Update: My 40 before 40

I wanted to revisit and see what progress, if any, I’d made on this list nearly a year later. Turns out I’ve made some progress! To keep pace, I’d need to mark off 10 items, but I only managed 7. However, I did make progress on a few others. Hopefully I’ll be able to out-pace the 10 this year!

  1. Run a 5k (despite not liking to run) – I walked one, but didn’t run it, so that doesn’t count.
  2. Lower my blood pressure – it is lower, but still prehypertensive, so there is still progress left to make
  3. Cook/Bake at least half of the recipes I have pinned on Pinterest (time is actually working against me here – I pin three in the time it takes me to get around to trying one)
  4. Save at least 1/3 of the money for our trip in 2021 (RTW, here we come!)
  5. Go skiing down an actual, snowy hill
  6. Take a landscape/travel photo that I am proud to enlarge and hang in my downstairs
  7. Finish our bedroom: paint and put up nice curtains
  8. Read more than 10 books in one year (dear lord, this one makes me so sad – I feel like it should say “100″ to be a challenge, but alas, this is where I am right now in my life) - thank you book club!
  9. Make scrap books of the kids’ art and photos from preschool (1 each?)
  10. Ride my bike up the hill (Country Trail)
  11. Go camping (tent) with the kids – multiple times – our new default vacation!
  12. Paint the kids’ bathroom and frame the mirror
  13. Wear a two-piece swimsuit in public and not be mortified
  14. Find a pillow I actually like, then buy a spare one for when it wears out
  15. Organize the linen closet so that it is possible to find and extract exactly what is desired without avalanches and/or cussing
  16. Hang a real window treatment in our bathroom
  17. Deal with the “sad garden” in the backyard and make it pretty again
  18. Make my own vanilla extract instead of buying it
  19. Yardsale/CraigsList/Consign/eBay/Donate the baby items in the garage and the unused “stuff” in the bonus room closet
  20. Visit Savannah, GA
  21. Plant those evergreens we planned to put in the back yard (all 3 of ‘em)
  22. Throw a birthday party (for my kid) in my own home
  23. Return to yoga and be able to do a headstand
  24. Roll-over my old 401k into an IRA and add to the balance
  25. Paint the porch pole and put up our house numbers
  26. Take the kids to DC to visit the awesome museums there
  27. Keep a houseplant alive for more than 6 months (better get going!)
  28. Set up chores for the kids and get us all to stick to them
  29. Put up crown moldings or wainscoting in one room where we planned to
  30. Go on a mom and daughter overnight
  31. Go on a mom and son overnight
  32. Volunteer at the kids’ schools/in their classrooms
  33. Volunteer, give back, spread kindness in some capacity (outside of my kids’ schools/classrooms)
  34. Sell something I made – a creative/artistic something
  35. Practice patience – improve
  36. Reduce my “plugged in” time to <15 hours a week (not including work)
  37. Go to the Outer Banks again
  38. Resolve the no-sidewalk issue in front of the house
  39. Try a food I’ve never tried
  40. Plan a fantastic 40th Birthday day to remember!
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Long time, no post

I haven’t stopped crafting or writing, but I have stepped away from this blog for the time being. For now, I’m focusing on family, health, and home. If you want to keep up with me, you can head over to http://rtw2021.wordpress.com/

Not sure if or when I will return. I hope to free up time and devote some of it to creativity once I reach some of my personal goals. Perhaps then, I’ll write some more here. Thanks for reading!

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Gifting Game

My husband and I have tried all kinds of gift exchanging ideas. Just one gift each. Just stockings. A cap on spending. Spend under $25 and still get fun things. And we’ve had years without “rules” – this was before getting married – in the beginning – when no gift had already been “done too many times” (sweaters, scarves) and we had wish-list stuff (now, there isn’t a whole lot on my wish list that is buy-able -health, happiness, reduced stress- other than the “fantasy” items – fabulous travel, a housekeeper to manage the mess, you know, the typical mom fantasy stuff). And we did years where we didn’t bother with gifts for each other.

In fact, those no-gift years were what led us to the Gifting Game. We were trying to be realistic, since we had nothing much we truly wanted (we are so grateful to have nothing we need or want so much) and we would rather save for a vacation or something else. But as we weathered a rocky patch, we realized that little things, like caring enough to buy something thoughtful at Christmas, did matter to us. So, after really talking about it, we realized that we needed a new plan.:

1. The under $25 game didn’t work – we ended up with piles of little junky bits we are likely to pass-up or stuff  we’d buy anyway if we had wanted it. Maybe we just both stink at this game, but it is the way it went for years.

2. If we want slippers or scarves or gloves or underwear or a sweater or… we really are not interested in what the other picks out – we like what we like and we’re not very good at finding what the other one would like. Also, these are boring gifts for us… when you’ve received your 12th pair of Dearfoam slippers in 15 years, it really just doesn’t feel like a lot of thought went into it (this was a go-to gift for both of us to the other – yes we’re really that dull and unimaginative).

3. Spending caps are good. We always knew this and we’ve never broken the caps set by any serious amount, but we really both like them so that we can be sure we’re not over (or under) and we can be sure we can do our usual pay-off-the-whole-credit-card-bill in January, just like every other month.

4. Fear of moving beyond the (dearfoam) box: We both felt it was hard to find something creative and different we thought the other would want. We both had felt some disappointment in the past when we thought we’d gotten the other a great gift, only to realize they didn’t really enjoy it (as in, never used it). We felt like we didn’t want to waste money on something we weren’t 100% sure the other would want, so we stuck to the dull (slippers) and neither one of us felt particularly great about the giving or receiving.

So, last year we started our Gifting Game. We set a limit of $100 to spend on the other (you can pick a cap that works for you). We then choose 3 to 4 categories. Last year they were “red,” “wood,” “travel,” and “1998.” We purposely left it very open for interpretation. It was way more fun to shop and see how we could connect our themes to our items. It was also fun on Christmas to open the gifts we got and find out the connections. We both bought things that were more interesting than in years past. I gave my husband a red picture frame with our kids’ photos in it for his work space, a very nice bottle of “double wood” whiskey, and a basket of food items to make Thai and Chinese meals topped with a print-out of all sorts of things we did in 1998 (which included an amazing trip to Hong Kong and Thailand, hence the food choice) and a travel book (off-the-beaten-path destinations) and a monogrammed leather luggage tag. I received a travel pouch for my camera strap, a red journal with pencils (paper is made from wood, as are pencils), and a handbag from a company that was founded in 1998.

We’re looking forward to doing this again this year, as we were surprised at the fun we had and also that we’re excited about Christmas shopping again. Some friends thought the Gifting Game sounded like fun, too, and are doing similar with their spouses this year, so I thought I’d share the idea with you.

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Our Advent Calendar

We have done an advent calendar for the past three years with the kids. We have one of those little wooden houses with 25 doors and windows that open, which we picked up one year after Christmas in the huge discount sales. Nothing, other than a note, fits in those little spaces… not even Hershey’s Kisses. Which is kind of OK with me because we don’t like to do candy every night.

I’ve seen a lot of suggestions for non-candy advent calendar items. Since this is going to be our fourth year with our calendar, I’ve got some that have worked well for us and that we plan on doing this year. We put notes in there and let the kids open and find out what it says. We draw pictures so non-readers can get in on the excitement. Here goes:

  1. Hot cocoa (and/or popcorn) and a movie (we’ve done the animated Grinch with good success)
  2. Ornaments (I usually buy a few in the sale the year before and then I have them set aside, that way they can hang them on the tree that night)
  3. Christmas crafts (think clothespin reindeer, salt dough (or these “better than salt dough”), or even something the kids can make to give away, like handprint ornaments)
  4. Coloring page or printable (if there is a theme I want with coloring pages, I usually just google “free Christmas coloring page”)
  5. Stickers (usually I buy just one sheet/book of stickers and cut them up so I get several days worth out of it)
  6. Outing to look at Christmas lights (pile in the car, play seasonal music, spot lights =  awesome fun!)
  7. Books – you just can’t go wrong with books!
  8. Face paints – admittedly this may be aimed at the younger ones. Invest in a palate of face paints (I got mine for less than $20 on Amazon and they’ve lasted for more than a year, with tons of faces painted) and treat the kids to a snowman on their cheek. Poinsettia, snowflakes, Christmas trees, wreaths, gifts, and so on are all fairly easy to draw.
  9. Special events (we do a local “Santa Train” each year and it becomes our advent event for the day)
  10. Donate to Toys for Tots (or another charity) – depending on the rules for charities, have  your kid pick out something from their own toy box to donate or take them shopping to choose something for donating
  11. Baking cookies (most kids love baking, plus it’s a sneaky teaching moment with all that math and following instructions and so on).
  12. Christmas photos (dress up or don’t, but snap some pics of the kids by the tree or in the snow or take them to see Santa or popping out of a wrapped box – whatever strikes your fancy – use them for ornament crafts, Christmas or New Year cards, frame them in fun frames to decorate your kids’ rooms).
  13. Decorate your kids’ rooms – we don’t generally decorate in their bedrooms because they’d just pull it all down, but letting them have a few decorations they can play with (or hung up high enough that they can’t reach them) can make their space feel so special.
  14. Go caroling – if you don’t want to carol around your neighborhood, how about friends and family? Or you could go to a hospital or home for the aging (call ahead to make arrangements). Another option is to Skype carol if your family isn’t nearby. Dress up, where fun hats and spread Christmas cheer by “singing loud for all to hear!”
  15. Nature walk crafts: winter walk findings can make excellent decorations. Pine cones, leaves, branches (bare or pine), and lots of other wintery items are great for centerpieces, wreaths, or on their own. You can leave them natural or spray them silver or gold, or add sparkle with glue and glitter.
  16. Make this a “Spread Cheer” day – challenge yourselves to spread cheer. Pay a toll for the car behind you. Take donations to local shelters (blankets and food or even towels and milk bones to an animal shelter – check in advance). Simply hand out candy canes or other small tokens to people you pass with a smile and a message of “Peace on Earth” or “Joy to the World” attached.
  17. Decorate outdoors – even though we’re going to do this anyway, our kids find this so exciting, and this is a way to make it even more festive. Don’t forget music while you’re working and hot cocoa for when you come inside.
  18. Put up the tree – again, we’ll do this anyway, but why not make it the fun countdown to Christmas event for the day? Music and maybe a few cookies or treats can make the whole process even more fun.
  19. Wrap or make the teacher gifts. We love making our own gifts for teachers. Last year we made scent jars. These are so easy for kids to help you make. The grown up can cut up the fruit and lay out the fruit slices, herbs, and spices and let the kids help you drop them into jars. They can draw cards, too. My kids are thrilled that they were a part of making the gifts.
  20. Christmas around the world – learn how to say “Merry Christmas” and maybe even learn a song in another language. Learn about (and try!) traditions in your chosen country. Get a special treat from that country or make a dinner that incorporates the cuisine of the country. The more you can dive in, the more fun it is! The internet makes the world so much closer!
  21. Make bird feed decorations to decorate the trees in your yard. Make friends with your local outdoor creatures. I love this project!
  22. Write a letter to Santa. Little ones can tell you what to write. If you want, you can have Santa write back, too. There are templates (“from the desk of Santa” letterhead, like this one) online to make sending the letter even more exciting.
  23. Throw a party! Sure, you can definitely invite friends over… or you can just have a family party (especially if your kids are still young). Dress up or dress silly (think ugly sweater party). Set the mood with festive music. Play games. Sip punch (pineapple juice + lemon/lime soda + maraschino cherry juice, for example). Or make this a cookie-exchange party and include your kids!
  24. On Christmas Eve, we like to give a new pair of pajamas. Our kids are young still, and PJs generally don’t fit from one year to the next. Since many of our Christmas morning photos end up taken while still sporting our sleepwear, we like to get some nice ones, especially ones that coordinate. The kids will wear them all winter, so it’s not as silly as it might first seem.

Idea: You can have your entire set of 25 “events” printed out but not stuff the entire calendar ahead of time – this way it prevents peeking ahead, plus you can play it by ear and pick good days to do each of the items (a day when it’s raining might be a good one for doing a craft or watching a movie, but not such a great night for going to look at lights, for example).

Idea: Wrap some of the items (e.g., books and ornaments) and put them in container and let them pick one to unwrap.

Idea: If you know your family will love just a few of these, repeat them (watch several different movies in the run-up to Christmas, make a bunch of craft days, do Christmas around the world for several countries, get a handful of books to read, print out tons of coloring pages) – whatever works!

And now, since it’s already the ninth, and several weeks since I drafted this and I still haven’t posted it, I’ll let you know what we have already done this year:

  1. Put up and decorate the tree
  2. Go to Meadow Lights (which is a lights display place with some other fun stuff to do near where we live)
  3. Coloring: I got a pack of 4 color-in place mats from the Target dollar spot
  4. Baking: magic cookie bars
  5. Disney on Ice: we scored half-price tix on opening night and took our own glow sticks for the kids
  6. Movie night! “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (animated)
  7. Painting: We painted some Target dollar spot ‘paint with water’ pictures (penguins and reindeer)
  8. Baking: Tollhouse cookies (we froze most of the dough to bake when our guests come closer to Christmas, but we had to try a few to make sure they were good, of course!)
  9. Movie night! “Mickey Mouse’s Christmas Carol”

We’re having a blast and making memories!

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My 40 before 40

Not much fluff for this post:

  1. Run a 5k (despite not liking to run)
  2. Lower my blood pressure
  3. Cook/Bake at least half of the recipes I have pinned on Pinterest (time is actually working against me here – I pin three in the time it takes me to get around to trying one)
  4. Save at least 1/3 of the money for our trip in 2021 (RTW, here we come!)
  5. Go skiing down an actual, snowy hill
  6. Take a landscape/travel photo that I am proud to enlarge and hang in my downstairs
  7. Finish our bedroom: paint and put up nice curtains
  8. Read more than 10 books in one year (dear lord, this one makes me so sad – I feel like it should say “100” to be a challenge, but alas, this is where I am right now in my life)
  9. Make scrap books of the kids’ art and photos from preschool (1 each?)
  10. Ride my bike up the hill (Country Trail)
  11. Go camping (tent) with the kids
  12. Paint the kids’ bathroom and frame the mirror
  13. Wear a two-piece swimsuit in public and not be mortified
  14. Find a pillow I actually like, then buy a spare one for when it wears out
  15. Organize the linen closet so that it is possible to find and extract exactly what is desired without avalanches and/or cussing
  16. Hang a real window treatment in our bathroom
  17. Deal with the “sad garden” in the backyard and make it pretty again
  18. Make my own vanilla extract instead of buying it
  19. Yardsale/CraigsList/Consign/eBay/Donate the baby items in the garage and the unused “stuff” in the bonus room closet
  20. Visit Savannah, GA
  21. Plant those evergreens we planned to put in the back yard (all 3 of ‘em)
  22. Throw a birthday party (for my kid) in my own home
  23. Return to yoga and be able to do a headstand
  24. Roll-over my old 401k into an IRA and add to the balance
  25. Paint the porch pole and put up our house numbers
  26. Take the kids to DC to visit the awesome museums there
  27. Keep a houseplant alive for more than 6 months (better get going!)
  28. Set up chores for the kids and get us all to stick to them
  29. Put up crown moldings or wainscoting in one room where we planned to
  30. Go on a mom and daughter overnight
  31. Go on a mom and son overnight
  32. Volunteer at the kids’ schools/in their classrooms
  33. Volunteer, give back, spread kindness in some capacity (outside of my kids’ schools/classrooms)
  34. Sell something I made – a creative/artistic something
  35. Practice patience – improve
  36. Reduce my “plugged in” time to <15 hours a week (not including work)
  37. Go to the Outer Banks again
  38. Resolve the no-sidewalk issue in front of the house
  39. Try a food I’ve never tried
  40. Plan a fantastic 40th Birthday day to remember!
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Meal Planning that Works (for me)! Part three: A week of meals!

This is the third and final post in my Meal Planning that Works series.

If you missed either of the first two you can see them by going here for the first one (the intro) and here for the second one (the how-to).

So, here it is – the example meal plan. This is a week I’ve recently done (as in shopped for, cooked for my family, and ate). With the exception of one recipe, which is my adaptation of a favorite from a cookbook, these are all recipes that I “just cook” – an amalgamation of random recipes I’ve read or seen on TV and my own tweaks. I don’t generally refer to a recipe when making these dishes, but rather, I just cook, and I make adjustments on the fly. They are almost never the same twice. Writing down the “recipe” is an interesting process for me, as I don’t really think in terms of measurements when making these dishes. I hope you feel free to riff on these recipes and make them your own, too!

MamaNut Meal Planning that Works - Menu

MamaNut Meal Planning that Works – Menu

As mentioned in the “how-to” post, I recommend getting a three-ring binder and some clear protector sheets, printing out the menu, recipes, and shopping list, and sliding them into the protector sheets. If you want, make several copies of the shopping list to keep in the binder for future weeks when you would like to use this week again (or just print them as needed).

Click below to download the Menu, Shopping list, and Recipes:
MamaNut Meal Planning that Works

Thank you for visiting! And don’t forget – you can follow or subscribe to my blog to get updates when I publish new posts.

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Meal Planning that Works (for me)! Part two: How to meal plan.

Here’s the second post in my Meal Planning that Works series. This one describes my method of meal planning. You can use it and customize your meal plans completely for your family.

If you missed the first post, you can click here to read the background on how I came to land on this type of meal planning.

Once you have this methodology, you’ll have the tools to go to town and meal plan your heart out, if it seems like something that would work for you. Truly, it’s not nearly as much work as my original venture into (extreme) meal planning! It’s not so bad once you’ve got a few weeks planned, and you’re used to doing – getting started was definitely the hardest part for me!

Here’s what I do:

1. Gather recipes. My trial and error has found that gathering between 16 and 24 main-dish recipes is about right – I do four weeks of planning at once. Fewer dishes and you don’t get the benefit of getting things done for several weeks in one go; more and you end up overwhelmed (and it takes too long). I make sure my recipes fit into one of three categories and annotate them as such. These categories are “slow cooker (SC),” “make ahead (MA),” and “Quickes (Q).” The make ahead items are not really make ahead – they are items I can freeze one of – things like lasagna fit into this category. Quickies are meals that are quick – spaghetti with jar sauce, scrambled eggs with fruit and toast, grill cheese with (store-bought) tomato soup – you get the picture. Slow cooker – um, stuff I can make in the slow cooker/crock pot – I didn’t need to explain that, did I? Now, if something doesn’t fit into any of the categories, I call it Make Ahead and move on. I just won’t be making any of it ahead (and I’ll probably have to plan to spend more time in the kitchen that day).

2. Split recipes into groups. I group kind of like a cookbook: chicken, beef, fish/seafood, pork, vegetarian. If I’ve got sides or desserts or appetizers (that’s one I’ve yet to undertake, but that shouldn’t hold you back!), I group them as “sides” or “desserts” and so on – you get the idea.

3. Create Menus. Now I start working through the list. I usually have four weeks that I’m trying to plan. I make four columns. I usually work in excel (but paper and pencil works just fine – the advantage of excel is that I reprint my grocery lists when I make those). I usually start by assigning chicken dishes across weeks – one in week one, one in week two, one in week three, etc. Then I move through the items with the idea that I don’t want 3 beef dishes in one week and then 3 fish dishes in the next one. I also try to spread the types of meals into each week evenly, so a couple slow cooker meals, a couple quickes, and a make ahead, maybe. Then I add sides to dishes that need them. Many meals don’t need them – slow cooker meals are often an “all in one” dish. Some just need something simple, like a salad.  I make weeks with 4 to 6 dinners planned (more on why 4 to 6 later).

4. Recipe cards. This is the most time-consuming part of the process, but I find that if I simply write down where I can find the recipe, that’s enough to make me less likely to follow through on the day and actually make it. So, I put each recipe right in a binder with the menu. If you have a scanner or copier at your disposal or if you get your recipes online, scan, copy or print them, by all means! I usually just type them out (then I can tweak them when I want to). I put them into a three ring binder with the menu in front for the week, and then the recipes (I find all 4-6 can fit on one page front and back most times). I also suggest using those clear sheet protectors for every page. Then you don’t have to worry while you’re cooking about splashes and so on. Also, you can make a few copies of the the shopping list and slide it in the pocket with the menu. That way you can re-use your week again in a few months with ZERO prep work.

5. Shopping lists. I then use the recipes’ ingredients sections to make a shopping list. My shopping lists are done by section in the grocery store, so it’s easy to shop and get in and out of the store more quickly. With the exception of olive oil, salt and pepper (which I always keep on hand), I list everything I need for a recipe, down to that 1/4 c. butter and the 1/2 tsp cumin. Nothing is more frustrating than getting to the point where you’ve put everything together and you find out you’re out of the chili powder you need for your chili!

So all that is all the prep work stage. It might seem like a lot, but since you can reuse your weeks that you create over an over without ever doing more prep work (just grab your shopping list and go), it’s not so bad!

When it’s time to get rolling here’s what I do:

6. Shop at home. I grab my shopping list for whichever week I want to use and start looking in my pantry, cabinets, fridge, and freezer to see if I have any of the listed ingredients on hand and cross them off (or reduce the # needed).

7. Shop at the store. This is pretty self-explanatory, no?

8. Choose which meals to make each day (I do this semi-on-the-fly). I know I want a slow cooker meal for Thursdays, when we have dance classes and get home at 6pm – having that meal ready to dish up is beyond fantastic. Other than that, I just pick which items fit which days in my week best.

9. Cook!

So there it is. This looks so long and drawn out, but it’s not really. Really!

Now, I mentioned I’d say more about the 4 to 6 meals per week, right? Well, here’s why it varies: some weeks are “stock-up” weeks and some are “evensies” and some are “use-up” weeks. What I do is build into this planning some freezer meals. Slow cooker meals? I double down just about every time. Make ahead meals? Double down! What I mean is, I prep two meals at once and freeze one and we have the other one for dinner. So, a slow cooker chili means I’ll brown twice as much ground beef, split it between the crock pot and a ziploc. Every thing I add to the crock pot, I add the same to the ziploc. When I’m done, I label the ziploc with “Chili con Carne” and the date I made it, any additional ingredients needed (e.g., “1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro – add before serving”), and how to cook (e.g., “SC – 8 hrs low”). It goes into the freezer (as flat as I can spread it and with as little air left in the bag as possible. AND I write in on my dry-erase freezer inventory sheet (name, date, SC). Make aheads – same thing. So, when I make my shopping lists I also include twice as many ingredients for each of these bad boys.

On a week with six meals, I am likely to double-down and freeze between 1 and 3 meals. The seventh day? Well, you could do left-overs, but we usually have one day when take-out or going out just seems to be what works best (but now we ENJOY it, since it’s only once a week). A week with five meals is likely to be an “evensies” week – it’s planned that I will use up one of the freezer meals I have already put away (whichever one I feel like) and I will likely only freeze one (maybe two). A four day week is a “use up” week. The plan is to use two freezer meals that week. I probably wouldn’t freeze any… maybe one, in a week like that. Just remember to check if there are any needed ingredients or sides to add to the shopping list for the freezer meals you’ll be using.

So far, I’ve been doing mostly my six day plans, since I’m stocking up at this point in the cycle, but soon I’ll have to switch to 5 day or 4 day plans, because the freezer will be too full!

TIPS:

Special Weeks: I have already started making “special” weeks and you can, too. I like some weeks to have a theme. One great idea is making an entire week (or 4) of “fall” or “spring” or whatever season recipes, using things that are abundant during the season (so apples, squash, and so on in fall, for example). This is not only yummy, but economical and generally good practice!

Quickie meals: these are ones you already rely on – ones you probably don’t need a recipe for – include them each week. They’ll give you at least a couple nights where you feel completely easy in the kitchen. In addition to spaghetti, grill cheese, and eggs, I’ve got quesadillas, carbonara, macaroni and cheese, pancakes with fruit, and western omelets as some of my quickies. You pick the meals you turn to in a pinch. It’s nice to have them for an evening when that baked ziti make-ahead you original intended to put together no longer feels do-able and you can just make your ziti the next day!

Special dietary needs: This method works great for special diets. I used a low-glycemic cook book and filled four weeks quickly and easily. You’re vegetarian? This method can work. You need gluten free? You can do this! You’re picking the recipes, so you put the ones you like in the plan.

Busy times: You can stock up for busy and stressful times. For us, October is always nuts. This year is no different. The calendar is already insane. So, I spent September stocking our freezer with make-ahead meals and slow-cooker prepped freezer bags. It is exactly what we needed to be doing! Now, I can pick the easier 4-day week menus and rely more on things that just need to be dumped into the crock pot or thawed and thrown in the oven. Phew! This is working like a charm! I feel less flipped out about October already… well, a little less flipped out! I plan on stocking up through November for the crazy crunch-time before the holidays, too.

Freezer meal bonus: You have pre-made meals on hand for when you need them for someone else. Like, when you find out someone you know is having surgery or is having a rough time and would appreciate an easy meal – you can just grab one to take to them.

Not just for dinner: You can do this with cookies, cakes, breads, biscuits, too. For example, we scoop individual cookie balls (with a cookie scoop) and flash freeze them on a sheet pan, then put them in a ziploc and we have bake-when-you-want cookies (way cheaper and so much better than the store bought kind) – especially wonderful during the holiday season. You can bake straight from frozen – just add 2-4 minutes to the original time in the recipe. AND all your cookies will be baked fresh – no worries about making them three weeks ahead of time and trying to keep them tasty. We’ve done this for a few years now and it is FANTASTIC!

Pinterest fan?: I am! And I’ve found this is an EXCELLENT way to incorporate all those recipes I pinned. Just be prepared to tweak a week if one of the recipes isn’t as delectable as it appeared to be when you pinned it! So far, I have had great success with my pinned recipes.

Once and done: Once your binder has a number of weeks in it, you don’t need to meal plan any more, just pick a week and go with it. Doesn’t get much easier!

Originally, I had thought I couldn’t share a plan with you since almost all of my recipes are from books and such. It seemed awfully wrong to reprint them verbatim, um, ‘cuz it is wrong. BUT, I decided to go ahead and plan a week I could share!

So, the third and final post in this series is coming later this week and it is a ONE WEEK MEAL PLAN! Menu, recipes, and a shopping list already prepared for you! Stay tuned!

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