In households all over the world, there's a question that strikes fear into the heart.
What's for dinner?
Thinking about dinner means deciding how much time and energy you have. Time to look at what you actually have in the house to cook. You need to take into account what everyone will actually eat and what sounds good to you.
I'm all about what makes life easier, so we have a few meal prep principles we follow each week that I highly recommend.
1. Order groceries online- deliver or pick up
2. Plan all meals for the week
3. Prep as much food as you can over the weekend
Dinner time is hard. Everyone is burnt out by 5:00, but there's still a whole meal to fix and eat and clean up. It becomes even harder when you start adding kids in the mix.
We used to live in a little townhouse in the middle of town, on the same road as a Kroger. It was glorious. We could run down the road for anything we ran out of or forgot to buy, and we did quite often. Once we moved, Kroger was no longer so readily available. IGA is within a short distance, but still not so close or convenient, especially now that we've got Addy. It's even more imperative that we've got a plan in place.
In our house, dinner usually goes one of two ways. If both parents are home, one will usually play with Addy while the other makes dinner. My favorite days are the ones I get to play with Addy all day, and then spend time making dinner while she plays with her dad. On days I work, Austen usually makes dinner so I can soak up allllll the time with my girl. There's also the nights that one parent is home for dinner and toddler duty. We've had a lot of nights recently where Austen is still working at dinner time, so it's a one woman show to get things done. To make my life easier, I do two things. I plan quick meals, and I prep as much as I can over the weekend.
Late in the week, Thursday or Friday night, I meal plan. I consider what is going on during the week and who will be home at dinner time. On those nights that Austen won't be home, I plan a meal that I can prep in 20 minutes or less. I also cut meals almost in half. Is anyone else's husband like a human pit?!
After planning meals for the week, I order groceries. I am 110% team online grocery ordering.
We have groceries delivered Friday night or Saturday. This gives us time to prep food for the week when we've got a little free time here and there throughout the weekend. Weekly grocery orders are really the only way to make sure you've always got fresh food, especially fruits and vegetables. And you need the fresh food in your diet! Dinner is an easy time to make sure you're getting some daily servings of vegetables.
I'm here to share this most important PSA: roast your dinner veggies and you'll devour them. We eat up some roasted broccoli, bell peppers, onion, and asparagus, covered with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper.
This weekend as I prep, here's my to-do list and my meal list. I am working on adding some extra food to the freezer, so recipes that freeze well are being doubled. Might as well make an extra and save some time for a later meal!
Weekend Food Prep
Saturday: Mexican street corn pasta salad (SO good and yummy leftovers)
Sunday: grilled steaks with corn + asparagus
Monday: bacon chicken ranch penne + broccoli
Tuesday: quesadillas with peppers + onion
Wednesday: BBQ from freezer on Hawaiian rolls with green beans
Thursday: broccoli cheddar soup + sandwiches
Friday: order out
I also take time to prep Addy's food. I have 5 divided containers and in each I put a fruit, veggie, protein, carb, and maybe some cheese. I also prepare a fruit and veggie snack to send with her each day. It's literally just diced and put in a small container. I found these containers that come with two green lids, two purple lids, etc, so it's super easy to make sure I pack a fruit AND veggie each day. Baby food prep has gone through several stages as Addy's need changes, and the time and energy is takes is definitely worthy of it's own post.
Meal prep is magic. While I don't know many people these days who don't do at least some form of prep, I encourage you to comb through different ideas and decide what works for you!
Tidy Your Cell Phone
If you're anything like me, you keep people in your phone long past the point of ever contacting them. I've found parents of children I tutored 10 years ago and students who lived on the same floor as me in college. If you're going to take the time to clean out your contacts, do it in small chunks. It's not a thrilling task. I do it for short spurts, like when I'm waiting for my food at Sonic. I've also found that doing it multiple times lends to deleting more unnecessary contacts, because after debating if I should keep this number for the third time, I'm ready to delete it and be done. The easiest way I decide to keep or delete is just ask myself- would it be strange to text or get a text from this person? Do I have any reason to contact them anymore? (Proooobably not!)
PS: Save your contacts. Don't be like past me. My uber-patient dad has never once fussed when I texted him four times asking for a roofer's contact information. Or sometimes I'll get that vague text from someone who obviously knows me, but I never saved their number. Nothing more awkward than that 'Who is this?' text to someone whose number you should have saved.
PPS: Along with that- Be kind to your future self. Your phone is for YOU. When you've got someone saved for a specific purpose, add that in their contact name. When we were looking for a sitter for our daughter, I had several trusted suggestions. One babysitter had a full roster but anticipated losing some of her charges, so I'd check in with her every so often as it got closer to going back to school and needing full-time childcare. Finding her contact information was a lot easier when it was under "Sarah Smith- Betty's babysitter" instead of trying to remember her name, or text my friend again to ask for the contact information.
Office fans- remember the very last episode of the series? (How could you not?) Michael tells Pam he has two phones with two phone numbers, just to store all the photos of his kids. Sometimes that's how I feel. I want to keep allllll the photos. So I do!
Go ahead and create some folders for those suckers. You know all those inspiration photos you saved from Instagram and Pinterest? Save them in a 'Dream Home' folder, so when you want to see those ideas again, you're not slowly scrolling through all your photos to find them.
Pick a place to store your photos. There's lots of options to digitally store them. I use both Google photos and Amazon photos. I also pay for extra cloud storage. My brain memory is junk. I have a terrible time remembering past events, so I depend on photos to keep those memories. Paying a small fee to ensure they're stored safely is invaluable to me. Once you've digitally stored them, decide if you're ready to delete them from your phone. All of a sudden you'll have a lot more storage space if you need it! On my to-do list is getting an external hard drive to physically store our photos in a fireproof safe.
I highly suggest physically storing photos as well. Every few months I print some of my favorite photos to display in our frames around the house. It brings immeasurable joy to see those memories every day. We use Shutterfly to make photo books. We've got them for big events and trips. Another item on my to-do list is work on photos books for each year since we got married. These books are precious. Our 15 month-old daughter loves to pull them off the shelf and flip through them. If our house caught on fire, our photo books are one of those things I'd grab on the way out. Love. Them.
I'm an iPhone gal, so bear with me for this part, Android users. iPhone users- you know those apps that are still on your screen but need to be redownloaded? It's a sign. You probably *don't* need that app. Delete it and free up space on your phone. It's one less icon to sift through. One less app's settings to worry about.
If you haven't already, make the app folders. It's infinitely easier to find apps when they're grouped together. It's easier to decide which to keep and which to delete. Best of all, those little folders take up less space on your screen. I love my folders for the simple fact that I can see the photo I put on my background. You loved that photo enough to decide it was THE photo you wanted to look at every time you unlock your phone. Why block that beautiful landscape or your family's faces with tiny little icons?
Speaking of technology clutter, don't let apps clutter your time or mental health. Social media is a powerful tool to keep in touch with others, read the news, and learn almost anything. But we also see how powerful it can also be in sucking up your time and focus, along with bringing a sense of guilt that you're not as good as everyone else. During the last election season I deleted Instagram for a while when many posts began to impact my mental health. Set those screen time limits and hold yourself accountable. Even just turning off notifications for apps can release you from feeling like you need to open it every time a little red dot appears in the corner.
Tidy Your Computer
But really. Make the folders. In college I had a folder for each semester, with a subfolder for each class. I can't begin to tell you how easy that made it to find whatever I was looking for. Name your documents so you can find them later, not with some obscure title.
Your photos? Put them in folders! Sort them by month, event, location, whatever helps YOU find them, and don't forget the date!
And again, set those limits. I know I could spend hours online window shopping, or scrolling through my Pinterest feed. Decide how much time you feel comfortable with spending on the computer (beyond work), and divide that time between mindless entertainment (scrolling for fun) and constructive activities (checking your online banking, finding new recipes, making those photo books). We monitor the amount of time our children spend on screens, so love yourself enough to hold yourself to similar standards.
Making your technology work for you helps you take control of your life and avoid excessive mental clutter. Be kind to yourself!
But fifteen month olds come with lots of toys. I can't even blame grandparents, or aunts, because they do a great job of buying her a reasonable amount of items at the appropriate times. It's me. And Amazon prime and Etsy. She's constantly growing and I work hard to provide toys that will challenge and engage her intellectual development.
As a reading teacher, I place a high value on literacy. We are constantly adding children's books to our collection. There are fun ways to do this without spending more than you can afford.
(Sidenote: our family is also very willing to buy things off Addy's Amazon and Etsy wishlists. It helps tremendously because her new items are things she actually needs, are developmentally appropriate, and overall are things we're happy to bring into our home. I highly recommend making wishlists for yourself and your kids as well!)
Toys and books. They're all over the house. And honestly, that's the way we like it. Addy lives here too, so our home should meet her needs. It helps keep her entertained when our attention isn't focused on her. It gives us more options to play with, since parents get tired of the same toys too. We keep toys in the living room, her bedroom, the kitchen, and the playroom upstairs. (There's also a handful in her diaper bag and the car at all times.)
All of her toys have a spot. We're not talking a spot where we dump everything in a basket, but a designated shelf for each toy. This limits the number of toys in one area, it helps Addy see what she has available to her, and it helps us when it's time to clean up. Here are her shelves:
I keep a variety of toys on each shelf. Stacking toys, blocks, puzzles, animals, books. etc. This gives her different options depending on what she feels like doing at the moment.
Every two weeks I gather ALL the toys in the living room. I grab all the toys from her shelves, as well as the boxes of toys I keep in a storage closet. Then, I rotate. I switch toys out from storage with the toys she had out to play with. Sometimes I just move a toy/activity from one area to another. I choose one item per shelf (upstairs gets 7 plus a book stack, the living room gets 3 plus a book stack, her bedroom gets 3 or 4).
Here's the why.
Toys that aren't in rotation end up being stored in clear boxes, grouped in similar categories (as much as I can). Early on I tried having each box hold an assortment of items from each category, so the entire box could go on a shelf together, but it didn't feel right to me. You have to do what works best for YOU and your home.
Toy rotation has made our home tidier, less cluttered, and more peaceful. Addy is grasping the concept of putting things back (because that proves that she's just the smartest baby in the whole world, of course). It's far from perfect- some toys still end up scattered without a home- but we're always striving for improvement, not perfection.
March has always been an unpredictable month, especially with the unpredictable weather we tend to have around here. Maybe schools will close because of massive amounts of rain the last day of February (hey there 2021). Maybe we'll get 6 inches of snow. Could be some tornadoes. Maybe it'll be close to 70 degrees most of the month. Kentucky weather is WILD. We dress for 30 degrees in the morning and by 3 pm we're stripping down to the bare minimum.
March has also come with surprises the last few years. Two years ago on March 13th we found out I was pregnant. Last March 13th the COVID shutdown began. I'm anxious to see what this March 13th brings.
This month is guaranteed to come with a couple of thrilling items: Daylight Savings time (helloooo sunshine!) and the first day of spring! With spring comes with the thought of spring cleaning. This gorgeous sunshine is even better than caffeine in motivating you to get the house cleaned out. Assuming basic household cleaning is taken care of, check out this list to get your spring cleaning done!
OPEN YOUR WINDOWS.
Before you start anywhere else, start opening your home's windows!
According to the EPA, "Americans, on average, spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors, where the concentrations of some pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than typical outdoor concentrations."
Did you catch that?? This is even in urban areas where we'd be concerned about smoke, smog, or car exhaust. Most of us have spent all winter with our windows up because nobody wants to let the cold air in. Even opening your windows for just 5 minutes a day can have a positive impact on the air quality in your home. If it's a beautiful, temperate day outside, crack those windows for hours! Air out as many rooms as you can: bedrooms, living spaces, bathrooms, and the kitchen.
I'll talk more about keeping pollutants out of your home later, but this is an important first step in your spring cleaning!
I'm not going to lie, the mass amount of all of this can feel terrifying, especially if cleaning isn't your thing. Before having a child I would have joyfully burnt through it all in a few weeks. Now, with a toddler running wild, there's precious few free hours. Tasks get accomplished while she sleeps, or when it's something we can do together.
The good news is that it really doesn't all have to be done in the spring. Spring is just a great time to remember that it's time to refresh everything. If you feel like you might drown in the midst of all of this, do what I do. Organize the big tasks on Google Keep by month. I know that in November we clean the dryer vents, and in April we test the garage door auto-reverse feature. I'll talk more about these lists and routines later, but they keep life from feeling so overwhelming with the amount of work it takes to maintain a home. Spread all of this out over the next few months if you need. After all, spring is three months long!
Use your fresh air, sunshine induced euphoria to get the house in tip-top shape this spring, and get ready to feel refreshed. Follow the tutorials linked, along with the printable checklist, to make sure you've got everything done and you're ready to relax this summer.