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

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

Is Your Family Organized?

Household Organization Notebook

As your children grow older and have more activities out of the house, as you juggle food preferences or sensitivities, as your family and your household becomes more complex, how do you hold it all together? Any family can benefit from a family binder for household management and family organization.

A 3-ring binder has the benefits of being easy to carry around, easy to customize, and easy to fit all of the tools you need to manage your household as it grows and changes.

Much as with mindfulness meditation, simply pulling oneself back to focus is one of the most important steps to moving forward. Organizing your family and putting your often used tools in one place makes it easy to bring yourself back to focus when you slip—and you will slip. That’s OK. Just keep coming back.

What Goes in the Binder

What goes in your family binder depends completely on what you need to track. Some possibilities are:

  • Calendar – Most families need a shared calendar.
  • Meal Planner – My family has been using the Menu Planner from Homemade by Carmona for the past year. I found it through a colorful photo on Pinterest, and I kept it because I like the flexibility.
  • Mail – We are separating into Incoming Mail, Mail that Needs Attention, and Papers to File
  • Budget
  • Coupons
  • Receipts
  • Shopping List
  • School Papers

Recently, I’ve been noticing which piles my husband lets build up in his area of the kitchen. Primarily, it’s mail that he needs to reach mixed in with mail he needs to file mixed with coupons he’s forgotten until after they expired. The mess makes the collection difficult to use, so I added folders to his binder for each different type of papers.

What you need specifically depends on your family. If you look for home management binders online, you will find list after list of sections along with downloadable forms you can use. Knowing my own tendency to be distracted by my tools, lost in contemplating 98 unused sections of a binder while ignoring the 2 sections crying out for attention, I add only what I know is needed when the need becomes pressing.

If you are distractable like I am, keep your binder minimal.

How We Are Using the Binder

For my family, the binder is the anchor for a whole room—at least that is my husband’s plan for it.

Last year, I used a simple 30-day eco habits challenge to clear away clutter. My family has used this method throughout the year to clear away layers of old stuff. The reason this works for me—for all of us—is the micro commitments are easy to make, and they add up quickly to big improvements.

This month, we are in the midst of another 30-day challenge. My husband, the owner of our family binder, wants to transform our kitchen into his headquarters. He’s motivated because he is going to reward himself with a new laptop once his goal of an organized kitchen is reached.

All of the random papers he used to let flow all over the kitchen are currently in the binder. Now, the binder is a way station for papers as well as a meal planner, shopping list, and receipt holder. We are about to add family meeting notebook to the list as well.

After I introduced my husband to the marriage meeting idea last week, I suggested we use that structure for family meetings. He likes this and has decided to add the family meeting outline to the binder. We also added a spiral-bound notebook where each family member can add ideas for the family meetings in advance (“I need new shoes,” “Let’s go hiking,” or “I want to invite my friends for a sleepover”). We have trouble remembering what we’ve committed to in meetings, so we are using the notebook to remind ourselves.

We’ve been using the binder for a while as a meal planner, so the expansion to new functions as an overall household management tool is new to us.

What Doesn’t Fit in the Binder

Not all important papers belong in a binder you carry around. Start now while you still remember where your important papers are. Gather your insurance policies, homeowner’s or renter’s documents, birth certificates, passports, and other paper. Put these in a fireproof box with a handle. Store them near an exit so you can pick them up and take them with you if you need to leave the house in an emergency.

As you organize your family, notice what doesn’t fit and find other ways to accommodate your family’s organization needs.

Image © Khongkitwiriyachan | Dreamstime.com - Brown Monthly Planner with Notedbook and Pen Photo

Wool Slippers: DIY or Buy

Padraig wool slippers

 

Three weeks. That’s plenty of time to crochet a pair of wool slippers for a family member. Pick up the hook and start now!

Every year, no matter what else changes, we give slippers as a holiday gift. I try to make them different each year. I have piles and piles of leftover wool, so I have my eyes on making simple wool slippers this year.

Do-it-yourself, but Start Now!

Your local yarn store can help you find the wool yarn and the wool slippers pattern. A lot of local yarn shops will not only sell you the yarn and the hook to crochet or needles to knit but teach you how to use them. Many have open times when you can just drop by and sit around knitting and crocheting, asking others for pointers along the way. It’s a busy season, and you will have a great time sharing your last-minute making with others.

Just to get you started, I poked around for a quick pattern and found a super simple pattern on MommyKnows.com for felted, crocheted slippers (Norwegian house slippers). I like this pattern because she explains why she made the choices she did, then she gives you a lot of links and videos to figure out what will work for you. No one-size-fits-all pattern here. If you can make squares then sew the squares together into wool origami, you can make these slippers in a few evenings plus a couple of wash loads to felt them.

Two weeks—no problem.

If you are a knitter, dig into the pattern at MommyKnows.com to find the knit version of the pattern that she used.

OK. Get moving. Pick up your yarn now.

Quick, I Just Want to Order Wool Slippers

Kids wool slippers by Padraig

Not interested, no time, don’t know how to knit or crochet? We’ve got you covered. At bynature.ca we sell the Original Padraig crocheted wool slippers, handmade in Canada since 1977. Every pair is slightly different.

 

We carry a big variety of colors in all sizes from newborn and baby slippers to youth and adult sizes. Drop by to pick out just the right pairs for your family members, or order wool slippers online at bynature.ca.

Padraig wool slippers