Weekly Food Prep for a Busy Family

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I love, love LOVE this meme from Happy Herbivore!  She is one of my favorite vegan cookbook authors.  This is such an important reminder for those of us who can get tripped up by labels.  Her post on the subject is great.  Read it here.
So let’s talk about snacking appetites for a quick minute.  On one of my online “mommy forums” (groan, I know, I know!) we’ve been talking about how much food our families can eat.  My family eats a ton of food, and Granola Toddler would probably just keep eating all day until she passed out cold in front of the fridge if I let her.  With all the face-stuffing going on around here, I have to be sure that I always have healthy options available.  I don’t want my kids eating chips because that’s all they could find in the cupboard.  One thing that really keeps us eating healthy and sticking to our budget is weekly food prep.  At the beginning of the week (usually Sunday or Monday) I take an afternoon to prepare a large amount of ingredients and snacks for us to use for the rest of the week.  It varies from week to week, but here’s an idea of what I’ve been doing lately:

-chop and roast 1 entire bag (5lbs) of sweet potatoes
-chop 3 heads of romaine lettuce and separate into bags
-cook 4 cups of quinoa in the rice cooker (I cook it in water so I can use it for sweet or savory dishes)
-cook 2 cups of brown rice on the stove
-hard boil 6 eggs
-make 1 huge batch of granola
-chop and bag up veggies for quick salads: bell peppers, cucumbers, etc.
-make a homemade salad dressing for the week
-bake one type of “treat” that we can grab quickly on our way out the door (granola bars, muffins, breakfast cookies, etc)

It’s not really very much work, and I can usually get it done in an hour if I’m smart about it.  I can have my rice cooker, oven, and stove going all at once and chop away while the kids are asleep.  It saves me quite a bit of time the rest of the week, which is really helpful when the Granola Babies decide they are so hungry they will surely perish if I don’t magically make a snack appear in 30 seconds 🙂
Do you food prep for your family?  What kinds of things do you like to cook ahead of time?

P.S.  I will be blogging next about the different ways I use all that quinoa, and why I love it so much!

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Kid-Friendly Sushi Salad Recipe (and some ramblings on motherhood)

So I am not very good at blogging regularly.  There, I’m glad we got that out in the open.  Moving along…I am going to talk about being a mom right now.  If you’re just looking for the recipe, scroll to the bottom 🙂
Today started out pretty stinking rotten.  Luckily, like most stinking rotten days as a mom, it ended up being a wonderful learning opportunity.  I’m closing out the day pretty zen, if I do say so myself.  So here’s the mama drama: Granola Baby #1 just turned 3 and has decided to be an artist.  Sounds dreamy and really hip, right?  When I read that sentence I imagine a gorgeous toddler painting perfect still life baskets of apples and grapes with a beret and a tiny smudge of paint on her cheek.  Maybe she is snacking on crepes, too.  Snap out of it, you guys!  Toddlers are nuts!  They are like tiny crazy people who are so happy and cool but so flipping out of control and emotional that you can’t possibly predict what new type of ridiculousness they are going to pull next.
Perfect example: everyday, when baby sister goes down for a nap, Granola Baby #1 gets to watch “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood”.  For the uninitiated, it’s an animated spin-off of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood”.  Typically it only takes a few minutes for me to get sister to sleep, so I wash breakfast dishes and make lunch while she finishes her little 30 minute show.  Today I was scrubbing the oatmeal off of a pot when I turned around to glance at Granola Toddler (can we call her that?  It’s easier for me.  Let’s call her that) and she yelled really loudly, “I’M WIPING THE COUCH, MOM!”  Where toddlers are concerned, yelling is widely accepted as a bad sign and universally means that something. is.  UP.  I walked over to where she was and saw that she had ninja-climbed onto a table, dragged down my purse, and dug around inside until she found my makeup bag.  Then she opened up the liquid foundation and squirted it ALL over my couch.  Last she grabbed my boots from the door and added them to the mix.  Might as well, right?  This wasn’t a slow process.  It probably took her 2 minutes.  Hence the ninja-ness of the situation.
Anyway, I obviously saw red, but I tried really hard not to be a ragey Miss Hannigan and calmly (kinda) told her to get an extra towel from the bathroom to help me clean.  She ran to get it and I started scrubbing.  After a few minutes, I realized she wasn’t back and I that the house was totally quiet.  In toddler-land, quiet is way, way worse than yelling.  I found her in my room painting LOTS of my favorite things with my perfectly bright pink nailpolish.  So I duct taped her to the wall and started cleaning again.  Just kidding.
I had to throw away some stuff and it made me sad.  For a solid half hour, I honestly felt sad for myself for losing things that I really liked.  Then I saw a picture that my friend posted on Instagram, and it gave me this awesome change of perspective.  She posted a shot of a beautiful drawing her daughter had done.  She had framed it and hung it on the wall.  She wrote that her daughter was a fellow “tagger” (heehee), and that she had framed this drawing in an effort to encourage her to draw on paper and not the walls.  I have so much to learn about this parenting stuff, you guys.  I know this “DESTROY ALL THE THINGS” stage will not last forever.  I hope in my efforts to keep sharpie off the majority of my furniture, I never squash the creative spirit out of her.  I hope I gently direct it (…to a piece of paper!) rather than extinguishing it completely.  I have to be careful with this amazing, bright girl.  It was a beautiful reminder for me.
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Now for the recipe.  This is one we have pretty regularly, because everyone loves it.  It’s a hands-on meal and a fun way to get kids excited about food.

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Kid-Friendly Sushi Salad Recipe
Serves 6

Ingredients:
2 cups of dry brown rice (I buy short grain)
4 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup organic sugar*
1 cucumber
2 large carrots
3 green onions
pickled ginger (optional)
2 Tablespoons sesame seeds
3 avocados
nori (seaweed) strips (Costco or Trader Joe’s have them)

In a pot with a tight lid or a rice cooker, boil the rice, then simmer until done.  Meanwhile, heat the vinegar and organic sugar in a saucepan.  Stir until the sugar dissolves and the vinegar reduces a little.  When the rice is done, pour the vinegar/sugar mixture on top and mix well.  Refrigerate until cooled.  Chop the cucumber, carrots, green onions, and pickled ginger VERY small.  You can use a food processor to save time.  Combine all ingredients except the avocado and nori together in a large bowl and chill until ready to serve.  I like to set up everyone’s plate with several sheets of nori, half of a sliced avocado, and a big scoop of sushi salad.  Then each person can roll their own little sushi bites.  This would work great for a dinner party with some cold soba noodles or warm miso soup.  Yum!

*Why organic sugar?  Organic sugar is less refined than conventional granulated sugar, not genetically modified, and does not contain bone char or bleaching agents.

Monday, Monday: A Meal Plan For the Week (Plus a Recipe!)

Welcome back, my bloggy homies.  I had a real case of the Mondays today.  I actually don’t know what the “Mondays” are, but I slept in and forgot about my Preschool carpool, ran out of dish soap with a sink full of half washed dishes, and (no joke) told my toddler “if you are real quiet for the rest of the car ride, you can have cake when we get home.”  We were one block from home.  Like 40 seconds.  So that happened…
Nevertheless, I am happy to report that I did my yoga for the day, and am staying committed to my fitness goals for the month.  Granola Baby #1 wanted to join in, so we did some Cosmic Kids Yoga before bed. My friend introduced my toddler to these videos at Preschool, and I think they are the cutest little routines.  If you’ve never done yoga with your kids, this is an adorable and fun way to get your little ones interested.  I am partial to the Penguin one 🙂

This weekend I was planning out our meals and noticed we had a ton of leftover produce, and our pantry is totally full from a Costco trip.  I thought it would be fun to see if I could make it without spending ANY money this week on food.  That’s $0.  It will be a fun game to see if I can make it.  I might crack if we run out of avocados.  We cannot have that.
Here’s the breakdown, including yesterday and today:
Sunday: Vegetarian Taco Soup (We fed 11 adults and 4 kids for my 3 year old’s family birthday party.  Everyone loved it!)
Monday: Artichoke Pasta “Wonderpot” (Recipe Below)
Tuesday: Skillet Rosemary & Lemon Brussels Sprouts with Quinoa (I’ll make a double batch of quinoa to use for Wednesday’s chili.)
Wednesday:  Quinoa Chili (I’m trying out this recipe for the first time)
Thursday: Easy Kid-Friendly Veggie Sushi
Friday: Gluten-Free Spaghetti with Broccoli
Saturday: Rice & Bean Casserole with Guacamole (Recipe here)
We will have some type of salad with dinner each night as well.  For breakfasts, we will have green smoothies, oatmeal, or granola.  Granola Baby #1 likes scrambled eggs, too.  Lunches are usually sandwiches on Gluten Free bread, leftovers, or whatever soup I can throw together with random things in our fridge.  Both my kids are liking lentils and beans lately, so we eat a lot of those, too.
If you are interested in some of the recipes for the meals I listed, please let me know.  I love to share recipes.

Dinner tonight was really good.  If you haven’t picked up on the “Wonderpot” craze that’s taking over Pinterest (Thanks, Martha!) then you should check it out.  I first saw it on this blog.  The idea is that you boil noodles in vegetable broth and don’t drain it.  The starch released from the noodles thickens the broth, making a silky, almost creamy sauce.  It tastes decadent and rich, but it isn’t heavy at all because it doesn’t contain cream or dairy.  The beautiful thing about this type of dish is that you can throw whatever you have on hand into the pot, and it tastes great.  I always use mushrooms, peas, and artichokes because my kids like them, but you can adjust the veggies and seasonings according to your family’s preferences.  I used organic ingredients, but you don’t have to if you can’t find/afford it.  It will taste great either way!

Artichoke Pasta Wonderpot (Gluten Free, Vegan)
Serves 10 Hungry Lumberjacks (not really, but it makes a lot!)

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Ingredients:
4 cups veggie broth
1/2 cup water
1 can diced tomatoes2-3 cloves garlic, minced (or sliced, if you are feeding adults who won’t pick them out…)
1 sweet onion, sliced
6 artichoke hearts in water, quartered (can use jarred or frozen- I get the jars from Costco)
6 mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 lb gluten free spaghetti noodles (I used Trader Joe’s brown rice spaghetti)
1 sprig of rosemary, chopped
1-2 tsp your favorite no-salt seasoning (I like Kirkland brand)
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup frozen peas

Add your ingredients to the pot, except for the peas.  Nobody likes mushy peas!  Smoosh everything down to try and submerge it all (this is getting technical…). Add the lid and bring to a boil, then stir the ingredients around, cover again, and simmer until the liquid reduces and your noodles are tender.  I usually babysit the pot in the last few minutes of cooking and stir it frequently, as brown rice noodles tend to stick to the bottom.  When the noodles are perfect, I remove the pot from heat and add the frozen peas.  The heat from the pasta will warm the peas to perfection.  Enjoy!

Fitness Friday?

How are we feeling about a fitness post?  I’ll be honest, I’m feeling awkward.  I am not athletic.  That may have been one of the first sentences I uttered to my husband (who is one of those freaks who is good at, like, every sport).  I huff and puff when I run, I have ZERO hand-eye coordination, and I don’t have a competitive bone in my body.  My sister is my hero.  She was handed the same set of DNA I was, but she still manages to lace up her running shoes and run RACES.  Real ones.  With numbers and everything.  And she has kids, you guys!  I have no excuse.
I have focused so much on nutrition the past 3 years, and have let my fitness level lay stagnant.  I tell myself that I’m fine because I have lost all my baby weight (an embarrassing 70 lbs with my first and 40 with my second) and I do yoga mixed with the occasional long walk pushing the kids in the stroller.  Excuses, excuses.  I don’t want to be that girl!  Nutrition and fitness should naturally go hand & hand.  I want to prove that you can not only eat healthy on a budget, but stay fit without throwing money at a trainer or gym.  Would you guys be interested in helping me stay accountable with my fitness goals?  I will do a new challenge every month in 2014.  For example: I want to do yoga every week day in the month of January.  I love yoga already, so I thought it would be a good place to start.  Well, maybe it’s more that I have a hard time committing to big change, and this seemed like a good way to eeeeaaaase myself in.  If you are interested in joining me, but have never done yoga before, Erin Motz has an awesome 30 day introduction here.  I’ve done that one before and it’s fun and easy.  It’s a great choice if you are post-partum and need something gentle.  If you are at a higher fitness level and want something more challenging without having to pay any money, doyogawithme.com has tons of free classes.  Today I did this class, because it’s one of my tried-and-true favorites, and it kicks my booty everytime.  Even Granola Guy likes this one.  If you are an intermediate-level yogi, check out the rest of Kim Wilson’s classes on that site.  You won’t be disappointed.

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One of the reasons I have avoided a gym membership (besides the obvious expense) is because it’s really important to me that the Granola Babies actually see me exercise, and join me.  When I visualize our family’s future, I see us being active together.  Luckily, Granola Guy loves yoga almost as much as I do, and our toddler likes to join us.  Where does baby hang out while we are doing all this?  Well, if you haven’t nursed a baby in downward-facing dog, you haven’t lived 🙂 We also like to take our kids on hikes, and now that Granola Baby #2 is older, we can hike longer.  This weekend we went for an easy and quick walk around the San Elijo Lagoon.  It was really easy for us grown ups and the tiniest Granola Baby, who was carried by her daddy in the Ergo. However, for Granola Baby #1 who turns 3 in two days (!), it was a real challenge.  She huffed and puffed her way back up the hill on the way back, and enjoyed throwing rocks off the 5 foot “cliff” at the top.  This was the first time she has walked an entire hike with us, and I was so impressed that she stuck it out!
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Now that I’ve declared my goal for January (yoga every weekday), will you help me choose a goal for February?  I want to start running more, but I always hate it so much that I quit.  Do you have advice for someone like me, who loves yoga and hiking, but hates running? Granola Guy says I should embrace my personality and accept that I don’t like to run, and try other things instead. Do you have a favorite free, online fitness class?  What are your favorite workouts you like to do with young kids?  I’m going to take the weekend off to celebrate Granola Baby #1’s third birthday, but I’ll be back Monday with our meal plan for the week.

The How’s and Why’s of What We Eat

Healthy eating became a priority for me after the birth of Granola Baby #1.  As a growing girl, I watched my own mother’s health deteriorate before me, and it was one of the biggest trials of my life.  Spending my time after school at the hospital as a teenager wasn’t ideal, and when my mom had the first of what would become a series of massive strokes, I realized that our relationship had shifted as I became her caretaker.  That was a difficult shift in roles to deal with at such a young age, and when I had my first child, I resolved to do everything in my power to keep myself from having the health issues that my mom struggled with.  I want to stress that I love my mom deeply, and that she is the most gentle, amazing mom.  I know that I was sent to be her daughter for a reason.  She has taught me priceless lessons and shaped me into the woman I am today.  Her strength and resilience in the face of deep sorrow and difficulty are an incredible example to me.  She has been through so much and has held on for dear life.  I do not discount that in any way.  What I want to do, for the sake of my girls, is to live healthier so that I can be an active player in every field trip, back to school night, ballet recital, sport game, graduation, and wedding.  I have become passionate about my health because I am passionate about my girls.
Granola Guy also has some health issues that have been resolved by adjusting his diet.  He has arterial fibrillation, and it was recommended at 24 years old that he have a pacemaker.  3 years later, he has no more symptoms, and controls the issue with nutrition, supplements, and holistic medicine.

Now for the fun part: what we eat.  We began our journey into nutrition 100% plant-based (vegan).  That meant no meat, dairy, eggs, or other animal products.  We also avoided processed food, refined oils, and refined sugars.  If you have interest in the plant-based lifestyle, I would encourage you to read “The China Study”, by T. Colin Campbell, PhD.  Another, great book on the subject is “Eat To Live”, by Joel Fuhrman, MD.  Some great movies to start you off would be “Forks Over Knives”, “Food Matters”, and “Hungry For Change”.  In 2013, Granola Baby #1 was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, and our world was rocked.  We had to cut out all gluten, and I tried to continue our strict plant-based diet as well, but it became extremely stressful for our family to adhere to so many dietary rules, especially as my kids started to get older and go for play dates and started preschool.  We decided to become more flexible, and a weight lifted off my shoulders.  Granola Baby #1’s reaction to gluten is scary and makes her violently ill, so we made her health and safety a priority, with our dietary needs and restrictions first, and our preferences and choices second.  It made things a lot easier.  At home, we eat a plant-based vegan diet 80-90% of the time.  We occasionally eat eggs at home, and when we are at a family holiday, celebration, or gathering, we choose local, fresh fish caught by a friend to appease the crankiest of relatives.  We buy organic when it is available, and shop at local farmer’s markets once or twice a week.  Many people have asked me how we can afford to eat the way we do.  First, we make sacrifices.  David Wolfe (a world expert on nutrition and superfoods) said it best: “We as a culture have our values inverted. We’d rather spend money on rent rather than the best food ever. We’d rather spend money on a car or house, when we could be feeding our children the best superfoods ever – because we don’t know.” Well, I know, so I have no excuse. I want my kids to know, too!  I put my family’s health before anything else.  We share one car, live in a tiny house, and our kids wear a lot of hand me downs, but we eat like kings.  With all of this, we stick to a very strict budget and make this lifestyle work on about $100 a week for our family of 4.   Meal planning is a huge factor.  Every week, I plan all of our meals, and then create a shopping list.  Then I head out to find the best deals.  I always check the dollar store first.  They usually have organic name brand canned goods for 99 cents.  That saves me an average of 30 cents per can, and I always stock up when they are available, because canned veggies and beans make great food storage.  Next I go to the Farmer’s Market, because they have the cheapest and best quality local, organic food.  Some health food stores are too expensive for a family on a budget to shop at. Ahem….Jimbos and Whole Foods, I’m looking at you.  Granola Guy jokingly calls Whole Foods “Whole Wallet”.  I could spend all day in that store- there are so many options and shiny, healthy things!  But let’s be honest, they are overpriced beyond reason.  No wonder people think organic food is a ripoff!  For example, a small head of organic butter lettuce is about $5 at my local overpriced health food store.  That same organic butter lettuce is only $2.50 at the farmers market and TWICE the size, so I get two salads out of it instead of one.  It hasn’t been shipped in from another country, either.  It came from a farm 10 minutes down the freeway.  The best part of this is that I get to put the money right into the farmer’s hand, without having to pay a middle-man or taxes.  Our favorite lettuce farmer knows my kid’s names and we always get the best picks.  After the Farmer’s Market, I hit Trader Joe’s.  Organic fare is pretty affordable there, especially if you are buying bulk items and ingredients (like sugar, nuts, and Gluten Free Oats).  Processed and prepared snacks and meals are more expensive there, so I try to steer clear of them and make my own. If there is something special I want that I haven’t found yet, I head to Sprouts, because they carry specialty items I buy occasionally like nutritional yeast and coconut flour.  Once a month I do a huge Costco haul.  They have begun to carry a lot of our favorite stuff (hello, coconut oil!) and are a great resource for bulk organic health foods.

I have been working on a post that details our usual kitchen contents and where we buy them to get the best deals on healthy food.  I also want to share our weekly meal plans, emergency food storage, 72 hour kits, and the supplements and holistic medicines we use.  So tell me, what would you like to see first?  Am I missing anything that you would like to learn more about?  I am excited to share more, and hope you stick around to see what I have in store.  Check out the “About Granola Girl” section up top before you go!

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