Friday, July 23, 2010

How I plan meals for our family

I was asked to share about planning meals for my family on the POH blogAnd Kelly is doing a "Show us Your life" -- Organization blog fest. So I thought I might as well post about how I organize our meals.

For breakfast, we usually have some kind of eggs and fruit and often some kind of grain (pancakes, waffles, toast, muffins, quinoa, oatmeal, etc.) I know you might think breakfast takes forever if I'm always cooking eggs, but it really only takes a minute to fry or scramble some eggs. And they are just so good for us! Eggs contain every nutrient your body needs except Vitamin C! Needless to say, my little family goes through 3 dozen eggs a week :) We have recently started grinding our own grain so I've been trying to make it all from scratch since its so much healthier. But I always make extra pancakes, waffles, muffins, etc, and freeze them so I really only cook such things once or twice a week. We do not usually does not eat store-bought cereal for breakfast because its processed and not really that good for us. Instead, I make my own cereal and granolato have on hand for quick breakfasts. HERE is a list of our favorite breakfasts.

I don't plan lunches because we usually just eat leftovers or a simple sandwich. We LOVEcoconut oil and it is sooooo incredibly good for us! We use it instead of mayonnaise or Ranch or other spreads on our sandwiches. It is sweet, so I've found that we no longer even need jam with our peanut butter sandwiches or syrup on our pancakes. And it makes the best greasy, healthy grilled cheese sandwich ever :)

Snacks are pretty consistent. We usually has plain, unsweetened, home-made yogurt or unsweetened applesauce with homemade granola, or we eat some fruit and cheese and almonds or pecans. And I make healthy homemade butter crackers and graham crackers that my girls ask for throughout the day when they want to munch. I'm still working on getting my husband to give up his chips and Kudos bars for snacks, but he's slowly giving in to more healthy snacks :) HERE is a list of some of our favorite snacks.

I plan my weekly dinners from an excel spreadsheet that I've made of all our favorite meals. We have over 70 options so that I'm not making the same thing in the same month. However, I usually double the recipe whenever possible and freeze a meal for a busy day, so my family definitely receives some repetition. I also LOVE to try new recipes, so I deviate from my list every so often. But its worth it, because I'm constantly finding new favorites. My goal is to have the following each week: two dinners from the freezer that I made previously, two simple, healthy meals with fresh ingredients, try out one new recipe, CORN night (clean out the refrigerator night) and cook at least one recipe that doubles and freezes well to keep my freezer stocked. Some weeks I manage this and some weeks are crazy :) I have an ongoing list on my fridge that shows what meals I have already made in the freezer so that I don't forget about them. I also have an ongoing word document on my laptop filled with recipes that I want to try. When I am planning my menu for the week, I have all three of my lists before me so its quite simple to make a plan. HERE is a list of my recipes that freeze well.

Some of these meals are more expensive than others, so we definitely don't have them as often as the others. Not all of these meals are super healthy, but I am trying to gradually change them to use more whole foods and natural ingredients. This has been a gradual process for me due to lack of funds and time and most of these recipes haven't been converted to the healthy version yet :) We do try to have fruit with every meal and veggies at least at dinner.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Weekly outings with my girls

The topic this week is about outings with our kids and things we do to make them go more smoothly. I figured that the easiest way for me to write about it would be to tell you where we go each day in a normal week. But first, let me just say that although I love to take my girls on fun outings, my favorite days are when we can stay at home and keep to our normal scheduleThings just go so much easier and more smoothly when we are home and the girls know what is going to happen next. So I try to plan all my errands for the same day or two and stay at home the rest of the week. However, we do have several activities that we do on a weekly basis that we all enjoy, and even more so during the summer time.

Mondays: Usually a catch-up day for us because I try to just relax and spend time with my family on Sundays. I don't do a lot of housework or cooking, so on Mondays we stay home and catch up!

Tuesdays: Possible Early Grocery Morning and then a normal day at home: We usually stay at home on Tuesdays, but if we have to go to the grocery store that week, we will go early right before my husband heads off to work. (I try to make a monthly meal plan and do most of my shopping at the Farmer's market, farm, or during our monthly trip to Trader Joes, so we don't have to go to the grocery store every week.) I like to go when my husband is available to help because Karis is currently in the "learning how to push a little buggy" stage. She listens very well, but often gets carried away and will run into things. So I usually put Karlie in the Ergo and push the big buggy while Mark helps Karis manage the little grocery cart. If I go without Mark, then Karis just walks beside the buggy instead of pushing her own cart. There are two things that help us get through the grocery store trip more smoothly:

1. Laughter. Karis is absolutely hilarious pushing that cart around. It is very easy to get all stressed out because it is inevitable that she will run into something or someone, but we just choose to laugh at her. She gets so excited and tries so hard to help. Almost everyone that she runs into laughs at her, so why shouldn't we all just have fun as she learns? :)
2. The "one-finger" rule -- Karis knows that she is allowed to touch things with one finger, but she cannot pick up anything unless we tell her to put it in her cart. This satisfies her unending curiosity and gives her a little freedom, but keeps her in check as well. I will warn that the rule is not so great if there happens to be glass bottles or other things that are easily broken, but she is always under our careful watch so we just warn her ahead of time that those things cannot be touched.

Wednesdays: Daddy date and toddler pool time: Wednesday is my husband's day off and he has gotten into the habit of taking Karis out to do whatever errands he needs to do. She absolutely loves it and looks forward to and talks about her "Daddy and Karis" time all week long. This week she went with him to the dentist, last week he took her to the local Seminary Student Center to watch the soccer game, and the week before that, they took the dog to her check-up at the vet. It just sounds like boring errands to me, but to Karis, it is very special and exciting! I usually pack snacks for her and a coloring book and markers to keep her busy if there is any waiting involved.

Toddler Time at the Pool
: Last year, Karis was scared of the pool and we decided that we needed to go more often so that she would get used to it. A pool in our area offers "toddler time" from noon to 1:00 every day and it is only open to parents and children ages 4 and under. This was absolutely perfect for Karis because there were just a handful of Moms and little ones and she grew to love the pool. An hour is plenty of time to wear out a toddler and it was perfect for meeting Mark on his lunch break. I never had the nerve to go all by myself since neither of my girls could swim and I probably won't this year, either :) We haven't actually gone to the pool yet this year because I have been really sick from morning sickness, but I'm hoping to start next week. We always pack lots of snacks and a handful of pool toys.

Thursdays: Soccer class and the Library: My husband runs an awesome sports facility that offers classes in soccer, basketball, T-ball, and tennis to little ones. The soccer classes actually start at 18 months, so Karis has been going to soccer class with her Daddy since she was just a little thing! She loves it! It got a little more difficult once Karlie was born, because the younger ages are parent-child classes and I still had to be able to chase her around while carrying Karlie so Daddy could focus on coaching. I used a hotslingwith Karlie as a newborn and the Ergo from 6 months to a year. Once she turned one and started walking, however, she didn't want to stay in the carrier one bit! So now I just let her run around and chase balls and the other kids and it has worked out fine. It is definitely a work-out for me as well as the girls!

Library: My girls LOVE books and they LOVE the library! We don't go to story-time, although I think they would really enjoy it, simply because it doesn't fit our schedule as well. (Like I mentioned before, I try to stay home when I can, so we go to the library when we are already out and about :) Karis is really easy at the library. She loves choosing books and sitting on the fun carpet and looking at them. Karlie used to be easy at the library as well, when she would stay nicely in the Ergo while I picked through and found the best kids books. Now that she is mobile, however, she is obsessed with the books and really wants to get down and pick them out. I usually first set her down by the board books, because they are just in a big table and she can't really mess them up. I usually have about 5 minutes to myself to pick out a handful of good kids books while she is engrossed in the board books. After that, she is a crazy girl, grabbing books off the shelf left and right! Yes, I am working very hard to train her to have good library manners, but she doesn't quite have the hang of it yet :) I cannot describe to you how incredibly excited she gets when she sees all those books! After about 10 minutes of following Karlie around and teaching her to sit down and read the books she chooses (instead of throwing books around left and right :),I put her back in the Ergo so we can check out. Since I no longer have twenty minutes to leisurely browse through the books, my biggest tip is this: Utilize the online reserve function of your library!!! I usually reserve between 15 and 20 books each week so that I know that we will get home with plenty of good ones. If you run out of good books to reserve, check out some of these reading lists: 

Early Years Read-alouds -- Simply Charlotte Mason
Classical Christian EducationSupport Loop: 1000 Good Books List 
The Consortium for Classical Lutheran Education booklist

Five in a Row booklist
Our Library's book list

The Read-Aloud Handbook: 6th edition
 by Jim Trelease
Honey For a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt

Friday: Stay at home and keep a normal schedule!

Saturday: Farmer's Market or our CSA Farm: My girls LOVE the farm! I buy most of our meat and eggs at the Farmer's Market, so I go there at least one Saturday a month. This spring, my family purchased a market share CSA from a local farm. We paid a sum of money ahead of time and can go every week to pick out fresh fruits and veggies at a discounted rate. During spring strawberry season, we went every single week with the girls to pick strawberries! It was so much fun and I love the fact that my girls know exactly where their food comes from. Now that it is so hot and I am so sick with morning sickness, we just go to the farm and buy what they have already picked almost every week. We also go to a different farm to get fresh milk, but I only do that once a month because I am part of a group with 5 other ladies and we take turns picking up milk for each other.

Sunday: Church: We attend a very small church and the children stay in the service. This is both wonderful and very exhausting, but we are blessed to have a very understanding church family. Rather than viewing the children as a distraction (which mine definitely are, ha,ha), they view them as an opportunity to minister to our family. They have told me so many times how much they enjoy it when I turn Karlie loose and let her come sit with them. I really appreciate this because it is an extremely loving environment in which to teach my girls obedience and the art of sitting still. So here is how we manage: Karis is three and is old enough to sit still for the entire service (usually a little more than an hour). We bring lots of snacks and a coloring book and markers (I LOVE the Color Wonder Markers and books!). She has learned to be quiet and sit with us, although sometimes if Karlie gets attention for being loud, Karis will start to act up and we have to take her out and discipline her. Karlie, on the other hand, is definitely still in the training period! For the first 9 months of her life, she slept in the Ergo while at church. But now she is very excited about being there and seeing all our friends and doesn't really want to sit still. So we are taking it slow. I figure that at 17 months, a half hour of sitting still is a reasonable expectation. So she sings, eats her snacks, looks at books and colors on my lap for 30 minutes. She is not always quiet and usually gets mad at some point and has to be disciplined a couple of times. But she is definitely getting the hang of it and I am really grateful to have such a safe place to teach her to sit still. After about a half hour, I let her walk around and visit with other members of our church family for the duration of the service. Fairly soon I plan to bump it up to 45 minutes, but she is not quite ready for it :)

So that is a summary of our weekly outings! Hope it was helpful and I would love to hear about places you like to take your kids and your tips for success!