Feeding My Family: Part 1 – Menu Planning

feeding my family series copy

This post is part of a series on how I plan, shop, and prep food for my family. I explain my processes so that you can adapt some of the strategies to your individual situations. 

Even for someone who *loves* food and cooking, everyday food planning and prep is tedious. However, I’ve found some ways to make things run more smoothly overall. It does require some up-front work, but you’ll earn it back in one night not spent wondering what to make for dinner and searching your cabinets. Multiply that by 5 nights a week, and you’ll have an hour back every week.

What kind of grocery shopper are you? Do you:
a) just throw a bunch of stuff in your cart and hope that you end up with something edible?
b) go to the grocery for dinner food nearly every night?
c) buy the normal stuff every week, but get sick of eating the same three things?

For me, I make a big shopping trip once every two weeks, with a quick stop at the beginning of the second week if we need more milk/bread/produce. It’s so much less stressful not to have to worry about what we are eating or how to squeeze in shopping every night (let alone the savings!).

We’ve been meal planning for a few months now, and when we fall out of routine, we instantly regret it — life gets more hectic (and much more expensive). So here’s how I do it.

I start by picking a meal for each theme day while looking at my calendar, sticking mostly to the days but switching things around if we have a crazy night or something else. We mostly adhere to the schedule, but sometimes something just doesn’t sound great, so we will swap days around.

We were really worried about meal planning being boring or tedious, but it actually helps us keep more variety in our dinners. How? When planning a month at a time, we try to plan something different for each of the theme nights with as few repeats as possible (unless we are just really into a certain dish at the moment).

Let’s look at the next two weeks (I didn’t plan a whole month this time because of the holidays making our schedules weird):

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(Like the colors to match my Emily Ley Simplified Planner?)

There are some abnormalities to this two-week plan, but overall, it shows how different our meals are night-to-night. Note – we usually eat fish at least once a week, but I’ve gotten a bit burned out on it lately. Also, we don’t mind eating the same meat two nights in a row as long as it is prepared in a different way, either.

The other portion of meal planning for us is lunches. My husband and I eat leftovers or lunch meat for our lunches every day, and since I usually make a big pot of soup on Sundays, that fills in any gaps. My kids, however, have to have specific portions of things for lunches due to government regulations, so we’ve developed a series of items:

  • Whole Grain/Protein: Turkey and Cheese or Peanut Butter and Jelly on Honey Whole Wheat Bread
  • Fruits: Two fruits each day per week – this week, it’s raspberries and clementines.
  • Veggies: Baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers for little boy and black olives for big boy

Ready to start meal planning? You don’t have to do theme nights! This is just how we ensure that we don’t eat the same five things every week. You could also just make a list of all of your favorite meals to look at each week, or modify my nights to suit your family’s tastes.

Once you’ve got your meal plan ready, join me for the next post, where we plan out your grocery trip and talk about money saving tips.


My Favorite De-Stressing Secrets

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My job comes with A LOT of stress. I mean, a whole heap. Now that my husband is a teacher, too, our stress is often doubled.

(Hey, Amanda: are we really going to completely ignore the fact that you’ve only posted once this calendar year? Yes, yes we are. See the first sentence of this post.)

Even taking away my three-hour daily commute and transitioning into a fantastic school with amazing kids and great administrators, my job is still stressful. That’s just the life of a teacher.

So it’s absolutely essential that I find ways to de-stress, and I’m starting to get this relaxing thing down. Wanna know my secrets?

Hot baths. Like, an obscene number of hot baths. Something about the warm water just calms me instantly. One day, I’d love to have a hot tub; I seriously use it every single night.

British tea. I’m totally not trying to be a hipster, but I adore PG Tips (an English breakfast-style tea) with milk and sugar. I’m so thankful that my local Kroger has been carrying it for a few years now and I don’t have to order it from a specialty store anymore.

Alone time. My husband and I make sure that both of us get some kind of alone time every single week. Even if it’s just an hour, this time to recharge really helps personally and to keep our marriage going strong. For me, this usually coincides with hot bath time.

Mandatory kids’ bed time. Our kids get put in bed at 7:00 nearly every night, with very few exceptions. It may take them until 8:00 to fall asleep sometimes (and, okay, maybe sometimes even 9:00 on a rare occasion) but this is a huge key to our sanity. It guarantees us time – sometimes together, sometimes separately, sometimes working in tandem – which is definitely our most precious resource. It also helps when one of us, usually me, isn’t feeling well because I know I can go to bed at 7:00 without seriously burdening my husband and vice versa.

Daily grind coffee body scrub. I love pampering products, but I don’t always have the budget for things for me, which means Perfectly Posh is a great fit — amazing products at fantastic prices. I also love their Drop Dead Gorgeous Dead Sea Mud Face Mask. Be forewarned, however: this is a highly effective product so the tingling is intense! It doesn’t bother me and I have super sensitive skin, so I get over the tingling for the awesome results.

Magazine binges. I have been known to buy 5 magazines at a time. I really should probably just buy a subscription to one of my faves each month, haha. When I can get a quarterly issue, I absolutely LOVE Domino, and I don’t mind settling for an Ikea or Crate + Barrel catalog. Some of my favorite magazines are Real Simple, HGTV, Southern Living, Traditional Home, Southern Living, Kentucky Monthly, Food & Wine, Food Network, Martha Stewart Living, Bon Appétit, House Beautiful, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, and many more!

Perusing Instagram. A few months ago, I came across an article listing several of the best photographers on Instagram. Because of this, my feed is full of gorgeous images from accounts like @natgeotravel, @natgeo, @gavman18, @tuulavintage, @sarahirenemurphy, @kirstenalana, and @nunziacillo and feels sort of curated. And, I’m not going to lie, some other favorites such as @westelm, @potterybarn, @nbcsnl, @bethbehrsreal, @walkinlove, @vrsly, @kjp, @taylorswift and @dominomag don’t hurt, either 😉

A great book. Or really, a quick read will do, too. I don’t read nearly as much as I’d like to (mostly because I borrow e-books on my Kindle Paperwhite from the local library, and I often don’t finish them before the loan expires) but I eat books up when I have time. This is something I have been trying to make a priority this year.

Dedicated work time and family time on Sundays. Let’s be honest: it’s a lot easier not to stress knowing that at 9:15 every Sunday, my kids leave with my mom and I have until 3:30 to myself to work on school work, house work, or fun stuff. Then, at 3:30, I go to my parent’s house for family time until 7:00. I try to be finished with work by this time (because I actually want to hang out with my kids and parents).

And when all else fails, television. Whether it’s Fixer Upper (love Chip and Joanna!), Dr. Who, Harry Potter, or Hunger Games, a favorite movie or TV binge definitely lets me escape from the daily grind.

When it comes to de-stressing, it’s important to have a lot of tools in your arsenal. What are some of your favorite ways to de-stress?

Themed Menu Planning

I’ve been off for a full three days and I’m already starting to try to sync back into some kind of routine. Luckily, since I will no longer be driving three hours each day for work, I will actually be able to sustain routines and make them carry through. Heck, I might even post more often than once every six months 😉


Y’all know that one of my obsessions is food. I love cooking (but not baking, thankyouverymuch) and it’s one of my stress relievers from my job. I also crazily love grocery shopping. I have a routine and a local Kroger that, with its market-style layout and amazing employees, makes my experience another chance to relieve stress and get some me time.

First stop: Starbucks, right in my Kroger.

But I hate meal planning. I often get stuck in a rut of what to make and forget about the dozens of other awesome items I can cook well that we haven’t had for 6 months.

So we are going to do what all sane   rational crazy families do: theme nights! I’m sure these won’t work for everyone, but they work well for us.

Mexican Monday- enchiladas with sour cream queso sauce, fajitas, tacos, quesadillas, taco salads, and anything else I learn how to make.

Italian Tuesday- Oh man, do I know a lot of recipes in this category! Alfredo, spaghetti, lasagna, ravioli, etc. and so on.


New Ideas Wednesday- Catchy name, right? If you think of a better way to put it, please let me know. We love finding new recipes (my husband even pins things that look good for me to try*), so this is the day that I’m dedicating to finding new favorites. This is in place of Pinterest binging and making like 6 meals in one day to try new things. What??? Don’t pretend you’ve never done it!

#ThrowbackThursday- Thursdays will be dedicated to all our family favorites and traditional recipes: grilling, salmon, fried catfish, meatloaf, tuna noodle casserole, Chicken Bryan. I could probably name 100 recipes here.


Fun Friday- We budget eating out once a week. For us, we’d rather buy quality ingredients for the rest of the week than eat out all the time. This day is for Chinese food, pizza, and restaurant trips. Can you say Texas Roadhouse?

Sandwich Saturday- We’ve usually got a lot going on on Saturdays, and with all the rush, sandwiches are great. Hamburgers, goetta grilled cheese, paninis, cold sandwiches, tuna melts, BLTs, and homemade accompaniments such as potato or pasta salad.


Soup and Salad Sunday- Sundays are the days that we actually only have to worry about lunch, since we go to my parents’ every Sunday evening. We usually like to eat light, and I often make a pot of soup that we can take for lunches during the first half of the week. Plus, who can resist a spinach salad with goat cheese, candied walnuts, and raspberry vinaigrette? Tomato Bisque, beef vegetable, broccoli cheddar, potato (with ham and bacon, duh), and maybe I need to expand a little in this category with some new recipes!


What are your favorite themes for planning meals? Have a suggestion for our Wednesday nights?

*Before the Internet explodes with sexism remarks about my husband, he can and does cook, and often. I just prefer to cook and he, being awesome, does the dishes. I hate doing dishes *shudder*.

The Weightiness of Resolutions

Each year on this blog, it’s been the same thing: I post my resolutions for the upcoming year, whether it be nearly my only post for the year or not (see: 2014). I set goals that I may or may not achieve, and I publish them in the hopes that having them “in ink” online will provide me with some sort of motivation to get them done.  And honestly, a fair amount of them are accomplished, especially considering how many resolutions never come to fruition in the macro, beyond myself.

But this year, I’m tired. 2014 chewed me up and spit me out. What looked like a year of promise turned into a year of survival. Of course, many more catastrophic things could’ve happened to me or in spite of me, and we did, in fact, survive, but I realize that my resolutions are often unattainable. This is not because I’m a poor goal-setter or because I create unrealistic expectations for myself, but because things change that are beyond my control actually quite often. My resolutions for 2014 were specific and fairly actionable, but this year, I’m going for things that are more in my control, regardless of changes. I might have a few actionable items, but mostly it’s about taking care of myself and putting what’s important first.

My 2015 Resolutions

First and foremost, I will stop letting other people determine my happiness, especially work. Many times, the things that I let “drag me down” are beyond my control, so why should I make myself unhappy because of it? I choose to be happy during 2015 and to let things roll off instead of upset me.

2015 will be my year of being proactive, instead of reactive. I will anticipate hardships and plan for them. I will deal with things immediately instead of procrastinating. I will finish something and let it go instead of letting it eat at me.

My several and varied passions, all of which I have thrown by the wayside, will have a place in my life, whether big or small, to give me the outlets that I need.

My priorities for 2015 are happiness and family. What does that entail? For me, it’s continuing to develop a close and loving relationship with my family; making sure that my marriage takes the helm over other relationships and engagements; setting limits on what needs to be done with work and what truly doesn’t matter; making weekends solely about family and never about main job work; feeling successful in my Jamberry small business and getting to hang out with the amazing women I meet through that venture; taking quiet moments to reflect on my life and center myself back into balance.

It is not stressing myself out over trivial things that others find important but really aren’t; letting work consume my life; driving home so late that the kids have to eat dinner on the road and go straight to bed; staying up late to finish some “important” item and losing sleep, causing me to go into a spiral for the week; alienating friends because of other “priorities” or social anxiety from alienating them previously.

So, after all this, I’d guess that I really only have one actual resolution: balance. Some things in life truly are more important, no matter what others try to do to convince you to rule in their favor, for their priority. How can I model to my children and my students what it means to have a truly full and loving life if I don’t practice balance myself? I only have two thirds of my life left, IF I’m seriously lucky. I’m not wasting another day.

Kids’ Birthday Party Ideas

over 200 kids party ideas

We’ve all seen those awesome party ideas all over the internet — the ones that make us hold our breath and exclaim, “Why didn’t I think of that?!?” These are the parties that don’t have anything to do with buying plates with the latest cartoon face plastered on the bottom. These are the parties that have seemingly boring themes, but with some creativity they yield amazing results, and they teach our kids to like what they like instead of liking what’s most popular.

I’m trying to get my kids away from cartoon-based parties and more into themes that we can create ourselves (well, after this year — between my job, two weddings, moving, conferences, and curriculum planning, it’s been a bit crazy!). I’m sure all of these parties have amazing ideas and pictures on Pinterest, but I’ve yet to see a really great list of ideas all in one post. That’s why I’m posting here – to begin the list. If you think of anything that should be added, comment and I will edit the post. Ideas for each party can come later — Right now, it’s always nice just to have a list to look at for ideas. And they don’t have to just be for boys or girls — pick what your kid likes and go with it, and make it work for their gender.

PS – I will slowly be organizing them into better groupings as I have time!

  1. butterflies
  2. ladybugs
  3. caterpillars
  4. worms
  5. picnic ants
  6. elephants
  7. owls
  8. foxes
  9. birds
  10. puppies
  11. kittens
  12. lizards
  13. dragons
  14. fish
  15. sharks
  16. dolphins
  17. jungle animals
  18. farm animals
  19. forest animals
  20. sea animals
  21. swamp animals
  22. desert animals
  23. rainforest animals
  24. arctic animals
  25. *insert your favorite animal*
  26. picnic
  27. campout
  28. bonfire
  29. garden
  30. flowers
  31. race car
  32. fire truck
  33. hot air balloon
  34. airplane
  35. boat
  36. bicycle
  37. carriage
  38. wagon
  39. train
  40. garage
  41. construction vehicles
  42. tools
  43. policeman
  44. firefighter
  45. astronaut
  46. doctor
  47. clown
  48. roses
  49. mushrooms
  50. rainbow
  51. cookies and milk
  52. stars
  53. hexagons
  54. diamonds
  55. polka dots
  56. stripes
  57. chevron
  58. alphabet
  59. numbers
  60. pinwheels
  61. windmills
  62. prince
  63. princess
  64. knight
  65. ninja
  66. pirate
  67. soldier
  68. sailor
  69. ballerina
  70. magician
  71. teddy bear
  72. musical instruments
  73. county fair
  74. fruits
  75. berries
  76. lemons and limes
  77. peaches
  78. apples
  79. oranges
  80. veggies
  81. ice cream
  82. cupcakes/baking/decorating
  83. spa
  84. makeover
  85. slumber
  86. jewelry making
  87. tshirt making
  88. fashion designer
  89. painting
  90. beach
  91. ocean
  92. pool
  93. indians
  94. cowboys
  95. tea party
  96. football
  97. soccer
  98. basebol
  99. tennis
  100. karate
  101. skater
  102. ice skating
  103. roller skating
  104. skateboarding
  105. bees
  106. dolls
  107. dinosaurs
  108. nautical
  109. mermaid
  110. starfish
  111. crab/lobster
  112. lemonade
  113. angel
  114. French
  115. Asian
  116. Indian
  117. Victorian
  118. British
  119. Hawaiian
  120. Hippie
  121. Flapper
  122. Fifties
  123. down under
  124. wizards
  125. paint brushes
  126. vintage
  127. circus
  128. carnival
  129. shabby chic
  130. french country
  131. fave fairy tale (Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Goldilocks, Three Little Pigs)
  132. fave nursery rhyme (Humpty Dumpty, Hey Diddle Diddle, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Jack and Jill)
  133. bow ties
  134. mustaches
  135. color-themed (gold, silver, blue, pink, etc.)
  136. rain
  137. clouds
  138. sun
  139. umbrellas
  140. flip flops
  141. travel
  142. knitting/sewing
  143. gumball
  144. sweet shop
  145. teddy bear
  146. blocks
  147. puzzles
  148. fishing
  149. hunting
  150. aviator
  151. carousel
  152. beach ball
  153. photography
  154. kites
  155. silhouette
  156. holiday themed
  157. ribbons and bows
  158. baby animals
  159. seasons (winter, spring, summer, fall)
  160. farm
  161. city
  162. plaid
  163. monsters
  164. hairstyling
  165. paper dolls
  166. mason jars
  167. rubber duckies
  168. fireworks
  169. rockets
  170. aliens
  171. feathers
  172. lace
  173. goldfish
  174. chocolate
  175. pumpkin patch
  176. flamingo
  177. once upon a time
  178. unicorn
  179. rock star
  180. Hollywood
  181. archery
  182. fireflies
  183. stargazing
  184. neon
  185. animal prints
  186. volleyball
  187. glow in the dark
  188. bowling
  189. spy
  190. chef
  191. cooking challenge
  192. ombre
  193. dance party
  194. donuts
  195. rock (as in actual rocks)
  196. fossils/archeologist
  197. motorcycle
  198. superhero
  199. space
  200. duck
  201. turtle
  202. lamb
  203. horse
  204. secret agent
  205. zoo
  206. safari
  207. surfing