What Does a Balanced Life Look Life? Part IV (Cooking)

The below question and responses were compiled by fellow graduate wife reader, Laura Lee.  She surveyed several women on the journey and is sharing with us their answers. You can see her original post here, where she outlines her journey towards discovering the answers of a ‘balanced’ life during this season of being a graduate wife and beyond. This is part IV of the ‘What does a balanced life look like?’ series.  Enjoy!

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3) How do you plan your meals and shop weekly for your family? How do you make healthy choices?  Do you have favorite recipes books that help, a good website, a super easy vegetable prep method? Any ideas on meal planning you’d like to share?

  • Meals – I reserve one hour on Sunday nights to do meal planning for the week. This usually gives me enough time to peruse our family diary, determine how many meals I need to cook for the week, do my meal planning – looking for recipes,etc – and then ordering my groceries online. Since I’m not home 4 days of the week, it helps to plan ahead I just invested in a cookbook called “Less Meat, More Veg” I’ve been cooking out of it, and have found it has lowered our grocery bill a bit (I tend to buy mostly organic items). I also try to chop veggies up when I get them, and then put them in the freezer (if I’m not going to use them that week), as I find it cuts down on prep time as I’m trying to cook.

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  • I plan for a week’s worth of meals, and we use Tesco.com with great admiration and joy. And I LOVE the Martha Stewart recipe finder at the moment and am rarely disappointed with the outcome of cooking one of her meals. She has an ‘everyday food’ series, and they are simple and healthy meals. I have organized my favorite recipes under my ‘bookmarks’, so I will often scroll through those when planning for the week and pull out faithfuls (Butternut Squash Baked Risotto and Moroccan Chicken Stew are two really good ones – just noticed they’re pretty wintry, but oh well). I also feel I should share this little gem, a no-knead bread, tweaked by a friend from St. Andrews but originating from Mark Bittman. It is shamefully easy, and we have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner lately. All this being said, frozen pizza, Peppers Burgers and The Mission happen in this household!

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  • I plan meals a week in advance.  I usually plan it out and do online shopping on the weekend.  I also get an organic fruit box delivery from Able & Cole once every two weeks.  I don’t like to order much produce online because I’ve been disappointed with the quality, so I found that this fruit box lasts us almost two weeks.  I’ll go to Tesco, Co-Op, or M & S for other things I need throughout the week…usually produce.  I’ve found out which stores have the cheapest prices for things we like to eat and then I hop around to all the stores.  I’m probably crazy, but It’s saving us a bit of money.  Some of our usual meals are greek chicken salad, baked ziti, chicken and veggie casserole, chicken/bean burritos, salmon and veggies, and “jazzed-up” frozen pizza(I usually get a frozen margarita pizza and we put chicken, mushrooms, olives, etc. on it…it’s cheap and yummy!)  The baked ziti and chicken/veg casserole are great as left overs!  I also like to do the frozen pizza on Fridays when I’m usually burned out from cooking.

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  • We plan a week of meals at a time usually on Sat or Sun.  We don’t always assign each meal to a particular day at the start of the week because then I can wake up on Monday and I still have options.  (Is it a fish and rice day or a lasagna day?)  Usually we plan about 5 meals (assuming 2 of them are bigger meals and will provide another day’s worth of leftovers.)  We try to mix in some easy/quick ones and some more involved ones depending on the look of the week’s schedule.  We look at the weather forecast (warmer days mean lighter dishes, cold rainy days means more roasts or soups.)  We always have at least one vegetarian meal (usually 2 or 3) as we have committed ourselves to ‘Meatless Mondays’.   I make sure there are meals that my husband is happy to make on his own for those days when he takes on dinner.  I try to throw in a brand new recipe every few weeks to keep us trying new things too.  And we try to mix up what type of protein we are eating each night (meaning we try not to eat chicken 5 nights a week.  Then I make a list and do the weekly shop at the local grocery shops to buy whatever ingredients we’ll need as well as stuff for packing lunches for my husband and breakfast stuff too.  I do a big online order once every 4-5 weeks to stock up on non-perishable and heavier items like juice, canned beans, pasta, canned tomatoes, toilet paper, etc.As for healthy choices my rule of thumb is… if you don’t think you should be eating it (or not very often) then don’t bring it in your house (or not very often).  It’s ALWAYS easier/faster to throw in a frozen pizza or snack on a cookie.  But, if there is no pizza in your freezer or cookies on your counter, you’re forced to find a healthier option – like making your own, much healthier pizza or eating some yogurt.  One way we do this is by buying lots of fresh veg (carrots, bell peppers, snap peas, baby corn, celery, cucumber, etc).  Ideally twice a week I’ll cut up a few carrots, cucumbers, peppers, etc. and throw them in a big tupperware.  I’ll do this with thick slices of cheese too.  Then, when we’re in a hurry or need to grab a quick snack for the stroller or are just feeling peckish at home, it’s super easy to grab some veg and cheese (and hummus?) rather than a cookie.  Of course a handful of grapes or an apple or banana (which don’t need cut) works just as well – but not with the hummus… eww.I like to do the same thing with a big old bag of trail mix.  Just mix lots of almonds, sultanas, dried apricots, pretzels, peanuts, cashews, chocolate chips, mini marshmallows etc.  Quick to grab and pick at when you just want to munch on something salty or sweet.  Good to send with husbands to sneak into libraries too!

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  • I shop online at Sainsbury’s and get a delivery once a week (on Wed). I also get an Abel and Cole box of fruit and veg that comes on Tues. I’ve loved being forced out of my comfort zone and learning to cook these really weird British root vegetables! I plan a weeks’ worth of meals and shop online in about 30 minutes! I don’t mess around. Get ‘r’ done! We buy lots of fresh spinach (2-3 big bags a week!), bell peppers, cucumbers and organic carrots and just have them out at dinner. The boys eat a couple of handfuls of spinach and probably half a bell pepper every night at dinner. Very rarely do I cook a veg to go with dinner. I make a main dish and stick the fresh veggies out. And the kids just go for it….no need for Ranch dressing either (unheard of when I was a kid!)! They just love the taste of the veg. When the kids were little I would never have imagined this day would come! Miracles never cease!

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