|"Three Boys" by Pamela Ellis|
When the babies were on formula and flying through baby products, I attempted to coupon, branching out from my familiar couponing world of baby things to the wider world of groceries and household products. I think couponing is one of those things you are "born with." I am not someone who has the attention span or drive to cut and organize my coupons. (Did you know one of the hardest things about couponing is actually keeping track of those suckers? Once you free them from the ad, they become phantoms of your imagination, "I really think I had a coupon for razors..." only reappearing months after the expiration date. By the way, you should mail all your expired coupons to troops overseas!) Online grocery shopping has helped our family budget enormously. I can easily shop the ad. I stick to our list. I buy what we need. It also works out great because those items your husband is never able to buy at the store, such as canola oil ("They only had olive oil. I don't think they sell canola oil, or whatever it is..."), are put in your shopping bag by an employee who knows which shelf canola oil is on. Our grocery staples-- bread, milk, eggs, bananas, berries, yogurt, and chicken breasts-- are still bought at the wholesale store. The trips to the wholesale store are much easier for me to manage when I have a list with only five or ten items, versus filling up two shopping carts like we used to in the past. Not only that, but we are actually using the items we are buying, instead of finding freezer burned pizzas or spinach rolls months later in the back of our freezer. Sometimes, yes, I miss the best sales and I've never super doubled a coupon at Harris Teeter. But I get my shopping list in two stops, one of those being a drive-up where I don't need to unload the van. And I stick to my list.
There are weeks where I decide I want some frozen dinners instead of cooking, usually when a cold has hit our family or both babies got shots at the pediatrician. The best frozen dinners do not come from the wholesale club. Not only do most of those dinners contain an array of questionable ingredients, but our family has not reached the point where we need 10 frozen chicken pot pies in one go. When I buy frozen meals, I prefer to go to Trader Joe's. They have great already made meals or almost made meals. Go to their freezer section and try their mandarin orange chicken, pork dumplings, and vegetable fried rice. Or get their seasoned frozen veggies and refrigerated, prepared chicken breasts-- just stick 'em in the oven. For weeks when my husband is at school late and eating dinner on campus, I love their salads and small meals in the refrigerated section. They are perfect for me and the boys.
Even on evenings when nothing is going on and the kids stuck to their nap schedules, cooking dinner isn't always easy. I've come to love recipes that cover all the bases, like the Real Simple frittata recipe that is a huge hit with both my husband and the kids. I buy cookbooks with straight forward ingredients. My favorite recent find is Homemade by Clodagh McKenna. Her mac'n'cheese recipe was great for Easter ham leftovers. My old stand-by is always The Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond. I love cookbooks that use ingredients that I have on hand and in a way that works for my basic kitchen. I'm a huge Gwyneth Paltrow fan. When I saw she had a cookbook, I immediately picked it up, only to be realize that I will rarely, if ever, use it. I mean, check-out what she feels is a well-stocked kitchen. Her recipes made me feel like I need a nanny in order to cook them. For the most part, I stick to recipes found in my monthly subscription of Real Simple or from those two cookbooks. Without a recipe, one of the easiest dinner formulas I rely on is: protein, green, and starch. I sear meat, either fish or beef, before baking it in the oven. Broil or saute some crispy veggies, like broccoli or asparagus, and cook some quick rice. I love the Minute rice-- for obvious time reasons- but I also love the Near East products. To season my meat and veggies, I rely heavily on butter or olive oil, freshly grated sea salt and peppercorns, and lemons. And when I say freshly grated sea salt and peppercorns, these are just grinders bought at our wholesale store, nothing fancy. To freshen up our usual dinner salad, I like to make croutons by cutting bread-- not sandwich bread, but literally any other type of bread-- into cubes. Get a pan real hot, pour in some olive oil, toss in the cubed bread, and grind some sea salt and pepper on top. Make sure to coat the bread in the olive oil, add more if necessary, and allow to crisp. Try making them one time and you will figure out how much olive oil you prefer or how salty you want your croutons. I, personally, like croutons so salty you serve them with a glass of water.
Because cooking for the family can feel like a chore, I am not the type of momma who makes gourmet baby food. However, feeding my babies well is a priority for me. I absolutely love canned foods. Most grocery stores sell no salt added varieties, which is the only type I buy for them. These work great to have on hand because if I need to leave the house quickly or unexpectedly, I can pop open a can, rinse the already cubed veggies, and pour them in a Rubbermaid container. The freezer selection in most groceries is also great: veggies, fruits, berries. I like to keep my freezer stocked with good options for them, mostly for nights I am serving things they can't eat yet. I prefer to transition my kids to more "table foods" when they eat chunkier foods instead of pureed baby foods. So, if I am serving squash for the rest of the family, I like to serve it to them as well. For now, we are not an organic family. If given the option, I buy organic, especially when it is close to the price of its non-organic counterpart. However, I do not buy all organic for the babies or the rest of the family. I do buy foods for them, as well as the rest of us, that do not contain high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, or other questionable ingredients. I make them most of their foods, with emphasis on texture and taste. When they started solids, we had a lot of squash, green beans, spinach, raspberries, pumpkin, and banana. Then we added grains, like brown rice and quinoa. As they grew, we added texture by mashing instead of pureeing their foods. When I make them food, I don't usually mass produce and freeze. I found it was easier for me to make them foods as we went, mashing up the green beans I was serving with our lunch, or shredding pieces of our chicken to serve for their dinner. Now, I usually give them what we are eating already seasoned. When they were small, I would take their portions out before I seasoned the rest. I still love bagged baby foods. It is such an easy and convenient way to feed on the go. I can give them a bag of baby food as I'm filling my car up with gas or checking out at Target. The other day, I fed C a bag of baby food as I was waiting in line to return our Redbox. I love the selection of bagged foods from Earth's Best. The bulk of their diet is foods I made at home. When we leave the house, I love convenience. I buy a lot of Earth's Best products, like their Sunny Days snack bars and Crunchin' Grahams. (Did you know graham crackers have hydrogenated oils and Gerber snack bars have high fructose corn syrup?) With three kids, I always make sure to leave the house with a well-stocked cooler bag. That way, I have food on me and I know it's healthy. I can feed them on the go and it allows us more maneuverability in our schedule. However, if we are out and I run out of food-- which has happened-- I buy what is on hand, such as Gerber Lil Meals or club sandwiches, shredding the components into baby sized bites. (Another reason why I haven't insisted on all organic is that I know we would never stick to it. Where do you go out to eat on an all organic diet? What do you do when you need a snack? I prefer a natural diet, avoiding what I can and making the best choices I can, hopefully something we teach our boys. You know, once my husband gets over the fact I threw out his Chips Ahoy last October...)
|Isn't this how you look after finishing your to-do list?|
Yup, me too.
Image from squidoo.com
Now they are one and don't need such a strict schedule to get through the night. We still make sure they have a good nap time. If we are out and they happen to take that nap in their stroller, more power to us. Most often, we need to come home at some point so they can take a good nap in their cribs. Our feeding times aren't set in stone. I feed them shortly after they wake up, around 8:00 or 8:30 am. They usually play until 10:00 am. Shortly after, they start getting fussy. This past week, I've tried to push their nap way back so I can feed them around 11:00 am and put them down to nap afterwards. When I put them down at 10:00 am, they wake up earlier because they are hungry, around 12:00 pm. Sometimes they will nap from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. While those days are great, I feel tied to the house because it is such an awkward time of day. I can't get out before they go down to nap and they want to eat right after nap, leaving a small window I can actually be out of the house. Their dinner time is around 3:00 or 4:00 pm. Sometimes I give them a snack in the afternoon and feed them later (snack at 2:00 pm, dinner at 5:00 pm) or give a light snack before bed if they ate earlier (dinner at 3:00 pm, snack at 5:30 pm). If I have plans, I usually let them sleep in the car or in the stroller and then come home to let them take a good late afternoon nap. The evenings can still be pretty fussy, most often when they only had short naps in the morning or afternoon. We still put them to bed at 7:00 pm, though we've started pushing that back some, now about 7:10 pm. Maybe when they are two we will be ready for all three boys to have an 8:00 o'clock bedtime. For now, we like having it staggered, the babies earlier and D at 8:00 pm.
A lot of things are easier now that they are one. Their food options are broader now that things need only be bite size. If we miss a nap or they refuse a meal, they will still sleep through the night, with the note that missing nap always means a rough bedtime. They truly entertain themselves now, pushing cars and figuring out their toys. While our schedule has settled down considerably, they keep me busier. C wants me to help him walk all the time. O is going through an "up" stage, always wants to be held. D is always busy with something, building a fort or "fixing things." They can be harder to comfort now, especially when they wake up in the night. And they really do go everywhere. When they are unleashed, O is off in one direction, C the other, and D has already climbed to the top of something. But I enjoy this schedule much more than the old schedule. As the twin moms I ran into kept telling me, "It gets easier."