Mama Monday: Feeding the Family: It's Time to Cook!

This week concludes my three part series on Feeding the Family. We’ve covered budgeting and planning a menu. This week I’m sharing how I manage to cook while having small children in your family. My youngest is three now, but I still cooked like I do now while I had infants and toddlers. It takes some planning, some practice, and a whole lot of patience to get delicious, home-cooked meals on the table when you have little people underfoot.

When You’re Shopping

If you are privileged enough to get to take your children shopping with you, then you know how traumatic it can be for everyone involved. You need to get in, buy your groceries, and get out (hopefully alive!). Recently I’ve found myself having to backtrack because I forgot to grab something a couple of aisles before. Can I just mention how much I hate this? It adds time to our time in the store, and I’m swooping all over the store with my cart full of kids and groceries like some kind of crazy woman. {Yes, I have a flair for the dramatic. Do you know my oldest child? She takes after her mom.}

Anyway, while I was prepping to write this blog post, I got to thinking about how I organize my shopping list (I don’t), then I started thinking about how I would like to organize my shopping list so that nothing is missed the first time through. I wanted to maximize my time in the store, so I spent about 30 minutes making my own personalized grocery list template.

About two weeks ago when we went shopping, I took pictures with my phone of each aisle and how it was labeled. I came home and created text boxes in a Word document to make my own customized grocery list that was laid out like the store that I shop at the most. Now I can write my list by putting items in the exact aisle or store section where they are! A winning situation for both me and the kids since we’ve been getting in and out of the store faster than ever.

When You’re Storing

So once you’ve bought your groceries now you have to figure out how to get it on the table in a timely manner with small children wanting and needing your attention. The MOST important part of cooking, especially with infants and toddlers, is the preparation stage.

Organized Pantry: I saw this idea recently on Pinterest and knew that I’d want to use it one day. Well, this blog series inspired me to do it, and I must say that it has been super helpful around my house. I have a really small pantry. It’s about 2 feet by 2 feet floor to ceiling. My mom doesn’t even have a pantry; she has to use a couple of cabinets in her laundry room. Fortunately this idea can work for any size or style of pantry. I bought six clear, plastic shoe boxes without the lids. Then I used this free printable labeling template that I found on Pinterest as well {seriously what did I do before Pinterest!}. I labeled each box with a day of the week Sunday through Friday since we do leftovers on Saturday, laminated the labels, and taped them to the front of my boxes.

Now comes the helpful part: fill each box with what you need to make your menu for that day {obviously not perishables!}, the spices and seasonings, oil, flour, canned foods, potatoes, onions, etc. I even include the recipes that I will be using that day.

What I love about this system is all I need to do when it’s time to cook supper is grab my box for that day and cook. This has made my life so much easier since I’m not rummaging through the pantry trying to find that can of green beans that I KNOW I bought. I load these boxes as I unload my groceries from my weekly shopping trip. Easy-peasy! {You could also set up this same system in your refrigerator if you were so inclined to make grabbing the perishables easy as well.}

When You’re Prepping

For me the part of cooking that eats up most of my time is the prep, peeling, slicing, dicing, seasoning, etc. When you have small children around, you need to be able to get dinner on the stove or in the oven as quickly as possible. You never know when a baby might need to be fed, a mess cleaned up, or a catastrophe averted. The easiest way to move things along in the kitchen is to have everything pre-prepped as much as possible. Peel and cut veggies. Season meat (and make sure you let it thaw the day before!).  Measure out spices and flours. You can get all of this prep done during naps, before work, or while the kids are eating breakfast and/or lunch. Prep usually take me anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes depending on what I’m making. That’s quite a bit of time saved!

When You’re Cooking

Some of my favorite memories are with my kids in the kitchen. I am not one to shy away from letting my children around hot stoves or ovens. They learn to cook with me right there to guide them. However, when they are young, you don’t want them underfoot or in danger of accidents. Here are some of the things I do and have done when I need to keep little bodies out of the way to get bellies fed.

For infants:
  • Bumbo
  • Johnny Jump Up
  • Exersaucer or walker
  • Swing or bouncer
But the most important thing with infants (at least with my kids it was like this!) is to talk to them while you’re cooking. If anyone had walked in the kitchen when my kids were little they would have thought I was insane!

“Mommy’s putting the green beans on to cook. Green beans are so delicious! You’re going to love them. Now Mommy needs to peel the potatoes. Potatoes are native to the Americas, but quickly became a source of sustenance across Europe after exploration (learned that tidbit writing my history senior thesis paper in college).”

You get the idea. Just talk and talk or sing and sing, do something to let them know that you are right there and everything is okay.

For toddlers:
  • Run up some water in the sink and let them play.
  • Make a zoo on your refrigerator or any refrigerator magnets.
  • Put rice or beans in a dishpan, give them some measuring cups, and let them have fun (make sure they are past the put everything in their mouth stage first!).
  • Put a play kitchen nearby so they can cook while mommy cooks.
And again…talk and sing your heart out! Toddlers especially love learning words so show them some kitchen utensils and teach while you’re cooking!

For preschoolers:

I start letting my kids help around this age (if I have the time to do so!). Let them mix, pour, and shake. They love it and it gets them started young on knowing their way around the kitchen.

{Full Disclosure}

I have also been known to put on a movie or send them in the backyard to play so I can cook dinner. I sometimes have to be that mom. No apologies. That’s just life. :)

Feel free to leave some of your tips for entertaining little ones while you cook in the comments.

If you’re ever in the neighborhood stop on by, because something yummy is always cooking in the tree house,



Thursday's Thoughts: Week of April 7, 2013


Always cooking around here! Probably my biggest hit around here this week was my Five Star Pork Chops. Every time I make those Preacher Man raves about them like he’s never eaten them before. Preacher Man’s birthday is next week so I asked him what he wanted for his birthday supper. He requested steak, garlic mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, ranch buttered mushrooms, and my homemade chocolate chip cookies for dessert. What can I say? He’s a simple, meat and potatoes kind of man.


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

Yep, it’s that time of year again for my annual Pride and Prejudice reading. Since my younger sister got engaged this week {Congratulations!!!}, love is in the air, and I need my Mr. Darcy literary crush fix.


To Magpie screaming and crying because Chipette took the pair of underwear that Magpie had laid out to wear in the morning. Can I just say that I do NOT understand girl drama? I am a girl, but I can honestly say I have never argued over underwear.


About what to make for breakfast in the morning. Probably going to make a loaf of Strawberry Bread. And of course things on my To Do list are always running through my mind. Does that ever stop playing?


Blog posts, writing projects, and finishing up some household organization. I’m also going to focus on how I start my day this next week. I’ve been slipping in that area, and it makes a HUGE difference in how everything else shakes out.


Feel free to follow me on Pinterest using the button in the sidebar. I wanted to share some of my favorite finds this past week:

Homeschool: I’ve been pinning like crazy working up a Native American study to squeeze in with Chipette once I’ve finished some other things during our school year. We are returning to American history next year and I wanted to do an in-depth study of the major tribes. You can find my board here.

Home: I pinned these free printable labels a couple of weeks ago. I’m showing them off in my last post of my Feeding the Family series on Monday. They are really cute and totally customizable!

Cooking: I found these Chocolate Chip Buttermilk Scones about a week ago and quickly pinned them. I’m thinking these might show up sometime next week for a fun afternoon snack. Best part is that they are relatively good for you!


My Kindle Touch. I got it for Christmas two years ago, but I think how much I love it every Thursday afternoon when I am at the ballet studio with the girls for three hours. I read and read and read with hundreds of books at my disposal. Truly a wonderful invention!


Monkey turned three a few weeks ago and I’ll never forget the bright orange hair that he had as an infant. It stood straight up on his head like flames. Every time we were out in public people would stare and point. I miss it sometimes because it was just so crazy looking!

Looking forward to a new week of productivity, loving, learning, laughing and cooking in the tree house,



Wordless Wednesday: The Main Thing

Makes my heart happy and blessed when I see my kids “reading” Bible stories to each other in the tree house,


Tasty Tuesday: Shout About It

I first encountered this dish at a church potluck. It was so yummy and flavorful. I asked the lady who brought it if she would share her recipe with me. She acted embarrassed and stammered a bit. Finally, in a whisper, she tells me that she really doesn’t want to share it. I’ve been faced with this problem before; family recipes that are guarded with your life. I told her it was no big deal that I understood how special some recipes are to your family. This caused her to be even more uncomfortable and she quickly whispered, “Oh, no. It’s not a family secret. It’s just so easy that I’m embarrassed to tell you.” Obviously she didn’t know me well in the cooking department at ALL. Easy and delicious is right up my alley!

Here is what you need to make Poppy Seed Chicken:

3 cups chopped cooked chicken
1 (10 ¾ oz.) can cream of chicken soup
1 (16 oz.) container of sour cream
3 teaspoons of poppy seeds
1 sleeve of buttery round crackers, crushed
¼ cup of butter, melted

First, combine the first four ingredients (chicken, soup, sour cream, and seeds).

Spoon mixture into a lightly greased 11x7 inch baking dish.

Stir together cracker crumbs and melted butter.

Sprinkle evenly over casserole.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes.

What comes out of the oven is so yummy and creamy!

I use the leftovers as a base to make chicken salad later in the week. And it’s excellent the second time around as well!

Poppy Seed Chicken

3 cups cooked chicken
1 (10 ¾ oz.) can cream of chicken soup
1 (16 oz.) container of sour cream
3 teaspoons of poppy seeds
1 sleeve of buttery crackers, crushed
¼ cup butter, melted

Combine first four ingredients. Spoon mixture into lightly greased 11x7 inch baking dish. Stir together cracker crumbs and butter; sprinkle evenly over casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes.

Dishing up easy and delicious is never something to be shy about sharing in the tree house,


Mama Monday: Feeding the Family: The Menu

A few weeks ago I talked about budgeting, this week I wanted to focus on how I actually plan my meals.

Rotation is Not Just for Planets

The only meal that I really plan is supper. I have a rotation in place for breakfast and lunch.  Based on what day of the week it is, I know (and the kids know) what is for breakfast that day. Here is our breakfast rotation: Monday and Wednesday, we have eggs and toast. Tuesday and Thursday, we have cereal. Friday is muffins and Saturday is pancakes and sausage. On Sunday, the kids have oatmeal and I have yogurt and a protein bar since I don’t like oatmeal. Having a plan like this in place makes meal planning a breeze! All you have to do is make sure you have your staples on hand for breakfast and you’re good to go.

Lunch is not as planned. I stock up on lunch meat and cheese, microwave mac-and-cheese, some Chef Boyardee meals, tortillas and shredded cheese, frozen tortellini, peanut butter, Greek yogurt, diced tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese for a quick pizza. As you can see, this is when I buy my pre-packaged food. We homeschool so I need lunch to be quick and easy so we can get back to work. From these choices my kids can have a sandwich, peanut butter and jelly, cheese quesadillas, grilled cheese, homemade pizza, pasta with butter and Italian seasonings, macaroni and cheese, or canned pasta. Of course fruit and veggies are always kept around for sides and snacks. Another easy meal to plan, just make sure you’ve got the basics!

Be a Boy Scout

Just like the Boy Scouts are always prepared, to feed your family, you need to be as well. Before I ever put pencil to paper I think about the week. What nights do we have activities? What nights are we going to be pressed for time? Then I make a notation on my page. You should always have a few select recipes for the crockpot or that are quick and easy. Use these recipes for those days. You are more likely to cook on busy days if you don’t have one hour of prepping and cooking staring you in the face when you walk through the door. Check out my Speedy Quick Pinterest board for some of my favorites.

Double Duty

When making my menu for the week, I try to be very conscious of meals that can be used more than once, especially my meat dish. For example, if I make a roast, I plan on making stew or barbecue beef later in the week. I use leftover chicken to make soups or fajitas and leftover pork roast for carnitas.  This helps you out with your grocery budget and it helps you with nights when you need quick and easy. A win-win situation!

Side Kicks

Sometimes the hardest part of planning a meal is not your main dish, but what to pair with it. There are a few methods that I use to choose side dishes:
  • Try to Make a Rainbow. I always tell my kids to make a rainbow on their plate. What I’m encouraging them to do is eat vegetables from all the color groups: greens, whites, yellows, oranges, reds. For them to do this, though, I need to make sure and have a variety offered that my family will eat, so try to hit lots of color groups with your sides.
  • Notice what Restaurants Pair Together. Lots of times I get ideas for what would taste well with each other by looking at restaurant menus. If you can’t figure out what to serve with fish, pull up some restaurants online that you love. Most have their menus online so you can easily see what side dishes they put with different main dishes.
  • Ask Somebody. There is no harm in asking friends and family what sounds good with roasted pork. You don’t become a good cook by never asking questions or trying something different.
  • Trust Your Buds. After you’ve cooked for a while, you begin to understand spices and flavors. You start to just “know” what flavor combinations would work well together. Once you get to this point, choosing side dishes and flavor combinations becomes much easier.
My Meal Plan Process in Pictures

First, I write down the days of the week on a piece of paper.

Next, I circle the days that I need a crockpot or quick and easy meal.

Now, I write down my proteins for each day based upon what is in my freezer. I try to never have any of the same meat back to back. It’s just my personal food issues uniqueness shining through!

Once I have my proteins down now I try to find a recipe to fit that protein. I use cookbooks, Pinterest, my own personal recipes, etc. I generally stick to tried and true ones and only spring something new on everybody about once a week. Sometimes it’s good enough to become a permanent fixture in my meal planning and sometimes it’s a one hit wonder. I add a recipe name to my protein.

When I know exactly what I’m making, I can add my side dishes.

Notice on Sunday, I wrote rice x2. That is my double duty item. I’m using rice in a dish later in the week so when I make my rice on Sunday, I’m reminding myself to make a double batch. I’ll store half of it in the refrigerator and pull it out later in the week for my other recipe.

Hopefully this explanation helped you understand exactly the process that I go through to plan our meals. The first few times you do this it will take a while. But once you get the hang of it, it goes much faster. I can plan our entire week’s meals in about 10-15 minutes.

Next week, I’ll be showing how to get all of this on the table when you have little people under your feet!

Planning protein and rainbow plates in the tree house,