When he was small, my youngest son had a habit of filling his pockets with treasures he encountered in his daily adventures. I didn't always understand the value he saw in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks could one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one was beautiful and important. Life is just like that on a larger scale, isn't it? We gather up the precious bits of our experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you'll find a little something here that you'd like to keep in your own pockets. Thanks for visiting.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

What's for dinner, Mom?

Anyone who knows me knows that I like to be organized. You would be hard-pressed to find a notepad in my house that doesn't have some kind of list inscribed on it somewhere: to do lists, shopping lists, gift idea lists, lists of what I might write about next, lists of important dates, lists of what to do if I ever lose my lists.... Okay, that last one is ridiculous, but I think you get the idea! Strangely, though, despite all of my many notebooks and carefully organized life details, I have never been really good about planning meals for the week ahead. We eat a healthy dinner together as a family each evening, but I'm not particularly fond of the decision-making task involved in that every.single.morning, especially when the boys have such strong opinions about (usually against!) what I make.

With a new year ahead of me, I've decided to make more of an effort to take a bit of time on the weekends and plan out our family dinner menu for each day of the coming week. I found a handy magnetic days-of-the-week notepad at a Target store last time I was in the U.S. that is perfect for this task. One week into the project, I am loving it, and am already finding planning meals ahead makes life easier in several ways. I know exactly what I need at the grocery store when I do my major shopping trip, and I think there will be less unused food in the fridge at the end of the week as a result. I'm also making fewer, if any, impromptu runs to the supermarket to pick up something I've realized I need last minute. We're likely to eat a wider variety of foods over a month when I plan ahead, because I'm deciding what we'll eat when I have time to look through recipes instead of when I'm trying to herd two easily side-tracked boys out the door to school. Most importantly, with a list of what's for dinner posted on the side of the fridge every week, the boys have time to brace themselves for those meals they may not enjoy very much, which generally results in less grumbling and ugly face-making at the dinner table!

If you're interested in having a regular, healthy evening meal with your family with less stress, perhaps you'd like to give weekly food planning a whirl! I'll leave you with one of my favourite slow-cooker chicken recipes (slightly modified from its original version in Canadian Living's Slowcooker Cookbook Special) to help start you off.

Chicken Braised with Sweet Peppers

12 boneless chicken thighs
sea salt and pepper, to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 sweet peppers (red, yellow, orange), chopped
1 can (796mL) diced tomatoes
2 tsp dried thyme (or a few sprigs of fresh thyme)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp tomato paste

Sprinkle chicken thighs with sea salt and pepper. In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat; brown chicken in batches. Transfer to slow cooker.
Drain any fat from pan. Fry onion, garlic and peppers, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Scrape into slow-cooker.
Add tomatoes, thyme, and additional salt and pepper to slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 5 hours or until chicken and peppers are tender.
Stir in parsley and tomato paste. Cover and cook on high for 20 minutes or until slightly thickened. Makes 6 - 8 servings.

I usually serve this chicken and sauce over brown rice spaghetti, with a side dish of steamed broccoli or a mixed green salad. Enjoy!

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