What To Pack for School Lunches

If you checked out my last blog about How to Become a Meal Planning Master, you’re probably wondering what our family eats when there aren’t leftovers for lunch without having to buy extra groceries. This post will mostly show you what my kid’s lunches look like during the school week. Don’t worry, this isn’t a crazy long list of a million different packed lunches like you may have seen floating around online. Honestly, what working mom has the time or money to do a completely different packed lunch for their kiddo every single day? I know I don’t. Plus, seriously, my kids are 5 & 8…they like eating the same sorts of things. They don’t need a new gourmet dish for every lunch. Kudos to you if you are a bento lunch expert. Maybe I’m just slightly jealous of your capabilities, but these lunches are a little more practical for our family.

I hit the jackpot with my kids’ school because there are no restrictions on what they can bring for lunch. It wasn’t always that way. My son was at a different school when he started kindergarten, At that school, if he even thought of bringing anything with nuts in it, he would be banished to a table with all the other exiled children who made the same mistake. My son hated it. PB&J is his absolute favorite type of sandwich, but it made him feel like he was in trouble when he had to be separated from his friends for wanting it in his lunch. Now that my kids are at their current school, I am so appreciative that they don’t segregate students based on what’s in their lunchbox. It makes it so much easier to pack lunches that my kids like and lunches they will eat.

My goal when I pack lunches for school is to pack enough food to get them through the day, but not so much that it will be wasted. I also try to pack items that will keep in their insulated lunchboxes until their scheduled lunchtime. Once the weather gets a little colder, I’ll whip out the thermoses and throw some warm entrees in the mix. We’ve had unusually warm weather this fall though, so they have just had cold lunches so far this school year. Their lunches will always have a source of protein, a fruit or veggie (or both), a complex carbohydrate, and a drink.

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Cashews, clementine, sweet peppers, homemade yellow squash muffin,banana/granola bar

 

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PB&J sandwich on whole grain seed bread, Applesauce, Celery sticks, Goldfish crackers
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Yogurt, Banana/clementine, Veggie stix, PB&J sandwich crackers
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Cheese tortilla roll-up, hummus, celery sticks, granola bar
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PB&J sandwich on whole grain seed bread, roasted almonds, clementine
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Tuna salad, Ritz crackers, Apple slices, Granola bar

These are just a few examples of what my kids usually have in their (mostly) vegetarian packed lunches. I stick with what I know my kids like and what I already have on hand. The main way to keep these simple lunches from getting old and boring is to switch up what veggies and fruits accompany them. I shop seasonally. That helps me save money and add some variety.

The most important thing to remember is that deciding what to pack shouldn’t be a complex task. It’s school lunch, not a gourmet cooking competition show. Just be sure your kiddos are getting the right nutrition and eating enough food to get them through their school day. What do you pack for your kids’ lunches? Share in the comments below!

 

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.

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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!

What Running Does for Me

Our lives have been crazy busy lately. Whose hasn’t, am I right? Over the last couple months we have had school events, PTA meetings, church retreats, dance class, homework, illness, housework, and the list goes on and on and on. All leading to a general lack of time or motivation to keep up with exercise. On my drive home from work yesterday I realized how gorgeous the last evening of summer was. All I wanted was to get outside, take a break from EVERYTHING and enjoy it!

So I did. I got home. I asked hubby if he was cool with eating dinner a little bit later, which, of course, he was (that awesome man of mine). I changed out of my work clothes and into my running shorts. Side note…my dog totally knows when we are going for a run. She starts going nuts the minute I put on my work-out clothes. It’s pretty hilarious. Anyway, I grabbed my water bottle and then the dog and I headed out the door. Nothing fancy. Not enough time to drive out to a trail. It was a simple road run, but it was EXACTLY what I needed.

My runs are where I find clarity. There are days when I don’t mind the road runs because they are obviously less technical than a trail run. I don’t have to concentrate so much on where my feet are going or worry about stabbing my eye with a tree branch. It’s kind of nice because my brain can go wherever it wants to go. I can think without interruptions about whatever pops in my head. I can be angry without having to rationalize. I can feel without guilt. I can have thoughts without having to talk about them. I can have conversations with myself and work through my own mental struggles or emotional hurdles.

Those hurdles seem to show up all over the place. It’s exhausting.  Am I a good mom? Am I a loving wife? Am I a considerate daughter? Am I valued? Do I respect others? Am I teaching my children virtue? Am I helpful? Am I patient? Am I enough? I have so many questions and so many concerns reeling in my head all the time. I feel like it’s because there is so much pressure to be perfect at everything. And from who? Other moms, coworkers, church acquaintances…all people who haven’t really taken the time to get to know me. When I’m running I can let it all go. It’s just me and the dog. I don’t have to impress anyone. I don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations but my own. I don’t worry about other people’s opinions of me or thoughts of who they think I am. I can just be.

Aside from the mental release, there’s something so exhilarating about running. Yes, it is hard. Yes, sometimes I can’t breathe and I need to walk for a bit so I can catch my breath. Yes, my muscles burn. Yes, I get all sweaty and stinky. Yes, it is worth it! I can’t tell you how giddy I get when I notice my own improvement. It is thrilling when I can go a longer distance or knock a few seconds off my time. It makes me want to do more. It boosts my confidence and makes me feel strong. I get to push myself and I get to see and feel real results. It’s awesome!

My runs are my time to better myself. The 30 – 40 minutes of self-indulgence is not selfishness. It’s taking care of myself. When I run I’m taking care of my body. I’m taking care of my spirit. I’m taking care of my mind. I’m allowing myself to be my own person. When I take the time to do that, it allows me to be better at all of the other things I worry I’m not good enough at.

Like I said, last night’s run was exactly what I needed. I needed to take time to reflect on everything going on right now. I needed to relieve some of the stress that has been creeping into our lives more and more. I needed to think about the grief I usually feel this time of year. I needed to be ok doing something alone since we’ve had less and less time with friends lately. I needed to remind myself how strong I am. I needed to reassure myself that I am doing ok.

Roasted Acorn Squash Salad

I think I’ve mentioned that my husband works for our church. Well, last weekend they sent him to take care of all the tech needs for our church’s women’s retreat. The bonus? I got to go with him. Plus, this year, I helped lead worship for the weekend. The women’s ministry at our church always hosts the retreat at this beautiful conference center in the mountains. We got to enjoy the changing of the leaves on our drive there and home, and I got to spend some time hiking alone (something I almost never get to do) on Saturday afternoon. Overall, it’s was a really nice weekend away for us, even if we were “working.”

The only thing that we had a little trouble with while we were there was sticking to our recent meat-free ways. Now, as I said before, my husband and I agreed that we would eat meat if it was the food being served. We absolutely had no problems putting that into practice. The food was delicious and there was a wonderful staff of youth volunteers who worked really hard to prepare and serve it to all of the women attending the retreat. The downside was the after effect. I suppose our bodies quickly adjusted to our vegetarian diet. Despite our willingness to “get what we get and not throw a fit,” I felt like I had a meat brick in my stomach by the end of the weekend.

When we got home on Sunday afternoon I still needed to run out to do the grocery shopping. I originally had a really great homemade acorn squash macaroni and cheese recipe planned for dinner that night and I already had the acorn squash. My tummy felt so heavy, though. All I was craving was a ton of vegetables! I needed to improvise how to use the acorn squash in a recipe for dinner that night so I wouldn’t have to adjust the rest of my meal plan for the week, and so the squash wouldn’t go to waste. I quickly reworked my grocery list and set off to the store.

I had a general idea of what I wanted, what my body was craving, and what the entire family could eat for dinner. Since I was improvising, I would need to wait until I got to the store to see what was in season and reasonably priced. My end result was a fantastic seasonal Roasted Acorn Squash Salad. Seriously, so satisfying.

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One of the things I was able to find was a package of mini heirloom tomatoes. These bright and colorful little beauties were perfectly ripe. I’m pretty sure my mouth was actually watering as I placed them in my shopping cart.

I decided on brussels sprouts and carrots to use in addition to the squash. These are veggies that everyone in our family likes and that taste amazing when roasted in the oven. This recipe ended up being very easy to prepare. It did require some time for the roasting of the veggies, but the combination of flavors were so good!

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Ingredients:

  • 1 small or medium acorn squash, cut into moons
  • 10 oz. shaved brussels sprouts
  • 2 – 3 large carrots, sliced
  • 2 tsp. herbs de provence
  • 3 TB olive oil
  •  1 tsp. garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • baby spinach or mixed salad greens
  • crumbled goat cheese
  • mini heirloom tomatoes, cut in halves (as many you want to use)
  • shaved almonds or chopped nuts of your choice (pecans, walnuts, etc.)
  • Trader Joe’s thyme honey balsamic vinaigrette or dressing of your choice

What to do:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 375° F.
  • Combine the acorn squash, brussels sprouts, carrots, olive oil, garlic powder, herbs, and S&P in a large roasting pan.
  • Toss to coat all of the veggies with the oil and seasonings.
  • Place the pan on the bottom rack in the oven for 40 minutes, stirring the veggies and turning the squash every 10 minutes or so.
  • Meanwhile, place a bed of spinach leaves (or salad mix) on plates.
  • Sprinkle each bed of greens with goat cheese and almonds to taste.
  • Once the roasted veggies are done, pull them out of the oven, and separate the squash from the rest of the veggies.
  • Spoon the brussels sprouts and carrots over the prepared plates.
  • Add the tomato halves.
  • Place the acorn squash on top of everything.
  • Lastly, drizzle the dressing over each salad to taste.

Bon appetit!

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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.

Meatless Isn’t Just for Monday Anymore

At the beginning of summer I think I was actually drooling in anticipation of grilled steaks, chicken breast, pork chops and kabobs. When the weather got warmer I eagerly asked my hubby to pick up a new tank of propane. For the first few weeks of grilling season we gorged ourselves on fajitas, rib-eyes, and speared sausages with summer squash. It didn’t last long. Soon after grilling season began, it started raining everyday right around the time I was needing to cook dinner. Thus, my grill may as well have been gone. Le sigh.

One of the first nights that we got rained out, I made a vegetable stir-fry for dinner. It was fantastic! unnamedRed cabbage, bok choy, carrots, tofu, and soba noodles all tossed together in a teriyaki sauce. Not only did it taste great, but my husband and I both noticed how much more satisfied we felt after eating that type of meal. I also noticed how much my digestive system appreciated it.

Now don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t like we were only eating a slab of meat each night. I am very determined to make sure every meal is well balanced with vegetables, grains, and protein. It’s not like this was the first vegetarian meal I had ever made either. Previously, I would typically plan at least 1-2 meatless meals per week. I think what made the stir-fry stand out was that we had been overdoing it with the meat, and my body responded with relief when I finally fed it a bowl full of plant-based bliss.

It was enough to get me thinking. When I also considered how much the price of meat had gone up just over the last year it sparked a conversation. Hubby and I talked about it and we decided that neither of us would be opposed to trying out a mostly vegetarian diet for a while. We agreed that seafood was still ok. So I guess that’s technically “Pescetarian,” but we also agreed that we wouldn’t refuse meat if it was served at a gathering, or if meat was the only available option while eating out. That’s why I say “mostly” vegetarian.

It’s been about 2 months now since we’ve made this change. I have to say that I do not miss the meat at all! We have had the occasional pepperoni on a pizza here and there, but our weeknight dinners and homemade lunches have all been meatless. The kids are enjoying it too! They have been cleaning their plates and asking for more. Perhaps a little TMI for you, but we’ve all been less gassy. I’ve even been able to lose at least 3 pounds in that short amount of time just from eliminating meat. It’s definitely been a positive change for our family.

I’ve really stayed away from buying pre-made meat substitutes. Instead I’ve opted for various types of beans, lentils, eggs, cheese, and tofu. Go easy on the tofu though…too much soy can mess with your hormones. I’ll direct you here so I don’t go off topic. I’ve also been surprised to learn how much protein is already in a lot of the grains and veggies we love. They key is planning. It has helped tremendously to keep me on track and to make sure our family is getting the right nutrition. When I sit down and make a menu plan I can see each ingredient that will go into a particular meal which allows me to determine if I need to supplement it with anything.

Our bellies and our bank account have been much happier with the switch. So far we have saved about $100 on our monthly grocery bill! I’m sure as the weather starts to get colder we’ll be craving comfort foods like chicken ‘n dumplings and beef stew. I’ll probably work those family favorites into our menu in moderation, but I know I will continue to plan meatless meals for most dinners going forward.

3 Easy Ways to Get Fit For Next to Nothing

First of all, when I talk about getting fit my focus is not merely losing weight. That’s not to say that losing weight is a bad goal. In fact, the things I do to stay fit have helped me to do just that, but to me, being fit is so much more. When I think of being fit, I don’t only imagine my body pre-the fun house mirror image that having two kids has turned it into. In my opinion, to be fit is to be strong, to have endurance and to build mental fortitude. It is to boost energy levels, mood, and metabolism. Being fit encompasses my entire well-being. So with that, please know this post is not going to tell you how to drop 5 pounds with a snap of your fingers.

I wanted to write about what I do to stay fit because I made excuses for years before I finally took action and started being productive in this area of my life. I mean, I blamed the kids, my work schedule, our lack of money, my lack of energy, my own insecurities. It’s hard to push yourself past all of that and decide to make a change for the better. Below  is a list of what I (a full-time working wife and mom on a budget) have been able to keep up with despite all of life’s obstacles. So here goes…

1. Go for a run.

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Gasp! What? Why would I say such a hurtful thing? But seriously, running has transformed my body. Plus it is free! You do not need a fancy gym membership. You can brave the elements and run outside! When you dare to run in different types of weather, running becomes a mental challenge as well as a physical feat. Getting home after a run in the snow makes you feel like you just conquered the world! Extra bonus…you get a dose of vitamin D and fresh air. Gotta love that!

Additionally, running does not require the latest threads from Athleta or any expensive equipment. You don’t need fancy workout clothes to run. T-shirts and sweatpants will do the trick. We all probably already own a pair of sneakers to start out in. If you can afford it, it really is worth investing in a good pair of running shoes. I will say, that if you do pop for new shoes, make a special trip to a running store and have an associate help you pick the best shoes for you specifically. Your hips and knees will thank you and you’ll be supporting a local business.

Back to the point. What I love about running is that you can see and feel improvement in a very short amount of time. Listen to your body, but be willing to push yourself. A great way to start is to try the walk/run method. I highly recommend starting out this way so you don’t injure yourself. You will find that you can increase your running endurance and give yourself time to correct your form and breathing when you take turns walking and running. Contrary to popular belief, running is not about how fast you are. If you are running as a way to take healthy steps in your life, your time should not matter one bit. What matters is that you get out there and experience personal improvement. I am slow, slow, slow, but over time I have been able to walk less, run more, run longer and run farther. I’ve lost a few pounds and gained some muscle. It’s easy to stay motivated because I can feel the change.

2. Practice Yoga.

yoga-1146277_640I got really lucky and found a Groupon for a local yoga studio. I was able to purchase a punch card good for 20 classes for only $38.00! So maybe that was a once-in-a-lifetime steal, but I do know that other yoga studios frequently have drastically discounted options available through Groupon. Also, there is another local studio that offers classes on a donation basis. They have a suggested donation of $10 per class, but no one will bat an eye if you can’t give the full suggestion. In the warmer weather months there are also classes that are offered outside at local parks.

If you’re not quite comfortable with the idea of practicing yoga in the same room as other people, or if you can’t afford studio classes, you’re in luck. You can borrow yoga DVDs from your library or even watch videos on the internet. There are so many free resources online that can explain everything you need to know to expand your personal practice at home.

I really enjoy yoga. I find it calming and relaxing, yet still challenging. I love the idea of using my own body’s weight and resistance to build strength. You will find that you can improve your coordination, circulation, and flexibility with regular practice. Yoga is low-impact so you can work and stretch your muscles without intense pain after your workout. Just drink lots of water! I really like how in tune I feel with my body after a good yoga session . It makes me feel centered and usually leaves me eager to practice again.

3. Dance.IMG_3340

I love dancing. Until recently, I did this completely for free too. There’s nothing quite like turning on your favorite tunes and just shakin’ it. You’ll burn calories, boost endorphins, and have fun! It’s really a blast when you get your kids or husband into it too so you can’t use them an an excuse not to do it. If you’re looking for something more structured but still free, there are dozens of YouTube channels ready to teach you any kind of dance you can imagine. You can learn proper technique or new choreography, whatever suits you!

I know that some dance studios offer promotions through Groupon as well. If it’s in your budget, this is a great way to try out a class at a studio to see if it’s a good fit. Often times studios can give discounts on tuition if you decide to continue classes once the promotion ends. You can also ask if your studio gives discounted or free classes if you have multiple family members enrolled. Our studio is amazing and will allow a third family member to dance for free after you pay tuition for the first two. This was how I was recently able to finally take a dance class myself. It was already it in the budget for my son and daughter to take classes and now I get to take one too. Mom win!

So there you have it! Those are the three things I have been able to do to stay fit that don’t break the bank. I hope I’ve inspired some of you to try something outside your comfort zone. Really though, choose something you enjoy so you’ll stay motivated. Getting fit and staying fit is all about finding what works for you.