Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Monthly Meal Planning

I wasn't really planning on blogging about this, but I've gotten a few questions on Instagram about monthly meal planning.

Morgan and I wanted to make our food budget a priority this year, so starting in January we started with a monthly meal plan. Basically, I plan every meal -- breakfast, lunch, and dinner -- every day for the entire month. Almost all of our shopping {except for some weekly staples} is done in one large trip at the beginning of the month.

Then, all of our dinner prep is done in one day, separated per meal into freezer bags, and popped into the freezer. When we are ready to eat, we take it out and either heated up, cooked in the oven or throw it into the crock pot. After a month, I'm completely hooked.

So, here's how to do it {or at least how this newbie does it}:
  • Print out three blank monthly calendars -- label them breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
  • Collect meal ideas
For breakfast and lunch we pretty standard list of things that we eat on a regular basis. List them all out by meal. For dinner, I turned to Pinterest or Jayne at The Naptown Organizer. When I'm searching, I'm looking for meals that are specifically meant to be made in larger quantities and frozen. There are tons out there -- just search freezer meals. 
  • Figure out meal quantities. 
For breakfast and lunch, I start by looking at my pre-packaged meals first. Things like chicken nuggets or oatmeal. For example, I know the oatmeal I buy comes with 5 packs in the box. Therefore, I know Henry can eat it 5 times in a month. Or, I know we can split the chicken nuggets we buy 3 times. I list the quantities next to my list of meals. 

This is a little trickier for dinner. I have to ask myself, how much do I want to eat this meal, and how much does the recipe make. I try for meals that I can eat 2-3 times per month, no more. I roughly plan for around 1/2-3/4 lb of beef/pork/turkey per meal or 2 chicken breasts -- and realistically split from there. Then, list quantities next to the meal list. Ensure you have enough meals to cover all the dinners you need for the month. 
  • Place the meals on the calendars
So, if you have oatmeal listed as 5, place it on the calendar 5 times. And continue until your calendar is full. Keep in mind your real schedule when you do this. Mornings {or evenings} I know that we have to be out the door early, I'm not planning on making pancakes or eggs -- that's a cereal kind of morning. I also keep variety in mind -- Morgan and I don't want to eat chicken meals five days in row, for example. 

  • Create a list.
Now, look at every recipe or meal and figure out everything you need to buy. List everything. This is the perfect time to make sure you really do have soy sauce, or corn starch, or whatever. Dig through the pantry and don't leave anything off. I promise the extra work is worth it! Don't forget to put freezer bags on your list, you'll need them.

  • Shop -- buy everything on your list {and a treat for being awesome!}
  • Cook and Freeze.
Shortly after your shopping trip, sit down with all your recipes and start preparing. Cut all the veggies, prepare all the sauces, slice all the meat. Some meals require the meat to be cooked ahead of time, some will cook in the crock pot/oven on the day you are eating the meal. That really depends on your recipe/meals. 

When everything for a meal is done, put it into a freezer bag. Label the bag and include any extra instructions {cooking times, etc.} to the outside of the bag. Place in freezer. Continue for every meal/recipe.
  • Eat! 
Enjoy the fruits {and veggies} of your labor for the next month! Yes, its a lot of work ahead of time, but then you're pretty much done for the whole month! One tip, make sure to move your meal for the NEXT day to the fridge the day before you want to eat it. That way, you don't even have to worry about defrosting your meal, just cook and eat. 

So, that's how this newbie does it! Any questions? Or tips from experts? I would love to hear them! 


Monday, January 27, 2014

Letter B Montessori Tot School

Henry is 34 months old.

We continued exploring letters this week at tot school, and moved on to the letter B. It was a good week, although Henry was a little reluctant to spent much time working. We did go on a little staycation, which created a little too much excitement and anticipation this week. I am happy to be back to "easier" letters where we can do some fun activities.

toddler, tot school, buttons

On the first tray was button pouring. We did this tray the first time we did the letter B. At that point, Henry was much more interested in the buttons themselves. This time, he was great at pouring and really enjoyed this tray...until he spilled once. Then, he refused to use the tray again. I think we have a little perfectionist on our hands.

The second tray was a little ambitious. It was a set of small blocks with the letter B painted on it. The goal was for Henry to assemble to blocks to make the B. On the back of the blocks, were numbers, so that if the numbers were placed in order the B would be correct. I also included a card with the letter B and a grid to make it a little easier.

This tray was too hard for Henry and for the other kids in the co-op. I knew it was a risk when I made the blocks, but it was worth a try. I think in a few months, Henry would have enjoyed this more. 

The third tray was a set of cards I made with the letter B and b. Then there was a small bowl of blue buttons. The goal was for Henry to place the buttons around the letters. Henry really enjoyed this tray and used it quite a bit. It was good fine motor and early literacy work.

I did a fourth tray this week because there were just so many good letter B ideas. Henry has been very into color matching lately, so I used his counting bears to create a color matching tray. The idea was to match the bears to the colored words. This was a  huge hit for Henry and for all of the kids at the co-op. It was used over and over.

Other trays we did this week: 

Letter B sensory bin:

Letter B Salt Tray and Sandpaper Letter: This was still popular this week, Henry was more interested in the sandpaper letter.

The Big Honey Hunt Literacy Tray: This Bernstein Bears book has a surprising number of B words. Henry loves this book and so I made a small maze for the children to follow with a little bee. I thought this would be a hit, but it was largely ignored.

Letter B magnet tray: Henry used this a ton this week which was unusual.

B-word Memory Matching: I used a couple wooden memory pieces with b-words. I kept it simple to introduce the concept of using your memory to match. Henry didn't use this tray, but it did get some use at the co-op.

Tot School
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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Montessori Infant Floor Bed

When Henry was a baby, I had no idea what Montessori was or really how it could be applied in a home. So, we set up a very traditional nursery for Henry which included a crib for Henry to sleep in. But, this time, I'm not sure I want to have a crib. 

In a Montessori infant environment a floor bed is typically used. A floor bed is essentially a small mattress or mat on the floor. The point if for the bed to be very low to the ground so that as the baby grows, he or she has freedom of movement within the environment. Obviously, a floor bed requires that the rest of the room be completely safe and well thought out so that the infant is safe while alone.

{Wonderful floor bed example from Vibrant Wanderings}

You can see some really beautiful examples of an infant floor beds on my Montessori Home Pinterest Board.

We use a floor bed in Henry's room and it has worked wonderfully for him. However, there's been one little problem...Henry complains that he is cold. Henry's room is slightly colder than the nursery, but I think a big part of it is, that his bed is on the floor. And, Henry has blankets, a heater, and fleece pjs! 

So, I'm a little worried about trying to use a floor bed with a baby who can't use more than a sleep sack to keep warm. Wiggles is due in June, so it will be warm then, but for the first couple months the baby will stay in my room in a bassinet. But, that means just as its getting cooler in the early winter we will be transitioning the baby to his/her own room.

{Another great example of a floor bed thanks to Confessions of a Montessori Mom}

I wondering how well an idea from warm, amazing Italy {Maria Montessori's homeland} actually translates to bitterly cold, snowy, windy Minnesota? Maybe it doesn't, and a crib is a better option? 

I'm really torn. Maybe we should use a crib for the first winter, then switch? Stick with a crib and have a floor mat for playing? Try out the floor bed? 

So, what do you think? Anyone have any experience with an infant floor bed in a cold environment? 


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Boy or Girl?

In just two weeks, Morgan and I have the big 2nd trimester ultrasound scheduled! I'm so excited I can hardly wait. Not only do want to see the baby, but I really want to learn if we are having a boy or girl. I think it will really help me connect to this baby and finally start believing this is all real. I should say we absolutely couldn't care less about a boy or girl -- I just want a healthy baby -- this is just for fun!

So, lets keep busy for the next two weeks by guessing the gender! I'll have a poll in the sidebar {right over there -----> } until next Monday night. The ultrasound is SUPER early in the morning on Tuesday, and I'll be happy to share right away -- no fancy gender reveals here. I think we will also share the name at that time, but I have to confirm that with Morgan.

Anyway, before you guess, here are some things to keep in mind {based on completely meaningless old-wives tales}
  • I had two dreams early on that the baby was a girl, but I've felt boy since then. 
  • Morgan is on the fence -- but is leaning boy 
  • The Chinese Gender chart says girl 
  • I've been craving salty foods -- particularly lunch meat and cheese {and I can't even eat cheese -- sad face} 
  • The baby's heartbeat has been between the low 160's and the mid 150's
  • Henry says the baby is a girl 
  • My skin has been a mess - lots of acne 
  • I had constant nausea during my first trimester, but none {thankfully!} now 
Now, leave your guess in the comments, or vote in the poll! 


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Letter A Tot School

Henry is 34 months.

This was our first week we used our new tot school focus of phonics and letter construction. It wasn't a huge shift from what we did the first time through the alphabet, but there were some subtle changes that I hope to expand over time. 

Our first tray was a sandpaper letter/salt tray. This was the first time I used the sandpaper letters and the salt but this is going to become a permanent feature each week. Henry and the co-op kids all seemed to have some interest in the sandpaper letter -- but not as much as the salt. I'm hoping over time the sensory aspect of the salt will lose its appeal and they will be more interested in using the tray how it was intended. 

Ideally, they would trace the letter, while saying its sound. Then, write the letter in the salt. Henry did trace the letter quite a bit, but never did it in the salt. However, he has an iPad app that he used to dislike because it makes you trace the letter to unlock the game -- well, this week I noticed for the first time he was able to unlock the letter a! So, something must have been sticking. 

The second tray was a letter a sight{ish} word game. I made two cards with letter a words written in lower case, then the kids had to use scrabble pieces to match the letters and spell the words. The first card {shown} was apple. The other was the name/picture of one of the little boys in our co-op whose name start's with A. 

The final tray was a set of 3-part cards that we used the first time with the letter A. On this particular set, I left one set of cards together so it was a little easier to match. It was probably a little too easy for the kids and Henry but this time I also included the words, which were more of a challenge. 

Other activities we did included: 

Letter A sensory bin: I'm keeping these since they provide a good opportunity to learn vocabulary and to identify words that start with each letter. 

Bead Name Game: For purposes of this picture, I used a "Henry" sheet, but this week I used a sheet with the little boy with the A name. But to protect the boy's identity I'm not going to show that exact sheet. The idea was to fill in the circles of the boy's name with the glass beads. This was a hit -- especially with the boy! 

Apple Color Sorting: On this tray I got to use one of my many apple trays! I included three different colored barrels and a bunch of small apples. The children could then sort the colors. This was a big hit for Henry, who is very into color sorting right now. 

Letter A magnet sheet: Somehow this didn't get a picture before I put it away -- oh well, it was ignored anyway. 

Letter A font matching: This was another repeat from the first time we did the letter A. The point was to match the green and black A's that looked a like. I saw one girl using this during the co-op, but otherwise it was completely ignored all week. 

*Sorry for the lack of pictures of Henry. Henry has decided the camera is the most awesome thing ever all of a sudden and if its out all he does is make cheezy faces at the camera then look at the pictures. So, in order to try to not interrupt his work, I've been leaving it out of tot school. Sometimes I will catch a few moments on my phone -- see all of those on Instagram

Tot School
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Friday, January 17, 2014

Catch the Moment 2/52

Another week down. This week was busier and reaching for the camera was harder, but I'm glad I stuck with it. Editing this week, focusing on the basics -- white balance and reducing the noise. I've also noticed I've made it two whole weeks, without getting into the picture, I should work on that.

Day 10: First nap Henry's taken for me in months!

Day 11: Saturday morning Legos.

Day 12: My working companion in her favorite spot -- in front of the heater. {iPhone -- unedited}

Day 13: Movie, by the glow of the iPad

Day 14: Coloring at the counter.

Day 15: "I hungry" as we're tucking him into bed -- finishing dinner in his pjs.

Day 16: Tot school, blog prep.

Nurse Loves Farmer