And they’re off…
Another school year has begun. Deep Breaths. I was edging toward a sleep-deprived full blown state of anxiety before I wrote out our family schedule and made a tweak in our day which has transplanted my stress and made me look forward to the rhythm of our days.
From 3-5 on weekdays, as much as possible, I am in the kitchen.
Fully present, ready to help with homework, going through the mail, chatting with the kids, de-cluttering, making dinner or lunches or cookies or playing Memory at the kitchen table – whatever the day brings.
I have carved out that time not because I love to cook and clean for two hours a day. Au contraire mon ami. But being a mom is part of my job description, and no matter how much I procrastinate or distract or multi-task, my life is easier, and I spend less time in the kitchen as a whole, when I focus on attending to all that has to happen there to make our lives run well. And I really hate the feeling that I am always too busy to be present with the kids or rushing to get dinner on. What pushed me to this is the fact that twice a week, my first grader has football from 5:45-6:45 (collective gasp appreciated). This was when I used to make dinner and we would eat. So now we eat just after 5, then have a leisurely evening with lots of time to hang out or, on the days dad is traveling and can’t take our son solo, we will all take a ride to football and the little kids will play at the park next door. I am picturing a fall filled with a park visit once or twice a week for a few months, and what initially sounded really really hard now sounds lovely.
Setting aside this time consciously makes me enjoy and relax while I take care of dinner and the kids. Even if you work (and I usually am working in the mornings during the school year) being conscious of your kitchen hour (or half hour) helps to value it and enjoy it. My friend Heather who is a teacher made her kitchen hours on a Sunday and made 3 meals at once.
On my second day of this schedule, in honor of the first day of school, I made the very crowd-pleasing and time-friendly Mini Meatloaves with Turkey Bacon.
The best part of mini meatloaves is they only take 20-25 min. instead of the 50-55 minutes a whole loaf takes. I served them with sour cream and chive mashed potatoes and carrots with butter and parsley. Carrots with parsley is such a strong food memory from my childhood dinners. When I tasted them again last night I remembered why – they are so good, and I love that these sides use fresh herbs from the herb garden. This meal only takes about 10-15 minutes to prep, 25 minutes to cook. The rest of the time I was setting up paints outside for the kids, helping them do chores like set the table and feed the dog, and cleaning up.
I remember another mom saying that when it comes to family food, the ones that your kids will reliably enjoy (and eat) are the meat and potatoes kind. Pot roast, roast chicken, meat loaf. I find this to be so true. My son was telling us about his first day and, in between bites, uttered, “mmm, this is good food”. Isn’t that the goal? I really wanted to show my kids love the first day of school, and with that simple phrase I am hoping they felt it.
Another great feature of this meatloaf – I use almost the exact same ingredients as I use for meatballs, just without garlic. In fact, you could double this recipe and make meatballs the next night. Or as noted at the end of the recipe, you could freeze half the meatloaves for another night. I am always trying to make as many meals as possible with only 1 kitchen clean up.
The secret ingredient is the bread + 1 cup of milk poured over it. You can use any kind of white bread – I used up garlic bread from the night before, then I mashed it with a pastry cutter:
Pour this into the meat and parsley and parm and egg mixture with some salt and pepper, then form into little loaves:
Then cut the turkey bacon in half and line each loaf with 3 half slices of bacon.
I love this topping – instead of just ketchup, I mix ketchup and honey mustard together. You could use any kind but lately we have been loving this cranberry honey mustard:
Cook them for 20-25 min (I tested for doneness at 20 minutes by cutting one in half and they needed 5 more minutes.) While they are cooking I boiled potatoes and carrots and dressed them up with lots of herbs and some butter (not too much , just enough for kids to eat them, and that worked!).
Mini Meat Loaves with Turkey Bacon (makes 8 mini loaves – for printer version click here)
2 lb. Ground Beef or Turkey
6 slices of white bread
1 c. milk
1 cup grated Parmesean
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
4 eggs, beaten
1 t. salt
½ t. pepper
12 slices of Turkey Bacon
1 ½ cups ketchup
¼ cup honey mustard
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place bread and milk in a bowl and soak for five minutes. Place ground beef in a large bowl, then add parm, parsley, eggs, salt and pepper. Mash bread and add to ground beef mixture.
Put a small amount of olive oil on cookie sheet pan, then form into 8 small loaves. (You can make one large loaf in a bread pan, add 30 minutes to cooking time). Cut turkey bacon in half and place 3 half slices over each mini loaf. Then top with ketchup-honey mustard mixture (if desired you can add half mixture at start of cooking, then the other half when cooked half way for a stickier topping). Cook for 20-25 minutes.
This recipe is intended to make leftovers for lunch sandwiches or another nights dinner. You can make them all ahead and freeze or cook half and freeze the other half. Just freeze on a cookie sheet, then when frozen wrap in plastic wrap and place in a bag.