This is Jen from grace for single parents where your parenting and God’s grace collide. Hi, Marie. I’m so glad to have you on today.
Oh, it is my pleasure to be here with you today. Jen, thank you for inviting me.
So today you’re going to talk to us about cooking home cooked meals almost hopefully every night of the week. Is that right?
That is my mission in life to help families spend more time together and to eat in the home. So yeah, that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Great. I’m really excited to hear about that because I know this is something that I’ve struggled with probably even before I had kids. So especially now having children and they’re becoming teenagers now, it becomes even harder for me to be able to provide them food and meals every single night of the week. So I’m really excited to dig into that, but first, can you just give us an overview of who you are and what you do?
Sure, sure. I am the founder of feed your family tonight. I have a website and I do weekly cooking demonstrations on my local TV station. I also have the feed, your family tonight podcast, and it’s really all about helping busy families plan and execute weeknight family dinner. I’m married with four kids. I have a 17 year old boy, a 15 year old girl and 12 year old twin girls and feed your family tonight, came out of a lot of different things. But the one thing that inspired me the most was when my twins were playing competitive soccer and I would be sitting on the sidelines of practice or at games that were like at six o’clock at night. And the other moms were saying, we’ve got to run through the drive through, get home, eat dinner, get everybody in the shower and then get them to bed.
And I was saying, we never, we never hit the drive through. And I had to begin to reverse engineer what I was doing naturally so that I could teach it to others because there really is a method for making this work. And it isn’t a one size fits all solution. If you try and use like a preplanned meal plan that someone else has come up with, there are so many ways that it’s going to fall apart in your home, but I’ve come up with a three part system that works for your situation. No matter what it is. As far as meal planning, a system for that human meal planning and also like figuring out so many people. When I talk with them about meal planning and what is holding them back from eating dinner at home on the evenings of busy weeknights, they will say it’s time, but you have to dig in deeper and you think, okay, what, what about the time is it that you can’t figure out when you’re going to eat?
Because you’re running kids to so many activities and you know this Jen, as your kids go from littles to later grade school and early teens, the activities get more and more in the evening and it gets harder and harder to even figure out when you’re going to eat, let alone what you’re going to eat. But what I teach families to do is to look at their activities first. And this might be what’s happening after school, like from three 30, until eight o’clock at night, but it also might be what’s your personal day looks like if you have a day that is meetings back to back to back and you know that you’re going to be exhausted when you walk in the door that you need to plan a meal that is simple and easy, maybe something that straight from your freezer, that’s not going to take much work because you know that you’re not going to want to fix the gourmet meal after you’ve had an exhausting day at work.
And so that’s, that’s what that’s the first step is I teach families to list your activities first. And then I teach them to do what I call set a dinner bell. And the dinner bell is the target time for when you’re going to eat. And most families, it’s not going to be the same time each night. I don’t know about you, but in my house, every night’s a little bit different because we have different activities and things happening in the evening. And sometimes there’s even evenings where everybody’s not even home at the same time. And so I publish my meal plans every week on Mondays on Instagram. And sometimes you’ll see that it’ll be like six 30 slash shipped, which means most of us are eating at six 30, but there might be one or two family members that are eating a little bit before or they’re eating afterwards.
But the key to setting a dinner bell is that gives you a target time to get things ready. And then you can plan what kind of meal you’re going to have. And that’s really important on a day where you’ve got kids that had piano from three 45 to four 45 soccer from five until six. You’re getting home from work at six 15, and you have to be back up at school for a PTO meeting at seven. You need something that is in the oven, in the crockpot, something that you can quickly reheat, like taco meat that you’ve made earlier, that you can eat dinner. The second you walk in the door and then get things cleaned up and get off to your meeting. Now, a couple of days later, you might have a day where you’ve got 20 or 30 minutes where you can actually stand at the stove and cook. And that’s a good day to make something like a stir fry that takes a little bit more hands on cooking time. But when you plan your meals around your life, rather than trying to fit meals into an ideal situation, that none of us really have, you’re going to be so much more successful
As a single parent. What are your suggestions for just as you say, planning your meals around your life. What if you know, you have your kids, not every single day of the week. So I may be planning meals for three people or, or more, you know, certain days of the week, but then some of the week I’m trying to plan meals for one person. Well, how would you do that?
Well, that’s just, it is again, that goes back to what are your activities like if you’re someone who really likes to cook when you’re just that one person that may be the time where you’re fixing most of the meals for when you have your kids with you. But if you’re someone that doesn’t really prefer to cook, you might be cooking when your kids are home and then just eating leftovers. When you are by yourself, it’s a matter of figuring out what you prefer and don’t try and make it something that someone else tells you, you should be doing. You need to think about your energy and your enjoyment when it comes to fixing food. Because if you’re trying to reach for some Pinterest perfect ideal, it’s going to put pressure on you that you don’t need. And so if you’re someone who really enjoys to cook and you have more time when you’re by yourself, then I really encourage you to do a lot of your cooking when you have your days by yourself. But if you’re someone who really doesn’t prefer to cook that much, then you might just stick with the basics cook when your kids are around and then just eat the leftovers when you’re by yourself and both are totally legit. It’s a matter of what you Prefer overall.
Do you suggest creating like a meal plan based upon what the grocery store has on sale? Because it seems like that’s what most meal plans tell you what to do, tell you to do, or do you plan more in advance of that? Because I think that’s one thing that kind of keeps me away from meal planning personally, is it kind of seems like so much work every weekend to sit down and plan for the whole entire week that I just kind of lose interest in doing that.
I totally understand that idea and what I encourage the people, especially when I go out and I give talks about feeding. Your family is if you can take 10 or 15 minutes at the beginning of the week, I usually do my meal planning on Mondays because that’s what works for me. A lot of people will do it on the weekend and I have a free weekly meal planning sheet for your listeners. It’s it feeds your family tonight.com/plan. And this weekly meal planning sheet will kind of lay out how I encourage families to meal plan. I personally follow the ads a little bit, but I am not a slave to the ads. I don’t feel like I’m saving that much in my budget, following the ads a hundred percent. I usually look at what my life is like, and I will take a peek at the ads and say, okay, chicken’s on sale this week at sprouts.
And I like their chicken. And so I’m going to make sure that I plan one or two meals with chicken that I can pick up, but I don’t really plan so much around the ads because you’re right. It can be really, really daunting. Now, if you’re on a crazy tight budget, then that might be the season where you need to really stay close to the ads. But if you have a little bit of wiggle room, it’s really more important to plan meals that work with your schedule and your anticipated energy levels. Because if you have all the intentions of making a homemade chili from scratch and you get home from work and you’re completely busted, completely exhausted, and you’ve got cranky, hungry kids, you’re not going to want to spend 30 minutes making chili. And so I even, if that is what’s on sale, if you’re not going to actually do it when the day hits or it’s gonna make you cranky and irritable, frustrated mom, then don’t, don’t put yourself up for that.
Don’t set yourself up for failure. I want you to set yourself up for success. And I have another thing with this is especially when you’re in seasons, where life is really, really busy and there’s a lot of stress feeding your kids is enough. It doesn’t have to be Pinterest. Perfect. It doesn’t have to be nutritionally. Perfect. I mean, you know, if you’re feeding them a few fruits and vegetables and some frozen chicken nuggets out of a bag, you’re enough. Right. And I subscribed to that. Definitely. I just want to give moms permission to know that if you’re feeding them, it’s okay. If it’s cheese and crackers on the couch, you’re enough. Yes. And it’s okay because we’re all just doing our best to get by. And there’s going to be seasons where it’s going to be a lot more of chicken nuggets and cheese and crackers.
And there’s going to be seasons where you have a little bit more time and a little bit more bandwidth because family dinners come down so much to bandwidth and single parents bandwidth is always cut short anyway, because you’re carrying so many burdens of the family. And so you want to make sure that give yourself grace, especially when times are really, really intense and stressful.
Right. I was looking on your website too earlier today. And I saw you had a post on shopping at Aldi’s, which I shop there a lot as well. So that helps too. I know they have an ad every week, but for the most part, most of their stuff is quite a bit cheaper than at the local grocery store anyway. So I don’t feel like I have to plan so much around what’s on sale. Although if they do have their meat on sale, for example, I’ll pick it up and stock up on it. So that I don’t feel like I have to, you know, do my menu around that so much.
Oh my goodness. Jen, a hundred percent honestly, what I do with the Aldi ad in my home is that I use it to pick whether I’m getting apples, oranges or bananas. I mean, because usually all of these will have one or two different kinds of fruits that are on sale that week that are significantly less than all of the other fruits and my kids don’t care and they like a variety. So I follow the Aldi ad to add variety to my kids’ fruit. Other than that, I buy my staples at Aldi. Okay. That’s a good tip. Yeah. And so, you know, if your kids liked variety and they’d like different kinds of fruits and vegetables, you use the Aldi ad to pick whether you’re getting strawberries or blueberries or apples or oranges, and then re the rest of the other things that all to you will be saving probably 20 to 40% depending upon what kind of markets you’re in over a typical grocery store Kroger or a Publix.
What is the backup meal that you talk about?
The backup meal is the magic for making the feature family tonight idea work. What I say is a backup meal is any meal that you can get on the table in 20 minutes or less with ingredients that you have in the house all the time. Because when you need a backup meal, it’s too late to go to the grocery store. Some of my favorite backup meals in my house are bean and cheese quesadillas. I always keep tortillas in my freezer. I keep cheese in my freezer and that’s a little tip pre shredded cheese freezes really, really well. So you can keep that in your freezer and a can of refried beans. I put that together with some cut up fruit, or maybe a bag of frozen vegetables, and again, 20 minutes or less dinners on the table. Another one of my favorite backup meals is chicken noodle soup.
And that’s because I kind of pre cook a lot of chicken meat. I have a recipe on my website for instant pot, lemony chicken, and I’ll make a large batch of that. And I’ll have meal sized portions of that chicken in my freezer. Ready to pull out for a quick meal. Any time you do that with a little bit of a chicken broth and a box of dried noodles, and you’ve got dinner on the table, a lot of families will use breakfast as dinner for a backup, but here’s the thing about backups is you want to go and get two or three backup meals. Now I encourage your listeners go this week and think of two or three backup meals and get them in your house because there is going to be a day where you wake up at four in the morning with a kid who’s got the stomach virus and you can’t take a little toddler with a stomach virus to the grocery store, or you’re going to have three or four things that happen.
You’re running home late from work, and you’ve got to run from one thing to the next. And you’re like, Oh my gosh, let’s hit the drive through no, I have quesadillas stuff. We’re already at home. That’s going to be even faster than the drive through. I can get everybody fed and then get onto the next thing. Life is going to happen. And it, by having those in your house ready to go, you’re going to give yourself so much peace of mind. And you’re going to save yourself so many trips through the drive through, and that’s the magic because everyone’s plans are gonna fall apart one time or another. And I even tell my that. I often, again, I publish my meal plans every week, but I can tell you, at least one day, every week my meal plan will change a little or a lot. Sometimes I’m just tweaking one or two little things, but sometimes I’m like scratch that we’re having case ideas tonight. And when you have that backup ready to go, it’s so much easier to adjust. And it takes a lot of the stress out of getting dinner on the table.
Yeah, that’s a great idea. And I mean, I like having like bean cheese burritos, but the quesadillas is a good idea as well. And also reminding myself when I’m really tempted to go through the drive through that, it is probably a lot faster if I were just to go home and bake one of those meals, because really going through the drive through anymore can take even longer.
Oh my goodness.
And money. But yeah, it does take longer. Sometimes
It does by the time you get through the drive through, and then you drive home and then you take everything out of the containers and stuff, you could have gone home and gotten dinner on the table and it’s good for the budget. It’s also really good. Just kind of, for your mind. Sometimes we feel really guilty about the drive through and to have an alternative, always ready to go. It can kind of take away that guilt. I like to tell families, plan your drive-thru make it something that, you know, have it on your meal plan. That that’s when you’re going to do takeout rather than let takeout happen to you. And because so many of us take out, happens to us and you get so much more control when you put it on your meal plan intentionally rather than letting it happen to you and use your backup meals for those times where it would have happened to you.
That’s a great idea. Those are all really great tips. Thank you so much.
Oh, Jen. It is my pleasure. I I’m. So I’m so happy to help any family just try and figure out to cook dinner. Can I give one more tip? This is something that I, I practice in my home and I really think that it’s really small, but it makes a big difference when you are walking in the door from work with your kids, instead of going to your room and changing your clothes. And then coming back for dinner, if you can take and put an apron on over your clothes, get yourself any apron, put it on over your clothes and start one thing for dinner before you change your clothes, you’re going to buy yourself 15 or 20 minutes at night. So the simple act of even just starting the pot of water to boil for the pasta before you go and change or get a few veggies chopped for a salad is going to give you time in the evening. And it’s one of those sneaky ways that I teach families to steal back just a little bit of time.
So true. Yes. Thank you so much.
You’re welcome Jen.