Friday, December 9, 2016

The Friday Five!

Despite the fact that I feel like I haven't had two seconds to focus on anything this week, I'm in a good mood because our Christmas tree is up, the menorah is out, and our kids have been in the holiday SPIRIT. They've wholeheartedly embraced our Giving Back Advent Calendar and have been (dare I say it) playing so nicely together all week in a bunch of cardboard boxes that delivered holiday presents. I'm sure it will all go to hell over the weekend, but I'll take it for now! Here's what else we've been up to this week .....

Playing -- the kids' grandparents brought Pictionary Junior with them over Thanksgiving and the kids have been loving it. Cam actually follows the rules. Kane insists on trying to make everyone solve his own perplexors. But both seem to be enjoying it!

Reading -- We finished Evil Spy School and moved on to Spy Ski School this week -- both kids have been into this series much more than others we've tried recently. It's enough mystery for Kane with enough funny for Cam. We also started reading The President and Me: George Washington and the Magic Hat by Deborah Kalb. We met Deborah at a local book fair last weekend that the kids patiently staffed with me. Kane was obsessed with George Washington when he was younger, so this has been a great book for him so far!

Cooking -- I don't cook pork a lot, but this Pork Chops and Couscous with Tomato-Caper Sauce was a huge win with everyone. Plus it actually came together in about 20 minutes as promised. I will definitely be working this one in as a regular recipe for busy nights.

Wanting -- I am on the constant hunt for a tablecloth that looks good, resists stains, and doesn't need to be ironed (HATE ironing). It's been a losing battle thus far. Until I threw a paper table runner from Cami's birthday party last year over my white tablecloth for Thanksgiving. Hides wrinkles, helps keep the tablecloth from being stained, and just adds a touch of festive. I've got my eye on this gold marble one for Christmas dinner.

Making -- As I mentioned, the kids have been spending hours, HOURS building cardboard box offices this week. It appears they've dragged half of their rooms in there, but they've been playing so nicely I don't mind a bit. So no new purchase recommendations this week -- just let them at all those holiday present boxes!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Monthly Meal Planning Tips

Every time I post a new monthly meal plan, I get a lot of questions about how I manage to pull off cooking dinner for the fam on a regular basis.  I don't think there is any one formula that works for everyone—we all have our different schedules to juggle. But I do have a method to my own particular madness and I thought it might be helpful to share how I get it done.

I know that planning meals a month at a time can seem a little daunting at first. But I've found it to be the most efficient and cost-effective way to cook for our family. Planning a month at a time helps me visually balance our menu, pool a large number of recipes from which I can pull, and make sure our meals match up with our schedule in a realistic way. So here are my five tips to monthly meal planning:

1. Plan alongside your family calendar. At the beginning of each month (or 30-day stretch), I sit down with our monthly calendar and make sure I've noted all our regular activities (e.g., weekly sports activities) and planned special events. That way, I have a sense of how much time I'll have to cook on a particular night and whether I need to at all. On nights where I know I'll be short on time, I either plan a slow cooker meal, a quick one, leftovers, or a night out. And we almost always eat out at least one weekend night a week. So that helps.

2. Pick a few regular themes. Yes, Taco Tuesday is a little hokey. But the kids like the regularity of themes and it narrows down the recipes I need to sort through for a particular night. We don't always have tacos on Tuesday, but we usually have some sort of tacos once a week. I also plan for brinner once a week. Sometimes I make a special breakfast recipe, but usually that's my opportunity to use up things we have on hand. Whatever theme interests you, pick a few and count on them each week.

3. Plan for leftovers. I am a HUGE lover of leftovers. Even if I have to slightly tweak them to get a second meal, they are always a big time saver. I eat them almost exclusively for lunch during the week too. To make sure I get them, I pick one or two meals each week and double the recipe when I cook it. That way I have enough for at least one dinnertime meal out of leftovers and all my lunches for the week.

4. Make sure you have variety. I probably go overboard on this because I seem to be a constant hunt for new recipes. There is nothing wrong with having several stand-by recipes to use each month, but I do like to make sure I vary our proteins, cooking techniques, and cuisine throughout the week. I aim for a good balance of beef and chicken recipes, and try to add in a turkey, lamb, or fish every now and then (although, I hate cooking fish so I rarely do). I find everyone can get bored if I just bake every meal in a week, so I try to plan for a mix of grilling, sautéing, baking, etc. My kids are pretty adventurous eaters, so I also aim for a mix of cuisines throughout the week.

5. Don't be overly rigid. Just because you planned for a particular meal on a particular night doesn't mean you need to stick to it. I review each week as it comes up and adjust whatever I need to depending on changes in schedule, how everyone is feeling, etc. Having a month of meals pooled ahead of time means it's easier to shift things around too.

It doesn't always work out perfectly and we have our fair share of time periods where we eat out too much or aren't quite as healthy as we'd like. But, overall, monthly meal planning has worked wonders for our family dinners. I hope you find this helpful—I'd love to hear how you make diner happen in your house!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Holiday Family Traditions: Festive Kids Room Decor

For the past few years, we've stuck to our own home for the winter holidays. Traveling is expensive, always crazy, and it's just not as fun for Santa to visit the kids in advance (or schlep presents elsewhere). But I always miss my mom's holiday tradition of decking out our childhood rooms. So I decided to pick it up and decorate our kids' rooms this year in the same way. The kids LOVE it (and you just might find me snuggled up in their flannel sheets too). Head over to The Land of Nod to see how I carried on this family tradition.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Friday Five!!

Cooking -- ever since the kids lost their minds when I made vegetarian tacos, but then proceeded to down several of them each, I decided that all our tacos will have veggies in them. I mean, I'll pretty much eat anything wrapped in a tortilla too, so it makes sense. These Steak Fajitas with Chimichurri and Cucumber Salsa are a little time consuming, but when they eat even MORE veggies AND fruit in the tortilla, it's totally worth it.

Making -- did you catch our super cute (and free!) printable holiday coloring placemat on International Arrivals' blog yesterday?  I couldn't believe how much time the kids spent coloring them in.

Reading -- we started listening to Evil Spy School this week and everyone loves it. For some reason, the first Spy School audiobook wasn't available, so we started with the second. But we had no problem picking up there. I also started listening to 99% Invisible this week—it's a great podcast that focuses on design and architecture. And even though short podcasts bug me for the kids, it's good for me. If I get too roped in to a long episode, I'll sit outside listening to it instead of going in to work!

Playing -- this is a fun version of the family game that is easy for kids to get into on their own!

Wanting -- I need a new metallic clutch and I love this Loeffler Randall one with a tassel.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Creative Ideas for the Kids Holiday Table

I actually loved being at the kids table for holiday meals. We got sparkling grape juice in miniature wine goblets and tried to eat as many marshmallows off the sweet potatoes without eating any actual vegetables. But maybe that's just me. Our kids like being where the action is with the grownups, but when our big table is full, they too get sent over to the kids table. So I thought I'd come up with a few fun ways to keep them entertained and happy about it. Head over to the International Arrivals blog to see what I've got cooking—including a free holiday color-in placemat to download! 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Easy Honey Dijon Skillet Chicken + 30 Days of Dinner!!

I've been in a real rut with chicken. I try to work it in the menu several times a week, but I feel like I just keep falling back on the same several recipes or get stuck making a more complicated recipe just to get more flavor. But this Easy Honey Dijon Skillet Chicken is super delicious, quick for a weeknight meal, and full of fall flavors. Give it a try if you're looking for a new weeknight headliner!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Ragnar Kjartansson at the Hirshhorn Museum

It's no secret that the Hirshhorn Museum is one of my most favorite museums in DC. And we've seen some seriously cool exhibits move through there (you can find lots of our past visits here). But the Ragnar Kjartansson exhibit was truly like nothing we've ever seen. It was so interactive and, just, alive—we were all completely mesmerized. I had heard plenty about the "gold lady" ahead of time and a few whisperings of another cool musical installation, but I wasn't really prepared for the whole experience. I knew it was going to be a lot of performance art, but knowing that and experiencing it are two totally different things.