Friday, May 30, 2014

Snapshots: Mud

We had an awesome thunderstorm one night this week.  Along with it came a very muddy yard.  And if there is mud in the yard then eventually there is mud on the kids.

After this, all three were literally hosed down.  :)


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Our Meal Plan

One of Joshua's First Pizzas (3 years old)
Last week I posted a photo of what our family eats in a week.  I had a question about our menu planning, so I thought I would share that with you today.

Over the years we have had a few different ways of planning meals.  From no planning to over planning, our systems have changed as our family has grown and changed.  What we do now is working for this season, but I'm sure it will be adapted as time goes on.

In fact, our current menu plan didn't start out this way.  It evolved over the course of a few months into what it is today.  And there is always room for flexibility.  Some months we go through our plan pretty much as it is written.  Other months we're flip-flopping days around, eliminating meals, and replacing them with others.  And the variations depend on a number of different factors ranging from illness to a busier than expected schedule to just not feeling up to making whatever is on the menu.

All that to say that the following is just a snapshot of how we do meal planning in our family.  If it is anything like other "how we do things" type posts, it will need to be changed promptly after publishing.  :)

We like everyone to learn how to help out in the kitchen.  Abby (2 1/2 years old)
We eat cold cereal and/or homemade instant oatmeal for breakfast every day.  If I've made some bread and we have it on hand then some of the kids will eat toast.  Rachel (now 7 months old) eats half of a banana each morning as well.  We very rarely cook anything else for breakfast.

We have one official snack time each day.  The kids grab a piece of fruit and head outside to eat it while they enjoy a break from school work.  Sometimes we have sliced watermelon, crackers, or granola bars in the afternoon.  This only happens about twice a week.  Otherwise I try to limit the snacks to the morning.  If the kids are really hungry then they can get a second piece of fruit or peel a carrot.

An impromptu picnic.  Joshua (4 years old)
This is not specifically planned.  I just fix whatever seems easiest on any given day.  Here are a few things we usually eat for lunch:
     -Cottage Cheese, Fruit, Carrot Sticks, Crackers
     -Lentil Soup, Bread/Biscuits
     -Smoothies, Popcorn/Crackers
     -Peanut Butter and Honey Sandwiches
     -Claude--We don't do very well with this one.  We are now trying to grill a bunch of chicken over the weekend, put it on top of some lettuce, and pack some yogurt and fruit to go along with it.  Otherwise he throws some Ramen and a can of tuna into his bag along with an apple or banana.

Jeremiah (1 1/2 years old)
At the moment we have a weekly menu that is repeated throughout the month.  The meals planned are ones that the Crew has requested that we eat on a regular basis.  They enjoy knowing what to expect will be on the dinner table and I like the simplicity.  Eating the same foods every week makes shopping and cooking so easy!

I have found that meals take less and less time to prepare as the weeks go by because I have had a lot of practice making the same handful of meals.  It may seem a bit mundane, but at this stage in family life that is exactly what we need.  Simple, easy, and predictable.  I love it!

As an added bonus, Abby has learned to tell the passage of time by what we eat for dinner each night.  "Mommy, what day is it?"  "It's Thursday, Abby."  "No.  I mean, what are we eating for dinner?"  "Burritos, Abby."  "Yay!  It's burrito night!"  Nearly every week there is an announcement on Tuesday morning before heading out the door, "It's hamburger night!"

And those raw veggies that nobody touched the first couple of weeks I set them out?  Now they are everyone's favorite vegetable.  Imagine that!  ;)

Sunday: Reach, Get, and Eat Night
     -Macaroni and Cheese, Hot Dogs, Frozen Veggie
     -Claude's Curry Ramen and Hot Dogs (Sounds weird, but we all love it!)
Monday: Crock Pot Night
     -Garbanzo Bean Soup with Bread and Salad
     -Mac and Cheese with Frozen Veggie
     -White Chicken Chili with Bread or Tortillas, Salad
     -Meatballs with Egg Noodles, Green Beans
Tuesday: Hamburger Night (Claude's Favorite)
     -Hamburgers or Veggie Burgers, Fresh Sliced Veggies (carrots, cucumber, zucchini, tomato), Watermelon and/or Corn on the Cob when in season
Wednesday: Breakfast for Dinner Night (Joshua's Favorite)
     -Whole Wheat Pancakes (just use half and half whole wheat and all-purpose flour), Fresh Fruit, Scrambled Eggs (This is our mainstay, everything else listed may or may not be made in any given month)
     -Crustless Broccoli Quiche, Fresh Fruit, Blueberry Muffins
     -Breakfast Sausage Casserole, Pancakes, Fresh Fruit
     -Egg and Cheese Breakfast Sandwiches on Homemade English Muffins, Fresh Fruit
Thursday: Burrito Night (Jeremiah's Favorite)
     -Homemade Refried Beans (I modify this slightly to make a bit less although I still use a 5 lb. bag of pintos and freeze portions for the entire month), Spanish Rice, Shredded Lettuce, Tomato, Cheese, Tortillas
Friday: Pizza Night (Everyone's Favorite)
     -The Crew's Homemade Pizza Crust topped with pepperoni and black olives, Salad
Saturday: Crock Pot, Grill, or TBD
     -Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, or other meat I find on sale, Watermelon, Corn on the Cob, Salad or Grilled Veggies
     -BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches (actually a Crock Pot meal), Dinner Rolls, Fresh Veggies

Hannah (3 years old) and Abby (1 year old)
     -Pasta Sauce
     -Ramen Noodles
     -Canned Veggies (usually green beans)
     -Canned Beans (combination of black beans, garbanzo beans, kidney beans)
     -Canned Diced Tomatoes
     -Dry Beans (pinto beans, garbanzo beans, black beans, lentils)
     -Jars of Salsa
     -Peanut Butte
     -Flour, Yeast, Etc.
     -Frozen Fruit
     -Ritz and Graham Crackers
     -Granola Bars (a big box from our local wholesale club)

With this list I can make a few different meals or supplemental foods in a hurry.  Some regular fall backs include: Mexican Rice Casserole, Stove Top Chili, Spaghetti, Hummus, Lentil Soup, Refried Beans, Sandwiches, Bread, Granola, Cookies

Rachel likes to feed herself.  (6 months old)
Because she is eating solids now, I do need a plan to feed Rachel.  Here's what we do right now.  Of course, it'll change in the coming months as she needs more food, can feed herself, and just generally gets older.

Also, you'll notice that she eats the same foods every day.  It's either this or she doesn't eat because I can't manage a million different fruits and veggies and combinations of the two each day.  I am going for realistic here, folks.  I'm sure some of you can relate!  ;)  My main goal is to have at least 1 meat, 1 fruit, 1 veggie, 1 dairy, and 1 grain each day.  When we have it, I add sour cream to her dinner for the extra fat.

Rachel is still nursing but I do give her a bottle twice a day.  It's all of 2 ounces but, it does help satisfy her and round out her lunch and dinner.  The nursing hasn't slowed down, so we're all good with it.

Breakfast: Self-Feeding
     -Half Banana (thinly sliced), Cheerios
Lunch: Oatmeal Mix
     -Fruit (banana, pear, mango, or blueberry...basically whatever we have in the house), Oatmeal, Whole Milk, Greek Yogurt, Bottle
Dinner: Chicken and Veggie Mix
     -Chicken, Veggie (sweet potato, green beans, or whatever else we have ready to throw in the food mill), Brown Rice, Sour Cream, Bottle
Other Favorites
    -Graham Crackers (broken into quarters)
    -Watermelon Rind (I eat the inside of a slice then give Rachel the rest to help sooth her gums while she is teething) 

Rachel's "twin" also liked to feed herself.  Hannah (6 months old)

How about you?  How do you plan to keep your hungry crew fed?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

What We Eat

This book as been a hot commodity around our house this week.  It is a fascinating read and has amazing photographs that keep the kids' attention for hours on end.  I highly recommend it if you're interested in food, other cultures, etc.
Anyway...after reading through the various articles in this book, I was inspired to take a snapshot of the Crew's own weekly food consumption.  So, while Claude and I were putting away our groceries yesterday morning we set out all that we plan to eat in the coming week and got a quick photo.
I put together a list and the cost of each category of groceries.  These are close estimates that have been rounded up to the nearest dollar just to make things easier.  I may have forgotten a few items and I did not include the exact amounts that we would normally eat.  You probably don't want to know all of those details.  But here's the big picture.

Total Cost of One Week's Worth of Groceries for 2 adults, 4 children (1-6 years old), and 1 infant$130.00

*Items not shown in photo.

Snacks ($15)
Chips, Graham crackers, Ritz crackers, Granola bars, Popcorn, Pickles

Bread and Other Grains ($18)
Cheerios, Bread (1 loaf store bought; 3 loaves homemade), Corn tortillas, Brown rice, Whole wheat pasta, Oats, *Flour and other bread-making ingredients, *Hamburger buns

Protein--Meat, Beans, Etc. ($17)
Eggs, Garbanzo beans, Peanut butter, *Refried beans (homemade), *Black bean burgers (homemade), *Hamburger patties, Ground turkey

Dairy ($21)
Greek yogurt, Whole milk, Sour cream, Cottage cheese, *Grated mozzarella cheese, *Grated cheddar cheese

Fruit and Vegetables ($27)
Strawberries, Bananas, Lettuce, Watermelon, Tomato, Jalapeno, Carrots, Mandarin oranges, Apples, Zucchini, Cucumber, *Broccoli (frozen), *Blueberries (frozen)

Prepared Foods ($7)
Granola (store bought), Macaroni and Cheese

Dessert ($5)
Ice cream, *Chocolate chips

Canned Items ($11)
Salsa, Tomato sauce (for pizza), Tomato sauce (for pasta), Olives, Tuna, Diced tomatoes

Condiments ($3)
Ketchup, Mustard, Taco sauce, Chili sauce, Barbecue sauce, Oil, Vinegar

Beverages ($6)
*Coffee, *Tea

How about you?  What does your family eat in a week?


Friday, May 16, 2014

Staycation (The No-Fuss, Frugal Vacation Option)


Claude was able to take most of this week off to enjoy a little staycation.  A few days off, no packing or unpacking, regular sleep times, and some special activities made for a great week.  Overall it was fun, refreshing, and inexpensive.  In total we spent about $150 including three meals that we ate out, extra gas used for driving, and the cost of activities.  Praise the Lord!

We kicked things off with a backyard pool party on Mother's Day.

Then we headed out to Brenham for a truly Texan experience - Blue Bell Creameries!

The forecast was for rain on Tuesday, so we planned to take the kids to their first-ever movie in a theatre.  11:00am on a weekday morning is definitely THE best time for the six and under crew to see a movie.  There were only three other people in the theatre!  And none of them seemed to mind Jeremiah's narration of everything he saw on the screen.

Our last couple of days were spent around the house - doing some chores and going on little outings.  We rode bikes to the neighborhood park, took a quick trip to the library, got some school supplies, sprayed for weeds and bugs, and read plenty of books together.

We were planning to go out of town for a couple of days since that seemed like it would provide more of a true vacation feel.  Being at home, even on days off, can sometimes just feel like a drag - the dishes and laundry are still there, the kitchen floor is getting sticky, and the kids still need discipline and correction.  Oh, wait...going out of town would mean that we would dirty dishes and laundry, get the floor sticky, and throw tantrums in a different location!  ;)

In the end, staying at home was a great option!  Here are a few things we did to make our staycation feel a bit like a break from regular day-to-day activities:

1. We nixed the cloth diapers for the week.
2. We used paper plates for most meals to reduce kitchen clean up.
3. We ate out or ordered food in for a few meals.
4. We held loosely to our regular schedule. Since predictable routines and sleep make everything better, keeping to our schedule was a big help.  But notice I said that we held loosely to the routine.  This gave us structure and direction when we needed it and still allowed us to change things up when we wanted to.

All in all I think we struck the balance between rest and activity, novelty and routine which would have been more challenging had we gone away for a "real" vacation.  The week was so successful that we're hoping to do it again later in the year.  And, Lord willing, we will miss out on the post-staycation fallout...I guess we'll know come Monday morning.  At the very least we don't have to unpack anything!  ;)


Friday, May 9, 2014

Paring Down

We're at a point where simplifying routines and organization is a must.  I do not at all consider five children a large family, but we have reached a crossover point.  If God gives us more children we will not be able to get by as a normal-sized American family with normal-sized American family habits.  Even now, we're just barely eek by with our current ways of getting things done.

An area that we have been talking about changing is our toy usage and storage.  The house can become cluttered and messy in a hurry.  While we have times of day when we clean up, it is still more of a chore than I would like at the moment.  So, with a little bit of last minute motivation (namely our rental house being put up for sale and us being required to have it in "showing condition" 6 days a week) Claude and I spent one evening clearing things out, rearranging, and paring down.

I started the afternoon clearing out the clothing bins from here.

I quickly organized them by gender and size and moved them here with some help from the little Crew.

Then we moved nearly all of the toys here.  Do you recognize the messy closet from above?  :)

But left a few here.

And here:

We pared down the craft closet and made room for my sewing machine and fabric.

And finally moved the music area to our living room, which makes me feel like a grown-up.  I think we've had toys in our living room since Joshua was born nearly 7 years ago.

I'm not a fan of the house showing thing.  It's stressful and a bit frustrating.  On the bright side, however, our house is staying really clean and we got some desired streamlining finished (in a hurry)!

How do you keep the stuff in your life in check?


Monday, May 5, 2014

Milestones: Two Wheels

In a matter of two days and without help from Dad or Mom, Hannah learned to ride her bike sans training wheels.

Great job, Hannah!