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Happy Easter! A little breakfast fun

Just a quick note as we are having a lovely family day today. We usually have what we call “fancy breakfast” one day a week usually consisting of something “fancier” than cereal–pancakes, French toast, bacon or sausage, etc. Fancy just means mom gets to cook.

Kiddo LOVES getting special face pancakes on the rare occasion we eat breakfast out, and has been requesting them at home. The faces can be quite interesting depending on what is on hand.

This morning I had enough fruit to make a fun bunny face. (The eyes are yogurt covered raisins.). She loved it!
Definitely worth the couple minutes it took to throw together.

In the past I’ve used mandarin oranges or pecan halves for eyes or noses, bananas or sausages for a mouth, bacon for hair. Just grab whatever is handy that your kid likes and have fun–they for sure will!

Hope everyone has a Happy Easter!

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Frozen Cupcakes!

Huzzah!  We have survived and can wait another year before we have a friend birthday party!  It is always so much fun planning and having a party-but it is a bit stressful too.  Even though we picked a low key activity this year–watching a movie–making sure we had everything ready took planning.  The part my daughter loves the most is putting up the decorations and making cupcake creations.  This year, the theme was Frozen and we already had our thank you bags ready to go.  All the decorations and food were bought–and the night before we were ready to transform the house into a Frozen wonderland.

For this post, though, we are going to focus on one of my daughter’s favorite things.  Cake decorating.  She loves watching Cake Boss on Netflix and every week we load up Nerdy Nummies on YouTube (if your kids are into cake decorating, check out Rosanna Pansino’s channel.)

For her friends party, we always make homemade cupcakes.  This year, we decided to get fancy with the decorations.  They included printable Frozen picks, sparkly snow-like sprinkles, homemade butter cream frosting, blue chocolate pearls, and homemade chocolate snowflakes.  The night before the party, we baked the cupcakes.  We decided on blue cake and white frosting.  We took a white cake mix and added some blue food coloring.  We made 12 regular size cupcakes and about 16 mini cupcakes out of one box.  I found fun blue with white polka dot cupcake liners at Michael’s for $1.

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Decorating supplies…

Then, we made our chocolate snowflakes.  I also picked up some plastic squeeze bottles and chocolate melts (in light blue and white with sparkles) from the baking aisle at Michael’s.  We learned from Nerdy Nummies how to make chocolate decorations.  Print out the shape you want.  Tape down the paper to a flat surface (we used flat, flexi cutting boards).  Then tape wax paper on top.  Melt chocolate melts in a microwavable squeeze bottle (you’ll need more than you think) and then draw the shape using the bottle over the wax paper.  It sounds very simple, but this part was the biggest pain–mostly because one of our squeeze bottles was defective.  The chocolate kept squeezing out the size of the bottle instead of the tip (You will not see white snowflakes, because that was the problem bottle).  Grrrr.  But, we finally had some workable snowflakes from the blue bottle.  We popped them in the freezer to wait until morning.  The snowflakes were a bit fragile, but if handled carefully, they won’t break.  (And even if one of the little arms did break off, we could just put it back in place by pressing it into the frosting).

Our chocolate snowflake supplies.

Our chocolate snowflake supplies.

The next morning shortly before her party, we started decorating.  I’ve never made my own frosting, but I knew from past experience that trying to pipe the frosting that comes in the plastic can from the store baking aisle doesn’t work well.  It gets too warm from your hands and doesn’t really hold it’s shape.  So, to be safe, I bought a box of butter cream frosting mix from Michael’s with a 40% off coupon and prayed it wouldn’t let me down.  (Next time I think I’ll just try and make it from scratch).  Luckily, it made just enough to cover all our cupcakes.  We already had a set of Wilton tips and piping bags from some earlier cake decorating fun and just used the tip that looks sort of like a star.

Frosting supplies.

Frosting supplies.

Once the frosting was piped, we sprinkled clear sprinkles on top of the big and mini cupcakes.  Then, we added chocolate snowflakes and Frozen pics to the tops of the big ones.  And, the mini ones were treated to some blue pearls.  They turned out pretty cute!  And, the best part is the kiddo had fun making them.

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Elsa cupcakes.  The one with the pearls was for the birthday girl.  She LOVES Elsa.

Elsa cupcakes. The one with the pearls was for the birthday girl. She LOVES Elsa.

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Kiddo decorated these all by herself!

More Cupcakes!

More Cupcakes!

Lots of craft posts lately.  More organizing posts to come!  I already have one ready to write on the fascinating topic of cleaning out your purse…

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Kitchen Helpers

Meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking take up a pretty serious chunk of time every week.  To make things a little less hectic and a little more enjoyable, I have a few helpers around the kitchen that keep everything running smoothly and to take up less time.

First, I do meal plan.  I try to plan at least 2 weeks at a time (and this dictates my grocery list).  Read more about that process here.  But, I also try and post those meal plans in the kitchen so I know what’s coming up each day and can make sure everything is ready when I get home from work to rock and roll.  I found I have saved at least 1/2 an hour each night by prepping ahead of time.  I used to have a fridge sticker with days of the week from the Martha Steward line at Staples to post our meal plan, but over time, it got to looking a little gunky and I decided to retire it in favor of something a little prettier.  I took a free printable from online and adjusted it to fit my needs.  Then, I put it inside a frame and attached a dry erase marker at the top with a velcro dot.  This little guy is on a very narrow piece of wall next to our pantry.  I like it’s placement because it cuts down on the fridge clutter and is right next to where a bunch of our meal supplies already live.  Now, I can keep track of our meals for two weeks in style!  I also love that I can erase things and move them around, because if your life is anything like mine, sometimes we have to alter plans.  I already know we have all the ingredients for everything on our chart, so making adjustments is no big deal.

Sorry for the glare!

Sorry for the glare!

There are also some very awesome products that help the cooking process go much smoother in our house.  I’ve used each of these for over a year and LOVE them!  I used to prep vegetables for our dorm in college, and I learned very early on that I am not really a big fan of cutting certain ones.  So, I was super excited to discover these two sweet items.

1)  Frozen Chopped Onions.  You don’t have to have fresh onions on hand OR have to chop them into tiny pieces.  Need I say more?

There are other brands out there that are just as good, and we pick up whatever the grocery store we are visiting happens to keep in stock.

 

2)  Already Minced Garlic in a Squeeze Bottle.  I LOVE this stuff, because I use garlic a ton in my recipes.  I love that I can just grab and go with out having to have fresh garlic or a garlic press (which I have never owned) on hand.

This is the brand I use, but I am sure others are just as good. I know this company also offers an organic version if that suits your needs better.

Is there anything you use to make meal planning and prep easier around your house?

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Goals for 2014!

2014The year 2014 is nearly upon us–just a few more days to go.  And, I, like many people around the country (and probably the world) have been reflecting on the year that has passed and looking forward to the year to come.  Over the past year I have made some changes in my life both big and small and have made some accomplishments that make me feel proud.  The biggest change is that I took a leap and accepted a new position within my school district in a co-team-leader type position.  I really hadn’t thought about changing jobs, but I am glad I took the plunge.  This job lets me use all of my skill sets well, and I get to work with amazing people.  I also tackled some personal goals I have been wanting to achieve–with the help of NaNoWriMo, I wrote and finished my first novel!  I also took my very first digital photography course–something I’ve wanted to do for ages to help me learn how to better use my camera.  My daughter started kindergarten–big kid school!–and we’ve all had a fairly good adjustment to her new schedule and celebrated some big milestones like losing her first teeth, first holiday program, and being a girl scout.  My husband graduated from grad school and immediately took on the challenge of a doctoral program and has taken on some big work challenges this school year as well.  It seems like our whole family has been moving at lightning speed this fall and have all undergone some significant life changes.  What a year!  It’s so good to look aback and see what we’ve accomplished, and also to look forward to see what goals I’d like to tackle for this upcoming calendar year. (This post is a little longer–hope you stick with me!)

I’m not big on resolutions, because as I read somewhere, they are pretty easy to break and most people forget about or give up on them pretty early on.  I am walking proof.  So, instead I have decided to set goals.  These are mostly measurable items that I can track and easily say I have done or not done.  I found that if I am specific and hold myself accountable by keeping track of my progress, I am much more likely to follow through on things I want for myself.  I am still working on the tracking system, as I am debating on a paper system or an online system.  There are merits to both.  Once I make a decision, I’ll share.

Once I started writing down my goals, I realized I could easily organize them into categories (go figure).  I also searched around on Pinterest to see what other people had done for goal sheets and decided to make mine somewhat fancy without going overboard.  I simply inserted shapes into a word document, changed their color, added text boxes, and voila!

My 2014 Goals List!

My 2014 Goals List!

Let’s look at each of the categories for moment.

1)  Family.  Really I just want to be more present, be more loving, and really listen to people around me.  It seems like we move at break neck speed all of the time, and we are constantly focused on what’s coming next without really enjoying the here and now.  I hope to slow down, and seek the joy.  Listening is also a huge goal for me.  I mentioned in another post that I am trying really hard to listen to what my daughter wants to do.  Instead of throwing  her into dance and swim lessons and girls scouts and whatever else comes our way, I asked what she really wanted to do.  She wants to keep doing girl scouts and wants to take a craft class and have time to play at home.  Since there weren’t really any affordable options for kids craft classes (outside of the ones at Michael’s), I chatted with some friends, and we ‘re going to get together once a month for craft time!  A little work on my end, but a big reward for my kiddo and a great excuse to see our friends.  Also in the listening department, I need to do a better job of keeping my lips zipped when others are talking.  My biggest problem is that I jump in too soon trying to solve a problem or finish someone’s idea that I don’t actually let them finish.  This drives some people that I love dearly a bit crazy.  It’s a fault I am aware of, and it is my goal this year to work really hard on focusing and listening (which is amazing, because I ask my daughter to do that all the time!)

2)  Personal.  I want to be less attached to my smartphone–I don’t need to be connected all of the time.  I’m going to set some limits for myself, so that I can really be more “in the moment.”  I also want to read more things that I enjoy.  I branched out this year and read more non-fiction than I have in years and really enjoyed it.  I hope to continue that and add on by finding new blogs and websites to read as well.  I want to keep my life-long-learning going and practice the skills I learned in my photography class and search out some other online or in person classes to take.  A class to learn how to use my sewing machine would be really nice.  I read somewhere (sorry can’t remember where) a post someone wrote about how resolutions don’t work–and therefore she set the goal to try one new thing a month.  I LOVE that goal.  I also hope to try one new thing a month, whether it’s a new recipe, a new color of nail polish, a new class, whatever!  That kind of change can be exciting.  And finally, I want to spend more time with my friends.  We rush and rush and are all so busy, we never seem to have time to see or talk to each other.  I’m hoping that I can change that and see my friends  a bit more often–and I really want to make time for one of my best friends who I haven’t seen in a few years (and she only lives 3 hours away–SHAME ON ME!).

3)  Writing.  I enjoy writing and want to make sure I make the time to do it and have a focus on it.  My writing goals are pretty clear, but the big one I want to really make certain I do is to journal.  I have a journal I keep for my daughter that I haven’t written in since she started kindergarten (crazy, crazy fall semester).  I am going to get caught up and write in it at least once a week from now on.  Also, I plan to keep a one sentence journal where I write down one sentence that sums up my thoughts every day.  Another fun sort of journal project is the photo a day.  This should be pretty easy for me (and a great way to practice my camera skills).  At the end of the year, I want to put them all in a photo book.  And, finally, I have heard of the jar you keep with slips of paper in it for things that happened during the year and then on New Year’s Eve you read all of them.  Love this idea, but I think we’re not going to write one for every day, just for the bigger stuff like lost teeth, last day of kindergarten, birthday parties, etc.

4)  Health.  I need to be healthier–for me and my family.  Long story short, I have a bad knee to due to a car accident (not my fault) and have had trouble doing my normal exercising which has led to weight gain which is in turn even more bad news for my knee.  Grrr.  I created a list of knee friendly exercises, and every morning (at least 5 days a week) I will roll out of bed and start my day off right.  Which is why I need to go to bed on time so I have the energy to be active and eat healthier.  I also plan to track my progress to hold myself more accountable.

5)  My professional goals are not that exciting for anyone but me. I plan to continue some outside committee work and make some changes in my new position.

6)  Organization.  I am pretty happy with what I put in place this year.  I just need to revisit those areas, make sure they are working well, and strive to maintain the order I have put in place.  If I get more sleep and am more active, I’m hoping I will be less likely to let things slide.  Another huge thing is to actually stick to our routines.  Look for more on this next week.  Since our house is smaller and I’ve tackled quite a bit of it, I don’t feel a huge urge to organize everything like I did the past two years.  I do plan though to try and do an organizing project every month–some big, some small.  I’d really like to make my laundry room a little prettier, and I need to figure out some storage solutions for our living room or starters.  Also, I signed up to do a 10 week organizing challenge which will be so much fun (and something new!).  If you want to join, here’s the link http://freshlyorganized.com/10-week-organizing-challenge/

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There it is folks, in black and white (and a bunch of other colors)–my goals for 2014.  I’ve share them with you and now I can’t abandon them.  Tracking my progress and quick updates here will keep me in line, I hope.   I am very excited for 2014.  Here’s to a wonderful New Year!

What big plans or goals do you have set for 2014?

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A Healthier Me

For a long time, I have had the great desire to be healthier in my life.  My baby is five and I still am carrying around some of the extra weight I gained when I was pregnant–which is not good for my health and makes it hard to have the energy and get up and go I need with a five-year-old.  It’s hard to admit out loud to people that you don’t know that’ you’re not happy with the way you look and feel.  But, part of the blogging process for me is to hold myself accountable for the goals I set in my life.  One of those big goals right now is fitness and health for me–and it seems to be for many other people by the amount of pinterest boards and blog posts dedicated to fitness and healthy living out there.

My big goal is not only to lose some extra weight, but to also gain energy, to just to feel better on a daily basis, and to be a good model for my daughter.  To accomplish this, I have set out some goals.

Personal Truth:  I have come to know about myself that I am an all or nothing kind of gal.  I never would have thought this about myself, but it really is true.  For some things I want to make sure I do, I have to do them every day.  For somethings I don’t want to do, I have to give them up entirely.  You will see that idea reflected in my goals below.

1)  Exercise daily.  Finding the time and ways I can exercise took a little trial and error.  In my daily schedule, going to the gym is not really something I have time for.  I have had gym memberships in the past, and I did try one when my daughter as younger.  They had a childcare facility at the gym, which is great, but I hated taking my daughter from being in daycare for about 8 hours and putting her into another daycare for another hour.  I thought about going in the mornings to the gym, but the added time with the commute to and from the gym–even at less than 10 minutes one way–added too much time to my routine.  So, paying for a membership didn’t really make sense if it only worked for me on the weekends.

I realized I needed a plan I could easily complete at home.  But, there were some other truths about myself I had to take into account before a true plan could be made.  First, I am not a runner.  Some people absolutely LOVE it.  I am not one of those people.  Second, I get bored easily.  A repetitive routine is not the thing for me.  I wanted to be able to pick and choose what I did each morning.  My available work out time is before 5:45 AM–which means if I want to exercise for 30-40 minutes, I need to get up at 5:00 AM.  How to make all of this happen?

1A)  Go to bed on time!  Lights out by 10:30.  It’s hard to get up at 5:00 AM if you don’t get enough sleep–and even harder to add exercise to the mix.

1B)  Sleep in clothes I can exercise in the next morning.  Simply not having to change my clothes is one less barrier to getting my butt up and going. I simply have to add a support garment before I begin my routine.

1C)  Find exercise programs that challenge and interest me, but are not time heavy.  I have two workout DVDs that I do first thing–Bob Greene’s 8 Week Total Body Makeover and Jackie Warner’s Circuit Training–which I rotate.  Each of these DVDs provide 10-15 minute routines that focus on strength building, among other things.  I try to pair these with a 20 minute cardio workout from GAIAM’s Wake-Up Workout that I access through Hulu Plus.  I can run all of this through our media area in our family room–which is such a time saver.  Also, I don’t need a bunch of equipment.  All I need is hand weights.  I like the two part routine because I can vary it as much as I’d like, and if I have a time constraint that day for some reason, I can at least get half of it in during my morning session.

2) Eat healthier.  There is a lot involved in this part of my healthier me plan, but mainly it involves cutting out the bad and boosting the good.  First thing, I cut out all soda (or pop or soda pop) from my diet.  I found that if I even had a little bit here and there, I would start drinking more and more.  So, no more pop.  The other thing I would like to give up is some sweets.  It is amazing the amount of cookies, cake, etc. that is provided to you through work and friends.  And, I have little to no willpower when it comes to these types of goodies.  My goal is to “just say no” when it comes to cake, cookies, brownies, etc. when they are given away at work or gatherings–unless it is a family birthday.  I will allow myself the pleasure of ice cream or frozen yogurt–which is really my favorite treat and what I’d rather have anyway.  So, mainly give up pop and really limit my sweet treats.

On the other end, I want to add healthier items to my diet.  To do so, I have started pre-packing healthy snacks for my work days and have healthy snacks available for when at home.  Boost the amount of fruit and vegetables in my diet.  Simply having these items on hand is not enough though–I found if I wash, chop, and package these healthy nuggets as soon as they enter the house, we are more likely to pick them.  And, limit or eliminate entirely the less than healthy.  If it’s not in my house, I won’t eat it.

2A)  Pack healthier workday food.  I pack my lunch each night and add my healthy snacks right to my bag.  This saves me money and time.  Snacks include things like wheat things, raw almonds, frozen grapes, cut celery, carrot sticks, etc. that can easily be eaten at my desk.  I also pack my large fill-able water bottle everyday.

2B)  Meal plan and budget for healthy eating.  It can be a bit more expensive to eat healthier, but the benefits make it worth it.  By simply having a meal plan, we are less likely to grab food on the way home, and I know what we are eating is healthy.  I also make sure we have fruit or vegetables or both with every dinner.

2C)  Eat breakfast.  During the week, this means fruit smoothies with protein powder for the grown-ups.  I take a large bag of frozen fruit and scoop out about 2 cups and add a banana to a freezer bag–and repeat until the large bag is empty.  In the morning, I take about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of juice, 1 scoop of protein powder, a handful of ice cubes, and my bag of frozen fruit and blend it all together to make two small smoothies.  On the weekends it is high fiber cereal or a fancier breakfast of heart healthy pancakes and scrambled eggs.

3)  Be active.  I sit quite a bit at work.  A ton, really.  And, being sedentary is not a good thing.  I decided that if I am deep into a project at work, I need to make myself get up every 1-2 hours and walk around–even if it is just to the bathroom.  This keeps me moving.  I am also trying really hard not to just sit on my butt when I get home.  This first week back at work has been tough for this, because I am EXHAUSTED when I get home.  But, if I stick to my plan, it should get better as time goes on.  I don’t want to just sit around at night, and I don’t want my daughter to do that either.  I must model good behavior.  Plus, it would be nice to get outdoors more before winter hits.

3A)  Move around at work.

3B)  Don’t be a couch potato–this includes reading or just watching my daughter play.

3C)  Get outside!  (But don’t just sit round out there either).

To recap, I really have 3 main goals–Exercise Daily,  Eat Healthier, Get Moving–, but I have tried to personalize these goals to what works best in my life.  I think that’s the only thing we can do to be successful.  There is no cookie cutter program or magic pill that will make us look and feel better.  It takes hard work and dedication.  Also, the results will take time to show.  This is the hardest for me.  I want to see my hard work pay off–like…now–but it is a process and the long-term benefits are what counts.  I can’t expect to drop 3 dress sizes in 3 months or lose 40 lbs by Christmas.  So, instead my goal is to be healthier by the start of the new year.  I think that’s a good, reasonable goal.  Here’s to a healthier me by 2014!

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Why a Meal Planning Service Helps Me Stress Less & Branch Out

I wrote a few blog posts ago about how I do my meal planning.  You can see the whole post here.  But this is a general re-cap.  I plan for two weeks at a time (this just works best for me—some people plan for a week or sometimes a month).  I use the grocery ads and recipes and our calendar of activities to plan my menu.  This way, I can plan a quicker meal for the nights we have commitments after work.

The menu for the two weeks is posted on a Martha Stewart re-stickable weekly calendar—which is affixed to our fridge right about our dry-erase calendar for our monthly activities.  I just split the week into two with a dry erase line horizontally down the middle.  Having a list helps me keep on top of getting everything ready for meals.  I do make changes every so often, because life happens and I just move a meal from here to there.

While meal planning has been a given for the last few years, what I have found is that I like to try new recipes pretty often.  We have standard favorites, but I get bored with them and like to incorporate not so frequently made or even new dishes to spice things up (figuratively—not literally).  My family really doesn’t get bored, but I do.  And since I am the cook, they get to try new things on a pretty regular basis and we find new faves along the way.

To help find new recipes, I would check out a stack of cookbooks from the library or browse through recipe apps on my phone.  The trouble was, I would only find a few at a time—after a few hours, this felt like a bit like a waste of valuable time.  My brain begged for a better way.

Then, I read about the menu services you can subscribe to where the person sends you a certain amount of recipes along with a grocery list at designated intervals.  I was intrigued.  After checking into a few of the services, I realized I am also cheap.  I didn’t want to pay a subscription fee monthly or quarterly for this service, especially if I didn’t like what they had to offer.  (The sample menus only give you so much of a clue as to what you’re really going to get.)  Then, I stumbled upon a shout out from Jen over at I Heart Organizing about a specific service and saw the same service was running a special discount around the first of the year.  I thought, let’s give it a go.  It was $12 for 3 months.  I figured I could fork over $1 a week for the 3 month period, and if I didn’t like it, I could always cancel before the end of my run.  Plus, I could pick what type of menu I wanted to subscribe to.  Winner!

After working with 5 dinners in 1 hour for 5 months, I feel I can give it a thoughtful review.

Likes: 

This service is set up so that you prep 5 dinners in 1 hour and have them stored in your fridge ready to cook.  I like this, because as a working mom I am able to still get home and get dinner on the table by 5:30 or 6:00.

I have expanded my horizons.  I had never used the broil setting or made kebabs before starting this service.  Also, I have used my crock pot for more than making chili.  Many of the recipes use homemade marinades, so we have also tried many new flavor combinations.

The recipes on the classic menu are pretty healthy—and the recommended sides are too.

If you are not a seafood or pork person, she provides alternatives to use instead (usually chicken).

I don’t have to follow exactly what she has laid out for each week.  Usually I pick and choose and make up my own week worth of meals—but I can still usually prep it all in 1 hour on Sunday.

Concerns:

I worry sometimes that what I prepped on Sunday might spoil in the fridge by Friday—especially chicken.  To combat this fear, I usually make the chicken recipes very early in the week or I sometimes prep the night before instead of on Sunday (I know this defeats the purpose of 5 meals in 1 hour, but it gives me peace of mind.)  I really should check out the health and safety regulations for chicken and beef to put my mind at ease.  If anyone knows about this, let me know!

I don’t use every recipe. While we are trying to break out of the box, there are some of the recipes that I know we won’t like.  This number is usually pretty small, and I feel like I still get my money’s worth out of the service.  But, for some people this may be a problem.

I am glad that I started doing this menu service, because it really has expanded our horizons.  And, it really helps me keep my weeknight routines in place by reminding me to prep on Sundays.  While this may not be the ideal menu service for you, there are many out there to try, and you may just find one that fits your needs.  I recommend at least giving it a shot—I’m glad I did.

So, now part of my Sundays are spent prepping meals for the week and preparing snack size portions of goodies to go in our lunch boxes.  And, I am happy to give up that time, because it makes for much less stress during the week.  Anything I can do to make our nightly routine run more smoothly gets two thumbs up in my book.

**I was not paid in any way for this review.  And, yes I did in fact renew my subscription—but I did so with an even better deal than I got for the first 3 months.

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Meal Planning Means More Family Time

This is the meal planner that hangs on our fridge. I picked it up in the dollar bin at Target. Instead of groceries on the one side, I list all of the meals planned. As you can see changes are made. After a yucky Friday, we opted for pizza. Sometimes the meals move around in the week, but I know I have everything I need for each one on hand.

When I first started doing my own grocery shopping and after I first was married, I had a very haphazard style of shopping.  I loathed the grocery store—mostly I think because I would wander around without much of a plan picking things that were easy or on sale which usually meant me spending way more time there than necessary.  We ate out more than we do now and meals could be thrown together on the fly pretty easily.  My recipe arsenal was not very big, and we frequently had the same dishes on a pretty regular basis.

When our daughter came along, I still didn’t make any major changes to our eating lifestyle.  But, when she started eating what we ate, I became much more conscious of what we were putting into our bodies and what would be healthiest for all of us.  But, that meant pre-planning menus was essential.  Like with most new tactics in my life, I started out making a somewhat big change.  I started planning meals prior to going grocery shopping.  Not a new concept for most people, but it was new for me.  Knowing what I needed at the store made it so much easier.  I just wanted to smack my former self for not figuring this out sooner.  No more stressful, hours long trips to the grocery store—and I had everything I needed at home to make the meals.

A few months later I added another level to my pre-planning.  I started watching the ads for what was on sale and clipping coupons for what we used on a regular basis.  My meal planning is not based solely on what is on sale in the ads, but I do add a few meals here and there based on what I find.  I also realized that planning for an entire month is not possible for us.  We like to use a lot of fresh produce in our meals, and buying that far in advance is a waste of money.  So, now I plan two weeks at a time.  That means only two major grocery shopping trips a month—with the occasional quick trip thrown in every once in a while.  Yeah!

I made my newest step at the start of the year.  I used to post a list of the 14 or so possible meals on the fridge, and we would just pick one when I got home.  This method worked, but it was not the best use of my at home time.  As a working mom, I find my time at home with my little one to be very valuable, and I don’t want to spend all of it making dinner.  So, the next logical step—and one that many organization and mommy experts suggest—is to plan out the week in advance.  Decide what you want to have every night of the week.  Then, be prepared prior to the night you are going to cook the meal.  Set out items to thaw, pre-cook or pre-chop what you can, select meals based on your schedule for the evening…

I have found this to be an amazing time saver on weeknights.  My protein is already prepared or thawed, and usually it only takes about 15-20 minutes to whip everything else together.  The downside is that I spend a few hours on Sunday being a prep-cook getting ready for the week.  I really don’t mind getting things done ahead as the reward during the week of spending time with my daughter is completely worth it.  Plus, she is usually able to keep me company by hanging out in our kitchen and playing while I did it.  A total win-win.

The steps in my meal prep:

1)      Come up with 10 or so ideas for meals—some fast and easy and a few more involved.  I recycle our favorites every few weeks, but I always try to add one or two new ones to the mix to try out.  I find I get bored cooking the same thing too often.  Plus, it is a good thing to model to our daughter that we like trying new things.

2)      Look for ingredients for my recipes.  First, see what I already have on hand.  Then, check through the weekly ads to see what is on sale and what I have coupons for.  Write down what items I need to buy in my planner including store sales and coupons.  Add a few meals to the list based on sales for the week.  (Buy ahead any items that are on sale, but I know I use frequently for a variety of recipes—like boneless skinless chicken breasts or frozen vegetables)

3)      Go to the store (usually a Saturday morning phenomenon).

4)      Prep for the week (usually a Sunday phenomenon).  Cook meat needed for the week, freezing some if needed.  Chop any items for recipes.  Also, wash and bag any produce for snacks for easy retrieval from the fridge.  I have found that if I wash and individually bag produce and other items soon after I buy them that we are much more likely to reach for the healthy snack.  I also bag ahead so that it is easier to pack lunches for the week.  It is much easier to get my lunch packed every day if they are ready to get stuffed in my bag the night before.

5)      Relax and enjoy the extra time with my family.

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