Stop Planning Your Meals!

I hate meal planning. Okay, I love meal planning. I mean… There are a ton of benefits to meal planning, but it’s such a drag every week. I’m not sure why, but I tend to get a mental block when it comes to decision-making. That’s why I always planned two weeks at a time! But even that process felt downright painful some weeks. I mentioned the agony on Facebook and a friend said she had two weeks of meals planned out each season and she would just recycle it each week… Sounds great on the surface, but I’m pretty sure my family would die if we had to eat the same 14 meals over and over. Or at least I would. I need some variety in my life! But I couldn’t get past the amazing idea of never planning my meals again. Once, for all?! Yes, please!! So I wrote our favorite meals down, with some variations for summer/winter meals, and planned out four weeks of meals. 28 meals in repetition I can handle! Maybe. But just to be safe, I added two weeks. There’s no way I’ll get bored with 42 meals to cycle through.

pmpAnd with that, I bring you my Perpetual Meal Plan. My I-never-have-to-sit-down-and-do-this-again plan. My I-get-my-Sunday-nights-back plan. Ahhh. It makes me want to kick back with a glass of lemonade just thinking about it :D

Dinners

 

And because my family insists on eating more than one meal per day, I made one for lunches, too. With fewer weeks, because repeats at lunch don’t seem to bother me as much.

lunches

Everybody’s on their own for breakfast. Because, if I’m honest, I’m lucky if I get to eat breakfast at all most days ;)

Tuesdays and Thursdays are busy days for us, and peanut-free in the afternoons for Mother’s Day Out, so I included those details in my plans. I also repeated my husband’s absolute favorites because he begged me to! I’ve printed these and I’m taking them to be laminated tomorrow. Can’t. Wait! Download your own copy here: Perpetual Meal Plan

How do you plan your meals? Have you ever considered a ‘Perpetual Meal Plan’ for yourself? Sound off below!

We Have To Talk About This.

There were several comments on my post about DIY Scratch Sleeves that theorized why my son’s eczema was so bad. I appreciated these comments, but by the time I had gotten them I already knew what they were telling me was true. And I didn’t mean to take a super long blogging break the first half of this year but I had to because my son was so sick. So sick. And he isn’t out of the woods yet, but he’s well on his way to healing from a condition called TSW or Topical Steroid Withdrawal.

Sounds weird, right?

You see, I thought withdrawal from medications was a fairly quick thing… a few weeks, max. In fact, we experienced a minor withdrawal when we switched from topical steroids to essential oils about a year ago. It looked like a minor flare, followed by a ton of improvement. But then on Halloween last year my family went to IHOP and my son was given a strawberry that had spent its life in strawberry syrup being coated in Red 40. We didn’t realize it until after he had eaten it, and as a result we spent several days in the hospital helping his body breathe. One of the steps in that process was a round of oral prednisone.
At his follow-up appointment with his pediatrician, the doctor pointed out that his skin looked great, but was looking very thin. After a couple of weeks, his skin began looking worse than ever, and at that point nothing helped.

The decline :(

In our Christmas photos, you can see that he just isn’t quite himself… and it just got worse from there. We didn’t leave the house for weeks. I hadn’t gone back to the topical steroids, but the prednisone set off the withdrawal that I suppose the switch to oils had *almost* saved us from.

not so bad anymore

If you’ve ever had the inkling that maybe your eczema or your child’s eczema was getting worse on steroids… or that your skin almost seemed to need the steroids… let me just tell you you’re probably right.

just about back to normal

After 9 months of suffering, my boy can play again. We almost never get questions about his skin anymore. I’ve watched friends go through this condition, though, and I know it might not be over for us. But for now we’re okay. And because of what we’ve been through I have to tell people and at least try to prevent another child from going through this misery. Because it’s downright horrifying what my son has had to endure and I can’t imagine not trying to prevent that!

If you want to know more, go to ITSAN.org. You’ll find forums there with people who have and are going through this. You’ll find research and photos of healing. You’ll find a list of symptoms that go beyond skin and maybe it will explain some of the things you’ve experienced that have baffled the doctors. I know I was thankful to find them and talk to other parents who have walked in my shoes, get advice, and help me figure out how to love my son through the hardest thing I hope he ever has to go through.

I have many more photos, but they are heartbreaking and very personal. There are other moms who have shared their TSW stories in far greater detail, and you can find them at http://www.itsan.org/get-involved/IMIA/

Help for Little Eczema Sufferers – No-Scratch Sleeves

My son has been suffering through the worst eczema flare-up I’ve ever witnessed. Seriously, I didn’t know eczema could even look like this. I’ve seen pictures of eczema that look like hives, red rashes, extremely dry and even very flaky skin, but not this. This is all of those and more. And I know the worst of it is caused by the fact that a three-year-old sweetie doesn’t fully understand the damage his scratching causes. And don’t get me wrong – we still love our eczema cream – and we have also taken the obvious steps of keeping his nails trimmed and wearing covering clothing – but since eczema isn’t merely a skin issue, we knew we had to take other steps.

Last Saturday, I couldn’t take it anymore. I saw his sweet face all scabbed up when he woke up (we cover him when he sleeps – footy pajamas are great – but his face is still exposed, so it gets the brunt of the scratching) and I couldn’t just lotion him and wait out his healing. I searched “eczema scratch prevention” online and found something I had never thought of before – scratch clothing!

There appeared to be two products on the market. One is called ScratchSleeves, and it’s made in the UK and shipped here. For about $23 (shipped) I can have my very own cardigan with mittens that my son would wear under his clothing. His hands would be completely covered, so any scratching would at least be minimally successful. The other was a similar product that’s made in the US and sells for about $25. It was the same basic premise, but the hands on these were open at the ends, and I knew my little guy would figure that out in no time.

Being that I can’t just learn about a product like and then buy it, the wheels in my head began turning and I decided I needed to see if there was a way I could make this myself. I thought up designs, what would be the most effective material to use, etc. – and then I remembered that I’m 9 months pregnant and we just moved into a new house, so all my sewing stuff is still in boxes. After a trip to the thrift store and finding nothing inspiring, I went to Walmart and found a set of 3 pairs of tights for about $3.97 – $1.33/pair!

My original thought was a body suit that would cover my boy from head to toe, including his hands. Then I talked to my brilliant husband and we decided that the most important factor was keeping his hands covered. Before bed that night, I grabbed one set of tights, snipped a small line down the middle, and put them on my boy. Perfect.

No Scratch Sleeves

My boy rocking his red no-scratch sleeves with his Spiderman t-shirt

Now, I realize that when most people think of eczema, something like this seems rather extreme. If that’s you, then I’m sorry but you haven’t seen eczema like I’ve seen. But if you’ve ever woken up and dreaded looking at your child for fear of what they’ve done to themselves overnight this time… if you’ve ever spent half your car trip explaining to your sweet child that it really is important that they don’t scratch… if you’ve ever dressed your little one in clothes that were maybe a little too warm for the weather in hopes that an extra layer would prevent him from hurting himself – then you’ll understand where I’m coming from, and you might just want to make some for your sweetheart. Well, thankfully, it’s super duper easy!

What you need:
-Tights, about the same size as your child. (My son is a 3T and we bought 2T-4T sized tights)
-Scissors

Unroll the tights.

Tights Find the center seam of the tights. Cut about 3 inches (depending on how broad your child’s shoulders are, this may vary.)
Cut Tights Cut Done

Put on the way you would put on a sweater. I find it easiest to roll up the tights to the end onto my thumbs (the same way I would put tights or socks on myself) and have him stick his hand directly into the end. Bring the back around, and do the same on the other side. Pull the front to a comfortable position.

Sleeves Front Sleeves Back

That’s it! Now put a shirt on and you’re ready to go!

Sleeves in PJs

Here he is in the white set with his PJs! I find it fun/easy to make it match his outfits.

My son has been wearing these for about a week and we’ve had minimal problems with them. He still scratches (we’re making diet changes and hoping that helps), but he isn’t breaking the skin anywhere near as easily as he used to. He can function well in them – he’s doing a puzzle as I type, and he can eat, color, and play without trouble.

To wash them, I put them all in a pillowcase, tied it shut, and put them in the washer on delicate. If you want to get fancy, you could get a lingerie bag but we didn’t have one on hand and I was afraid the zipper would cause snags. Some pairs got a little pilly, but a lint shaver would solve that problem. (I love mine, but it’s still in a box somewhere!)

So, that’s one step we’ve taken to help my son’s skin heal. We’re still putting his homemade eczema cream on every day, but this has made the battlefield more level, for sure.

If you make some, I’d love to see pictures!

What’s All This Stuff About Essential Oils??

I have posted several times about the use of essential oils in my home, both here and on Facebook, and I’ve gotten many questions – mostly asking me just what these things are! In my area, these things are exploding as a ‘new’ way to care for and promote wellness within our families, and everyone seems to either love them or shun them. I was once one of the latter, myself! What changed my mind? I actually tried them, and they made a huge difference in our lives. Now they’ve replaced many items I used to have in the medicine cabinet, and I feel like I have a much better handle on my family’s health.

What are they?
The dictionary says they are: a natural oil typically obtained by distillation and having the characteristic fragrance of the plant or other source from which it is extracted.
What does that mean? It means they are an extract of a plant, pretty much. Found in nature, extracted, and placed into bottles. Sounds simple enough, right? But they’re also quite powerful, so you want to make sure you get *good* ones, not just any old oil off the grocery store shelf.

What do they do?
They can do a great number of things. I have a Quick Reference Guide that I just love to use when we’re struggling with something in our house. Google is also pretty great. Just last night I looked up ‘bloody noses’ and found that my daughter could breathe in (aka – smell) a combination of lavender and lemon oils to stop her nosebleed (and guess what? It did!) We also use a combination to help with allergies. We use a homemade cream with essential oils for skin troubles. I also have a blend I made to help with tummy yuck, and one I use when I’m having muscle pain. So, if I can do so without sounding cliche, I’d say the better question is what don’t they do! Because, seriously, we use them all the time around here.

Where do I get them?
Honestly? If you just want plain old essential oils, you can go just about anywhere. If you want the good stuff, go to Young Living. You can sign up as a customer and try any number of wonderful oils at your leisure, but the better bargain is to sign up to be a member (also called a distributor.)

Wait – You want me to sign up for something?
No. Well, not just for the sake of signing up, anyway – I want you to get the most for your money, and simply buying bottle after bottle of oils is not the best way to do that. I am a researcher. I spent weeks looking at the cost of oils from different places (as well as the credentials of those places – if they had any), and what I came back to was the Young Living Premium Starter Kit.

starterkit

It’s an up-front investment of about $150 (plus tax & shipping), but you receive an amazing value for that money. Nowhere – not even the cheap places – can offer you a diffuser worth nearly $100 and 11 different oils and oil blends, in addition to some lovely samples and reading material for anywhere near this price. And with Young Living, you get the SeedtoSeal guarantee — meaning you know you’re buying high-quality, unadulterated, undiluted essential oils.

everydayoils

If you want to see all of the amazing ways our family has begun using Young Living Essential oils, check it out here. Here are some other pretty amazing uses for the oils that come in the starter kit:

Young-Living-Ditch-Drugstore-Medications

Like I said – some pretty amazing stuff!

Additional Resources:
Anyone who buys their starter kit from me will be mailed a Quick Reference Guide. This is such a great resource for learning how to use your oils, that I think it would be a disservice not to provide it to you! You’ll also be invited to a Facebook Group where you can ask questions about your oils and get advice when something comes up. In the meantime, the Oily Families Facebook group is a good resource to get your questions answered or just to see testimonies of how Young Living Essential Oils have helped others!

Want In?
If you’re ready to join, click here and fill out the form. If you mark yourself as a “Distributor,” you’ll get immediate access to buy one of these great kits, plus you’ll get a 24% discount on every oil you order for the rest of forever. No – you don’t *have* to buy anything else, and you aren’t going to be made to ‘keep up’ a membership to get that discount. If you go a whole year without ordering anything, you’ll have to order $50 of product to get the discount again – but that’s not hard. You’ll probably wind up restocking every few months. Pretty sweet, right?

Have Questions?
If you’re wondering something I haven’t covered here, just ask below! I’ve really enjoyed getting a handle on my family’s wellness with the use of these oils – and I’d love to help you do the same!

**disclaimer: I am not a doctor, just a mommy learning to care for her family the best I can. I speak from experience, but not medical expertise. If you have questions or concerns about your child’s health, consult a medical practitioner. If you are just looking for new and helpful ways to continue caring for the ones you love, I hope you find my ideas useful in that endeavor. Thanks!**

The Truth about Food Coloring

I’ve shared our journey to living a life free of synthetic food dyes, but I realize that, apart from my son with the allergy, it can be unclear why these products are bad and should really be eliminated from our diets – and lives – entirely. There are a multitude of resources out there regarding this topic, so I’ll give you a break down and then some links so you can dig deeper if you so desire.

The Basics
Synthetic Food Colors are found in just about everything. I talked about it here, but it is in many many things. Add to that the general lack of knowledge of how awful it is, and you’ll find that it’s in ‘natural‘ products, as well. It is completely chemical, made in a lab from petroleum derivatives, and several variations of it have been pulled in the last few decades because they were proven to be carcinogenic or otherwise toxic. Very little testing was done before these lovely things were approved to be put into our food, so many of the side effects weren’t discovered until much later.

The Truth about Food Coloring | LearningtoLiveIt.com

It’s anything but harmless, trust me.

The Risks
As you’ll read in the links below, the UK and several other countries have decided that the benefit of these products (they’re pretty), does not outweigh the many risks of using and consuming them. A European study showed that synthetic colors (specifically Red 40 and Yellow 5 – the two we use the most in the U.S.) caused severe hyperactivity in children. In a double-blind test, the children who were taken off of food dyes showed improved behaviour during the elimination period, and a drastic change once dyes were re-introduced. (I personally attribute the fact that my son skipped the ‘terrible twos’ entirely to artificial food coloring having been out of our diet for the better part of a year.) It’s been shown in other studies that these synthetic dyes cause allergic reactions, and proven in yet more studies to be cancer-causing, neurotoxic, and even to cause chromosomal damage! It’s my personal belief that the increase in the use of artificial dyes (we use 5x the chemical dyes today that we did 50-60 years ago) contributes to a large number of medical, behavioural, and societal issues we face today that were almost non-existent in previous generations.

Sounds delicious, right?

The Proof
If you like reading super technical stuff, here is a copy of the actual study done in the UK that initiated their banning/increased labeling standards of synthetic dyes, and here’s a breakdown of what it says.

You can also find some more fun food coloring reading at family gone healthykitchen stewardship, red40.com, and a wonderfully enlightening read by Robyn O’Brien at AllergyKids. If you’re a fan of infographics, I’m particularly fond of this one.

And last but not least, here are some sources for natural food dyes:
DIY: here or here
Buy It: here or here

The process of eliminating synthetic dyes from our diets has been a fairly arduous one, but I’ve found it to be worth it. If you or your children are suffering from ADD/ADHD, Migraine headaches, Eczema, food allergies, etc., I would encourage you to look at the ingredients in your food and consider that there could be a correlation.

Tips for Searching the Grocery Ads

Grocery shopping is simple, but when you’re trying to save every penny, it can feel overwhelming. I remember wandering the store in the beginning of my marriage on a near-nightly basis buying each ingredient for the meal I’d be making that night. It wasn’t until after my couponing journey that I realized how much I was probably overpaying for my groceries. Not only was I buying processed junk that is way more expensive than making things yourself (not to mention full of random, unnecessary ingredients), I paid no mind to how much things cost from day to day – I just paid what the shelf said. Since beginning my grocery stewardship journey, I’ve discovered that you could be paying double from one day to the next!

GroceryAdslong

So, in an effort to help you save as I’m learning to do, I’ve put together a few tips for getting the most of your time spent hunting through the ads. Now, you can use this to price match at Walmart, or you can use it to make several trips to local stores. I do both, regularly! Though, I typically try to buy my meat and produce at Kroger or Market Street where it tends to be fresher and higher quality – but I’ve also bought meat at Walmart more times than I can count and it’s great, too!

Tip #1 – Know Your Local Stores

In my area, we have three major grocery chains where people do their shopping – Kroger, Tom Thumb, and Albertson’s. We also have our big box stores (Walmart and Target), and the discount stores (Family Dollar, Dollar General), Health Food Stores (Sprouts, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s) and pharmacies (CVS, Walgreens). All of  these places sell groceries. You should also be aware of the smaller stores in your area, though. Just a little bit of driving (sometimes just a street over from where I’m already traveling on a daily basis), and I am not far from an Aldi, an Elrod’s, a Carnival, a Sack N Save, and a Fiesta. These would probably never become my main store, but for a good enough deal, I would definitely make the trip – so I don’t feel bad price matching these stores. Not to mention, they run some amazing sales on name brand groceries. It’s definitely worth a little extra searching to find out what your local stores are, and what their sales are for a given week!

Tip #2 – Know Your Pantry

Every family has different ‘staples’ – things they use for almost everything. This is something that was brought to my attention during the year we stayed at my in-laws’ house. I would search high and low for beans, corn, and tomato sauce and find myself faced with cans of soup, spinach, and boxed potatoes. All fine foods, but not the stuff I was used to cooking with! It was a great lesson to learn, though, because I was trying to learn what our family’s staple foods were, and this definitely brought it to light. What your family regularly uses will likely be different from what my family uses, but shopping and ad-browsing will be infinitely easier as you gain an idea of what that is.
Another way in which you need to ‘know your pantry’ is to have a pretty good idea of how much of a given thing you have, and how much you’ll probably need in a month’s time. A whole month? Yes. That brings me to tip 3!

Tip #3 – Sales are cyclical, so you’ll usually get the best price on your groceries by buying a bunch at once, then waiting and buying again when they are cheap. There are four types of prices for any product – an ‘everyday’ price, a ‘good’ price, a ‘bad’ price, and a ‘stock up’ price. There’s a standard or everyday price for just about everything you buy, and you want to try to buy it for less than that. So, a good price is less than everyday, and a ‘stock up’ price is when the price is considerably less than everyday.

Tip #4 – Just because the product is listed in the ad at a certain price does not mean that it is a good price. This kind of goes along with knowing the prices on products, but I’ve seen so many ads with a huge photo of an item advertised for up to $1 more than the everyday price. I can’t overstate the importance of being generally aware of prices for things (the Cheapster app is great for this, and it’s the most intuitive and inclusive app I’ve found! If you find something better, let me know!). At least be aware of what you pay for your staples. Know that the going price for milk is $2, and eggs are .10/ea, and a family size box of cereal should never be more than $3. (The prices are different for different areas, but this is basically true for my area.) It will make everything easier!

Tip #5 – Check Online Ads

I used to receive the paper and I thought that was the only way to get the weekly grocery ads. Then, I decided to check online – and I’m so glad I did! For one, I can sit down and look at everything in one sitting. I also don’t have to try to juggle a piece of paper that’s 3x the width of me just to see how much meat costs. I have a list of the links to local ads, and I just click through. As an added bonus, I can click on most ads and have it email me my list with prices! Then I can just compile the lists together and put them in whatever medium I’m using that week for my list (though I’ve been enjoying the use of Reminders for this, because it’s shared with my husband and we can both shop that way.) Another great thing about online ads is that I can see what prices are at multiple stores! I walked into the Albertson’s near my daughter’s school once and found the ground beef there to be on a better sale than at the Albertson’s near my house where I had seen the paper ad! It’s usually pretty similar, but it can’t hurt to look.

Tip #6 – Know when to shop

In my area, Grocery store ads for most stores go Wednesday-Tuesday. Big Box stores, Pharmacies, etc. run their ads are good Sunday-Saturday. This is important to know, because the ground beef might be $4.19/lb. today, and $1.97/lb. tomorrow! If we ‘need’ something and it’s a Tuesday and there are no good prices on it – I’ll wait it out a day and see what changes. That’s my personal preference – we’re pretty good at throwing together a meal out of what’s in the pantry in a pinch… even if that means breakfast for dinner AGAIN (which is super cheap and the kids absolutely love, anyway.) So, there isn’t a specific day to shop, but being aware of the timelines of ads in your area is certainly helpful.

Tip #7 – Some weeks are duds

Sometimes you’ll look through all the ads and there won’t be good prices on anything. Other weeks, you’ll have a page-long list at every store. I’m sure there’s some marketing ploy here, but the point is – don’t worry about it. It’s still worth the look. Some grocery stores are typically more expensive than others, but it’s still worth a peek at the ad because there are occasional surprises. I had nearly written off one store because their advertised prices are always higher than everyone else’s – till one week all their produce was $1/lb. less than the other major stores!

Tip #8 – Be like Santa. {{Make a List & Check it Twice!}}

Lists are your friends. Make a list of what you need and a list of what’s on sale. If you see that potatoes are extra crazy cheap this week, it might be worth adjusting your meal plan to take advantage of that! If you absolutely need ground beef this week and no one has it on a good sale, still put it on the list – just don’t buy more than you need. Compile the needs and the sale lists – with prices and quantities – into one list before you go to the store. I made one that fit my needs and laminated it to take to the store with me each week. Just like my meal plan, I fill it out with a wet erase marker and reuse!

Tip #9 – Don’t Stress

This all might sound like it’s going to take forever – and it might, the first week or two (if forever is like, an hour.) But as you get used to it, it will take less and less time. I used to get headaches looking at the ads and feeling ignorant of what I was looking for and I don’t want that to happen to you. Just look at them. Absorb what you can. It’s a process, and it is worth it, so just breathe through it and you’ll get there. (Gosh, I could be describing parenting, labor, marriage – basically anything there…)

Tip #10 – Use Whatever Resources Work for You

I have read countless blogs and articles telling you what you must use to be effective – and that’s just plain silly. The reason my tips are fairly general is because this is something I think is best figured out on your own to an extent. I can tell you what I use and love, but that doesn’t mean it will work for you. If you hate technology, you probably aren’t downloading an app. If you hate paper, you’ll probably never pick up a physical ad. Make the process bend to you. There is no exact science – and the more you adapt it to fit your needs, the more stress-free your money-saving efforts will be :)

Happy Shopping!

Do you have a certain strategy when you hunt through the ads?

Costing Meals

CostingMeals

My husband and I love to watch reality TV shows about entrepreneurship. It’s silly, but it’s our thing! One of our favorite shows is Restaurant Impossible. Chef Robert Irvine goes into these small (failing) mom-and-pop restaurants and helps them turn the business around. Sometimes their food is awful, sometimes they just need more presence, but fairly often it comes down to messy finances. The #1 mistake these failing restaurants make is that they don’t cost-out the prices of their meals. That is to say, they have no idea what it costs them to make that burger and fries they’re putting in front of you. Without this, there is no starting point for how to make food into a business.

Since kitchen stewardship is one of my main ‘job functions’ in my home, I took this principle and applied it to my family’s meals. I’m not trying to turn a profit, though, so I worked backwards. I looked at our monthly food budget, then divided that by the number of days in a month, and the number of mouths I had to feed. At the time, this gave me $2/day per person. I split it up into 3 meals and decided to start watching closely how much we spent for each meal I prepared. (If you apply this to every aspect in your life, it might drive you crazy, so I don’t recommend it – but it is a definite help in the kitchen!) This has been a really good way to ensure that I know exactly what I am spending on certain meals. It means we eat some meals less often (bye bye, steak) and some meals more often (mmm, beefy potatoes w/ eggs!). It enables me to be sure my family will be well-fed, even when the alternator goes out and our household budgets all shrink a little. I think the thing it has done more than anything is to put a major amount of perspective on a dollar. (IE: I can feed my whole family for a day for less than I can get lunch at Panera. Cry.)

Here’s how it works. I look at what I spend on an item, and what I use in a recipe. Then I add up the costs of those items, and divide it by the number of people I know it will feed. I’ll show how I ‘costed’ lastnight’s dinner (the afore-mentioned beefy potatoes w/ eggs):

Potatoes: $1.29/10 lb bag (Crazy deal, right?!) = .129/lb.
Eggs: $1.80/18 = .10/ea.
Ground beef: 2.095/lb.

We used 1 1/4 lb. ground beef ($2.62), 7 eggs (.70), and about 2 lbs. of potatoes (.26).

So, the total spent on this meal was $2.62+.70+.26 = $3.58. My husband and I and our three children all ate and were full, so not including leftovers, this meal cost 71.6 cents/person.
(I don’t cost out spices, which may be erroneous, but we buy them so infrequently that it isn’t practical to do so. We spend maybe $10 a year on new spices? So it seems like unnecessary work, IMO.)

If this all seems a little bizarre, I totally understand. I will post some recipes, along with the cost per serving, as time allows me to do so. In the meantime, this is a great source for pre-costed recipes.

Do you have goals for food-spending? Have you ever worked out the precise cost of your meals? Weigh in below!

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