Tuesday, March 18, 2008

My Weekly Meal Plan

I am a stay at home mom with my 10 month old son, so I know it probably sounds like it should be easy to get a home cooked meal on the table every night. It is not so easy. Trying to balance taking care of my son, with doing housework and approaching my blog like it is a job instead of a hobby is not easy. I really am not sure how working moms do it! I do manage, however, to get a decent meal on the table almost every night and it can be done, even if you work a full time job. Actually, I did work full time while my husband stayed at home with my son, and I even then I managed to cook every night. Anyone can do it, all it takes is some planning ahead and I am here to show you how to do it!

Every weekend, usually on Sundays, I sit down my cookbooks and recipes and try to look at the week ahead. Ironically, I should be making a large meal on Sundays that would make great lunch leftovers, but we always seem to have too much going on during the weekends! I start with the week ahead. I open up my calendar and see if there are any nights that we have plans, dinner plans or something else that would keep me from cooking. Those nights seem to lend themselves well to leftovers or as my mom used to call it, “Fix it yourself night.”

After I have determined what nights I am going to cook, I open up my cookbooks. I have some favorite cookbooks I go to frequently and I also have a very large 3 ring binder that I keep recipes from magazines that I have ripped out. I know choosing recipes sounds like a daunting task and it can be at times, but once you have done it a couple of times, it gets easier. I usually remember recipes that I want to make, but havent had the opportunity yet. I try to keep it simple. Mondays are when I do my grocery shopping so those nights I try to keep it quick and easy. Friday nights are another night that I try to keep it simple and easy as everyone is usually tired by Friday, myself included.

So I take out a sheet of paper and going down the paper write Monday through Friday, leaving a couple of lines in between each to leave room to write what I am going to make. I write the days on the left side of the sheet and then on the right side I draw a line and start a grocery list. If there are nights that I am not making dinner, then I write that down so that I dont forget. Then I choose my recipes and write a list of groceries I need as I go.

So here is what a typical week of meals might look like

2 Cheese Tortilla pizzas with arugula salad (from Everyday Food)

Chicken and Ricotta pillows (Giada)
Crispy Baked Eggplant (Seriously Simple)

Parmesan and Chicken Casserole (Cooking Light)
Green beans with warm bacon dressing (Cooking Light)
Broiled Tomatoes (Rachel Ray)

Pacific Pork kebab with rice (Everyday Food)
Vegetable Saute

Herby Gnocchi with arugula and butter sauce (Jaime Oliver)

I also always write down where the recipe came from on the list so it is easy for me to find it later. For the recipes that came from magazines, I usually rip all of those out, put them in a plastic page protector and just leave them all together in the kitchen so that they are easy to find. I also hang the list of meals for the week on the refrigerator so that everyone knows what we are having that night.

Also, for a particularly hectic day, you could also keep a frozen pizza on hand and serve it with a salad. I highly recommend Cooking Light magazine and Everyday Food magazine as a great source for healthy, quick meals. Giada de Laurentis also has some easy, hassle free meals and ideas as well. She has several cookbooks, but you can also find a lot of her recipes on The Food Network website. I also like meals that have components that can be made the night ahead, or things that need to be marinated for several hours. Cooking light has several recipes that involve marinating meat and vegetable together for several hours in a plastic ziplock for up to 8 hours. These are great as you can just throw them on a grill or in the oven when you get home. I hope these hints help everyone cook a few nights a week rather ordering take out!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Family-friendly Restaurants

The terms "Kid-friendly" or "Family-friendly" restaurant has always made me cringe. Before I had a baby of my own, this term always conjured up images of a restaurant that welcomed messy, bratty children either sitting in their high chair screaming or traipsing around the dining room while their parents continue to chow down on their meal, all the while being totally oblivious to the disruption their children are causing. Now as a parent, both terms still makes me cringe as I image places like Applebee's or Chuck E Cheese. Just because I have a child doesnt mean that I need to dumb down my palette so to speak. So when I talk about family-friendly or kid-friendly I may not be looking at the best restaurants (I dont expect a 5 or even 4 star restaurant to go out of its way to attract families), but I also hope to look at dining establishments that are at least a step above Applebee's. I also would like to add, however, that if I do choose to take my infant to a nice restaurant I would prefer not to get glares from the wait staff.

My son is currently 10 months old and so far only has 2 teeth. He doesn't seem to mind going to restaurants so we occasionally take him places with us. My son likes to watch my husband and I eat and try to eat with us, even if he has already had his dinner. However, with only 2 teeth, we have to be careful about what we give him to chew on. That is why I was quite pleased one Sunday when our little family went to Mimi's Cafe for breakfast. When we were seated they brought a complimentary "kids plate". They brought an appetizer plate full of goodies well beyond the normal fare. The plate consisted of a ramekin of Cheerios, an orange slice, crackers, and of course a kids menu full of activities and crayons. I found this to be very thoughtful! I can't really order off the kids' meal for him yet, so I think it is nice that someone in the company took a minute to think about families with little babies.

I have also been to the Cheesecake Factory when they have offered crackers and fruit! Why don't more restaurants do this? Though this would not be a major factor in my decision on where to dine, I would certain lean more towards a restaurant that took this kind of consideration!

It isn't complimentary Cheerios, but Bravo Cucina Italiana will often give kids a ball of raw pizza dough to play with. They will even bake it for children so make dough sculptures of shapes! What fun! My son had fun squeezing the dough which occupied him for a good 10 minutes!

I'm curious if there are other places out there that have similar services. If anyone knows of other restaurants that give complimentary snacks to babies and toddlers, please feel free to share similar experiences with other great restaurants.