Menus of a Mom

Just trying to get the family fed!


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Grocery Shopping

One of the ways that I’m able to be flexible in my meal planning is by stocking up on staples when they are on sale.  In fact, from week to week, I buy very few groceries – mostly fresh fruit, milk, eggs, and specific vegetables that I prefer fresh.  I stock up on meat, pasta, rice, and frozen vegetables whenever they are on sale.

In fact, two weeks ago, Sweetbay had boneless skinless chicken breast on sale for $1.99/lb.  It’s usually more than twice that, we bought about 45 pounds! I split them up into two-breast portions in freezer bags and now they’re ready to go in the freezer.

This helps us save money on groceries, especially more “whole” foods and less processed stuff, while having ingredients on hand in a pinch.  I know that I can always throw some pasta, chicken breast, frozen vegetables and a jar of sauce together for dinner if needed.

For the menu posts going forward, I plan to include my approach for groceries in addition the menu and prep plan.  I’ll point out the ingredients for each meal that I need to purchase compared to those that I already have on hand.  Hopefully someone finds it helpful and/or can provide some feedback/tips!

Also, I’m almost out of ideas for these “other” types of posts, so if anyone has questions or things they want me to try out, let me know 🙂


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I Heart Fruit Roll-ups

…but I discovered I don’t especially heart making them!

I took Monday off work.  The plan was to treat myself to a massage that I’ve had a voucher for since March, May?  Something like that.  But with Isaac spinning around trying to figure out what he wanted to do in the Gulf, I was afraid the daycare would be closed and cancelled the massage.

But, daycare was open, so I just had the day to myself.  After catching up on various things around the house, what to do, what to do…

Make homemade fruit leathers!  It’s been on my to-do list to try for months, and while it could be a fun project to do with the Boog, I wanted to try it out on my own first.

Back when I was first looking for recipes to do this, I swore I found one that didn’t require simmering the fruit puree on the stove top.  But, on Monday, I couldn’t find it and pretty much thought I made it up in my head.  Google “fruit leather recipe” and you’ll get tons of hits.  Just not the one that says, eh, skip the simmering of the puree.

[For the record, here’s the blog/recipe that I was thinking of.  Too bad I didn’t find it until Monday night.]

Anyhoo, the concept is a simple one.   Puree some fruit, add sweetener, lemon juice, spices, etc. to your taste.  Simmer.  Pour onto a lined baking sheet and wait.

I used frozen berries – a gorgeous mix of raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries, with some lemon juice and agave nectar.

So, here are the reasons I’m not fond of this process:

1. I simmered the fruit puree.  I wasn’t very focused and at some point smelled burning, which led me to frantically scrape the bottom of the pan trying to get the burnt stuff out of the pan, lest it taint my precious fruit roll-ups.

2. I wasn’t very focused and didn’t put the oven on the convect cycle.  I have an awesome oven that HAS the convect cycle.  But I failed to use it.  Again, note that I remembered this late Monday night.

3. I’m not very patient, especially when it comes to something as delicious as fruit leather.  So dehydrating the fruit puree in the oven was sort of like slow torture.  That led me to constantly pulling it out and messing with it, thus delaying even further my ability to enjoy the fruit leather.  Vicious cycle.

4. Spreading the puree out evenly was really difficult.  It’s hard to describe the consistency of the puree (though, maybe it was due to bullet #1 and it wasn’t the consistency it was supposed to be).  Because of that, parts of my delicious fruit leather were, shall we say, tough, a little like jerky…

5. I’m a fruit roll-up piggy.  I think I could sit down and eat an entire box of the pre-made ones.  So, when I got my final product, it was hard to save any for Boog or Husband to try.  Which was disappointing.  I felt like after baking for 6 hours, I should have a LOT of fruit roll-ups.   Hmmm.  Maybe I’m just greedy.

6. I tried to get “cute”.  I don’t do “cute” very well.  This is a known issue, as demonstrated here.  My good friend got me these awesome letter silicone baking sheets.  There were tons of ideas on the box, one of which is for ice cubes, which would work great for things like Purple Oatmeal.  But I thought, wow, I’m going to be so cool, I’m going to make thick fruit leather LETTERS!  I probably should have gotten the basics down before trying to get “cute”.  And see bullet #3, which also provided complications.  Well, here’s how that went.

^^ Not meant as a threat 🙂

Sorry Erin – don’t freak out, I wasn’t spelling your name out in blood or creepy letters on purposes.  🙂 Maybe I have an idea for Halloween!

7. Cutting them into roll-ups is not a strong suit of mine either, but here were my best attempts.

Pretend the scotch tape is pretty ribbon or something.

By the end of the day, I was swearing off making these ever again, because, fruit roll-ups are cheap.  But never say never.  I’m sure someday Boog and I can make them together (she LOVED eating them) and we’ll have a great time.

I just don’t make things fancy, like most of the Google results I found.  But, I’m okay with that.  We all enjoyed some fruit leathers, and they were just as delicious in their imperfection.


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Breakfast Feels Left Out

I’m always focused on dinner on here, so you probably all wonder if that’s all we eat.  Nope!  We can’t forget the most important meal of the day – BREAKFAST!

Breakfast is tough.  The mornings are hectic enough as is, trying to all get out out the door to our respective places of responsibility (school, work, shop) on time.  I try to start my work day out at 7:30, so I can leave and have more time in the evenings to spend time with the Boog (and cook!)  Pair that with the fact that I’m not a morning person, and you have a recipe for driving through Dunkin’ Donuts every day.

For awhile, Husband and I were splitting responsibilities – I got the Boog ready for school (dressed, vitamin, breakfast, hair, etc.) and he got the dogs fed and me ready (coffee, breakfast).

Boog’s breakfast mainly consisted of frozen waffles, French toast, or pancakes.  On the weekends, I could do whole what English muffins with peanut butter or oatmeal, but during the week, all of the “better” breakfasts were messy and slowed us down.

Husband’s and my breakfast consisted of oatmeal that I could take to work with me, or an egg/egg white/eggbeater sandwich I could eat on the way.

Fast forward to the terrible twos.

I would say, about 80% of the time, my daughter has some terrible aversion to me in the morning.  Literally, she will get up and I walk/look in her general direction and she will tell me to go away, stay away, go back to bed, that she doesn’t want Mommy ANY MORE, etc.  I’m not sure why, she loves me any other time of the day, but if I mess with her before 6:30, the horned beast comes out.

Getting her dressed in the morning had become quite the challenge.  If I did it, there was screaming, crying, frustration and no one started the day out right.  If my husband did it, it threw off our whole delicate balance resulting in a run through the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru.

So, we’ve been slowly working out better options for breakfast.  Every few weeks we stock up the freezer with heat-and-eat items for the whole family.  We have three main stand-bys:

1) Homemade waffles!  On a Saturday or Sunday morning, Husband will whip out the waffle maker and make a huge batch, freezing what we don’t eat.  These work great, except we like to have blueberries or other fruit in them and those can be messy weekday breakfasts for the Boog.

2) Breakfast burritos!  These are our new favorites.  You can put whatever you want in them.  We usually get a big package of tortillas and fill them with egg beaters, onions, peppers, salsa, turkey sausage crumbles, and cheese.  Roll those bad boys up and store them in the tortilla bag in the freezer.   Awesome protein boost in the morning.

3) Zucchini Muffins – My favorite!  I follow this recipe pretty closely, with a couple of exceptions.  I do cut the oil in half and substitute applesauce.  I also use all whole wheat flour, but substitute 1/4 – 1/2 cup of it with flax seed meal.  They end up super moist and the Boog loves them.  Sometimes I’ll put some berries in here as well, but then it’s messy for a weekday morning again.

Zucchini Muffins

The best part about the zucchini muffins is that Boog can help me bake them now!  We have matching aprons and made some last weekend.  She got to put all of the ingredients into the bowl and helped with some stirring.  When she saw the aprons on Monday, she said she wanted to make muffins again.  So sweet!  See, I’m okay in her book after 6:30 am!

My Little Baking Boog


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The Binder

I don’t own any cookbooks.  I figured out long ago that there were only one or two recipes in each cookbook that I ever really used, if that.  They take up a lot of space that I don’t have, at least if I want to continue with my “Rachel Ray” cabinet.  So, at some point, I copied the recipes I actually used and sold the books themselves.  I still buy a cookbook from time to time, usually an impulse buy, with a promise that I’ll cook every meal in the crockpot from now on, or that all meals will come in pocket form, or have 5 ingredients or less.  But it never matters, I only use one or two recipes from the book and move on.

I usually get my recipes and new ideas from various online sources, as you can see from my Recipes page.  I am subscribed to a number of different recipe emails (a local newspaper column, Parents.com, Hungry-Girl.com, Kraft Recipes, etc.)

Introduce: THE BINDER

I have recipes organized into Breakfast, Appetizers, Sides, Vegetarian Entrees, Entrees, and Desserts. Recipes don’t get printed until they are on a set menu.  If they pass the test, they get a coveted spot in the binder.  If not, they are thrown out.  I know I can easily flip through to find dinner ideas that my family actually enjoys, without getting bogged down with lofty recipes I hope to try one day.  This is how I’ve been able to get out of the dinner rut that we used to find ourselves in all the time.


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My General Schedule

Planning the Menu: I work on my menu and grocery list on Thursday nights.  That’s when the sales week starts at Publix, so I can plan my menu around ingredients on sale.  I always like to check out the Apron’s meal of the week. (Click on the recipe in the flyer even if you’re not interested in it – there are always TWO featured recipes!)

Grocery Shopping: If at all possible, I go grocery shopping on Friday nights after my daughter goes to bed.  It’s less crowded and I have it done so I don’t have to find time on my weekend to complete it.

Preparation: I prep as much as possible on Sunday, including reviewing recipes for the week and making sure the “Rachel Ray” cabinet (RR cabinet) is cleared out of last week’s stuff and ready for the new week.  I have a separate cupboard in my kitchen with all of the dry ingredients the week calls for, so I don’t have to dig around in my pantry to find the flour, or the rice wine vinegar, or whatever, that I only use once a month.

Specific Days of the Week:

  • Tuesdays I have about 5-15 minutes to get food on the table because my daughter has swim class.  I literally leave work, pick her up, get home and shovel some food in the two of us, get her changed and go to swim class at 6:30. So, I have to carefully plan Tuesday night’s meal – it’s usually a crock-pot item, something that is just as tasty reheated, or something that is eaten cold.  So, Monday night is heavy on prep work.
  • Fridays I try to make as simple as possible. If I don’t, we’ll order pizza or some other kind of take-out, because I’m usually EXHAUSTED from the week, and I’m trying to save my energy to make it through grocery shopping.
  • Depending on our plans, I may or may not have a menu item for the weekends.  We sometimes have leftovers from the week, sometimes we eat on the run.  Often, I’ll add a 6th meal to the list, but not do the prep work in advance, just in case.  And it has to be something I’m not buying perishable items for – Avocados aren’t going to last for a month if we decide to eat out 3 weekends in a row.