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One year: dinnertime, feeding babies, and schedules

"Three Boys" by Pamela Ellis
I've been reading through some of my old blogs and it made me want to do a follow-up on our family schedules and dinner plans. Things were a little intense there for a little while. I'm not sure at the time I realized how busy we actually were. Now, with one-year olds, I can see how much our schedule has relaxed, and-- I must say-- I like it. Around October of last year, I became fed-up with our drive-thru diet and quick, high calorie food solutions. We went through our freezer and made a commitment to eat better. Well, I made a commitment for us to eat better. My husband was still a little shell-shocked that I had thrown out an entire wholesale box of Chips Ahoy... After six months, we are eating even better than I originally intended. At first I was just going to remove hydrogenated oils from our family diet. Taking away that preservative naturally lead to healthier choices and I made it a habit to actually cook dinner, even if it was semi-homemade. When I used favorite family recipes, I would replace poor ingredient choices with healthier-- or fresh-- ingredients, much like Bobby Deen (yes, I compared myself to a member of Paula Deen's family). After we moved, the trek to better grocery stores was shortened. It is easier to make healthy swaps when the farmer's market is around the corner and Trader Joe's is close by. I still heavily rely on the wonderful world of online grocery shopping from Harris Teeter and Lowe's Foods. One of the hardest things about cooking, for me, was the actual trip to the store. We still have a list of things we prefer to buy from BJ's, our favorite wholesale store. The bulk of our grocery shopping, however, is done online. I do our grocery shopping while we watch our DVR'd shows in the evening, setting a pick-up time for the next day, when I drive over to the store, press the magical little button in the Express Lane parking spot, and-- voila!-- my groceries are brought out and loaded in my van. It costs $4.95 to place an order online and neither grocery store accepts tips.

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
 Looking back on my old blog posts, I remember what it was like going through those stages. I remember trying to figure out how I was going to get anything done. I remember trying to shelf my OCD nature and go to sleep with a sink full of dishes. (Note: successfully shelved. The drying rack is full of extremely well-dried dishes, our dryer is re-fluffing a previously fluffed load of laundry, and the babies have removed every DVD off the bottom shelves. Meanwhile, I'm ignoring the mess and writing a blog without any anxiety.) Because of my husband's school schedule, he wasn't home much that first summer the boys were born and I don't always have help with bedtimes or sick days. Figuring out how to balance three little boys, a new puppy (all of our friends questioned my sanity when I told them we were getting a puppy), and get things done was overwhelming. Being a planner, a strict schedule not only helped the babies sleep through the night, but it also helped my anxiety levels. I could sit on the floor during tummy time because I knew that in a half hour the babies would nap and I could clean the kitchen. I didn't have that pressing nervous feeling of must-get-stuff-done-now. Strangely enough, the schedule helped me relax about a lot of things that have always been major issues for me, like keeping my house guest-worthy clean at all times. (My house is still guest-worthy clean, if you happen to be a two-year old, "Ooo, toys!"). I had a plan for the day and was able to focus on the moment in front of us, like cuddling after feeding time or working on crawling. There wasn't a constant list running through my head of things I'm not getting done when I played with the kids because I knew there was a time and place in the schedule for those things to get done-- or at least put a dent in my to-do list.

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.

Dilbert

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."

Comments

Roma Khan said…
Feed the baby whenever he or she is hungry. Baby should be eating at least 6... wet diapers so you know she's getting enough. Baby should not recieve anything besides breastmilk or formula; no water, no juice, no cereal or other...

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