Category: Uncategorized

Honey, What’s for Dinner?

For as long as I’ve been married, I’ve done some form of meal planning. For me, there was just no other way to handle groceries and dinners—which I suddenly became responsible for, once I was no longer living with my parents! I know there are people who like to wing it when it comes to what they’re going to eat each day. But for me, meal planning helps me save money, time, and energy, and it helps my family eat better.  

For the past few years, I’ve been planning all of my family’s dinners for the week, on a weekly basis. We tend to choose from a few different options for breakfasts and lunches each day, but dinner is the meal that I plan ahead for. I keep a grocery list on my phone, which I add to whenever we’re running low on staples. Before we go grocery shopping, I also add to the list all of the specific things that we need for our dinners that week. Shopping this way keeps our trips quick and efficient, and prevents us from buying things we don’t need.  

In 2019, I’ve decided to take meal planning a step further, and plan out four weeks at a time. So far, it’s worked really well! Here’s how I did it. 

  1. I made a list of our 16 favorite dinners. I chose only meals that we really enjoy, and look forward to eating. I also have a policy of making our dinners balanced—meaning every meal has protein, grains, and vegetables.  
  2. I organized a meal rotation plan with four meals from our top 16 per week. I made sure that each week only has one or two “involved” dinners, meaning meals that require a fair amount of hands-on prep and cooking time. The other two to three dinners are relatively quick and easy.  
  3. I planned for one freezer meal, one leftover night, and one night eating out (or ordering in) each week. That covers seven days of the week for dinners.  

Freezer meals are dinners that we’ve cooked or prepared in large batches and frozen for later use. Most of them are soups, and all of them are cooked by defrosting and/or cooking in the Instant Pot or on the stove. If I prepare one batch of a freezer meal on one weekend per month, I have more than enough to work for my plan.  

Leftover nights help us to use up our leftovers from the other meals that week. This way, we waste very little food! If we end up not having much leftover food to choose from, we have a “cheat night” and make something really simple (and not necessarily balanced), like mac n’ cheese, grilled cheese, or pizza. 

Using this plan, we have so much more variety than we used to have, when I only planned one week at a time. It’s also nearly effortless to plan our dinners now. All I do is look at my meal rotation plan, which I keep in a note on my phone, and copy over the dinners for that week onto my weekly planner. I use a printable weekly planner, which I fill out at the beginning of each week and hang on the fridge.  

This meal plan is also super flexible! Based on what plans I have for the evenings in any given week, I can arrange the meals in a way that works best. I plan to have the easier/faster dinners on busier days. I can also swap dinners from day to day, based on what we feel like having or any changes of plan that come up. On our week with a planned date night, we set that night as our “eating out” night and feed the kids a simple dinner before we go. On weeks when we’re cooking fresh meat or fish, we can make those dinners on the day or the day after we go grocery shopping, so nothing spoils.  

One of the best benefits to my four-week dinner plan is that I’ve noticed we are eating a lot more vegetables! Many of the meals I’ve chosen have vegetables we wouldn’t eat otherwise, like baby broccoli or cabbage. For meals with a side dish vegetable, I made strategic choices so that we will eat a variety of veggies, instead of eating just our few favorites. It feels good to see that now, a bigger portion of our grocery haul is produce. 

Another benefit is that we can now easily avoid buying things that we would end up wasting. Every so often, we may try something new if it looks good at the store, but for the most part, we only buy what we need for our meal plan. New dinners and recipes only make it in if they are really good!  

For me, meal planning is one of the simplest and most important things I can do to make my home run smoother. Like budgeting, it’s a basic necessity! It’s just another way I stay organized and keep my life simplified.  

Below is my monthly menu. I hope this gives you ideas and inspiration for a meal plan that works for you and your family. 

Week 1:

  • Ramen noodle soup (homemade, of course!) 
  • Pasta with marinara sauce and Italian sausage 
  • BBQ chicken breasts or drumsticks with baked beans and whole grain rolls 
  • Shrimp chow mein with edamame 

Week 2: 

  • Spaghetti and meatballs 
  • Chicken coconut curry with rice 
  • Baked breaded fish with quinoa and peas and corn 
  • Steak with baked potatoes and whole grain rolls 

Week 3: 

  • Hamburgers (with veggie toppings like lettuce, sautéed onions, avocado, etc.) 
  • Bratwurst on buns with fried potatoes 
  • Chicken and veggie pita wraps 
  • Chicken fettucine alfredo with salad 

Week 4: 

  • Coconut chicken adobo with rice 
  • Tacos 
  • Shrimp linguini with zucchini 
  • Pulled pork (or shredded BBQ chicken) sandwiches with green beans 

My Freezer Meal List: 

  • Chili 
  • Taco soup 
  • Chicken & rice soup 
  • Chicken noodle soup 
  • Chicken dumpling soup 
  • Cheesy potato soup 
  • Baked ziti 
  • Meatloaf 
  • Beef stew 

A Look Back at 2018

This year has been mostly “business as usual” for my family, but there have been some big changes in my family of origin. We’ve been mostly just enjoying our lives, raising our kids, and caring for our many pets. Here’s a look back at this year for my family: 

In February, Cory and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary as a couple. 

That month, my Grandpa passed away. Although his walk with God was not always outwardly obvious, I have been assured that he did believe in Jesus, and as such I have a great hope that he is with the Lord now. My Grandma misses him, but is doing well.  

In March, we redid our backyard, adding a garden as well as a climbing structure, swingset, and sandbox for the kids.  

In May, we had our first family camping trip with just the four of us. We rented an RV and went to a local campground, and had a lot of fun.  

In June, we adopted our kitten, Leo. We also moved to a new church, and have found the most awesome new church family we’ve ever been a part of!  

In July, I turned 26.  

Also in that month, my family of origin moved to a new house, and my Grandma moved in with them. She now lives closer to me than she’s lived for many years, and I’ve been able to enjoy spending more time with her. 

In August, my older brother got married to my wonderful sister-in-law. It was a beautiful day of celebration! Cory, Cody, Abigail, and I were also thrilled to be in the wedding. 

That month, we also celebrated our 7 year wedding anniversary, and Cory turned 27.  

In September, Abigail turned 1. 

My older brother joined the US Air Force and completed his basic training.  

In the fall, we also began homeschool pre-K with Cody.  

In October, Cody turned 4.  

In November, we became a Safe Families Host Family, and completed our first hosting. This is a ministry working in collaboration with our church, which provides temporary care to children in crisis.  

In December, I decided to shift my view of my {other} blog, Family on Purpose, to a hobby instead of a business. I also decided to retire my hopes for a coaching career, and instead focus on more productive things for me and my family. Even my birth education business is something I now consider more of a hobby, because quite frankly I don’t make nearly enough to cover the expenses. But I still very much enjoy blogging and teaching childbirth classes, so those are things I will continue to do. I love being able to help others through my writing, and through empowering parents to have better births.     

To end the year, we enjoyed a wonderful holiday season with our families.  

This year we also got San Diego Zoo & Safari Park passes, and we’ve enjoyed many trips to both parks.  

In 2019, I’m looking forward to continuing doing what we’re doing! Some goals I have are to pay off our credit card debt, have my dog Macy certified as a Canine Good Citizen, plant another successful garden this year, and improve and establish more routines and habits to help my home run smoothly. I’d also really like to learn how to play an instrument—and I’m leaning towards the drums!   

I want to continue to grow spiritually. I want to continue to actively walk with God, and see the Fruit of the Spirit powerfully in my life. I want to be even more consistent with reading the Bible daily, and I want to start taking time to study the word and memorize verses.  

I’ve never chosen a “word of the year” before, but this year I feel strongly about focusing on the word “peaceful.” No matter what ups and downs I experience, I want to be a person who remains peaceful, solidly anchored and resting in God’s hands.  

I hope you and your loved ones have a beautiful year in 2019.  

Happy New Year!  

My Favorite Toys {For Kids Under Three}

favorite-toys

Since Christmas, Cody has officially reached the point where I can say that he does not need anymore toys for a long, long while. He has a house full of toys, many of which he plays with; but he also has a lot of toys that he rarely touches, or only plays with for a few seconds every once in a while. Some of his toys are ones that I think he will grow to enjoy more as he gets older, and some of them are probably ready to be retired and saved for the next baby. But overall, there are a few toys that he loves most of all, and those are the ones I’m going to share with you today.

Toys can be a big source of clutter in families’ homes, so it’s important to make sure that the ones you have are ones that are worth the space they take up. All kids are different, so some of the toys that Cody loves might be completely uninteresting to your children, and vice versa. But if I had to choose one type of toy as the best for almost any kid, I would say toys that encourage imaginative play are the best. Electronic and musical toys, those that encourage physical activity, and creative activities like painting and coloring are all fun, too. Yet I have found that most of them don’t get used as much as imaginative play toys. In Cody’s case, he especially likes toys that let him pretend and mimic activities that he sees me doing.

Here are my top five favorite kids’ toys, for kids under three!

1. Play kitchen

Cody has a play kitchen similar to this, which he plays with every day. Personally, I think Step 2 makes pretty good toys compared to some other popular brands, and the kitchen is a good example. It’s well-built and has cute features that are fun for kids. It comes with a reasonable amount of accessories, too.

2. Play cleaning sets

If I had to pick Cody’s favorite toy, I would pick this one. He loves to run around the house with these cleaning toys, especially the broom. He also really likes the little spray bottle, which actually works but I turned it to “off”. 😉 He enjoys pretending to clean and, ironically, making a mess by scattering these toys all around the house. Melissa and Doug is definitely my favorite toy brand; they make toys that use less plastic, are high quality, and encourage imagination.

3. Animals

These toy animal figurines are another favorite of Cody’s. He likes to play pretend with them, practice his animal sounds, and show us how he can identify them by name. He takes them in the bath sometimes, too. This set is cute and sturdy, and safe for the smallest baby hands. Cody also likes stuffed animals, which were a favorite toy of mine as a child.

4. Cars

Like many boys (and girls!), Cody loves cars. He likes to hold them, drive them around, stack them up, and anything else you could think of. These ones are fun and cute because they make noises and are chunky enough for little hands without being too big. There are many different cars in this line of products, like a trash truck, fire engine, truck and trailer, construction trucks, trains, a plane, a bus… you name it! The fun part is that all of the toy vehicles in this line work and interact with the Go! Go! Smart Wheels tracks, which are expandable.

5. Knick knacks

As many parents will attest, kids often seem more interested in playing with things that aren’t toys. So while I have already shared four of Cody’s most beloved toys, I also have to admit that a lot of his playtime is spent on the box of knick knacks we have assembled for him. This box includes things like small prizes from kids’ play places, cereal box toys, old credit cards, old sunglasses, cleaned plastic food containers, lids to random bottles, and even some rocks. He likes to dump out and examine these items, and use them for different imaginative purposes. While most of these items have just been collected for free around our house, we also have added things like these stacking cups and these plastic chain rings.

Those are the top 5 toys I would choose to keep if I had to get rid of everything else. Lucky for Cody, that’s not the case! 😉 But if you’re interested in limiting the number of toys in your home, or trying to find new toys that will hold your little ones’ interest, then these might be a good place to start.

Happy play time!

Dark Days

Like many other Americans, for me this election has been disillusioning, to say the least.

The truth is, I have never before felt so ashamed and disappointed in my country. I am in disbelief about the candidates who we chose to represent us for this election. I am appalled to think that these individuals are the best we have to offer, as leaders for the nation.

Worse, I’ve never felt more marginalized in the Christian Church as a whole. There are many believers I know who were unsatisfied with either candidate, and weren’t afraid to say so, for which I am grateful. But what disturbs me so deeply is the large majority of believers who not only accept Trump as a good candidate, but are now actively celebrating his election. How can we, as Christians, celebrate the election of a president who publicly presents himself as a racist, a sexist, and a bigot? I am saddened to know that a vast majority of the Christian Church around the nation supported this man with their votes. What does it tell the world about the church, and Jesus, when this is who we choose as our president? We are Jesus’ representatives, and we have failed in this.

Of course, the alternative was arguably not much better. Clinton is certainly not a shining light for Jesus, any more than Trump is. Her platform includes things which as a Christian, I cannot morally agree with. Nevertheless, I did vote for her because, frankly, I believed she was the lesser of two evils. I voted for her because she was the only serious competition to Trump, and at the very least, her message was not one of distrust and divisiveness. I refused to support fear, alienation, and hatred.

As a follower of Christ, I support equality, peace, and love. The sad truth is that neither of these candidates offered much of any of those things. And in truth, as bad as this election was, it’s not as if politics frequently offers up Godly candidates. It is for this reason that I am not a Republican, and I am not a Democrat. Neither party comes remotely close to being a reflection of God. For those Christians who refuse to acknowledge that, I challenge them to read the Bible, pray, and recognize that we are called to a higher standard than this. Watching people celebrate the new Republican control of the government as if it’s some kind of blessing from God is what disturbs me the most about this whole situation. God is not a Republican, guys. (He cares for the poor, for one, and he commands us to welcome foreigners, not build a wall to keep them out.)

Anyhow, I am encouraged to know that there are other believers who have also publicly expressed their disappointment in this election process and results, no matter how few they may be. It reminds me that the entire church isn’t happy with what I feel is a tragedy for our nation, not a cause for celebration.

As disappointed as I am with what just happened, my hope is still in Jesus alone. It has to be, because any hope I had left for our nation has been demolished. As a follower of Jesus, I have to respect President-Elect Trump and love him as a person. As such, I will continue to pray for him, and strive to forgive him continuously as he inevitably continues to behave in ways that make my blood boil and my heart cry.

I can’t say that I’m proud to be an American. In fact, I’m considering whether I want to be one at all anymore.

But that’s actually okay, because contrary to popular belief, God is not partial to the United States of America. It’s just a country, a human construction, and a deeply flawed one at that. I am not called to be loyal to my country, but to God’s Kingdom. I am, of course, called to pray for my country, its leaders, and its people. I also have total respect and gratitude for the brave men and women who defend my rights, in the name of our country.

But I’m also called to stand and disagree when I see evil things happening here. So that’s what I’m doing now. I don’t like what I’m seeing, and through my mourning I can only pray that somehow, God will use these dark times for the greater good. I know he will, because that’s just the sort of thing he does.