Monday, April 23, 2012

She brings him good, not harm...

I had something of an epiphany over the weekend. It wasn't a sudden "AHA!" moment, but more of a gradual progression of ideas that led to a realization over a 24 hour period.  It all began as I was posting Meal Shortcuts for Baseball Moms Saturday morning.  As I linked recipes to each shortcut method, I began to think, "Whoa!  I sure do cook a lot of pasta!" and "Whoa!  I sure do use a lot of cheese!"  Now, I do believe firmly in my menu planning, shopping, and cooking methods, and I've always known that my meals are better alternatives than fast food, BUT I really started worrying Saturday if I am doing what is BEST for my family with the meals I prepare.

Later that afternoon, my husband began feeling "under the weather."  He was tired, with little energy and no desire to get out of the recliner.  In fact, he ended up napping on and off most of the evening.  These symptoms were certain indicators that his sugar was high.  You see, he was diagnosed with diabetes about three years ago.  He was told at the time of his diagnosis that he could manage the disease with proper diet and exercise.  Well, about a year ago, he began taking pills to control his blood sugar - still no need for insulin but in the direction he's headed, it may be just around the corner. 

Until now, I have stood firm in my belief that it isn't what he eats, but how much he eats that is the problem.  I further justified that it isn't my cooking's fault, instead it is his fault, because he doesn't exercise enough.  However, when he wasn't feeling well Saturday, my guilt began to grow.  Maybe there are things I can do.  I mean, I had already questioned my cooking earlier that day.  What if my meal choices are contributing to his downward spiral?

The slow progression toward my epiphany continued that night.  He was up watching a movie, and I went to bed.  I had trouble falling asleep, so I grabbed my Bible and decided to make my way through the book of Proverbs! (I'm a fast reader, and insomnia is sometimes my greatest enemy, so I made it through the entire book.)  When I got to Chapter 31, I took my time - carefully reading line by line.  I have read the passage of the "noble wife" every morning for years.  This time, I was led back to the first few lines about the "noble wife."

The wife of noble character, who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.
Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life.
Proverbs 31:10-12 NIV

That last line weighed heavily on me:  "Am I bringing my husband "good" or "harm" through the meals I prepare?"  As I thought about my good intentions, could I honestly say that our meals do him "good"?  The overwhelming answer to this question was a resounding "NO!"  I fell asleep in prayer, asking God for guidance. 

When I woke Sunday morning, I shared my revelation with my husband.  In his usual style, he had very little to say, but he seemed deep in thought.  What was he thinking?  Did he agree with my realization? That I too had to take some responsibility because of the food I bring into our home and set on our table?  We had several hours before time for church, so I pulled out my copy of "Diabetic Cookbook for Dummies" and began reading voraciously.  Two hours later, I had made it through the first five chapters.  Apparently, there is quite a bit that I can change!

So, here's the next phase in my Busy Mom's Menu for Life!  How can I adapt my meal preparation and, really, help the entire family with a significant lifestyle change under the constraints of our busy life?  Can I create yummy, quick-n-easy meals that will allow my husband's health to improve and keep him off the path to daily insulin shots?  I believe I can, and I will do everything in my power to make this happen, so that he can have full confidence in me - knowing that I bring him GOOD, not HARM every day of his life!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Meal Shortcuts for Baseball Moms

Baseball season presents a struggle for busy moms in the area of menu planning.  With two boys playing Little League, our family may end up at the ballpark four nights a week.  This creates an issue getting a homecooked meal on the table each night.  Over the years, I have developed several methods to avoid fast food on those busy nights.  Try one or a combination of these to find what works best for your busy family.

  • SLOW COOKER MEALS - This is my favorite method!  Because of have a monthly menu already prepared, I know I have all of ingredients I need already on hand for the meal.  See Blog Beginnings: Menu Planning to learn more about creating a menu and shopping list.  I do all of the prep work the night before we need the meal.  All ingredients go into the removable pot and are refrigerated.  In the morning, place the pot into the slow cooker base, and turn it on!  A hot meal is ready when you walk in the door from work/school, and you can quickly eat, then head to the ballpark.  If there is no time to eat the meal before the games, pack healthy snacks to take to the ball park.  Put the slow cooker on "Keep Warm" and return home to a yummy meal.
               Try these slow cooker meals:
               Chicken Tortilla Soup
               Broccoli and Cheese Soup
               Chicken Alfredo
               Pork Chops and Gravy
               Chicken Quesidillas
               Meatball Subs
               Roast and Veggies

  • 30-MINUTE MEALS - The following meal ideas can be prepared from start to finish in 30 minutes or less.  These work well when you have a late evening game.  There's plenty of time to get in from work, prepare the meal, and eat before heading to a 6:30 or 7:00 game.
          Try these 30-minute meals:
          Quick and Easy Spaghetti
          Quick and Easy Pizza Puffs
          Red Beans and Rice
          Sloppy Roast Beef Po-Boys
          Quick and Easy Chili
          Beef Enchilada Casserole
          Baked Ziti Pasta

  • DELI ROTISSERIE CHICKEN - One shortcut to a quick meal is to buy pre-cooked meat.  The cheapest and yummiest way to do this is to buy a deli rotisserie chicken.  They can be found in most grocery store deli's and are relatively inexpensive (usually $5-6).  Almost any recipe that requires boiled, sauteed, or baked chicken can be adapted using this pre-cooked chicken. 
         Try this recipe:
         Chicken Salad
         Adapt these recipes using pre-cooked chicken:
         Spinach Fiesta Casserole
         Baked Chicken Spaghetti
        **I will post more ideas soon.  ANY recipe that calls for chicken can be shortened this way.

  • FREEZER MEALS:  Many of the above recipes can be prepared in advance in bulk portions, then frozen in disposable aluminum pans (before baking).  Take a pan out of the freezer the night before you need the meal.  Put it in the refrigerator to thaw over night.  That evening, bake the casserole/dish at 350 for 25-30 minutes.  Spinach fiesta casserole, baked chicken spaghetti, baked ziti pasta, and chili are a few that I have tried as frozen meals.  Most casseroles and soups can be frozen.  At one point, I was spending the first weekend of the month cooking and freezing meals.  Use this method in combination with the others to create variety in your menu.
With a little planning and advanced preparation, mealtime (even during baseball season) can be easy!

(For more "baseball mom" tips, visit my post on The Ultimate Baseball Mom's Survival Bag .)


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Southern Country Cooking...not!

Mississippi girl, I am!  Country girl, I am not!  My husband, however, grew up as a country boy, and my amazing mother-in-law was the ultimate country cook.  My style of cooking is best described as "quick and easy."  Between my full-time teaching career and my busy little athletes' sports schedules, I have no choice but "quick and easy" if I want to feed my kids something other than McDonald's.  And I'm proud of my cooking.  I know lots of shortcuts and tricks to getting a "home-cooked" meal on the table in 30 minutes or less.  Let me add that we do not eat frozen meals or boxed dinners.  If that's your style, great!  But all three of my boys (Dad, Big B, and Little B) like "mama's cooking," not something out of a box.

Where am I going with this?  Well, last night, I got ambitious.  I decided I wanted a country meal.  All day, I craved fried pork chops, mashed potatoes and gravy, and butter beans.  So when the rain cancelled our baseball games, I got busy cooking my southern meal.  Now, I still used a few shortcuts...instant mashed potatoes, gravy mix in a little envelope, and yummy Margaret Holmes canned butter beans.  However, there are no shortcuts to fried pork chops..none at all!  I've only fried pork chops once, ever!  So I don't know what made me think I could do this, but I tried anyway. 

When I called the family to the dinner table, I was the first to take a bite of the pork chops.  I chewed and chewed and chewed.  They were over-cooked and really tough.  I immediately told my boys, "You do not have to eat this.  It won't hurt my feelings if you don't like them."  Of course, my feelings were already hurt because I had set out to try something new and failed.  My guys, however, insisted that the pork chops were just fine, and they ate them with no complaining.  I let out a sigh of relief.  Either they really did like the pork chops, or they were doing an excellent job trying not to damage my self-esteem!   I got hugs and kisses and words of thanks following the meal.  Apparently, my guys love me and appreciate me no matter what.  Even when I feel like a big failure, I know that it's ultimately the effort that I make to nurture and care for them that matters most. 

When my babies are grown, I doubt that they will remember the leather-like pork chops, but I hope they will remember that everything their Busy Mom did for them was done out of love!

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Busy Mom's Weekly Menu #2

When I published The Busy Mom's Weekly Menu #1 a few weeks ago, I had good intentions of posting a new menu each week.  Well, three weeks have gone by, and I'm just now getting around to posting Week #2.  If you are new to my blog, be sure to check out Blog Beginnings: Menu Planning to get the basics about my meal planning ideas.

Sunday:  Spinach Fiesta Casserole

Monday:  Beef Enchilada Casserole

Tuesday:  Meatball Subs

Wednesday:  Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Thursday:  Red Beans and Rice

Friday:  Eat Out

Saturday:  Lasagna

Shopping List #2

3 lbs. ground meat
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 bag frozen meatballs
1 pkg. smoked sausage

rotisserie chicken (Buy this the day you make the chicken salad so it will be fresh.)
1/2 lb. swiss or provolone cheese

po-boy/sub rolls
12-ct. corn tortilla shells
croissants or other bread for chicken salad sandwiches

Canned Goods
1 can white queso (I usually find it at the Dollar General Store.)
1 can Rotel tomatoes
1 can enchilada sauce
1 jar medium salsa
1 can Hunt's Zesty and Spicy spaghetti sauce
1 can Hunt's Four Cheese spaghetti sauce
1 small can sliced black olives
1 small jar banana peppers
1 can Blue Runner red beans

Boxed Items
Jiffy cornbread mix
instant rice
oven-ready lasagna noodles

stick butter or margarine
shredded monterey jack cheese (2 cup bag)
shredded cheddar cheese (2 cup bag)
shredded mozzerella cheese (4 cup bag)
8 oz. sour cream
16 oz. small curd cottage cheese
parmesan cheese

green onions
fresh fruit to serve with chicken salad sandwiches

16 oz. bag spinach
chopped bell peppers
chopped onions

Seasonings and Staples
vegetable oil
1 packet taco seasoning mix
spicy brown mustard (Zatarain's Creole)
Tony Chachere's creole seasoning
garlic powder
onion powder

Chicken Salad

This recipe is for my mom's chicken salad.  It is super creamy and perfect for sandwiches.  It can also be served over a bed of lettuce with fruit and crackers.  However, I like a chunky chicken salad filled with grapes, apples, and pecans for eating with crackers.  I think this particular recipe works best as more of a spread on croissants or your other favorite bread. 

cooked rotisserie chicken (from the grocery store deli)
3 stalks green onions
3 stalks celery
1 1/2 cups mayo
1/2 cup spicy brown mustard (Zatarain's works best!)
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
Tony Chachere's creole seasoning (to taste)

1.  Remove meat from chicken.
2.  Blend chicken in food processor until smooth.  Set aside.
3.  Chop green onions and celery into small pieces.  Process until finely chopped.
4.  In mixing bowl, combine mayo, mustard, and seasonings.
5.  Combine all ingredients and refrigerate one hour before serving.

Meatball Subs

Once again, I have used the slow cooker to create an easy, yet yummy, meal.  It doesn't get any simpler than this.  Turn on the slow cooker when you come in from work and are changing clothes to head to the ballpark, and have a hot meal ready when you get home later that evening.

1 bag frozen Italian meatballs
1 can Hunt's Zesty and Spicy spaghetti sauce
provolone or swiss cheese
po-boy/sub rolls
condiments and toppings (mayo, banana peppers, sliced black olives)

1.  Line your slow cooker with a Reynold's slow cooker liner.
2.  Add meatballs and spaghetti sauce to the slow cooker.
3.  Cook on high 2-3 hours.
4. Serve on rolls with any condiments/topping you like.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easy Lasagna

One of our favorite weekend meals is lasagna.  For years I used my mom's recipe for homemade lasagna, but it takes at least two hours from start to finish to create her masterpiece.  That kind of time commitment to create a meal isn't really my style!  Enter the picture: oven-ready lasagna noodles and Hunt's Four Cheese spaghetti sauce.  The lasagna can be assembled in about 15 minutes.  It bakes for an hour and is super yummy!! (This recipe makes enough to feed a crowd and still have leftovers.) 

1 12 oz. box oven-ready lasagna noodles
2 lbs. lean ground beef
2 cans Hunt's Four Cheese spaghetti sauce
1 16 oz. carton small curd cottage cheese
4 cups shredded mozzerella cheese
grated parmesan cheese
aluminum foil

1.  Preheat oven to 425.
2.  Brown and drain ground meat.
3.  Add spaghetti sauce to meat and heat over medium heat until warm through.
4.  Spread approximately 1/3 of the meat sauce in the bottom of a large lasagna pan.

5.  Layer lasagna noodles on top of the sauce.

6.  Spread 1/2 of the carton of cottage cheese over the lasagna noodles.

7.  Cover cottage cheese with 1/3 of meat sauce.

8.  Spread 2 cups of mozzerella over sauce.
9.  Sprinkle a generous layer of parmesan.

10.  Repeat steps 5-9: noodles, cottage cheese, meat sauce, mozzerella, parmesan.
11.  Cover pan with aluminum foil.  (Seal edges tightly to keep in moisture.)
12.  Bake for 1 hour, covered.
Uncover and enjoy!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Ultimate Baseball Mom's Survival Bag

I've been packing bags for the ballpark for the last 8 years, and I think I've now fine-tuned exactly what items a baseball mom wants to have in her bag!  First of all, you have to find the right bag.  My new favorite is the Thirty-One Organizing Utility Tote.  Check it out here.  I think it works perfectly for a baseball mom's supplies, and it's pretty darn cute too!!  Here are the essentials that every bag should have:

a towel (for wiping off dirty or wet bleachers)
a small umbrella (for those inevitable April showers)
sunscreen (Be sure to spray the kids before they start sweating!)
bug spray or wipes (a must-have in the Deep South to keep away the mosquitos and gnats)
face and hand wipes (Baby wipes or Wet-Ones work fine!)
antibacterial hand sanitizer
travel-pack of facial tissue
Dermosplast or other similar spray (for cuts, scrapes, burns, and bites)
variety of bandages
Children's Benadryl (I buy the rapid melts/meltaways of any medications that I carry in my bag.)
Jr. Tylenol

Now, depending on the ages of your other children, there are additional items you will want to include, such as small toys or coloring books/crayons to occupy little ones, and inexpensive snacks.
I buy big bags of pretzels, Goldfish crackers, etc. and separate them into snack-size bags.  The concession stand can put a strain on your budget, so coming prepared with snacks can really save you money.  Some ballparks will allow you to bring in small coolers, and others will not; I typically keep a cooler of iced Gatorades and waters in the car. 

In addition to the cooler, you may want to include a few other things in the car.  I like to pack a complete change of clothes for each kid.  You never know when they are going to leave a game covered in red dirt!  I have been known to make my boys strip down to their underwear before allowing them to get into the car.  However, I try to make sure they have extra clothes so I don't have to embarrass them that way!  I also keep folding chairs in the trunk.  Some ball parks have great bleachers and others do not.  It's best to be prepared either way.  I always use my folding chairs if we are going to be there all day.  And lastly, I keep a small blanket handy.  I am terribly cold-natured, and when the sun goes down, there is sometimes a little chill in the air during the Spring months. 

The key to a great day at the ballpark is preparation!  If you know you have everything you need, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the games!!

P.S.  I do not recommend allowing children to bring their hand-held video games to the ballpark.  My 8-year-old lost a Nintendo DS at a tournament last year.  Same thing applies to iPods, etc.  Just my personal opinion!!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Pantry Organization

My pantry is a great source of pride for me! Yes, I know that sounds silly, but I am very particular when it comes to my groceries.  The cashiers at the grocery store often look at me funny when I sort my groceries as I put them on the checkout counter.  You see, it is much easier to put the groceries away in an organized fashion if they are bagged in an organized fashion!  No one else in the family is allowed to help put away the groceries.  Because I try to shop for the month, I have lots of food to store, and I like it done my way!  (I'm not like this about most other things; my family is encouraged to help around the house.  Just don't mess with my groceries!)

Now, my pantry is rather large, especially for an average-sized kitchen in an average-sized house.  But the principles I want to share with you can be applied no matter the size of the pantry.  The key is creating zones and sorting items into those zones.  I'm going to break down each zone for you and share ideas for items that you want to keep on hand at all times if you are working toward creating weekly (or even monthly) menus. 

Zone 1: Baking Supplies

Okay, so I don't bake that often, but the items on this shelf are staples that can be used in many aspects of cooking. Items to keep in stock:

all-purpose flour
white or yellow corn meal
pancake mix
cooking oil
olive oil
baking powder
sugar/powdered sugar/brown sugar
muffin mix

You'll notice that my coffee and coffee liners also find their home on this shelf. And of course, Cafe' du Monde beignet mix!

Zone 2:  Boxed Breakfast Items

On busy mornings, my kids can fix a quick breakfast without any help from Mom and Dad!  My sweet husband likes to cook breakfast for the kids in the morning.  He's done it for years!  There are times, however, when we need something "in a hurry" and the kids know they can go straight to this shelf.  Items include:  boxed cereal, instant oatmeal, instant grits, chocolate milk mix, and protein shake mix (for when Mom's in a hurry).

Zone 3:  Seasoning Mixes and Staples

This is probably the most "miscelleaneous" shelf in my pantry.  The basket houses envelopes and packets of the following types of items:

taco seasoning
stir fry seasoning
fajita seasoning
country gravy
pork gravy
onion soup
ranch dip/dressing

In addition to the basket full of various seasoning mixes, I also use this shelf to store extras of condiments like mayo and mustard, salsa, salad dressing, and pancake syrup.  There are also containers of bread crumbs and drink mixes.  If it doesn't fit into any other "zone," it goes here!

Zone 4:  Snacks and Crackers

These two shelves house a variety of crackers:  saltines, Ritz, Club, and our favorite - Pretzel Crisps!  These are yummy pretzel crackers that my husband and I eat with hummus or Laughing Cow cheese wedges.  They are a great low-calorie treats!  We also keep other snacks: regular pretzels, chips, microwave popcorn, and Chex Mix.  I love my baskets for keeping these snacks organized.  I took this picture right after a shopping trip, but what I also usually like to do is use snack-size ziploc bags to make baggies of these snacks in kid-sized portions.

Zone 5:  Canned Goods

I keep LOTS of canned vegetables and soups on hand at all times.  Some of my staples are:

cream of chicken soup
cream of mushroom soup
cream of celery soup
diced tomatoes
stewed tomatoes
lots and lots of ROTEL tomatoes
Margaret Holmes seasoned vegetables
Glory seasoned vegetables
alfredo sauce
spaghetti sauce (We like Hunt's Four Cheese or Zesty and Spicy.)
Blue Runner red beans
all kinds of beans (for chili, taco soup, etc.)

I try to keep "like" items together, but I've heard of people who take their canned goods organization to the extreme and alphabetize their vegetables!  I'm NOT that crazy!!!

Zone 6:  Boxed Items

I keep two different groups of boxed goods on this shelf.  To the right, you'll notice all kinds of pasta.  I also keep a supply of instant rice and instant mashed potatoes on hand at all times.  To the left are "supplies":  freezer and storage bags of all sizes, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, waxed paper, and slow cooker liners. (A MUST HAVE for using the slow cooker!)

Zone 7:  Paper/Plastic Products

One of my goals as a busy mom is to have my family sit down for meals together despite our busy schedule.  So I use lots of shortcuts and smart ideas to get meals on the table quickly.  Many times, though, we have to eat and run!  So, we often use paper and plastic plates, bowls, cups, and flatware.  I know not everyone is going to agree with me on this one.  I do own a dishwasher and I do use it, but there are just times that I have to prioritize.  After a late ballgame, washing dishes (or even loading the dishwasher) sometimes takes a back seat to more important things, like making sure uniforms are washed for the next day or reading my 8-year-old a bedtime story.  I pick my battles!