Monday, February 25, 2008

What's for dinner? Toddler style

I have struggled with meals like all mothers struggle with meals. I have read just about everything there is to read both on how to encourage toddlers to eat and how to budget and plan meals. But there is very little in the way of meal planning and budgeting with toddlers.

No matter how much planning I seem to do, there never seems to be enough of something in the house. This leaves me feeling off. And, it never fails that the mealtime struggles begin.

In the past, I rushed off to the store to buy more "for them."

Over the last year I've tried everything from participating in Menu Planning Monday, to shopping by sales only to skimping on the necessities so there was enough for food.

When I became serious about cutting grocery expenses down by 50 percent, I realized quickly I wasn't making the right choices. The worst choice of all was trying to create meal plans on Sundays by looking at the Sunday sales circulars. This became extremely time consuming and overwhelming. Between that and cutting coupons, there was no Sunday left.

I've since come to terms with a few things and all have helped cut the food budget and my time in the planning process:

1. Buy what's on sale, but shop at home first: This means you're planning menus for what's in the freezer, not what's on the front page of the ads. This means you can still buy what's on sale, but also have your meal plan ready and waiting. If this isn't your thing, you can find the Sunday ads at least a few days ahead of time in some online forums.

2. Plan out breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for every day of the week and write it down. This trick in particular has helped me avoid buying prepackaged foods unless they are practically free, of course.

3. Shop at Aldi for the basics. I have become reliant upon Aldi's .99 wheat bread, yogurt tubes that the girls love, honey very cheap to use in recipes, and all other baking needs as well as canned fruit. And do not get me started on the chocolate yogurt covered raisins that the girls request after every. single. nap. If you didn't know this already, Aldi is actually owned by the same company that owns Trader Joes.

4. Feed the kids when they are very hungry. I fail at this at least twice a week, but I have come to realize that when Liana is starving she will eat things she won't even look at on other days (ie: pasta). Jadyn, the better eater, is more likely to eat meat when she is hungry, too.

5. Avoid making meals just for them. Breakfast is easy (most of the time), lunch is still hard for us so I just eat what I serve them. But, dinner is becoming more and more tolerable. They are close to eating what we give them so long as it's not a casserole of any sort. They might have a bite or two, but they aren't interested in those mixed-up foods. They like a meat, a veggie, a grain/starch and a fruit all separate.

6. Cut out meat. We are not vegetarians, but I want to be. I am just not a diverse veggie eater, though, so I struggle with meat-free recipes. Still, we eat meatless at least three times a week right now. Sometimes more. When only buy meat on sale. At my stores, the same meats go on sale in rotation. I know to have recipes for the following: ground turkey, chicken breasts or drumsticks, and ground beef.

Here are two toddler-friendly recipes that have yet to be pushed away from the table, at our house. They happen to be fairly low-budget as well.

Dump Chicken: I cut these up, but they have enjoyed eating them off the bone. I worry too much, though.

Italian Meatloaf: This is from Deceptively Delicious, which I borrowed from a fellow mom. I have never seen Jadyn eat this well before or since. This was a big hit with us adults, too. This gave us at least another day or two of leftovers. Oh, and I didn't puree anything for this. I just grate the vegetables into it.

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ONEDIA said...

I salute you for being so organized and creative and for sticking to it. It is so much easier to come up with these plans than to follow through with them day after day. Good job!

Kasie @ ~The Art of Life~ said...

Thanks for sharing your ideas Shawn.
I struggle in this area too.
But I have to say that thanks to your post about MoneysavingMom, I've been learning how to work our Walgreens and it's very exciting. :)

Jena Strong said...

Shopping in your freezer (or fridge or pantry) is a good one. Is there really "no food" in the house? Growing up, we used to have "train wreck" some nights, which was basically eating all the leftovers and anything else we could scrounge together. As I've become more committed to not wasting food, train wreck has become a regular meal around here...

Shelli said...

Wow. My hat's off to you!! I thought I was getting a little better at planning meals, but I guess not.

My little one is a PICKY eater. UGH. As a result, he eats a lot of the same things, which is easy on me, and I just try to keep offering him new stuff off our plates or other items. Sometimes he'll surprise us and like something new. Recently I was excited to see him eat some pizza!

My husband is allergic to all acidic things, including tomatoes, which really screws everything up for me. He also has a sensitive stomach in general. I am a vegetarian to top it all off. We often eat different meals. I've learned how to cook some meat items for him. I try to plan three meals (dinner) a week - I mean things I need to buy groceries for. The rest of the week we eat leftovers or yes - sometimes frozen meals. I'd go crazy otherwise, and we don't live close enough to the store to make a quick run. Lunch is pretty much the same everyday with a little variation.

Shannon said...

I'm the only vegetarian in our house, which most days means I just don't eat because I don't have the energy to cook seperate meals. I'll try the meatloaf. If only I could get them to eat chicken, I've even tried breading it with yogurt and crushed cheerios (which they worship) but no dice. They say "chicken, bak bak" and try to feed it to the dog.
That doesn't inspire confidence in my cooking at all, lol.

Bastet said...

I try to organize my meals for the week, but I usually find myself too tired to prepare a meal (I reach for the quick pre-made meals) or we go out...bad habits!
I know it is hard to get toddlers to eat moment they love it and the next they hate it. I just try not to fight it...she will eat if she is hungry.

;) Good advice!

Mary P Jones (MPJ) said...

I have figured out the shopping in my own pantry thing recently too. I've also found that with leftovers, I don't actually need to plan 6-7 lunches and dinners a week -- I only have to plan 3 dinners and that covers lunch and dinner for 7 days.

bella said...

I'm right there with you on planning it all out and writing it down!
And stocking up on basics when they are on sale.
I learn so much from you. :)

ALDI Careers said...

Great to hear you're shopping at ALDI. ALDI also has a great district manager training program that you may want to consider.

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