Let Us Talk About the Joys of Potty Training.

We have all heard about the delightful phenomenon that is mom amnesia, right? Like how nobody remembers the pain of childbirth? (I won’t because epidurals are a wonderful thing.) How we should “enjoy every moment” because the people saying this apparently don’t remember tantrums in the grocery store and the total meltdowns upon hearing the word no? How all kids have been sleeping through the night since 6 weeks old? How nobody has ever raised a picky eater until you?

Here’s another one: potting training lies. Y’all. I feel like everyone has a story about how “my grandma potty trained all 6 of her kids by 18 months.” Or “my mom said it was a piece of cake and I never had an accident.” What do you even do with those statements?? Say congratulations? Vow to have all your kids in undies and dry through the night by age two?

Have no fear. I’m hot off the potty training press and here to set the record straight.

POTTY TRAINING SUCKS. I don’t care if you potty trained your kids in 48 hours or 48 months, you are lying if you say you enjoyed it!! I also don’t care if your kid was 16 months or 4 and a half- either way, don’t act like it wasn’t exhausting to watch them like a hawk every waking moment to make sure they didn’t pee on an ottoman. Or rug. Or anywhere but the toilet, actually. Or act like you haven’t shoveled poop off your dining room floor.  I mean at this point, we’re on day three and have had zero accidents and my 3.5 year old has told me every time he has to go. We’re technically done, right? Hand me my bragging rights.

But because mom amnesia hasn’t hit yet, I can tell you that the last 3 days have been ridiculous. The first day you can just expect them to pee everywhere (and if they are a boy this includes even when they’re sitting on the toilet. Everywhere.) The second day you should expect them to stay mostly dry, but throw a rager of a tantrum every single one of the 47 times you put them on the john. The third day is a toss up, but I think someone exorcised my child in the middle of the night and that was the key to our success today. It also could have been the fact that I let him have a handful of skittles every time for peeing on the potty versus just one lousy one.

I mean,  I don’t take my salvation lightly and I don’t want to sound irreverent…but if I wasn’t covered by Jesus’ grace and God gave me the option of A. burning  B. living in a pop up camper or C. potty training a kid for eternity, take me to the flames. Every time. I’d like to believe that Revelation 21:4 says “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain or potty training.” Too much?

I downloaded a great potty training book at the recommendation of a friend (it’s like a $2.99 kindle download. So worth it. I will recommend it to everyone.), and the author is actually a professional potty trainer. First of all, THAT’S A THING!? That, my friends, is a thing. And upon further research, I learned this professional will do a consultation for $75 dollars an hour. $75. Per hour. And she’ll potty train your kid for $55 dollars an hour. $55. DOLLARS. AN. HOUR. Who would pay someone that much to potty train their kid!?!? ME. That’s who. Knowing what I know now I would have added “cash for potty training” to my baby shower wish list and if that didn’t cover it I’d take funds from my retirement savings. (Sidebar: Why do people still even get college degrees? Apparently you can just learn a skill nobody likes to do, call yourself a professional toe-nail clipper, and charge an exorbitant amount of money for it. I digress.)

To summarize, potty training is the worst. Don’t let anybody to tell you it’s easy or enjoyable, and if they do, watch them run when you offer to let them potty train your kid. And as they are sprinting off into the distance you just yell to them “EXACTLY!!”

The end of meal planning!

Today is for you if you love the idea of gifting yourself with something fun in order to follow through with a plan. I KNOW IT’S NOT JUST ME because I see those Fabletic leggings you bought last January when you told yourself you were gonna work out everyday! No shame in that game. After all, it’s almost time to bust them out again (versus bust out of them again…semantics are important)!

When I first became a Noonday Ambassador, I basically joined a tribe of women who are way trendier and cooler than me and hip to all the fun brands and products out there.  Punjammies, bullet journaling (only google this if you’re ready for your brain to explode), magnetic eyelashes, the Instant Pot, eShakti, Pact Apparel, Norwex, Elegantees, Beautycounter, The Root Collective…I could go on. And I will. Another such brand is May Designs! Although I wish they were paying me to rave about them, they aren’t. Probably because they’ve been listed as one of Oprah’s Favorite Things and don’t necessarily care about my 17 blog views a week or want to be mocked by my father in law. Not that he’ll admit to reading this 😉 ANYWAY, if you know me at all, when I find something I love I can’t help but tell people to buy it. One of my personality descriptors is “the Promoter” so it’s out of my control, okay?

When I was trying to figure out a way to organize my meal planning stuff, and STAY organized, I knew a May Designs notebook was the answer. They are simple but still get the job done. They are super eco-friendly with a soft canvas cover made from recycled materials, the binding is stitched with thread so they are basically indestructible AND fully recycleable. And the best part: there are thousands of ways to customize your own. Choose from hundreds of cover designs, choose your own monogram or journal name, pick from 3 different sizes, and choose from a ton of layouts.

For this notebook I chose the classic size because it’s just right for my purse. As you can see, a toddler scribbled on the cover before I even wrote a letter in it, so use your imagination to envision how beautifully the cover started out. I am such a sucker for watercolor florals! I chose what’s called the “2018 Blush Agenda: Months + Dots.” The first few pages contain a 12 month calendar, followed by 55 pages of a simple dot grid. I know, a dot grid seems weird, but I pretty much want all of my notebooks to be dot grids now, thanks to a simple ‘bullet journal’ search on Pinterest. (I’m telling you, kiss an hour of your day goodbye if you choose to look it up right now.)

So here’s my calendar. I’ve decided I’m only going to fill in 3 months at a time here, even though I have my whole year mapped out on a printable calendar. Since there will be times we eat out or have dinner with friends and family, I’ll be able to adjust accordingly and keep a better handle on what’s still in my freezer whenever it’s time to stock up on sales again.

I decided I wanted to give my meal lists a perma-spot in the notebook so I can easily keep track of what we’ve eaten and, again, know what’s left in my freezer come November if we’ve only had honey sesame chicken two times. <- Nerdy, I know.

These pages are where the magic happens! Now you’ll know why I love the dot grid. I drew my own layout so that I can keep track of what I’ve bought each quarter and how much I’ll need to stock up on the next time something’s on sale. I also wrote down what I know is full price for things and have written down what I’ve seen for sale prices. It’s a perfect reference point if I’m scoping out flyers or if I’m in the store. There are also a few items I’ll be stocking up on that didn’t make the notebook cut. If you must know, it’s things like taco seasoning packets, okay? Cheap enough for me to not worry about if they’ll go on sale and therefore not take up my brain space.

The other side of this layout shows how I’m breaking down my budget by quarter. Each week I’ll write down what I’ve spent on groceries, what I’ve got left in the balance, and what that means for my weekly budget in order to stay on track for the year. I’m also doing it this way so that if I’m under budget one quarter I can transfer it to the next. Or pocket the difference and buy myself something fun 😉 Despite the insane amount of nerding out on the budget I’ve been doing here on the sassy side, I’m really what Dave Ramsey would call a free spirit, if ya couldn’t tell. The budgeting here is just a means to an end….

These pages are pretty self-explanatory. I wanted a page to keep track of new meals I want to add to the rotation and a place to keep track of extras I end up with in the freezer.

And finally, the rest of the notebook is where I’ll be making my grocery shopping list each week.

You guys. I’m into my second month doing this and I am really loving it. It takes 5 minutes to make a grocery list each week. 5 minutes!! I don’t have to wrack my brain for recipes, I’m not trying to remember what we haven’t had in a while and what we’ve had last week, I’m not getting sucked into Pinterest trying to find something new that may or may not fail. The grocery shopping itself is WAY faster. My list is shorter and I’m not trying to keep my kids entertained while I try to make sure I’m not forgetting anything. When someone asks me what’s for dinner, I KNOW THE ANSWER! And if I don’t feel like cooking it that night, I pick something easier from another day of the week. It’s made evenings less stressful and cooking more enjoyable because when dinner time comes around, I’m not exasperated that we don’t have anything in the cupboards I feel like throwing together or that I’m missing a key ingredient for something I planned on. IT’S THE BOMB.

If you aren’t ready to give yearly meal planning a try yet, what’s holding you back!?

The part about budgeting.

Who’s sick of hearing about all this meal planning crap!? ME. I promise at some point I’ll go back to talking about way cooler things. ->Insert all kinds of internal thoughts like “what are cool people even talking about these days?” and “I guess now that I’ve said that I will actually have to come up with topics of discussion that are considered cool.” and “It’s only a matter of time before my three readers are ready to move on with their lives.”<- #bloggerlife

Okay so nerd alert, today is all about budgeting. Am I a budgeting expert? No. Can I set up a food budget? Kind of. Can I stick to said budget? That’s a firm no. BUT I feel like in theory, all of these things will work for the average person who has a little bit more self-control and self-discipline than I do. Spoiler alert: that’s all of you reading this.

If you’re expecting me to tell you exactly how much feeding your family of 5 should cost per week, I hate to break it to ya but I’m not your girl. I really don’t even know how much it costs to feed my family of 4 because one week my kids could eat 3 rotisserie chickens and 12lbs of grapes a day, and the next week survive on 3 goldfish crackers. One of the reasons I’m doing this is so I can figure out a realistic number for us, so for the sake of this example I’m just going to go with an arbitrary $100 a week. Math is hard and that just seems like a good number. Another disclaimer here is that this has the potential to sound wayyy more complicated than it is, so if your brain hurts reading this, I give you permission to just go eat some ice cream.

Just like we’re looking at a year-long view of meals, I’m looking at a year-long view of the budget.  So come January 2018, I’m starting off with a (hypothetical) budget of $5200 for groceries.  STOP FREAKING OUT  and wait for the explanation. Obviously (or maybe not obviously? I don’t know) I don’t plan on having $5200 in my pocket to spend on food come January. And if I did, I wouldn’t spend it all right away. If you do have all your grocery money for the year set aside, you are winning at life and I need to quit this blog and start doing what you’re doing.

Now I will say that in this house we love us some Dave Ramsey but we also love our Discover card. For the most part, we put all of our monthly expenses on it and pay it off each month. Dave will argue that no one ever made millions on cashback bonuses, but we did use all that free money for our Christmas shopping last year, so ya know what Dave? WORTH IT. I’m NOT advocating racking up debt with your grocery bill, but it does give us some flexibility for stocking up. Like anything else, you’re investing a little more up front but saving in the long run.

If we didn’t have a ton of flexibility in our grocery bill, here’s what I’d do. Since we’re heading into the holiday season it’s a terrible time to suggest this, but I would take a couple months and eat as CHEAP as possible. Beans and rice, mac and cheese, do what you gotta do to give yourself a little bit of room to skim off the top of your grocery budget, and then SAVE IT. If you’re me, you’ll need someone to physically hide the extra cash from you or it will mysteriously disappear into the abyss of Target or Amazon prime. Start putting a little bit aside from anywhere in your budget so that the next time you see ground beef on sale (eye roll at myself right now) you’ll have the cash to stock up.

The other thing I’ve noticed from watching the sale flyers recently is this. (Sidebar: I live in rural northern Maine and we have like 4 grocery stores to choose from…no Aldi or Costco…sigh…) One week chicken breasts were on sale at Graves’, the next week they were on sale at either Save-a-Lot or Steaks ‘n Stuff (can’t remember for sure), and the following week they were on sale at IGA. So if you’re not loyal to any one store, I would stock up over the course of 3-4 weeks at different stores versus stocking up all at once at just one store. Then it would be a little gentler on your weekly budget, and you’re still saving a few bucks. Make sense?

Also, try planning just for a week or two. You WILL spend less money if you have an actual plan and don’t go floundering into the grocery store while you’re starving only to realize all you left with was a cucumber and 3 bags of chips to get you through dinner the whole week. I guarantee if you’re starting from scratch and make a basic plan and go into the store with a list, you’ll find money you didn’t know you had. (You could also take that approach literally and start checking last year’s winter coat pockets for that $20 you forgot about.)

Now, back to the actual managing of the money and the math crap. Deep breath.

So let’s say your budget for the year is $5200 — $100 a week. Spend $100 bucks the first week? Great. Your budget is still $100 bucks a week. But let’s say the second week you stock up on chicken for a few months and spend $200. And the next week you hit up a beef sale and spend another $200. Altogether you’ve spent $500 in 3 weeks and you now have $4,700 left in your year-long budget. With 49 weeks left in the year, your new budget is about $95 a week. It seems like you’ve gone over your weekly budget, but long- term you’re still in great shape. Okay? Go eat the ice cream now. Eventually as you keep stocking up, your weekly budget is going to go down. But that’s okay, because you will have a ton of things that you won’t need to worry about buying anymore!

Next time we talk I’m going to give you a little tour of my fun little May Designs notebook and how easy it is to organize this with a simple little calendar and a few notebook pages. After that, we are D-U-N DUN! If you have questions, feel free to get in touch! But I feel like if I give any more details about my thought process you will be too frightened to give yearly meal planning a try. At some point you just gotta jump outta the nest and figure out the kinks as you go!

Signed,

Type B, ESTP, 8w7.

Meal Planning Part… what are we on now? 17? The Shopping Part.

Today is exciting!! Well, at least for me, because I can finally share how using this plan has already saved me some cash! Or at least it would if I wasn’t an impulsive buyer who doesn’t know how to stick to a list, but whatever. It wouldn’t be as exciting if there wasn’t any room for improvement, right?

Oh my gosh. We need to stop for a second though so I can clarify something. While I’m ultra flattered that some of you out there think I am capable of prepping and cooking all this stuff ahead of time, ARE YOU CRAZY??.  Sooooo not happening here! I mean, it does help me understand why some of you might still think this sounds super overwhelming, but no. The extent of my meal “prepping” is splitting up portions and throwing them in the freezer. So if you’re thinking this “meal planning for a year” involves me cooking 365 meals in advance….that’s a strong heck no. I DO want to up my freezer meal game, but that’s about as preppy as it’s gonna get. We’re basically just making a shopping list. That’s it. If the thought of cooking 500 meals for 62 hours straight has been what’s holding you back, have no fear, no one’s making you do that.

*Hopefully* this post will be a lightbulb moment for you and you can finally see how this all comes together. At this point, you’ve made a meal list and have seen how many yummy things you already make! You’ve figured out some meals that are going to be regulars each month, and you’ve filled in your calendar with enough family favorites that you make a meal often enough to be appreciated but not get tired of it. AND you’ve channeled your inner nerd and figured out how much you’ll need to feed your family for a certain time frame (for me it’s a year, for some of you it’s a couple weeks or a month). So at this point you have a list that looks kind of like this:

If you’re a Type A you’ve hand-lettered a cute title and you’re keeping it in a binder with a protective sleeve over it. If you’re a Type B it moves from counter to counter and you hope you remember where it is when you need it while keeping it out of your toddler’s grubby hands. There’s no wrong way here, friends.

So let’s break down this list and the shopping….procedure…for lack of a better term. Can I just take a moment and add “procedure” to the list of words that are just as yucky as the “m” word?  It just sounds like something gross that’s going to happen to your body at a doctor’s office. I’ll have to consult a thesaurus for alternatives. ANYWAY. I may have mentioned this before, but this is my test run for October, November, and December for a few reasons: It’s a pretty manageable amount of time and I don’t have to worry about freezer space. I whipped it up fairly quickly because I knew there was a big sale on chicken coming up, so I wanted to both stock up and use it as a starting point for figuring out how often the sale comes around. I also knew I could afford to stock up for a couple months now; obviously most people don’t have the funds on hand for an entire year’s worth of groceries.

THE METHOD (Thank you, thesaurus.)

  1. You’re always going to bring this “master list” to the store with you.
  2. You’re also going to look at the meals you have planned for the week and make a list of any other ingredients you need. Don’t forget your regulars like milk and bread and all that jazz.
  3. KEY TO REMEMBER: If something is on sale, you stock up. If it’s not on sale, you ONLY get what you need for that week.
  4. Optional: buying 40,000 snacks for your husband and kids that aren’t on the list.
  5. But seriously, if you take just one thing away from this post, let it be #3.

I won’t bore you with the details of my entire grocery list and what we ate or didn’t eat (yet), but here’s how shopping off the master list is working out.

For 3 months, I needed: 6 big family packs of boneless, skinless, chicken breasts; 5 packs of boneless thighs, 4 packs of stir fry beef (I could probably just slice stir fry pieces from a cheaper cut of beef but whatever. I’ll gladly pay for the convenience as a reward for planning this crap 3 months in advance.); 5 pork tenderloins; 1 pack of chicken tenders; 1 ham steak; 2 roasts; and a large pack of stew beef.

First week of shopping: The best price I find for chicken I trust is $1.69 a lb. No, it’s not free range or organic, but I like to believe it’s a step above say, Perdue. I bought 6 packs. Well, technically 5 because they put SIX breasts in a family pack instead of the usual SEVEN and I had to make another trip to the store for the sixth because they hate me.  That same week, I had some surprises that weren’t in the sales flyer. Roasts were $2.99/lb so I got the two I needed. Thighs were on sale for $1.69 as well so I snatched up 5 packs. Stew beef was $4.49/lb and only $.50 cents off the normal price so not a great sale, but I only needed one pack so I got it.

Second week:  I needed stir fry beef for that week, but since it wasn’t on sale I just got 2 of the 4 packs I needed. Spent $6.99/lb which is kind of painful but oh well.  Pork tenderloin was also on sale for $2.49/lb and since I know it won’t get any cheaper than that, I got the 5 I needed.

Spending vs. Savings: Of course I lost the receipt from my first week so I don’t have the exact dollar amount I spent on chicken breasts, but I know it was about $45.00. Full price is $3.49/lb so I otherwise would have spent about $90.

Thighs: $22.88 vs. $47.25

Stir fry: $11.81

Roasts: $12.85 vs $21.45

Stew  beef: $11.67 vs. $12.97

Pork tenderloin: $16.09 vs. $29.01

Total at full price: $212.49    Total spent: $120.30    Total saved: OVER $90 BUCKS!!

That’s $90 bucks that can be saved or, my personal preference, spent, elsewhere! There are just a couple things I need  as far as meat goes for the rest of the year, so if they go on sale I’ll just cross that off the list and stick it in the freezer, and if not I’ll just get it the week I need it.

In a follow up post to this we’ll talk about my budgeting method and some ways to get things started even if you’ve got a pretty finite weekly budget and don’t necessarily have the funds to stock up for weeks or months in advance. My hope for the meantime is that you’ll see how this can save you not just cash in the long term, but time and energy figuring out what you’re going to make for dinner every. single. week. I already feel so much more freedom- and trust me, out of the two weeks I’ve been doing this, neither “plan” has happened exactly how I’ve planned.  But it’s all good! No one’s starved to death yet and no one’s suddenly decided they hate my cooking, so we’re winning!

Yearly Meal Planning Part THREE.

Gather ‘round and listen close. I need to give you a little pep talk. This is the part you will hate. There’s math. There’s a lot of thinking. There’s a lot of calculating. If you’re already loving this series and find this exciting, I don’t understand you you’re probably going to love this part too. But if you’re doing this and you’ve been even slightly reluctant and hated even filling out a calendar, this is the part where you’ll want to throw yourself in a fire pit.  This is the part that makes me wish everyone was sitting around my dining room table and I was hovering over like a substitute math teacher because there will probably be some confusion I won’t know how to explain.

But hear this: it’s kind of crucial. I mean, if your grocery budget is $4,000 a week, fine. You can skip it. Your planning is done. But if you’re looking to get your grocery bill as low as possible, we have to power through this. And listen, if I’m beginning to sound like one of those people that is preaching to the well-organized, alphabetically filed, choir, may I present Exhibit A:

That is my calendar. And those are the 57 sheets of lined paper I’ve gone through to figure this out. I don’t really know what those arrows mean anymore. A toddler that I live with did a lot of “helping” so basically everything is scribbled over. Said toddler also ripped one of the lists in half. And then a couple sheets sat under an oil diffuser for an hour or two. There’s another one in there somewhere that looks like a spider monkey got to it. There is so much room for you and your frazzled self at this table! So let’s take a deep breath and do this.

Here’s what you need:

First, caffeine. You don’t need to go Jessie Spano on us, but you also don’t want to try to do this if you’re tired or hungry. You need to be your best self. Good: do this at your most productive time of day and you’re feeling unstoppable. Better: do it at nap time/quiet time with no chance of interruptions. Best: split a sitter with me and let’s go to Tim Horton’s.

Next, this mentality: Think of this like putting together a regular shopping list and we just need to figure out how much we need. We’re just going to do it for 3 months at a time instead of, say, a week. PAUSE. I promise it’s not as overwhelming as you think. We aren’t planning a list of every single thing you’ll need for every meal, just the main expenses like meat, or anything you might want to buy in bulk or stick in a freezer. The reason for this is so that when you see an awesome price on chicken, or pork tenderloin, or any beef, you’ll know exactly how much you need to buy either for the next few months or until whenever the next sale comes around. Instead of spending $13 bucks on a family pack of chicken one week, it’s already in your freezer (and it only cost you $7 bucks) and all you need is a packet of marinade for $1. We’ll talk more about the actual budgeting and shopping next time. Here we go!

Start with a fresh, clean, scribble free meal list. (See, this isn’t so bad!) Then (tedious alert) go through your calendar and count each time you’re having a meal. Write the number down on your list, like so. (Water stains optional.) P.S. I have no idea what those check marks mean anymore.

Now, BRACE YOURSELF FOR THE MATHS.

Alright so let me just say my husband is not a hunter, so if you’ve usually got a freezer full of wild game you’re on your own. I personally cannot help you figure out how to divide up a deer, but definitely just account for that in your planning. You also may just figure this out in whichever way works best for your brain. Again, I know all too well that someone else’s plan or thought process may not work for you. This is just how my brain calculated amounts of food we need.

First, when it comes to chicken I operate on number of breasts, not by the pound. So for example, when we have Ritz chicken, I know we’ll use 3 chicken breasts. I fillet them in half to make 6 pieces of chicken, and that usually gives us enough for dinner with leftovers for lunch (for two adults plus two toddlers who may or may not eat it.) Ritz chicken is on the menu 6 times next year, so multiply that by 3 breasts a meal and I’ll need 18 chicken breasts for that meal. Same with Biggest Loser’s apricot chicken, cherry chipotle bbq chicken, etc. I also had to calculate how much I’d need in meals like casseroles and soups. When I totaled up all the meals that call for chicken breasts, I needed something like 280 pieces of chicken. I know that a family pack of chicken *usually* contains 7 pieces of chicken, so 280 divided by 7 = about 40 family packs of chicken that I’ll need for the year.

Dear heavens that was the nerdiest paragraph I’ve ever written. I almost can’t even bring myself to proofread it, you guys. My high school self is mocking me right now asking me if this is the life accomplishment I’m going to highlight at the next class reunion. “Well I have 3 kids and I count pieces of chicken in my spare time. What have you been up to??” Who in their right mind says things like “I operate on number of breasts.”!? I couldn’t even type it without inappropriate jokes running through my head because I am twelve. Fix it, Lord.

Aside from being the nerdiest, that’s basically THE most complicated part of this process and it made my brain hurt a little bit. If you need to just stare blankly at your menu for a while, that’s fine. No judgment. The other meals are pretty straight forward. I use a pack of thighs for honey sesame chicken- so 6 times a year I just need 6 packs for that meal. Ham? Need 6. Pot roast? Just need 5 roasts. I’m not sure if more examples will be helpful or confusing so I’ll just stop and we’ll move on to the next step. Here’s a picture of a bunch of math I did for a reason I can’t remember:

When you have all your numbers figured out, this is going to become your master list. I got as far as meat and pasta before I got tired of my life, but if you want to plan everything down to the number of butter sticks you need…more power to ya and congratulations on being Type A, this world needs you. Here’s my list:

I wasn’t kidding about the scribbles- they’re everywhere! I have been thinking about a better way to organize all this and *think* I have a plan, TBR. (That’s “to be revealed” for those of you not familiar with the acronym I just made up.) Since I don’t have an extra freezer (yet), most likely I’ll only be shopping for 3 months at a time. And, obviously not all of this meat is going to be on sale at the same time, so I’ll need to keep track of this list for a loooong while, if not an entire year. I can’t even keep track of a pair of flip flops for a summer, let alone a random piece of paper for a year, so I may have to treat myself to something pretty to keep track of it…ya know, for motivation’s sake

Next post we’ll be talking about shopping and budgeting!! In a perfect world I’d be referring to clothes shopping and having a limitless budget, but obviously this will be way more exciting to chat about at my 20th high school reunion. But for real, I’m a little bit excited about how this is working in real life and will share all my strategies!

Bonus Meal Post! Yearly meal planning part 2.5

It’s time to crank up the Chicago because today I’m all about adding some meaning to your life with some meal inspiration!

Before I go any further I should tell you that our family is a rarity. In the year of our Lord, 2017, we have no dietary restrictions. If you’re looking for a plethora of grain free, Whole 30 compliant, or paleo meals, this list probably ain’t gonna be your jam. A lot of our meals are basically meat and veggies but we’re also not afraid of a few nitrites and some bread in a can (I love you, Pillsbury). Now that I think about it, I’m not sure how inspiring this will actually be since we’re also not super adventurous and you’re not going to find exotic things here. If you know me in real life I know you’re probably wicked shocked by this. Oh, and you can’t judge my menu.  I mean, you can, but it’s not going to change the fact that we probably need more fish in our diet and it’s not happening because seafood is gross.

Some of this list is useless because I have a bunch of recipes that I got from real life recipe books and other people’s recipe cards, and I’m not on that kind of recipe-sharing level yet. Plus there are a bunch of meals that just don’t require a recipe. I will, however, link to the Pinterest keepers an the professional, well-formatted, blogs they came from.

Life hack: McCormick marinade packets forever. My fave is Garlic, Herb, and Wine, followed by Zesty Herb. There are a bunch of marinades to choose from and using them is a piece of cake. You can mix up the marinade, throw it in a bag with your chicken, and pop it in the freezer.  Or mix it up, add chicken breasts, and bake. OR, just mix up the marinade and throw it in a skillet with chicken; great on a salad. There’s Chipotle, Baja Citrus, it’s your world, go nuts!

Friday night meals:  Beef stew, baked ziti, crockpot chicken and dumplings, 3 cheese chicken penne pasta, mac ‘n cheese, chicken stew, chop suey, creamy garlic noodles, chicken bacon alfredo roll ups, lasagna, poppy seed chicken casserole, stuffed shells.

In the rotation: honey sesame chicken, cherry chipotle bbq chicken, ham steak, beef tips, pork tenderloin with pan sauce, sweet and sour chicken, ritz chicken, pot roast, spicy garlic chicken, apricot chicken, Mongolian beef, creamy tortellini soup, pulled pork (throw a tenderloin in the crockpot for 4 hours on high, shred it, throw some bbq sauce on it, done.), stir fry (Pinterest inspiration abounds on this one), copy cat Chick-Fil-A nuggets, teriyaki chicken, spaghetti, tacos, fajitas (I use an easy marinade of lime juice, chili powder, and ground cumin. Throw chicken in a skillet with bell peppers and onion, easy peasy.), loaded baked potatoes, pizza, hamburgers, steak, kabobs, hot dogs, grilled cheese and tomato soup, and you can also get fancy with a cheap panini press and make paninis.

Most of the time we have leftovers for lunch but some easy lunches are: English muffin pizzas, chicken Caesar salad (I get a rotisserie chicken and use the white meat on salad and dark meat on:), quesadillas! Just chop up the dark meat and throw it on a tortilla with cheese and either bbq sauce, or the taco bell chipotle sauce my husband loves. These quick and fresh from the farm pizza rolls, Annie’s mac n cheese (or Kraft, which I really love but has unpleasant side effects on others in our family….), ham and cheese sliders, and these delicious ham/cheese/apple butter sandwiches.  Detour: we made apple butter for wedding favors and discovered this recipe when looking for ways to use all the leftovers. So delicious. Also don’t be intimidated by apple butter- just peel and chop up a bunch of apples and cook them in the crockpot for like 12 hours. Throw it in a blender to make it smooth. Soooooo yummy. SQUIRREL!

So anyway, that’s basically it. And the recipes I linked to? You guys, I would not lead you astray. Some are super easy, some seem a little labor intensive, but all are delicious and the ones my husband asks for all the time. That’s how you know they’re winners, am I right?

Yearly Meal Planning Part Deux

Welcome back to this week’s installment of Yearly Meal Planning! …I say that like I actually have a plan for getting this out on the blog in a timely manner. I could say I wanted to give you all plenty of time to make your meal list, but really I’ve got a lot of wheels turning and the blog wasn’t squeaking loudest. Anyway, here we are back in action!

Alright, we’ve got a lot of questions to address and I’ll try to answer them without overwhelming you with an insane amount of information. Just know that I’m actually implementing this process from now until the end of the year and so far it’s going just as well as I hoped! I’m working out the kinks and am getting a handle on how things go so that I’ll be able to say it’s worth it come January. Or maybe January will come and I’ll say “screw it, ignore everything I said”, but I don’t think that will be the case.

So here’s the basic theory: By planning meals out, you’ll know how much of something you need way in advance, and in turn be able to stock up on exactly what you need when things go on sale. No guessing, no having to buy more at full price because you miscalculated, and therefore stretching your food budget. I’ll be giving more real life examples of this as we go and also talk about how we’ll shop, but we’ve got a few hurdles to jump before we get there!

I do want to address questions about food boredom and things like “wait, am I really going to know exactly what I’m eating on September 17th??” Young Jedi, forgetting you are. (Aaaaand I’ve just become the cheesy blogger who makes Star Wars references when in actuality Return of the Jedi is the only one I’ve ever watched completely. Face palm.) Listen- this is planning for the disorganized! A meal plan is just a plan, not CPR protocol (spoken like a true Type B, right?). There is always a TON of room for flexibility. For example, I plugged in a meal for just about every day of the year, but there are definitely going to be times we’ll have takeout, or order a pizza, or maybe even *gasp* go on a dinner date. Please, Lord, let it be so.

We’ve also cut out a lot of food boredom just by making a meal list. When I finished my rough schedule done for 2018, I realized we’re having mac ‘n cheese three times. That’s it! I was shocked when things I feel like I make all. the. time. were actually in the rotation just 5 times for the entire year.

Of course, there’s also plenty of room for trying new recipes. If you’re just keeping your head above water and making sure there’s something edible in the house, chances are you don’t have the time or mental energy to try something new. Or instead of checking out Pinterest for a quick recipe, an hour later you find yourself either a. still scrolling through Pinterest or b. hanging a wine rack in your bathroom for towel storage. If you DO have the time and energy, it means another trip to the store for ingredients you most likely don’t have. But wait! When your planning is all done in advance, you don’t have to sit down, scour flyers, and figure out a whole new meal plan for each week, and you’ll actually have more time to incorporate new things. And because you’ve stocked up on meats, chances are you already have the chicken you need in the freezer and instead of using it on Ritz chicken, you’re just using it on something new.

Now the fun part! By now you should have read Part One and you’ve got a calendar handy as well as your meal list. Here’s what we’re gonna do next:

Think about your general life schedule and routine. Maybe you’re home during the day but your evenings are busy and your family is pulled in different directions between sports/meetings/Wednesday night church/whatever. Maybe it works better for you to cook a big lunch and have leftovers for dinner while everyone tends to fend for themselves. This works well for us during the winter when most nights, my husband is at basketball practices or coaching games. Maybe you have a night of the week where you’ve got a set schedule. I’ve got a friend who always has dinner with her parents on Friday nights (no, her name isn’t Lorelai ;)) so if that were me, I’d just fill in “mom’s house” on all the Friday nights on my calendar. For our family, we’re usually at my parents’ house on Sundays after church, so that’s a meal I don’t plan. Maybe you get Chinese every Saturday night, you do you! Just write it down.

A few more specifics on our family that may help you in your planning: Tuesday nights we have small group at our house and we each take turns making the meal for each other. So on Tuesdays, I just wrote “small group” on the calendar and circled one time a month where I plan to cook for the group. Looking further ahead, my husband is a basketball coach and we also have his schedule for the upcoming season, so I filled in the nights he has games and those are nights the nights I get to go rogue and eat things he doesn’t like (like grilled cheese and tomato soup. My fave meal of all time, and he hates it. I don’t even know.) I just don’t have a specific meal for those nights.  You can do the same for the long term if you already have a vacation planned or whatever. And as far as holidays go I just noted them on the calendar, we don’t have to get crazy and plan Christmas dinner right now.

Okay, so now you might have a few nights each month taken care of. And if you don’t, that’s okay too. I actually created some nights each month with easy meals. Once a month (every first Thursday of the month, if you are wondering) we’re doing loaded baked potatoes. The next Thursday of the month we’re doing pizza. You can choose to do something more regularly if you want- like Taco Tuesday, or maybe every Wednesday night is spaghetti night. I don’t recommend doing both of those things because then you’ll definitely experience food boredom, but you definitely need to give yourself an easy night where you don’t have to expend a ton of mental energy on dinner. Somebody I am married to isn’t crazy about tacos (I KNOW.), so I’m alternating tacos and fajitas once a month (to clarify: in January we’re having tacos once, in February it’s fajitas once, March back to tacos, and so forth). On Sunday nights, we’re alternating either French toast or pancakes because I refuse to cook anything other than that come Sunday night.

Now let’s talk WEEKENDS! I looked at my list of meals and chose a bunch that could easily become freezer meals and are generally casserole-ish type foods or made in large quantities. This way, I can pop something in the oven on a Friday night and we’ll have leftovers on hand throughout the weekend. Our weekends are hectic and we may end up ordering something or having dinner with friends, but we’ll at least have a back up that doesn’t involve me cooking. I had 12 or 13 different meals, like homemade mac ‘n cheese, chicken bacon alfredo roll-ups, or beef stew etc., so I went through the entire calendar and plugged them in on Friday nights. During the warm summer months (basically June July August here) I went through and plugged in either steak, burgers, or hot dogs on Fridays. A lot of the time we’re at the lake on weekends and those are things we can easily bring with us and grill up at camp. I also have a ton of regular meals that can easily be grilled in the summer instead of baked so I’m not anticipating it will be a huge change in summer vs winter cooking. Now maybe this will look different for you. Maybe you’d prefer to pop a casserole in the oven on Monday nights when you need to be out the door for book club, or maybe you are generally home on the weekends and want to do make your own pizzas with your family (bless you). The theme here, if you haven’t noticed, is saving mental energy by having a general plan that works for you.

SO, finally, when alllllll of those things were filled in, I only had 2 or 3 nights a week left to make a plan for. And I had about 20 meals leftover on the list (I’m planning to do a separate post with all my meals if you need inspiration, and for the visual people it will help show you what my calendar looks like). I varied my list of meals and arranged it so we weren’t having a pork dish three times in a row, or having all the Asian inspired dishes for two weeks straight, and then I just went down the list and plugged them into all the empty dates.

PHEW. Doing all the calendar work feels like a huge process, because IT IS. It’s hard to quantify how much time this will take you, because I did it over the course of several days whenever I had a few minutes to ignore my other responsibilities sit down and think/get things filled in. My preference would be to fire up a chick flick on Netflix (or if you TRULY want to follow my process, just binge watch Making a Murderer) after everyone’s in bed. The less interruptions the better, because once you get on a roll it’s so hard to stop and come back to later!

So that’s it for now! Remember, we’re still going to talk about what this actually looks life when put into practice in the midst of a hectic life, how to plan out our grocery shopping, and how to shop week to week. So definitely ask me about anything you need clarified but know we’ll still be getting to all of those unanswered questions!

Meal planning by the year….what on earth?

First of all, I know. Does this not sound like the craziest thing on earth? To answer that rhetorical question, yes. Yes it does. So why am I doing this to myself? Stick with me for a minute.

You might be sitting here thinking “I don’t have the mental capacity for that. I’ve had cheerios every single day for breakfast for the past 17 years and I still don’t even know what I’m going to eat for breakfast tomorrow.” Or you’re thinking “I’m WAY too busy to plan that far ahead. I have no choice but to wing it.” OR “meal planning is for organized people and I am SO not organized.”

Well stop right there, partner, because those are ALL the things I’ve thought. And still think. So why the heck am I doing this?? Allow me…

  1. I really want to BE a little more organized. And I want to help you. I can’t tell you the amount of pins I have on my “Organize Yourself” Pinterest board. I have saved every free home-binder/calendar/cleaning printable from sea to shining sea, yet I feel like none of them have or will ever work for me. They are made for the people who already remember to order their 2018 day planners sometime before March of 2018. (And thank you, Jesus, for these people because *spoiler alert* if you want to do this with me, you’ll need to print out a 2018 calendar, and they are already abounding on Pinterest. Bless her heart, one blogger said she was “late” in finishing up her 2018 printables. I love her.) No matter where you are on the Type A to Type B spectrum, I want this to be something ANYONE can do.
  1. I want to see if it will actually save money. I mean, I know it will, but up until this point I’ve had to trust the good word of the couponers and the people who seem to know grocery store sale cycles better than the phases of the moon.
  2. Logistics, really. I’m expecting a third baby in February and it’s just not desirable to up and haul three kids to the store 3 times a week because I didn’t plan ahead.
  3. Because I’m busy with the wrong things. I love to cook for my family and I want to enjoy it. I want to free up mental space to do other things with my family. I want to pop a freezer meal in the oven on a Friday night instead of digging through the fridge for whatever I can scrounge together.

Okay lady, you don’t have to justify your crazy to me, I just want to know how you’re gonna do this.

FINE. Today you get step 1. And a bonus step 2.

First, make a list of everything you know how to cook. Every meal you make. From fancy family favorites to just-add-water pancakes. Hot dogs count. So does a box of mac n cheese. So does chicken Caesar salad. So does your Aunt Susan’s famous beef stew. Write down the latest new recipe you tried, loved, and want to keep in the rotation. Don’t just write down breakfast for dinner, write down French toast. Write down sausage and hashbrowns. Write down bacon and pancakes. BOOM. See that? Breakfast for dinner just became three different meals.

When we talk about feeding ourselves I feel like the most common complaint is that we feel stuck in a rut and like we’re always making the same things. I guarantee writing down alllll of your meals will  allow you to breathe a little sigh of relief and see that even though it feels like you’re making spaghetti twice a week, you actually have 30 other meals in your arsenal and with a little bit of planning, you don’t have to make it more than once a month! (Unless you want to ;))

That’s all the homework I have for you today. If you want, print out a 2018 calendar like the one here, or search Pinterest for something you like. (This is for a rough draft and doesn’t have to be fancy so I suggest something simple that won’t waste ink. You can even just print out a calendar template from Microsoft Word and call it good.) We’ll be talking about next steps over the next couple weeks so be on the look out for the next post in this series, or I think there’s a way to subscribe and have it sent to your inbox!

I completed a Whole 30 and I didn’t die.

And that is the only positive thing I can say about it. Just kidding, I did lose a solid ten pounds, and I do plan to do one again in September. (It will take me all of August to get hype for it.) If you speak to me about any health issues whatsoever, I’m now going to be that annoying person who says “you should do a whole 30!” because if I can do it, literally ANYBODY can do it. The list of vegetables I like is about 5. Not joking- carrots, cukes, potatoes, lettuce, asparagus, and I’ve forced myself to get used to bell peppers, so that’s about 5 and a half. If you already like cauliflower and spaghetti squash, the w30 will be a walk in the park. And if you don’t discover exactly what it is that ails you, at the very least you will sleep better than a formula fed baby who’s not cutting teeth. You will have actual dreams. Before the whole30 I don’t remember the last time I slept deeply enough to dream about something. I would do it again just for the sleep.

Since I decided to start a whole30 basically on a whim, I’ve been thinking a lot about things I would do differently that would have made it a little easier.

1: Start searching for whole30 meals on pinterest and incorporate them into your regular eating now. Get a few recipes under your belt that you know well how to prepare and that you and/or your whole family enjoys (or tolerates). One of the most annoying things was trying to figure out a brand new recipe when everyone is cranky and hungry. The hubs commented (several times) that it seemed to just take me forever to cook. It was always when I was trying out a new dish- prep time was easily doubled. Start getting good at cooking up those weird dishes and sauces now, or figure out which of your go-to meals are compliant (or how to make them that way). Your future hangry self will appreciate it.

2. Also annoying: being at the grocery store every two seconds and also spending one billion dollars on food. If you run a very tight food budget my best advice is to start stocking up on pantry items a few weeks in advance. You may not need everything on this pantry list , but some staples are almond and coconut flour, arrowroot starch, coconut aminos and cans of coconut milk, oils and vinegars. It will majorly suck if you have to buy all of these things on Whole 30 Day 1, so grab some items here and there. If you follow tip #1, you’ll already be incorporating some whole30 meals into your budget by knowing how much meats and produce to plan for, and by picking up one or two pantry items each week, you won’t see a major jump in your grocery spending.

3. I would not have wasted time and ingredients on 5 minute ketchup. Seriously. There’s a great bbq sauce recipe out there but nothing will come close to the beautiful bottle of tomato-flavored high fructose corn syrup you know and love. Even the recipes that say “best homemade ketchup ever!!!!! Can’t taste the difference!!” No. These were written BY health nuts FOR health nuts. Unless you’re an existing health nut, just leave it alone.

So anyway, September. You should join me. The summer parties and happenings and campfire s’mores and holidays are basically non-existent in September, and it’s (hopefully) still warm enough to just throw things on the grill. Who’s in!?

Whole 30- Home Stretch!

This is dayyyy….somewhere in the 20’s. 24 I think. This coming Sunday is FINALLY the last day. According to “The Timeline” days 16 through whatever are the days you’re supposed to feel “tiger blood.” I don’t really notice feeling any different other than maybe more energy, but it’s hard to gauge since the amount of sleep I get varies so much. Day 21 is supposed to be the day you feel like “I am SO over this.” Now that’s a day I can relate to, I would say its more like days 4-30 however. 6 more days to go…

Subject change! I was planning to share a little “recipe round-up” of my go-to’s, but I decided to focus today one on of my favorites. It was introduced to me by the same friend who loaned me a cook book, found coconut aminos for me, and made a ton of beef jerky for me. After you read the following observations, return to this paragraph and note that this friend made this for a group of TWELVE. The first time I made it was for a crowd of ONE, and I would rather have gnawed my own arm off if not for the fact that I’ll need it to shovel all the gluten in my mouth in a few days.

Okay so what is this recipe? Paleo Chinese Sesame Chicken. I am fairly certain that I could have written this recipe in about 12 less steps, but once you figure them all out, it’s freaking delicious. Here are my recipe notes:

  1. Prep time: The recipe says 15 minutes. This is a joke. It *might* only take 15 minutes if you are Michelle Tam (an expert paleo chef), but if you are an average person who has kids or pets, you need to add about 6 hours to the prep time. I mean seriously, I just made this for the 3rd time and it still took me an hour.
  2. Preparing the sauce: “Add 8 pitted dates to a sauce pan with half a cup of water and cook over medium heat until they are soft. Peel and discard skin.” STOP. Stop right there. It’s important to note here that dates are basically just so gross. They look like something an animal digested and left as a gift in the forest. However, they are pretty much the only thing you can use to sweeten dishes or condiments, so you tolerate them. Now, “peel and discard the skin”. This, THIS, is the step that will have you re-evaluating all of your life choices. I guess I’d classify it as a necessary step, but to just throw it casually in the “prepare the sauce” step? This is 100% a task all of its own and you will hate it. It just might be the most bizarre thing I’ve ever done.
  3. So many steps…just put all the sauce ingredients in a ninja blender thing and let her fly. When you’re ready to get the sauce to simmering, add the rest of the water and you’re done.
  4. Cooking the chicken: When a recipe says “don’t overcrowd the frying pan, cook chicken in small batches”; you say “challenge accepted.” My recommendation? You cook those suckers in one batch or you get a bigger frying pan. Your prep time ate up all your cook time so its this or eat it raw.
  5. Eat it all. You can try to save some for leftovers but you won’t be able to. I wouldn’t share a recipe that isn’t good enough to eat when you’re NOT doing a whole 30, and it’s so good with real actual rice. (whole 30 hasn’t made me like or want to try cauliflower yet, for the record.)

6 more days to sweet sweet freedom.