Simplifying dinner time

Seasons in life are always changing. Just when you get one figured out, something comes along and shakes things up. I often find myself overthinking, overcomplicating, or trying to keep things the same, season after season. Recently I have been trying to simplify things in different areas of life. During the past few months, I have been rethinking and redefining what dinner time meals look like at our house. I love big, elaborate meals. I have a friend who is the amazing in the kitchen and I love the time she puts into her delicious meals. But right now, with Matt’s travel schedule and his long work hours, big meals are not happening at our house. I have spent many evenings trying to balance feeding the kids at a decent time and keeping food warm for Matt. It is frustrating. Somewhere along the way I got it into my head that meals need to be complicated, 100% from scratch, and eaten together every night. While there is nothing wrong with those things, if it causes frustration and anger each night, they need to be reevaluated.
So I did a couple of things. First, I lowered my expectations about Matt joining us for dinner each night. Second, I began searching and planning meals that can be accomplished quickly and still taste good reheated. I also gave myself permission to take shortcuts when available in recipes. If I can buy something already chopped or prepared, do it. There, I’ve given you permission to take shortcuts too! Meal planning is super helpful and cuts down the odds of having no plan for dinner time and hitting the drive-thru. I sit down each week and figure out which meals I am going to make and what I need.
These changes have caused me to feel less stressed out when it comes to meals. And most of the ingredients can be frozen, which means I always have them on hand to throw a quick meal together. Below are 5 of my go-to favorites. I hope they make your meal planning easier. Enjoy!

Simple ingredients
  1.  Chicken tacos. I love these. I make them in the crock pot and they couldn’t be easier. Put 4-5 chicken breasts in crock pot. Sprinkle taco seasoning over them- I make my own or you can use 1 packet. Add 1/2 can of black beans and 1/2 cup of frozen corn. Cook on low for 5-6 hours. When the chicken is cooked, I shred it up and serve it with tortillas and rice.
  2. Beef and broccoli. This is a recipe I found on Pinterest. I serve it over rice.

First, marinate the meat:

1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce 1 tbsp water
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 lbs flank steak, sliced into thin strips
Whisk together the baking soda, sugar, cornstarch, soy sauce, water, and vegetable oil in a large bowl. Toss the steak with the marinade to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour, then proceed below.

1/2 c low-sodium soy sauce (Do NOT use regular. The final product will be way too salty)
2 tbsp brown sugar
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp sherry
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 heads broccoli, crowns only

1. In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, flour and sherry until smooth. Set aside.
2. In a large wok or saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil over high heat until shimmering. Add broccoli and saute 3 minutes, stirring often. Transfer broccoli to a plate.
3. Reduce heat to medium-high. Carefully add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the hot pan. Add the marinated meat and half of the sauce mixture and saute for 3- 4 minutes, stirring often, until the meat is cooked through and no longer pink. Stir in the broccoli and remaining sauce. Saute 1 minute more. Serve.

3. Roasted potatoes and sausage. This is one of the easiest meals. I use chicken sausage that is fully cooked and I use frozen diced potatoes with onions and peppers. Slice up the sausage and combine with the potatoes. Cook all together in a skillet. Serve with a salad and bread.

4. Fish Tacos. I use a frozen tilapia that is breaded and seasoned. Cook the tilapia. Serve in tortillas with slaw, avocados, salsa and sour cream.

5. Slow cooker French Dip Sandwiches. These are super easy and delicious!

2 cans (10.5 ounces each) condensed French Onion Soup
1 can (10.5 ounces) Beef Consomme
3-4 pounds beef chuck roast
8 sandwich rolls
8 slices provolone cheese
Place the roast in the crockpot. Pour the soup and consommé over it. Cook on low for 7-8 hours. Shred roast. Place meat on roll topped with cheese. Broil for 5 minutes until golden brown. Use juice in crockpot for dipping.

Summer School

I glanced at the calendar this week and was shocked to realize another month had gone by. I had so many good intentions at the start of summer. I had reading programs lined up, crisp workbooks purchased, prizes to encourage my kids. And then I blinked. And another month was gone. I regretted the lack of teaching I had done. This felt like was a mom fail. The devil loves to do that, to put a tiny doubt in our minds and watch it grow. I began the comparison game and convinced myself all the other moms had been keeping up with their summer goals. I was the only one who hadn’t been diligent with her children’s academic future. Thankfully, before things got too much more dramatic, I decided there was no time like the present to whip out those workbooks and reading logs and start fresh. I knew deep down I wasn’t a failure. And after all, we still have ANOTHER WHOLE MONTH of summer vacation here in California. Plenty of time to accomplish some of the goals I had hoped to.

Finally putting those workbooks to good use

I  began to think back over the summer thus far, and I realized my kids had been learning the whole time. They had learned hospitality and how to be good hosts. They had learned about the importance of exercise and being outdoors. They had learned about the beauty of the ocean and the fun of the beach. They had learned about God and His love at VBS. They had learned about emotions and how it is fun to see old friends but hard to say goodbye. And countless other lessons. That is actually a lot of learning. And all those things are best taught by example.

So I decided to cut myself some slack and give myself some grace. There was still plenty of time to teach academics. But when I put things in perspective and saw the other things I have the opportunity to teach, workbooks just didn’t seem that important. I needed to remind myself to be present and realize each day has teachable moments. And thankfully, the learning never stops, even for me.