Super-Easy, Cheap & (sort of) Healthy Meals. You’re Welcome.

As a mom of many, one of my challenges is finding meals that take less time and money. We have tried several that we LOVE and I wanted to share them with you.

Brace yourself: this may be the easiest recipe in the history of EVER. And get this: it fed us twice and it cost around $5.

Crockpot Mexican Chicken

INGREDIENTS
  • 1 jar of your favorite salsa
  • 3½ cups water
  • 3-4 chicken breasts
  • 1 lb. dry pinto beans, rinsed
  • 2-3 tablespoons taco seasoning (1 packet if using store bought)
  • 2 ounces or more light cream cheese (totally optional – just adds creaminess)
  • salt to taste
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Place the pinto beans, salsa, and water in a slow cooker or Crockpot. Stir to get the liquid in and around the beans. Place the chicken breasts on top. Cover and cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 7-8 hours.
  2. After about 3 hours, remove the lid and check on the mixture. Stir to keep the beans from sticking to the bottom and add a little more water if necessary. Don’t open the lid more than once or twice – it adds to the cooking time.
  3. When the beans and chicken are cooked, gently shred the chicken with two forks. It should shred very easily. Add the taco seasoning and cream cheese (optional–I didn’t add it) and let the mixture sit for another 15-30 minutes. Serve with rice, tortillas, or chips. Top with avocado, cheese, and cilantro.
NOTES
If you use canned beans, omit the water and reduce the amount of cooking time. Also, if you are worried about the chicken getting dry, remove the chicken breasts after 3 hours or so when they are fully cooked, store in the fridge, and add them back in at the end. I have tried it both ways and they’ve both worked fine. I haven’t tried black beans yet, but I think it would be wonderful. This fed our family of 12 twice, with a few left overs.
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Secret ingredient: Serve with homemade guacamole (mashed avocados with sour cream and garlic salt).

(Recipe and photo from Pinch of Yum.)

 

Ham and Potato Casserole

Photo from: I Can Teach My Child

(Note: For this and similar recipes, I don’t really measure ingredients in order to simplify things. I gauge the amounts by what I know will feed our family.)

This a fantastic way to use left over ham. I purchase a whopping ham at Aldi (approx. $18) and divide and separate it into small ziplock bags. One ham contributes to about 7 meals in the form of casseroles or soups.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cube 4-5 medium potatoes, and boil until soft, but still firm.

Combine the potatoes with 2 cups of frozen corn, 2 cups of cooked ham in a large casserole dish and set aside.

In a saucepan saute 1 tablespoon chopped onion in 1/4 cup of butter for 2 minutes.  Stir in 1/3 cup flour until blended well. Gradually add 1 3/4 cups milk, 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. (I add some chicken broth and bacon grease, if I have it, to this mixture.) Bring the mixture to a boil and stir for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and pour over the ham mixture. Mix well.
Cover with aluminum foil and cook for 25 minutes.  Then remove foil and cover with 1 1/2 cups of grated cheddar cheese.  Re-cover, and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes to melt the cheese.

Secret ingredient: bacon grease

(This recipe was found and modified from allrecipes.com.)

Creamy Chicken Soup

Any recipe I do, I prefer to not actually have to follow a recipe. I’m random like that. And this recipe is my favorite “impromptu” recipe.

It is versatile, you can add or subtract, using the ingredients you have on hand, and it ends up being yummy every time.

Here are the basic ingredients:

  • chicken breast (1-3)
  • fresh garlic
  • onion
  • bell pepper
  • mushrooms
  • chicken broth
  • cream or milk
  • cheese (pepper jack, cream cheese, parmesan, cheddar–the more the better!)
  • (Optional: add corn, beans, rice, etc.)

Sear/cook the chicken breasts in olive oil all the way through and lay aside. Add more oil if necessary, and saute onion, garlic, mushroom and bell pepper. Amount of ingredients depends on size of dish you wish to prepare. Chop chicken and other stuff in food processor until semi-fine.

Put everything in a pot and add about 2 cups of chicken broth. Make a quick roux (butter and flour) separately and pour in to thicken. Add milk if more juice is desired. Melt cream cheese and add, as well as other cheeses. Basically, just keep adding yummy stuff until it’s perfect. This soup is so good, you can serve it to guests.

To My Friend, On Seasons of Change

Winds of change: my daughter and her fiance, Kyle

We might as well just get some things out in the open. It will make life so much easier for both of us.

I know life is about change and that some change is very good, but it’s still change and so, can I just say, “I don’t always like it”?

And I see that your life is changing too–that’s just how life works–but I’m guessing that sometimes you don’t like it too, but maybe you’re just smiling because everyone else is and maybe, you just want to say, “I don’t always like it.”

You and I, we’ve built our lives around rhythms and seasons and we grow in the cadence of an ordinary day. Like sunrises and sunsets, our days wrap us comfortably in their habits and routine.

But wait, the seasons are changing. Our routines are getting interrupted by driver’s licenses and engagement rings and now a reading of “Goodnight Moon” isn’t quite enough to hold everyone’s attention. Can we just sit again on the floor, all of us, and stay there?

No. The answer is, “No, we can’t.” Because a life that doesn’t ebb and flow becomes stagnant. A routine that doesn’t stretch and change is a routine that prevents people from growing.

The truth is, I don’t like change, but a parent who wants healthy children must be flexible (and selfless) enough to bend with the inevitable. Do I want what is good for my children, or do I want to keep myself comfortable?

So if you see me crying as I plan a wedding or watch my son growing into a man, know that I know this is all good and right. Change just hurts sometimes. And it’s OK to cry.

And when I see you looking wistfully back at a nursery full of toddlers, I’ll understand your tears, and gently nudge you on, the two of us reminding each other that life is full of good things, even the change.

“I have no greater joy than to hear my children walk in truth.”

If King David Had an I-Phone (Technology Threatens Creativity)

We mused over the Psalm of David this morning, and I stopped mid-sentence, because that’s when it came to me, and said to my kids: “Aren’t you glad David didn’t have an I-phone!”

Imagine it: Selfies with sheep. Status updates about how bored he is. Tweets about what a rough life he has. No doubt photos of the lion he killed WITH HIS BARE HANDS, the perfect makings of a narcissistic hot-head.

Despite all that we’ve gained with fast-paced technology, I’m afraid much has been lost. Having the world of information in the palm of our hands, alerting us to every message, update and Tweet, tempting us to record each moment instead of live it, does something tragic to our creative side: it distracts it away.

Not only are we too distracted to create and produce meaningful things, we lose the very ability as the world of instant, fast and byte-sized, short-circuits the mental inertia and stamina great creations require.

King David produced some of the most magnificent literary works in the world because he had time, quietness and focus. Those are important things. Important enough to fight for in this era where “newer and better” fiercely compete.

Perhaps expression and creativity will simply evolve and adapt to this new challenge. But still I wonder if the great works like the Psalms will become fewer and farther between.

My challenge to you as a parent, as I combat this technology over-load myself, is that we would resist the pressure to let our children hop on the hamster wheel of social media, especially at young ages, in an attempt to give them plenty of room to create, think and become. They won’t die without a device, or with hefty restrictions, or whatever you choose. They WILL thank you when they’re older, and they recognize what a gift they have been given by your taking.

Homeschooling: Cheap and Easy Way to Teach Kids to Read

I’ve never used a formal Phonics curriculum with any of my children and 7 of my 10 children read well or are well on their way.

I say that for only one reason: educating children doesn’t take much money or a teaching degree.

Basically the way I  have taught all my children to read is to begin sounding out letters when they are around 5 or 6 years old, depending on their interest/frustration level. (Of course at this point, they’ve been read to since they were born.)

I do this with simple books and with a pencil and paper, pointing out or writing letters and helping them first identify the letter name and then learning the letter sound. (I don’t even teach my children the ABC song, although they end up learning it somehow.) I may only spend a few minutes a day at first on this exercise. Very laid back, no “you’ve got to learn to read now” approach.

After they learn basic letter sounds, I have two, old laminated letter blend charts that I teach, (tr, sp, fl, gr, cl, etc.) also in a laid-back fashion.

Today I found a super-easy and fun way to teach them.

Since we’re in wedding mode right now and the little girls are excited about being flower girls, it was perfect. I pointed out the first blend and asked, “Which two letters are getting married?” The child answered, “s and p.” (The younger ones are watching on with great suspicion too, and consequently, are learning their letter sounds by mere exposure.)

So with a silly voice and my two index fingers held at a distance, one finger said, “I’m s” and the other finger said, “I’m p and I’m going to marry you.” Then I made the “s” sound with one finger and the “p” sound with the other, and as they got closer, the sounds got closer, until the two fingers finally kissed and made the “sp” sound.

My reading child thought this was fabulous and wanted to do the rest herself, which she did, and it worked beautifully!

So go marry some letters and relax–they’ll learn to read!

 

Raising Children is a Terrible Waste of Time

I think I finally agree with the feminists that raising children is a waste of time. After all, anyone really can do it. So why not let a paid day care worker handle the messes, settle the squabbling, feed the babies, change the diapers and keep them happy so you can do something meaningful, contributing to society?

Few will come right out and say it like that, but they should. Why aren’t we being honest?

Motherhood isn’t treated like an important position-like a profession, because raising children isn’t important. And I agree.

In fact, raising children isn’t just unimportant, it’s exceedingly destructive.

What we should be doing is raising men and women. That’s real parenting. And that’s where we’ve missed it. Tragically. Monumentally. Ignorantly.

No one wants to raise children–and who can blame them? Raising children is cleaning up messes and never getting help. It’s settling squabbles and never seeing change. It’s changing diapers and laundry and preparing more food but it’s never more than that. It’s continually sacrificing for the needs of others with no reciprocating sacrifice and no reward. So we either hire someone else to do it, or we grit our teeth and suffer through it.

Now we have a crisis: a society raising children while few want to do the hard, but incredible work of raising people. Adults who will take our place as cogs in the wheel of life. Do you want to contribute to society? Every other profession pales in comparison to your contribution of raising men and women. Because everything depends on who we bring up to carry out life in the next generation. Everything.

We got so short-sighted. In our world of instagram, instant news and instant gratification, we stopped raising people because people take time and sacrifice and work. But maybe more than that, we lost our ability to look past today and saw just a child with demanding physical needs, and forgot his becoming a person–a person of strength and courage and wisdom and love and compassion (if that’s what we put into him)–and how much that involved and how much it takes mothers and fathers and family pouring into the life of another person to ensure that he really becomes a whole person.

Instead, we have generations of people who grew up and remained children. Adult-children who get mad and have never learned how to handle anger or love their enemies and so they walk into companies and open fire at their “play mates” that hurt them.

Adult-children who blame everyone but themselves when things go wrong, and who fully expect the government to fix all their problems because no one ever taught them how to handle life and difficulty and change. They never learned to take responsibility for their actions, and believe they deserve whatever they want.They were given everything except the few things they really needed so now they borrow money to get the things to fill the void.

We’re surrounded by grown-up-children who never learned to be content with simple things, to find satisfaction in hard work and enjoy the crowning sunset at the end of a long day.

We have adult-children who are having their own children and they don’t like them because raising children is frustrating and this cycle spins at dizzying speed and we are all paying the price.

Oh that we would find our love and zeal and passion for raising people!

Do you know perhaps the most tragic part of all? Since we don’t see past this temporal busy-work that goes along side of raising children into people, children themselves have lost their worth. We don’t value children because we don’t value the process of raising them into whole men and women.

But there’s hope. Change starts with you and me. It’s easy even for those of us who do value the work of motherhood to get short-sighted and forget to see the men and women in the faces of our children. It’s easy to forget the shaping of lives that goes on in the midst of daily life, the lessons learned at a thousand places in the day. Anyone can raise children, but only committed, devoted, my-life-for-yours parents can raise people who will contribute significantly to the human race.

And then we can rally around other young parents and remind them of the life-work of pouring into the next generation for all of our sakes.

The monumental happens in the minutia. Raise people.

(If you need to renew your vision, get When Motherhood Feels Too Hard. Short, daily snippets of powerful reminders of what this business of raising men and women is about in the dailiness of life.)

Don’t Miss Life Waiting for it to Happen

I needed a reminder this morning, so I thought I’d remind you too–all too often I miss life!

Aren’t we usually waiting for something? The next activity, the next appointment, the next break? And we have this false idea that life is a certain kind of moment or event.

But most of life is composed of ordinary moments. How often do I not only miss those, but even ruin them? If I’m too busy preparing for the next thing, then it’s easy to get interrupted in the now. And interruptions cause frustrations; and frustrations cause words and attitudes that do not reflect the kindness of God.

What if stopping to tie a shoe–for the 6th time, was something I saw, not as an interruption, but an opportunity to stop what I’m doing, smile at my little one, and while I’m tying, speak into his heart: “I hope you know how glad I am that you live here.”

Or a potty training moment was seen as a privilege, sharing a milestone in my child’s life–something not everyone gets to do.

What if all those “interruptions” are not interruptions at all, but God’s divine appointments in the ordinary, to test my heart, to see if my treasure is where it should be?

How many smiles are left “unsmiled“? How many sunsets left unshared? How many hurt feelings left unsoothed? Hugs left unhugged? Questions left unanswered?

I’ve said it before, but Jesus’ last “spectacular” act, was anything but spectacular. But spectacular does not equal important. “Wash each other’s feet.” Do the small things. Willingly. Happily. With a heart of love.

Oh that I would remember that as I pour myself into this Mother Work!

“In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.” Psalm 94:19

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