Meal Planning Made Easy

The idea of meal planning has run in cycles over the past few years. About three or four years ago I was very much into the idea of meal planning, and freezer cooking. I planned out meals three months in advance and would make up many of the meals ahead of time and stash them in the freezer. At this time I only had four people to cook for, but two of them were little people with very little opinion on the meals I prepared. A lot has changed since then.

We now have four children, and I am also now a full time stay at home mom. You would think that I have it all together by now in the meal planning department. This is absolutely not true at all. It seems that dinnertime sneaks up on me a lot these days and the question of the hour is, “What’s for dinner?”Related image

I am going to try my best during the month of July to start meal planning again. Here are some tips to help make the meal planning process less difficult, and will help save you time, money, and aggravation. When I plan my meals I try to use as many things that I have on hand as possible. I don’t tend to like to have to make unplanned trips to the grocery store. Though there have been occasions that I realized midway through making a recipe that I was missing a key ingredient.

Dinner time tends to be a busy time at our house. The act of actually thinking about what to make for dinner is sometimes too much of a mental task, especially when I have a baby crawling around or a toddler streaking through the house. Sometimes even the best laid plans still fall through, but the intent was there, and the kids still get fed. However, without a plan the variety of meals tends to dwindle back to one or two items. I don’t know about you, but I can only eat so much spaghetti, and sandwiches. Here are some tips to simplify your meal planning process and help answering the question of, “What’s for dinner?” easier to answer.

Step 1: Take an inventory of your freezer and pantry

Freezer Inventory

Use my free freezer inventory sheet to take an inventory of what you have on hand. You may want to write this down so it’s easier to remember when you are meal planning. (If there is not much in your freezer, you might not need to do this.) We have a side by side refrigerator freezer and a small standing freezer in our kitchen; therefore I likely will have a larger stock of items on hand than someone with just a small freezer. Looking in your freezer might just give you some ideas for meals. I had no idea how much bacon I had in my freezer before I took inventory.

Pantry Inventory

You may want to do an inventory of your pantry as well. I tend to make more of a mental note of this because it is easier to open my cabinets and check these items than it is to get to the back of my freezer.

Step 2: Make of List Family Favorites and Other Meal Ideas

Gather the family around and have the family make suggestions of their favorite meals. Try to create a list of at least 20-25 meals. Later you can highlight the meals that can be made with the items you already have on hand. However don’t be limited to only proven favorites, try to pick one or two new recipes also. Don’t be afraid to be a little creative and change things up, especially if a new recipe uses up items you have in your freezer or pantry.

Step 3: Check your calendar.
Determine your busy nights, and write in special occasions like birthdays, and date nights that you are aware of.

Step 4: Write your meals on the calendar.

As you can see I used a regular notebook, but in the past I have done it on a Google Calendar so a reminder pops up on my phone. The best advice I can give to anyone is to keep your planning method simple or you will not stay with it. I only plan dinner because breakfast is usually cereal or toast, and lunch is typically sandwiches.

 

Make recipes that contain your items that you already have on hand a priority in your meal planning. For example if you have a lot of ground beef in your freezer you might want to plan on having tacos prior to something that you will need to purchase. I try to plan on using fresh produce before canned items, to cut down on waste. In addition, plan on having at least one leftover night, and possibly a sandwich or soup night (depending on the time of year). Plan these according to your schedule. Having a meal plan does not mean you will be cooking a four course meal every night. In fact you might find that planning ahead cuts down on the amount of cooking/ and shopping that you need to do.

Step 4 -Make a Grocery List

At the beginning of each week-add items that you need for your meal plan to your grocery list so you are not surprised when you need them. I write my list in a notebook, but there are some great apps you can use on your phone. Whichever works best for you? I try to be as consistent as possible in following through with my meal plan, but sometimes I am not in the mood for the item on the menu or schedules change. Therefore, I just switch the menu, even if we end up eating out.

Frugal Friday- Cutting the Cord on Cable

I used to love watching cable, but the truth was that I only watched about three or four channels, along with the cartoons that my kids watched almost constantly. Seven months ago we cut the cord on cable and have not looked back since. Here are some tips that made life easier for everyone while cutting the cord on cable.

Internet: Though we cut the cord on cable, but didn’t go completely off grid. We discovered that with high speed WiFi there still are many options for entertainment if you are willing to be flexible.Related image

Movies and TV**

The obvious options for movies and TV shows online are Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. All of these are paid subscriptions if watching recent shows is important to you. So far we have tried to stay away from a subscription and have opted for free services such as tubitv.com and YouTube. Tubitv.com is a website that hosts older TV shows, I was surprised to find a few shows that I used to watch on cable, and many more I had never heard of. One benefit of YouTube is the variety of content available for a variety of ages. My older girls really enjoy watching educational videos, cooking videos, and cartoons. My son pretty much just watches cartoons. There are so many creative, fun, and educational videos available. I have found many options for myself for personal improvement and entertainment. My favorite type of video right now are vlogs about freezer cooking, canning, and preserving. I also enjoy videos about saving money, and home management.

News

Two of the major cable news networks like CNN, and Fox News both have online talk radio, and sometimes rebroadcast some of their regular shows online, in addition to their regular programming. There are also many other sources for news They also show a great many clips of their shows, on their websites.

DVDS- You may already have a good collection of DVDs for your family that everyone loves to watch.
Digital converter box/ or digital antenna: I have not had the opportunity to try these options, but my parents have a digital converter box, and are able to pick up three or four local channels.

Get a library card- Your local library is wonderful source of entertainment and information. In addition to their regular book collections, libraries often lend our DVDS and audio books.

Cutting the cord on cable may take some getting used to, but there are plenty of options to provide entertainment for the entire family. So cutting the cord doesnt necessarily mean going dark in the digital entertainment arena. It actually gives you many options to choose from.

Encouragement for Moms of Toddlers

Being a mom of toddlers can be both wonderful and challenging. These years can be filled with cuddles, smiles, and fun. However, part of these toddler years also include tantrums, changeable moods, diet, and sleep patterns. Moms of young children usually do not have much time for themselves for doing things that they once took for granted. Like any stage of childhood, the toddler years can be both a source of joy and stress for parents.

When I speak to moms with grown children, they all say the same thing. Enjoy these years; soon they will be going to college, getting married, and raising families of their own. I know that I need to remember this even as my two year old son spills a bottle of apple juice all over my freshly washed kitchen floor, or baby powder on the living room carpet. Here are some tips to make the toddler stage more manageable and enjoyable for everyone.Image result for Encouragement for Moms of Toddlers

Have a daily routine, but be flexible. Young kids crave consistency, and it helps them to know what to expect from their daily schedule. This includes snack, meal times, and bed times. Up until a certain point nap time should be consistent, until the child starts to grow out of their nap time (usually around age 3). Though routine is good, it is important to be flexible.

Have realistic expectations of your children (based on age). At home while they are awake do not plan any major projects, make your focus them. I try to fit in dishes, and starting laundry in the morning while my daughter is eating breakfast and is in her high chair. In planning an outing, I always keep nap times and meal times in mind, and try to do them in the morning when my kids are well rested. I also do my best to be home before lunch.

Have realistic expectations of yourself. This is a stage of life where you need to plan things in nap sized pieces. I try to save bigger projects like folding and putting away laundry, cleaning, and baking for nap time. This week my big project has been sorting through kids clothes. I managed to finish two drawers each day.

Have fun, be spontaneous. It is so wonderful to sometimes just let go, especially after a particularly stressful day. So let go and have a dance party in living room, drop everything and go to the park, or just go outside to play.

Don’t forget the cuddle time. Remember your kids will not be small forever, so give your little ones lots of hugs and kisses. Snuggle up together and watch a movie, or read a book together.

Messes are part of the deal. Kids naturally will make messes. It’s part of their job description. If you came to my house right now you would see toys everywhere, and Cheerios on my kitchen floor. With four children we have had a few big messes in our house such as the baby powder or apple juice. My method of preventing big messes usually involves making sure that I try to not tackle complicated projects while my younger children are awake. If I need to do something, I will put my youngest daughter in her high chair and give her toys to play with. I know that if my two year old son communicates with me that he wants a refill in his cup I should probably listen. If I am not responsive to his request he will help himself to juice.

Take time out for yourself. Try to set aside some time during your day to spend on yourself even if it means getting up early. Read a book, watch a TV show, or have a cup of coffee. This is so important to give yourself some time to recharge your batteries. It will make you a better mom.

Even as I am in the midst of toddlerhood with my younger children (ages 1 and 3), I also have kids that are of school age. I can’t believe where the time has gone. It reminds me of my favorite song by Steven Curtis Chapman called Cinderella. It is about a father who is stressed from his day and his daughter wants to play, soon she wants to show him her prom dress, and in a blink he is dancing with her at her wedding. When my oldest daughter was a baby, my husband used to dance with her to this song, and now she is about to finish the first grade.

Despite the daily challenges we all face as moms of toddlers it is important to remember the Cheerios on the kitchen floor will still be there later. Give your little ones lots of love and attention, stories, and hugs. You will be glad you did!!!!!

7 Tips for Reading to Your Toddler

Reading to young children helps to build language skills and helps to build a wonderful bond between parent and child. Reading to your child it helps to develop important language, and social skills. In addition, research has shown that children who are read to at home (starting at an early age) become better readers as they enter school. The benefits of reading to kids starting at a young age are numerous and cannot be ignored.

Toddlers are a curious age level that may be difficult to predict at times. However, spending quality time with your toddler by reading to them helps to ease stress and makes relationships stronger. One way to do this is to by reading to them. Here are some tips to make your reading experience more enjoyable and beneficial for your toddler.Image result for 7 Tips for Reading to Your Toddler

Tips for Reading to Toddlers

Minimize distractions. Turn off the television, put away the toys and cozy up together in a favorite chair. Decide prior to sitting down what you will read. If child is old enough let he or she choose a book.

Choose simple and short Books. Keep your book selections simple, short, and relatable to the age level. Often engaging them with an area of interest such as animals or cars will help to hold interest.

Picture Preview. Preview the pictures with your toddler prior to reading them the book. Start with the cover of the book and talk about the pictures in the book. This is particularly important with younger children with shorter attention spans. Gradually as you get them interested in the pictures start to add in some of the story text.

Engage in Conversation. Use books to engage toddlers in conversation, talk about the characters, and what is happening in each part of the story.

Expect Repeated Readings. It is likely that if a toddler likes a particular book he or she will want to read it again and again. You will find that eventually as your toddler becomes more and more fluent with language he or she can tell you the story.

Mix it up. While your child may have his or her favorite books try to add some new ones once in a while to make story time more fun and interesting.

Reading to Multiple Age Levels. I have a 15 month old daughter who has just started becoming more interested in reading books, but right now she likes the pictures. I tend to choose shorter board books for her, while my son can sit and listen to a much longer book. A strategy I find that works for reading to children of different ages is to choose a much shorter board type book first to everyone, then put the youngest to bed and finish by reading a longer story to the older child ( or children).

Regular story time gives both parents and kids time to unwind and relax from a busy day and spend quality time together before settling down for the night. I’m specifically talking about bedtime stories, but reading is a great way to unwind at any time of the day. Reading to your toddler can be both a fun and rewarding experience for both of you. It is a wonderful way to spend with your child while teaching important pre-reading skills. This is a fun and relaxing activity that can be enjoyed by all ages. You will be glad you did!!!

 

5 Back to School Transition Tips For Your Kindergartener

Do you have a child who is going to kindergarten for the first time this year. Here are some tips to help make the transition a little easier for both your child and family. My second daughter will be going to kindergarten this year so I have a bit of an idea of what to expect. Despite knowing what to expect, I know one thing is for sure I am going to miss her being at home with me during the day.

Most of these tips apply to children going to school for the first time. For each family this will be different and might be prekindergarten or preschool. However, many of these tips could apply to an older child starting at a new school this year.

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Visit school: Most schools have a kindergarten orientation where children can get a taste of what the school is like and have a tour, the teachers and, maybe take a ride on a bus. My recommendation is attend as many of the events as possible before the school year starts to help get your child used to the school environment. If possible have your child meet their teacher ahead of time.

Shopping: Take your child with when you shopping for back to school items and let them take some ownership over the process. Let your child have a choice in their lunch box, or pencil case.

Realistic Expectations: Some kids might be really excited to start school for the first time. However, it has been my experience that most kids have some mixed feelings about the experience. Do not fake excitement about your child going to school for the first time particularly if there could be some mixed feelings for them. However don’t feed them unnecessary fear either.

Listen: Be available of a child needs to talk about his or her feelings of going to school for the first time. Validate feelings as real and talk them through their feelings. However, don’t go any deeper than needed as this might add unneeded fear to the situation. For example if the child has not expressed that he or she is nervous about going to school, it may not be necessary to discuss it.

Normalize the “Back to School” Experience: Treat the “back to school “experience as normal as possible. This is more possible if the child has an older sibling already in school and can share stories and experiences with their younger sibling. Whether he or she has an older sibling or not try to make your child feel that they are not alone in their experience and that there are other kids who will be experiencing the same things as them as they go to school for the first time.

Trial Run: Over the summer had my girls go to soccer camp and gave my kids the opportunity for a week to have a little time away from me. It was a growing experience for my second daughter who never has gone to preschool. She has had babysitters come to our house, but over this last year she has had me home with her full time.

Easing Mom Anxiety: Moms get back to school jitters too. After all the lunches and school supplies are packed make sure you take lots of pictures. The closer there first day of school comes I keep thinking about how I am going to miss my kiddo, but I felt the same for my now almost second grader when she went to kindergarten. I am going to try to wait until she gets on the bus before I cry. I have a feeling her siblings are going to miss her a lot too. During the first few days getting yourself back into a routine at home will help with the transition.

Easing Sibling Anxiety: When my now almost second grader went to kindergarten for the first time her three year old little sister (now going to kindergarten this year) tried to follow her onto the bus. She had a very difficult time being separated from her because they are so close in age. If your other kids experience this try to plan something fun (such as going to the park,or library) for them to do during the first few days of school that way it will help them to transition a little easier. Then try to get them into a normal routine as soon as possible. In addition, having a time for the younger children to experience school by having a story time and craft time will help younger children feel more included in the back to school experience. Here are some tips for reading to toddlers, and a cute craft idea.

A new school experience is a milestone for every child, and mom. While change can be good, it is never easy. Try to make the experience memorable and positive for everyone, and if the tears come (either mom or kid tears) deal with it if necessary (don’t forget the tissues). Just remember to soak up the experience, and take lots of pictures. You will be glad you did.