Variety Is the Spice Of Life!

I know the last few posts have been a lot about organizing and feeling pulled together, and not much about Haiti specifically. Though, if you can step back and come in the back door, it’s all about Haiti. Haiti and life here, is what drives me to this place because it’s what helps keep my sanity.

So, yesterday I mentioned that I’ve been working on more variety, especially with breakfast. As I said, we eat a lot of eggs in the morning because they’re easy and one of the more inexpensive food options here. We get a flat (30 eggs) for about $4.50 – about $1.80/dz. I usually try to have about 2 flats in the house per week, which I use for meals and baking, unless we have visitors. If that’s the case I get more accordingly.

I also mentioned yesterday that Olivia doesn’t really like eggs because of some bad experiences with an early morning gag reflex. She will eat the white part if they’re poached or hard boiled, and will eat quiche. This is one of those things we don’t force because she has good reason to not want to eat them. In her case if we’re just having eggs & bacon, for example, I’ll cook her bacon and pop a piece or two of bread in the toaster and give her jam and peanut butter on it.

I only actually started planning breakfast meals a few months ago. I was getting bored with eating almost the same thing every morning, and so was everyone else. I also wanted to lower our grocery costs a bit, so while we splurge a bit and regularly have bacon in the house, I wanted to cut back on how much we used.

While I wanted more variety with breakfast, let’s face it, it’s breakfast. Breakfast is not supper, so variety is good, but it doesn’t need to be a different thing every morning. What I ended up doing was coming up with two weeks worth of meals and I just alternate them. It looks like this:

Breakfast Menu JPEG

OYO (On Your Own)
On weekends Chris still wakes up early, but he lets me sleep as long as I want to, which usually is only until about 6:30-7:00 am because my body is so tuned to getting up early. The point is, I don’t have to be up at a certain time and can catch up on a bit of rest, especially if Alex has been up a lot during the night through the week. We start work at 6 am, so there’s no room for sleeping in even if I’ve been up multiple times and am working on 5-6 hours of sleep. (As and aside, he slept for the ENTIRE night last night!!! First time in a long time. I think he was so worn out from being down in the yard all day that he slept like the dead. In fact, I checked him a couple times to make sure he was still breathing because he hadn’t even moved around in his bed!)

On weekend mornings I try to make sure there’s easy stuff around, like cereal, that Chris can just throw together for the kids so they don’t turn into little crazy people.

Oatmeal
Yesterday I mentioned that we don’t eat a lot of oatmeal, even though I know it has great health benefits. The problem is that it doesn’t keep either Chris or I feeling full for very long. It’s not a huge problem, but if I know we’ll be traveling, for example, I’ll choose to swap this out with something that I know has more protein in it just because it’ll help us stay full longer.

Breakfast Sandwiches
We love breakfast sandwiches! You can change them up in so many ways. Bread (toast), biscuits, English muffins, croissants… so many options just in the outsides. Sometimes we have them with just a scrambled egg and a bit of cheese. I might put some bacon in it, or if we’ve had deli meat in the house I might fry a slice of ham to go along with the egg and cheese. I like mine with a few slices of raw onion too. Pretty versatile, and also an easy meal to take on the go if you have to. Just wrap it up in a paper towel.

Poached Eggs On Toast
We love Eggs Benedict, but let’s face it – high calories! I do make it from scratch as a special treat from time to time. Because we couldn’t get English muffins here until I started making my own, I substituted a piece of bread. When I wanted to do a healthier version I discovered that a poached egg or two on a slice of toast with a smear of cream cheese was delish! If we have it (as in, we’ve done a grocery run in Port) I might saute some fresh spinach and do a slice of toast and cream cheese, the spinach, then the poached eggs with salt, pepper and a sprinkle of dill. I like my eggs a bit soft and I like to cut them up so the yolk runs. SO good. This is actually one of my favorite breakfasts, and I was really excited when my parents came because my mom brought me a second egg poacher insert so I can cook eggs for all of us at once.

Breakfast Bake
This can be any kind of breakfast bake, with any ingredients I have around the house. Maybe it’s more like a fritata one week, and baked french toast the next. It’s flexible.

I save the Breakfast Bake and Pancakes for Friday’s because Olivia doesn’t have school, which means a bit more time in the morning and less running around and managing. It means I can spend more time focusing on breakfast.

Waffles
Waffles? There aren’t any waffles on the list… Ah, yes grasshopper, you are correct. But, we eat them!

I had been wanting a waffle iron for years, so I finally bit the bullet and got one before Christmas. I don’t plan to make waffles on any given morning because it’s time consuming. Waffles are one of those meals you make when you have time to sit and visit and no where to go. Each one takes about 5 minutes to cook, so it’s a time commitment. That said, what I DO do is make up a double batch of batter and spend a few hours every couple of weeks cooking them all up, then I let them cool and I break them into quarters, dump them in a big Ziploc bag and freeze them. In the morning when I need something else for Olivia, or on weekends when we want a quick breakfast for the kids, I just take the bag out of the freezer, pop a quarter in each toaster slot and push town the handle. The toaster makes them nice and crispy again, just like a waffle should be. The kids love them and so do we. So, while they aren’t on the rotation, we do actually eat them as a supplement instead of toast, or on their own as a meal.

So that’s my basic Breakfast Menu Plan. I will say that it changes regularly based on the season we’re in as a family. If something isn’t working, I ditch it and replace it with something else. Because the ingredients are simple and stuff we have on hand most days, if I feel like changing it up I do. Even things like Daylight Savings affect it because it means adjusting the start of our work day. My whole goal is to have some place to start so that when I get up bleary eyed I don’t have to be grasping for ideas or trying to think. Chris and I are working together to eliminate stress first thing in the morning so we can all have a good start to the day, and this is part of that.

~Leslie

These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things – Part 1

Chris and I are now what most people here consider “lifers”. As in, we’ve been here for more than a few years, and we have no plans of leaving any time soon. This is home for us and our family. Frequently we find ourselves in conversations with newer missionaries in the field about how to “do life” here over the long term, especially with a young family. We’ve actually run the gauntlet, so to speak, of establishing ourselves here in Haiti. Chris was here and single for about 3 years before I moved. We had just started dating a month before that, so we did the dating in the field thing, then got engaged, and navigated life as newlyweds when I had no idea how to even cook with half of the stuff available (or not) to us. Eventually Olivia entered the picture and we figured out how to be first time parents while processing an adoption. Throw in some major trauma situations and another baby, and well, here we are. And we’re still standing. We feel stronger than we did years ago, and life feels calmer and more “normal” than it did back then. Because of all those things though, people often look to us as a couple, as a family, and as missionaries, as a resource.

With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to put together a “Leslie’s Favorite Things” post. Now, please know that none of the things on this list are specific to missions or life overseas. They’re all things that I’m just really loving right now. It might be that they save us money, time or just make life work better. Without further ado…

1. My Kitchenaid Mixer

I was actually give the glass bowl as an early birthday present when I got my mixer and I love having it! It has a plastic lid so you can mix and cover, and it’s HUGE!

I was at my weekly ladies Bible study a while back, and we got into talking about Kitchenaid mixers. One of my friends blurted out, “Come on, we all know that one of the best reasons to get married is so you can put a Kitchenaid mixer on the gift registry!” She’s hilarious on any given day and while she was completely joking, we all laughed knowing that there was a small grain of truth to it. It’s one of those appliances that is considered an investment that will, hopefully, be in your kitchen for the next 20 years, but you can never really justify spending the money on yourself. Last year I was having a hard time thinking of what to ask for from Chris and my parents for Christmas. I just threw out the idea of them going in on a gift together and getting me one. Long story short, because of some financial issues before the holidays I gave up the thought because I knew we just couldn’t afford it. Let’s just say that when I opened the box on Christmas morning there were tears.

Henry (Yes, I named him. No, I have no idea why it’s a “he” and he’s called Henry.) now sits on our counter and I use him every single week for something. I’ve since tucked away several other small appliances, like a hand mixer, because my Kitchenaid can do it all. I love that I can put stuff in it, turn it on, and let it work while I’m wiping and cleaning up, or prepping other things. Pinterest is great for finding recipes that let you make things at home rather than buying pre-packaged versions in the store. While I like the idea of cutting out preservatives and hard to pronounce ingredients, for us it’s more about general availability and the fact that most imported foods cost double what they would back home, so we just don’t buy them. Case in point – with my mixer I can make homemade marshmallows. We can’t hardly find them here, and when we do, they’re usually all gooey in the bag and not much good for anything other than melting. And, now that I’ve made homemade ones we’ve kind of turned into marshmallow snobs. Cresent rolls, English muffins, tortillas… I could go on. I just love my mixer!

2. Stainless Steel BIG French Press

We’ve been using a french press to make coffee for years. Because we work on a battery and inverter system we do whatever we can to conserve power. Having a french press means we don’t need to run and leave a coffee maker on in the morning. And, lets face it, french press coffee is fabulous. Last year, after going through at least one glass beaker french press per year I decided to buy a stainless steel one. Aside from no longer having to worry about bumping it or dropping it and potential breakage issues, it was double walled so coffee stayed warmer, longer. The only problem was that we would only get 2 1/3 cups of coffee out of it. It wasn’t terrible when it was just Chris and I, but some mornings I really wanted a second cup. The frustration was when we had guests and I had to make two or three pots to keep everyone in their caffeine fix. I did some sleuthing and found this bad boy:

Click on the picture to go to the Amazon listing.

48 ounces of french press heaven! It’s literally like a thermos with a french press plunger. It makes 4 large mugs of coffee when filled all the way up, which all french press users know is a LOT of coffee, and it keeps it warm for a long time! Just this morning, about 3 hours after the coffee was made I poured a second cup and it was still steaming. We LOVE it. When Chris’ parents were here it was so nice to make one or two pots in an entire morning, rather than a bunch. And, I don’t have to worry about not getting a second cup!

Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow!

~Leslie

My Mom Journey: Dealing With the Weight

It’s been a long time since I posted a “My Mom Journey” post. I’m putting todays post under that category because really, it completely affects how I mother.

Since puberty I’ve had weight issues. I come from tall genes on one side, and Ukrainian genes on another. They’re known as what we all like to call “big boned” people. I’m 5’10”, so I actually carry my weight a lot differently than most people with the same number of pounds on their frame. That’s good and bad. Good in the sense that a higher number on the scale is normal for someone of my stature. Bad in the sense that it’s easier to let that number creep up because it doesn’t look the same as someone who might be even 3 inches shorter than me. And there in lies the problem. The creeping.

Through my life my weight has slowly crept up. I don’t come from an athletic family. My dad is 6’4″ and his whole life heard comments about what a fabulous basket ball player he must be – except he is the first person to admit how awkward he looked as a teenager while running. So no, not a sports family. I grew up playing outside, but the only team sport I ever played was a couple seasons of soft ball.

My weight has always been a self esteem issue, like most people that struggle with their weight. But, in my case, I’m not a binge eater or struggle with major eating disorders. While my weight bothers me, it’s not the only thing that identifies me. Rather, it’s a problem that I’ve been too lazy to do anything about consistently. I have started several times, only to peter out after a while and go right back to my bad habits of eating portions way bigger than I need to, and doing very little activity. It doesn’t help that I actually really love food. I love the taste, the experience and the process of making it. Food is emotional for me in that it comforts and I use it to celebrate.

People who have gone through major weight loss tend to tell you that they finally got to a point where something just “clicked” for them, and the decision to do something about it finally stuck.

A few weeks ago I finally got to that point. And it wasn’t this big epiphany, it was more like, “Okay, this is it.” I know getting there has actually been a process full of thought for me. Because I’ve tried several things in the past I knew certain things just weren’t for me. Stuff like:

  • I hate counting calories. It actually has adverse effects for me when I see large numbers, even if the food is healthy. I feel guilty. It’s strange, but that’s the way it is. And yet, most often the most successful weight loss stories all have calorie counting in common. I get the principle and agree with it, but it’s incredibly hard mentally for me.
  • I hate feeling deprived. Any program where I’m told I can’t possibly eat the foods that I like because they will cause some sort of derailment in my weight loss only leads to disaster. As in, I get to a breaking point where I don’t just fall off the wagon, I throw myself off the side, roll under the back wheel and get left in a dust cloud.
  • I have really lousy will power. I need something that is encouraging, not boot camp style where I feel like I’m not hitting the mark because I miss a work out or something like that.

Over the summer the reality hit me that I was missing out on certain things with our kids because I literally felt like I couldn’t do them. I don’t feel comfortable running, so even running after my kids for some reason is always a check point. What if there was an emergency? Could I respond fast enough? When I had to honestly answer that I didn’t think I could, it was a wake up moment. What about the kinds of activities we can do as a family when we’re on vacation? Is my weight limiting us? The answer is yes. We don’t have a lot of cash to spend on the fun things, so we need to make our own fun. So many free activities revolve around being physical, and yet I was the one not wanting to do those because I didn’t feel I could. That’s a problem. How many experiences are my kids missing, even if it’s just something simple like walking around town and exploring? And lastly, I’m trying to teach my kids how to have a healthy relationship with food at a young age, but what example am I setting? If I tell them they don’t have to clear their plates, but rather can stop when they feel full, yet can’t do the same thing for myself, they will eventually notice that. And how do I tell them that they need to ask themselves if they’re really hungry, versus being bored, when they ask for a snack, if I’m snacking because I’m bored or have an emotional hole that needs filling? I don’t want to be hypocritical.

So, what did I do?

I joined Weight Watchers online. And you know what? It’s working for me, and most of all – I LOVE IT!

This is why:

  • I love the point system. For me this is so much better than tracking calories, yet it’s essentially the same thing. I get a daily allotment of points based on my current BMI (body mass index) that was calculated when I signed up. Tracking points feels like a game, so I don’t mind doing it every day. And, I was able to download the app for my iPhone and our iPad, so it’s easy to track things on whichever device I’m in front of, and it updates to my account so it’s the same right across the board. No need to try and remember things for when I’m in front of my computer.
  • Fruits and veggies are “free” foods, with the exception of a couple things like avocados which have a lot of great things in them, but also have a higher fat content. The point is that WW encourages the eating of as much fruit and veggies as you can during the day, so they encourage you to go to those foods first because they’re the most nutritious. Knowing that those things are a zero point value, I do find myself going to those as options first before something else.
  • You can eat what you want, as long as it falls in your point allowance for the day. I just have to make sure I track it. I haven’t felt deprived at all. If I want a treat, like a piece of cake at a missionary meeting, I eat it, track it, then choose other lower point foods for the rest of the day.
  • There are a ton of great tools like an activity tracker that gives you extra points to use, a recipe builder that calculates the points in a serving, and helpful articles and a community to get connected to – if you want to.
  • It’s affordable. Depending on where you live, the cost is about $20/month. For some reason a couple years ago I thought the cost was higher, so I didn’t consider WW. I’m sad I didn’t now. Rather than look at it as an expense, I’m looking at it as an investment into my health and the life of our family, and in that frame of mind it’s well worth it.

What I’m learning…

Wow. So many things! Chris just saw the title of the post and asked how being on WW affects me as a mom. This is how…

How food affects me. I seriously had no idea just how much what I was eating was affecting me. I knew that there were emotional issues because I felt cruddy about my weight in general, but I had no idea how certain types of foods were affecting my overall mood and how my body felt.

In the last year I’ve been feeling more overwhelmed with life in general. I’m kind of in a fog and not feeling really productive. I felt cranky most days, and would be on edge. Excessive noise would bother me, and I had a hard time feeling calm.

Since I’ve been eating better and not eating as much refined foods like pasta, or carb dense foods like rice, bread etc I’ve noticed a BIG change. When I have eaten those things I’ve quickly seen how those foods hit me. I get really tired for an hour or so after eating pasta, for example. This past week was a training class, so I wasn’t cooking but rather eating a LOT of rice and carb heavy foods. I’ve felt bloated and tired and cranky again.

When I’m making healthier choices I feel calmer. Last night for example, Alex was waiting for dinner and threw his plate on the floor. I was on edge and the noise startled me really badly. I hadn’t felt that way in the past couple of weeks, but had been feeling that way before I started eating better. The first thought in my mind was the realization that I wasn’t feeling calm, and I knew it was because my body was struggling.

Being accountable with myself. The point tracking is working for me. In the past when I’ve tracked calories, because of my weird mental relationship with them, I would find I felt guilty at times, and would skimp on the right portion amounts so I wouldn’t have to see the high number. Or, eventually I would just stop tracking.

This past week I made it a goal to track everything I was eating, as best as I could. I recognized that even while I wasn’t doing the cooking I had some idea of what was in things. I made a great effort to get as close as possible with things in the tracker, to enter the proper quantities of what I was eating, and account for how Haitians cook – like literally adding a tablespoon of oil to a meal in the tracker because I knew what I was eating was grease filled. And then after all that, I gave myself some grace.

What I found was once I knew what the point value was for, say, a cup of rice, I could eat a right amount for my hunger and stay very close to my point allowance. Knowing that it was a week full of heavy point meals, and frankly, heavy meals period, I didn’t snack much but rather left my points for meals instead.

I also paid attention to how I was feeling on a different diet, and the information gathered is really useful! I’ve come to realize that it’s more worth it to feel good, to be in a good mood, and to be able to deal with life better than it was to stuff myself. At the end of the week all I want is good food. Seriously, I made a big salad last night, and this morning there wasn’t a starch in sight when I made breakfast. My body doesn’t want it right now.

All through the week I really worked hard at being accountable with myself. And I’m proud of myself for getting through the week, not feeling guilty, and doing a good job! I really am proud. I feel good about staying on track in a difficult food situation. And, it’s one week! Why should I let one week determine my success or failure?

Learning portion sizes. This is probably one of my biggest struggles, and has lead to the most pounds gained. For most of my life I’ve eaten with my head, not with my stomach. As in, if I think it’s the right amount of food or it tastes good, I will let that override any messages my body might be sending me about what it needs, or when to stop. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat at a table and chosen to take more, even though I felt full, simply because I thought something like, “It tastes really good, a little more won’t do anything bad,” or, “I might not have this again for a really long time. Better eat it while I can!”

Now that I’m having to be very conscious about portion sizes I’m learning what my body needs to function. What my heart might need is an entirely different thing. Food is for energy and nourishment, not to fill any emotional void.

I’ve switched to using smaller plates when I eat, so that visually my brain sees a full plate of food. That makes a difference for me. It also helps with not feeling deprived.

I am measuring things. What does a cup of macaroni and cheese look like? Or 3 oz of steak? For years I had told myself that I knew, but the truth was, I had no clue. I was lying to myself.

The really interesting thing is that I’m feeling full. I look at the big plates in our cupboard and think, “Those look huge!” and wonder why I felt the need to fill them. Yes, I’ve felt hungry, but it’s a good kind of hungry. The truth is, rarely in the last few years have I allowed my body to feel hunger. And, I’m realizing my body needs less food than I thought it did – if I’m making good choices about the type of food I put into it. Things that used to be the foods that gave me comfort, like cheese and pasta, are slowly doing that less, and I’m happy about that.

Learning to be gracious with myself. I have a lot of weight to lose to get to a healthy weight. That can be very overwhelming when I look at the big picture. Thankfully WW focuses on smaller goals. I’ve been feeling encouraged when I see the scale going down, and being able to see how close I’m getting to the first goal of losing 15lbs.

But, after this week and eating what I have, I gained a bit. Rather than feeling guilty though, I can see the situation for what it is – a time where I was in a situation where I didn’t have the healthiest options in front of me. I can see how that has affected me emotionally, and most of all, I can feel  what that has done to my body. I know I’m bloated up right now, and that while the number on the scale when I weighed in wasn’t what I wanted to see, I can accept it. But, I know that I had a lot stacked against me this week, and I’m choosing to be gracious with myself and focus on the things that are good and working. I tracked everything, everyday. I was conscious about portion sizes. I tried to account for the extra oil. I did some gardening so I got some activity in, and those points earned went towards days where my points may have been over. I paid attention to how I was feeling after eating this way.

The biggest thing is, I know that today is a new day and I can make choices today. I don’t feel defeated like I have in the past, and I don’t feel like all is lost or that I’m just done. Rather, I spent today planning some good, healthy meals and am working on getting back to feeding my body healthy food. Chris and I have talked about what we can change on the class week menu too, so that we’re all eating better through the week.

Getting excited about healthy food. In the past I got frustrated with other plans because we live overseas. I don’t have access to “light” foods. I don’t have access to many of the brand name things that get included in calorie counters. It’s not always possible to eliminate certain kinds of food from my diet.

One of the great things about WW is that it’s fabulous for people like me who love to cook. Most of what we eat is from scratch simply because if I don’t make it, we don’t have access to it. With WW I can input my recipes, how many portions it makes, and get a point value for it that I can use any time I eat it. That’s hugely helpful. And for some reason the recipe builder is just easier to use than others I’ve tried.

Most of our produce is from right here in Haiti, and because most farmers can’t afford it, they don’t use chemicals or pesticides – so most of it is organic. We have a really good variety of stuff available to us as well, and because Yonese has worked for our family for a long time she’s really good at shopping. If she sees something I’ve forgotten to put on the list or she knows we like it, she buys it along with everything else. Our juice is homemade, so we can control how much sugar is in it. Our coffee is hand roasted on site. Our meat is so lean I have to literally add oil to the pan when frying ground beef or it sticks like crazy. We have an endless supply of beans, and a variety of grains. There is really no excuse for us to not eat fabulously healthy meals.

I’ve found myself in a cooking rut lately. I meal plan, but tend to make the same things every month. With focusing on how many points are in food, I’m finding that I want to try new things and see what I can incorporate that I may not have before. I should mention that typically Chris is a meat and potatoes guy, Olivia has recently decided there are things that she doesn’t like, and Alex will eat most things. I’ve already recognized that this isn’t just about me. I’m not going to be cooking separate meals for myself than I do for the rest of the family. So, I need to find good, healthy choices that are tasty and something we’ll all enjoy. I love Pinterest for this! Seriously, there are a wealth of fabulous healthy recipes on there. Even though we don’t see the same seasonal changes here as we would back home, I’m very aware of the fact that it’s September and my brain is all over pumpkin (Haiti’s variety is a cross between a cooking pumpkin and an acorn/butternut squash – super versatile!) and things like stews and soups.

While I’m thinking about the kinds of food I’m eating, I’m also paying attention to how I feel afterwards. I love that in the tracker on WW you can write in how you felt after a certain meal. Did I feel full? Tired? Being aware of those things is helping me to make better choices too. For example, oatmeal is great for our bodies, but it doesn’t keep me full for more than a couple of hours. Knowing that, I can pair up a portion of oatmeal so I’m getting the benefits of it, with a hard boiled egg for the protein that my body needs to feel satisfied longer.

Not hiding. I think anyone that battles weight issues feels shame about talking about them to some degree. It’s cultural. Our North American culture looks down on people who aren’t thin. We tell ourselves it’s all about health, but there are healthy, active people who have more meat on their bones, and there are thin people who have major health issues. I think living in a different culture has caused me to look at my body differently. In Haiti, being bigger is often looked at as a good thing. It says, “I can afford to eat well.” When we got engaged, Haitians congratulated Chris on finding a big woman as a wife. Sometimes I cried, but then got to the point where I knew it was a complement. In Haitian culture it meant Chris could afford to take care of me well. It’s also not abnormal for me to get comments on how beautiful I am, and it’s very normal to see larger women sporting bikini’s here. It makes me realize that the version of “beautiful” that I grew up with is off in many ways because it teaches people to be insecure, rather than confident in who they are as a person, not just in how they look.

Typically I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing everything in this post with many people. But, you know what? I want to. This time I don’t want to be ashamed because I might be worried about what will happen if I struggle along the way. I want friends and family to know so that I don’t have to explain why I might not eat something. I want them to be able to ask how I’m doing and to be able to answer honestly, even when I might be struggling. I guess I just want to be real and to stop hiding behind what’s sitting around my butt, and let my heart speak.

I’m grateful for a couple of friends who wanted to buddy up on facebook, so we can share our personal journeys to getting healthy. We’re all in different places, in different circumstances, with different goals. But, we can support each other by checking in every week and sharing where we’re at – whatever that may be! Yesterday I also shared the fact that I’ve joined WW with a friend here in country who also wants to lose weight. It felt good to share and talk about it, what was hard, what’s working and to be able to encourage each other, and to open the door for that in the future. I’m realizing that one of the mistakes I made in the past was trying to keep my attempt at losing weight a secret, mostly because I was afraid I would fail. If I did struggle there was no one to help me pick myself up, so it was much easier to let it go all together.

I’m so grateful for Chris through this. We’ve had a lot of learning lessons along the way about how we talk about my weight. He’s had to learn that certain things are difficult for me, and I’ve had to learn to communicate those. When I told him I signed up for WW do you know what his response was? The first thing he said was that he was proud of me. The second thing he said was, “Tell me what I can do to be supportive and helpful. If I say something stupid, let me know. If I complain about what we’re eating as a family, tell me to shut up.” I *may* have cried right about then because I knew he meant it. And he’s kept saying it. When I have a good day I can tell him. And when I learn something, I get to share that and see his encouragement. When I’m feeling different like I am right now, we’re talking about those things. I’ve recognized that this process is going to be a big life change for me, and if he’s not a part of that, then we’ll be strangers. But, it takes me being vulnerable through that process, even when I’m struggling and not feeling good. The great thing is that those are the times where he’s saying, “It’s great that you’re seeing those things. Now you know how to do this better.” And I love him for it. Heck, I made vegetarian black bean burgers to have in the freezer for when I need an easy meal for myself and he asked when we get to have them for dinner. He hates cooked vegetables. That’s love.

This is a journey for me, and it’s one that affects every part of who I am and how I parent. I don’t want to hide it, but rather be able to share progress, what I’m learning etc. Especially because I’m doing it in the mission field. How exactly, does that work??? I’ll try to share updates regularly (maybe monthly, or something like that?!?).

Time to go cook dinner! I hope you all have a great week.

~Leslie

My Mom Journey: Meal Planning

Have I ever mentioned how much I love food? Seriously. For some people, food is just something that gives their body energy, and from a weight gain perspective, I’m jealous of that. For others, others like me, food is an experience. God decided to give me extra taste buds in my mouth (fact!) which gives me heightened taste receptors. I can be called a “super taster”, if you will. Because of that thing foods either taste super good, or super yuck. There are fruits here, for example, that can be tart and sweet at the same time. Chris and Olivia love them, but when I eat them, I pucker up and shake my head no. Too intense!

Because of things like my super taste buds, if I’m going to eat something, I want it to be yummy. Also, cooking is something I enjoy doing – most of the time. Feeding people is one of my spiritual gifts! Just kidding. But, in reality, I love that something I enjoy doing can not only nourish peoples bodies, it can nourish their souls too. All of our missionary friends get excited when we have them over for dinner because it’s a treat for them, even if I make something simple like spaghetti, and I love that we can love on our friends this way. One time our board of directors even made a comment about the fact that it was really a part of Chris and I’s ministry to the other missionaries in our area and that they loved that we did it (which is great because the mission covers most of our food budget!). I loved that they saw the value of it and encouraged it.

That said though, the whole process of cooking here can be challenging. It requires planning – lots of it. Most of the produce in Haiti is sold in the open market, and there are certain days of the week that are “market day” in each area. On those days marchands will come from all over to sell what they have. On non “market days” there are still people selling, you just don’t find the same variety that you would on a “market day”. In our area Thursday is our big market day, so each week we send Yonese to go get all of our fresh produce. We can get quite a good variety in our area, though some things you can only find in Port au Prince. Aside from fruit and veggies, we also get our eggs and fresh milk from the market, and most grains like beans, rice, flour,corn meal, sugar etc. We can also get these things in the stores locally, and often due if we’re running out before market day, but it’s less expensive to buy them in the market.

Other things like condiments, meat, cheese, etc are bought in the local small grocery stores. We used to do a big shop about once a month in Port, but since the beginning of this year one of the local grocery stores has been bringing in a wider variety of things and will even order meat in for us that they don’t sell in the store on a regular basis. Because of this we hardly ever have to shop in Port anymore, which is a huge time saver. The trip up to the grocery store itself could mean an hour in traffic each way.

Even if I need something from the store, it’s a 20 minute drive each way. We try to use our trips to pick Olivia up from school to do any shopping in town that we need to do, but again, that takes planning.

So, how do I put it all together so that life is actually simpler, rather than more complicated in an already complicated situation?

I meal plan!

I started doing this several years ago and it helped us immensely in so many ways.

First off, I really don’t love trying to figure out what to make for dinner at 4 pm. We get up really early and our work day starts at 6 am, so by the time late afternoon rolls around my brain is done for the day. Trying to figure out what to make for dinner with what I have on hand sucks. So I stopped doing it.

Secondly, food here is expensive. By meal planning I can buy what we need, not just random items that may or may not get thrown into something else. I realized we would have things we would eat regularly, and the things that seemed like a good idea at the time would either sit on a shelf, or die in the fridge. By meal planning I can buy what I know we’ll use and that’s it. Because the mission pays for our food as a small stipend, we want to be as effective as possible with how we spend that money. There’s always room for improvement, and I’m always looking at how we can not only eat healthier, but also cheaper. Meal planning has been a huge help in this department.

How do I do it?

I try to keep things pretty simple. I actually meal plan a month at a time, rather than weekly. This just works better for me because a week here can get busy and then I realize that I haven’t done it and things all fall apart. By taking about an hour once a month I can plan the whole month and its all ready to go.

I start by using a blank calendar page. Computer programs like Publisher have blank templates that you can use, or you could just make a simple table with enough boxes for 5 weeks and print it off. The one I use right now is actually a little calendar notepad thingie that I found in a dollar store. No dates, just days of the week.

I start by writing in the dates. After that I make little notes about anything special, like days where I know we’ll have visitors. This is important for me because when we have people in I have to cook a higher quantity of food, and I need to plan for lunches which is something I don’t typically do because we just eat leftovers or scrounge for something else. I also cook differently when we have people in. I learned several years ago that while I might want to cook something special, it’s often more of a time suck, and our days are already full with hosting duties. Keeping things simple during those times means it’s less meal prep time for me, I have more energy and the time I’m not using for cooking is time I can actually spend with our guests. Also, by keeping meals simple there are opportunities for people to help me out in the kitchen, which provides more time to connect.

After I note all that stuff I write in three things each week: Ryan Cooks, Leftovers and Chris Cooks.

Yep. The guys each cook one night per week. This wasn’t something I asked or demanded. When things started getting busier Chris asked if he cook take one night of cooking for me, and I said yes. I don’t care what he cooks, I just love that he does it. Usually it’s something simple like baked potatoes. But the important thing is that I don’t have to do it. When Ryan came we found out that he enjoys cooking and he offered to take one night per week. Ryan does Tuesdays and Chris does Fridays.

Leftovers…

Yes, I actually schedule a leftover night each Wednesday. We started to realize we were throwing out too much food because we weren’t eating it all. Aside from cutting down on how much I was cooking, I decided to add a leftover night like I had seen on organizing blog. Because Thursday is market day, we do leftover night on Wednesday. This helps us clean out the fridge and then I can see what we really need as far as produce, etc. Sometimes there aren’t many leftovers in the fridge, so occasionally I have to come up with a quick dinner idea in its place, but I’m okay with that. This morning, for example, I looked in the fridge to take stock, and while there are some leftovers, there aren’t enough to make a meal for 5 so I’m going to whip something else up – but I’ll be using up a bunch of the veggies in the crisper before they go bad to do it. I also know that we’ll eat up the leftovers that are there in the next two days just by feeding the kids lunch.

So, when all of those things are added in I only have to plan four dinners per week. On the side of my fridge I keep a list of all the meals that we enjoy eating so I don’t stagnate and just cook the same things over and over. A couple months ago I went through my cookbook that I have where I can add recipes in. It’s a just a photo album divided into sections. I took out anything that I a) knew I hadn’t ever made, or hadn’t made in a very long time, probably because it wasn’t a hit; and b) anything that I knew I would have trouble making here either because of time investment, ingredients, or because someone in our family just doesn’t like it. No sense in keeping something I’m not going to use when something I will use could be in that space. I made sure all my recipes were laminated and organized. Things had gotten a bit crazy because I just kept printing things and shoving them in the front cover. After I cleaned up the book, I updated the fridge list.

On my list things are divided into sections by the meat involved. Things that need ground beef go under one section, regular beef under another. Chicken dishes with rice are in one section and all other chicken dishes in another. Pasta, fish, soups and other ethnic or veggie based dishes in their own categories.

When I plan meals I like to spread things out and try to do chicken once a week, some type of beef another night, and even aim for a meat free night when I can. On a meat free night I might make soup and bread or something bean based like rice, beans and tortillas. Or it might be grilled cheese!

Once I have everything done on my paper version, I transfer it to the white board calendar stuck on my fridge. This way it’s out where everyone can see it, and I can change anything that needs to be changed if needed.

For planning purposes I also have a white board on the other side of our fridge that I took a permanent marker to. I divided it in half with a simple line, and on one side at the top I wrote “Market” and on the other “Store”. Now, I can look at the coming week and write down the things we need to buy. If it’s fresh stuff, grains, milk etc it goes on the “market” side. Other things that we need to get from the store go, you guessed it, on the “store” side! With three adults cooking through the week and people coming and going I got tired of forgetting things on my list when I went to shop, so I put the board up and the house rule is that if you know it needs to be replaced, either because it’s running low or it’s completely out – it goes on the list. It’s helped so much! We were having some magnet issues in the past couple weeks and I was getting annoyed because it wasn’t staying where I had put it. I was feeling out of sorts and unorganized so yesterday I did something about it and life is all better again!

I do want to mention that I like to keep a regular stock of what I would call “pantry essentials” on hand. For me it includes things like all my regular baking supplies, tomato paste (pasta sauce, pizza sauce etc), basic condiments, coffee, a couple different kinds of pasta noodles, oil, vinegar, and spices. Again, because going to get groceries is at least a 20 minute drive, and somethings aren’t available in our area, I stock up. For example, if I know I need flour, which comes in small 5lb bags, I’ll buy two – one to refill the plastic container in the kitchen and one to refill. I hate it when I feel like cooking or baking something and then run out of an ingredient half way, so I try to avoid that because I can’t just run out to get what I need to finish up. I do go through periods where I realize we have certain things piling up, like I did last week, so I then make an effort to use those things. For example, I had two and a half bags of oatmeal, and decided to make granola. Typically I wouldn’t have used that much oatmeal to make a batch of granola, but when I started I realized I was out of oat flour, so I whipped one and a half bags up in the blender to make my oat flour. All good!

The other reason I keep certain things on hand is because I want to be able to whip up a quick meal if we end up having company. As I mentioned, I cook differently when we have visitors. I pre-portion things like chicken and beef, so when we have company of maybe two extra people I might decide against chicken because for us right now a pre-portioned bag is 8 pieces (4 thighs, 4 drums) and 16 pieces of chicken is way too much chicken for 7 people! In that situation I might decided to make a pot of spaghetti with salad. We always have stuff for salad on hand, and I usually try to keep the makings for spaghetti on hand too. It’s just an easy meal that I can do on the fly. By having certain things on hand I can be ready for something spontaneous in a place where most things require a lot of planning and work.

I want to say something else about meal planning, and that’s the fact that it helps sort things out when you have a pick eater. In our house I go by the same rule that I grew up with, which was that you ate what was put before you. My mom tried to account for certain things, like my brothers hate of certain veggies, but for the most part we ate what was before us, even if we didn’t love it. I want to raise our kids with the mindset of trying something before you decide if you don’t like it, and to be polite when someone else prepares a meal for you. I don’t force them to eat things they don’t like other than taking a couple bits to be sure they don’t like it. Olivia used to be less picky than she is now, so typically I make her take a bite or two then leave it. Sometimes she ends up liking something that she thought looked gross, and other times she doesn’t. Chris is my really picky eater. He would live on meat and potatoes in any form if he could. When we first got married he wouldn’t hardly touch most veggies. How does a person meal plan for that???

Well, I remember that Chris is one person in our family. While I like to cook things that he likes to eat, I also try to balance that out with what the rest of us like. And, I make balanced meals. Many nights we have salad with whatever main dish we have. Usually I make up a big bowl of salad and we eat that until it’s gone. While I know Chris doesn’t like cooked veggies, it doesn’t mean that I avoid them. I figure he’s an adult and he knows how to use a fork, so he can pick them out, and he does. When I’ve expressed my frustration with trying to cook for him he’s (thankfully!) told me to not worry too much about it and just let him pick things out. So I don’t and he does. I’m proud of Chris too, because while he never used to eat salad when we first got married, he does regularly now. And while he only used to eat one kind of dressing on it, he eats a whole bunch of different things now.

My point is that meal planning allows you to account for your family’s preferences. If you know that one of your kids just wont eggs in most forms (like Olivia) then you can account for that. O had some bad experiences with getting sick after eating scrambled eggs, which were a staple for her when she was small. Now she hardly ever eats them. But, we’ve made her try other kinds and she found she loves hard boiled eggs and poached eggs. If I’m making breakfast and it involves eggs, unless I can plunk a boiled or poached egg in front of her, I don’t bother cooking eggs for her and just make sure she gets a piece of toast and something to give her some protein, but she’s only getting that because I’m making toast and other stuff for everyone else, not because I’m making a special meal for her. I used to worry more about what my kids ate, but then started paying attention to their food choices. Alex eats almost anything, and loves most veggies and fruits. Olivia might not love eggs, but she eats a variety of meat and will ask for salad. I think when the choices are healthy on a regular basis most kids will choose healthy foods in the balance that their bodies need.

I think we also need to be knowledgeable about what’s in our food. This is an area where I need to put more time in, but I’ve realized that while I might think about certain vitamins being in veggies, for example, I don’t think about the fact that some have calcium. My brain thinks dairy = calcium, so I used to worry when Olivia didn’t want to drink much milk. Then I realized that our water has a high calcium level, and she drinks lots of water, and she likes some of the veggies that have calcium in them as well as things like cheese and yogurt.

Now that I’ve been meal planning for several years I’m finding that rather than focusing on how to figure out what we’re going to eat, I can spend more time and attention on finding healthier or homemade options for things. Often people ask us what foods we miss from back home, and our typical answer is “nothing”. There might be something that a specific restaurant makes that we love, but for the most part I’ve figured out how to make the things that we did miss. I missed having tortillas, so I learned how to make them. And you know what? Even when we do have access to tortillas and they aren’t too expensive, I don’t buy them because mine taste better. I like knowing what is in our food, and I like making things from scratch. Recently I had people bring in canning jars and the few supplies that I’d need so I could do things like can sugar free mango jam when we had lots of mangoes, or canned tomatoes when tomatoes were in season. I loved being able to open one of my jars rather than a processed one when I’m cooking.

I hope this is helpful in some way. When it comes to meal planning you really need to find what works for you and your family. Some people need and want to plan every meal of the day. I don’t, so I don’t do it. Some people like computerized versions. I’ve tried several options and I keep going back to my paper and dry board version. Some people like to do a week at a time. I don’t want to have to do it that often, so I don’t. It has to work for you. And, it might take a while of trying things out to develop your system. Mine has literally taken years, but now we all rely on it. If things have been busy and I haven’t updated the plan yet I feel confused and unorganized and Chris often notices and says something about me not having updated the meal board yet. I realized that he likes to know what’s coming, and that makes me happy :) I like that I don’t have to think and can just look at the board that morning and know what needs to come out of the freezer or what other prep needs to be done. I don’t fee frazzled.

Question: Do you meal plan? If so, what works for you and what doesn’t. How does it affect things like your shopping and budgeting? 

~Leslie

Granola

I want to apologize to all of you! When I wrote my Better Breakfasts post and referred to the granola and was fielding questions about it I seriously thought I had posted the recipe on the blog somewhere a while back, so I was telling you to check it out. And you couldn’t find it. Because if it is there, it’s certainly not showing up. I’m pretty sure it’s not there and that what my mind was telling and what is reality are two very different things.

So, without further ado, this is the granola recipe I use.

**Edited to add: I forgot to put the note in about the oat flour after the recipe. It’s there now.

Granloa

In a large mixing bowl combine:

2 c oat flour*
6 c rolled oats
1 c brown sugar
1 c wheat germ
1/3 c flax seed (if I have it)
1 Tbsp cinnamon

In another bowl mix together:

1/2 c water
1 c oil
1 c honey
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp salt

*To make oat flour I just take a container of oats and run it through my KitchenAid hand blender chopper attachment, which basically functions like a mini food processor. I’ll do a whole container and keep it in my baking cupboard so it’s ready to go. It’s a great add in or substitution in bread or pancakes too!

I whisk my wet ingredients to mix them well. Pour wet ingredients into dry and mix until everything is moistened. Spread evenly onto two cookie sheets. Bake at 350F for about 20-25 minutes. You may want to take out the pan and stir up the granola a bit about 2/3 of the way through the cooking time. You want it to start turning golden brown and not be mushy to the touch. Take it out and let it cool. It will be slightly soft, but hardens up as it cools. Cool completely and transfer to an air tight container.

It’s really easy! I used Henry, my new KitchenAid mixer the last time I made this and it was so simple. Our kids love this not only for breakfast, but also to snack on. I got the original recipe from the More With Less Cookbook that I’ve talked about on here. In there it’s called “Simple Granola” but I have adapted it quite a bit.

Enjoy!

~Leslie