Our Mindful Life

Our Mindful Life: March 2011

Our Mindful Life

Our Mindful Life is about paying attention to what it is that we do on a day to day basis and how we impact each other and the planet. We will talk about all of the things that we do here at home to make ourselves and the world a better place.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Meal Planning Basics

Meal planning can save time, money and sanity in the kitchen!  :D  This is the basic way I meal plan.

1. Determine the length of time you will plan for.  Will it be by pay period?  By length of time between shopping trips?  Weekly, bi-weekly or monthly?

My husband gets paid bi-weekly, so we usually shop on his paydays.  I meal plan for two weeks at a time, starting with the day after he gets paid.  This is what works for us, but if you have a hard time committing to two weeks of meals at one time, plan for one!  Or, if you have trouble sitting down every two weeks to plan, then do a whole month at once and don't revisit this step for another whole month!  If you do plan for a month in advance, though, you will have a harder time planning around store sales and you will likely need to shop more often than once a month for fresh foods.  However, planning a menu a month can make great use of a deep freeze, large meat purchases (like a half a cow or pig) or a wholesale club membership like Costco or Sams Club.

2. Figure out what is a good buy this week.  First, plan in season when possible.  My kids LOVE strawberries, but right now, our option is frozen strawberries because we just can't afford fresh.  Also, organic peppers are out of our price range for the most part right now.  I save my stuffed pepper recipe for farmer's market season!

Also, don't forget to think about what you already have in your pantry or freezer!  The cheapest place to shop is at your own home.

Next, pull out the sale fliers for the stores you shop at.  Because of our food sensitivities and preferences, we regularly shop at 5 different stores, to save money.  That sounds like a lot, but each store has different things that work for us, and we know what they are.  We buy our rice and almond milk at one store where they are cheaper than any of the others.  We go through enough every week that it is worth it to us to make this special trip (and the store is not far away).  We have found that our little local grocery, while too expensive and too conventional on most items, actually carries only natural meats in their meat case and has incredible sales weekly - so we do all of our meat shopping there.  Again, the extra trip is worth it for us in the dollars we save.  The farthest store of the five has the majority of what we use, and we go there every 2 weeks.  The two remaining stores are our mid-week trip stores, if we run out of something or have forgotten something.  Oh, and I nearly forgot about the co-op we belong to at www.azurestandard.com!  So, the fliers come in here - we eat meat at most dinners, which are what I meal plan for, so I go to the flier for our local grocery first.  I look up what meat is on sale on the day I will be shopping, and plan what I will be buying.  I don't spend more than $2.50/lb on meat, and usually far under that.  And not every meal contains meat, which also helps to lower that cost.

3. What do you like to eat?  Now that I know what I'll be working with, I think about what I'm going to do with it.  We have a soup night on Mondays, and fish on Tuesdays and Fridays, so I plan two soups and it is easy to remember to add in our four fish nights.  Then, I get out my entrée list.  I keep a list of recipes that my family likes, and also I keep a recipe book on www.allrecipes.com so that I can look them over to figure out what to have.  So, for example, a few weeks ago, chicken quarters were on sale for 69 cents a pound.  So, I stocked up for that two weeks.  My family loves chicken, so it was easy to eat it four times in two weeks - but they don't want to eat the same thing 4 times in two weeks.  So, I looked up all of my chicken recipes and picked four different ones.  Some of them were easy to work together on - I needed cooked shredded chicken for several of the recipes, so I tossed the chicken for all of those recipes into the crockpot together one day.  When I shredded the chicken, I took all of the bones, etc, and put them back in the crockpot with celery, onions, carrots, and water and made chicken stock.  That took a lot of prep out of several meals at once.

4. Now a grocery list!  I get all of my recipes in front of me for the two weeks and look over all of the ingredients.  I add each one to a grocery list and add quantities if I need more of the same thing for another recipe later.  For example, if I am making three things with diced tomato in one menu, I might not remember all three right up front.  I may just write diced tomato and by the time I've gone through each of my recipes, there will be 3 tallies beside it.  This step seems trivial but it is so important!  If you don't actually have the ingredients on hand for your menu, then you won't stick to it or you will have to go back to the store and this blows your grocery budget!  If you aren't one to stick to a recipe hard core, it is fine to just grab the basics and sub stuff out as it happens, but your enchiladas just won't be as good without the diced tomato.

5. Put it on the calendar - or don't!  For me, this is a critical step.  I have to look at what we've got scheduled for certain days to figure out dinner around it.  A trip to the chiro means coming home at 6:30 and we need dinner to be waiting for us, so I plan crockpot meals for those nights.  Meals that take a lot of prep at dinner time need to be made on nights when we will be at home for the entire afternoon.  If I need to soak beans, I would really like to know ahead of time.  For all these reasons and more, I plan each meal for a specific day.  Do I sometimes switch out my days?  Absolutely!  But in general, this makes life much easier on me.

However, some people just need the freedom.  They just need to be able to pick out a meal and make it that day.  It is too mundane to look at the calendar and eat what it says.  And that is fine too, as long as your lifestyle will accommodate that!

6. Stick to the plan.  This is actually the most critical step!  If you have a ton of food at your house but go out to eat every night, you will not save any money or time - I promise!  You have to actually eat the things from your menu for this to work.

What other menu planning tips do you have?

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Teaching Nutrition to Preschoolers

My kids are great eaters - generally speaking. But lately, I've become uneasy about the consumption of some foods to excess while ignoring others. Our rules for eating are pretty laid back - the kids are not expected to clean their plates, or eat something they don't like. We always offer whatever we are having, but I'm also not a short order cook. When we know that someone will likely not like what we are having for dinner, we generally expect that we will be making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich half way through dinner - and we are fine with that. A friend of mine once gave me a sage piece of advice that helped me to see this in a good light. She said, "I'm a vegetarian and the rest of my family eats meat. If I had to either eat meat or not eat at dinner every night, that wouldn't be fair."

Also, we let the kids pick their breakfast, lunch and snacks from a list of choices. We truly believe in giving them as much freedom as possible, but we also believe in educating them about the choices they are making. It seems silly to us to not inform them that the fire is hot and then to let them play in the room with a fire. The same goes for food - we want them to understand the value and danger of food while letting them have a large say in what they eat.

So, I began looking for some information about teaching preschoolers about nutrition. But none of the resources I found really worked for our family. To start with, my son has some extensive food sensitivities which means that he can't eat an entire food group from the traditional food pyramid. Also, I don't believe that fats are the bad guys that they are made out to be, and we make sure to get plenty of them every day - so lumping them in with sweets definitely doesn't work for us.

I began to think over what I believe to be true about nutrition, and to put together a lesson for the children that would reflect those beliefs - and would also be age appropriate for them. This is what I came up with!

I started with a large sheet of newsprint. I wrote across the top "Healthy Eating" - not that they can read it! Then, I drew a large rectangle, all of the way across the top of the paper. I asked what kind of foods we need to eat a lot of. My daughter answered quickly, "Vegetables!" I asked what else was like vegetables and she promptly responded, "Fruits!" So we labelled that top box "Fruits and Vegetables". We broke it into 5 different, equally sized squares and colored each square in a rainbow color.

Next, we drew another rectangle, not quite so large as the first, and labelled it "Grains and Breads". Next we added "Proteins and Meats" in a box about the same size as the grains box. Across the bottom was a square called "Calcium", a rectangle called "Oils and Fats" and a small rectangle labelled "Sweets and Treats".

We cut the label off of our rice milk jug and put it in the calcium square (just to be clear, we used an empty, washed jug for this). We will add an almond milk label when we have an empty jug too. Then, we ran off to the computer and Google Images where we looked up pictures of MANY of our favorite foods! I let the kids help to come up with ideas for the foods, and we looked for black and white pictures so that we could color them in. When we had most of our favorites, we printed up the pictures in thumbnail size. Then we had a good time coloring them in. After everything was colored in, we got out the clear tape and taped each food onto the chart where it belonged. The fruits and veggies we separated by color to show that each color had a value.

It was a very interesting lesson for the kids, and a great visual representation for them of the food groups that we actually eat, along with how much of each item we should be eating. I don't necessarily believe in daily servings so much as I believe in overall balance, and I think that the varying size squares really represent that well. I was also lovingly impressed with the foods the children chose. While they forgot some of the basics (melons, carrots), they remembered things like turnips, and mango.

Throughout the short term future, we will talk about what we are eating, and where it belongs on the chart, whether it is something we should eat lots of or just a little bit, why we should choose organic options, how each item on the chart contributes something different to our bodies, and why it is important to eat a balance of foods instead of just a lot of mayonnaise - not that anyone at our house has a problem with that, or anything!

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Moving Into Spring

While we technically have a few weeks left before Spring officially begins, we all know that it doesn't really happen all at once. At our house, the little green things are "poking their noses up", the weather has been warming up a bit, and we've seen the return of some of our bird friends who do not winter in town. In the same vein, we have begun moving into Spring at our house, as well. We also make the transition slowly.

A week or so ago, we went through our bins of stored clothing in the basement and pulled out the warm weather clothes in the appropriate sizes for 3 little people. We took inventory to figure out what else would be needed. Each child has a box in the bottom of their closet that their clothes in the next size, or for the next season go in, and as things are outgrown they are also tossed in these boxes. When the season changes, we take out all of the outgrown clothing and put it in the storage bins, and add the upcoming season's clothing to the box. Thus, the warm weather clothing is waiting for the warm weather to come, nestled in the boxes in the bottom of the closet. That first 80* day that sneaks up on us will not be met with us ransacking the basement for clothing that got dusty in storage!

This week, we changed our nature table over, getting it ready for Spring. We cleared off all of the outdated items, cleaned off the dust from nuts and twigs, and removed the old silk background. We added some silks in spring colors first. Then we spent a day crafting new items for the table! We made pom pom chicks, filled a wee flower pot with brightly colored dried flowers, made a bird's nest and filled it with clay eggs, and created a clay adult bird to sit with the eggs. We added some little figurines of Spring time animals as well. There is still plenty of room to add to the table as the season goes on, but for now, it is well matched to the changes happening outside our windows!

Next, we will be taking down our snowmen on the mantle and replacing them with bunnies, eggs, and chicks!

We'll also be getting out our Spring books and packing up the Winter titles.

Happy Spring preparations!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ten Great Spring Activities To Do With Preschoolers

Welcome to the March Carnival of Natural Parenting: Natural Parenting Top 10 Lists

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared Top 10 lists on a wide variety of aspects of attachment parenting and natural living. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


10. Make the transition to spring with your little one's help. Get out the lighter jackets, bring out the short sleeves, get some rain boots or an umbrella. Likewise, put away the winter gear. And don't forget about transitioning from winter to spring in other areas! Bring out spring time books, outdoor toys, and those spring time food favorites.

9. Get some fresh air! Open the windows, run around outside, ride bikes, dig in the dirt, wade in a creek if it is warm enough.

8. Go see baby animals. Check out a farm, a farm supply store, or a petting zoo to see those spring time babies!

7. Take a trip to the farmers' market. Better yet, take one every week or two. See the food that is actually being grown and see what is ready for the table when.

6. Tie fabric strips in a tree near your house for the birds to use as building materials for nests. Likewise, providing a feeder and bird bath (perhaps homemade from recycled materials) will attract feathered friends to your yard for the littles to watch.

5. Press flowers and use them to make all sorts of beautiful things! Pick some of those fresh spring greens, clovers, flowers, interesting leaves, violets, and whatever else catches your fancy. Press them in a book - we love those excess phone books that show up on our door step for this purpose. If you use a good book, put tissue paper or blank newsprint between the pages. If using the excess phone book idea, just put the items directly between the pages. In about 2 weeks, glue the flowers onto bookmarks, cards, or other paper crafts, press into wax paper to make a suncatcher, or put it on homemade candles.

4. Build a toad house, or an entire toad village. We will be building ours soon and I'll post a link here to a new entry about our experience.

3. Make a wheel of the year calendar. Draw a circle and divide it up for the seasons, add holidays, birthdays, months, whatever takes you. Draw pictures to help the kids identify what happens when.

2. Plant something. It doesn't matter what and it doesn't matter where. The act of putting seeds in dirt, applying water regularly and watching the green things poke their noses up is one of the most magical things in the world to children. Plant a lettuce bed in a 9x13 baking dish, and use it for home grown salads. Plant herbs in pots to grow in a sunny window. Plant tomato or pepper plants in pots on the patio or in a sunny part of the yard. Get adventurous and make an actual garden! Plant a flower bed. Plant some annuals in a window box.

1. Celebrate Earth Day on April 22. Create some recycled crafts, go to a demonstration, or just talk about ways that kids can help the Earth by lowering their impact.

We will be doing all of these activities and I'll be back to post about them. I'll link to this article so that you can check out what we've done!


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon March 8 with all the carnival links.)

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Wheel of the Year Calendar

My kids love getting their hands into a good craft project. A few weeks ago, we were looking for something fun to do and decided on a wheel of the year calendar. This is a great visual representation for kids who aren't yet reading, and helps them to get a feel for the cycle of the year. We are pagan, so we listed the pagan holidays, along with the national holidays that we celebrate. Birthdays and other special days could be added as well.

Our first step was to get a big piece of newsprint (I have a giant roll that I never think to use), and cut it into a square. Next, we used a large round tray and traced the circle onto the paper. This is your "wheel".

Next, we picked four pieces of construction paper (but you could get creative here)into wedges to represent each season. Winter is a pale blue (ice, snow), Spring is a yellow (the beginning of green), Summer is green (lush trees) and Autumn is orange (Fall foliage), on our calendar. We glued these all on to our circle so that each wedge is one quarter of the circle.

We then took black construction paper and cut it into 4 strips, as long as our circle's diameter and about a half inch wide. We glued these first in a cross across the lines of our construction paper (one strip each direction), and then used the other two strips to draw the "cross quarters" for our pagan holidays.

Since each of the points of these lines is a pagan holiday, we labelled these holidays - Yule, Candlemas, Ostara, May Day, Litha (Summer Solstice), Lamas (Mid-Summer), Mabon (Fall Equinox), Halloween. We drew pictures with each to represent what it was for our non-readers.

Then we labelled our seasons. We put the word in the center with a line spanning between the beginning and the end, to give the idea that Winter, for instance, begins at Yule, and includes all of the holidays until Ostara.

Now, we added in the other holidays we celebrate - Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, 4th of July, and Thanksgiving - each with a picture to help identify it for the non-readers.

And here is our finished product, hanging up in our playroom where the kids can inspect it whenever they wish!