Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Nourish & Strengthen Series No. 3 - Meal Planning 101

Hello! My name is Danielle and I have a confession to make.

***I have a love/hate relationship with cooking*** 

I love to cook.
I love it not!
I hate to cook.
I hate it not!
and so it goes 'round and 'round 
with our busy family life
in full swing.  

While I am always planning meals for our family, since it saves money and time in the long run, I'm not very good at sticking to my meal plans sometimes, because frankly, I fall out of the mood to cook what I've decided in advance for that day to eat and prepare as our meal.  Most of the time, I can muscle through my lazy 'I don't want to cook' moods.  To those of you who appreciate both planning and spontaneity in the kitchen, this post is for you!  I am someone who is always on the lookout for healthy, kid-friendly, delicious and cost-effective meals to feed my family and I hope that by sharing some of my discoveries here, you too find practical ways to feed your families too.

Here is an outline of our meals for next week, along with some tips I've incorporated to save time. You'll notice there are only 5 meals listed, as I always leave room for 2 meals that are either leftovers,  or "own man meals"...the family term for 'everyone's on their own tonight' for supper since we're all going different ways.

1.  Dutch Oven Roasted Chicken, Herb Roasted Potatoes, Steamed Broccoli, and Cinnamon Baked Apples with Icecream for desert.   My mother is  in town so tonight's meal was extra special.  My mom is super health conscious, so I try to cook as healthy as possible for her when she's in town, no heavy cream sauces or butter laden recipes.  She skipped the icecream over the apples, (so heavenly as the icecream melts over the steaming warm apples).

2. Yellow Curry Chicken with Chopped Vegetables Over Rice - This meal is my family's favorite! I've never been a big curry fan, but this recipe has won me over.  About the spice the recipe calls for...yellow curry paste...I found it in the Asian aisle at Whole Foods.  One small container was $4.75. This meal is a 'one dish wonder' since it contains all the main elements of a well-rounded meal in one bowl full: protein, starch, and vegetables.

*3.  Southwest Salad - A great vegetarian meal and one I make and mention often.  It's easy-to-make in the winter, sans tomatoes.  Just load it up with roasted peppers and avocado.  Be sure to use fresh limes for the juice vs. the lime concentrate you often find in the produce section at grocery stores.  The latter will kill your delicious dressing!

4. Tomato Basil Soup with Homemade Breadsticks (Kitchenaid mixer friendly) - A simple meal of vegetable-laden soup and bread.  Homemade breadsticks are always the highlight with my children!  Can't get enough, and that Kitchenaid makes it super easy.  I split the cookie sheet pan of breadsticks into two sections - cinnamon sugar breadsticks on one half, and garlic/herb with cheese breadsticks on the other.  Both varieties are a hit and make for a pleasant dinner all around. 

5. Homemade Pizza Night -I chop vegetables that are left over from the week, such as onions, broccoli, zucchini, mushrooms, just whatever I have really. I mix the dough in the Kitchenaid, let it sit on the counter while I chop the veggies and make the red sauce. Once the sauce and topping prep is done, I divide the dough into equal portions for everyone, then have them roll it out and make their own pizzas. One important tip - brush olive oil over the rolled pizza dough, then sprinkle the whole thing with garlic salt. So delicious.  It's fun to see how everyone's pizza turns out, each time being different.

So there you have it. One week's worth of meal planning. It makes a big difference with how well evening dinner time flows smoothly or not. If you have tips on how to meal plan, please pass along! I love hearing from your wisdom.

God Just Got Bigger

I love the religion I grew up in, though my family wasn't active in going to church every week.  When we did go, I felt a powerful connection to God, and I loved it!

Years later, I found myself drawing closest to God during times of tragedy and crisis: years of infertility, the birth and death of our first born son, my grandmother's death, and my baby son's open heart surgery, months of hospitalization,  and his deafness.  I wanted to know meaning and purpose with trials.  And I wanted to know if God really did know me by name and if so, was He looking out for me or am I on my own?

I can be pretty skeptical by nature. A little skepticism is healthy, right? But when does skepticism cross the line into being without faith? And when does having faith cross the line of being gullible?

These are the questions that were always swirling around in my mind, never settling on satisfactory answers.

And then I discovered meditation through my yoga practice. Meditation for me is simply sitting still in half-lotus position and observing my thoughts, then bringing them back to a reverent place where I listen for God. There are several different types and styles of meditation out there. I've experimented and practiced many forms on retreats with accomplished gurus and teachers. But in the end, I come back to my own style, which is simply to sit still and listen for God. I ask Him questions, and He talks to me.

Image Source
Anyone could argue that all I'm really doing is talking to myself. But I'm not in the habit of talking to myself in third person voice, and I'm not in the habit of talking compassionately and encouragingly to myself either. In fact, quite the opposite. I tend to have a mean, critical voice that is loudest of all when it comes to voices in my head. (well, now I just sound mental.)

The truth is, we're all mental. We're all experiencing thoughts and dialogues with ourselves constantly. It's absolutely fascinating to take a step back and become the Observer of these thoughts and dialogues. This is what meditation has done for me.  And by doing so, I've learned some powerful lessons about my true nature, what I'm capable of, what I need to focus more energy on, what I need to spend less energy on, how to love my loved ones better, how to love myself better, and the list goes on . . .

If you are interested in learning how to meditate, the biggest piece of advice I can give is to simply be still and practice calming your mind by focusing on your breathing. Try to match the duration of the inhale and the exhale to calm the mind, then direct your thoughts toward your idea of God. Bring to your mind's eye, His image being present with you, and then talk to Him. This is how it works for me. If you have another way that you meditate, tell me about it. I'm so curious as to how it works for people.