How to Become a Meal Planning Master

Today I’m going to fill you all in on one of the main ways I help our family to save a TON of money each month. You’ve probably heard it before and maybe you even already do this, but one of the best ways to reduce spending on food is MEAL PLANNING! If you are not familiar with meal planning or if you have thought about giving it a go but are so overwhelmed by the idea, this post is for you! I am going to give you free step-by-step instructions for creating your own meal plan for your budget. Let’s get to it!

Step 1 – The first thing you are going to want to determine is how long you want to plan for. It really is all your preference. For our family, I have set our grocery budget to $400.00 per month, so I like to plan out my menu for the entire month at a time. This way I can be sure that I won’t overspend earlier in the month and then have to compensate for it toward the end of the month.

Step 2 – Once you decide how far out you want to plan your meals, pick a calendar template to use. You can use a paper agenda and pencil, a white board and dry erase marker, or an electronic format. I personally like to use a calendar such as google calendars or Microsoft Word. I tend to want to move things around or change my mind a lot during the planning process and an electronic format makes is simpler for me to do that.

Step 3 – The next step is to look at your schedule and determine which nights you don’t have to cook dinner. Our family has designated every Friday night as a family pizza night so I fill in each Friday spot with “Pizza.” My husband teaches a training class every Thursday evening, so the kids and I eat leftovers. My full-time work schedule means I have more time on Sunday evenings for special recipes than I would during the week. I also consider my Monday evening dance class. Whatever I make on Mondays needs to be quick and easy to prepare. We usually attend church on Saturday evenings. Since my hubby works there, he eats there. It’s just me and the kiddos so dinner is quick and easy. If it’s a weekend when I am leading worship, the church provides dinner for me.

Basically, this process helps me to simplify how to approach the month. That way I don’t plan to make something that I either won’t have time to prepare or that won’t get eaten. This eliminates buying extra groceries that will not get used which means extra savings and less wasted food.

Step 4 – Think of your family’s favorite meals and what type of meals those are. That way you can plan for a variety of textures and flavors throughout the week. I like to rotate with a pattern of:

  • Sunday – Special recipe
  • Monday – Pasta
  • Tuesday – Either Asian (stir-fry or fried rice) or Veggie Bowls
  • Wednesday – Some kind of stew or soup. (These dishes usually leave us with A LOT of leftovers so it also provides lunches and/or dinner for Thursday.)
  • Thursday – Either leftovers or easy and kid-friendly
  • Friday – Pizza
  • Saturday – Quick & kid-friendly

Sometimes I will mix up the rotation but this is the general framework that I start with. When we were eating more meat I would try to rotate chicken, ground turkey, seafood, and the occasional red meat. This helps so your family doesn’t get bored with eating the same type of meal everyday.

Step 5 – Pull out your recipe books or pull up Pinterest on your computer and start picking which recipes you want to make for each day of your plan. I like to use the full name of the recipe or close abbreviations on my calendar so that I can easily refer back to my Pinterest board when I need the recipe. It saves me from having to print out each recipe and also saves me search time. Below is my plan for dinner for the entire month of October.

October 2016 Dinners

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
1
Roast Pumpkin, Herb & Walnut Pasta Bake Bulgar, BlackBean, Mushroom Enchilada Casserole (Prepare on Sunday) Bliss Bowls w/Baked Falafel Creamy Lentils & Spinach L/O Church Couples Retreat Church Couples Retreat
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Breakfast for Dinner Tomato, Kale & WB Gnocchi Shrimp & Broccoli Stir-fry w/Rice Bissara w/ Naan L/O Pizza Quesadillas w/Beans & Avocado
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
Mediterranean Baked Sweet Potatoes Tortellini Alfredo w/Salad Bliss Bowl CP Black Bean & Quinoa Stew L/O Pizza Church Food
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
Creamy Tomato Soup w/Bread Stir-fry w/Tofu & Rice Orzo & Scallops CP Black Bean & Lentil Soup L/O Pizza Apple Gouda Grilled Cheese
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
Dinner at Rachelle’s (Bring Salad) Chili w/Cornbread Roasted Butternut Squash w/Udon Creamy Lentils & Spinach L/O Dinner Out Boca Sandwiches w/SP Fries
30 31 1 2 3 4 5
Chicken & Dumplings Jack-o-lantern Pizza Stir-fry w/Tofu & Udon CP White Bean & SD Tomato Soup L/O Pizza Black Bean Pasta a la Vodka

You’ll see it shows my overlapping days from the previous month and my tentative plan for the first few days of November. I’m not including October 29-31 in this October’s budget because that grocery run will fall into November’s budget. You’ll also see that it reflect the dates when I know I won’t need to prepare dinner.

Step 6 – Create a grocery list for the whole month, separated by each week based on your plan. I usually get my grocery shopping done on Friday afternoons, so my grocery “week” is from Friday through the following Thursday. It helps to know the average price of each of the items you usually purchase. When I make my list I include the non-sale price of each item in parenthesis. Once I have every item listed, I can total up how much the dinner groceries will cost for that week. Then I can total up how much the dinner groceries will cost for the entire month.

21

This month my total for dinners comes out to $198.73. This figure does not include Friday night pizza because even though we usually do frozen, we’ll occasionally order it from a local shop. We usually spend no more than $12 total. That means I have $201.27 remaining to spend on pizza, breakfast, lunch, and snack items.

With some additional planning, I am easily able to buy everything else I need with my remaining amount. Usually, something on the list of dinner groceries will provide leftovers for snacks, like extra celery, cherry tomatoes or carrots. Plus, I usually make dinners that will provide leftover lunches for me and my husband to eat the next day. Again, the calendar helps me figure out which days I won’t have leftovers for lunch and then I can plan accordingly.

My kids both have ADHD, which means that we don’t buy a lot of pre-packaged, expensive snack foods because they have a tendency to binge if we keep those items in the house. Instead, I try to buy things like roasted almonds, baby carrots, yogurt, and cheese in bulk. I do cave on a few things like Goldfish crackers, granola bars, and apple sauce. Since I buy in bulk, these items work not only as snack items, but also as things I can easily pack in my kids’ lunches on school days.

Breakfast items are easy. I buy at least one dozen eggs and a loaf of bread each week. Then I keep cereal and oatmeal stocked in the pantry. I also usually make a batch of muffins weekly. I will buy bagels and cream cheese too if they are on sale. Between all of these items, there is always something for everyone to enjoy for breakfast.

Other weekly items include, seasonal fruit, bananas, milk and/or almond milk, juice boxes for lunches, and coffee creamer. Here’s how it breaks down:

Monthly – $43.97

  • Almonds $14.99
  • Cheese $9.99
  • Yogurt $6.00
  • Goldfish crackers – $7.00 (the BIG box)
  • Apple sauce $5.99

Weekly – $23.85

  • Eggs – $1.88
  • Bread – $2.50
  • Milk – $1.99
  • Seasonal fruit (grapes, apples, pears) – $3
  • Bananas – $4   This is a ton of bananas, I know, but we eat a lot of them and they also get used in baked items like muffins or banana bread.
  • Oatmeal – $1.50
  • Cereal – $4 Our local grocery store usually has cereal for about $2/box. Sometimes I can find cereal for $1.25/box at King Soopers (Kroger) and save even more!
  • Juice boxes – $1.99
  • Creamer – $2.99 King Soopers usually does a deal at least once a month where the creamer I like goes on sale for only $1.99/bottle. When that happens, I usually stock up for the next few weeks.

Okay, so let’s review what we’ve got so far. In October, I am planning to spend $198.73 on dinners, $43.97 on monthly bulk items, about $95.40 on weekly grocery items (for 4 weeks), and pizza (4 weeks) $48.00. That gives me an estimated total of $386.10 for the month of October for our family of four! Plus, if any of the items on my list are on sale throughout the month, it comes out to even less. Any remaining funds usually go toward restocking pantry items like flour, sugar, spices, or cooking oils.

I hope all of this information is helpful rather than totally confusing. Of course, my meal plan is mostly meat free. I guarantee you that it is possible stick to the same grocery budget even if you do include more meat. Our family did it for years prior to the last couple of months. I just reworked our monthly plan to meet our family’s current needs. I really believe that you can do the same! Happy planning!

When It’s Time to Say Goodbye

It has been five years since I said goodbye to my father for the last time. He passed away after a short, yet torturous battle with leukemia. That year I gave birth to my daughter, and two days later my dad went into the hospital. He was there for a month before the doctors could even figure out what was wrong. By then, it was too late for the treatments to really be effective. He tried. He really fought. Ultimately, it was too aggressive to control.

I miss my dad every single day. So much. I wish he was here to see my kids grow up. I wish he could have seen the house that my husband and I finally settled into, and could have spent at least one Christmas with us here. I wish he could surprise me and take me to lunch like he used to. I wish we could still laugh together. He had an awesome laugh. I miss hearing him sing and play the guitar. I miss how he used to check in on me, but tried not to make a big deal of it. I just miss him.

Losing a parent was life-changing. Someone who was a daily part of my life for my entire life disappeared. It almost doesn’t feel real. There are still days where I will think, “I can’t wait to tell Dad about that,” and then I realize that I can’t. There are days when the sorrow is suffocating. There are days when the emptiness feels infinite. Then there are days when I am completely at peace, remembering my dad as the incredible man he was and all of the wonderful times we  had together. Time does not heal the heart. It just makes us a little more numb to the pain each day. The pain is still there though. It doesn’t go away.

I wrote the following a couple years after my dad passed away…

It was a Wednesday morning in September. I awoke to the soft, yet panicked tapping on the bedroom door as a pale light peeked in from behind the thin window curtain. My mom had come downstairs to tell me that the hospice called and said they thought my dad had a stroke during the night and that though he was still alive, he wasn’t responding or waking up. I skipped showering, threw my hair back in a ponytail, slipped on a pair of jeans and drove my mom to the hospital. 

We got to the hospice and walked into my dad’s room. He was sleeping. His mouth was open and his breathing was heavy, loud, and rhythmic. The nurse talked over his sounds, explaining that he had not woken that morning since they first checked on him. My anxious mother listened, but I stood there in a daze as I sought to truly comprehend what the nurse was trying to prepare us for.

The nurse left the room. My mom talked to my dad for a bit and then said she was going to go grab something to drink or something to eat from the cafeteria. At last. Finally for the first time during this 4-month ordeal I was alone with my father. No mom, no brother, no husband, no children. Just me and my dad. Unlike a screenplay would have it, I didn’t have any regrets or apologies and I didn’t need him to have any for me. My dad and I had a great relationship and even if we were ever in disagreement, we understood each other. I didn’t have anything to tell him other than that I loved him. So, I sang. I sang “Give Me Faith” because it was fresh in my mind, a new song recently added to our worship team’s repertoire. 

“Give me faith to trust what you say;

That you’re good and your love is great.

I’m broken inside. I give you my life.”

Thinking back upon that moment, I can’t tell you which of my fathers I was actually singing to. My dad lay there as the words squeaked out of my mouth, like I was singing them on his behalf so he would hold onto his faith as he was about to embrace eternity. Even though I was hardly audible, my soul cried out to my Father in Heaven with the plea to give me faith because I knew that soon my dad would be in His presence and no longer in mine. It was an honest and beautifully vulnerable moment and I’ll never forget it.

My dad died later that morning. My brother was in the room with him as his breathing slowed and as he was finally released from this excruciatingly horrible disease. I had gone home to grab the shower that I had skipped earlier that morning. I got the call from my brother. I remember trying to tell him that I was just going to shower really quick and then I would head straight back to the hospice and… He cut me off. He said, “Dad died,” and he began to cry as he told me the details.

I don’t remember much about the rest of that day. I remember going back to the hospice and a lot of hugs and tears. I remember how calm everyone seemed. I think the calmness could be attributed to the fact that ultimately we all knew where Dad was and that he was no longer suffering. My dad stepped into eternity on September 14th, 2011. 

I still cannot fathom how people can do this without faith, without hope, and without belief in the one true God. Perhaps that is why death is so scary to some people and why grief has the power to numb us, paralyze us, suffocate us, and consume us. My worldly self would like to think that I go on for my husband, for my children, for my mother, and in a sense I do. There’s no doubt in my mind that God gave me the dearest people in my life for many reasons. But more so, I go on because I have hope. I’m able to let this devastating circumstance be a temporary trial rather than never ending sorrow. 

I pleaded with God that day to shield my spirit and strengthen my faith so that I wouldn’t be crushed by the pain that I knew would accompany my father’s passing. He graciously protected me that day and continues to be my rock. I have a Savior who I love and who loves me and who rejoices with me on my best days and comforts me through my worst. As I reflect on one of the most heartbreaking days of my life, I can’t help but pray for those who haven’t accepted His love.

A piece of my heart has been lost for 5 years. No more lunches, no check-ins, no visits with Grandpa. The laughter has faded. The guitar has been put away. The song is over. Those mournful days come and go. There are days when I am nothing but angry at God. I’m bitter and resentful. I think that’s an ordinary component of grief. I haven’t lost my hope though. There is peace in the midst of the pain. There is comfort found in faith.

It hasn’t changed for me.


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In loving memory of my Dad, Stephen K. Clarke

1951 – 2011

You Are Still a Good Mom, Even on the Bad Days

After my son was born, I went back to work when he was just 2 weeks old. I didn’t want to, but my husband and I were in a place financially where I needed to. The things I struggled with then are the things I still struggle with today. Keeping up with family schedules, proving to be a dedicated employee, striving to be the perfect wife and mother, and maintaining the home is demanding. I am constantly trying to balance my career and my home life, which can be extremely stressful at times.

There are days when I feel like I have everything together. Everything goes according to plan and on schedule. If I’m being honest, those days are few and far between. A lot of the time I feel like I am totally underwater. The kids have their own agenda, running around the house like a couple wild hyenas trying to get all their crazies out before dinner. My husband has to finish a work project, which isn’t helped by the noise so generously provided by said hyenas so then he gets frustrated. Meanwhile I am trying to tame the hyenas while pacifying my stressed out hubby and making dinner simultaneously. That’s just within the first 15 minutes of being home!

It’s enough to make a mom lose her mind! Some nights, I have all the patience in the world, but other nights I snap. I get angry. I yell at my kids, who are admittedly just being kids, excited to be home at the end of the day with mom and dad. I turn a cold shoulder to my husband. Despite apologies, I feel horrible about all of it after the fact, which just makes it that much worse. Nights like this make me feel completely defeated. They make me feel like a bad mom and wife. They make me wonder what I am doing wrong.

It totally sucks because no one else talks about it either. No mom wants to tell anyone that she lost her temper and handled her anger in the wrong way. No wife wants to say that she got mad at her husband for no logical reason. Heaven forbid that we admit we were wrong and made a mistake when our emotions got the best of us. Stop the presses when we realize we are just human and no one person can really do it all. If you say you can, I kindly call bullsh*t. Yup. I said it.

Where did this idea even come from? Why do we think we can’t be honest about the daily struggles that accompany being a spouse or a parent? Is it mom-shaming? Is it ego? Is it lack of support? It feels like our society went from “It takes a village” to “I can do it myself and I can do it better than you!” What are we trying to prove? I think sometimes we can put ourselves in the “I can do it myself” mindset because we don’t want to admit that sometimes we do need help. I personally have a lot of pride about all the things I manage to juggle, and for the most part, juggle well.  Pride can be my own worst enemy though.

For example, it took a really long time for my husband and I to acknowledge that our son has ADHD. Our pediatrician just happens to specialize in neurodevelopmental disorders. He knew that, from a very young age, our son was exemplifying all of the characteristics and symptoms of an ADHD child. We, being the prideful parents we are, held off on a medical treatment plan in hopes that we could correct the problems our son was having with alternative methods. We tried things like changes to his diet, essential oils, supplements, therapy, different parenting strategies and nothing seemed to help at all.

We were pulling out our hair trying to figure out how we could have a better relationship with our child when he was literally difficult to be around. Ouch! What kind of awful parent am I to admit that?! But it was true! I love my son unconditionally but our relationship was truly strained. After exhausting all of our options, we finally agreed with the pediatrician to start a medicinal regimen. It was like sudden world peace in our home! We could have improved our entire family’s situation months in advance if our pride hadn’t gotten the best of us.

I think another thing that gets in the way of reaching out for help is the fear of judgment. Unfortunately, often times uneducated individuals can be the most judgmental. Using ADHD as an example again, anyone who has the opinion of “There ain’t no such thing as ADHD. It just bad parenting,” is obviously an idiot. Anyone who is educated and informed on the topic knows better. Don’t let someone invalidate your problem just because they know nothing about it. After all, you are reaching out for help, not to be put down.

On the other hand, if someone is reaching out to you, be mindful of how you respond. It’s easy for anyone to take a problem to the internet and try to google a solution. It takes a lot of courage to seek help from someone you know. If a person trusts you enough to come to you with their problem, listen to them. Don’t dismiss them. Don’t judge them. Assess the problem and offer your advise. Be encouraging. Be supportive. The person reaching out to you clearly admires your perspective. Be worthy of that.

To you, mom who might be reading this, don’t be discouraged. You aren’t doing anything wrong. The bad days happen. We lose our tempers. We make mistakes. It is 100% okay to admit when you are wrong. It is 100% okay to need help. It will never make you a bad mother or a bad wife to say it out loud. We are resilient. We learn. We adapt. We better ourselves.

Ways to Make Yourself Feel Better When You’re Feeling Blah

Do you ever have those days where you just feel kind of bored with the monotony of life? Like when your energy is basically non-existent and you aren’t motivated to do anything. Or when, for no particular reason, you feel frumpy and frustrated. How do you snap out of it? Whether you’re getting through a break-up, having a bad day, you’re a mom who’s been busy caring for everyone else, or you just need a pick-me-up, here’s a few of my favorite ways to fight the funk when it rears its ugly head.

nailsPaint your nails –Simple and barely costs a thing. Painting your nails is an easy way to add a little vibrancy on those days you’re feeling dull. It’s such a great way to pamper yourself. It doesn’t take up too much time and whatever fun color you pick will last a few days.

Try a face mask – Again, so easy and cheap! You can buy a one-time face mask for $1 – $8 or you can even make your own at home! Afterward your skin will be silky smooth and you can put your best face forward!

Take a bubble bath – Are you noticing a theme here? A good soak with some scented salts is a fantastic way to sooth your soul. That time in the tub gives you time to relax and reset, giving you a fresh perspective.

Wear sexy underwear – Go ahead. Giggle all you want, but I’m serious. Slipping on some silky or lacy lingerie is an instant way to boost your confidence and make yourself feel sexy. No one ever has to know. Fancy panties aren’t for anyone else but you so pick a style that makes you feel pretty and poised.

knitLearn a new skill – Sometimes when we lack motivation it’s basically because we’re bored with the things we usually do. So, teach yourself how to do something new. Thanks to Youtube and Pinterest, I have learned how to braid hair, crochet, apply make-up so I don’t look like a cross between a French whore and a clown, correct my running form, learn new songs, make flower arrangements, make my own candy, and the list goes on. You could also check out a free class at a local art store, library, or community center. When you learn something new, not only are you stimulating yourself but you’re giving yourself another life skill. Not to mention it’s a great feeling to have that “Ah-ha!” moment when everything clicks together.

Go for a hike – This one will take a little effort. Yes, you will have to put pants on. However, I can promise you that I have never gone on an outdoor adventure and wished I hadn’t. Fresh air, mild exercise, and new scenery can be just the change of pace you need to adjust your outlook on life.

Watch your favorite movie – You know that movie you could watch over and over and never get sick of? It’s time to pop it in the DVD player. My picks? When I need a good sing along/cry at the end movie I watch Moulin Rouge or West Side Story. If I need to laugh, I watch Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion or Saved. And then of course, there’s the horribly cheesy, inspirational Center Stage. Ok, so I like a lot of movies. The point is, sometimes taking that 90 minute time-out to relax and watch something you enjoy is just the reset you need to get past that pessimism.

pretty-woman-in-field-820477_640Dance it out – In the words of James Brown, “Get up offa that thing, and dance ’till you feel better!” It’s really hard to stay in a bad mood when you’re dancing. You can put on whatever kind of music you are in the mood for and just let it out. Plus, it’s really fun.

Check your diet – Ok, so I’ll be the first to admit that when I’m feeling a little down I want junk food. Bring on the pizza, mac ‘n cheese, chocolate and ice cream! Honestly though, none of it is doing me any favors and usually it only makes me feel worse and even more lethargic. Perhaps it’s those poor food choices that are making us feel this way in the first place. When you feel blah, ask yourself am I getting enough vegetables? Am I eating too much sugar? Am I getting enough iron? Try a healthier choice and see if it helps boost your energy.

I know that it can be a challenge to even get out of bed on the days when you feel blah. Next time you’re having one of those days, I encourage you to try something on this list. You may surprise yourself.

Be a Friend, Not a Frenemy

Do you ever feel like there are people in your life who might be bringing you down more than lifting you up? The term for these people is “frenemy.” You know… the people who act like your friend in person but every time you’re around them you just pick up on some really negative energy. You can never call them out on it either because they’re always perfectly nice to your face. They haven’t actually given you a basis not to trust them, but for whatever reason you just have a gut feeling that they are not interested in truly being a friend to you. I mean, making friends as an adult is hard enough. No one needs or wants it to be one-sided.

Maybe I’m just paranoid. Or maybe I’m just honest. While I can’t go so far as to say that I’ve purposely neglected to be a friend to someone who may have valued my companionship, I will say that I know there are a few relationships that I let dwindle rather than fueled. Part of that is different schedules, uncommon interests, or simply oblivion. Often times, though, it seems pretty mutual.

So how do we get past this as adults? How do we dive deeper? How do we stop hurting others intentionally or not? How do we stop getting hurt?

1. Support the people in your life. This is probably the easiest thing we are all capable of doing. If you’re lucky enough to see your friends often, ask what’s happening in their lives. If you see someone struggling, ask if you can help in any way. For friends who we don’t get to see in person, it takes all of five seconds to shoot an encouraging text. Social media has made it easier than ever to keep in touch. If all else fails, you can simply “react” to the posts in your feeds, or leave a brief comment.

2. Be real. Be honest. Be open. Pretty self explanatory but I’ll go a little further. There’s a difference between being polite and being fake. Don’t lead people on if you have no intention of investing in that friendship. You will only hurt them more in the long run. Alternatively, if a friend does something that upsets you, tell them so you can both work through it. I don’t know about you, but I can’t read minds. I would much rather face a potential bit of conflict than let some silent resentment build up until it completely destroys a friendship. When you are honest with your friends, you’re showing them that you value them. You allow them to be honest with you in return. You build a foundation of trust that will ultimately strengthen your relationship.

3. Make time. This one is hard. We all have way too much going on. I get it. Everyone has a full plate all of the time. This is by far the biggest challenge I face in my friendships. I try to invite friends to do things that we all need to do anyway. If you can meet a friend during a lunch break, do it. If you can invite a friend over for dinner, do it. If you can break away for coffee, do it. If you want to do something special and know it takes a lot of advanced notice for an evening out, plan it.

Ladies Night

 

A few weeks ago a group of us gals got together for an evening hike. I planned it well in advance so everyone who wanted to come could make necessary arrangements. It was awesome!

Spending time with friends is important and it’s fun when you finally get to do it!

4. Show your gratitude. We all know how unpredictable life can be. Tell your friends how much they mean to you. Let them know that you value their friendship. Share the love.

Some say that friendship is in all the little things. It’s a little thing to show support, to be honest, to make time and to show gratitude, but those little things fill our lives and our hearts. Those little things become the big things over time.