premeditated meals, part 1

My nerd is showing because Y’ALL — I’m talking about food.

I love food. I think that’s one of the reasons I love every single thing about Shauna Niequest — she is a Christian/mom/wife/superstar who also loves food. She’s written on and on about the balance between body acceptance and the richness and pleasure in eating well, and that is a line I tread regularly.

Food is spiritual. Whether we are filling our children’s bellies or bringing a dish to a family in need, we are doing God’s work. The kind of food doesn’t matter as much as the feeling behind it. Before I start getting a bit too dramatic, please know that there are many times I stand, bleary-eyed, in front of the microwave reheating boxed macaroni and cheese for my children. In that moment, my motivation may simply be “feed the kids quick,” but when I reflect on those times, I know that I am still providing for them in a real and tangible way.

But life.

LIFE, y’all. I know it’s hard to break out of the mealtime madness routine. Our lives are busy and full, and sometimes the thought of standing in a kitchen and making a big mess and chaos is just less than desirable. But if you are like me, you know that a delicious meal can, if only for a moment, soothe and comfort.

I do not claim to be any sort of food or meal prep expert, but I am premeditated, and I’m going to share some goodness with you. This week I’m talking about basic tips and how-to’s, but next week I’ll be talking about my favorite appliances (like the star-of-the-hour, the INSTANT POT!).

Premeditated Meals in 5 Easy Steps!

1. MEAL PLAN

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A fun meal prep notebook is a total game changer.
Even if you aren’t a big planner, please please plan out some meals. Start with dinners if you are new to meal planning — I plan out dinners for each day (though sometimes they do get shuffled around) and a few breakfasts and lunches for the week. I use a magnetic notebook and leave it on my fridge so I always know what meals we’ll be eating on a given day.

2. GROCERY SHOP

A given, sure, but I’m only including this here because IF you can somewhow make this work, immediately after grocery shopping I love to…

3. PREP THOSE MEALS

Prepped food! (Label maker sold separately.)

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Snacks, lunches, veggies
Chop your veggies. Cook things that can be cooked ahead of time and easily reheated. Start putting meal ingredients together in a way that will make the actual cooking of them a breeze. While I’m at it, I also like to bag up whatever snacks I bought (goldfish, pretzels, etc.) and get them ready to throw at hangry kids when necessary throughout the week. If you can manage to do this

Some caveats here: yes, there are a million videos/articles/blogs on the internet that will tell you how to store your veggies. Usually these won’t say “cut them all up!” because this will sometimes cause them to go bad quicker. Know how many veggies you’ll eat in a week and buy/prep that much only. You’ll be much more likely to eat it if it’s ready to go anyway, and couldn’t we all eat more easy veggies? We could.

If the idea of making all of those snack baggies makes your earth-loving heart cringe, look into reusable cloth snack bags. I do like the cloth bags I have, but if I’m being honest, I use ziplocks a lot. We are a people who lose things.

4. COOK THOSE MEALS

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A happy little chicken pot pie all ready for the oven!
Hopefully, your meal prep will make the cooking EASY. Throwing salads together, reheating taco meat, or throwing a bag of ready-t0-go food into a slow cooker. It’s hard to feed your people everyday. Make this as simple as possible.

5. EAT!

Perhaps this goes without saying, but hey, eat your food. Really eat it. Sit down at the table, pour yourself a glass of wine or La Croix, pray with your family, eat with your family. Take the time to be present, because life comes at you fast. And your food will taste better if you, ya know, sit and chew it.

That’s all for today. Happy meal prep! Check back on Thursday for my favorite kitchen stuff!

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’twas the night before christmas (for a mom)

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, except the mom, duh.
The stockings were ruined by the toddler each day
The tree, once a joy, now complete disarray

Yet despite all the mess, the mom’s heart did grin
(though perhaps that was due to the holiday gin)
“Tomorrow,” she thought, “will be joyful and fun,”
“And then — oh yes, then — Christmas will be all done.”

The children were wrestled like animals to bed
With visions of “PRESENTS!!” in their wild little heads
And the dad and the mom with the presents all done
Had just settled down for some holiday fun

When the door to their room started to shudder
“Noooo,” they both moaned, while a small voice said, “mother?”
Away to the closet mom flew like a flash
And emerged in a robe in a manner quite brash

“Santa won’t come unless you sleep,” mama said
And spent 83 hours putting the child back to bed
When the mom returned, the dad said “perhaps?”
And the mom looked over and sweetly said “not a chance.”

When the morning did come, along with new-fallen snow,
The cold winds outside made the fireplace glow
Children ripped presents, mom and dad shared a kiss
Right then the mom knew this was something she’d miss

So instead of wishing Christmas away
She vowed to keep a little bit in each day
So she sang carols in June and baked cookies in Spring
She wrapped soap and paper and silly old things

She hugged her kids hard, even when they were nuts
And told them how much she loved their guts.
She did all she could to keep Christmas in sight,
And hopes you can too — Merry Christmas, good night.

(And pass the gin.)

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Merry Christmas from Premeditated Mama and family!

o tannenbaum

My very favorite day, year after year, is the day after Thanksgiving.

I don’t Black Friday shop. I don’t bask in gluttonous turkey day leftovers.

I decorate.

On the day after Thanksgiving, I am up with the sun (or, as is often the case in late November in Michigan, I am up with where the sun would be if it weren’t covered by clouds). With a strength of ten Jennies, I haul up tubs of decorations like a post-spinach Popeye. I do all of this in a holiday sweater and — this year, thanks to my new obsession — holiday-themed Lularoe leggings. THE JOY! We have Christmas music playing, cookies out to decorate and eat, and there are squeals of delight as each decoration is unearthed (those squeals are solely from me).

To bring in some realness, here is what I look like on the day after Thanksgiving:


And here is what the rest of my family looks like on the day after Thanksgiving:


What a bunch.

I generally have enough energy and goodwill to carry these occasional wet blankets, so fun is had by all. All. ALL.

(Me.)

Knowing of my love of decorating, I once had a well meaning friend ask, “what is your Christmas color theme?”

“My Christmas color theme! Yes! That’s of course a thing I have! It’s… :quickly thinking of Christmas colors: green!”

That’s when this friend probably politely nodded and backed away from my obvious Christmas insanity.

The truth is, I bought an end-of-season Christmas tree my senior year of college. It was on super clearance, and after some creative sale-watching and gift card use, I ended up paying exactly one penny for my tree. It was perfect. Easy to assemble, pre-lit (HAHAHAHA AT ONE TIME I CONSIDERED THIS A BONUS), and not containing any actual pine that would make my allergies go crazy. I loved it. I purchased some clearance ornaments that I thought looked “good enough” to help fill it out that first year. By the next Christmas, I was married and teaching elementary music. Elementary kids LOVE gifting music-themed ornaments to music teachers, so I came home with several blown-glass pianos, coppery treble clefs, and eighth-note patterned everything. I added them to our tree, along with the many “Our First Christmas Together” ornaments we had received on wedding gifts. I bought tacky gold tinsel. Boom. Christmas.

The next year, I was still teaching, and received more musical ornaments. This happened for three more years, actually. 

Additionally, when Jason and I would go on vacations, I would buy an ornament to hang on our tree to remember the trip. So each year added new mementos (a lot of Mickey Mouse, to be clear), and over time, the tree was full of special parts of our lives together. 

One year, the pre-lit lights proved disastrous (SEE; NOT A BONUS) and stopped working altogether. I loved my penny tree — it was the perfect size! The perfect shape! I loved that it cost me a penny! And so Jason spent several hours painstakingly removing each individual light. We threw on our own set of lights and the tree lived on.

It’s now the tree that we decorate as a family on the day after Thanksgiving. The ornaments are random, varied, and slightly broken. Some are musical instruments, some have faded National Park logos. Some have handprints from a tiny baby Boone. There’s magic and meaning there.

But, to go back to my “color scheme?” There totally isn’t one. There will be no awards for the beauty of this tree. It’s a mess, especially this year, where many of the ornaments are hung at Jonah-height since he was insistent on helping. 

“I’m pretty sure this is what mom meant by ‘spread out the ornaments a bit.’ Yes.”

But when I look at this tree, I see Jason taking off all those dead lights for me. I see my parents storing it in their basement before I had a home of my own. I see Boone and Jonah falling in love with decorations and making their own to add to the collection.

I used to get this feeling every time I walked past a Christmas Tree in a store window — the feeling that someday I would achieve “pretty Christmas tree” status, with coordinating ribbons and ornaments and lights blinking on some kind of program. But the more I watch this Christmas tree become our own, the less I want to change it.

Christmas is hard for perfectionists. We want everything to look perfect and be perfect, because if not, it’s a failure. 

Look at your tree, and the love you’ve poured into it. Look at your house, even when toys are scattered and the remote has been missing for days. Don’t get caught up in the vision of Christmas or life you have in your head and forget to live the one in front of you. Maybe your tree won’t be on the covers of any magazines. It may not be shared a million times on Pinterest. But, in the words of our dear friend Linus VanPelt from A Charlie Brown Christmas

“I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.”

So maybe you don’t have a color scheme. Or maybe you don’t have that many ornaments. Maybe you don’t have a tree — for Christmas, you don’t need any of it. Just the love. Sending you all I have at the start of this holiday season!

the gift to be simple

Happy Halloween!

Like many of you, I have stayed awake far too late many nights finding pieces for Halloween costumes, hollowing out pumpkins, “closely examining” (insert shame-face emoji) already collected treats from various trick or treating events, and packed school lunches with jack-o-lantern faces on every possible food item. I’m ready for Halloween.

And I was thrilled to use my *skillfully scooped* pumpkins for carving with Boone and Jonah a few nights ago. I went out and bought a book of jack-0-lantern templates, ranging from “easy” to “hard.” I was going to let the boys choose their patterns and I was going to carve those pumpkins while we all laughed and ate roasted pumpkin seeds and listened to “The Monster Mash” on a loop.

I’m a bit of an idealist.

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We are so ready.

When the much-anticipated pumpkin-carving night arrived, we were starting lateral  than I had anticipated because of a piano lesson. I had picked up pizza on the way home and threw some at Jonah, who was starting to get hangry. Boone was excited to start right in to the cutting, but I was wary of letting him attack a giant squash with a knife. The book of pumpkin patterns looked incredibly daunting (even the “easy” ones), and we were inching ever closer to bedtime (aka MOM’S BREAK). I strongly considered throwing in the ghost-adorned towel.

But instead, the Holy Spirit whispered, as He often does when I attempt to craft with kids, and said “simplify.”

I LOVE plans. I love making plans. I love checking boxes, crossing off to-do lists, and seeing a plan through to completion. I hate changing plans. My plan was to carve intricate pumpkin masterpieces. My plan was also to keep my sanity. These plans were at extreme odds with each other.

So I paused.

Looked at my pizza-covered kids.

Took out (GASP) a black sharpie marker.

Said, “Boone, draw a face on that pumpkin.”

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A perfect likeness.

I saw the glee in his eyes as I handed him the normally-contraband permanent marker and all of my plans and expectations melted away. He drew a scary face while I drew a typical jack-o-lantern. Jonah can only really draw circles, so we decided his pumpkin was a (pretty effective) ghost.

We ate pizza and laughed. Boone carved a pumpkin by himself — with extreme supervision — surprisingly well. We listened to Hamilton (particularly “The Battle of Yorktown,” which is Boone’s favorite). We got to bed on time and I did not find myself carving intricate designs into orange vegetables late into the night.

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Jonah’s (L) and Boone’s (R)
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My pumpkin.

 

We do so much as parents; so much as people. Sometimes it’s good to go the extra mile, but sometimes it’s unnecessary. We need to be open to the whispering of the Spirit, telling us if and when to simplify.

No one’s pumpkin is pinterest-worthy, but they are important snapshots of our Halloween in 2016. The face Boone drew at 6 years old. The face Jonah drew at 2 years old. This is dear to me in a way that a store-bought template could never be. Simplify, mamas. Simplify, dads. You may be surprised at the results.

so you’re going to walt disney world!

Now that you’ve read all about my personal love affair with WDW and the nitty gritty details to planning your own vacation, now it’s time for the fun stuff (OK, you got me, it’s all fun stuff): PARKS and FOOD!

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You’ve got a friend in these three (brb weeping)

THE PARKS!

Walt Disney World is divided into four major theme parks: Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Each of these parks is a world in and of itself; it will be impossible to see everything in each park in a day, or even a trip. I’ll take a little time to tell you about each park and the goodness it entails.

Magic Kingdom — this is the iconic land you think of when you hear “Disney World” (or Disneyland for that matter — the Magic Kingdom in Florida is modeled after the original park in California). From the main entrance, you walk down a nostalgic “Main Street” in the shadow of the majestic Cinderella’s Castle. The park splits off into several different themed areas with a variety of rides, shows, and shops. Fantasyland has recently expanded, and it, along with the semi-new Storybook Circus area, is wonderful for children of all ages (but especially littles!). Here you’ll find the Dumbo the Flying Elephant ride, kid-sized roller coasters, and several kid-friendly characters. You may find the Magic Kingdom to be the busiest park depending on when you go because there is a general opinion that it is the best park for kids. While this is a great park for kids, so is…

EPCOT — or the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. This is divided into two main sections, the World Showcase and Future World. Future World is science-themed, and kids will absolutely love experimenting at Innoventions or talking to Crush from Finding Nemo in the Living Seas. The World Showcase has food and customs from a variety of countries around the world. To make the most of Boone’s cultural experience on our next trip, we are asking him to meet a different cast member from each country and learn how to say “hello” in their native language and share one interesting fact about their country. When we visit (in September), the annual Food and Wine Festival will be taking place, so Jason and I will be eating and drinking our way around the world while Boone soaks up knowledge. Everybody wins!

Hollywood Studios — Although my answer changes by the minute, I think Hollywood Studios is my favorite park. It is themed with a vintage Hollywood vibe, and I love classic movies, so The Great Movie Ride, a ride that “drives you through” several iconic movies (including my personal favorite, The Wizard of Oz), is one of my favorites. There are also some Disney Junior shows here, and since I have little kids now, we’ll certainly be looking for some of our favorite characters. The fireworks show in this park is called Fantasmic! — and it is truly a spectacle. Fireworks, water works, animation, characters — this one has it all. It will keep even the sleepiest toddler (or mama) awake and happy at the end of the day.

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What can I say? Disney takes a lot out of you when you’re 2… or 30.

Animal Kingdom — This is the newest park, and it, along with Hollywood Studios, are generally my “one day” parks. I can usually see all I want to see in one solid day (note “all I want to see” and not “every tiny little thing”), whereas I may want to revisit Magic Kingdom or EPCOT to feel satisfied. The Animal Kingdom is NOT a zoo — but you will find many animals of all kinds here! There is a safari ride and several trails packed with interesting animals and lots of fun facts. Additionally, there is a dinosaur land (which is fantastic for my little dino-lovers!) and a truly spectacular roller coaster (Expedition Everest).

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I am never ashamed to admit that I love me some turkey leg.

THE FOOD!

Disney does many, many things well — and food is absolutely no exception. Snacks are available at almost any section of the parks, and unlike some theme parks, Disney does allow you to bring in your own food. (They’ll inspect your bags at the main entrance of each park, but they aren’t looking for your goldfish and graham crackers, fear not.)

For meals, if you want to eat in the parks (and you do!), your options are quick service or table service meals. The quick service are the WDW fast food option, and the prices are higher than your typical fast food — $10-$15 a meal. The portions are huge and easily shared, however. The table service meals can cost quite a bit more, but in the past we’ve only chosen one or two table service meals (because in addition to costing more, the “meal experience” takes longer than the quick service meals, and you generally leave feeling… quite full (and if not, congratulations on your restraint!).

One nice option for all of you planners is the Disney Dining Plan (DDP). You pay a set amount when you purchase your accommodations and tickets, and each member of your party has set meals or snacks for the day. So by the time you visit the parks, you aren’t shelling out cash for food — all of your meals are prepaid. There are different options here — the quick service plan has two quick service meals and a snack for each person in your party for the day. The standard plan has one quick service meal, one table service meal, and one snack for each person per day. The deluxe plan has three quick service OR table service meals as well as two snacks per day.

That is a lot of food. But no judgies.

I’d like to take a moment to point out that many “snacks” can serve as full meals (or at least a very filling pick-me-up) and that, as previously mentioned, portions are huge. When we are visiting in September, we are receiving the standard dining plan free with our stay (we chose to pay to upgrade from the free quick service plan, actually). I can already tell you we will leave WDW fuller than we were when we first arrived. This will also be our first trip wearing Fitbits, though… so I fully plan to let all of my Disney steps justify the eating.

MUCH more excellent food info can be found at www.disneyfoodblog.com. Just don’t visit the site hungry… you’ll see what I mean.

THE OTHER STUFF!

WDW has two water parks that I have personally never visited, but if you’re a water play fan, I’d encourage checking out Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. These parks are not included in your park hopper tickets; you’d have to specifically add the “water parks” option.

And for Disney fun without paying any sort of admission, check out Disney Springs (formally Downtown Disney)! There’s lots of shopping (including a year-round Christmas shop… I’m a fan) and restaurants as well as entertainment and performers. If you want a break from lines and rides but still want some Mickey Mouse in your day, Disney Springs is the place for you.

Whew! I hope today’s installment has helped your Disney-thoughts come together a bit more. While I’m not a “real expert,” I’d be happy to answer any Disney Q’s you may have (about traveling with little kids or not!). Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks for reading! Next week — travel tips and what to pack!

so you’re thinking about walt disney world!

I can’t believe I’m writing about Walt Disney World.

Background: I love Walt Disney World. I love it so much that I like to formally call it “Walt Disney World” instead of “Disney World” when I’m talking about it in general. Let’s pay our full respects to Mr. Walter Elias Disney, shall we? My first trip to WDW (as I’ll likely refer to it from here on out, but please continue to read “Walt Disney World” if you don’t mind) was back in 1998. I was in middle school. You may think that I was ~too cool~ for a family trip at that stage in my life, but let me assure you, I’ve never been too cool for anything in my life ever.

I knew right as I waltzed through those Mickey adorned trellises in my shockingly white keds (fake keds) that I was entering someplace special. Every single employee (or cast member, as they are referred) was 100% in. Nobody was mentally checked out. Nobody appeared bored. Every person working was happy, engaged, and smiling like I’d never seen people smile before in their life. As an awkward preteen at the precipice of the real world, I was thrilled to be at a place where reality seemed incredibly far away. I’ve never really lost that feeling.

The first time Boone went to WDW, he was seven months old. The second time, he was two. The third time, he was also two.

Boone’s first race was at WDW, of course.

The fourth time, he’ll be five, and Jonah will be two.

You could say I have a problem. But I don’t! I have a solution! A solution to the harsh realness of everyday life.

You could also say I’m being melodramatic and I should probably visit a national park sometime. I DO THAT TOO, OK! Let’s just pretend this obsession is perfectly normal and makes perfect sense.

And now to the crux of the post: So you’re thinking about going to Walt Disney World!

I won’t try and convince you this is the vacation for you (it is). I will simply pass along my advice and you can choose to accept, ignore, or third party your way through this advice in the way of your choosing. I’m not an official WDW Travel Agent (though you’ll hear from one later in the series).  I’m just a girl, standing in front of a mouse, asking him to recognize her love. Let’s dive in.

WHEN TO GO?!

WDW is alive in Spring, when flowers are blooming and trellises are shaped like Lightning McQueen. WDW is hauntingly perfect in Fall, when Mickey jack-o-lanterns adorn basically every open space. WDW is magical at Christmas, with trees and decor that would make even the smallest Grinch heart grow three sizes.  WDW is crazy in the summer because the entire world is there and the air is so humid you can basically eat it but it is STILL wonderful because they do not skimp on the A/C.

So… When can you go? You can have a fantastic vacation regardless of the time of year. If you can swing it, I would recommend trying to go during “non-peak” times. This may mean pulling your kids out of school (if they are in school) or staying home on Spring Break to save money for a vacation in September. Or February. Not only are lines shorter and shorter crowds smaller during the non-peak times, but it is during these times when Disney is prepared to offer its greatest discounts, one of the favorites being free dining.

Yes, free dining means your meals are free. The amount of free meals you receive depends on where you’re staying (unless you choose to upgrade the plan you’re comped), but believe me, Disney food does not disappoint. Instead of raving about it here, I’m going to refer you to The Disney Food Blog, where you can get lost for a hours in a virtual wormhole of Dole Whips, Mickey pretzels, cupcakes, Mickey waffles, and any other snack your heart didn’t even know it wanted. And you’ll hear more about Disney food next week!

The catch… to earn free dining (or many other Disney-offered discounts), you have to stay on the Disney property. Which leads us to…

Jason enjoying a “LaFou’s Brew” in the Magic Kingdom.

WHERE TO STAY?!

Seriously though, you should stay on property. There are various “levels” of resorts, from value to deluxe. The value resorts will still run you $100-$200 a night, depending on season. Moderate resorts are generally $150-$300, and Deluxe resorts generally start around $300 and climb from there. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel, and the good people at AllEars have a fantastic website for accommodations (and just about everything else, if you’re getting really deep into trip planning), so check them out if you want more detail (and lots of pictures!).

For what it’s worth, Jason and I stayed at a moderate resort on our honeymoon (oh yes, we are those people… Come on, are you really surprised?) but every other time we have stayed at a value resort. The moderate and deluxe resorts are gorgeous and quiet, but when it comes down to it, we’re only using our room to collapse in at the end of the day. The value resorts serve that purpose well.

Staying at a Disney resort has other benefits — all transportation is covered for your stay, including a complimentary bus ride to and from the Orlando airport. Those staying on property can also easily send souvenirs back to their rooms free of charge and enjoy extended park hours.

HOW LONG SHOULD YOU STAY?!

This comes down to what you can make work. I would recommend — at the least — a four day park hopper pass, if you want to see it all (in general). You have options when buying tickets — a “base ticket” allows you to visit one park (non-water park) per day. A “park hopper” allows you to visit multiple (non-water) parks in a day. One day ticket prices seem steep (and they aren’t cheap, I’m being honest), but the ticket prices become more reasonable the longer you stay. For an adult during “regular season” (March 11-31, May 27-31, June 1-30, July 1-23,  November 20-27, and December 2-31) a one-day ticket costs $117.15, but for a four day pass, the cost is $346.13, making each “day” cost roughly $86. More info on ticket prices can be found at The Mouse for Less.

So are you hooked yet? Mildly interested? Already a Disney fan looking for a fix wherever the Internet will give you one? Tune in next week for a more in depth look at the individual theme parks inside Walt Disney World and a brief glimpse at the joy and delight that is WDW FOOD!

Thanks for indulging my fantasy to write about Walt Disney World. Have a magical day!