Month: January 2018

The Busy Mom’s Guide to Menu Planning

Simple tips and tricks to make menu planning less stressful and more efficient!
Mom Improvement Presents: The Busy Mom’s Guide to Menu Planning

Is Menu Planning a Chore For You?

I have a love-hate relationship with menu planning and grocery shopping. Sometimes I am excited to try new recipes I have found, or we have special events planned and I get to do some special cooking. Other times, it feels like I’m trudging out the same tired old recipes, the stress of trying to reduce our grocery budget is exhausting, and I just can’t imagine dragging myself and the kids to the grocery store!

If you share any of those feelings, I’m sure you can relate! These are the best tips I have found to help bring mindfulness and stress reduction into my grocery and cooking habits.

Make Menu Planning less stressful and more straightforward!
What’s on the Menu?

Tip 1: Make a List of “Backup” Meals

This was yet another tip from the amazingess that was the Budget Boot Camp. But it’s really, really helpful. You just make a short list of meals that you pretty much always have the supplies/energy to make. The quickest, easiest dinners at your fingertips. My family uses something off this list about once a week; my husband comes home late from work, I’ve been too tired and busy with the kids to bother cooking, we’re in a time crunch before bedtime and we need to get a meal on the table. We take a deep breath, and we consult our Backup List. To give you some inspiration for yours, here is ours:

  • Hot Dogs
  • Chicken breasts, a vegetable and a starch (bread, potato, rice, etc.)
  • Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup
  • Spaghetti and Meatballs
  • Chicken Parmesan
  • Macaroni and Cheese (from a box)
  • Homemade Pizza
  • Soup and bread, salad or sandwiches
  • Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches and fruit
  • Eggs and Toast
  • Breakfast for Dinner

(Obviously I need to make sure that I stock up on the ingredients for these meals when we are running low, so I have this list on the fridge so I can reference it when I’m preparing to go grocery shopping)

When Menu Planning, try doing an ingredient search to find new recipes and use up what's in your cupboard!
Quinoa

Tip 2: Search for Ingredients for New Ideas

Right now, in my cupboard, I have not one but two bags of quinoa. Presumably, I bought it for a recipe I never made, then forgot I had it and bought another bag the next time I decided to make a dish involving quinoa. I make unfortunate mistakes like this on a relatively frequent basis. The first and easiest solution to this problem is to keep a good inventory of your pantry and cupboards somewhere that you can reference when you’re making your grocery list. I still need to do this! Let me know if you have a good system already in place, I would love some tips!

There’s an easy way to solve this problem of too much quinoa, however, and that is to search a recipe website for quinoa. A bunch of interesting recipes will pop up involving quinoa and I can pick something new to add to my menu planning that will use up my extra ingredients! You can do this with anything in your cupboard, and sometimes some really unexpected things will come up! I have a terrific recipe for a dessert made with garbanzo beans that I never would have found if I hadn’t had an extra can of garbanzo beans in my cupboard and decided I needed to use them up! You can use any recipe website you like, really, and don’t be afraid to go looking for new recipe sources. Let me know if you’d like me to write more about that, too!

PepperPlate has made my menu planning SO much easier!
PepperPlate App

Tip 3: PepperPlate (or something like it)

One of the best investments of time I have ever made was to manually upload my recipe collection to an app called “PepperPlate“. It’s really easy to use and it has a built-in menu planning Calendar. You can also add ingredients from your recipes right to the built-in shopping list in the app. It’s been a really big time-saver, because all of a sudden, all my recipes are in one place. Building a menu is only a couple of scrolls and clicks!

Plus, if I happen to be out and about, and decide to pick something up for dinner, I have the recipe and ingredients list right on my phone, so I know I won’t accidentally forget something. It took a long time to set it up initially, but it has been completely worth it. It helps me rotate through a much larger selection of recipes. This helps prevent us from getting bored with eating the same foods over and over again. It also helps me avoid some of the pitfalls of menu planning: over-planning and over-buying (hence, overspending).

There are probably a few different apps like this one, so pick the one you like the best and take the time to get all your recipes in one place. You won’t regret it! Plus, then you can store your cookbooks wherever you want (and they don’t have to take up space in your kitchen if you don’t have the room!).

If Menu Planning has you overbuying your groceries, try planning fewer meals for the week!
Try not to overbuy your groceries!

Tip 4: You can be a little under-prepared

You don’t need to plan a meal for dinner for every night of the week. Especially if you are well-stocked with items from your backup menu. Things happen- we get invited to eat dinner with our in-laws, maybe a conflict comes up or the kids don’t want what we planned to eat and we need to improvise a little. I usually plan about five meals (for dinner) in a week. Those extra two nights can be taken care of in lots of different ways, including eating leftovers, as well. It saves money on our grocery budget, it allows for flexibility and improvisation and it keeps me from buying too much food.

Remember your backup list- it’s important to stick to it, especially if you are like us and you have a very slim budget for eating out or ordering in. It takes a little bit of extra willpower sometimes, but sticking to a strict grocery budget is a major contributor to our monthly financial discipline and planning, so we make it a priority, my husband and I talk about it a lot, and we strategize how to keep everything running smoothly.

What do you do to make your menu planning easier and less stressful? Leave a comment and let me know!

The Reason Why I’m NOT Making a New Year’s Resolution

I am NOT Making a New Year's Resolution this year!
Mom Improvement Presents: The Reason Why I’m NOT Making a New Year’s Resolution

It’s January!

I took a bit of a break at the end of last year, to refresh and get over a terrible illness!  But now I’m back and ready for 2018!

Don't make a New Year's Resolution. Just start the New Year.
Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

This post is the beginning of a new experiment!

I’m going to try a few new things this year, a few new types of posts.  I’m still a very new blogger, trying to find my style and voice.  A lot of the posts I have written so far have been project or goal-based.  But I’m also looking to explore and write some more prosaic and theory-based posts.  I’d love to share some of the amazing parenting lessons I’ve learned from the ECFE classes I’ve been taking with my boys.  I’m also really interested in exploring some of the philosophies behind some of the anxieties and sadness that I feel- in a way that could help all of us moms out there relate to each other better.

Right now, though, I have a question for you.

Are you sick of New Year’s Resolutions?  I have been grappling with this question all week, actually.  I was trying to figure out what the best kind of post would be for this blog for the new year.  My goals of mindfulness, minimalism and living life at a slower pace are somewhat out of sync with the New Year’s Resolution.  I don’t want to adopt any new behaviors or radical changes.  I definitely don’t need to add any new stress into my life!  And I’m working so hard to appreciate a simpler, more modest approach to a day, to a to-do list, etc.  I want a daily routine that has more peace, less panic.

What is your New Year's Resolution?
?

How do you feel about New Year’s Resolutions?

It can feel like you’re not doing your “homework” if you don’t have a New Year’s Resolution.  It’s such a standard small-talk question at this time of year.  “Do you have any resolutions?”  And don’t get me wrong- I’m not saying they are a bad thing.  The optimistic approach of starting with a clean slate, making positive change or sticking to a behavior can be really refreshing.

For me, personally, I just don’t think it works.  I’m the type of person who views life through a pretty hard-and-fast filter.  If I start a new habit, and miss even one day, I feel the entire experiment is a failure and I give up.  So a resolution, at the outset, is an opportunity for me to challenge myself to do something at which I know I’ll fail.  And then I do, and I prove something silly and untrue TO myself ABOUT myself.

If this is true of you as well…

I still think you could make a New Year’s Resolution if you want to.  It would require a daily chat with yourself.  An affirmation that you’re on the right track, that you can make slow change, and even if you miss a day or two, it’s OK!  And you would probably have to set yourself smaller, “trial run”, time frames.  I talk about that idea in this post (look for the part about time).

I'm trying something very new and different this year! I'm not making a New Year's Resolution!
Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

However, I’m trying something different this year

And you’re welcome to try it with me.  It’s very, very simple.  We’re a few days into the New Year and we have more than three hundred days of opportunity ahead.  What if our “New Year’s Resolution” doesn’t involve making a big transformation?  What if we already have all the tools in front of us to be our best selves?  I realized the other day that, five years ago, if I’d told myself what I was doing with my life today, I would have thought I made it.  I am living the life I dreamed I would be living.

But in actuality?  This doesn’t feel anything like the dream!  There’s stress, bills, boredom, messes… Most days, it feels like hell, not heaven.  And certainly not the stuff of dreams.

I’m looking at my life through the filter of “what’s missing?”  

My New Year’s Resolution doesn’t have anything to do with making change.  I have everything I need already- just ask Five-Years-Ago-Me!

So what is missing?  Anything?

What if the answer is NO?

My goal for this year isn’t a goal at all.  I mean- I do have things I want to accomplish.  But I don’t have a New Year’s Resolution.  I have a deep desire to feel differently about my life.  A need to see the best in everything.  I want to greet each day with joy, cherish these precious moments with my children.  I do want to grow as a person… through very simple actions- reading some of the many books I have on my shelves!  Enjoying the possessions I already have instead of shopping for more STUFF.  Journaling.  Blogging.  Regular date nights with my husband!

Life is just waiting to be lived.

I realize I’m not saying anything groundbreaking.  I’m not intending to make waves.  The fact that these ideas are so obvious is exactly my point!  We have all the tools we need at our disposal to live our best lives, be our best selves.  We are already here, in this moment, bursting with promise!

Let's try this Non-New Year's Resolution Together!
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Don’t make a New Year’s Resolution.  Just start the New Year.

I can’t wait to share it with you.  Let’s go!