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.

When You Are Stuck In A Dinner Rut (Cookbook Review and BONUS Recipe!)

I have been stuck in a dinner rut recently.

It’s been bad.

Like, frozen pizza bad. (Which is soooo not my style.)


It didn’t help that the weather in Kansas went from warm pleasant spring to WINTER. Snow, ice, the whole tamale. Again. It was so hard to get motivated to cook new recipes when all I wanted was familiar comfort.

Then, when a warm, rainy spring day finally returned, I still reached for a familiar favorite: Summer Vegetable Ravioli Salad. I wanted to enjoy the lighter flavors that come with warmer weather but wasn’t willing to stretch far from my comfy regime.

I had just finished the recipe, but a TORNADO WARNING popped up unexpectedly.

If you’re not familiar, a tornado warning means go to your basement now because there’s literally a tornado swirling around in the sky and heading your direction. In this situation, if we have time, I head to my parent’s basement, about a mile away, because our current house is built on a slab foundation.

(If we don’t have time, two different neighbors with basements in our cul-de-sac have offered to shelter us. Or, we could get into an interior closet. We have lots of options.)

Anyway, to recap, I had just finished cooking a favorite recipe on a rainy spring day when I got word that a tornado had been spotted one town away and was heading my direction.

I grabbed the diaper bag, threw on shoes, and headed to the car while my husband strapped our son into his car seat. But then I had an idea. Why not bring dinner? I had made more than enough to share, and it was just sitting there completely ready in the pot getting cold.

So I hopped back inside toward the kitchen, but my feet were now wet. As soon as I touched the kitchen tile, whoop!

I fell.

Now, I’m lying on the floor. My first thought: oooouuuccch, I think I sprained my ankle. My second thought: thank God nobody saw me do that. My third thought: I am so glad I wasn’t holding dinner while I fell, because I’m still looking forward to eating that!

I grab dinner and hobble out the door as fast as I could (because remember, TORNADO!).

But, yeah, I totally sprained my ankle. A couple of days of ice followed by a doctor’s appointment, x-rays and the following instructions: rest, wear this little brace, and “no sports.”

So, aside from one memorable meal, the dinner rut continued.

THIS BOOK SAVED ME FROM MY DINNER RUT! (Affiliate link)

I had requested it at my local library weeks ago, and while I was laid up with hurt ankle and hurt pride. It was so inspiring! As soon as I was feeling up to going on a grocery run, I wrote out a meal plan, including three new-to-us recipes, and went shopping! 

And this recipe, Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash and Smoked Paprika, is an instant hit with my family. It’s going into my permanent rotation!

It reminded me of another favorite recipe of mine: Roasted Butternut Squash and Bacon Pasta from CookingLight. But, as much as I LOVE that recipe, I never have enough time to make it on a week night. Believe me, I’ve tried!

Ingredients

  • 3 c chopped butternut squash (use frozen to save time!)
  • 1/2 onion, chopped (again, use frozen to save time, if you want!)
  • 2 tsp dried thyme (or leaves from 4 or 5 fresh thyme springs)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 lb any pasta
  • 1/2 c freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
  • fresh ricotta for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. in a baking dish lined with foil, toss together squash, onions, thyme, olive oil, salt and pepper, and paprika. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until the squash is tender and browning around the edges.
  3. While the squash is in the oven, prepare the pasta per package directions, reserving 1/4 c of pasta water before draining.
  4. Return the drained pasta to the pot and toss with the squash.
  5. Add the Parmesan with half of the reserved pasta water to thin and evenly distribute the cheese. (Note: I have to admit, I was a doubter on this step. A sauce made with starchy water and cheese? Noooope. BUT, I stuck with it, and it turns out just fine in the end!!)
  6. Serve immediately, topped with ricotta and more Parmesan.



Bible Stories for the Easter Basket

It seems like there might be no escaping commercialized Easter. The chocolate bunnies and plastic eggs appeared February 15. They will remain on display looking completely yummy until Easter morning.

The marketing, which is targeted at children, has already caught the eye of my one year-old.

As a Christian parent, it makes me 100% uncomfortable.

How did celebrating Jesus turn into this tangled web of bunnies, eggs, and chocolate?

How did celebrating Jesus turn into this tangled web of bunnies, eggs, and chocolate?

I’m still new to this parenting thing, so this is really the first Easter for us. We are attempting to navigate this while still being intentional about celebrating Jesus is so confusing.

As much as I feel conflicted that an illogical egg laying magical rabbit might detract from the real meaning of Easter, if you take away the egg hunts and the gifts, you’re left with dressing uncomfortably, attending an especially crowded Easter service, and eating a side of my grandma’s asparagus and egg casserole with lunch. Nothing about that seems remotely exciting or kid friendly.

(Plus, egg hunts are fun!)

An Easter egg hunt is of course happening. But the Easter basket full of gifts? I’m not so sure about that.

Long before our son was born, we agreed on a gift giving motto for our family: one thing we want, one thing we need, one thing to wear, and one thing to read.

Books are our go to gift for each other.

We absolutely do not need any more toys or sweets at this house. So I got to thinking… what if the gift that was sitting out on Easter morning pointed back to the real reason we’re celebrating?

…what if the gift that was sitting out on Easter morning pointed back to the real reason we’re celebrating?

What about Bible stories?

My son LOVES books! We have many kids books at our house, and we regularly visit the children’s section local public library.

He and I probably read somewhere between 15-30 board books in any given day. I’m encouraging this as much as possible. Anytime he brings me a book, I drop what I’m doing for a few minutes and read that book with him. We both really enjoy this time together.

Not many books we have read share about the love of God in a way that my son understands. Our public library can’t really support us in this area. So, the Bible stories at our house were either gifts or books that I purposely sought out.

Easter is a good excuse to invest in a couple new reads about the most important story of all: the story of how much God loves us!

Easter is a good excuse to invest in a couple new reads about the most important story of all: the story of how much God loves us!

Board Books for Babies and Toddlers

Frankly, a lot of Bible based board books take on way too much. Why do so many of them attempt to summarize the entire Bible? In our house, we normally only get through a couple of pages before losing interest.

And, many books that focus on a single story are a struggle to get through. Why so wordy? At this age, we will talk about pictures for a couple of pages before moving on.

Even so, these are books that we have sincerely enjoyed.

The Lift the Flap Bible is so interactive! We really enjoy the Noah page and the Jonah page. It’s great for kids who love to manipulate books themselves! This is the only book in our current board book collection that even attempts to introduce very young readers to the Easter story.

This book does a pretty good job of gently introducing young kids to the Easter story, and it includes flaps for the empty tomb and has a page about Jesus appearing and making breakfast for his disciples.

Read the description: Tracey Moroney’s masterpiece Lift the Flap Bible, now with a refreshed cover, brings 14 beloved Bible stories to life with beautiful illustrations and 40 flaps. The perfect introduction to timeless stories from the old and new testaments the Lift-the-Flap Bible combines breathtaking illustrations with delightful text. With flaps to open on every page (and surprises to find underneath), children join in the thrill of discovery as they take part in each of the stories from the Old and New Testaments. Through the pages of this stunning Bible, the greatest story ever told is traced and the wonderful news that God loves us is brought home to the heart of every child. (via Amazon)

A free copy of The Shepherd and the Sheep was sent to me for free by the publishing company, and it was very well timed with my son’s new obsession with the “baa baa baa sheep” from his farm set! The simple flaps on the right side of the page are easy for him to navigate, and we always enjoy a giggle over the story.

Read the description: Part of a trio of interactive lift-the-flap books, The Shepherd and the Sheep tells a sweet story of the Great Shepherd searching for his one lost sheep. The reader searches for the sheep in several places―all related to stories in the Bible―by unfolding the flap to reveal a hidden image. (via Amazon)

The Little Golden Bible Storybook (Padded Board Book) makes me nostalgic for my own childhood. We currently pick and choose pages to read in this book, but I look forward to discussing them more in a couple of years. Each Bible story is short and sweet, and the pictures are very colorful. This book doesn’t talk much about Easter specifically, but it does have a page about the Last Supper and communion.

Read the description: The simple retellings and bright illustrations of these best-known Bible stories make sharing the Good Word a warm and enriching experience for parents and very young children. (via Amazon)

A new addition to our book collection, God Made You Nose to Toes, has been a big hit. It doesn’t talk specifically about the Easter story, but it does teach kids parts of the body using fun animals and talks about how we are made by God.

Read the description: Help little ones understand that God created each part of their bodies so they can enjoy life and everything in it. In this delightful padded cover board book by well-known author and family therapist Leslie Parrott, children can follow along with Toucan––with a great big nose––as he helps them learn God loves each one of them completely. (via Amazon)

A nod to our beloved “Brown Bear” book (illustrated by Eric Carle) and by the same author, Noah, Noah, What Do You See? is a cute telling of many famous Bible stories.

Read the description: From the bestselling authors of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and Chicka Chicka, 1, 2, 3 with colorful art from Melissa Iwai and the signature rhyming style of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, parents and children alike will love the classic storytelling of Bill Martin Jr. and Michael Sampson. (via Amazon)

Really Woolly Easter Blessings might just be my Easter basket purchase this year (because “baa baa baa” sheep!). It has excellent Amazon reviews.

Read the description: “Winter’s nap is over, and new life is all around! Flowers are blooming. Birds are chirping. And the Really Woolly characters are discovering God’s goodness all around them. Curl up with your little one, and join the fun while learning about the hope of Easter and springtime! Adorable rhymes, sweet Bible verses, and prayer starters will make reading time a special moment for you and your child—to connect with each other and with God.” (via Amazon)

My other Easter choice: Jesus Calling for Little Ones by Sara Young and Antonia Woodward.

Description from Amazon: “From bestselling author Sarah Young, Jesus Calling for Little Ones reassures toddlers and preschoolers of Jesus’ never-ending love. Devotions are written as if Jesus is speaking directly to your child’s heart—showing that Jesus knows us from our head to our toes and is always taking care of us. Along with adorable illustrations and a durable format, this is sure to be a treasure for your precious little ones.”

Books for Elementary Aged Children

The Beginner’s Bible for Toddlers has more than 160 pages, so it’s really more appropriate for older pre-schoolers. But that little handle and the flap that comes on the hardback version? ABSOLUTELY PRECIOUS. Kids take a book so much more seriously when it comes with a little velcro lock. Obviously this book is special.

Read the description: The Beginner’s Bible®, the bestselling Bible storybook of our time, now in a special edition just for toddlers. Toddlers will love this special edition of The Beginner’s Bible® created especially for tiny hands to carry with them wherever they go. The toddlers edition features a smaller size, a go-anywhere handle, and an easy Velcro closure. Toddlers will come to know and love the key stories and characters of the Bible with this best-loved Bible storybook. Now updated with vibrant new art, text, and over 25 stories, The Beginner’s Bible® is the perfect starting point for children. Toddlers will enjoy the fun illustrations of Noah helping the elephant onto the ark, Jonah praying inside the fish, and more, as they discover The Beginner’s Bible® for Toddlers just like millions of children before! (via Amazon)

Now the makers of the Beginner’s Bible also made smaller paperback books that focus in on individual stories. The Beginner’s Bible The Very First Easter is an affordable choice for an Easter basket with familiar drawings that kids will love!

Read the description: The Very First Easter introduces preschoolers to one of the most wonderful stories of all time, the death and resurrection of Jesus. Using the popular and vibrant artwork from The Beginner’s Bible, children will learn the events leading up to Jesus’ death and his miraculous resurrection. By the end of the story, children will understand why we celebrate this special day and what Jesus did for them. This low-cost picture book is great for outreach events and distributing at Easter celebrations. (via Amazon)

Aw, there’s nothing more precious than Little Golden Books, am I right? Up until recently, my grandma had a full collection of Little Golden Books displayed in her living room for little visitors, but she handed them all out to family. I was fortunate enough to receive a few Bible stories in her gift to me (pictured above).

The Story of Jesus (Little Golden Book) is not in my personal collection, but I remember reading it at my grandma’s when I was younger! It also has excellent reviews on Amazon. If you’re looking for an Easter story on a limited budget, this is a great choice!

Read the description: A gentle look at Jesus’ birth, childhood, teachings, crucifixion, and resurrection. Written in a simple, warm style that will captivate and inspire, and colorfully illustrated with seven new pages of artwork, it’s a perfect introduction to Jesus for very young children. (via Amazon)

As you can see from my photo above, we own several Arch Books including Daniel and the Lions and Get Up, Lazarus! – Arch Books in English and Spanish. I really like them, and I’m glad to see that they offer several books dedicated to telling the Easter story. Firstly, The Week That Led to Easter – Arch Books.

Read the description: This book retells the events of Palm Sunday through Easter day (Matthew 21:1-28:10; Mark 11:1-16-8; Luke 19:29-24:12; John 12:12-20:10). The Arch(R) Book series tells popular Bible stories through fun-to-read rhymes and bright illustrations. This well-loved series captures the attention of children, telling scripturally sound stories that are enjoyable and easy to remember. This product is part of the Accelerated Reader(TM) program and carries a point value of .5. (via Amazon)

He’s Risen! He’s Alive – Arch Books description from Amazon: This book retells the story of Christs Resurrection (Matthew 27:32-28:10). The Arch(R) Book series tells popular Bible stories through fun-to-read rhymes and bright illustrations. This well-loved series captures the attention of children, telling scripturally sound stories that are enjoyable and easy to remember. This product is part of the Accelerated Reader(TM) program and carries a point value of .5.

According to reviewers, the images in The Day Jesus Died are not scary, but they are big and bold, and the book includes more details than most picture books about Easter. Buyers indicate that this book is hard to find in stores, so Amazon might be your best option. It has very good reviews!

Read the description: “The Story of the Empty Tomb” tells the well-known Bible story through easy-to-read rhymes and bright illustrations. Children, ages five to nine, will enjoy these spiritually sound stories that are easy to remember. (via Amazon)

One reviewer says: The Resurrection, written by Cynda Strong, is the story of Jesus from the time he was an adult up to the resurrection. It includes his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, Judas’ betrayal, the Last Supper, his “trial” before Pilate, and the Crucifixion. There’s no mention of his praying in the Garden of Gethsemane or of Peter’s denial of Christ. Bible verses from both the books of Isaiah and Matthew are given as reference for the text. The illustrations, by Helen Cann, are true-to-life and expressive. (via Amazon)

The Action Bible is a big hit with the pre-teen and teenage crowd in the middle school youth group I volunteer with. This book would be most appropriate for older kids. Or kids at heart, because if I woke up on Easter and found this in my basket, I would not be upset!

Read the description: Here’s the most complete picture Bible ever! And it features a captivating, up-to-date artwork style—making it the perfect Bible for today’s visually focused culture. The Action Bible presents 215 fast-paced narratives in chronological order, making it easier to follow the Bible’s historical flow—and reinforcing the build-up to its thrilling climax. The stories in The Action Bible communicate clearly and forcefully to contemporary readers. This compelling blend of clear writing plus dramatic images offers an appeal that crosses all age boundaries. Brazilian artist Sergio Cariello has created attention-holding illustrations marked by rich coloring, dramatic shading and lighting, bold and energetic designs, and emotionally charged figures. Let this epic rendition draw you into all the excitement of the world’s most awesome story. (via Amazon)

Family Devotional Books

There is no better time than the present to start talking daily about Jesus with your kids! Why not use this Easter as an excuse to invest in some family devotional books that your kids will love?

This was given to us as a part of our baby shower over a year ago, and I so excited that we’re finally ready to start reading this together every day! The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name

Read the description: The Moonbeam Award Gold Medal Winner in the religion category, The Jesus Storybook Bible tells the Story beneath all the stories in the Bible. At the center of the Story is a baby, the child upon whom everything will depend. Every story whispers his name. From Noah to Moses to the great King David—every story points to him. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together. From the Old Testament through the New Testament, as the Story unfolds, children will pick up the clues and piece together the puzzle. A Bible like no other, The Jesus Storybook Bible invites children to join in the greatest of all adventures, to discover for themselves that Jesus is at the center of God’s great story of salvation—and at the center of their Story too. (via Amazon)

As someone who believes in the importance of doing life around the table as a family, this devotion book caught my eye a long time ago. It isn’t yet age appropriate for us, but I’m looking forward to going through it together someday! One Year of Dinner Table Devotions and Discussion Starters: 365 Opportunities to Grow Closer to God as a Family

Read the description: Getting the kids to turn off the TV and video games is challenge enough―let alone gathering as a family to read and discuss the Bible! One Year of Dinner Table Devotions & Discussion Starters helps families start where they are already gathered together on a daily basis―around the dinner table. As the meal comes to a close, family members can take turns turning to the dinner-table devotion for that day, designed to be done together as a family in 10 to 15 minutes. The result is a meaningful daily discussion in which every family member can participate, drawing the whole family closer to God . . . and each other. (via Amazon)

For any fans of the Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence devotion book, you will enjoy sharing Jesus Calling: 365 Devotions For Kids with your family.

Read the description: “Devotions written as if Jesus is speaking directly to a child’s heart. Based on her original Jesus Calling, this version has been adapted in a language and fashion that kids and tweens can relate to their everyday lives. After many years of writing in her prayer journal, missionary Sarah Young decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down what she believed He was saying to her through Scripture. Others were blessed as she shared her writings, until people all over the world were using her devotionals.  They are written from Jesus’ point of view, thus the title Jesus Calling.  It is Sarah’s fervent prayer that our Savior may bless readers, and now young readers, with His presence and His peace in ever deeper measure.” (via Amazon)

We absolutely do not need any more toys or sweets at this house. So I got to thinking… what if the gift that was sitting out on Easter morning pointed back to the real reason we’re celebrating? Why not Bible stories?
Do you have any Bible story books that are popular at your house? Tell me in the comments below!hh

Weekend Links 

I spent the week in a blur of writing and mommy sleeplessness. It has been a hard, but sweet, week. 

I’m looking forward to doing some spring cleaning tomorrow! Hoping for tangible results!

Here is a list of some thoughtful web goodies to kick off your weekend!

  1. Ellen gave an entire high school class a scholarship for college. It’s like Scott’s Tots only much more satisfying!
  2. 20 adorable comics by Liz Climo who draws for The Simpsons.
  3. 8 Kids Give Us The Dish On Their Dream Breakfast. Teddy Grahms and milk, anyone? (I would eat that…)
  4. 11 Oscar-Worthy Puns That Deserve An Award. It’s baaaaaad but I couldn’t help but chuckle.
  5. On the same note, Why Typography Matters–Especially At The Oscars.
  6. Exploring the first cover of The Hobbit. That’s what my copy looks like!
  7. 10 Ways To Beast Your Monday.
  8.  Take the Emotional Agility quiz!
  9. Your Love For Me: a poem.
  10. 5 Steps To Living More Creatively.
  11. Raising Kids Who Love Jesus. Yes! Love this!
  12. Another poem: Showers of Peace

How I Pray For My Son’s Future Valentine

On Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, my husband and I woke up with our sweet little almost-one-year-old son snuggled between us in our bed. He had been invited in sometime in the very early morning, a little set of sleepy blue eyes blinking awake.

“It’s Valentine’s Day,” Adam quietly reminded me.

It was a cold, clear morning here in Kansas, and Adam began his morning routine. As sun streamed in through the window, I paused just a moment to snuggle that little body a little closer and breathe in over his strawberry blond hair.

“I will gladly be your Valentine for as long as you need me to.”


Even though my son is little, I find myself thinking about her already: his future Valentine. My so-called nemesis. The woman who, decades from now, will win his heart. And, in doing so, will take him away from me. His mother. His mommy.

Will she exist? My heart says yes. How do I know? I don’t.

But boy, do I ever pray for her, that little girl somewhere in the world. A parallel little life that might someday change ours.

I wonder if she was rocked to sleep last night.

I wonder if she loves whales and roosters and fish and doggies as much as my boy.

I wonder if someone reads with her every day. I wonder if she asked to read The Bunny Rabbit Show book eight hundred times this week like my boy.

I don’t know the future. I don’t know about my son’s someday preferences, his life choices. That doesn’t stop me or even give me pause.

Because, someday my son might not need his mom to be his Valentine anymore.

And I want his someday girl to be as close to God’s heart as possible.

So, I bring God’s ear low, and I pray for her. In Jesus Christ’s name, I pray to a loving God who holds the future and still listens.

And this is how I pray.

1. I pray that she is healthy and strong.

I pray for her development, her coordination, her learning, her nourishment.

2. I pray for her parents.

I pray for wisdom in parenting. I pray for their marriage and that they will love each other deeply. I pray that they will model love and loyalty to their little girl.

3. I pray for her church and community.

I pray that she has people in her life that also are praying for her often. I pray for her church, that they will encourage her to look to Christ. I pray for the church leadership whose job it is to shepherd this family.

4. I pray that Adam and I will know her someday and love her like she’s our own from the moment we meet her.

I pray that someday I can tell her that I’ve prayed for her entire life.

It’s not because she has to be perfect or even about purity. It’s solely because if my heart thinks that there is someone out there who can someday love my little boy as much as I do, I want that person wrapped up in prayer. I want to start caring for her now.

Even so, son, I will gladly be your Valentine for as long as you need me. There is no rush. Xoxoxo