Archive for the ‘Time Management’ Category

5 Natural Ways To Stop Anxiety Quickly

Friday, August 4th, 2017

5 Natural Anxiety Remedies

Do you struggle with anxiety? When we met with the specialist to talk about my diagnosis, she asked me this very question. Embarrassed, I responded that I did.  She quickly assured me not to be ashamed of my anxiety because it is often a symptom that goes along with all my other health issues.

Anytime there are big changes in my routine, it often sends my anxiety into a tailspin. Big things like discovering you have a connective tissue disease definitely sent me spiraling. Little things though, like the start of each school year and doing allthethings, can also send me down the tunnels of anxiety.

An admitted perfectionist and people pleaser with anxiety?

Yep, it is often the reason why I suffer from sleepless nights and stomach aches.

This year I have really been working on my responses to things and have been finding natural remedies to curb my anxiety symptoms. I wanted to share them with you today because they have helped me so much.  Here are 5 things I’ve discovered can stop my anxiety quickly.

mark-twain-quote

Working through the “then what” scenario

I shared that this year I decided to see a counselor to help me get my life back on track. We talked about changing some of my routines and habits to reduce stress and help me be more productive at my job. As a people pleaser, I find it difficult to let people down in my life. He worked with me on talking through these situations and now I use this trick when talking myself through tricky conversations or scenarios I might be faced with.

For example, my body’s new limitations made working and lifting food at our food pantry hard to do. Instead of admitting that it wasn’t a good fit for me, I continued to do it and flare up an elbow issue that I had. I told my counselor how it was causing strain, but I worried that I would let the director down.

Him- Why can’t you tell her that you can’t work the food pantry?

Me- I made a commitment and I know that there aren’t a lot of people to help. I love doing it, but it is causing pain.

Him- What do you think she would say if you told her that you couldn’t work the food pantry?

Me- Well, she will probably be very disappointed in me. She will think I’m a flake. I told her I was going to do something and then I didn’t do it.

Him- Do you think she will be angry?

Me- I don’t know.

Him- What if someone told you that they had an injury and couldn’t do a job for you?  What do you think you would say?

Me- I would be disappointed that I didn’t have help.

Him- Then what?

Me- I would tell them I’m sorry they are hurting and I understand.

Him- Then what?

Me- I would probably find someone else to help.

My initial reaction is everyone will be angry with me if I change a routine or have to bail on a commitment, but a lot of times these scenarios never happen. Of course, as soon as I told her that I couldn’t do it because I had an elbow issue and was starting physical therapy she told me she would miss me, but COMPLETELY UNDERSTOOD. She graciously said she would be happy to have me back whenever I felt better.

Really?

It was NO BIG DEAL.

Working through the then what, then what, then what helps me guess what might happen and put away irrational fears about situations in my life, but it also helps me prepare a response ahead of time for the changes I make that are healthy for me. You can’t plan for everything, of course, but it has helped tremendously.

The stop sign trick

Joanna Goddard, from Cup of Jo, shared a really great trick that she learned from her therapist that helped her with anxiety. Her therapist told her that when her spiraling thoughts started that she should start visualizing a stop sign.

A small switch that is completely free?

Sign me up!

This week, for example, as we prepare for the new school year, my anxiety really starts to ramp up. I will lay awake thinking about the physicals I forgot to schedule, the new bus schedule, the school supplies we haven’t bought, the uniforms…. Once the floodgates are opened, the anxiety of the upcoming year starts pouring out.

Now I have started to use this tip once my mind starts going and it does, truly, help interrupt the anxiety routine.

I didn’t get the school supplies… STOP SIGN

I forgot to schedule physicals… STOP SIGN

I…STOP SIGN.

The 7-second rule

One element of my anxiety is saying the wrong thing in social situations. I will be having a great day with friends just talking and enjoying each other’s company- all in all, a perfect day. On the drive home though, my mind starts thinking again about EVERYTHING I said. Did I say too much? Was that wrong of me to say? What if their feelings were hurt? Why did I share that?

It goes on and on.

I read about the 7-second rule though and I have started to apply it to my life. I’m generally (*ahem*) good people and I try really hard to say the right things. I would never intentionally hurt someone with my words and the things that I typically worry about, I’m pretty sure no one else is replaying over and over again in THEIR mind.

Only allowing myself 7-seconds to replay things has changed this routine of replaying the night over and over and over again in my head to a mere few seconds. I also try to extend the same grace to other people and even share the tip with them when they apologize to me for something they have worried about. Seriously, 7-seconds and moving on.

Stop looking for it

I have a BAD habit of looking for things to become anxious about- do you do this too?

For example, I had a terrible nighttime routine of checking Instagram and Facebook right before I would go to sleep. I would, essentially, look for things to be anxious about and then try to go to bed. Social media, for me, has ALWAYS been a trigger, but it is also a necessary part of my work.

Yet, let’s be honest,  it is not a necessary part of my work to start scrolling at 10PM.

Now I turn off all social media in the evenings and keep normal “business hours” with my time. I also don’t go hunting for things to be upset about (another REALLY bad habit) on my feeds. In the morning, I seem to have the ability to distance myself more from things that cause me anxiety and I can apply that ol’ stop sign rule when my thoughts start spiraling.

Peace Over Worry

Get involved in an anxiety interrupter

I am sure you have heard that yoga is helpful for anxiety, but it isn’t necessarily the movement that helps my anxiety. It is the fact that it is a mind interrupter.

When doing yoga, the instructor is guiding us through movement with directions and oftentimes isn’t demonstrating the movement. I have to think really hard to stay with the flow of the class and remember one pose to the next. I become so focused on moving through poses that I can’t let my mind spiral.

Anxiety interruption also happens when I go to dance class because I’m so focused on following the movement that my brain doesn’t have time to think about anything else. When all my brain cells are dedicated to one thing, there are no brain cells to contribute to my irrational worries.

I have been looking more for healthy anxiety interrupters like this in my life. Walks with husband around the neighborhood, a good book, podcasts, volunteering, a documentary, doing things (and being present) with my kids are all good examples of good things that have helped interrupt my anxiety routine.

Of course, do not be afraid to talk to your physician or a therapist about your anxiety. You don’t have to suffer alone!

Natural Products/Services That Also Help My Anxiety

Calm Now Supplement (I take this in the afternoon)

Natural Calm The Anti-Stress Drink (great bedtime routine)

L-Theanine (I used this with great success before taking the Calm Now supplement)

Calm Meditation App (the sleep stories really help me in the evenings)

Epsom Salts (I buy them in bulk) with 5 drops of lavender oil for a nighttime bath

Sleepytime Extra Tea

Kill News Feed Plugin

Facebook Unseen

What YOU Say Helps

T. says, “I read somewhere when in the middle of an anxiety/panic attack is to tell yourself I can anything for 10 minutes. It’s what got me through a 6 hour drive just hours after we were involved in a car accident that totaled my car.”

J. says, “I  was on medication for anxiety/depression for years and found that while it helped the anxiety, it was affecting other areas of my life so I went off them and started looking for natural options.

I do a lot of the things you talked about in your article, especially the interrupter. I use exercise, and I was thinking that it was the exercise itself that was helpful, but I think it is also the interrupter. I often do a workout on my lunch break at work and it really helps me to shut off the stress of the morning and get back to a more neutral head space.

I am also a creature of routine and habits, which is great for organization and generally keeps the anxiety manageable, but when things throw the routine off, it is often extremely difficult to deal with. Sometimes I get worries that play on a loop in my head, like when I’ve texted my son who is out somewhere and he doesn’t text back when I think he should and I start imagining the absolute worst and it won’t stop until he either texts back or gets home. If my husband is home, I can tell him specifically what is in my head, what the specific worry is and he helps me to break it down and either get rid of it or at least lessen the anxiety a bit.”

H. says,“I replay my conversations or what I post in my head all of the time, like you! When my anxiety gets out of control I have meds, but one time I didn’t have any on me and I was having a panic attack and luckily my husband happened to be with me and he told me to get outside with him and go for a walk. That interrupter (like the yoga you mentioned) really calmed me and stopped the attack from happening. Interrupters are really good for me. I found that coloring in the adult coloring books helps a lot too. I really try and go more natural unless it gets to a point where I can’t control it.  I also use Tulsi Tea and it helps, but it could probably be a placebo thing, but I don’t care!”

M. says,  “I have been trying to get into a routine of meditation. Just 10 minutes a morning. I have been using the app 10% Happier. I love their logical approach and the concept of ‘just begin again.’  Since I have been doing it I’ve noticed that when my mind starts racing later in the day, or even when it wakes me up at night, if I take 30 seconds and focus on my breath it really does reset my brain. I think it is the same idea as the interrupter.”

Katie says, “I take a magnesium supplement before bed that has really helped me with sleeping. Since I started taking it, for the first time in years I am able to fall asleep easily. Another thing I’ve noticed is I get significantly fewer headaches taking magnesium. In general, getting on a vitamin routine has helped in a lot of ways. For example, I found out I tested low for vitamin D and that had a correlation with my stress too. Taking omegas and B12 has helped managing moods when I’m stressed.

Another trigger for me is if I am not drinking enough water or eat meals too late. My husband is really good at letting me know that I need to eat or drink something when he can tell I’m getting stressy and it’s a nice gentle reminder to take care of my physical needs but also “check myself” on my emotional state. It works well for us because I know he is doing it out of love and not to poke at me.

I love my essential oil diffuser with lavender or other calming blends in the evening in our bedroom.

I have moved the FB and Instagram icons off the front page of my phone and put them in a separate folder on a page I have to scroll to at times to help break the habit of getting on just because I pick up my phone.”

Another J. says, “I’ve had success in managing my anxiety with various herbal tinctures and elixirs, which I always fear makes me sound all “woo-woo crazy”, but I’m so much more consistent about taking them than sipping tea. They’re fast! :) My favorites are Motherwort (<– the real workhorse of the bunch!), Borage Flower elixir (calming and mellowing), Milky Oats tincture (<– also a great one for dulling intense responses), Wild Rose Elixir (awesome for brightening mood and promoting optimism), and Skullcap tincture (my go-to for stopping racing thoughts in their tracks at bedtime.)”

A. says, “One thing that my therapist worked with me on was journaling, which I use not only as a way to get my thoughts out, but as a way to keep myself organized. When things get chaotic and disorganized I can always feel the anxiety start to ramp up.”

 

5 Natural Anxiety Remedies

If you liked this article you might enjoy my natural ways to relieve joint pain article! I’d love to hear from you some natural ways you have found to reduce anxiety in your life?

Living in the Gray

Monday, May 1st, 2017

living-in-the-gray

Last week I had another little health setback. My body has been unreliable so I often feel like I am moving two steps forward and then five steps back. One of my big pain issues stems from my elbows and if my elbows are hurting then the hand pain worsens to the point that sitting at a desk and typing hurts with each keystroke.

I couldn’t do my usual ALDI route since I needed to rest my arms so I took advantage of the groceries-to-go instead so I didn’t have to lift bags. In a total God moment, a girlfriend pulled up next to me to pick up her groceries too.

First of all, steroids are THE WORST so I was a big sobby mess when I saw her, but the conversation I had with her was the stern-I-love-you-but-this-can’t-continue conversation that I needed to hear. As a nurse, she talked me through changes that I needed to make in my life.

I needed to acknowledge that this disease is not going away and that it may be progressive.

I needed to go to physical therapy and not talk about doing it someday.

I needed to structure my workday in a way that makes sense for my body and for my business, utilizing the hours that I feel best.

I needed to save my typing hands for the important stuff and let social media be more for my business.

I needed to start finding shortcuts for work, speech recognition programs on days that are hard, an assistant for the site, and just being okay that someone else might need to help me.

I needed to make rest a priority and not push myself through pain when I shouldn’t.

She’s good, right?

The next day, I started putting in calls to get lined up with physical therapy, I put my phone on do not disturb so I could work in the daytime hours when my hands felt their best (it is a quick decline), and I made one other call…

To a counselor.

He actually suggested that I open up a bit more to you because being vulnerable is a lot more attractive sometimes than being perfect.

We shall see!

I felt like I had worked through these health issues, but I haven’t. I can’t seem to ride the wave of setbacks and chronic pain in the way I want to. I want to put this BEHIND me because I don’t even want to talk about this anymore. I don’t want to be a burden to the people that love me so, frankly, I’d rather pay this guy to listen to my whining for an hour and have a better time with the people I love.

I actually had no idea how all pent-up this was until I started hiccup-sobbing in his office before I even sat down.

There was a lot of blubbering and personal stuff, but I will try to give you a less exciting example of one thing that upset me to demonstrate what we talked about.

“I can’t even go to the (hiccup) gym because of my elbows.”

“Why not? Did you talk to your instructors and see if you could modify? Do you think they would understand if you needed to take a breather or skip the things you couldn’t do? You see things as black-and-white, but they don’t have to be that way.

Living in the gray is not something that I can naturally do. I’m a go-getter, a perfectionist, a people pleaser, a goal setter, and an overcommitter (not a word, but it should be!)

Today I started making a list of the things that I do where a gray hue could exist.

Black- I make a fantastic meal to wow my whole family.
White- We eat cereal and I feel like garbage.
Gray- I start stocking up on a few convenience food items so I have a few nights off from cooking.

Black- I manage my time really well and feel productive.
White- I don’t work and watch Netflix, stressfully doing my deadline on the day of the project due date.
Gray- I work for a few hours and then let my body rest. I can come back to it the next morning because I plan ahead.

Black- I maintain a pristine home.
White- I let it go to hell in a handbag.
Gray- I try to pick up, but hire someone to help me clean every other week.

Black- I do everything because I am the only one who does everything the right way.
White- I can’t do everything so nothing gets done. I resent all the sloths in my home.
Gray- I make a list and ask everyone to help me. It isn’t the way I do it, but I have to be okay with that. THIS ONE IS HARD!

Black- I spend my week socializing with friends and get behind on my work.
White- I spend my week working at home alone feeling isolated.
Gray- I schedule more meaningful times with friends having coffee and still manage my work.

Black- I push through my pain so I can have an incredibly productive week.
White- I don’t do anything because I’m having a bad day.
Gray- I do what I can, but I don’t push through creating another setback for my life.

Black- My body feels great and I go to the gym.
White- My body doesn’t feel good so I sit on the couch all day.
Gray- My body doesn’t feel good, but I plan walks with family and friends. I get fresh air and keep my old joints moving.

You get the idea!

Pulling back the curtains is always humbling.

It also, I hope, makes me more human.

I share this because maybe I’m not the only one with black-and-white vision.

Perhaps, there is a whole new world waiting for you too in the gray.

 

How to End the Year Well

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

From our marriage & parenting contributor, Mary Carver.

How to End the Year Well from MomAdvice.com

Last week I read an article about how to create a dumpster fire ornament, in honor of the year we’ve had. It was hilarious – and sad. I mean, yeah, I laughed, but only so I didn’t cry. Because, for a million reasons, this year has been difficult at best and devastating at worst.

I know I’m not alone in looking forward to a fresh start as we flip over the calendar.

But before we head into a new year, we still have a few days left in this one – and I’m determined to make the best of them. Rather than simply throwing up our hands in disgust or defeat, let’s take back what’s remaining of this challenging year. Let’s celebrate what actually worked or went well, and let’s give thanks for the blessings we received in the midst of hardships.

No matter how this year has treated us, I believe we can still end well. Here’s how:

1. Make a gratitude list. I know, I know, you’ve heard this one a thousand times. But there’s a reason for that: it works! No matter how bad a situation (or calendar year) might be, we always have something to be thankful for.

Are you healthy? Do you have a place to live? Is your family nearby – or far away? Do you have at least one person to love and who loves you? Did you read a good book or see a great movie? Have you created a piece of art or finished a project? Did you make it through Thanksgiving or the election cycle or a trip to the post office without coming to blows with anyone? Then you have something to be thankful for!

How to End the Year Well from MomAdvice.com

2. Look at the photographic evidence. Instead of clicking over to Facebook one more time, open up the gallery on your phone. Scroll through your own photos and take time to appreciate those goofy smiles, those messy faces, the trips to the zoo or the doctor’s office, the impromptu road trips or picnics, the selfies and the you-can’t-make-me-smile serious faces. Remember the sunset, the finish line, the delicious dessert, the colorful leaves.

Whether you’ve already printed all your photos and placed them in a lovely album or scrapbook, or they’re stacked up on your phone (and hopefully saved in the cloud), I bet you have some evidence that this year brought something lovely, something beautiful, something good.

3. Find the silver linings. I’m not sitting at a desk gazing out the window to a pastoral scene as I type this post. Nope. I’m sitting in my living room, balancing my laptop on a TV tray while my toddler sits on my lap smelling slightly of her overnight diaper and watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. And as often happens in our house, Daniel Tiger is sharing a message that is almost unnervingly relevant for our day. Daniel and his friends are singing about disappointment, and here’s the advice they have for us all: “When something seems bad, turn it around and find something good.”

Seriously, Daniel Tiger? Seriously.

You really can’t argue with that preschool wisdom. And as I’ve reflected on the last year, it really is something I’ve considered. What are the silver linings hiding on the edges of this hard season?

For me I’ve had to face how my fear of confrontation has led to unhealthy relationships and behaviors. (Which is, initially, still a bummer but ultimately a good thing to realize.) I’ve also been forced to stop waffling on some political issues as this divisive year has made it clearer than ever what my priorities and values are. And, most importantly, going through a tough season is always a catalyst for appreciation and gratitude for me, making me more thankful than ever for my family, my freedoms, and my faith. All of these silver linings come at the cost of some very dark clouds, but I am grateful for them nonetheless.

How to End the Year Well from MomAdvice.com

4. Give back – and then some. One of the most encouraging messages I’ve seen following some of this year’s troubles is a call to action. No matter where you fall on all the issues that have divided our world, every one of us can reach out to others, serve others, love others. Just like the well-known and oft-quoted advice from Gandhi suggests, rather than complaining about a dumpster fire of a season, be the change you wish to see in the world instead.

The benefit goes beyond what you give to other people, too, because not only does helping those in need combat injustices you perceive, it also helps you adjust your perspective. It gives you a bigger picture and more accurate way to gauge your own circumstances. It also gives you a sense of more control and therefore increases your overall satisfaction. Talk about win-win!

5. Don’t wait for January 1. We don’t have to start a new habit on a Monday, and we don’t have to wait for January 1 to turn over a new leaf of gratitude, compassion, and positivity. We can do that today. The world may seem like it’s spinning off its axis some days, but we are still in control of our own choices. We get to decide how we receive news, how we process situations, how we respond to circumstances. We get to choose.

Let’s make the best of the days we have, friend, no matter what the calendar says. Let’s be kind when we don’t have to, let’s be thankful even when it’s difficult, let’s look for the good and be the good. Let’s end this year well.

How to End the Year Well from MomAdvice.com

 

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DIY Car Organizing Tips (Giveaway with Big Fat Notebooks!)

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

You know that mom that always has bandages, always has a snack and drink on hand, can pull a pen out at a moment’s notice, has tissues, never forgets an umbrella, utilizes time well between running kids, and keeps a tidy car?

That’s not me.

In fact, I have been pretty embarrassed about just how bad things have gotten. No one really wanted to ride in my car including myself (insert scared face emoji).

It was on my organizing bucket list to tackle this since a good portion of my day is now spent in the car running kids from activity to activity. I spent an afternoon getting us organized for this school year and I wanted to show you how I did that.

Big Fat Notebooks Big Fat Notebooks

The inspiration came from today’s partner, The Big Fat Notebook series. If your kids love Diary of a Wimpy Kid, they will LOVE this new way of learning. When my kids were younger, they were hooked on Brain Quest, but once they hit middle school age, I felt like everything just felt like…Well, work. After a long day at school, the last thing they want to do is browse another textbook. That is why these are so genius. They look fun and teach you something in the process.

There are five books in all, and each is the only book you need for each main subject taught in middle school: Math, Science, American History, English Language Arts, and World History.

They also happen to meet Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and state history standards, and are vetted by National and State Teacher of the Year Award–winning teachers. If you are a homeschooling mama, this would make an excellent addition to your curriculum.

You can find these fantastic books at AmazonBarnes & NobleIndiebound, or Workman.

Big Fat Notebooks

I am not lying when I say that my daughter has become OBSESSED with these. There has been a lot of fact reciting at the dinner table!

We REALLY want to share them with you so please scroll to the end to catch this giveaway!!

I also wanted to figure out a way that we could keep these books on hand for busy days so I used this as an excuse to get my car organized and create caddies for each kid with the things they need. With school supplies on sale right now, it also happens to be quite an affordable time to create these little kits!

DIY Car Organizing Ideas

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

After browsing every type of organizer available, I ended up using these shower caddy organizers for each of my kids because they had great pockets and a wipeable surface in case they get dirty or muddy. I also slipped a plastic cup for each to hold pencils/pens so it would make it easier for them to grab. In each one, I have an umbrella, snacks (that can withstand the hot car),  a water, a couple of Big Fat Notebooks (strategically chosen for the subjects we need to work on!!), and packages of tissues.

car-organizing-tips-2

I had planned to hang them from the backs of the seats, but the width was too deep on our car. I actually think it will be easier to have them on the floor and they can also be moved to the center when they are being used.

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

Backpacks can also pile up on the floor so I got these hooks to give these guys a home. It can also be a great place to hang a jacket, hat, or purse. Our backpacks often get dirty and thrown on the floor so I am hoping it helps with that too!

Now that the kids are in better shape, I wanted to work on some problem areas for me. My biggest issue is carrying around gym equipment so I wanted to make that an organizing priority.

diy-car-organizing-ideas-9

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

In my gym equipment stash I have two pairs of shoes (one for dance class and one for cardio), a spare pair of socks, yoga socks, tissues, water, facial cleansing wipes, hair ties, travel brush, and a towel. These are things that I am always forgetting and that I sometimes end up having to buy at the gym.

All of these fit perfectly in this container.

Again, plastic, wipeable, AND breathable.

Not that my feet sweat AT ALL, but I wanted you to know for you. It’s okay. It happens to a lot of people.

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

My yoga mat takes up valuable space and I hate that it is always rolling around in our trunk. Again, using those utility hooks to keep it in place along with my hot yoga towel and umbrella.

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

To finish up the tour, I wanted to show you just a couple of other things that are helping.

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

removable hook for hanging the trash bag- we will see how long this holds!

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

tiny totes for random things- one has receipts and pens, one has snacks for me, one has a mini first aid kit (for a legit one check here!), and the last one has tissues.

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

utilizing the gaps for my phone to save space in my drink holder (similar idea here!)

It’s not perfect, but I’m pretty proud. I feel like I *might* be able to be that mom this year AND my kids will be learning between activities too. High fives all around, friends!

Giveaway Time

Big Fat Notebook

I can’t wait to give someone this whole collection. We are so excited to share this with you! The books included in this giveaway are:

Everything You Need to Ace Math . . . covers everything to get you over any math hump: fractions, decimals, and how to multiply and divide them; ratios, proportions, and percentages; geometry; statistics and probability; expressions and equations; and the coordinate plane and functions.

Everything You Need to Ace Science . . . takes readers from scientific investigation and the engineering design process to the Periodic Table; forces and motion; forms of energy; outer space and the solar system; to earth sciences, biology, body systems, ecology, and more.

Everything You Need to Ace American History . . . covers Native Americans to the war in Iraq. There are units on Colonial America; the Revolutionary War and the founding of a new nation; Jefferson and the expansion west; the Civil War and Reconstruction; and all of the notable events of the 20th century—World Wars, the Depression, the Civil Rights movement, and much more.

Everything You Need to Ace World History . . . kicks off with the Paleolithic Era and  transports the reader to ancient civilizations—in Egypt, Greece, India, China, Africa, Rome; the middle ages across the world; the Renaissance; the age of exploration and colonialization, revolution and imperialism, and the modern world and the wars and movements that shaped it.

Everything You Need to Ace English Language Arts . . . covers everything to get you your best marks: grammar, including parts of speech, active and passive verbs, Greek and Latin roots and affixes; nuances in word meanings; textual analysis, authorship, structure, and other skills for reading fiction and nonfiction; and writing arguments, informative texts, and narratives.

One (1) lucky winner will receive:

  • Copies of all 5 titles in the Big Fat Notebooks series
  • Branded school supplies including highlighter/pen combos, a notepad, and jigsaw sticky notes.

Please follow the widget below to enter to win! I hope this post inspires you to get organized. As always, feel free to ask me any questions in the comments below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

DIY Car Organizing Tips from MomAdvice.com

This post was sponsored by Workman Publishing and Big Fat Notebooks. All thoughts and opinions are my own!

 

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5 Easy Ways to Grow Your Facebook Page

Monday, May 16th, 2016

5 Easy Ways to Grow Your Facebook Page from MomAdvice.com

This year I wanted to get serious about my Facebook page. I got in on developing my page a little late, spent very little time on it, and experienced a long plateau in growth for months. My page was super boring so it was no wonder that no one wanted to interact on it. Heck, I didn’t even like it. I really needed to grow my Facebook page, but it needed to be in easy ways that could fit into our busy life.

I made it a business goal to grow this to page to 20,000 this year and to buckle down for one month to see if I could begin growing my audience again. Last week, I hit my 20K in fans (woohoo!!) so I was pretty pumped about this little milestone.

The question I get about this is, “Did this increase your pageviews on your website?”

My answer is not really.

Let’s be honest, Facebook wants you to pay to play. The traffic seems to only really grow when I boost (pay to advertise-be sure to target those ads!) my posts. So, if I am not experiencing growth, why would I want to invest any time in this platform?

Well, if you do sponsored content writing you know that your reach determines your rate.

Bottom line, the bigger my audience I have, the more I can charge for my posts. 

But, wait…mo money mo problems, right? Nah! I want to show you my 5 easy (and, let’s be honest, a bit lazy!) ways to grow your FB page WITHOUT creating new content.

No charge at all for the lazy advice, but I would appreciate your LIKE on my page

5 Easy Ways to Grow Your Facebook Audience

5 Easy Ways to Grow Your Facebook Page from MomAdvice.com

Get on a Schedule

Once a week, I sit down and schedule out my entire week of shares. I have experimented with lots of different times for sharing and with my audience, the times that have worked for me are 2:30PM EST (when moms are typically waiting for their kids to get out of school) & 8:30PM EST (when moms are settling in with their wine & Facebook time). My audience is moms so I can just guess when the are on Facebook based on my own Facebook habits.

You can experiment a bit with your sweet spot by trying out different times at first and then figuring out which seem to work best with your audience. You could also keep a close eye on a boosted post and see when the likes are increasing and gauge that as roughly a good time to start posting. Once you figure it out, you can make a schedule for sharing content.

I sit down with pen and paper, map out a week, and check off each day with the two shares.

Can you share more?

Go for it!

I don’t have time to do more than that and I don’t want to waste precious money trying to get someone else to do it for me right now. Two works for me, along with my own personal content shares,  for enough to grow the site at a steady pace.

Here is the thing, I only share what I find funny or compelling. A huge pet peeve of mine is link-bait sharing (“You’ll never believe what this man did when he saw this homeless person, it will shock you….”) or just crap sharing all day. If it isn’t funny to me, if I would be annoyed trying to click through slideshows, if I would never do that recipe/craft/eat that forty decker burger (tacos…maybe!), I’m not sharing it on my page.

Those people might have attracted a million people for sharing, but that’s not the kind of audience I want to grow, for me personally. 

(mic drop)

5 Easy Ways to Grow Your Facebook Page from MomAdvice.com

Find Great Content to Actually Share

Where do I find all this funny and engaging stuff? I do it in two ways. First, at the bottom of your Insights page (under the Overview tab), you have something called, “Pages to Watch.” You can pick pages that have a huge following and add them to your Pages to Watch list or sites with similar audiences. I try to pick ones that share similar content as me to follow because I know my readers will love it.

5 Easy Ways to Grow Your Facebook Page from MomAdvice.com

Once you click on the pages you are watching, you can see the week’s top posts for each of those sites. Since I am typically one week later on the sharing (since I do this weekly), I schedule a share for the following week, allowing me to recirculate the same content, but after a little bit of a break between shares. These top posts are usually a gold mine of great stuff since this is what people are really loving.

5 Easy Ways to Grow Your Facebook Page from MomAdvice.com

The second thing I do, when scrolling through my personal feed, is I look for posts that my personal community is sharing. In the corner of that post, you can click on it and save the link. Just doing this at the bus stop gives me a good week of materials (rounded out with the pages I’m watching). You can then go to your Facebook homepage and click on the Saved button which will give you everything you have saved for the week. Done!

5 Easy Ways to Grow Your Facebook Page from MomAdvice.com

Move Your Instagram Feed to Your Page

I began to realize that I got way more interaction on my personal page then I ever did on my site page. Let’s be honest, all the good stuff was going on my personal page though so why would anyone ever feel a connection to my page?

I switched where IG shared my pictures over to my Facebook page and this added enough personality to not make it only a giant place of funny shares, but that I’m there too. It breaks it up, adds my personal touch, and adds zero extra work to my day!

5 Easy Ways to Grow Your Facebook Page from MomAdvice.com

Invite Them To Your Table

Did you know that you can invite people to like your page after they have enjoyed one of your posts?

Yup, you sure can!

When you go on your page, just open up who has liked your posts and you can send them an invitation to like your page. As you can see here, the ones that have already Liked it are grayed out and the ones that have already been invited are grayed out. That means you won’t spam your guests, but that you always have offered this invitation once. For more details on this, read this post

5 Easy Ways to Grow Your Facebook Page from MomAdvice.com When a post goes viral (and if you know the secret formula to that, let me know!), you have a lot of new friends that you can invite without paying a dime for it and with minimal work.

Heck, you could pay your kids to do this for you.

5 Easy Ways to Grow Your Facebook Page from MomAdvice.com

Keep Track of What is Working For You (And Not)

On your Insights page you can see your posts and how far they are reaching. Be sure to sort by reach or engagement to really get a good insight into what people are loving.  It helps to give me an idea of what people are sharing and what resonates with them.

I can give you three themes that will always resonate with them.

1. Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em laugh, make ‘em laugh.

2. Mom, you are good enough.

3. But when you feel like you aren’t, here’s some stuff that will help.

Isn’t that what moms all share?

5 Easy Ways to Grow Your Facebook Page from MomAdvice.com

Case in point- reaching almost 63,000 people this week. That’s some funny stuff, right? Wouldn’t you share this too?

PS- I’m the one on the right, I just look like the one on the left (meaning the apron, not the body).

One Bonus Point (if you feel ambitious)

Since your Facebook audience aren’t really seeing all that you are posting (particularly your personal page), consider starting a FB group to build community again! Not only are you finding your true audience and fans, you are able to share your posts directly to them as well as use that platform for affiliate marketing. In our group, for example, I spend the morning hunting for great Kindle deals that our bookworms will love and share one post in the morning.

Last month I sold over 300 Kindle books, primarily through this group. As someone striving to make smarter passive income choices, this feels authentic and helps keep my website going.

5 Easy Ways to Grow Your Facebook Page from MomAdvice.com

5 Easy Ways to Grow Your Facebook Page from MomAdvice.com

What a happy day to reach a goal and I didn’t have to create more content to do it!

#winning!

Don’t forget to give me a like- I’d really love you to join my table! Plus, you will save me the hassle of inviting you (wink, wink!).

There you have it- schedule shares out once a week, save the stuff your friends are sharing, invite them to your table, keep track of what’s working (and do more), and get a little personal.

What are some successful ways you have found to grow your Facebook audience?

 

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5 Time Management Tips For Moms

Thursday, March 10th, 2016

I’m so happy to once again have my good friend Meagan Francis here to share with us- this time all about time management tips for us busy moms. Let’s keep those hours from slipping away!

5 Time Management Tips for Moms- keep your hours from slipping away!

I’ve not always been good at managing my time. I’m amazed sometimes when I look back at my pre-kid life and consider all the hours upon hours I frittered away, without even good grades in school or career advancement to show for it.

Having kids didn’t immediately improve my time-management skills: it wasn’t until I had my third child and decided I needed more structure to my life to function–and, at the same time, decided to take a real, serious stab at writing professionally–that I started, out of sheer survival instinct, to develop habits to help me get things done.

Now, several children, four books and many published articles later, I’m still not perfect but I’ve got a much better handle on using my time efficiently. Here are five of my favorite tips and tricks for making good use of time:

5 Time Management Tips

1. Pay close attention to what makes you tick…and what doesn’t. My first child fit pretty well into my free-form, no-schedule lifestyle, but when I added my second just 22 months later, everything fell apart. Trying to protect myself from failure, I’d set low, low expectations of what I might be able to accomplish in a day. And (just like in high school and college) as it turned out, the less I expected of myself, the less I delivered. I realized my true colors: I need deadlines, I need expectations, and I’m really not that type B, after all. Maybe you’re the opposite–overloading your schedule when what you really need is some breathing room. We’re all different. Just be sure you’re clear about what really helps you, not necessarily what you think should help you. (And try to ride the middle a bit, either way – if I had suddenly ramped my expectations way, WAY up, I would have burned out fast.)

2. Always leave a room better than you found it. I believe in this so strongly –and find it so helpful–that it’s always worth mentioning. There’s no need to spend lots of time picking up and decluttering if you build cleanup naturally into your day.

3. Create good habits. We all have habits that drive us throughout our days. Some habits help us and some make our lives more chaotic. For example, if you never start thinking about what you’ll have for dinner before 5 PM, you’ll probably waste a lot of time, money and energy trying to figure out what you can throw together (or pick up from the drive-through) on super-short notice. It does require a re-wiring of the brain to start preparing for dinner at 3 PM instead (or better yet, plan it out the day or even the week before) but it doesn’t take any extra time. In fact, it’ll save you time and energy, because you can prepare in stages instead of madly trying to throw everything together and realizing at the last minute you forgot to defrost the chicken…again.

4. Write it down. Getting my to-do list out of my head and on paper is an essential just-before-bed exercise. I keep a notebook with my running list next to my bed and look at it first thing in the morning: that way I don’t waste time futzing around on the Internet while my brain tries to wake up enough to remember what I was supposed to be doing today. There it is in black ink, and just seeing the words on the paper brings me back to the mindset I was in when I wrote the list and helps get me on track.

5. Identify your values. The word “values” is not inherently laden with judgment. Perhaps you value sports more than your neighbor. Maybe your best mom friend values preschool education more than you do. That doesn’t mean she’s right and you’re wrong or vice versa. Even if you and your sister are both into healthy eating, maybe one of you is opting for local farmer’s market fare while another does her best at Aldi and another shops the organic produce at Whole Foods. It’s only when you understand your own specific values that you can prioritize. Try making a list of ten things you really value, then look at your how you spend your time: do your actions reflect your stated values?

What’s one bad habit you could turn into a good habit, that wouldn’t take any extra time or energy, but would actually save you time and energy in the long run?

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How to Consume More Books This Year

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

How to Consume More Books This Year from MomAdvice.com

Almost weekly I get a request to share how I am able to consume so many books. Over the years we have visited this conversation often, but over the last year or two my strategies for consuming books has changed a lot thanks to new formats and new ideas about how I can get more books in throughout my day.  Reading is truly one of my biggest passions and I love sharing my love of reading with others.  Even my volunteerism is connected with this passion as I mentor two struggling elementary school readers each week to hopefully help them not only become stronger readers, but ignite a lifelong passion for reading too.

How to Consume More Books This Year from MomAdvice.com

I have always been a reader and I can point to one person in my life who helped make that happen.

My Dad.

Even as he juggled his swing shift position at work, he promised me a weekly trip to the library that he honored each week and rarely rushed me at the library, leaving me contentedly working my way down the aisles. When the bookmobile made our corner the stop on it’s route, I was able to trade my finished books out even sooner for another stack and still enjoy those weekly visits with my father. I count those visits among some of my favorite memories.

Admittedly, my parent’s biggest hurdle with me was to stop reading when it was bedtime and to stop reading books that were too mature for me. I am sure you can envision a ten year-old girl with a stack of V.C. Andrews books stacked under her mattress each night, a big no-no writer in our Christian household, especially at that age. Thankfully, I still turned out okay despite my reading choices.

When I became a mom, I felt like I didn’t have the time to sit down and read.  I was too busy bouncing colicky babies and trying to cobble some semblance of a clean house to make time for myself and to read.  I say this because maybe you are in a life stage where reading isn’t happening and the best you can do is bounce those babies and try to just keep up a household routine, that is okay! Books will ALWAYS be there for you though when you are ready to come back. 

After my kids got a little older, I remember making a public proclamation that I was going to start reading again and I was going to share about the books here. At the time, this had nothing to do with our site and I only hoped you would hold me accountable. Now the books section and our interview series are two of the most popular sections, thanks to that commitment I made years ago.

Is your goal to consume more books this year? I would love to share a few strategies that I have found work for me and would love to hear from you, my fellow bookworms, how you make time for reading in your life! 

How to Consume More Books This Year from MomAdvice.com

Start By Making a Commitment

Like I said, the way that I started was by vocalizing my commitment and setting a reading goal. As an overachiever, the urge to set ridiculous goals is always an issue for me. I encourage you start with a modest goal and make your own public commitment. A great place to do that is on GoodReads where you can not only set goals, but you can also connect with fellow readers (like me!) to help inspire your book stacks!  Setting goals helps give you something to work toward, whether that is five books this year or a hundred!

Another option to challenge yourself is to join in on an online challenge. These types of challenges not only motivate you to read, but often push you outside of your usual genres into new literary territory. Here are nine great challenge options to get you started this year!

Carve Out One Hour Minimum At YOUR Optimum Time

Notice that I didn’t tell you to just rise earlier? I am a morning person so I set my alarm at 5AM to tackle an hour of reading before I need to get my kids off to school. That, it turns out, is my optimum reading time.  If you aren’t a morning person though, this probably will not work for you and, no, it’s highly unlikely you can make yourself be a morning person despite what you may have heard. Gretchen Rubin, author of Better Than Before, was recently on The Simple Show where she talks about how we can’t all force ourselves to be morning people and you should set realistic goals during hours that are realistic for YOU in order to succeed at your goals. 

For me, the hour of 5AM is complete bliss with hot coffee and quiet reading, which helps set an intention for me to have a balanced and calm day. As a highly sensitive person, I really need this quiet introverted time or I feel out of sorts once the kids get up. For others though, you might find that an hour in the afternoon or a staying up later with a good book is a better fit.

I put my phone on do not disturb and stay off of social media and it is amazing how many pages I can consume in that hour with uninterrupted time. I encourage you to do the same!  Hours can also be broken into ten to fifteen minute sessions throughout the day, particularly for moms with little ones or for moms who are always running their kids. As long as you are carrying a book with you wherever you go, it’s very easy to reach a one hour goal.

Not sure if you can commit to an hour? Try a 10% reading goal each day, particularly if you are reading digitally! 

To read as much as I do though, I have to have a minimum of two to three hours of reading time daily. That means one hour first thing in the morning, one hour before the kids get off the bus, and usually an hour or two at the end of the day or before I head to the gym.

How to Consume More Books This Year from MomAdvice.com

(current stack)

Find a Format That Works For You

For a long time, the only way I thought that I could consume books was in the printed format. These past two years though a world of reading possibilities opened to me when I finally embraced electronic books and audiobooks.

The beauty in electronic books is that I always have my phone with me so I always have my Kindle app to open and dive into a book. An old-fashioned printed book is always on my bedside table for grabbing and screen-free time. Audiobooks have become my new companion while tackling laundry, cooking, or tidying our house. With a set of earbuds, I can consume a book just about anywhere. 

Experiment with different formats or consider tackling different types throughout the day (more below) to find what works best for you!

Try Reading a Few Books at the Same Time

I often have to be in the right frame of mind to read certain books and many bookworms echo my theory that having a few books going at once can help you through a mindset hurdle on reading. Last week I was reading a memoir, a thriller, and a contemporary fiction novel. In What Should I Read Next guest Seth Haines shared that he reads a different book in the morning, afternoon, and evening of his day. For me, I know when I wake up what I am in the mood for. I usually lean into something heavy in that first peaceful hour and then sprinkle lighter books in later in the day. It was comforting to hear someone echo that philosophy of different books at different times. It helps me to never stop consuming books.

I do know that many people say that they can only read one book at a time and that is okay, but in order for me to continue moving through books when mindset hurdles are standing in my  own way, I need to have a variety going to continue pressing forward.

How to Consume More Books This Year from MomAdvice.com

Try Reading As a Family

The reason I was such a big reader was the influence of my father and witnessing him reading all the time. The reason that I think I have two great readers in my house is because they see their mom reading all the time and they are modeling what is happening in our home.

On nights we don’t have activities going on or on weekends, you will often find us in a room together all reading our own books. I love reading alongside of my children as much as I love reading to them. I am still reading to my daughter as we work our way through Laura Ingall’s adventures, but I also love the freedom of everyone tackling what they love.  Either way, whether reading on our own or together, I know that I am getting in more books and I get to do it with my kids. 

How to Consume More Books This Year from MomAdvice.com

(photo credit: scribd)

Make Reading an Investment

Are you the type of person where making a financial commitment to something is what motivates you to do it? Just like your financial commitment that you make to your gym membership that you just HAVE to get every dollar out of, you can do the same with reading especially if you lack a good or close public library system.

For the money, I find Scribd to be a great value at $8.99 a month that includes unlimited e-books, one audiobook credit per month, and access to sheet music (which is great for this family with a piano player & guitarist on our hands!).  I am a genuine fan, this post is not supported in any way by them. I have also heard great things about Kindle Unlimited, but don’t have any experience with that one- let me know if you have enjoyed that membership or not. Sometimes, particularly in the winter and summer months when I’m not as motivated to head as frequently to the library, I indulge in a membership to keep me moving through books.

For some, a financial commitment can offer great motivation to get every dollar out of a membership. I know that it does for me!

I hope these tips to consume more great books this year are helpful to you! It’s a joy to get to share great books with you each month! xo

What tips and tricks do you use in your life to read more? Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments below!

This post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though!

M Challenge Mornings Morphosis: Set An Alarm or Not?

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

As part of our M Challenge Focus on Better Mornings, I asked Mandi Ehman of Life Your Way to share how she is tackling her mornings – and I think her answer will surprise you!

Move towards better mornings with an alarm clock - or without

Confession: I am a firm believer in the value of getting up early, getting your day started before your kids wake up, and taking control of your day. So it might surprise you to hear that I no longer set an alarm 99% of the time.

The reason is simple: While I highly value and need those morning hours to myself, I also know that I need enough sleep or I’m grumpy, impatient and unproductive.

I also know that there’s nothing worse than getting woken up in the wrong part of your sleep cycle.

When I set an alarm, I inevitably get woken up right in the middle of my REM cycle, and my alarm has no idea whether the baby was up 17 times, I suffered with insomnia, or my body just happens to need more rest on any given morning. (And changing the alarm in the middle of the night involves turning on my iPhone screen—since we don’t use a regular alarm clock in our room—which inevitably gives me insomnia because of the bright, artificial light!)

Letting myself wake up naturally means I wake up during the best part of my sleep cycle—usually as soon as it starts to get light out these days—and I’m less groggy. Sometimes it means I sleep a couple extra hours in the morning, but I’m willing to trust that my body knows best on those days!

Obviously this approach isn’t for everyone, and if you’re a natural night owl, have early morning commitments or school buses to catch, an alarm is probably a safe bet.

I’m considering an alarm like ZenAwake or Progressive Alarm Clock that wakes you up with gentle, progressively louder sounds so that your body isn’t jarred out of sleep like with a traditional alarm for those fall and winter mornings when the sun isn’t there to help me get up.

These days, getting enough sleep is a high priority for me even when the to-do list is full, and an alarm clock just isn’t smart enough to know when I really need to get up and when I need to sleep, so—for now—I’m skipping it.

Are you an early bird or a night owl? Do you wake up to an alarm?

Maximize Your Morning Hours

Monday, September 14th, 2015

Maximize Your Morning Hours from MomAdvice.com

I was forced into being a morning person thanks to my kids. In my younger days, I would stay up late watching mindless television, and would sleep in until the last possible moment. There is nothing like an early bus schedule to take a girl out of her cushy routines, is there? Although I never desired to be a morning person, it’s incredible how much better I feel and how productive I can be with those extra morning hours. I am actually pretty thankful that early mornings are now a part of my routine and I even try to maintain the schedule as best as I can during the summer months.

Here is what I know…

If I can become a morning person, ANYONE can!

Today I wanted to share a few tricks that have helped me in creating an ideal morning for my family and I’d love to chat with you about your ideas too! 

Utilize Your Evening Hours to Get a Good Start

Getting up earlier can mean that I am a little less productive in the evening since I am usually pretty worn down after a full day! I try to make a couple of things top priority though to help save my sanity in the morning. The first is that I always set my coffeemaker the night before and program it for my morning brew (this is the inexpensive pot that I use now), I always make sure that the dishes are done and that the dishwasher is run, I always try to get all the paperwork signed and in the backpacks, and I always try to lay out my gym clothes the night before so I can hit the gym first thing in the morning!

These small habits in the evening help us start on good footing the next morning.

Set a Million Alarms

I have a hard time staying on track with the multiple schedules going on during our mornings. Maybe that is just me?  I set an alarm on my phone to make sure each kid is up and then I set an alarm 5-10 minutes before we have to head out the door to have them get their shoes on and grab their gear. Although it doesn’t apply to my morning routines, I set alarms to remind myself when I need to head out the door to the gym, when the buses are returning, and even an alarm to remind me that I can take a break for the day from work and read for an hour.

My poor cat is so annoyed by my alarm system that she cries every single time one goes off.

I won’t lie.

I sometimes want to cry too. I love the reminder though to keep things on track so we don’t miss our morning buses or oversleep!

Maximize Your Morning Hours from MomAdvice.com

Turn Off the Distractors

I know everyone struggles with getting distracted and the quickest way for my morning to get off track is to turn on my phone or computer. I decided to add the Facebook Kills News Feed extension to help me not cheat and peek at Facebook during the day when I need to be productive.

I also make deals with myself about when I am allowed to peek at my phone. Each day the deal is something that I need to accomplish from household chores to an article for a client to finishing a book. Once I fulfill that daily contract with myself, I can cruise the FB newsfeed and catch up on all I am missing out on.

Email also has been of my biggest distractors so now I check it once in the morning, once midday, and once before the kids get home from school. I noticed that each time my phone made a ding, I ran to it like my cat when I shake the treat bag at her. It lead to lots of interruptions, a half-present mom, and a lot of anxiety when I wasn’t dealing with whatever I had opened. If I can’t sit down at my desk and deal with it with a proper response, I just don’t open it! Not only has it made my mornings smoother, but it has made my entire life run more smoothly.

Maximize Your Morning Hours from MomAdvice.com

Make the Morning Household Chores Bearable

I am big on maximizing my time and I know that you are too. I have discovered that podcasts and audiobooks make wonderful companions in the morning while I am getting things done around the house. Three of my favorite podcasts right now for making the most of my mornings are the The Lively Show, Magic Lessons, & Elise Gets Crafty. Thanks to the Overcast app that I downloaded, I also am listening to them at a quicker speed which helps me consume a little bit more while I am tackling that laundry and tidying the house. Not only am I proud that I am being productive in my home, but I’m learning so much about living with intention in the process.

Maximize Your Morning Hours from MomAdvice.com

Make Room For You

I may be one of the rare ones in the world because I rarely feel guilty about making time for myself. I know when I can fill my cup up, I have more to give to everyone else. I am not sure if that is because I have such a supportive spouse who has always encouraged that or if I just have always been thinking about myself. Oh, who are we kidding? It’s probably both! My ideal morning involves a good Bible study on She Reads Truth, a cup of HOT coffee, a little journaling (right now I am doing this journal with my husband) and then I head to the gym where I do classes I really love and that make me happy.

Our mornings aren’t always perfect, but starting with good intentions, smart planning, and a little self-care reward help me start my day on the right foot!

Do you have any tips or tricks for a great morning routine? I’d love to hear them as we explore this topic this month in our m challenge series!

*this post contains affiliate links. I only recommend what I love!

 

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Tips for Successful Menu Planning

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from MomAdvice.com

One of the most stressful parts about my job as a mom is creating menu plans to feed my family and accomplishing the weekly grocery shopping. Today I want to share with you some of my own tips for successful menu planning, but first I want to work on some honesty with you about my attitude towards food preparation in my house.

Is it okay to say that I have a terrible attitude about this?

I hope it is because something happened this summer that has helped transform my mindset a bit.

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from MomAdvice.com

This summer I wanted to create some great learning experiences for my kids and to teach them how lucky we are for all that we have. One of those experiences has been volunteering at our church’s food pantry where over 400 local families are served each month. I had not expected the enthusiasm that these two brought to the job, but these kids were so happy to do this that they begged to return the next week to help again.

I am not sure what it is like for you and your children, but I feel like we live in this protected bubble that I am constantly trying to push them out of… but not TOO far.  I’m pushing on those walls because there is such a big world out there full of people who need us and it’s important to see and address those needs when we can.  I thought it would be great for them to serve others and to understand how lucky we are.

As we pulled in the first day to volunteer there was a gathering of people waiting for the doors to open. At the time we had pulled in, there was TWO MORE HOURS until the food pantry doors were open to the public. When I asked about this, I was told that they arrive that early to be able to be the first to select the food. The food given would last a family of 4 a few days, an incredible offering when one needs  it, but it made me very ashamed about my attitudes towards feeding my family.

I can plan meals for my family and buy whatever we need for the week in one trip without any worries.

I complain when the grocery line is too long, but others wait for hours just in the hopes that they will have fresh produce.

I whine about how annoying it is to have to haul so many bags from my car and put them away.

Guess who had the transformation?

I know we can’t always go into that zen place of happiness when planning our meals, but I’m working on my attitude and I want to do what I can to simplify this process for our family. It’s a bit of a privilege to go into the store with a plan and come out with what we need, isn’t it?

Meal planning is necessary to stay on budget. In fact, as I have said in my book, I feel that this is one of the biggest places I feel families should analyze when living on a budget. This is a flexible area in our spending, but it takes a good plan to stay on budget.

Here are a few of my tips for successful menu plans:

Gluten-Free Orange Chicken

gluten-free orange chicken

Be Realistic About Your Meal Plans

The overachiever in me really believes that I will cook a great meal for my family every night. The reality is that many nights I am running kids to activities and I am not home (or too tired) to execute all those good intentions. What happens when you have a lot of intentions and not a lot of time?

Spoiled food and wasted money.

I shop for 5 meals for the week, giving us two nights for leftovers and reality.

Kind of the same thing- ha!

Take a serious look at your calendar and analyze what will be happening for the week so that you can create a menu plan that will serve your family well. Slow cooker dishes are arranged on busy days where I don’t have time for food preparation, Sunday suppers are leisurely meals with all the fixings doubled so we can enjoy the dish another night, and grocery days are often prep days for chopping and dicing for quick wraps & salads for nights I don’t have the time to cook.

Slow Cooker Carnitas

slow cooker carnitas

Try a Rotation Schedule

I am a lover of routines and that also comes to the food that we share around the table. In our house, we usually have one slow cooker dish, one pot of soup or a large salad (depending on the season), some type of taco night, one “fancy” dish for Sundays, a brunch dish (that later acts as breakfast on busy school mornings), and I try to implement one new recipe a week to keep things fresh. A rotation schedule creates a clear routine for a busy week and makes grocery shopping easier since you know what you typically need each week. 

Routines are my jam!

I try to make one dish that can easily be doubled or tripled since we have been working on weekly entertaining or to share with someone who might be having a hard week. This can also be a great time to feed the freezer for another week.

Gather Inspiration for Your Meals

It would be hard not to be inspired now that we have tools like Pinterest at our disposal. I think more than anything it is not to feel OVERWHELMED with all of the meal choices or choosing dishes that are far too ambitious for your time constraints. My best bet for busy weeknights are 30-minute recipes or 5-ingredient or less ideas and that is typically what I search for when hunting down new dishes to add to my menu. 

I subscribe to my favorite food blogs through Feedly and utilize their bookmarking tool to save the recipes I want to come back to. I also utilize a private Pinterest board just for my family to test out different recipes in our kitchen. Cookbooks are like old reliable friends that I know I can always count on for a recipe or two. Foodgawker is where I also favorite dishes that I want to try in our menus (you can see our own dishes that made the cut over here!)

 

 

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from MomAdvice.com

Use Your Smartphone to Make Smart Lists

What did I ever do without my smartphone? This little device has made creating and maintaining my grocery lists each week so much easier. I am a BIG fan of the Grocery iQ app (FREE!)  for creating my grocery list because you can reuse the same master list that you use over and over again (especially if you have a routine rotation of meals) and this app automatically organizes and finds any coupons that you might want to use for your purchases. 

With Grocery iQ you can type, speak, or scan grocery list items into your list. The list automatically adds your items into categories and then alerts you if coupons are available for any items you might be adding to your list. Coupons can then be sent to your email when your list has been made or (if you have a wireless enabled printer) can be sent to your printer for printing. As you gather your items from your list, simply check it off and the item moves to the bottom of the list. Once your whole list is complete, everything is shifted towards the bottom and then can simply be clicked to add those repeat items back on the list for your next visit.

Switching to an electronic list was much easier than I expected. It also keeps me off my phone while shopping so I can really concentrate which is half of the battle for me when it comes to menu planning.

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from MomAdvice.com

Journal the Family Favorites & Put Them In Your Plans

In our family, every person has a favorite dish or a favorite memory of a meal we have shared together. To make your week easier, creating a family journal or scrapbook where you have all your family favorites for weekly inspiration and rotate a family member’s favorite each week.

Tips for Successful Menu Planning from MomAdvice.com

We made a food journal and printed out our favorite recipes and why the kids loved these dishes. This can be a fun craft project to do together AND it is something you can pass on to them when they leave the nest (but that won’t be for a LONG time so I’m not worried). If you want to try making your own cookbook, you can see this tutorial we created for it!

One thing I don’t think very often about is that many of our favorite recipes are online. If the sites ever go down (which has been known to happen), we may no longer have access to our favorite dishes. I want a place where we can keep all these food memories so a family journal is a fun activity that you can enjoy for years to come.

Pick What’s Important & Make it Happen

I have many friends that deal chase for their menu plans, but I have never been much of a deal chaser.  As the extracurricular schedule grows and my work becomes more demanding, I have to make choices about what I realistically can and cannot do. It’s okay to not chase deals.

I do my menu planning first thing in the morning (eat the frog!!) and I go to grocery stores where deal chasing doesn’t need to happen. ALDI has (and always will be) my first destination for our family groceries and thanks to the Savings Catcher app, a scan of my receipt at the end of my shopping at Walmart means I can look forward to pocketing any savings if any store goes lower in prices without chasing deals anymore.

You may find shopping at night is better for you or you may get a thrill from a deal well chased. Pick what’s important to you and make it happen for your family, but do what fits best with your own lifestyle for menu planning success.

Do you have any strategies you can share for menu planning? Let us know in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

 

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