Thursday, February 26, 2015

How To: Meal Plan

Meal planning means different things for different people.  The benefits of meal planning are undeniable:  saving money on your groceries, less pre-packaged or fast food, eating healthier, less gas due to extra trips to the store or drive through.

I don't meal plan like my mom does, and it took me a long time to accept that didn't mean I was a failure, or couldn't do some version of meal planning.  So don't be discouraged if my system doesn't work for you.  Be inspired to use this as a springboard to find something that does work for you!

My mom used to comb the coupon inserts and grocery ads in the weekly papers.  This does not work for me, because it's 2015 and nobody reads the paper anymore.  I also don't have the desire, or time, to look through websites and apps for coupons.

Next, she would design her weekly menu around what was on sale and her coupons.  If I tried this, I am certain I would end up with some type of sauce that included toothpaste and cat food.  Yum.

Finally, in one day, with two small children, she would travel to all of the different stores to pick up her sale items and use her coupons.  She was a SAHM, and this was her contribution to saving money for the household.  It is an impressive system, and really good for her for being able to do this.  I work outside the home, and shopping this way (even without children in tow) would be exhausting, and take me all week to complete.  Even as a SAHM, I'm not sure I would be able to keep up with this and keep my sanity.

Anyway, the following is what works for me.  And it has not always looked this way.  It will continue to evolve as our lives do.  It is a similar concept of what my mom did, but modified for how my brain works.  I am hoping you will be able to glean an idea or two from here to work into your lifestyle.  Or copy it exactly!

Step 1.  Make a list of all the meals you make on a regular basis.  If you can't think of things off the top of your head, write them down as you make them.  Separate each food item into categories onto a piece (or several pieces) paper.  Sort by main dishes, sides, salads, soups, breakfasts, sandwiches, desserts, etc.

In the beginning, stick with what you usually cook.  We are creatures of habit, and if you are trying to meal plan with all new recipes, you probably won't stick with it because it's not natural or comfortable.  We will add new recipes later in this process (keep reading).

Step 2.  Once a week (I usually do it on Friday evening or Saturday morning so that I have the entire weekend to pick up any groceries I need), look at what you have on hand (chicken, beef, corn, spinach, etc.), and look at your list of meals.  What do you have already that you can make?  How does the time it takes to make those foods fit in with the next week's schedule?  Don't plan a meal that takes all day to cook on a day when you have a lot going on.  Do a crockpot meal that day, or sandwiches, something fast.

If you do want to incorporate ads and coupons into your meal planning, start at this step.  What's on sale?  Can I substitute spinach that's on sale for the kale in this recipe?  Is there a really good deal on meat?  If so, buy a lot of it, use some for this week and freeze the rest.

Step 3.  Write down the meal you want to make on the day you want to make it.  You can do this on a pieces of paper or a menu planner.  You could even write it in your planner.  I write mine on a magnetic board on the fridge for everyone to see.

Step 4.  Make a separate grocery list for each store you go to.  You know the layout of that store (i.e., meats in the back, produce on the right, etc.).  So for Walmart, you put apples, fresh spinach, ice cream, canned chili, bacon, crackers, yogurt, Windex, diapers.  Because that's the order you will get them as you walk through the store.  Then you are less likely to miss THAT ONE THING you needed.  If you get apples from Walmart, put them on that list.  If you get them from Costco, put them on the Costco list.  Don't make one giant list for all groceries.  I keep my grocery list in my planner.  I add the things we run out of, and any extra ingredients needed for the weekly menu (fresh produce, spice, etc.).

Step 5.  Check the next night's menu to make sure that A) that meal still works for that night, and B) you don't need to do any prep work (like take out frozen chicken).  I do this after I clean up dinner.

Step 6.  Sometimes things happen.  Roll with the punches.  Earlier this week, I forgot to check my menu, and lo and behold, I needed to thaw chicken and I didn't (Step 5 anyone?!?).  I decided to switch hamburgers and chicken.  Hamburger patties thaw much more quickly that chicken breast, and the amount of time to prepare the meals were equal.  Maybe a meeting comes up at work and you have to get take out food that night.  Just bump the meal to a leftover night, or use it early the following week.

Step 7.  Once you have a few weeks of regular menu planning under your belt, grab your dusty cookbook or head on over to Pinterest.  Add one or two new meals to your next week.  If you really like it, add it to your regular meals for rotation in your meal planning.  If you don't like it, toss it, or try a new version the next week.  I don't suggest more than two new meals per week because it can get overwhelming, and that is how we get discouraged.

Some ideas that might appeal to you:

Having a set night for certain themes, like Taco Tuesday or Pizza Fridays (store bought or make your own).  Knowing ahead of time that day is assigned a food can take some pressure off of you to be creative.  Honestly, many of my weekly menus recycle the same meals.  It's nothing super fancy.  I'm not a professional chef, and I know my kids like certain foods.  I'm okay with that.  I just want to eat dinner with my family.

Some people take one day to do all of their food prep.  Chop/slice/bag all in one day.

Get your kids involved!  Have them choose a meal.  Older kids can (with supervision) make simple family meals.  My 12 year old feels so accomplished when he prepares chicken nuggets and mac and cheese for the family.  For younger children, they can pour, stir, and set the table.

Make extra, and eat the leftovers for lunch during the week.
  • Save money on your grocery bill each week.
  • Save money (and boost your health) by not eating last-minute prepackaged or fast foods.
  • Eat a wider variety of healthy meals because you’ll be in the habit of planning and checking out new recipes and controlling the ingredients.
  • Get your kids involved in the process of cooking family meals.
  • Save time and gas by not making extra trips to the store on the fly for dinner.
Additionally, when families share daily meals together:
  • Children and teens are less likely to develop addictive habits such as drugs, alcohol, or smoking.
  • Children feel heard and important and therefore have a greater sense of self-confidence and are less likely to give into negative peer pressure.
  • Children do better academically because dinnertime is a great opportunity to teach communication skills.  Lots of chatter at the dinner table and adult conversation gives kids an edge with their verbal communication skills.
  • Children learn proper table manners. Waiting until everyone is served, no chewing with your mouth open, elbows off the table, etc. are all important manners to learn at a young age. 
  • Parents are able to save their precious sanity by spending more quality time with their loved ones, and less wasted time figuring out dinner.
- See more at:

The key is to be flexible.  I hope this helps!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Making Time

I'm not even going to act like I haven't blogged since July of last year.  Here's why...

Have you heard that saying, "It's not about HAVING time, it's about MAKING time"?  Recently, I have been repeating this over and over in my head.  I feel like I don't have the time to do the things I want to do.  I look at what I actually do, and I know that I could remove some things from my life and I wouldn't miss them.  Then I could make time for the things I want to do.  So simple, right?  What is holding me back?  The "what" was not difficult for me to figure out, but the "why am I not doing anything about it" is why I continued to struggle.

As you read here, my husband has a job.  He loves his job.  His schedule has been strenuous on our home life, due to his hours, and the inconsistency of his off days.  The schedule is about to change, and I will have to adjust again.  There will be consistency of off days, and I think the hours he will be at work will be better for our home life.  I have used this last eight or so months of the poor schedule as an excuse to not do a lot of things.  Not sticking to routines, not scheduling self care, etc.  It has not been healthy, and I have had much anxiety and lack of motivation.  Continuing on that path would be selfish of me, because there is a negative impact on our family.

My reason for making these excuses were simple:  fear. I hate change. A lot. I have done the same job for over 15 years.  I have received promotions here and there, offered by my employer.  Only recently did I receive a promotion that I finally asked for myself.  It has only been five months, and I still have anxiety over the new responsibilities I have. I stayed in a (REALLY) bad relationship/marriage for thirteen years because I was afraid of change. Even if I think something is going to be a positive change, it takes me a long time to take the leap.  Attempting to take care of myself and creating new routines within the inconsistent schedule was very overwhelming to me.  It was scary.  What if I tried something and it didn't work?  This was a stressful concept, and I didn't want to add more stress, so we just limped along, status quo.  I was fearing change so much, that I chose to remain unhealthy over attempting to make an improvement.

What needs to change is that I need to stop allowing that fear to overcome my actions.  Leo Buscaglia said, "Change is the end result of all true learning."  I am a champion of learning.  I have started viewing my failures as an opportunity to learn and improve.  Something that has helped me to see this is yoga.  One of my best friends started getting into yoga.  I had dabbled in yoga before, and decided to pick it up again, following in her footsteps.  The first thing we did was participate in an Instagram yoga challenge.  One of the first few poses in the challenge was one I had never heard of, but it was doable, and I still felt comfortable.  After about ten days, the pose was some pretzel thing with your legs, while standing on your head.  And then I realized what I had gotten myself into.  I thought I knew yoga because I googled some simple poses years ago at a time when I needed some peace in my life.  I thought it would be the same experience this time...namaste and shit.  Nope.  But I wasn't going to quit.  I wanted to continue doing something that I told my friend I would do with her.   We were having fun!

What happened when I sucked at yoga?  My friends supported me.  I expressed my true feelings and was vulnerable about how much I hated it.  Nobody stopped loving me because I was bad at a yoga pose.  We have also had some REALLY great laughs about falling on our faces and the ridiculousness of some of the poses.  My daughter loves doing yoga with me every day.  She's four.  She can't do most of the poses.  It is a way for us to bond.  We laugh together when we fall over.  She makes up her own poses.  The other two kids jump in and try sometimes.  My husband, too!  He is pretty good at handstands.  Something I may not have known, had I not tried this.

I have a desire to learn the pose, so I keep practicing it.  Two weeks later, I'm not not able to do it.  But I'm trying.  I see my friend being really good at poses I can't do.  It makes me jealous.  It makes me want to learn how to do them.  It also makes me really impressed and proud of her.  It makes me humbled.  When I am successful at this pose, she will celebrate with me.  What an amazing cycle!

I am realizing that because I fear feeling poorly for just a second because I might not be good at something, I have been missing out on some even more incredible experiences.  Success, celebration, laughter, the ability to overcome, determination, dedication, and passion, are all important things to experience in life.  By offering a simple invitation of yoga, my friend has opened my eyes and my world to a new line of thinking.  Am I going to be open to failing at every new opportunity presented to me?  Probably not.  But I will be up for considering a lot more than I ever would have before this experience.  Thank you, Mal.

Self admitted, I am stubborn and not always open to listening to others.  I always think, 'I am sooooo healthy because I'm aware of my faults.  Most people don't even admit their faults to themselves!'  That is true, to a point.  What is not healthy, is just accepting those faults as 100% incurable, or expect them to always be tolerated by others.  If you are like me, you may not be open to accepting any portion of my story as your own truth.  That worked for her, but it wouldn't work for me.  That's okay.  You will find your own path in your time.  I would suggest, though, taking one risk this week.  Even if it is as simple as driving a different way to work, ordering something different at Starbucks, or trying a new yoga pose.