Meal Planning: Working My Way Through One Bite At A Time

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Wow, this is a tough one for me. I used to really like meal planning. I enjoyed deciding which yummy meals to make and shopping for fun ingredients. Then my son developed food allergies and my daughter became super picky. I was willing to simply power though the pickiness but my husband requested that I try and make more meals that she likes so dinner time isn’t always so unpleasant. Let me just say, my daughter lives on cheese, bread and peanut butter; chocolate if she can get it. My son can’t have dairy except baked or cooked into recipes and can’t have peanuts or peanut butter either. My daughter won’t eat meat. My son can’t get enough of it, and since he can’t have dairy, he needs it for protein. You see my dilemma.

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But I decided to give it a go again when I realized. I plan one to two weeks at a time. I try to find ways to cook only once or twice. For example: Monday I will make a baked chicken. I prefer roast potatoes and veggies, but my daughter refuses to eat potatoes so I make rice and steamed veggies, her serving topped with cheese. If I’m lucky she’ll have a tiny bite of chicken. Other meals for the week might include quesadillas (just veggies and chicken in a tortilla for my son), chicken pot pie (which my daughter will reject, and opt for PB&J instead), soup of some kind and maybe a chicken skillet meal. We also usually eat breakfast for dinner at least once a week. It’s fun, easy and everyone eats it. On the nights when are making something I know my daughter loves (like homemade macaroni and cheese) I plan an alternate for my son. If I’m organized enough, I’ll usually defrost some pre-cooked chicken from the freezer to mix with plain pasta and veggies.

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I really do love planning meals but budget and my children’s food issues does make it much more difficult and not always very fun. (It’s pretty much guaranteed that my daughter will ask what’s for dinner at 9 AM and if she doesn’t like the answer complain the whole rest of the day about it). But one thing is for sure, if I don’t have a meal planned, we either all eat PB&J (except for my son who will have sunbutter and bread) or get takeout that we may not have the money for. I’d rather plan ahead to get pizza or takeout so that we can budget for it and enjoy it rather than be force into it by poor planning and regret the expense later.

I’m working on trying to create a monthly list of regular meals that I know we will make each month to make planning a little easier in the future.

So how do you meal plan? Do you mind that it helps make things easier or more complicated for you? How do you accommodate budget need and food preferences/allergies?

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Establishing an Evening Routine: Working My Way Through One Bite At A Time

1426193_69031835This chapter of One Bite at a Time is the book end to our last one, which focused on the morning routine. Evening routine is something that was somewhat ingrained in me as a child. I was taught to lay out my school and clothes and pack my book bag the night before. That way dressing was easy and I didn’t forget any books. But this also works for me now. I pre-pack diaper bags the night before church, MOPS meetings and homeschool co-op days. But an evening routine is about more than just preparing for the following day by completing tasks, it’s about slowly winding yourself down physically and mentally so that you can get a restful nights sleep. Going to bed too wound up or overstimulated by TV or Facebook doesn’t produce the same quality of sleep. This has been hard for me in the past because I tend to go straight from the couch in front of the TV to the bathroom to bed. My husband and I started reading in bed again last year and it really does make me feel more relaxed before sleep. But that requires that we get to bed early enough. (And that the book I’m reading it’s too stressful or engaging).

List 5 things that will be part of your evening routine. (No more, as tempting as that may be.) Make them simple things. Reorganizing your closet or panting a room don’t count as simple.

My current routine:

Dishes and kitchen clean up.
(My husband shares this task with, me but the important thing is that it gets done, otherwise I feel awful coming down in the morning to a messy kitchen).

Review or make tomorrow’s to-do list.
This usually helps me get things off my mind that I’m afraid I’ll forget and help me mentally prepare for the next day. But I need to set a time limit otherwise I start looking at my weekly and monthly calender and soon I’m anxious and overwhelmed.

Layout my clothes/pack bags.
This helps with my goal to get dressed each day and makes getting out the door the next day easier, if we have places to go or appointments to get to. This means making sure co-op materials and are all assembled in the same place, library books in in a bag by the door and the diaper bag is stocked for whatever length of outing we have coming.

Read a short devotional and then a pleasure book.
I have been enjoying When Motherhood Feels Too Hard because it is short, challenging and inspiring. The pleasure book should ideally be fiction not non-fiction at least for me. But I also have to set a time limit in case the story gets so engaging that I don’t want to put it down.

Talk to my husband.
This item can occur anywhere in the list, but I need to make sure it happens. I am quality time love language (with an element of quality conversation dialect) so I feel isolated and unloved when this doesn’t happen regularly. But sometimes on busy nights, we just don’t get to it. It’s OK if it doesn’t happen every day, but we need to talk and connect most days.

Ideally I should be headed upstairs for bed between 10 and 10:30, though most nights it’s more like 11. One of my goals is to try and be asleep or actively trying to fall asleep by 11 PM on weeknights, ideally not much later on weekends. When I stay up later I always regret it when the 6 AM alarm comes along.

So just as a morning routine helps us get our day started out right, an evening routine helps us finish out the day well and transition slowly into restful sleep.

What items are on your nightly routine list? How do you power down at the end of the night?

Establish a Morning Routine: Working My Way Through One Bite At A Time

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This is a great challenge that I think everyone should do. Quick note: there is an important difference between a routine and a schedule. A routine specifies a certain number of items (in this case 5) and an ideal order, but other than that it is flexible. If you get up later or earlier, that’s OK, the routine still works. If you get interrupted by a baby who needs to be fed urgently or an toddler who needs a diaper change, that’s OK too as long as you make sure to return to the routine when the task is completed.

A word of encouragement to moms of infants, it is OK if most days feel like chaos, but it is still possible to have some kind of morning routine for yourself. When my son was less than a year old, each day was a little different. I never knew if he would wake at 6 or 9, whether my husband would hit the snooze button once or 3 times, which directly influenced how much time he had to help me out in the morning. But I still picked a few basic things I tried to do each day, even if they didn’t all get done until 10 AM. Brush my teeth, wash my face, put on deodorant, eat something. I know that sounds crazy, but there were so many days when those things were regularly overlooked. Let me tell you, it didn’t help me feel better about myself to realize that I had forgotten my basic hygiene. This challenge may seem impossible for you, but try to keep it simple. You can always adjust your routine once your kids are older and a little more self-sufficient, plus hopefully sleeping a little more consistently.

For the rest of us, this chapter recommends selecting five items to include in your morning routine and putting them someplace that you will see them. To help you remember. I don’t need the visual reminder as much but I do put the items in my Google calender as though they were appointments.

Exercise

 Some days this is running, other days it’s yoga and/or step aerobics on my Wii Fit, or a Fit2B Studio workout. The important thing is that I get moving. I’m currently training for a 5K, using a Couch to 5K program. So two days a week, at least, I need to run using whatever the weekly training plan is. Right now I’m trying to make that three days in addition to my Sunday night group training session. That is pretty much my first thing. My running clothes are laid out, including all the necessary elements down to the sports bra, socks and sometimes my abdominal splint. If I have to stop and look for something, I know it will slow me down and cause me to lose motivation. I grab my husband’s ipod on my way out of the bedroom. My shoes are by the door along with my cell phone, pepper spray, headphones and water bottle. I no longer carry water because it hurt my hands so I just take a good long drink of 6 ounces or more before I leave. Exercise always has to come first or I know I won’t do it. It’s just the way it is for me. The other four items are negotiable in their order as long as they all happen.

Devotional or Bible Reading

I have a couple of mom devotionals that enjoy like The Busy Mom’s 10 Minute Devotional or Always There: Reflections for Moms on God’s Presence. But I’ve also been trying out Youversion bible reading plans and devotionals on my tablet.

Breakfast

For me this means healthy and fast. I usually fall back on one of my old standbys from my gestational diabetes diet, such as Greek yogurt or wheat toast with peanut butter and milk. But sometimes I make oatmeal with raisins and nuts. But mainly I just need to eat and drink so I don’t start the day sluggish from lack of fuel.

Shower

Get dressed.

I’ll be talking about this further on Wednesday when I start my Frumps to Pumps challenge.

On Friday’s I add to that list, blog my Five Minute Friday post. That way I get it taken care of first things when my mind is fresh and energized from my run. My ideal order is exercise, (blog on Fridays), Devotional or Bible reading, breakfast (sometimes usually reading and breakfast occur simultaneously), shower and get dressed. Occasionaly I don’t shower, in which case I need to wash my face and brush my teeth. This is because I know I might forget otherwise. Some mornings my run takes too long and when I get back the kids are up. Then my reading has to wait until later and I’ll shower once they’ve had breakfast and I eat when I’m dressed. But ideally I love to get them all done before my husband leaves for work. It doesn’t always happen and that is OK. What’s most important is that I have a map, a guideline toward starting my day right. Plus, for the type A, J’s among us, it helps us check some things of our mental (and sometimes physical) lists first thing.

But make sure these things are really for you. Don’t pack your kids lunches, collect laundry or check email, Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. Make this time a component of your self-care. So I encourage you. Find a routine that works for you. It won’t look like mine. It’s not about should’s and ought’s, it’s about what energizes you and helps you feel ready to face the day.

Do you have a morning routine? If not, what are you going to change so that you can develop one?

Make a Debt Free Plan: Working Through One Bite At A Time

I’ve been avoiding writing this blog post. Mostly because I didn’t know how. We’ve been struggling with school loan debt for years and despite living very simply and forgoing most luxuries (a few small exceptions) we were making hardly any progress. So finally we sat down with our mentor couple who did our premarital counseling and talked about options. Things could not stay as they were. Income Based Repayment on our loans was allowing us to afford the payments, but not actually pay off the loans. Only a few dollars of principle was being paid each month, everything else was just interest. We were driving two old cars and we really didn’t want a car payment, but eventually something was going to have to change. We reviewed all our options including me going back to work, my husband getting a second job and looking for other ways to increase our income.

Without going into personal details I’ll just say that we were able to increase our income in some unexpected ways and we will now be making full loan repayments. At this rate it will still take us 10 years to get rid of the loans. But we are also committed to continue to live simply and resist lifestyle inflation wherever possible. However, we also know that we have future expenses coming that will need to be addressed, such as a new vehicle, so we can’t just put everything on our student loans, but we still think that if we continue to live simply and look for extra opportunities to put additional money towards our debt repayment, we can shorten that time frame.

Our current goal: repay the student loans in the next 5 years. That still feels huge and very difficult. But it has enough attainability to give us a challenge that we can work towards. I also feel that it is important to note that this came after years of prayer on this topic. There were so many times that I felt discouraged, as if nothing was ever going to change. But God has blessed us, and I can take no credit for it whatsoever. It wasn’t because we were the most faithful, there were times I doubted. It wasn’t because we followed a magic formula, we just honestly expressed our needs, desires and frustrations to God.

So I would encourage you to stay strong toward you goals of living debt free. Even if you are in a time where it seems like you aren’t making any progress, look for ways to increase your income, not just lower your expenses. Sometimes you’re already as low as you can realistically go. Pray continually about your situation and ask God to open your eyes to options you may not have previously seen. If nothing else, try to actively avoid taking on any additional debt. When you already have a lot of debt, sometimes it seems like the easiest way to survive is to keep taking on debt. Try not to. Try to discipline yourself to live within your means, preferably below them if that allow you to pay off you debts sooner. Make a plan. Some kind of plan. Even if the goals you set are tiny, because at least it is some kind of progress.

Working My Way Through One Bite at a Time: Eat That Frog

Adult leopard frog
Adult leopard frog (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been meaning to read Tsh Oxereider’s One Bite at a Time since it first came out, but thanks to the Ultimate Homemaking ebook Bundle, I got a copy along with several dozen other books I’ve been wanting to read. While the book does contain 52 challenges, she encourages the reader to work through them that your own pace, so I’m trying to do so. So you will periodically see me post the details of my attempts, but it probably won’t be one every week.

Eat that Frog. This isn’t a new concept for me. Not so much because my frog is things I don’t want to do (of which there are many like dishes and housework) but the things that if I don’t do them first thing, there is little hope of them being done at all. Exercise, eating breakfast, quiet time with God (I say quiet time rather than devotional time because I am able to work in devotional time occasionally, but with my kids roaming around, it is rarely quiet), getting dressed. So I have far too many frogs and children who wake up inconsistently and far too early. Truthfully what I really need is a good review of Tell Your Time with a workable plan in place. I have too many things to do and not nearly enough time. But I can’t quite let go of any of them. They are all important, most are necessary, many of them are things I love and sustain me. Those things rarely overlap, so how can I find a balance?

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sunrise (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

I tried waking up early for a while to exercise before my kids got up. This worked well for a few weeks until my son started getting up at 6:30. Given the choice between getting up early to spend an extra hour child wrangling, or taking my son into our room and falling back to sleep, sleep usually wins out. Once the kids are up most of my high goals for the day are shot anyway. So how do I find a way to eat the frog will having the kids in tow? Have can I keep from getting distracted by all the little things that need to be managed in the morning? So I’m probably going to try again to start getting up early again, to exercise, get dressed, sometimes shower and try to get breakfast for the family started. The hardest part about this will be going to bed earlier so I can get up earlier, but I think I can probably manage that. It’s possible that some frogs can be more easily eaten in the morning if the kitchen and cooking implements are prepared the night before.