Monday, July 18, 2011

Phew! Current projects

Here are some of the projects I am working on:

- My Coupon Binder. I am using a No-Clip system, so it is pretty low-key. We just slide the new weeks inserts into a page protector and it is done. The only complication is magazines and hang-tags- It is a pain to keep track of these.

- My recipe book - I am pasting recipes from magazines onto printer paper to put in a binder.

- My home management binder- currently it is mostly put together. I just need to use it. Ugh. I need a tip on how to actually USE it.

This week starts my FIRST week going back to work since I left Tom's in 2009. I have never left both of my kids with Matt for an entire day, so I am kind of nervous. Oh well, I am sure it will go well.

Anyway, I found some awesome freezer labels. Print out the labels here on sticky label paper and cut the labels out, then write what the food is and circle the date you freeze it. Super easy, and cute! Here is another set of freezer labels that you might enjoy instead. This would be a great addition for freezer meals!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Meal Revolution: Make Ahead and Freeze Meals

The worst time of the day for me is that time right before dinner, where you are scrambling to get vegetables cut, water boiled, and meat prepared. With two kids at home, and constantly underfoot, I feel like the kitchen is the last place I want to spend a couple hours each afternoon.

Since we live in an apartment, and are short on space we have limited options available to us to handle this. We have tried meal planning, where we plan our meals ahead of time then shop according to that meal plan. But, temptation calls, and who doesn't love a random taco night? Whew, there goes the grocery budget!

(Okay, so that's more about a lack of self-discipline, if anything... but moving on!) Well, the issue with meal planning is that even if you know what you are making you still need to prepare it.

Now, we are beginning a new inquiry- Freezer meals!

Freezer meals combine the "best of both" worlds that gives you several options for dinner (all homecooked and pre-made, just waiting for you in your freeze) and they DONT break the bank as you can continue to shop sales to buy staples and meats when they are on sale.

There are a couple different "systems" that you can use, the defining difference is how often you cook. One system is "Once a Week" and the other is "Once a Month". I'll be honest with you, I am a bit intimidated by "Once a Month", so I won't be covering that in much detail. The amount of money and preparation time needed to cook everything you need to make meals in a month is quite extensive, and beyond my humble means. If you are a capable cook, you should have no problem. Let me know how it goes.

I am going to cheat, actually and do "Once every other week" cooking where I cook about 7 or 8 meals on one day, and keep them in the freezer for nights in a pinch. Matt loves to cook so I would not want to take that "joy" away from him. In addition, I will also keep ready-to-eat breakfast options available in the freezer, along with lunch entrees. Then, once a week or so (after I buy new produce), I will prepare fresh veggies as sides for certain meals, or set them aside until the meal is served.

So, what do you need to get started?

  • Tupperware, Tupperware, Tupperware - ideally have the stackable, rectangle kind that maximizes space in your freezer. If you have a very small freezer, add a shelf (Look in the Wal-Mart near the kitchen organization- you will find a set of wire shelves one of which will work perfectly in your freezer!) 

This 28-piece Rubbermaid set is $9.86 at with Free Site to Store Shipping. Wal-Mart also sells a 24-piece set for $10. The only difference between the two is 2- 1/2 cup containers. For price comparison, Amazon sells the same 24-piece set for $19.99- so this is a HOT deal!! Awhile back, I remember seeing a Rubbermaid coupon for EasyFindLids. I am not sure if it is still available, but that would make this deal (if available in stores!) very cheap. The one bad side to this set is that it does not have many shallow dishes that are convenient for freezing. sells this Rubbermaid piece for $13.84 (eeeeei! Kind of expensive!) but it is larger, at a 24-cup capacity. This it the equivalent to 6 quarts, so this is a very big item. Make sure it fits in your freezer! This would be good if you had to freeze a very large meal (a great idea for when company is coming!). If this size is too big, check out the 9-quart Rubbermaid Easy Find Lid container for $7.34! 

For optimal freezing, you want a storage container that will fit the item as close to perfect as possible, with minimal air left inside. Shallow containers work best because the food will freeze more quickly, keeping flavors inside as fresh as possible, and then when you are ready to cook- the shallow container will help the dish thaw more quickly. Who could ask for more? 

At Target, I found this set here by Pyrex for $15.66. It is a 6-piece value set with two rectangle containers, and one square piece. However, the website fails to mention the dimensions of each piece so I am not too keen to buy something when I am not sure I like the dimensions!

This 12-piece set at sale at Target for $16.99 is probably my best choice at the moment. Again, without knowing the dimensions I feel like these containers would be perfect for freezing.

An ingenious idea I've found for freezing liquids (like broth/soup base, or anything) - use a canning jar! You won't spill the food when you are trying to get it into a plastic bag (accident waiting to happen). Be sure and leave some extra space at the top so it can expand as it freezers. For those of you with a side-by-side refrigerator, make sure you don't buy cans that are too big to fit on your shelves. For those of you like me, who have a freezer on top of the refrigerator, the cans will fit in the doorway- making it super quick and easy to find what you need! 

Also, be sure you have a sharpie or two so you can label your food!! Sharpies normally run at $1 a piece at Staples, but since it is back to school season you can grab 3 at Wal-Mart for $1.47 or two for $1 at Target. 

Well, that about wraps it up for today. I am looking forward to trying this out and hoping it will streamline a big headache in my life!! 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tot School

What is Tot School?
A Tot School is a daily uninterrupted time when you sit down with your toddler and work on creative activities to develop skills. It can be as short, or as long, as you like.

Some activities to include are: 
  • sensory 
  • fine motor skills 
  • gross motor skills
  • story time
  • Bible study 
  • Social
  • Life Skills
Tot school activities are appropriate from about 2-4 years of age, of course, you can start earlier or sooner depending on your child's specific needs. Remember- it's STAGES, not AGES

Tot school is not "formal" school- it is just a time for you and your child to have fun together and learn. Activities each day should take about an hour, or less, and you may find it is best to work on it in chunks throughout the day or get everything done at once. 

My favorite part about "tot school" are the tot trays! These simple activities are multi-sensory, and simple to set up and enjoy! Check out some tot school ideas here from 1+1+1=1! 

Check out her blog for even more ideas about Tot School! 

Tot School

Here are some of the resources that I've found useful as I begin to start working with Brennan:

  • Melissa & Doug lacing beads (Buy from Amazon for $9.90!) For lacing activities, you can also try pasta and string. I like the lacing beads because they are very big and easy to grasp. 
  • Kumon First Steps Workbooks- includes Let's Color, Let's Sticker & Paste, Let's Fold, and much more! This simple workbooks are easy to duplicate. For example, you can duplicate a simple Let's Color activity by printing out a picture of an object (say a big red apple), and making a copy. Before you copy, place a white square piece of paper (or cut anyway you like really) under the part of the apple you will make a copy of, and viola! Instant Let's Color success.
  • Check out the dollar store and Target $1 section for stickers to practice placing stickers on paper. 
  • To make my own "tracing" activities I place two stickers on the page and ask Brennan to draw a line from one point to the other. 
  • Make lapbooks! Lapbooks are hand-made interactive books that help your toddler learn colors, numbers, and shapes. They can be based on a book, movie, TV show, Bible, or anything really! I am going to do one based on Brennan's favorite book- Chicka Chicka Boom Boom! 
  • Buy a white erase/chalk board. I recommend the Melissa & Doug one since it is two-sided, and perfect size to sit in a toddlers lap. 

Overall, I am very excited and looking forward to exploring these resources with Brennan!!