Family dinner has always been very important to me, and I am hoping that it remains a part of our daily activities as the children grow. In order for it to happen everyday, I do a bit of planning. But let’s back up a little… I have always cooked, whether helping in the kitchen growing up or through college to, well, you know, survive…and was a notoriously picky eater growing up. Like I’m talking ‘nothing red’ and ‘please pick out all mushrooms, tomatoes, onions….and pepper….” and would only drink milk. No water, no juice. Just milk. My mom would routinely just make me a separate meal and it would usually be noodles with butter and Parmesan (and of course the ratios had to be spot on). I must have been a joy.

Fast forward to now, I eat a healthy well-balanced diet, and can’t remember the last time I had buttery Parmesan noodles. I started cooking a lot mainly because I wanted to know exactly what was going into my food. I have grown to appreciate food quite a bit and since my first child was born, became pretty passionate about the quality of what I eat. I try to avoid GMOs, only eat organic, local is a plus, etc. As little processed food as I can manage and making everything I can from scratch (where did that phrase originate? I picture my chickens scratching up the wheat that I will grind or something ridiculous….)

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Yes! Amanda even has her own chickens.

I now eat plenty of vegetables, pepper almost everything (extra pepper is even better) and drink water, not milk. Unless there are cookies, that’s different. Both my children eat everything I put in front of them. They may not love it, but they do try it. My son has been known to push kale chips on strangers (Try it! You’ll love them!). I cook a healthy meal at home almost every night, and do my best to keep the cost as low as I can without compromising on quality, so here’s a few strategies that work for us.

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Dex will try ALMOST anything.

1. We bought a cow and a pig from a local farm. This is something we have done for the last two years now. The first year, we bought half a cow and half a pig, and that lasted us a little more than a year. This past year, we bought a whole pig (that was a small one, and came out to about as much as our half pig from the previous year) and split a half cow with another family (and ended up with a lot more meat than our half the year before). I always have plenty of cuts of meat to choose from and we were able to visit the farms and make sure that they were raising their animals humanely and not using antibiotics. It’s definitely not cheaper than grocery store meat pricing, but we feel it is an investment in our health. If we were to buy grass fed beef by the cut, it would be a lot pricier. Also, I don’t have to plan around what meat is on sale at the grocery store. I do still buy chicken, just stock up and freeze when there is a good deal.

2. Organic produce co-ops are an excellent way to get seasonal produce at the best price. We are still shopping around on which co-op we like the most in our area, but have tried quite a few. I like getting a surprise box of goodies and planning our meals around that. I’m trying to get our garden back in order, too, since the chickens decimated it.

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The chickens love the tomatoes as much as we do…

3. Couponing can help with some other things that we buy, like cereal, pasta or baking supplies. If something we use regularly is on sale and there’s a coupon for it too, I stock up and get enough to last around 6 weeks (things usually go on sale around every 6 weeks). I don’t super coupon like those crazy shows do and get 100 boxes of processed junk, but if it’s something we use and fits our ‘standard of eating’, I’ll get it when it’s the cheapest.

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“Mommy! Why can’t we buy the giant box of bright green cupcakes?”

4. I use a meal planning site called Plan to Eat. It helps me keep track of recipes, make a weekly menu, and then it generates my shopping list for me. It is a little like Pinterest where you can just grab recipes from a site and add them to your account. You drag and drop meals onto a calendar, and then BAM! I suddenly have an organized shopping list. (with QUANTITIES! So many times I have stared at ricotta in the cheese aisle wondering how much to get…) It’s amazingly great. Before this, I used binders of printed recipes and Pinterest alongside a couple excel sheets….since I still needed that level of organization. This just streamlined things for me. 5. I use the freezer, but usually not for whole meals. I make things like chicken stock at home whenever I roast a chicken and freeze it so I always have it on hand. If I make soup, I’ll freeze half to have an easy meal later on (and because eating the same soup every day for a week is no fun). If I make pesto or marinara, I’ll freeze portions to have another time without doing the work all over again. I also have been known to can my own applesauce or jelly. So every Sunday evening, I sit down and write the menu for the week. I take into account things that are going on (like on Mondays and Wednesdays, I work until 6:30 so whatever the meal, it has to be something hubby can finish off….meaning, all that has to be done is for it to be stuck in the oven or pulled out of the crock pot. Really challenging to keep that exciting). If necessary, I fall back on theme nights for each day of the week to keep things fresh (Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, etc). I try to incorporate at least one meatless meal a week, one meal with fish, and one meal to keep hubby happy (he’s a meat-and-potatoes-hold-the-salad kinda guy). I look and see what I have on hand that might need to get used up and the produce we get from our weekly co-op and plan meals around that. My goal is to have as few things to purchase as possible. Usually, groceries will run me around 40-60 a week for our family of four (including produce).

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Love the “let’s not make laundry worse on spaghetti night” attire.

I tend to prep dinner during a quieter time of the day when either someone is napping, or the kiddos are completely engaged in some sort of crazy made up game. This saves me from having to make dinner start to finish right at 5-6 when everyone is cranky (me included. I get hangry) and also makes it a whole lot harder to go out to eat because we are all just tired (NO! You are eating the dinner I made because it is MADE!). What strategies do you use to plan healthy meals that actually make it on the table? Have you ever bought an entire cow? Any great meals for me to make for workdays?

~ Amanda

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