Holiday Giveaway: 100 Days of Real Food Fast & Fabulous

Photo provided by Lisa Leake

Photo provided by Lisa Leake

It's the most wonderful, hustle and bustle time of the year. 

Our family is feeling like we've barely had time to pack away our Halloween costumes, before donning our ugly Christmas sweaters to decorate the tree. 

It's all good, though. Holiday get togethers and doing our best to make the season more about giving than receiving means we'll be spending a lot more time in the kitchen in the coming weeks: making our own meals and preparing treats and food to share with others. This week there's a potluck and a girl on a mission to make something sweet for our neighbours penciled into the family calendar.

With four growing kids, the kitchen is already the highest traffic area in our home. If we don't look for ways to be efficient with shopping and meal planning, we start to slip into a pattern of cobbled together meals that don't fuel us the way we need to be fuelled to get through our hectic schedule. Oh, and we get on each other's nerves when all of us are bumbling around in the kitchen foraging for food!

During the week, I am the primary kitchen person. Most nights, it's just me and a couple of the kids at the table. Plates of dinner for the rest of the crew wait for their later arrival. And that was an important decision for our family. It can be all-too-easy to get into a fend for yourself groove when the whole family isn't able to eat together. It happened a lot when the kids were small and I was on my own for meal prep. Once they were older, and I could spend more time in the kitchen, I started to make some serious changes. The first thing to change was the mindset that I didn't need to prepare a family meal if we weren't eating together. Now that we have our routine of setting aside plates for latecomers, I'm more likely to prepare a well-rounded meal. On the weekends, my husband takes over in the kitchen and we do our very best to make sure all six of us are at the same table on one of those nights. 

I'm not going to pretend it comes easily. It's work to come up with ideas and to plan for pulling meals together around our schedule. I rely (heavily) on inspiration from others. And one of the cookbooks and blogs that really works for our family is 100 Days of Real Food and now the newest cookbook in the series 100 Days of Real Food Fast & Fabulous. I stumbled upon Lisa's Instagram feed last year, and I was hooked. 

These recipes meet all my requirements for family meals: quick, user-friendly, real ingredients (that are easy to find in the grocery store and are often already in my kitchen). 

The newest cookbook (which I'm working my way through) has 100 recipes and includes a lunch box section which has some great ideas for grown up and pint-sized lunches. She also provides gluten-free and nut-free options in the recipes. And did I mention easy? I was amazed by the five minute jars of overnight oats the kids could grab in the mornings. And the dinners really are fast and fabulous, I'm not exaggerating! 

EASY FISH TACOS. Photo provided by Lisa Leake

EASY FISH TACOS. Photo provided by Lisa Leake

Like I was saying, the kids are older now. I can spend more time in the kitchen while they're busy doing other things. But here's the kicker: they are also old enough to start pulling their own weight when it comes to feeding themselves and the rest of the family. My husband likes to remind me (often) that he was preparing dinner for his whole family at least once a week by the time he was 10, and I'm doing my best to let go of my need to control the kitchen. The recipes and ideas in this cookbook are completely tween and teen friendly, so no more excuses for any of us. There are going to be some more changes in the new year when it comes to meals. 

I'm so happy with this new cookbook that I'd like to give one away to a lucky reader, so you too can head into the busiest time of year with the best tools to feed your family (and anyone else who you happen to be spending time with over the holidays). 

If you are a Canadian resident, you can enter below. Thanks and good luck!

Disclosure: I was not paid to write this post, but I was generously gifted a copy of the new cookbook 100 Days of Real Food: Fast & Fabulous by Lisa. I love this book so much (and I think you will, too) that I bought another copy to give away to one of you!

 

 

Time For The Holidays: Thank you, Flipp

holiday-time

My sister and I made our way around the table—each of us folding the festive napkins just so—as we set the kids' table for the dinner ahead.

I looked at her when we met at the last seat and said, Feels strange and wonderful, doesn't it?

For the first time in over a decade, no kid in sight and no sounds of mooooooom being called from the other room. Between us we have kids old enough to watch out for younger siblings/cousins and wise enough to handle a lot of the moments that used to need a parent to fix.

One of our guests was there with her toddler and newborn baby, and as we sat down to dinner my sister and I tried to reminisce about those days and how it felt to eat cold plates of food and miss out on most of the adult conversation. But it seems our memories were blurry. We said, but it must have happened to us, even though it felt too distant to remember moments so recent. We laughed with an oh well and took turns holding the baby instead.

flipp-app

This year, I had a full day to dash from shop to shop finding the perfect ingredients for our well-planned Christmas feast. I was able to take my time making the best choices for staying within our holiday budget by using my favourite Flipp app, and that gave me some room for extra surprises (hello, crab legs!). 

But still my eyes wandered to the babies accompanying their weary parents through the shops and to the newborn in my dinner guest's arms. 

holiday-time

How can those days already be behind me? Why were they in such a hurry to leave? 

Where have those stolen moments with the weight of a warm, flushed child on my lap at the table (so I could stay in the company of the adults awhile longer) already gone?

The other night, I happily walked the hallways with that brand new baby, so her mama could eat a warm meal. And when I came back to my table and reluctantly handed her over, my dinner had gone cold.

As I ate it, those memories came back to me more clearly. And I knew why it was so easy to forget the taste of less-than-perfect food.

 It was made and served with pinches of love and then abandoned with dashes of love.

And that made it taste just as good.

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This post was sponsored by Flipp who helped me buy my holiday groceries this season. I am a long-time and weekly user of this easy-to-use app for planning my weekly grocery lists and saving money. I also use it to find the best prices for non-food items. I enter my list and instantly know where the best prices in my area can be found. I can clip from flyers and download coupons for added savings. It takes the same amount of time it does to scrawl a list (except now you won't lose it before you leave for the store). So, yes, even parents with young babies can add it to their smartphones. 

Stories about my family life, as always, are mine. 

 

What Is A Dream Home?

 *by my youngest child, age 5*

 *by my youngest child, age 5*

Children are wise, aren't they?

As seriously as I take my position as a mentor and role model for my kids, there are countless times they are the ones to teach me. 

Saving for future goals has come later for us, when compared to many of our friends and colleagues at the same life stage. The decision to support JB's return to school, after we had already started our family, meant going into further debt and putting a lot of what we thought we wanted for our future on hold. It also meant relying on the generosity and support of our extended family to help navigate the unexpected surprises and costs of being in school and having a young family. 

When we purchased our first home—just as JB was finishing graduate school—we affectionately called it our starter home, even though it was a huge investment for us at the time. We were grateful it had enough bedrooms to hold our family, plus an extra guest room for out-of-town visitors. When we first moved in, it felt decadent. But still, we were telling ourselves it was the house that would tide us over until we found our dream home.

At that time, our two children hadn't started school and we were still in the dark about the cost of having them in extracurricular activities or going on family vacations. When our family grew to four children, over the span of a few years, our vision of what was possible began to change. 

Finding a home that would fit a family of six was a much greater challenge with respect to cost. And adding daily living expenses and unexpected home and car repairs, while also planning for extras like family trips on airplanes made it feel impossible. 

We thought it would benefit our family most in the long run if we put off big family trips and held back on saving for their educations; but we were wrong.

During one of our dinner table discussions about what we were looking for in our next home, our then eight-year-old son piped up with a question that changed everything.

Why are we looking for a new house when we already have one?

Don't you guys want a bigger house and your own rooms, we asked them.

The verdict was unanimous—they did not. 

The discussion turned to what they really wanted: to stay in a home that felt safe and happy; to go on trips and create memories together; to know their parents weren't worried about going into more debt for the sake of extra square footage. 

Sitting at that overcrowded dinner table, in our tiny kitchen, where elbows often collide and laughter always takes a seat, it became clear. It sounds overly nostalgic to say this now, but that's the beauty of taking on the viewpoint of a child: we already had our dream home. We already had more than enough. And it was incredibly humbling to hear that from our children. 

There were so many other ways we could dream as a family.

We have started planning for their educations (no small feat with four children born in an eight year span); we are taking a big trip together every other year and smaller road trips in between; and we are investing in dance and music and art lessons because they make our kids happy. We also have a greater ability to help others and to incorporate those lessons into our family life. 

After taking the #LifeReady quiz from Manulife, I know there are still a lot of steps we can take to reach our new goals for our family's here and now, as well as for our future. And that means we are among the 72% of Canadians who feel they can improve their financial readiness, too.

But we've already taken the biggest step in the right direction, by making decisions as a family and focusing on what matters most. 

manulife-life-ready-two

 

This post is sponsored by 360ACCESS on behalf of Manulife. The story and opinions are my own.

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