New Season, New Goals

BalanceThere are two things I’ve not been so great at in the last couple of years since having the kids. OK, I’ll admit, I’m TERRIBLE at these two things – meal plans and kids’ event planning.  I used to be a great cook, full of ideas, lots of exotic dishes were made in my home, but since having kids, it’s become mac n cheese and hot dogs.  Ugh, how did that happen?  Oh wait, maybe because my husband doesn’t like to cook (but thank GOD, he does laundry), and I work full time.  Oh yeah, that.  So when the weekend rolls around, we are exhausted from the week and have to find ways to entertain our kids while we somehow catch up on our rest (which, sadly, barely ever happens).

My goals for the meal plan are to know what I’m cooking for dinner BEFORE I’m driving home every night, and to save money on our grocery and eating out bills – which has skyrocketed in the last month or two.  I started this weekend by making a couple big meals that we can reheat during the week for dinners and/or take to work for lunches.  I also stocked up on a few frozen meal options – I try to stay very simple with those because I don’t usually like the ingredient list on them, and want my kids to eat fresher food.  Yeah, right.  The mac n cheese will undoubtedly resurface, but I’m trying.  My kids didn’t like the big pasta dish I made on Sunday for this week (boo to them, b/c it is super tasty), but I will keep trying.  The power of cucumbers and ranch dressing are high in my house, so as long as I keep something fresh in front of them, I guess I’m doing my job.

Anyone have any suggestions for me?  I have a crockpot, and I use it, but honestly, my crockpot food never really comes out as awesome as all those crock pot sites will attest.  I don’t know what I”m doing wrong with it, or my food tastes are just different from the rest of the world.  The only really great-tasting food that I get out of that thing is chili.

Now, on to Event Planning.  Honestly, my husband and I are terrible at planning things for our kids to do.  We basically wake up in the morning hoping we’ll figure it out.  He likes to plan, I don’t.  But I know for everyone to happy, occupied and LEARNING, I have to step up and do what I can.

60FunthingstodoinRochesterI heard about this today on the local NPR station  – – and I bought the little book!  It looks really fun, and we can go explore some local places as the weather gets better.  I will update as we visit these places and let you know how they are.  I really hope that I’m not alone in my exhaustion and frustration in all this.  Sometimes I feel like the worst parent ever, but then I look at my kids and realize they are happy, healthy and loving little people (when the tantrums subside, that is), and that we’re barreling through like the rest of the frazzled, exhausted parents out there.



    I am with you on the meals thing. So many nights we have about a 45 minute window between when I get home and someone has sports practice … how the heck am I supposed to cook and eat before we hit the road again?? I also have been trying more casseroles, but there is a good chance that one of us won’t eat it.

    One of my friends makes a list of what the meals are for the week, maybe that is a good idea to try?


    I know, there is just not a good answer. Trying to find meals everyone will eat is a challenge, and I always said I was not going to be one of those moms that make separate meals for each person, but I’ve found myself doing that, just to keep the peace. I need more hours in the day! 🙂


    Hey there, MaryAnn….

    Even without kids I get so crazed and overtired. Thus, making meals is a huge task. I do love my crockpot, though. I have a couple “old faithfuls” that everyone seems to love……

    The first is SUPER easy and only requires two ingredients: chicken and Italian dressing. Simply buy some chicken breasts–about 2lbs. Cut them into strips, usually 2-3 per breast. Put in the crockpot and cover with Italian Dressing–usually two big bottles. Let cook for several hours on low while you are at work. Easy peazy!

    The second I get requests for often— Buy 2lbs of beef already cut up for stew. First, brown it in a frying pan. Put it in the crockpot with 3 cans of creme of chicken soup, 1/2 cup of worchestire sauce and 1/2 cup of dry sherry cooking wine. Cook on low for 4-6 hours. It’s amazing. It’s an old recipe from my friend’s grandmother in SC. I usually make a veggie and some egg noodles to put it over. But, you can add some veggies to it the last hour or so to make it as a stew.

    I do have other recipes from a Weight Watchers magazine that I bought years ago— 15 Minute Recipes 5 Ingredients or Less. And, several of which were a big hit with kids. (homemade chicken fingers, eggplant parm, etc.) Let me know if you would like them. Super easy and super yummy, not to mention–healthy!

    Good luck!


    I hate to admit it, but I have gotten to the point of planning. I am not normally inclined to do this with meals, but our eating habits have changed and of course,like you, MaryAnn, everyone likes something different. So now I thinking of 5 meals on Sat. morning before I go shopping. Mostly I am getting the same ingredients just to have them there, because I can make up the meals on the go pretty quick between 530 and 7pm. Also, make it a new habit to pre-cook chicken and just have it sitting in your fridge. Great to tear up over salads, add some spaghetti sauce and put parma cheese over it, put it in the frying pan with some olive oil to reheat with veggies. Pre-make little turkey burger sliders. Those are great for snacks, too.

    I buy frozen veggies because they hold their vitamins better than fresh, believe it or not, but I don’t get the ones with the sauces in them. Take a bag of the stir fry mixed veggies (we like the asparagus ones) and microwave. Boil some water, thrown in some pasta or make some rice. Sauce can be anything from butter and garlic to red, to oriental.

    Trick is to be creative and stop going out to dinner unless you have a Groupon!!


    You are not alone!! And Tim is convinced that it is not possible for anything tasty to come out of a crockpot, but sometimes it’s the difference between dinner at home and fast food. I did finally make a crockpot recipe that he liked AND ate leftovers from: pork carnitas from (great site, by the way).
    As for weekends: before you know it, your weekends will be consumed with parties, sports and sleepovers and you’ll wonder where free weekends went. Until then, being together as a family unit, even if it’s on the couch, counts as quality!


    Hi Maryann…I know how you feel! Between work, kids, extracurricular activities, school functions, family functions and everything in between..argh!

    One crockpot recipe you might want to try and that all 3 of my girls love is the Crockpot Chicken Parmesan. INGREDIENTS: Skinless chicken breast (that you can cut into strips to make more reasonable serving sizes for the kids), 1/2 cup bread crumbs (I use Italian seasoned), 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste, olive oil, 1 egg (beaten), mozzarella cheese and a jar of your favorite marinara sauce. DIRECTIONS: Drizzle olive oil over the bottom of the crockpot stoneware. In a medium bowl, beat egg. In second medium bowl, mix the bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese all together. Dip chicken in beaten egg and then toss into bread crumb mixture to coat completely on both sides. Place chicken breasts on bottom of crockpot. Place a layer of mozzarella slices on top of breaded chicken breasts. Cover cheese layered chicken with entire jar of sauce. Place lid of crockpot securely on and turn heat to LOW for 6-7 hours or HIGH for 3-4 hours. Serve over cooked pasta of your choice.

    As for veggies, you could try making Baked Zucchini Chips. It takes a little while to make, but healthwise, I love that the girls eat them up like regular chips. INGREDIENTS: 4 medium zucchini, sliced very thinly, cooking spray and sea salt. DIRECTIONS: Line baking sheets with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and spray lightly with cooking spray. Lay zucchini slices on baking sheets and spray top of slices very lightly with cooking spray; sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake at oven’s lowest temperature (150-200 F) until completely crisp, about 2-3 hours. Let cool on baking sheet then store in a covered container at room temperature. The chips are crispiest when eaten directly from the oven.

    You can also do the same with KALE, olive oil and salt..and the Kale Chips don’t take nearly as long – only 10 to 15 minutes. Wash and trim the Kale, drizzle with olive oil and salt and bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes. Super yummy and healthy!

    Connie Herrera

    Hi Maryann,
    I hope you’ve received “60 Fun Things to Do Within 60 Miles of Rochester” by now, and have had a chance to find a few places you’d like to visit! The D&C had an article that mentioned my book on Sunday (“Staycation Alert”), which was a really nice surprise.

    I echo your frustration with crockpot cooking, but one thing that always works for me is pulled pork. I buy the pork and just put in any barbecue sauce I have in the fridge (or whatever your family likes) and let it cook until you get home. Maybe it’s not really healthy, but I always enjoy coming home to it. When my son (the picky eater) was growing up, I think we lived on tortellini’s and anything that went on a tortilla.



    Thanks, Connie! That’s fantastic about the D&C article! Yes, I have received it, and am looking forward to finding some fun things for us to do.

    Everyone has given me some great ideas on the crockpot. Pam – I am going to try your chicken tomorrow.

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