Menu Planning and Shopping

Mother and baby grocery shopping

Do you ever arrive home with hungry kids and no idea what you are going to feed them? Or, you have a great idea for a quick meal, but you end up missing ingredients you could have bought on your way home. This is how we end up eating boxed dinners and other foods we want to avoid.

If you have been building your Home HQ with your family binder, you have the ideal place to organize meals and shopping lists so you won’t get caught without a quick, nutritious meal to make.

Having a system for menu planning and shopping will also help you avoid wasting food that you don’t quite have a plan for. According to the UN Environment Programme, “[i]n the USA, 30-40% of the food supply is wasted, equaling more than 20 pounds [~9kg] of food per person per month.” Before you start thinking that’s just the U.S., Canadian researchers estimate that the average Canadian household wastes 15-23kg of food per month. Not all of the waste happens at home. Food leaves the system at every point in the chain. That’s wasted capacity in the food system and wasted money for us all as prices cover food that doesn’t even make it to us. For us as families, though, the food wasted at home costs us about $1,500 per year. Every day we are wasting about $4 of food.

We can stop wasting food and wasting money with better planning.

A Menu & Shopping System

Start by asking whether you will be better off jumping into a whole, new system or gradually adopting new methods into your current system. We’re all different, so choose your own path.

If you want a complete system, start with Plan to Eat. This software is a small, family business. You’ll love their eating philosophy and their business philosophy. You might blink at the price ($4/mo or $39/yr), but that cost will be worth it if you need a whole recipe-to-menu-to-list system.

If you want a system that involves paper or that you can customize, start by looking at what you are using now. What is working and what isn’t working? Change one thing at a time.

One of my favorite places to look for home organization ideas is Pinterest. So many parents are sharing their home organization systems as downloadable printouts that you will be able to find just the right structure, just the right design, and just the right size for your family. Start with “menu planning” and you will find yourself on a half-day adventure with a lot of new pins.

Menu Planning

My family has been using a post-it meal planner for the past year, Menu Planner from Homemade by Carmona, and I love it. My husband, the primary meal planner and shopper in our family, sat down and gave me a full review of this system. He loves it, too.

There are two parts to our menu system: WHEN is on a printed grid in our family binder and WHAT (the foods) is written on Post-it Page Markers, which are rectangular rather than square.

My husband likes that he can see at a glance one page with the family’s list of favorite foods. Once he pulls sticky notes from the master list to place them on the calendar, he can also find gaps in order to balance the overall eating. We color coded the sticky notes. For example, blue for Thai and red for Mexican. I added another layer by making dark blue “long prep time Thai” and light blue “quick Thai.” We can look at the weekly menu quickly and say, “Oh, no! No Thai this week. We’d better add Thai” or “Let’s switch out long-prep Thai for quick Thai on the night we get home late.” (Thai is an important food group in our household.)

Pros:

  • Easy to plan for one week, several weeks, or any period of time, as long as you have enough week sheets printed.
  • Easy to get input from other people, since they can write ideas on sticky notes and add them.
  • Two-page view means you can plan for two weeks and see if you are cooking the same meal too often.
  • Reusable. No printed pages to throw away at the end of the week.
  • Easy to add multiple dishes for one meal.

Con:

  • Post-its lose their stick after they are used week after week.

I like the Menu Planner because it simplifies the process so much that you just think about it ahead of time and don’t have to OVERthink or REthink a common process.

What this method doesn’t do is connect to our shopping list. If you want a simple grid that gives you space to write needed ingredients for your shopping list, this downloadable shopping list template from The Joy Cottage is nice looking.

Shopping Lists

To determine the best kind of shopping list for you, ask what you are optimizing for:

  • highest priority items, if you have limited cash and might have to leave low-priority items off them list
  • most efficient walk through the store, if you have limited time.

We optimize for the walk through the store. Change your list order or shape to fit the store you go to. Otherwise, you might end up walking back and forth. I even found (Pinterest again!) a multi-store shopping list template you can download from Ask Anna Moseley.

The shopping list that my husband uses is lifted directly from his Franklin-Covey Planner with nine zones, which he uses for nine categories of shopping: produce, meat, dairy, bottles & cans, frozen, dry goods, cleaning, bakery, and miscellaneous. He’s written out his list on a 3×3 grid for at least a decade.

Multiple stores can be difficult when you are working with one list. My husband crosses out as he goes then circles what he doesn’t have yet before he arrives at the next store. If you are shopping at a big-box store, like Costco, that is probably a once-a-month trip with a separate list. If it makes sense to include a second store on your list, you can add a code or color to mark stores.

If you have a random element in your shopping, such as an unpredictable CSA delivery or a trip to a grocery liquidation store when you don’t know what will be available until you get there, you will need to adjust your shopping list. If you watch the television show “Chopped” (3 random ingredients must be used in a meal), you can get inspiration to think outside of your usual categories of food. If you adopt the mindset of improvisation, you might find new and wonderful favorites.

Even Better, Let’s Combine

As I was planning this post, I asked my husband how we could improve our own system. We imagined a drag-and-drop app starting with a menu that looks like post-it notes (because we really do like what we already use). Once an item is dragging onto the menu for the week, a shopping list is populated. When the week’s list is complete, we check the pantry and the fridge and mark anything off that we already have. Then, we shop.

That might seem like a lot to ask, but we just found an app that does enough that we’re about to add it to our system: Our Groceries.

We read about Out of Milk as well, but we saw most comparison reviews between them came down on the side of Our Groceries. I love two things about this app to start: syncing across devices, so more than one person can shop at the same time, and recipes you can create so one tap populates the shopping list with all of the needed ingredients. Plus, if you have an Android and your spouse has an iPhone, you’re still safe with this app. My plan is to use the web interface to create “on your way home” shopping lists for my husband. If you are more likely to want to sync with your pantry, you might want to start with Out of Milk.

After a month with Our Groceries, I might just give in and try the 30-day trial of Plan to Eat. If I do, I’ll give you a review.

Image © Joshhhab | Dreamstime.com - Mother With Girl Shopping In Supermarket Photo

7 Foods to Keep Your Kids Warm This Winter

Winter stew

Craving comfort foods this winter? There is an explanation for that. When the temperature outside drops, your body has to work harder to keep warm, burning more calories to create that energy. Simple, hearty foods like stews have many of the elements your body needs right now: protein, fats, and spices. Don’t avoid those foods you crave, just keep it healthy and you and your children will stay toasty warm.

You don’t want just to be hot for minutes; you need foods that keep the kids feeling cozy and warm for hours. Choose foods that burn slowly rather than simpler carbohydrates like crackers and sweets. Potatoes, bread, pasta, and rice are all great foods, but they will metabolize more quickly—and you will feel hungry sooner. Winter is the time to eat true slow foods.

Winter Foods Kids Will Love

Nuts. If you need to tide kids over with a snack, give them nuts. The protein and fat content make them an ideal winter snack food. Cook with nuts and seeds as well.

Spices. Whether you tend toward cinnamon, chilies, or ginger and garlic, spices are particularly good for you during the winter. Ginger helps you digest the fatty foods your body craves in the winter, and antibacterial and antiviral effects of foods like garlic help you fight off infections.

Curry. My favorite winter food is curry. I have a long list of my favorite Indian and Thai curries with lots of chilies and ginger. These make an ideal winter lunch. I feel warm and full all afternoon with no temptation to snack before dinner. My children favor peanut-based curries that aren’t quite as spicy.

Stew. Do you have any holiday leftovers, like a ham bone or a desiccated turkey carcass you put into the freezer to think about later? Your holiday leftovers can make a great base for stew, but you can also make a hearty stew without any meat at all. Add a variety of root vegetables, and caramelize those onions to give it a nice flavor. Or, make nut-based sauces for African stews. Or, make rich tomato sauce for gumbo. Any flavor-way can be used to make a rich stew. This is the perfect place to experiment.

Pie. Pot pies are one of my favorite post-holiday dishes. My mother always made great turkey stew in her flakiest pie crust. For children, you might consider making the crust more of a feature. A Cornish pasty is a pie with the crust folded over in a half-moon shape. You can eat it with your hands without too much mess and it keeps the family full all afternoon. That is why the Cornish miners took these little pies with them to work. Any stew you can dream up will (probably) also make a great pie.

Beans. My kids often just have spiced black beans for lunch. This is my daughter’s absolute favorite comfort food—a food that she almost missed when she first saw it. She told me, the first time I served her black beans, that she didn’t like it. She knew immediately, but we have a rule that one has to have at least one taste before one can form an opinion about liking a food. It turned out that she actually loved it, and she’s been eating beans happily in many forms since.

Chili. Chili is another kind of stew. Either chili or stew can include almost anything you have on hand or anything your children favor. It’s easy to make vegetarian chili or meat chili. A slow cooker, a bag of beans, and a (glass!) jar of tomatoes, and you are almost there. It’s easy to make simple chili, and you can involve children in choosing the flavors.

Keep those toes and bellies warm. Eat up!

Image © Maxim Shebeko | Dreamstime.com

Household Chores for Children

Father and toddler sweeping kitchen

Are you wondering when your children will be ready to help with household chores? My family’s bumpy experience may help you decide that now is the time.

My family was terrible at sharing household chores with children because my husband and I took completely different approaches when the children were very young. I remember the conversations I had with my husband.

“Let her help you wash the dishes.”
“It’s easier just to do it myself.”

He was right. It is easier and faster to just do it yourself. The point wasn’t to get the work done, though, but to let children learn the work, to let children learn that they are important to the functioning of the household.

Once they hit a certain age, my husband expected them to do chores, but they didn’t have a strong pattern of helping yet.

“Ah! So, that’s what you meant.”

We had to work to bridge the gap between parents’ expectations and childrens’ habits. We caught up later than I would have liked, but now each person in the family has responsibility for certain areas.

We don’t have a perfect system. When there is a bigger job, the two teenagers moan about having to help one another, but they often help one another anyway. We have a generally functional and moderately liveable household, and my children feel ownership and responsibility for the housedold—a household that is messier than I’m happy with but cleaner than others might be willing to live with. (Ahem.)

Where to Start Children with Chores

Start when they start. When a child plays alongside you working—washing dishes or folding laundry—share your chore with your young child. It’s play for your child at this stage, but it also helps them learn the vocabulary of work around the house.

Child with toy cooking set

Play in parallel to your work. A toddler wants to do what you are doing, so they will pretend to do your work. The kitchen is an ideal place to make a space for a toddler to play at your work. We made a simple kitchen out of cardboard boxes, and my children spent a lot of time there while I was in the kitchen. That wasn’t as fancy as the beautiful wooden kitchen sets we carry at bynature.ca. We find that toddlers want toys that let them be part of the flow of the family.

Grow as they grow. Make assigned chores age- and person-appropriate. A toddler can carry folded laundry, but it might not arrive folded. If you don’t mind that, it’s a simple job. The younger the child, the simpler and more specific the chores need to be. You could make their chores dependent on an adult. “When I pour out the dog’s food, you put the bowl down and feed her.” An older child, especially one who has been doing chores in parallel with an adult already, needs less specific instruction. My children gradually figured out how to wash their own clothes then fold and distribute clothes to the whole family. That involves a string of many tasks, each of which they did separately before they just stepped in to take care of laundry. They actually divided laundry between themselves, with one gathering and starting the washer and the other drying and carrying laundry to the bed, where they fold together.

Don’t expect perfection. Thank your child specifically for what they did and how they did it. Rather than “You didn’t do that as well as I would have,” you could say, “I like how you scrubbed and rinsed each plate. Thank you for doing that.” It’s about more than just getting the job done.

Explain the role. Don’t just focus on the immediate task, but explain the role your child plays. “We all live here, and we all help one another.” I want my children to understand that they are important within the whole family.

Explain the goal. Like explaining the role, I like my children to get the big picture with the goal behind their chores. The goal isn’t to move an armful of recycling to the garage; the goal is to clear the counter so we cook in a clean and clear space. The goal isn’t to spend one hour weeding; the goal is to clear the old plants from the garden before winter. (This was a conversation just yesterday as my son and I walked through our garden that is full of both last year’s dried plants and this year’s optimistic yet confused little flowers. We failed to clear the garden before winter.)

Make it fun. When everyone is cleaning together, we turn on music, and we all sing along. It makes us sound like the von Trapp family, but it’s more like 80s karaoke. Our attitudes as adults toward household chores will rub off on our children.

Make an assignment. To make it easier to remember and to help your child feel more responsibility for the work, assign chores and acknowledge the assignment until everyone remembers.

It’s All Part of the System

Chart? I have tried many different chart systems as reminders: magnetic grids with movable pieces, calendars, me hovering over everyone. None of this worked for us. They seem to work for others, though, so I think they are worth trying for your family.

Domains. What has worked for us is dividing chores into four general domains for the four family members: kitchen, garden, tidying throughout the house, and away from home errands. We do have other jobs, but we own these areas. Once we distributed responsibility, we had less complaining about messiness and fewer questions about who would remedy the situations.

Meeting. Our new family meeting routine gives us a space to talk about non-routine chores or figure out why things aren’t getting done.

For example, I have a black dog and light blue carpet. Dog fuzz shows. My son is responsible for keeping the floor clean.

“Why isn’t the carpet clean?”
“I can’t use the vacuum because there aren’t any vacuum bags.”

So, my husband is assigned the task of chasing around the city to find a vacuum bag that fits our ancient vacuum, then the floor is clean—or will be clean, since we finally got the bags yesterday.

When we’ve done 30-day challenges to tackle certain difficult areas of our house, we all pitch in.

Everyone in my family participates. We don’t all do equal work, but we do all feel free to ask for help when the work is more than we can handle. It took a while to arrive at a smooth(ish) system.

I hope sharing how we got here will help you as your young children learn to participate in household chores.

Image © Mast3r | Dreamstime.com - Father And Daughter Cleaning In The Kitchen Photo

Attachment

Happy family in bed

As a natural parenting store, many of the parenting tools sold at bynature.ca and at our store in Orillia, Ontario, encourage secure attachment between parent and child. We encourage parents to respond to their baby’s cues.

We extend that to our other relationships as well. We listen to parents when they come to our store to hear what it is they need. Especially in our in-store workshops, trained staff help parents find the methods or the tools that meet their needs.

All of us as humans create attachments to those who are sensitive to and responsive to our needs. Psychologists and other scientists explore these attachments through attachment theory, a model that attempts to explain how the attachments are formed.

Attachment Theory

Attachment theory within developmental psychology is based on observation of parent/child relationships since the mid-20th century. In the past few decades, psychologists have also considered application to adult attachment, such as between romantic partners, siblings, friends, and even animals.

Attachment theory was developed by John Bowlby, a psychiatrist who observed emotionally disturbed children in the 1930s. The observation of disfunctional older children helped Bowlby to consider the role in that disfunction of early separations of a baby from the mother. He wrote about his clinical observations from 1950 for the next 40 years he tried to understand the lasting connections between humans and develop a theory of infant attachment.

The telling moment for the child is separation. How will an infant react to being separated from mother or primary caregiver? Bowlby found a sequence of:

  • Protest – either protesting the threat of separation or responding to actual separation by crying and searching for the mother.
  • Despair – if the mother can’t be found, the child becomes quieter and more withdrawn, even mourning the loss.
  • Detachment – either rejecting adults or, if the mother returns, being clinging and fearful of separation.

(From Jessica Zucker, Ph.D., “The Birth of Attachment Theory,” PBS.org.)

It’s this sequence from clinical observations that helps me to understand attachment.

Attachment Parenting

Observation and published research only goes so far. It’s interesting to follow those threads into application of the findings.

Deliberate application of attachment theory to specific choices in parenting is not new, but the label “attachment parenting” was new with Dr. William Sears’ and Martha Sears’ publications, including The Baby Book, originally published in 1992. This is the book many of us have read and followed in our parenting.

For the Sears, parents put attachment into practice through:

  1. Birth bonding
  2. Belief in the signal value of a baby’s cry
  3. Breastfeeding
  4. Babywearing
  5. Bedding close to baby
  6. Balance and boundaries
  7. Beware of baby trainers

Attachment in Marriage

Early research mentioned attachment in adults, finding that intimate adult relationships (not just romantic relationships) function similarly to infant-caregiver relationships—with exceptions.

It wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 1990s, though, that researchers specifically applied attachment theory to adult relationships.

One place we can find the application of attachment theory for adults is in Dr. Sue Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT).

Attachment with Animals

Bowlby’s ideas were influenced by his reading of studies with animals (ethology), and he saw his application of the ideas to humans in a longer, evolutionary context. Nevertheless, there was some difficulty in early research as scientists were excited to generalize animal research (imprinting) to humans.

Research continues into animal imprinting, animal-human attachment, and animal roles in human-human attachment, but that research can’t necessarily be considered equivalent to human attachment research.

I did notice, when my family got a dog 7 years ago, that one of the books we bought to help us be a better dog family, Parenting Your Dog by Trish King, addressed separation with puppies and separation anxiety in older dogs who missed out on healthy separation during the essential period of 2-4 months old. This is a clear, kind, practical guide to raising a happy dog. It reminded me a lot of the sort of advice I got from Dr Sears’s Baby Book.

Share Attachment Ideas with Your Family

As my children grew up, I explained my choices to them. I talked to them about sensitivity to their needs as well as boundaries. It’s the continuous meta-conversation about our conversations.

Each of my teenagers has recently taken a psychology class, where a full week was spent learning about attachment theory. Hearing their response to the academic study of attachment after having lived through the practical application leaves me satisfied with their travel through this phase of life. I can see that they become sensitive to the needs and cues of others beyond intimate attachment situations. As I had hoped, they are generally kind people. (Though they are still teenagers, with the hiccups that phase brings.)

If you have older children (perhaps 10+ or 13+, depending on the child) and you want to deepen your conversations about emotions, you might want to watch together This Emotional Life, a NOVA television series shown on PBS in the U.S. Watching this series sparked long, deep conversations among my family members at a time when some children are hiding emotions, when they think no one else in the world shares or cares about theirs.

I also found the supplemental materials from the documentary provide an informed but comprehensible introduction to the psychology of emotions, including attachment. (See history of attachment theory and “Pave the Path to Presence.“)

Meeting a child’s needs can lead to a secure attachment style; neglecting a child’s needs can lead to an insecure attachment style. As adults, we might trust that our partners, sibling, friends, and others will meet our needs, leaving us feeling secure in those relationships, or we might not trust that our needs will be met, leaving us feeling insecure in those relationships. We can apply this to dogs or other animals feeling secure or insecure in their relationships as well.

Bringing the needs of another—a baby, a partner, a pet—into our own awareness then acting to meet those needs rewards us and them. We all benefit from the security of those around us.

Image © Viki2win | Dreamstime.com - Happy Family In Bed Photo

Clutter Really Does Stress You Out

Cluttered house

I keep seeing references to clutter causing depression. Then, I see photos like look like Real Simple magazine or a zen monastery, suggesting that I am depressed if my house doesn’t look like that.

Sure, a tiny part of me is tugged toward wanting a state of perfect household simplicity, but I find the perfectionist judgment more stressful than the clutter itself.

Does clutter cause depression? When I dig into the fine print, these references seem to lead back to a 9-year research project at UCLA on dual-income, middle-class families with school-age children. The book documenting the study, Life at Home in the Twenty-first Century, ends up being a story of stuff and clutter.

Researchers didn’t actually make the clutter-depression connection. That was a very short blog post barely about the study, published when the book was released in 2012. Researchers did measure cortisol levels of study participants (through a saliva test), and they did find a link between high cortisol (a stress response) and clutter—but only among the women who worried about clutter.

Clutter didn’t cause depression—at least that isn’t what this study found. Cluttered houses caused stress when the women in the houses were bothered by it. Keep in mind that they had anthropologists and their team of photographers, videographers, and others tramping through the house, opening the closet doors. No wonder they were stressed.

But, those who took pride in their tchotchkes weren’t stressed.

University of California TV (UCTV) produced a three-part series of videos on A Cluttered Life: Middle-class Abundance on stuff, food, and space. If you are motivated to make changes to your life by seeing the lives of others, it’s worth the 20 minutes to watch these shows to see what families and the researchers say about clutter. It sure helped me to see my stale areas of clutter from a fresh point of view.

Yes, but MY Clutter

My house has areas where stuff gathers—like a tumbleweed picking up bits of yarn, pencils, stray books, and such. I don’t mind it until those tumbleweeds grow into my useful spaces.

I don’t love the clutter. I don’t love getting rid of the clutter, either, so THAT is the spot where I will focus.

Why keep the clutter? How does it serve me?

Having a stack of books reminds me that I really want to read them. Then, when I spread the books out and look through them, I realize I no longer really want to read them. Clutter be gone. 

Having a tote with sewing projects near the general homeschooling area gives me something to do when I listen to my children read. It looks a bit messy, but I use that stuff, and it is a changing mass of 3-4 projects I can choose from. Clutter can stay.

I’ve been evaluating my areas of mess to see if they actually serve a purpose and, if so, whether that is a worthy purpose.

I mentioned that my family is focusing on our kitchen. Holy junk mail. I don’t think I’ve ordered from a catalog for at least 9 years, but there is my kitchen table covered in catalogs that I have to hold until I tear off my identifying information. Maddening. So, I stand at my kitchen table and tear off my name and address. I put the catalog in the recycling pile and the address in the shredding pile. It’s a long process. The task doesn’t seem to quite end.

Mail is the ugly clutter cause in my house, but the cause will be different for each of us. Don’t just clean it up. Cut the clutter by finding the cause and cutting it off. You can actually opt-out of a lot of junk mail, including pre-screened credit and insurance offers or catalog, through direct-mail associations. You probably also need a place to put the stuff that legitimately requires your attention: incoming mail, invitations to keep, and bank statements. Get rid of what you can, then organized what you can’t.

Just identify your clutter causes, and address those in addition to clearing out clutter and cleaning the house.

Then, Keep It Clean

Need a guide to regularly keeping your house in order? This may seem like an odd suggestion, but I find Martha Stewart’s home organizing and housekeeping printable checklists just the kind of relentless system that keeps me from trying to justify not cleaning. If you are keeping a family binder, even better. You can print 6 things to do every day, weekly or monthly lists, seasonal lists, and specialized lists for maintenance and for moving.

It’s a place to start, so you don’t have an excuse not to.

Image © Jastebb | Dreamstime.com - Messy Room Photo