Thursday, April 28, 2011

Physical Education, Epsteen-Style

Today, after the kids had completed their assigned work for the day, they built a fort with the cushions of the couch and enjoyed a little physical activity. I snapped a few pictures of our highly advanced homeschool physical education curriculum. Enjoy!

Yep, that's how we roll. Good times.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Green Smoothies

A thing of beauty
 I've written recently about our green smoothies. This is a yummy treat we try to enjoy every day or every other day at the very least. What makes our green smoothies so beautifully green? Why, spinach of course. Today's particular smoothie was made with 3/4 banana, a whole pineapple, 3 cups of spinach and about a cup of almond milk.

The ingredients I use varies daily based on what I have on hand. I like to buy my produce in season because it's cheaper and fresher, although there are certain seasonal fruits that I will buy frozen because we love them in our smoothies but don't want to buy them out of season-particularly strawberries and other berries. A bonus to having them frozen is that they act like ice in our smoothies-I love me some cold smoothie!

I choose my ingredients based on what looks like it might go bad first. Oh so very scientific! Today I had a pineapple that was starting to get soft. We were having peanut butter and banana sandwiches for lunch and I had one banana already open so I tossed that in there too. Spinach (or kale-though I personally like spinach better because it's easier to clean-you really can't taste it) is the key ingredient. The greener the smoothie, the better. I used to add strawberries, blueberries, blackberries or raspberries at the end to mask the green color. But, my kids knows what goes in them so the color doesn't bother them. I just toss it all in the blender and we get what we get. It's actually a fun experiment to try and see what color we are going to get. I thought today's was just beautiful.

What do you think?

What ever possessed me to do such a thing? Well, the whole point of a green smoothie is to add more raw food to our diets. Ideally, AT THE BARE MINIMUM, 51% of every meal should be raw foods. This is such a simple way to achieve that goal. And SO yummy! If you have a sweet tooth, I definitely recommend trying out a green smoothie. The fruits in the drink are so flavorful that they definitely make-up for the veggies you add (although I like fresh spinach, but I know some who would not go within 10 yards of fresh spinach who will eat it this way).

So, are you ready to take the green smoothie plunge like we have? The sky is the limit on what ingredients can go into your smoothies. Here are some we have tried and some we would like to try: mango, papaya, any type of berry, apples, grapes, carrots, tomatoes, avocado (yum!), yogurt (Greek, plain or vanilla), kefir (going to write a post about this soon!), flax meal, wheat germ, watermelon, cantaloupe, oranges, grapefruit.

To start with I recommend using mostly fruits that you know that you like and then slowly increase the amount of veggies you add and playing around with new things that you haven't tried before. Green smoothies can also be frozen with popsicle sticks to make a yummy treat.

Here is a list of benefits we have seen in since starting our green smoothie regimen:
  • Increased energy levels-with the addition of child number 4, I have rarely the opportunity to take a nap during the day, when I used to need one on an almost daily basis, and if I couldn't get one I would totally crash in the afternoon (and be thoroughly cranky).
  • Better digestion-do you really want me to give more details about this one?
  • Better sleep-For years, I have struggled with sleep issues, insomnia and the like, even getting to the point of doing an overnight sleep study, it was that bad. I struggled to fall asleep (sometimes taking hours to do so), and once asleep I struggled to stay asleep. I never felt refreshed. Lately though, I am out like a light as soon as my head hits the pillow, I am sleeping more deeply at night, rarely hearing Rick's alarm in the morning, and I wake up with more energy and feeling ready to conquer the day. Before, it was all I could do to get out of bed every day.
  • Weight loss-after struggling pretty much my whole life with my weight, I decided that I wasn't going to fight it anymore. I was going to be healthy but not so much concerned about the number. Even when I was thin my weight was a struggle to maintain. An added benefit of consuming more raw foods is that I am losing weight, slowly and more naturally, without the aid of any fad diet-just by making this one choice. I'm not even trying to lose weight. I am just trying to live responsibly, eat healthy and naturally. I have a very long way to go to get to a more healthy weight, but I am pleasantly surprised at this particular side effect.
  • Decreased cravings-this to me, is nothing short of super-natural. I have been longing for years to just be able to have better control of my eating habits. I can honestly say I am addicted to food. It's been a source of heartache and struggle for me for as long as I can remember. Many people (usually skinny people) just see fat people and think we have absolutely no self-control and are just lazy slobs. Many people think it is just a matter of will power and choosing not to eat certain foods or too much a particular food. It's hard being judged before someone ever gets to know you. Honestly? I don't even want that stuff anymore. I mean, sure I enjoy a brownie as much as the rest of you, but I don't CRAVE it. And when I do have the occasional treat, I don't have to have a huge portion or second-helpings. I am just not as hungry as I used to be. I have no desire to eat fast food ever again-the thought just literally sends chills down my spine. I rarely eat processed foods and refuse to eat anything with high-fructose corn syrup. I can't even begin to put into words how incredible this is for me-to not even want some of the foods that used to be my favorites.
While all of the above advantages are not directly related to green smoothies per say, they are definitely related to actively and intentionally eating a more whole foods/raw foods diet. And our green smoothies are a very important part of that diet. It doesn't hurt that they are yummy either!

So who's with me? Has anyone tried to make green smoothies? What are your favorite ingredients? Have you seen any positive side effects?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Home Sweet School

Our school room
I am always curious about how other homeschooling families organize their school rooms. Organization is one of the things I am passionate about. I tend to feel a lot of anxiety and tension when my environment is out of order. I try not to be super-anal about it, and with four kids, it's pretty much a given that our home will be quite chaotic at times (just this weekend my dad told me I needed a maid! I agree!!!). But in order for our school day to run relatively smoothly I have to have a system of organization in place. Nothing can throw off a day like having to spend half an hour looking for paper and a pencil. So, without further ado, here is a peek into our homeschool "classroom". (Please, accept my apologies for the quality of the photos-I am not much of a photographer).

The above picture is what our whole school room looks like. I think the room is about an 8 by 10 foot space. Technically, it is supposed to be a living room or formal dining space, but for us it is perfect as our schoolroom. We are close to our kitchen where we do a lot of experiments and where I spend a better part of my day preparing meals for my family, but it also has the feel of a separate space. If you were to look directly to the right of the school room, you would see my front door, and directly left, conveniently, is a half bath. The rest of the pictures work their way around the room clockwise.

The Reading Nook
This is where the kids can sit for some silent reading time. Brady likes to look at his picture books while big sister and brother are working on their school. Sometimes they sit together and Madison reads to her brothers. More often than not, these chairs migrate around the room as the kids find their most comfortable spot to do their work in. I'm not a stickler for making them sit still or stay in one spot. I figure as long as they can be focused and get their work done, they are free to do that in the place that is most conducive for them. They will even do their work walking around the room sometimes. If the boys are at a break time and being especially rowdy, sometimes Madison will choose to work quietly in her room. For the most part though, we all spend the better part of our day together, in this room.

Madison's desk
This is Madison's desk, which is an antique and the first piece of furniture my grandfather and grandmother ever bought after they were married nearly 70 years ago. However, it is used more for storage than actual sitting. Like I said, the kids are free to do their work where they please, as long as they aren't too distracted. Madison rarely chooses to actually sit at her desk. But her desk is invaluable to our organization as it holds wipe-off boards, extra paper and craft supplies and other miscellaneous items we need to have close at hand.

Noah's desk
This is Noah's desk, and believe it or not he actually does love to sit here and do his schoolwork-especially his writing work.  Brady also likes to sit at this desk to color and draw. A lot of Noah's school day is spent on my lap in reading and math instruction, but anything he does independently, he tends to do at his desk. The top of it also comes off and flips over and is a chalkboard on the other side, and there is storage under there as well.

The bookshelf
I know this probably pales in comparison to a lot of bookshelves in most homeschoolers' homes, but I am scrupulous about getting rid of curriculum and books we don't need or aren't using. I have other hiding places for future curriculum or stuff we are storing for the younger kids, but this shelf mainly contains stuff that is used on a daily basis for easy access. You can't really see it in the picture but on the top of this shelf sits a microscope, a globe and one of those huge roll-out thingys with the huge paper roll on it.

Madison's shelf
Madison gets the top shelf. This is where we keep her books that she works in every day. Included here is math, language arts, Bible Study, and reading. The boxed-set of books is the collection of the Anne of Green Gables novels which we are working our way through as a read-aloud. This was an awesome and welcome Christmas gift from my in-laws.

Math Manipulatives
The basket and tote below it hold our math manipulatives. These include items such as play money, clocks, flash cards, geoboards, teddy bear counters, a balance, rulers, plastic shape pieces, dominoes, decks of cards-basically just about anything you can think of that we could use to make math real and tangible. These are so helpful in the early elementary years before children have developed the more advanced skill of thinking abstractly. They are also very important for the tactile/kinesthetic learner.

Noah's shelf
Noah doesn't have a whole lot on his shelf yet. In pre-school and kindergarten, I like to focus on building a strong foundation. primarily in reading and phonics instruction. We also work on Math, handwriting and thinking skills. The box to the right of his books holds cards for sight words, sentence/word games etc... The shelf just below it is for books that we read together as a family or that Madison can read (longer chapter books that don't hold the boys' attention too well just yet). That big gold one there is The Chronicles of Narnia which we are working through as a family in our before-bed reading time.  The blue and yellow book beside it is one of my favorite homeschooling books of all time, The Well-Trained Mind. Next to that are lots of classical literature and poetry books.

Toys/Board books
Next we have some items for Brady that he like to play with. In the box is a LeapPad-we've had this since Madison was young and all the kids love it. There is also a play computer in there that Brady uses to work on letter sounds and early math concepts. The books on this shelf are story books that Brady and Noah love to read. The last shelf holds a basket of toys for Ethan and our board books.
The most comfortable chair in the world
This is the chair I gravitate towards when I am in the school room working with one of the kids. It is SO comfortable and makes for a nice cozy area for us to work together. Bonus, I get lots of snuggle time in the middle of the school day! To the right of that chair you will notice I have a decent-sized wipe-off board. That seriously needs hung on one of the walls. I also want to find some really good maps-hopefully a United States map and a world map-to hang on the walls.

Supply/Extra books cabinet
This is my cabinet from IKEA. The front can be used as a chalkboard.

Library books
The containers aren't very pretty, but these sturdy paper boxes are where we keep our library books. I am VERY strict about this rule as we have learned the hard way what happens when we lose a library book. As soon as we get home from the library the kids know that they unload their bags and put the books away in the boxes right away. They also know that when they are not in use the books go right back in the boxes. I would eventually like to get some prettier containers for this purpose, but this works just fine for now.

Inside the cabinet
Inside this cabinet is where we keep all of our extra books that we use frequently, but not daily. On the bottom shelf are all manner of reference books. The middle shelf holds our school supplies, some books we aren't currently using but will in the future, a bag of activities for Brady and some readers for Noah. The top shelf is where we keep Madison's other school books. Included here are history, science and other electives. Currently we have Art, Manners, Fitness and Money Management.

A closer look at our supplies
Pardon the baby head! I have several plastic boxes filled with extra supplies. We have one each for crayons, markers, pens, pencils, glue, dry erase markers, and colored pencils. This is all easily accessible for the kids so they can get what they need, when they need it. And as long as the door is shut, Ethan can't get to the contraband!

So there you have it, that's our school room. It's pretty simple but it's constantly evolving. I find that my systems only work well for so long. Then the kids get bored with them, or we run out of room somewhere and have to re-think things. I have yet to come up with something completely fool-proof. Once every few weeks we have pretty-much a complete overhaul of the whole room where we toss old papers and broken crayons, purge drawers and shelves and just generally try to streamline everything again. In the very near future, I plan on getting set-up with a workbox system. I can't wait to try that out and see how it works.

What about you? If you are a homeschooler, how do you organize all of those papers and supplies and books that we seem to accumulate exponentially year after year? Anyone have any great tips of organizing to share?

Sunday, April 17, 2011


I have to admit, I am having a very hard time knowing where to begin on this post. It is hard for me to really even write. But yesterday marked an important milestone in the life of our family, so I feel I must celebrate it here.

Ethan opens his birthday present...with a little help.
One year ago yesterday, at 9:24 am, Ethan Richard Epsteen came into this world. And the world was never the same.
Ethan on the horse at Texas Roadhouse. Yes, we are THOSE parents. Don't worry,
he was only on there long enough for the picture. Priceless, don't ya think?
I don't know what it is about this first birthday. I don't know if it's the journey we traveled to have our miracle baby, the fact that we could have lost him again at five weeks old when he was VERY sick, the fact that he may very well be our last baby, or if it is just that mother/son bond we share, but this first birthday has been a hard one for me.

Ethan and his "fake" birthday cake. See the one candle lit-you can actually blow them out. So cool.
Sure, I want to and DO celebrate our sweet Ethan. I am so proud of him and what a sweet baby he is. In his short little life he has totally and completely captivated my heart. I can't imagine loving him more than I do. And yet with each new day I find I love him more than the one before. We are SO blessed to have him as part of our family.

Now, that's more like it.
I just see time moving by so quickly and I already feel like I miss it. It really does seem like it was just yesterday that I saw him for the first time, heard his first cry, felt his little fingers wrap instinctively around my own, and held and touched him. It is so hard to believe that a year has passed, that he will be a full-fledged walker any day now, that before I know it he will be talking a mile a minute, potty-training, riding a bike, learning to read, tying his shoes, playing soccer, wrestling with his brothers, driving a car, leaving home, getting married. It seems like a dream, an impossible dream. Sometimes I just sit and marvel at what a wonder he is.

What am I supposed to do with this?
Lately, thanks to my pastor and his incredibly convicting and inspiring sermons, I have been trying to work on a bad habit I have of complaining, of being discontented with where I am in life. Not that I'm not happy-just that I expect perfection and get frustrated when I don't receive it...RIGHT NOW! God has been working on my heart a bit and convicting me about that age-old "why me?" question. I have been trying to replace that whiny "why me?" with the same question asked a different way.

I haven't stopped asking God, "why me?" I just am trying to choose to change the tone of that question. Instead of focusing on all the things that aren't perfect in myself or my life and my circumstances, I am trying to be more consistent about praising God and being thankful for how far I've come. For who He is and what He's done and does. For redemption and grace and beauty and love.

I always wondered what I would look like with blue hair.
So here are some "why me" questions I asked God yesterday. Why me, God? Why did you choose me to be this child's mother? What was there in me that You thought I would be the right mother for this sweet, sweet boy? Why me? Why choose me to get to be the one, the ONLY one, to be called "Mommy" of this baby? Why me? You could have given him to anyone. Why do I get to be the one to watch him grow, to love him and be loved by him? Why me God? I know it certainly isn't anything I've done. I know without a doubt I am completely undeserving. Why me? Why are you so good to me?
And, now we know.
The things that our family has journeyed through in the past year are just unbelievable at times. I feel like I need to be pinched to see if it's all a dream. Then I hear that familiar cry in the middle of the night and I know it's not. And instead of asking "why me?" (wah, wah, wah), I ask "why me, God?" and in hushed whispers I pray prayers of thanksgiving and praise to my God. For ONE. Lord, I thank you for THIS one. Even if it's my last ONE. It is still ONE. And I will celebrate.

All right people, I've had enough! Quit taking my picture and get this stuff off of me!

Ah, much better. Sweet birthday boy!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

All Creatures of our God and King

Tweet, tweet...

One of the activities I like to do with the kiddos for "school" (not sure you can call it that when it is so darn fun and exciting) is just exploring creation. And that is much easier to do these days than it was during the winter months.
We enjoy taking nature walks, observing plants, animals and yes, the occasional insect that we have never encountered before. I love it. L-O-V-E it! It might be one of my favorite things to do with the kids.
I was one of those kids that hated science growing up. I did well enough in it to make the grade, but I never found it the least bit interesting (math was more up my alley). In fact, I dreaded it.
Now that I am a homeschool mom I see science in a whole new light. The process of discovery is what gets me. It is so exciting to learn new things about the world around us. I am convinced the reason I hated science was because it was never taught in this way before. I was never encouraged to wonder and awe and marvel.
Creation is just truly, absolutely, unequivocally amazing. Not sure if you know this, but God made some pretty interesting, fascinating creatures. Sometimes, I just shake my head and ask Him why He did that. And most of the time, the best answer I come up with is, "Why not?" He is just such a creative God. It is really, truly marvelous. And sometimes, I think He created certain creatures in certain ways to bring us closer to Him, so we would see the beauty of it and be more in awe and more in love with Him than we were before.
That's one thing I love about homeschooling. I get to be there to guide and encourage my kids and see the wonder in their eyes when they see something amazing for the first time. To tailor our curriculum to the delight and wonder of the hearts of my children is such a blessing.
This morning I got to witness such an event as Madison called to me. I was in the bathroom getting ready and I hear, "Mommy, come quick, come quick!" Those of you who are parents know that can either mean something very good or very bad.
Thankfully, in this case it was something very good. Madison had been looking at the tree outside my bedroom window and she spotted a new bird she had never seen before. I had her run and grab the camera quickly and we were able to snap a few pictures. Thankfully, our new little friend didn't seem to mind being the subject of our impromptu photo shoot.

Why, hello there.

Isn't he magnificent?

After our friend flew away, we quickly went downstairs to try to figure out what kind of bird this was. I could have gotten upset that we spent half the morning "wasting time" instead of getting our school work done (yes, we do school on Saturdays). I could have gotten my panties in a bunch that we were falling behind. I could have ignored my children's curiosity and put out the spark of delight at their discovery.

Instead, I chose to embrace it for what it was-a beautiful moment where we could share in something eternal. I am so glad I chose to capture their hearts in that moment rather than hurry them along in their phonics and times tables. I am even more grateful for the way God used that very experience to bless us so richly, to help us to delight in the simple beauty of His creation and to deepen our relationships with each other.

And then, as if that weren't enough, we came downstairs for our Bible Study time, and what verse do we end up reading but this:

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

Matthew 6.26

I'm sorry. Call me simple, but there are no words in my vocabulary to describe just how beautiful and good my God is.

What do you do to create and capture wonder and awe in the hearts of your children?

Friday, April 8, 2011

What does it mean to be healthy?

Ethan enjoys his green smoothie-yum!

Our family has been on a quest of sorts for about 3 years to become more healthy and physically fit. It all started when I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes with my third child.

At that time I was sent to a registered dietitian for a meal plan that was intended to help manage the diabetes without pharmaceutical intervention. The result of the appointment was me counting carbs and limiting all carbohydrates during my pregnancy. It didn't work, despite me following it religiously, and I became dependent upon self-injected insulin to manage my blood glucose levels.

Thankfully, everything worked out fine and Brady was born perfectly healthy with no ill effects whatsoever.

One positive result of this process was that I began doing a lot of research. A LOT a lot! I began to learn more and more about what it meant to be truly healthy.

News flash: the key is not a low-fat, low-carb, super restrictive diet. Sure you could lose weight that way, but would you really be HEALTHY? And who would want to?

My weight and dieting have been something with which I have always struggled. Shocking, I know. Even when I was skinny (yes, it's true-I should post some pictures sometime so you'll believe me) it was a constant struggle and a constant source of hardship and pain for me (think starving myself for a week at a time to get to where I thought I should be-yeah, not good). I used to think I had to count calories, eat a bunch of stuff I didn't like, deprive myself of foods I loved, and eat low-fat, low-calorie, low-flavor food.

However, over these past few years as I have learned more and more, my thinking on what it means to be healthy has changed. My basic, simple philosophy on food and diet now is this: the closer a food is to the way God created it, the better it is for you. That's it, in a nutshell. I figure God knew pretty well what He was doing-why mess with it?

So, how has that changed the way we eat? Well, no more fast food for one. The thought of a McDonald's hamburger totally disgusts me now. That one seems pretty obvious though-we all know fast food is bad for us right? RIGHT?

I also have cut out most forms of processed foods (I will buy the occasional box of healthy cereal for convenience sake). If I don't know what an ingredient is or I can't pronounce it, most likely it will not go in our shopping cart.

There is nothing low-fat about our diet, because most foods that carry that label are full of preservatives and man-made fillers and sweeteners that are way worse for you than natural fats. I REFUSE to count calories and fat grams. We simply eat good, wholesome, almost always made from scratch foods, and lots and lots of raw foods.

One way I have started helping my family increase their intake of fresh fruits and veggies (preferably organic, in-season, local produce) is by making smoothies. Smoothies are so awesome because you can put just about anything in them and they taste great.

Some of my favorite smoothie ingredients are bananas, mango, strawberries, blueberries (any kind of berry, really), clementines, grapes, apples, spinach, kale, avocado, carrots, tomatoes etc... Pretty much any combination that sounds good to you will work, but you want to get to the point where your veggie content makes up the majority of your smoothie.

You can make some pretty colorful, flavorful, interesting combinations. If your kids are particular about color, you probably want to go heavier on the berries as they tend to do a good job of masking the green/brown color of the veggies you want to add. I also add homemade yogurt and kefir (a natural probiotic).

I think he likes it!

Here is a link to The Green Smoothie Girl, who first got us started on this idea-well after a sweet friend referred me there. There are a lot of awesome resources on her site if you are interested in pursuing a more whole foods kind of diet.

I hope to blog about our food choices a lot more in the future. We are venturing into the world of gardening for the first time this summer-wish us luck!!! Hopefully, I can remember to blog about that adventure!

What about you? What do you think it means to be healthy? Have you been successful at making dietary changes in your family?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Menu-Plan Monday

One of the best ways I have found to stay organized as a homeschooling mom is to menu-plan. I cannot live without my menu plan. All sorts of bad things happen when I don't menu plan. I have found that we eat out more often, we eat fast food (blech!) more often, my kitchen stays messy and I am generally grumpier when I don't menu plan. It's true!
I think the reason why menu-planning affects my mood the way it does is that making healthy, yummy meals for my family is an extreme passion of mine. You might say I am a bit obsessed with it. I get highly irritated when I can't get some time in my kitchen. I love cooking from scratch. I love coming up with new recipes and finding ways to stretch our budget in the kitchen. I love knowing that the work I do in my kitchen is one major way I can show my family that I love them.
But, I am not one of those fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type of girls. I HAVE to have a plan. I cannot look into my fridge at 5 p.m. and wonder what is for dinner. That is a recipe for disaster in our household. I need the comfort of knowing I have everything I need rather than realizing at the last minute I am missing a vital ingredient and trying to get 4 kids out the door and to the store and still have time to get everything ready. I do try to have a few back-up meals that I can whip up on the fly for those days when things get crazy-hectic and my schedule falls apart, but for the most part I like to stick to my menu-plan.
I also have found that I save more money at the grocery store this way. Plus, it just gives me piece of mind knowing in advance what we are going to have. I can plan for leftovers on our busy evenings where we won't be at home for long. I know when to take out meat for thawing. I can throw stuff in the crock pot in the morning on days we are extra busy and I know that my family will have a nutritious, yummy meal ready for dinnertime.
I will let you in on a little secret. My grocery budget for our family of 6 is $100 per week. This budget includes all types of toiletry items as well as all food items. With the rising costs of foods, this budget can be a bit difficult at times, but I am grateful for it because it also requires me to be creative in the kitchen.
So how DO I plan my menu? I have a process that I go through every Sunday to plan my meals for the upcoming week. I plan for three meals a day, plus sometimes snacks/treats, for Monday through Sunday. Some like to plan by the month and just rotate many of the same meals on a monthly basis. While I like this idea in theory, I have found it hard to implement because I like to take advantage of weekly deals to make my meals for the week. So here are the steps I use, which can be adapted to suit anyone-there is no one right way to menu plan:
  1. Rick brings home the local Sunday paper each week. I sort through all the ads, making notes of things we need and ideas for meals planned around the good deals. Most supermarkets have what are called "loss-leaders" which are items that are deeply discounted, that they are taking a loss on, in order to get you into the store. I have done this long enough that I know what the best prices are, when things are likely to go on sale, and how much I am willing to pay for certain items. I also clip coupons and like to pair coupons with sales to get a good price on certain items. I am not an extreme couponer because a lot of the things I buy (mostly perishables) you can rarely find a coupon for.
  2. After I have made a tentative list, I will then go to my recipe books, box, or my favorite online resources and round out my meal list. If I am using a recipe book (which I rarely do anymore) I will make note of the book I found the recipe in and the page the recipe is on so I can find it quickly. If I am getting recipes on-line, I will write them on a 3 x 5 index card. All of the recipes for the week will be brought to the front of my recipe box so I can find them very quickly. If I try a new recipe and we like it, I add it to the box permanently.
  3. Then I expand my grocery list based on my recipes. I check my refrigerator, freezer and pantry to be sure I have the items I need for a particular recipe and whatever is missing then gets added to the list. This helps me avoid buying things that I already have in the pantry and helps me stay organized. Plus it ensures my fridge and pantry get cleaned out once a week-BONUS!
  4. I get out my calendar and pencil in what I want to make for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day that week. It helps me to use my calendar because I can see at a glance days that will be particularly busy or evenings where we have something planned and I might not need to make anything that night.
  5. Then I go shopping on Monday. Rick is home on Mondays and we like to shop together, or sometimes he goes for me-what a relief! Have you ever tried to drag 4 kids in and out of several stores in one day-it's not a pretty sight! I do shop at multiple stores to get the best deals on particular items. If you don't have the time or desire to do this I suggest shopping at Aldi if you have one in your area, as they tend to have the lowest prices on just about everything. Wal-mart is not my favorite store but they do price match and we have one very close to our house, so if I am in a hurry and don't have time to run all over town to the different stores, I will just take the ads into Wal-mart and get the same price. If you do this, make sure to clearly mark what you want and read the fine print carefully for sizes of items. This will help you get through the line faster and is courteous to those who may be behind you in line. I also like to shop at Meijer, Payless and Marsh as well because they double coupons.

And that's about it. I post my menu calendar on my fridge and check it every morning and evening so I can see what is coming up next. It's not a perfect system and I don't always stick to it but it helps keep me sane.

I don't know about you, but dinner-time in our house is chaotic. Daddy is coming home, we are picking up and finishing up schoolwork, and I am trying to get dinner on the table for 6 hungry mouths, one of whom is usually a VERY vocal baby! So anything I can do to help myself accomplish this more efficiently is great for me. I can chop veggies for a salad while the baby is napping, throw oatmeal in the crockpot the night before so breakfast is ready in the morning, assemble the ingredients of a casserole in the morning before the kids get up and pop it in the oven before Rick gets home. It's what works for us!

This week's Menu Plan:

  • Monday: B ~ bagels; L ~ peanut butter and honey sandwiches, cottage cheese, celery; D ~ dinner out
  • Tuesday: B ~ crock pot oatmeal; L ~ ham and cheese quesadillas, fruit; D ~ pork roast, sweet potato casserole, green beans
  • Wednesday: B ~ cereal; L ~ peanut butter and banana sandwiches, carrots & dip, fruit; D ~ spaghetti & meatballs, salad, homemade garlic bread
  • Thursday: B ~ breakfast cookies; L ~ ramen noodles, fruit; D ~ leftovers
  • Friday: B ~ homemade granola & yogurt; L ~ PB&J, cottage cheese, banana/mango/blueberry smoothies with homemade kefir; D ~ beer-battered fish, baked potatoes, steamed broccoli, beer bread
  • Saturday: B ~ cereal; L ~ black bean, corn and cheese quesadillas, fruit; D ~ linguini with clam sauce
  • Sunday: B ~ muffins/bagels; L ~ lunch out (we usually eat out after church but not always-if we come home we usually just munch on whatever we can grab or leftovers from the week); D ~ leftovers

What about you? Do you menu plan? How do you do it?