assemble and bake. Perfect for a quick meal or even as a snack!

There are days when you just need to partake in something distinctly adult.

(Especially when you are a stay-at-home parent.)

Some people turn to wine. Some people turn to coffee. Some people turn to chocolate.

On this particular day, I chose to make myself a personal pita pizza. (Just look at those pretty little colorful tomatoes from my produce co-op! LOVE!)

These pizzas never fail to amaze me with their simplicity and their elegant flavor.

Plus, pizza = fun. I need more fun in my life, always!

Smothered in pesto and a ricotta-mozzerella-garlic mashup, this pizza is a recipe passed down from my mother to me. On busy days, these are a must make for me.

After my last final of college, I remember coming home to an empty house and quickly making myself one of these. It’s really the ultimate comfort food! Especially when things are feeling rushed or stressful.

It only takes minutes to assemble and uses ingredients that are often already stocked in my fridge. And, if you use foil like me, making this only dirties one bowl.

ONE BOWL. How often are you able to quickly make yourself a warm, cheesy comfort food without leaving a trail of dishes behind??! ALMOST NEVER.

Pop it in the oven until the garlic-y cheese ooze and the pesto glistens. Then enjoy as slowly as life allows!

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 c Mozzerella
  • 1 tbsp fresh Parmesan (plus additional for topping)
  • 1 tsp minced garlic (jarred)
  • 1/2 c fresh Ricotta
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 pitas
  • 2 tsp jarred pesto
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit
  2. Combine first four ingredients in a medium sized bowl with a fork until combined.
  3. Line a baking sheet with foil, and set pitas out on pan.
  4. Using fork, place half of the cheese mixture onto each pita and gently smooth evenly across surface.
  5. Spoon a tsp of pesto onto the middle of each pita. Gently smooth across cheese until there is an even coating.
  6. Bake in oven for 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted.
  7. Allow a few minutes to cool, add salt/pepper/parmesan as desired, then enjoy!

3 Cookbooks to Save Time in the Kitchen

As much as I love to cook, I do have a few cookbooks which remain on the shelf gathering dust.

Here are some of my FAVORITES over the years! I own all of these suggestions, and I am recommending them to you!

Most of these I own a physical copy, but I’ve started buying the Kindle version instead! Why?

  1. With the invention of Pinterest, I am always cooking from my phone or my ipad. Why not keep my cookbooks there too?
  2. It saves space. I have a small kitchen!

The following post uses affiliate links, which means that at no added cost to you, I get a small percentage of every sale. This allows I do not endorse anything that I myself would not use. You can view my full disclosure policy HERE. Thank you!

These cookbooks have saved me tons of time in the kitchen!

  1. I Can’t Believe It’s Not Fattening! Over 150 Ridiculously Easy Recipes for the Super Busy (affiliate)

Also available on Kindle. (affiliate)

Despite the buzzword laden title, this book could be found open on my kitchen counter from the years 2010-2013 (when I had finally memorized our favorite recipes by heart). The Mexi Mac-n-Cheese and the Scoopy Joes are still in rotation. The author, Devin Alexander, is both a nutritionist and a comfort food lover.

What I like:

  • It’s full of recipes for healthy comfort food! What’s not to love??
  • All of the recipes take less than 20 minutes to make, in my experience.
  • Ingredients are simple and commonly sold in most stores.

What I don’t like:

  • Not every recipe is pictured. That always bugs me a little.
  • Occasional use of processed ingredients. I’m fine with this once in a while, but I try to keep it fresh whenever possible.

Another book by her that I own and have used many times (but not as often, personal preference) is The Biggest Loser Family Cookbook (affiliate).

2. Dinner: The Playbook (affiliate)

Also available on Kindle. (affiliate)

I know, I keep recommending this book over and over! I reviewed it once already (bonus recipe!) But, as a busy parent, it is WORKING for me. It is the new book that lives on my countertop, and I have loved every recipe so far!

What I like:

  • It’s so strategic and easy to follow!
  • I really appreciate how this book is organized! It contains both quick and easy recipes and more challenging recipes. Each type are contained in their own section, so there’s no getting mixed up!
  • I just appreciate Jenny’s voice. She’s sarcastic yet encouraging, and it’s really keeping this dinnertime thing going on difficult/impossible evenings.

What I don’t like:

  • The pictures. I like that they’re included with every recipe, but they look like polaroids from the early 90’s. They’re not really mouth-watering to me. (I’m really just being super picky here! I genuinely like just about everything in this book.)

Another bonus book by Jenny Rosenstrach is Dinner: A Love Story (affiliate). This book is also working well for me right now, and it has a special place in my heart, but it’s just not getting used as often. I think it’s because of the way it is organized. The Gameplan is much more “down to business.”

3. The Southern Pantry Cookbook (affiliate)

Also available on Kindle. (affiliate)

This is another book that I use often (and reviewed here). This cookbook very much inspired my own FOREVER Grocery List, as it sticks to a pantry list of ingredients.

What I like:

  1. It has both simple, delicious dinner recipes AND special holiday recipes. I already know that I will be pulling it out around Christmas to make the Chocolate and Peanut Butter Bars for my family!
  2. The southern-style recipes are introducing my family to some new flavors and styles of food! I love when cookbooks inspire you to try new things!
  3. It reminds me of my grandma’s cooking.

What I don’t like:

  1. Not all the recipes are quick and easy. In fact, some take quite a bit of time.
  2. Many of the recipes are very much “stick to your ribs” style food. Definitely not diet friendly and intended to be enjoyed in moderation!

What did I miss?

Do you have a favorite time-saving cookbook that isn’t mentioned here? Mention it in the comments below!

Rest for the Weary: Finding a Sabbath Routine that WORKS!

I see you, weary friend.  I see that the world has gotten you down. Actually, I AM you. Or, just like you. Does this sound familiar?

Dinner was a mess. You have agreed to too many activities. There’s still a pile of laundry looming by the washer and dirty dishes in the sink. Your e-mail inbox is screaming to be checked. There’s a stack of bills, and as soon as those are paid, a whole new stack arrives.

I see you as you hurriedly shuffle through the grocery store, grabbing bread because you ran out. I see you, but we’re too busy to notice each other. 


I’m just like you. I’m busy and weary too.

When I read a suggestion about taking a regular weekly rest, I loved the idea. I would lay in a hammock and read books on a Sunday afternoon. I would pray. I would catch up on that Bible reading plan I abandoned back on Monday.

But when I read further and discovered that this day of rest had a name, Sabbath, I felt a heavy weight being added to my shoulders.

On top of everything else, a holy day?

Is it not enough that I taught Sunday school and volunteered on Wednesdays? Is it not enough that I schlupp my grouchy kid to church on Sunday and attend a Bible study?

I’m doing everything. How am I ever going to find time for a holy day in my week?
So, I resisted. I ignored the suggestion, burning in spirit-form in the back of my brain. But a few weeks later, I couldn’t ignore it anymore. Despite myself, I went back and studied this Sabbath thing a little more.


Let me explain a sample schedule for you.

Spend Monday through Wednesday doing the laundry. I can do that. 

Meal plan and go to the grocery store on Thursday. On Friday, vacuum. I can handle those.

Do those last second chores like mowing and errands on Saturday morning and afternoon, sometimes rushing because you know that the rest is coming and that it is worth it. Set out clothes for church on Sunday. Make sure that there is easy food options for the next day.

And then, the final prep. (Eek! My favorite part!) Go into your kitchen on a Saturday evening, before it gets dark. Pick out a favorite meal–it can be special, but it doesn’t have to be–and make it for your family.

Mm. Yes.  Be the blessing.


Set out your best dishes and light a couple of candles. Call some people that are dearest to your heart to the table.

Enjoy a meal together. Savor it, because you know that THIS is the greatest part of the week. Pray together. Discuss a section of scripture, maybe, or just talk about how God was great this last week. Be open and vulnerable and real. Amen.

Since you have already prepared for Sunday morning, there’s less of a rush. It’s not going to be perfect, but there’s a whisper peace in the midst of it.

Languish in the rest of the day. Sunday. Easy meals are ready in the fridge for whoever wants something, and chores are ignored. Togetherness is celebrated.

And suddenly, Monday isn’t something to be dreaded, because you’re prepared for anything that comes your way. And if your week turns out uglier than you anticipated, you think of the rest waiting for you on Saturday, and it’s suddenly bearable again.

Sabbath takes practice. It is a practice


And, sometimes it goes all wrong.

Sometimes everyone has fevers that week, and nobody does laundry so some essentials get thrown in. Sometimes you don’t get the main ingredient from the store, and your family enjoys a sabbath dinner of canned refried beans with spoons. 

Yep.

Or, sometimes you try really hard to this meal perfect just to burn yourself on a 400 degree pan and spend the entire dinner with your hand in a bowl of water. 

True story.

Or, if you’re like me, a parent of littles, you pray a quick sing-songey prayer at dinner and spend the meal avoiding someone smearing mushed carrots into your hair, and save the majority of serious talk for after bedtime. (If you’re still awake…)

It’s not about being perfect. IT’S NOT ABOUT BEING PERFECT. There is grace in the practice.

It’s about the rest. And the recognition of good in your life. And the time together. And the honoring of God.

It’s about the savoring. There is grace in the practice.

Sometimes there’s a soccer tournament on Sunday or a birthday party Saturday night, and you get to decide if these things are restful. There is grace in the practice.
Be intentional with your time. Dare to rest. Sabbath.

Please, let me know how it goes.