A Fall Menu – Meals this Week

Family Dinner

People often ask how we manage our houshold with a lot of very little children. Do we have help? How do we organize the day? How do we manage meals? Everyone needs to eat and I like to cook the majority of our food from scratch. One big help is menu planning for at least a week at a time. I cannot simply run out for unplanned trips to the grocery store; four children need help with diapers and potty, shoes, jackets, buckling, and strollers. Along with menu planning, I always stock staples for a few quick and easy meals in the pantry and freezer in case life derails my cooking or grocery plans. Another trick is trying to cook what I can at convenient times rather than right at the hectic dinner hour. I tend to prepare a lot at once so one cooking session covers multiple nights and produces a freezer meal or two.

I love to experiment with new recipes, stir up French sauces, or throw together multiple complimentary dishes but this is just not the stage of life for extra hours at the stove. My first goal is to serve nourishing, filling, flavorful meals. If there’s a lot of time I might make something extra. If there’s not, I don’t feel guilty if it’s all in one dish and reheated from the night before. I know everyone has been fed with good homemade food. Time for complicated recipes and cooking extravaganzas will return soon enough; kids get more independent, and infants’ sleep routines become more predictable. This week’s menu is a good example of how these principles work for our family.

Breakfast for Dinner We were very short on ingredients because I prepared dinner while Carl was out picking up the week’s groceries. I pulled out the last couple strips of bacon from the fridge plus some sausage from the freezer and cooked it half an hour ahead, then set the meat aside to be reheated on the frying pan when were ready to eat. I stirred up my standard whole grain pancake batter while Carl and the kids were out and set it aside for half an hour so we could unpack and stow groceries before frying up the cakes. Apples, butter, and maple syrup rounded out the table. These pancakes actually turned out better than ever before – so perfectly light and fluffy. I think leaving the batter sit made the difference? This is a good example of a pantry meal I can almost always pull together from ingredients on hand. It’s also a good example of a meal prepped just a bit ahead during a quiet lull to reduce pressure right at the dinner hour.

Butternut squash soup with 30 minute dinner rolls The soup is from this staple fall recipe. I doubled it so we’d have a couple of nights’ dinner plus a couple freezer meals. I roasted the squash when I got up in the morning. In the evening I just had to assemble everything. I packed up the freezer half without the added milk as dairy products don’t always freeze well. This soup is always delicious and the kids loved it, even though I forgot to add dollops of sour cream. I served it with these 30 Minute Yeast Rolls, substituting honey for sugar. It was a disappointing bread recipe. The rolls felt flavorless with a borderline cake consistency. I won’t make them again, but it was nice to smell fresh bread baking for the first time since the new baby came home.

Pot Roast I followed my usual recipe, more or less, doubled so we’d have two or three nights’ dinners plus a couple frozen meals. This is another meal I had prepped and into a 300 degree oven by 7:30 in the morning. That allowed plenty of time for a three hour low and slow roast for perfect falling-apart meat. It guaranteed we’d have dinner in a busy work day no matter what happened or how hectic the afternoon became as I juggled small children.  This pot roast is a great food to make in large quantitites because the flavors deepen and marry as they sit on the fridge. A lot of roasts don’t freeze well, but this one can be pulled apart into more of a stew and freezes nicely. The kids loved the meat, though they were more hesitant with the veggies. I’d considered a side of salad, fresh bread, or potatoes, but in the end bowlfuls of rich broth and veggies with savory hunks of meat were more than satisfying.

Goat cheese and red pepper frittata I found this recipe in a Williams-Sonoma vegetarian cookbook I borrowed from th library. We haven’t tried it yet but it looks tasty. I expect this to only make enough for one meal (reheated eggs aren’t great…). We will eat it with salad or raw veggies for balance.

On Sundays we usually eat dinner at our small group leaders’ home so I only plan six dinners a week. Breakfasts and lunches are pretty simple and routine.

Hurricane Joaquin

photo 3 (1) photo 4photo 5It’s tradition in our household to take the kids out for a puddle stomping walk after a rain. At this point we know where every good puddle forms for a mile or more. It’s free fun for the toddlers, cleanup just means tossing their shorts in the wash while setting sandals to dry, and they always take good naps afterwards. While the East Coast prepares for a state of emergency, Jack and Annie were just delighted with the watery bounty Hurricane Joaquin sent their way.

Sibling Helpers


The newborn started to cry halfway through the one year old’s bottle feeding. I set Jenny’s bottle on the coffee table and put her on the floor to play with toys for a few minutes while I changed Josie’s diaper. Midway through the change I heard my son in the next room speaking gently to his baby sister in a tender, nurturing voice: “Would you wike some milk? Dere you go!” I looked up to see him vigorously shaking the baby’s bottle upside-down over her head while she blinked under a rain shower of formula. Good intentions: A. Successful nutrition by osmosis: F.



Ever go through your days composing everything as a blog post in your head but never having actual time to write? Baby #4 joined our family in early July. We are very happy but very busy as a family of six with four kids two and under. I’d love to post a birth story and write more frequently, but in the meantime the short version is:
• Baby girl, 7lb6oz, 20 inches
• 12 hour natural/drug-free labor with no complications
• Looks just like my husband from the front and my dad from the side. 10 months carrying her in my belly and the only nod she gives to my features is a gold ring around her iris. Tiny traitor.
• Sleeps well, eats well, grows well
• A bit fussy and high-maintenance when awake, but becoming easier to manage as she wakes becomes more interested in the world around her and gets better at sleeping solid chunks.
• Hates her car seat
• Loved by her parents and siblings
• Very smiley, and my first newborn to laugh in her sleep though she doesn’t yet do it when awake.
• Nicknames so far: Roo, Jim-Jam, Cranky Franky
• Blog name “Josie”

A Morning at the Botanical Gardens


Over the weekend we visited the local botanical gardens. We haven’t stopped in since the twins were infants. It was a nice surprise to see how perfect the gardens are for toddlers. They are thoughtfully planned with lots of “little worlds” of half an acre or so each centered around lakes, fountains, meadows, and pine forests. The adults enjoyed the beautiful landscaping and lush flowers (even if I totally failed to capture any of that in the pictures). The toddlers loved dashing between bridges, exploring pagodas, climbing on rocks, and running through viney tunnels and arbors into the next “room” of the garden.



(Yes, I really am in the third trimester and feeling very pregnant. I’m just carrying 100% straight out in front so you can’t tell from any other angle or if there’s a lanky toddler on my lap.)IMG_7533.JPG





(nomnomnom….yummy Ergo carrier)


Recent Quotes

1) We often remind the twins to wait nicely for their food, say “more, please” and “thank you”, “help” wipe up their booster chair trays, carry their cups to the counter, and put their utensils in the sink. To the uninitiated this might sound like we have decent civilized standards for our toddlers. Let’s shoo that illusion away; at least three times after meals this week I told them to “Please pick up the food on the floor under your chair and either put it in the trash or eat it.”


2) I turned around to see Annie peacefully sitting on the floor trying to page through a favorite book, and Jack doing his best to annoy her by body-slamming her, flailing, bumping into her, and generally interfering:

Me: “Jack, are you being kind to Annie?”

Jack: *pausing to evaluate the situation* “Uh oh.”


3) We took a family trip to the local botanical gardens on Saturday. At one point Annie stopped to admire a cactus then turned to me with her standard squawk that means “what is this?”

Me: “That’s a cactus.”

Annie: *pausing to process, then repeating* “…radish

At least she knows her veggie names.


4)  “I said ‘no sweets’, I didn’t say anything about gluttony.” – The Man, prepping a post-church second breakfast for himself toward the end of Lent.


5) “Dzzzzzzzzj….aaooo!…oooo!….gchhhhhhh” – The Baby. We’ll check back in for more intelligent commentary from her in a year or two.


6) “………………………………………………………….” – The Littlest Baby. There’s not much one can say while immersed in amniotic fluid.