Apron Full of Giveaways 08.11.15

August 11th, 2015

Red-White Polka Dot Apron via Etsy

Source: The Forties Revisited,  $36.00

 

Welcome to our Apron Full of Giveaways! I hope everyone is having a great week this week! As we do each week, here is our round-up of giveaways for our readers. We hope that this is beneficial to you and your family! Please let us know if you guys win anything- I love to hear the success stories!

Below are the contest links-if you are hosting a contest please link it up below. Sorry, we are not giving away the aprons just showcasing them! Please put your site name and then what type of contest you are hosting. For example, “MomAdvice (Kid’s Movies).”

Good luck to each of you!

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Sundays With Writers: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

August 9th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

There are some authors that I have waited for months to feature here and Jennifer Niven is one of those poor hounded authors that I worked so hard to get here for you today.  A girlfriend recommended that I read her book All the Bright Places and as soon as I finished it (you can read our review here), I emailed Jennifer to see if I could secure her for an interview. She happened to just be leaving on book tour though and said she would answer my questions when she returned. This one was worth the wait.

I am so glad she followed through on this interview with me especially amid her enormous undertaking of adapting this movie into a film starring Elle Fanning!! Yup, Jennifer is writing the script and I have been waiting to share that with you today. I’m so proud of this writer and this book she has created.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places is a beautiful story of two sweet kids who find each other just when they need one another the most. Niven sheds light on a topic rarely discussed in YA literature sharing the true struggles of mental illness as Finch, the main character, struggles with bipolar disorder.

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

The stigma attached to mental illness and the reaction of his peers to this, make this a compelling read for any teen in understanding what it would be like to live with mental illness. This was heartbreaking, beautiful, and provided a thoughtful ending with a great resources & info list for kids struggling with (or who have family/friends struggling with) mental illness at the end of the book. I highly recommend this one for a well-captured idea of what living with bipolar disorder would feel like.

Grab your coffee and let’s settle in to learn more about Jennifer’s incredible book and the real-life Finch that inspired this beautiful story!

Jennifer Niven

 

In All the Bright Places, you send your two characters (Finch & Violet) on an epic road trip to discover Indiana. I actually live in Indiana so I really loved how you created this for them. Were these destinations real and, if so, did you visit them?

All of the destinations Finch and Violet wander are real except one—the bookmobile park. (But oh, how I wish it existed!) I grew up in Indiana, but I hadn’t visited all of the places until after I wrote the book. In April, I traveled from California (where I live now) to the sites with the producers and director of the upcoming All the Bright Places We saw the World’s Biggest Ball of Paint, the Blue Hole, Gravity Hill, the Ultraviolet Apocalypse, the Taylor Prayer Chapel, Hoosier Hill, the Purina Tower in my hometown (Richmond), and we even went up into the bell tower of my high school, which was where I envisioned Finch and Violet meeting.

Blue Flash Roller Coaster

But my favorite place of all was John and Sharon Ivers’ backyard roller coasters.We rode the Blue Flash and the Blue Too over and over again. And it was AMAZING.

You tackle the issue of mental illness in this book, specifically bipolar disorder. As someone who has personally known someone with this illness, you truly capture the manic highs and lows of Finch in a very real way. What inspired you to share about this mental illness and what has been your response from kids who have read this book?

Years ago, I loved a real-life Finch and he was bipolar. I witnessed up-close the highs and lows, the Awake and the Asleep, and I saw his daily struggle with the world and with himself. I also saw how funny he could be and how vibrantly alive. In knowing him, I experienced firsthand the stigma associated with mental disorders—both from the perspective of this boy I loved and from mine—and I realized that we need to make people feel safe enough to come forward and say, “I have a problem.  I need help.”  If we don’t talk about suicide or depression or mental illness, how can we expect anyone to reach out for help when they need it most?

The response to All the Bright Places has been emotional and overwhelming, and while I anticipated some of that, I had no idea just how emotional and overwhelming it would be. The thing I hear most from readers is that this book saved their lives in some way, big or small. They’ve thanked me for making them feel like someone gets them, and for reminding them they aren’t alone. But they’ve also written to tell me they see themselves in Violet and/or Finch and reading about these characters who they identify with so closely has helped them realize that the world really can be a bright place, no matter how dark it may seem. I’m hearing daily from many, many teens who are either struggling with their own mental health issues or know someone who is, and the first thing I tell them is to talk to someone they trust, whether that’s a parent, teacher, counselor, sibling, or friend. Being isolated only makes things worse, and you really, truly aren’t alone. (Here are some helpful links to organizations that get it, that care: check here and here for a resource list to assist.

All the Bright Places is going to be hitting theaters starring Elle Fanning as Violet. How involved are you in the adaptation of your book into film and what scene are you most excited to see come to life on the big screen?

I’m so excited! I’ve been asked to write the script, which I’m working on now, and I’m thrilled and honored to have that opportunity. The scene I’m most excited to see on the big screen is when Finch leaves his car by the side of the road because it won’t go fast enough, and as he’s running he passes a nursery where he collects flowers for Violet.

I don’t want to give away the ending of this book for those that have not read it, but I would love to know if you feel that ending the book the way you did ended with the right message about the topic of mental illness and if you entertained another way of ending this story?

I never questioned how All the Bright Places would end. I knew in my bones that the only ending could be the one I wrote, not just because too many stories about teen mental health are tied up in neat little packages with bows on top, but because it’s the ending I lived with the real-life Finch. It was the ending I knew to tell. In terms of the message it sends, from what I can tell via readers, especially readers who see themselves in Finch, they are walking away from the book with the right message: they are not alone. It is important to speak up, to ask for help. And even in the darkest times, it’s possible to find bright places.

I have read that it took you a mere six weeks to crank out All the Bright Places. This is such an incredible feat! Why do you think this story came together so quickly this time?

Because it was a story I had carried with me for a long time, and because it came from the heart.

You have tackled so many different genres as a writer, but this is your first young adult book. Is there a particular genre that you love the most and what did you love the most about writing a YA fiction versus the other genres you have tackled?

I love YA the most. As one reader put it, “Jennifer Niven thinks 18,” which I take as a huge compliment. I feel at home in the voice, and I absolutely love what’s being done in the genre—some of the bravest, boldest topics are being explored, and I think that’s fantastic. YA is fearless, and YA readers are the most passionate and voracious of all.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (read ALL the recommendations over the year HERE)?

Wonder by RJ Pallacio.

 

You can connect with Jennifer Niven on GoodReads,on Facebook, or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

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How to Make a School Supplies Cake

August 7th, 2015

How to Make a School Supplies Cake from MomAdvice.com.

It is hard to believe that school is just around the corner! Today I’m going to show you an adorable craft you can create for your kids as a back-to-school gift, a centerpiece for a back-to-school dinner together, or as a teacher gift to get the year started off right. The best part about this craft is that you can take full advantage of all of those back-to-school sales and make this for around $20!

How cute is this?

How to Make a School Supplies Cake from MomAdvice.com.

Head on over to the Kenmore Blog to get the scoop on this School Supplies Cake for the back-to-school season!

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It’s the 3 Little Things: Speedy Podcast Listening, Petite Fashion, & Epic Date Nights

August 7th, 2015

It's the 3 Little Things

Happy Friday, friends! I hope you are having a wonderful week. This is our last lazy week before we start our new activities schedule at school. It’s a flurry of paperwork and purchasing trying to get our kiddos ready for their first day back at school.

I’m also contemplating what I’m going to be doing while they are off including brewing some new business adventures for myself.  I don’t know if I mentioned it yet here, but I’m working on my first product with Hazel & Ruby that will be part of a new line-up of Crafternoon kits that you will be able to find in JoAnn Fabrics nationwide for the holiday season. These kits are crafts that you can put together in an afternoon and my kit will be for the Christmas Crafternoon series, just in time for the holiday season for gift-giving.  I can’t say much, but knitters YOU WILL LOVE IT! You can peek at a video of what Crafternoon is all about over here.

I’m also working on developing my contribution to the LIVE course on the topic of making room for creativity in a busy life and I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching about how I can encourage women to make space for that.  There is so much I have to say about that and honoring our creative time so be sure to sign up for the course and learn from some of my incredible idols in this business (and maybe a little from me too) over the year.

Oh, and this book is making me happy this week- it’s just got these laugh-out-loud funny parts and mimic so much of my feelings about the mom-juggle that I can’t seem to put it down! I scored a sneak peek copy on NetGalley. If you are on the hunt for books though, I hope you caught my month of reading last month.

And I’m counting down the days until this trip with my family because we have never been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and this was their selection for their Choose Your Own Adventure Christmas.  Have you gone? Any tips?

PHEW! In the meantime, here are three things that are making me happy this week!

Overcast

Speedy Podcast Listening

I work on my notebooks a couple of weeks ahead of schedule and this week I shared I wanted to get back to podcasts (although it was a time warp since I said that awhile ago). There are certain things I struggled with though. I would search for podcasts and then forget to go back and check for updates, I prefer things to move at a swift speed since I don’t have a lot of time to listen, and I like knowing when new shows have been added.

Overcast

I added the Overcast app to my phone ($4.99 for premium features) for podcast listening and I can’t rave about it enough. Not only does it have Smart Speed,  where it eliminates any long pauses without altering the speed of the show, but it also offers the chance to speed up the podcast (which I love), reducing an hour-long podcast down into a 45-minute session without it being weird or distorted.

The other feature I love is the Voice Boost feature, equalizing and creating optimal sound throughout the podcast, which can be tricky when listening to less polished podcasts.

I made a playlist with all my shows (I am really loving Elise Gets Crafty right now!) and it sends me notifications with the titles when a new episode comes out. Between that and audiobooks, I have been really enjoying making the most of the time I spend doing household chores and getting ready for my day.

Lula Lu

Lingerie That Fits

I am a petite girl and I struggle finding lingerie that fits. I was browsing around on Pinterest one night, searching for Petite Fashion, and an image popped up that the girl had subtitled, “Bahaha! This is the kind of lingerie I pin.” It was the Lula Lu company geared towards women who are petite (in stature and in cup size- they even have AAA bras). I immediately went to the site and purchased this bra (after reading the reviews) and it has been a game-changer. I don’t have to wear a camisole to camouflage the gap and I chose one that didn’t have a underwire for maximum comfort. I finally have bras that fit perfectly. It has been one of the best investments I have made.

It sounds silly to say that this changes how I feel about myself, but it really does. It’s been so wonderful and I feel better than I have had in many years! Check it out if you are struggling with the same issues!

 

Fiddler On the Roof

Epic Date Night

I met my husband 20 years ago in a high school production of Fiddler On The Roof. If you were wondering about our parts in this, I was Grandmother Tzeitel and he was Man With Fish #2. I saw that guy trying out for a role (intended to boost his resume for college), and I was head over heels in love. It seemed fitting to catch the South Bend Civic Theater’s production of the show to celebrate.

The night was beautiful, the cast amazing, and I sat holding this guy’s hand under the stars all these years later. The show is happening again this weekend so if you are local, I can’t recommend checking it out enough! If that isn’t enough, Fiddler’s Hearth was there serving up beverages and you can pack a picnic to enjoy together on the beautiful lawn of St. Patrick’s County Park.

It was a perfect date night and we were both a little more emotional than we expected, seeing it for the first time since that high school production.

Anyone else meet the love of their life in a theater production? That’s some sweet stuff.

xo

*this post may contain affiliate links- I only recommend what I love though. Check out past editions of  It’s the 3 Little Things

Now it’s your turn! What’s making you happy this week?

 

Freebie Friday August 7, 2015

August 7th, 2015

freebie friday Happy Freebie Friday, everyone! As always, we would like to thank Couponing 101 for assisting us with our freebies each week for loads of deals, savings, and freebies!

This week on MomAdvice we kicked off our August M Challenge: Focus on Meal Planning, just in time for back-to-school! This week you’ll find tips for successful meal planning, how to create a DIY fridge salad bar and 16 quick weeknight dinners your family will love. I’m also sharing a fantastic idea for easy & fun entertaining – a shrimp boil recipe – as well as a sweet interview with Vanessa Lafaye (Under a Dark Summer Sky) for our Sundays With Writers series, which includes a giveaway this week!

Check out this week’s edition of It’s the 3 Little Things to get your weekly dose of happy,  find lots of inspiring DIY, food, decorating and craft ideas in our popular Notebook, and be sure to take a look at all the contests you can enter on our weekly round-up of great giveaways, too.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

 

Food & Drink

Hormel Compleats Microwave Meal at Kroger with eCoupon
Free Breakfast Taco at Taco Cabana on August 11th with Coupon
Free Grilled Flat at Corner Bakery Cafe August 7th-13th
K-Cups Pods Sample

Health & Beauty

Zarbee’s Sample to a Friend
Nature Straight from Eden Haircare Sample
2-Minute Miracle Gel Sample
Sqwincher Electrolyte Sample
Missha BB Cream and Skincare Film Sample
Simple Skincare Sample
CeraVe Skincare Sample Box

Entertainment

Taken eBook
Paleo For Beginners eBook
The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert Audiobook
Editable Printable August 2015 Cleaning Calendar
Homeschool Helps for Moms ($30 value)
Digital Subscription to Backpacker Magazine
Wizard of Oz Printable Pack
Printable First Day of School Signs
Math Activity for Minion Fans
Early Elementary Writing Freebies
Printable Back to School Lunch Notes
Rainy Day Activities Printables
Printable Solar System Cards
Adult Coloring Pages
Kid-Friendly Recipes Cookbook
Disney Descendants Activity Pages
The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Other Stories Audiobook
Free Game of Bowling from 10 am – 12 pm on August 8th
Color Words Coloring Pages
All-in-One Personal & Homeschool Planner

This Week’s Freebie Events: August 8 – August 14

8th – Barnes & Noble: Join story time featuring The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School, 11 am

8th – Lakeshore Learning: Create a Keeping Cool! Door Hanger, 11 am – 3 pm

8th – Lowe’s: Build Hulk’s Tank, 10 am

 

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16 Ideas for Quick Weeknight Dinners

August 6th, 2015

Originally published in 2011, this remains one of our site’s most-searched articles so I’ve updated it with a Pinterest-friendly header to go along with this month’s M Challenge Focus on Meal Planning. These dinner ideas are perfect for those busy school nights ahead!

16 Ideas for Quick Weeknight Dinners

The school year is upon us and along with that comes the chaos of planning what to make for dinner each night so I’m sharing 16 easy weeknight dinners that are perfect to share with your family around the dinner table. These can be made very quickly or can be thrown in your slow cooker for those busy nights full of activities after the school day has ended. I’m also including ideas for side dishes that are just as easy. They happen to be our family favorites and I know that they can be your family’s favorite too!

Don’t forget that you can use our free printable meal planner or use the menu planner in our Home Management Binder to get your dinners organized! 

1. Grilled Ground Beef Gyros 

Skip heading out to your local gyro joint and enjoy a gyro at home with this handy recipe. The toppings and sauce can be prepared the night before and keep a package of store-bought pitas in your freezer just for this easy weeknight meal. This one is ready in about twenty minutes. Serve this delicious dinner treat with baby carrots.

2. Rosemary Chicken

Rosemary Chicken is my go-to dish that can be made with a couple of ingredients that you likely already have in your pantry. If you do not have fresh rosemary on hand, you can substitute with dried rosemary instead. This quick chicken dish makes for fantastic leftovers that you can put in tortilla wraps to send to school with your children or can make a fantastic addition to a delicious salad. Serve this easy and elegant chicken dish with a side of pesto rice and microwave lemon broccoli for a quick dinner that the whole family will love.

3. Salmon Patties

Even if you have never been a fan of salmon patties before, I believe this recipe can convert anyone over to this easy and frugal weeknight dish. These patties are filled with a little lemon zest within the patty and a baked potato to stretch the salmon The breadcrumb coating made with Italian breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan makes these taste like something served at a fancy seafood restaurant and a little squirt of fresh lemon juice turns boring cans of salmon into something spectacular!  Serve these wallet-friendly wonders with my easy perfect baked potato and lemon roasted green beans.

4. Perfectly Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Pulled Pork Sandwiches not only make the perfect slow cooker dish for busy weeknight activities, but they just so happen to make the world’s greatest leftover sandwiches for other nights too. This pulled pork can be simmering away in its root beer bath while you tackle all of the rest of the day’s activities. Serve these sandwiches on whole wheat buns with corn on the cob or a bag of frozen corn.

5. Chicken Italiano

Fewer dishes are loved more by me than this simple dish that can be created out of frozen chicken when you (whoops) forget to thaw your chicken for the evening’s meal or that can be popped in the slow cooker when your family feels swamped with activities. I love to serve this dish over spaghetti noodles or baked brown rice with a simple salad.

6. Baked Ziti With Turkey Meatballs

Entertaining your child’s entire football team? Have company coming on a school night? This is your dish because it is made with store-bought meatballs, can easily be doubled, and can be prepared the night before so it is ready to go. This isn’t your typical dried out ziti thanks to the addition of chicken broth to the sauce, which really coats the noodles well and adds a depth of flavor to the dish. Serve this with some easy Portuguese White Bread (made in your bread machine, of course) and a spinach salad.

7. Braised Balsamic Chicken

This braised balsamic chicken comes together in a mere twenty minutes, but tastes like it has been cooking all day long. The balsamic vinegar compliments the diced tomatoes perfectly and the addition of these spices makes this dish a true winner in our home.  Serve this braised balsamic chicken over angel hair pasta and with your favorite side salad.

8.  Skillet Penne & Sausage Supper

You want simple, easy, and less dishes? Skillet suppers are the way to go and this one is packed with veggies and flavor. This dish has all the ease of Hamburger Helper, but without the sodium and preservatives that you really don’t want your kids to be eating. Serve this simple supper with bowls of applesauce on the side and prop those feet up thanks to a night free from a kitchen full of dishes.

9. Skillet Ziti with Chicken & Broccoli

This is another night for embracing your vegetables and not embracing dishes. This Skillet Ziti with Chicken & Broccoli can easily be personalized with fresh diced tomatoes on top for the tomato lover’s in the family. To make this dish vegetarian, just omit the chicken and up the veggie quotient. With the sprinkle of tomatoes or a handful of sundried tomatoes and spinach, it could make this a veggie packed dish worth repeating. Serve this fun dish with your favorite fruit and slices of whole grain bread with butter.

10. Panko Crusted Tilapia Nuggets

While breading fish can be a bit labor intensive, this dish can easily be done in stages for quick assembly in the evening and is truly a dish that the whole family will love. These tilapia nuggets can replace your kid’s adoration for those fried chicken nuggets and offer a fun & healthy choice in their place. Serve the nuggets with lemon rice pilaf and steamed edamame. I love to make these sides in my rice cooker, for a fun meal that is ready in under thirty minutes.

11. Bow Ties With Tomatoes, Sausage, & Cream

This delicious dish is the one that I go to whenever we have unexpected company or when I am looking to make a dish that I can serve as an elegant lunch the next day. This dish restaurant-worthy and can easily be doubled when running a meal to someone else.   Once you try this one, I promise that it will go into your regular rotation forever. Serve this dish with lemon roasted green beans.

12. Pot Roast Italiano

My Pot Roast Italiano is guaranteed to knock your socks off and will change any feelings you previously had about roast forever.  This roast simmers away in the slow cooker all day and at the end of the cooking,  a can of tomato paste is whisked in to finish off the delicious gravy. I served the roast over cheesy orzo pasta and with a simple side salad. Leftover meat can be placed into slider rolls for Italian beef sliders the next night served with tortilla chips and carrot sticks.

13. To Die For Pot Roast Sandwiches

You will notice that few of our recipes have convenience foods or mixes in them, but this roast is my one exception to the rule since it relies upon three packaged mixes to create.   Do your best to look for low-sodium mixes though and avoid adding any salt to this recipe. These three little mixes and some water make the most flavorful roast. Not a hint of dryness in this roast and the leftovers heat up perfectly for a special lunch. Serve these easy sandwiches on whole wheat buns (homemade or store-bought) with fresh apple slices and glasses of milk.

14. Cracker Barrel Grilled Chicken Tenders

Made from ingredients that are likely already in your refrigerator and pantry right now, these simple ingredients are exceptionally delicious and create a flavorful & juicy chicken tender that you will absolutely love. This recipe yields a pound’s worth of tenders. I triple the batch for salad topping and grilled chicken wraps that make easy weekday lunches or a busy weeknight dinner for another night in our house. Serve these with baked brown rice and baby peas.

15. Presto Pesto Pasta Con Pollo

This dish replicates the flavors from my favorite meal at a local Italian restaurant. With the simple addition of sautéed mushrooms, spinach, and sun dried tomatoes, it takes this easy dish to an elegant level with minimal effort. Of course, no dish is complete without my signature addition of lemon zest and a squirt of lemon juice to freshen and lighten the flavors. The best part about this dish, in my opinion, is that it incorporates items that I already have in the pantry and can easily be pulled together with leftovers in the fridge. Leftover chicken, vegetables, and any type of pasta can be pulled together for a dinner that is worthy of an evening gathered with friends and family around the dinner table. Serve this elegant dish with my easy pumpkin cornbread muffins.

16. Italian Turkey Sliders

Sliders are a new addition to our family’s meal rotation and I guarantee if you try these that they will go into your rotation too! These Italian Turkey Sliders not only are quick to prepare and easy to bake, but thanks to their tiny size, these pint-sized sliders are ready in only fifteen short minutes. Sliders are not only highly fashionable for entertaining, but they also are super fun for little ones who will appreciate your small burger efforts as a way to make the dinner hour more fun. Serve these with homemade oven fries for a fun dinner at home.

What meal always makes it into rotation at your house? Have you tried a meal from this list? Please share your thoughts on the dishes you have tried from MomAdvice. We would love to know what dishes have graced your menu planners!

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Amy’s Notebook 08.05.15

August 5th, 2015

DIY Yarn Ice Cream Garland via The Happy Family

Source: The Happy Flammily

 

DIY yarn ice cream cone garland- perfect for summer.

14 smart apps to improve your work/life balance.

5 minute coasters- my kind of craft!

A list of positive podcasts- DARLING.

Summer edition of 10 pieces, 15 outfits- capsule packing inspiration.

How to make a puppet theatre from a shoebox – in 5 minutes!

Pantry envy.

DIY retro summer brunch – too cute!

Road Trip Snack Boxes via I Should Be Mopping The Floor

Source: I Should Be Mopping The Floor

 

An easy and yummy solution to keep kids fueled on road trips!

I want to try my hand at flower arranging.

I need to get back to podcast listening- what are you enjoying right now?

Dotted garland- so cute!

What an incredible entry upgrade.

Excited to read this one!

The example we set.

amys_notebook

I hope you enjoyed our notebook, a collection of gathered links to DIY crafts, food projects, thrifty ways to spruce up your home, and thoughtful reads. Nothing brings me more joy than to highlight other fabulous bloggers. Follow me on Pinterest for daily inspiration!

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Tips for Successful Menu Planning

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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How to Make a DIY Salad Bar for Your Fridge

August 4th, 2015

Originally published in 2012 as a summer salad option, we’ve found having DIY salad bar ingredients in our fridge is great for quick, healthy dinners and lunches all year long, making it a perfect addition to our August M Challenge Focus on Meal Planning. I hope you are inspired by this idea to eat healthy any time of the year!

DIY Salad Bar- a healthy dinner ready to go in the fridge

Healthy eating should always be a priority, but making it a priority has gotten to be more challenging because we seem to always be eating on the go, no matter what the season. Enter an easy DIY salad bar that you can quickly prepare on your grocery day to enjoy all week long! This DIY salad bar can be kept on hand in your fridge so that it’s always easy to put together healthy salads for lunches, picnics, and quick dinners.

All of the supplies can be found at basic stores- you will need a fridge/freezer storage basket, three plastic 5 cup lidded containers, and 1 larger 12.5 cups container. Chop up your favorite salad ingredients and organize them in your containers like shown. The largest container does not sit firmly flat, but it still wedges in there nicely so that you can place all of these neatly in this wire organizer.

I love having such fresh ingredients on hand to choose form and creating a salad bar couldn’t be easier with the fantastic selection we have of fresh fruits and vegetables. I’m showcasing just a few of the basics we love in our salads. You could definitely fill your produce drawer up with a few other great salad add-ins!

Ingredient Ideas for a Great Salad Bar

Lettuce
Spinach
Kale
Egg
Tomato
Cucumber
Bell pepper
Sunflower Seeds
Croutons
Cheese
Mushrooms
Carrots
Corn Kernels
Onions (none for me please!)
Beans
Artichoke Hearts
Apples
Avocado
Broccoli
Shrimp
Steak
Homemade Dressings

One ingredient I always have on hand in the summer for quick summer salads and wraps is roasted chicken. I don’t keep a lot of fresh chicken around and prefer to buy the frozen chicken breasts instead. There is money to be saved in buying and preparing whole chickens, but my family only likes white meat  so for convenience sake (and to get them to eat it), we stick to the chicken breasts.

I buy the 3 pound bag of chicken  cook and slice all of the chicken for the week. The chicken is then ready to go to be made into wrap sandwiches, fast paninis, a protein addition to my salads for lunch, and it helps me save a step for our dinners for the week. Here is how I batch-cook our chicken:

Roasted Chicken Breasts for Bulk Cooking

Preheat the oven for 375 degrees. Spread the frozen chicken breasts out over one or two cookie sheets. Drizzle a little olive oil over the chicken breasts and then sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh black pepper. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Allow the chicken to rest ten to fifteen minutes (to allow the juices to redistribute within the meat). Dice, slice, or shred for your recipes for the week.

Here is my beautiful salad bar on full display! Isn’t she pretty? It makes me really happy to have all of our fruit and vegetables chopped and ready to go for our week, making it easier to eat healthy.

Since we are a family on the go, I wanted to show you a fun way to enjoy your salads while you are out and about:

I picked up a collapsible basket and packed it with our outdoor blanket, salads (and fun bowls with forks included), fresh cut fruit, and homemade iced tea for an afternoon picnic to encourage healthy eating wherever we might be!

 

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Apron Full of Giveaways 08.04.15

August 4th, 2015

Vintage Grain Sack half apron via Etsy

Source: Love of Pattern,  $39.99

 

Welcome to our Apron Full of Giveaways! I hope everyone is having a great week this week! As we do each week, here is our round-up of giveaways for our readers. We hope that this is beneficial to you and your family! Please let us know if you guys win anything- I love to hear the success stories!

Below are the contest links-if you are hosting a contest please link it up below. Sorry, we are not giving away the aprons just showcasing them! Please put your site name and then what type of contest you are hosting. For example, “MomAdvice (Kid’s Movies).”

Good luck to each of you!

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