Sunday, January 31, 2010

Once-a-Month Cooking Festival: Take it in Mini-Bursts!

It’s time again for our once-a-month, once-a-month cooking festival. If you’re new to Moms in Need of Mercy, on the first of every month, we share any tips that help us speed up our time in the kitchen. You do not have to be a “once-a-month” cook to participate. A bulk cooking day requires much planning, and obviously lots of time. While it pays off with a well-stocked freezer, it can be stressful. A more manageable and less time-consuming approach is to take it in mini-bursts.
When you see a great sale on meat or poultry, buy several pounds—enough to last you until the sale runs again, usually about 6 weeks later. While you can split these up in freezer bags to cook later, take just a few more minutes to prep your meals right then. By doing this, you’ll have a meal you can grab from the freezer and pop in the crock-pot or oven on a busy day, or a night when you just don’t feel like cooking.

Let me illustrate what you can do in a mini-cooking-burst. When boneless, skinless chicken breasts were on sale for $1.79/lb (which is a great price in our area), I bought about 15 pounds. I trimmed them; cut some up for chicken fajitas, seasoned them, and browned them (slightly under full doneness, since I will be reheating them to serve). Then I froze the seasoned chicken strips. When I want to make fajitas, all I have to do is pull out the bag, add them to the skillet and warm them.

I also found a recipe I wanted to try for Chicken Durango. It’s quite easy. Here it is:

½ c. butter, melted
Juice of 2 lemons
1 tsp. garlic salt
1 T. paprika
1 T. oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
4 chicken breasts, split (I used boneless, skinless breasts)

Mix together all ingredients except chicken. Marinate chicken in sauce for 3 to 4 hours. Place chicken in baking dish, skin side up (if using split breasts) and bake uncovered for 45 minutes or until done at 325 degrees.

Another easy recipe is to take however many chicken breasts you want for a meal (I used 5 or 6), place them in a freezer bag, add a can of cream of mushroom soup, a half can of milk (measured in the empty soup can), a packet of onion soup mix, some beef bouillon granules, and any other seasonings you’d like (maybe a little onion or garlic powder). Then, once thawed, you can simply put this in your crock-pot and serve it over rice or noodles.

Finally, I froze a few chicken breasts just plain to have on hand for when I find a chicken recipe I want to make.
Doing this mini-burst of freezer cooking was super easy, and it’s nice to know I have some meals all ready-to-go. Be looking for recipes that you can assemble and freeze with no cooking required (until serving day), like the Chicken Durango one I shared. This way, when a certain kind of meat goes on sale, you’ll already have some ideas for how you’ll put that in your freezer. Or you can buy the meat, and skim through your cookbooks when you get home.

Cooking like this also saves a lot of money. When you buy a large quantity at a low price-point, you’ll have all the chicken, for example, you need until the next sale. Had I not bought a lot of chicken when I did, I would have needed to buy it at full-price (or a less-than-great sale) if I wanted meals with chicken between sales.

Have a tip you’d love to share or any meals you’ve stashed in your freezer? I’d love for you to link up and share!

And a reminder—our next once-a-month cooking festival will be right here on March 1st!

Go Nuts and Fight Dry Skin

It’s dry where we live. Dry and windy. This is not a good combination for healthy skin. So I am going nuts. Literally.

Nuts—especially walnuts—contain a high level of omega 3 fatty acids, which help moisturize one’s skin. They also offer many other health benefits. Research suggests they lower cholesterol, protect arteries, prevent heart attacks and heart disease, minimize blood clots, control diabetes, and even fight depression (another great reason to eat omega-3 containing nuts in the winter when the blues can set in).

So what kind should you turn to when you’re ready to go nutty?

  • Walnuts contain the highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids among nuts. Research on walnuts shows they also boost the immune system, can aid weight loss, help lower blood sugar levels, and may even help fight cancer.
  • Brazil nuts, butternuts, hickory nuts, macadamia nuts, and even peanuts, also provide some omega 3’s. While almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts and pecans offer other heart-healthy benefits, they are not a good source of omega 3’s.

How many nuts a day should you eat?

  • Most sources seem to agree on a handful. Just ¼ cup of walnuts a day will provide you with 2.5 grams of omega 3’s.
  • Pair some walnuts with cheddar cheese cubes, another source of omega 3’s. You could also add in some apple slices for a heart-healthy and “skintastic” snack.
  • *Note: It is difficult to track down an exact recommendation for daily omega-3 amounts. One source said the FDA recommends that consumption not exceed 3 g. a day. Other sources suggest 1,000 mg a day. However, when I researched these claims for myself, I found no FDA dietary recommendation for a specific amount of omega-3 fatty acids (although clinical trials cited on usually used 1-2 g/day, and as much as 12 g/day). The FDA’s website says, “It is also not known how much omega-3 fatty acids a person would need to eat on a regular basis in order to have heart health benefits.” That said, the FDA follows the American Heart Association’s recommendation of eating two servings of fish a week, using oils such as flaxseed, canola, and soybean, and eating nuts such as walnuts.
Other non-nutty tips for banishing dry skin:
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water
  • Apply a moisture-barrier out of the shower or bath. Our pediatrician recommends Aquaphor ointment.
  • Use a humidifier or vaporizer.
  • "'Itis' illnesses, such as dermatitis, are caused by inflammation. Omega 3’s act like anti-inflammatories to help heal and repair the skin. Omega 3’s can be given in supplement form if your children aren’t fond of fish." (from "Winterizing Your Child's Skin" on
Certainly salmon and flaxseed oil are two of the best sources of omega 3's. However, I can buy a whole package of walnuts for the price of one salmon fillet, and I can take them with me anywhere. They’ll fit in my purse or the glove compartment of my van, and I can leave them there for days. I can’t say that about a salmon fillet now, can I?

Visit Works for Me Wednesday for more tips!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Even Though Your Husband's a Big Boy, He Still Needs You

Coffee Talk Thursday

Recently, I received the following comment on a post:
Anonymous said...

Wow, your second priority is loving and honoring your husband? What about taking care of your kids. Your husband is a big boy. He can take care of himself. Geez.
So I responded:
Hi husband was here before our kids, and he'll be here after our kids leave. Together we work hard to take care of our kids. We work hard to take care of each other. Life feels better that way.

You're right. He can take care of himself. But as his wife, I enjoy taking care of him.

If you read this, I encourage you to read this post (it's all about being our husband's girlfriends).

I feel sorry for Anonymous--for her attitude toward her husband, and for her husband. Obviously, I don't know the details, but I guarantee you that when we consistently leave our husband to fend for himself, cracks start appearing in the foundation of our marriage. Ignore those cracks long enough, let them grow bigger, and I don't need to tell you it's only a matter of time before the whole thing comes crumbling down.

If a wife consistently puts her children over her husband, because after all "he's a big boy, he can take care of himself," what happens when he decides he really can take care of himself and packs up and moves out? Would she wish then that she would have taken a little better care of him while he was still under the same roof?

Because I love my husband, I desire to honor him and show him how much I care about him. I enjoy making his breakfast, lunch and dinner (and for the kids too). I try to do other special little things for him. And guess what? When we serve and esteem our husbands, it often comes back to us in good ways. Maybe he'll reciprocate with a surprise of his own for you. At least there's a better chance he will if you're treating him kindly.

The Bible says that man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his own wife, and they will become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). Although we birth our children from our bodies, it is only from the intimate union with our husbands that these children come. Simply by degrees of separation, our husbands are closer to us than our children.

That's not to say that we dote on our husbands at the expense of our children. The very nature of raising little ones often means that more time will be devoted to them than to our spouse. Even so, the key is the attitude of our heart. While we are indeed busy taking care of our children, sad is the day we grow so busy that we stop taking care of our husband. He's a big boy, but deep down inside, he's still a little boy craving the love and affection of the girl that so captured his heart, he wanted desperately to marry her. Don't ever forget you said yes.

Sharing With:
Raising Homemakers 
The Alabaster Jar

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Using Food as a Teaching Tool

Learning tools don't have to be elaborate and expensive to be effective. Often, the best (and cheapest) teaching aids are everyday items that are always around. Food fits the bill. Since you prepare several meals a day and probably some snacks, too, use those times to teach your children. You'll get a snack and squeeze in a mini-English, math, or science lesson too!
You can use food to teach:
Language skills
  • Colors
  • Flavors (salty, sour, sweet, spicy, bland, bitter)
  • Textures (crunch, crispy, smooth, dry, juicy)
  • Shapes
 Math skills
  • Size concepts: big, small, light, heavy
  • Order: first, before, after, next, last
  • Sorting, measuring, matching, counting (smallest measuring spoon, biggest cup, how many seeds in an orange)
Science Skills
  • How are foods changed by heat and cold (solids, liquids)
  • Where does food come from? How does it grow?
  • Divide various foods into groups
  • Nutrients and vitamins each food provides, and how our bodies use those vitamins and minerals
Social Skills and Manners
  • Help children learn to share and take turns (while helping bake or prepare a meal)
  • Table etiquette
  • Helping set and clear the table
  • Discipline to sit properly at the table
Motor Skills and Hand-Eye Coordination
  • Learning to properly use utensils and hold a cup
  • **"When your children are helping, the job will not go quickly and will likely be messy. However, you are building lifelong skills. While you are enjoying your meal, encourage children to talk about what they have made and what happened during their day." Mealtimes are great conversation times, and as you share great food, you can all grow closer as a family too.
(Above ideas from my Cent$ible Nutrition Cookbook)

So the next time you're in the kitchen, don't just think about chopping up the celery; think of all that the experience of chopping the celery can teach your children! Have them count the diced pieces or sticks, sequence them into a row from smallest to largest, develop motor skills by spreading peanut butter on the sticks, and more. (Obviously, this is geared more toward preschoolers and early elementary, but with some creativity, you could come up with lessons for older children as well).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why Baby Rolls are The Way to Go

While I am working to eliminate my baby "rolls" (as in extra tummy flab), there is one kind of baby roll I would gladly pay to have. I am talking about the "Baby Roll": a handy invention my friend Jaime created, sews, and sells in her Etsy shop.

"Baby Rolls are fashionable baby changing mats designed for on-the-go parents."

Baby rolls are brilliant! One small roll replaces the need for a cumbersome diaper bag. You simply tuck a diaper or two in the handy sewn-in pocket, add a packet of wipes (or put a few in a Ziploc baggie), roll the baby roll up, Velcro it shut, and tuck it in your purse.

With a Baby Roll, you can change your baby anywhere. The inner liner is very easy to wipe clean. This is especially great for times when you're somewhere without a changing table in the restroom, and you don't know what to do. Just whip out your baby roll, and you're good to go! You can use it on a counter, or on the floor, and you'll know your baby is protected from icky germs. For moms in need of mercy, Baby Rolls provide a sanitary solution.

This week, Jaime is offering a special promotion on Baby Rolls. They normally retail for $17-$20, but she is listing them for $13.60 plus free shipping within the U.S. (while supplies last, so hurry!). Plus, Moms in Need of Mercy readers will receive a coupon for $5 of a future purchase with an order. Even if you don't have a baby, these make fabulous, and very unique, gifts--and at a great price to boot. There are some darling designs.

To take advantage of this offer, visit Jaime's Etsy shop. You can also email her at

More information about Baby Rolls from Jaime's Etsy shop:

"Baby Rolls protect your child from the germs on public changing surfaces! They keep your child off the ground or public restroom floor when there is no changing table available. The vinyl interior of the Baby Roll can be wiped clean and sanitized. You won't have accidents on your friend's carpet if you bring your Baby Roll along!
Baby Rolls are great way to stay prepared for the unexpected! Keep it in your car, purse, gym bag, the grocery cart, bike carriage, stroller…take it with you wherever you go!

Items to store in your Baby Roll:

Baggie of Wipes
Diaper Sacks for Dirty Diapers
Travel Packs of Sanitizing Hand Wipes

Baby Rolls design is unique to Baby Rolls, LLC. All rolls are handcrafted by a stay-at-home mom and are machine washable!"

*I heartily recommend Baby Rolls and know you (or someone you know who has a baby or is expecting one) will love them too! You won't want to miss this sale, so hop on over to the Baby Roll shop and check them out!

Messy Monday: Excel at Your Tasks

Unless you can afford to hire the help, you are your home's cleaning lady each week (with perhaps some little "Merry Maids" as your helpers, depending on your children's ages). When it comes to getting your housework done, thinking of yourself as hired help can help.

Recently, I came across the cleaning checklist for our church. All of the jobs in each room were listed on an Excel spreadsheet, with four columns for each row. As each job was completed, the cleaning person would check that box. At the end of the month, there should be a check in every box--indicating all jobs were performed as expected.

When I saw this, something clicked. I knew that this system would help me. So I opened my own Excel spreadsheet, thought about my home, and listed the jobs that really should be done in each room each week (you can also include once-a-month jobs). Each week, I'm either completing jobs and checking off boxes, or I'm not. If I'm diligent with getting the work done, I will excel!
For me, this system is far superior to keeping track of everything loosely in my head. That's because it's very concrete and visible. There either is or is not a check in each box. That means certain jobs are less likely to be consistently  neglected. You'll see if sweeping the sun porch or vacuuming the stairs, for example, are always falling by the wayside each week. As you enter a new week (and a new column on the spreadsheet), you can give priority to jobs that have not been checked off from the week before.

As far as completing the tasks, you can either do a little here and there if you find yourself with some downtime. There are probably many tasks on the spreadsheet that require fewer than 5 minutes to complete. Or you can set aside a length of time each day to one section on the spreadsheet (take a half hour each morning, for example to do your housework. One morning, do the bathrooms; the next, vacuum and dust the living room; etc.). Another option is to set aside one morning (or afternoon) or two (depending on the size of your house and how much you can realistically get done with your children) to complete your spreadsheet in full.

I suppose this system resembles the Fly Lady's zone system (where you do your daily jobs and work in a certain "zone" of your house each week). However, it works for me much better because it is my system. I am not following someone else's routine that works great for them but feels awkward to me. That's really the key: taking all the tips you've learned and read and modifying them to devise your own system. When you reach that point, it will click, and you will excel at your tasks (maybe using Excel!).

(The winner of last week's giveaway was Rebecca (comment #6). Rebecca, please email me at with your address & Karen will get your book sent out to you! Congratulations!).

Linked to Works for Me Wednesday

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Simple Way to Save At Least $100

We use a lot of plastic wrap in our house. Not quite as much as I would if I followed the Total Woman tip from the 70's of greeting your husband at the door wrapped only in plastic wrap; but still, we go through a lot of it each day. I cover the boys' partially eaten plates with it, wrap leftovers in it, wrap vegetables in it, and more. I could easily go through a box of Saran Wrap a month.


A while ago, I read a tip (in the Tightwad Gazette, I think) to buy your plastic wrap in bulk at Sam's Club or Costco. You pay about $9 for 3,000 square feet of it. That's some serious wrapping. You'll also want to write the date you purchase the plastic wrap on the box. It will amaze you how long it lasts. My date has faded, but I think it says January 05 or 06, and there is still plenty left.

So by this one simple purchase, I figure I have saved at least $100, and I continue to save since I do not need plastic wrap anytime soon. If plastic wrap costs about $3 a box at the store (on the low end), and I would go through a box a month, I would spend $36 a year for plastic wrap. Since I have had mine for at least three years, I have already saved $100.

The drawback is you have to find someplace to store your large box of plastic wrap. For me, I put it in a pull-out drawer-type cupboard I have. I don't really have much of a pantry, but if I did, that would be a good place too. Or just stash it out in the open, and encourage them to get on the bulk-plastic-wrap, super-savings-bandwagon too! (kidding) :)

The other thing is you would have to have a club membership. But if you don't, chances are you know someone who does have a Sam's or Costco membership. If you're nice to them, and they're nice to you, they could probably pick you up a box on their next trip, and you could reimburse them for it. Tell them you won't have to ask them to buy it again for you for years.

Visit Frugal Fridays for more frugal tips!

The Resolution No One Really Ever Makes

Coffee Talk Thursday

Well sorry, Coffee Talk Thursday has fallen by the wayside for the last few weeks, but it's here today, so let's have a cup of coffee and some girl talk!

We can make many resolutions for the new year: getting more organized, exercising more, eating healthier, and on and on. But who really ever resolves to improve one particular (very personal--you might say intimate) aspect of marriage?

If you listen to Focus on the Family, you may have caught this broadcast. It's called "Removing Excuses from the Bedroom" and it's a two-part series. I heartily recommend it. If you didn't hear it, once your kids are down for a nap, maybe you can pull it up on your computer while folding laundry or something like that and listen then.

Not only can we work to improve that aspect of our marriage, we can also strive to take little steps to better our marriage every day in little ways--starting with simply doing things that convey how much we love the man we married. Even if you're struggling with finding that "loving feeling", feelings follow actions. So acting in loving ways will often make you feel more loving toward your husband.

If you watched the movie Fireproof, the actors referenced a 40-day Love Dare book. There really is such a book. It includes small actions you can do each day to be intentional about your most important relationship (other than your relationship with Jesus). It also features a few counseling-type paragraphs about how that day's action can help your marriage.

Last year, if you signed up at their site, Family Life sent emails containing each day's love dare. You can go here to sign up. Or you can think of your own little something to do each day, aside from the normal things you already do, to send an "I love you" message to your spouse in the love language he understands.

Now go have a hot cup of coffee with the person that matters to you most!

(Back to finishing up the Feeding Children series after this!)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mercy and Practical Help for Feeding Toddlers

Because toddlers and small, and their tummies are small, they can't eat very much at any one sitting, so they get hungry every few hours. They need nutritious food at these times to fuel their growth, meet their energy needs, and keep the "crankies" at bay.

Planning healthy snacks every few hours indeed takes work. When we're busy, and they start whining that they're hungry, it's often easier to grab something quick from the cupboard. These quick choices may not provide optimum nutrition. I have found it helps so much to plan some snack ideas for each day as I'm writing my menu plans for the week (even though I haven't posted them lately, I'm still writing them!).

There are other challenges when it comes to feeding toddlers as well. That's why I am sharing the following tips, which are excerpted from my Cent$ible Nutrition Cookbook and based on Ellyn Satter’s approach as a dietitian to feeding children. As with anything, adapt these to fit your own family. I should also note that these tips are intended to help families with reasonably healthy children; children with special needs may need a different approach.

  • Serve foods near room temperature. Foods that are too hot or too cold can hurt a young child’s sensitive mouth.
  • Offer new foods gradually and matter-of-factly. It is advised to not force a child to try the new food. Introduce new foods only when the child is hungry and serve it with familiar foods. Talk about the new food, its taste, color, texture, how it grows. Accept rejection but serve it again in a week or so. A food can be offered 8 to 10 times before a child will accept it. Try preparing it different ways.
  • Set a good example yourself by eating healthy foods.
  • Provide three meals and planned nutritious snacks so that food is available every 2 to 3 hours. Energy needs are high and a child’s stomach is small.
  • Children (usually at about 3-4 years old) may have food jags where they demand the same food over and over. Continue to offer a variety of foods at regular times. As long as the child demands food that is not high in calories and low in nutrients, be patient until the food jag passes.
  • Present a variety of foods at mealtime, and let the child pick from what is available. [Again, this is the recommended advice in my book; modify it to fit your family.]
  • Plan meals in advance, including requests from all family members. Planning helps moderate food jags. [By planning, you can say, “We’re having ____ for lunch today. I’m not making macaroni and cheese again. But we’ll have that in a few days.”]
  • Children may develop food rituals where they always want to wear a certain bib, use a particular cup, or have their sandwich cut in a particular way. “Food rituals help children feel more secure…Let them have their rituals; they are usually short-lived.” [In my house, one of my boys always had to eat with a certain color utensil. He has since outgrown this.]
  • Your child may learn to get attention by refusing to eat. Give the child plenty of attention before and during the meal for reasons other than not eating.
  • Give children small portions and let them ask for seconds. This makes them feel successful and helps reduce overeating.
  • As children reach age 4-5, parents may still need to cut up some foods, especially meat.
  • Children may tire of chewing and may take food out of their mouths. You can train them in how to use a napkin when one needs to discreetly remove food from one’s mouth.
  • Offer a variety of colors and shapes in meals.
  • The more involved in the preparation of a meal, the more likely the child is to eat it. Give children age-appropriate jobs.

These tips really helped me with one of our children in particular, who was quite picky and ate like a bird. His eating made me very anxious. But once I learned that my job was to supply healthy food every few hours (meals and snacks), and his job was to choose what to eat and how much to eat (my husband and I still offered guidance though), it helped me loosen up. Now he eats pretty well. That works for me!

Other helpful information can be found here. Ellyn Satter's site offers nutrition and meal-time advice for children from birth through age 17. I also recommend the following of her books:



Next time, we'll be addressing ways we can use food to help teach various skills. Whether or not you homeschool, there are some fun ideas here!


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Messy Monday: Getting and Staying Organized (with a Giveaway!)

UPDATED--Winner of the Book: #6 Rebecca. Congratulations Rebecca! Please email me your address at
Thanks everyone for entering! I heartily recommend this book.

When it comes to getting organized, there are tons of books on the market. Many present systems that work great for the authors of the books, but you are different from those authors, and their systems may not work as well for you. To get properly organized, though, you have to follow their system to a tee, even if it's an awkward fit (at least that's the impression you can get from their books).

A few years ago, I read The Complete Guide to Getting and Staying Organized by author and speaker Karen Ehman. I absolutely loved it. It is, without a doubt, the best book I have ever read--and the most helpful--when it comes to cleaning up your house and keeping it clean for good. But here's the kicker. Unlike the other organizing books that present systems you have to follow perfectly for success, Karen is heavy on mercy for moms, and you know I like that. :) She says the goal is not a spotless house every single day, but "relatively neat and clutter free" most days. I can do that....well, at least I'm trying.

For today's Messy Monday post, Karen graciously agreed to answer a few questions for all of us trying to get our acts together. She is also very generously giving away a signed copy of The Complete Guide to Getting and Staying Organized (U.S. residents only please)! Thanks Karen.

  • As moms of little ones, it is often so difficult to keep up with the house since the kids demand so much attention. What is your advice for keeping up with it all? Should we relax our standards, or work harder, or is there a middle ground? (Basically, what should we be aiming for?)

I think a woman needs to shoot for [what's] realistic. And what that looks like is different at the various stages of her mothering. If she shoots for a perfect looking home with magazine like decor and flawless cleanliness 100 % of the time, she'll never achieve it. As a result, she'll get frustrated (with both her house and her kids) and just chuck the whole thing! Instead, shoot for "reasonably clean and mostly clutter-free" That is doable.
  • If we have fallen behind and our house is a mess, where do we start as we work to get it cleaned up? How long should we anticipate it will take (especially if we have many distractions in the form of little ones who are great at making new messes!)?

Ah yes....the dilemma of the ducklings. By that I mean, once you finally get all of your ducks in a row, along comes one of your own little ducklings knocking them all down, forcing you to start all over! If a mom really has a mess on her hands, with clutter and chaos at every turn, she'll need to tackle one room at a time and not get discouraged. Start in one corner of the room, work the perimeter and deal with whatever is in front of you. Organize and weed out that dresser; deal with that pile of papers; de-junk that medicine cabinet tossing out out-dated items. Keep going. What seems like a huge task can be done with baby steps and patience.

  • If and when we fall behind, how can we find time to get caught up when simply keeping up with the daily basics and kids takes up so much of our time? What tips do you suggest?

I suggest women follow the buddy system, enlisting the help of a friend. Take turns. One day you help with her house (or watch her kids) the next week, switch!

  • Many moms struggle with finding the balance between being both a homemaker and a mother. We can find things to do in the house all day long; likewise, we can find things to do with our kids all day long and avoid spending much time on housework. What principles or tips can help us balance everything and feel good about it?

We've always taught our kids the "work before play" principle. So, if they want mom to have time to "play" then they need to chip in and help. Even three year olds can be taught to fold washcloths or sort and match socks.

  • If someone was poorly trained in housekeeping and tends toward a cluttered home, where do you suggest they begin in improving their habits? Is it possible for them to have a tidy house most of the time?

They need to see the bigger picture. Having a clutter-free home just for the sake of saying you have a clutter-free home is a dead and prideful end. It must be about something better. For me, it is about being able to find the needed papers so my kids don't miss the field trip sign-up deadline or about being able to relax and visit when someone drops over rather than to freak out because my living room is unlivable! And yes, it is possible to have a mostly tidy house. However, it just isn't going to magically appear. We will have to work and also have to do maintenance to keep it that way.

  • How long do you think it will take for them to feel like maintaining a neat home comes naturally? Or do you think it will always be a struggle that will require much discipline?

I'd give it 3-6 months to make it a habit.
  • What are some habits that you think really make a difference in getting and staying organized?

Seeing the big picture and not getting frustrated with all of the things that have to be redone. Dishes, laundry, etc....They are never going to stay done. They are just part of our on-going responsibilities as moms!!
  • Do you recommend moms with little ones (or busy schedules otherwise) split up their chores and do a little each day, or do everything during one large chunk of time each week? What do you think is most manageable?
I've done both.. Doing a little each day worked best when my kids were small and underfoot all the time. Now, I set aside a chunk Friday morning to de-junk and deep clean before everyone gets up. Oh, and I do NOT do it all. It is my goal to work myself OUT of my cleaning job, thus, my kids start learning to do their own laundry at the age of ten and I no longer help them by age twelve. So, if the basball unifrom isn't clean, it isn't my problem! It only takes one time showing up in a dirty and wrinkled uniform to teach them to wash their ball pants when they get home from the game! Also, we have three healthy kids and dirty bathrooms every week. They can clean them too, not just me or my husband! Work before play! (And I build in lots of play!)

Good advice! The giveaway will be open all week, and I will randomly draw and post a winner for next week's Messy Monday post. Just leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing.

Also, if you have any specific questions for Karen, ask them in the comments section, and she will try to answer them as she has time this week.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tips for Feeding 12-18 month olds

For me, it seems like the trickiest age for making sure my boys are getting enough to eat and that I'm giving them the right foods in the right quantities is the 9-15 month stage. At 9 months to a year, I'm still nursing, but they also start eating solid foods. It's hard to know whether to think of nursing as providing a main meal, a light snack, or just a drink (not that I'm trying to say breastmilk is "just" a drink of course).

I've wondered about it so much, in fact, that at Jack's one-year doctor check-up recently, I asked our pediatrician how to look at nursing at his age. The doctor (who has 6 young children and is very pro-nursing and attachment parenting) said at a year, nursing does not provide him enough calories to get what he needs. So the bulk of his nutrition (and appetite filling) should now be coming from meals and snacks. There's a shift there from nursing providing everything in the early months to nursing providing less (and food providing more) as far as supplying the necessary calories for growth as the baby becomes a more mobile and active toddler. 

If you've wrestled with this shift as well, and wondered if your little guy or gal is getting enough to eat (and drink), I hope the following tips will offer additional insight.

Tips for feeding a 12-to-18 month old child:

-Switch from formula (if you use it) to whole milk (the fat is necessary for brain development until age 2)
-Let your child use a spoon or hold her own cup about 6 ounces a day. Offer milk with meals and water with snacks.
-Serve bite-sized pieces that are easy to pick up (about 1/4-1/2").
-Remember as they're making a mess in their high chair that young children like to feel the texture of foods.
-Since they eat small amounts, children should eat 4-6 times a day. Plan nutritious snacks.
-Appetites can change daily. Remember, your child will eat when hungry.
-A helpful guide to gauge the portion size to give: about 1 tablespoon per year of age (I think this means one tablespoon of veggies or fruits, one tablespoon of a main dish, one tablespoon of a side dish--not one tablespoon total of all foods at a meal).

Kitchen tips for this stage:
-Lay a strong foundation for your child's mealtime habits at a very young age.
-Sit down at the table as a family. When your child is old enough, place a high chair at the family table, so he/she can be part of everything
-Allow your child to feed himself. Although this can be messy, it encourages independence and builds self-esteem. Put a vinyl cloth or newspapers under the high chair to ease clean up.

*Above tips taken from my Cent$ible Nutrition Cookbook and guide through the UW Cooperative Extension Service

Since kids usually stop eating baby food around 9-12 months and prefer more solid table food, but lack all the teeth necessary for adequate chewing, knowing what kinds of foods--and especially snacks--to give them can be challenging. I am always looking for fun new snack ideas. Here are some healthy snack ideas for kids at this age (or any age), taken from the Cent$ible Nutrition cookbook:
  • Apple wedges (peeled) and cheese cubes
  • Cut-up bran muffin and juice
  • Gingersnaps and applesauce
  • Whole grain crackers and cheese
  • Fruit cup and cheese
  • Cucumber and cottage cheese
  • Cut-up vegetables with ranch dressing
  • Cottage cheese with crushed pineapple
  • Graham crackers with milk
  • Bread sticks with spaghetti sauce
  • Oatmeal raisin cookie and milk
  • Blueberry muffin and pineapple chunks
  • Raisin bread with cream cheese
  • Partially thawed frozen strawberries (great for teething!) with milk or yogurt
  • Yogurt topped with fruit (peaches/mixed berries/bananas/etc.)
  • Cut-up orange sections and pretzel pieces (watch carefully or break them smaller)
  • Vegetable or fruit kabobs (perhaps better for an older child)
  • Halved cherry tomatoes with yogurt for dipping
I will continue posting tips for feeding young children for the next few days. We'll talk about tips for feeding older children, what to do if your child is going through a phase where he or she is not eating much, and how we can use food and meal times to teach skills. Plus, if you have any questions, being the former reporter that I am, I'll go in search of the answers for you if I don't know them, so ask away! :)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mercy for Mealtime: Feeding Young Children and Picky Eaters

Mealtime with kids can be a lot of fun. They say funny things. They make you laugh. They ask a whole bunch of questions, almost always while you're right in the middle of chewing your food or in mid-sentence talking with your husband.   They share their thoughts, and it's fun to hear their personalities develop.

Mealtime with kids can also be incredibly tough. There's the spilling, the throwing, the constant up and down on our parts as mom (more milk, more ketchup, more paper towels to wipe up the spilled milk...). Then there's the picky eating--"I don't want a turkey sandwich. I want PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY!"
Do you give in to these whims? Absolutely not.

"But if I don't give him peanut butter and jelly, he'll go hungry." That's right. But here's the key--he'll eat again in a few hours. If he chooses not to eat the snack you make, you'll make him dinner in a few more hours. Chances are, by then, he'll be so hungry he won't care anymore that he doesn't really like tuna casserole; it will be his tummy's new best friend (although if your child has been on a picky streak and hasn't eaten much in a day, I would recommend making something that you know he likes for dinner).

Once, when I went through a nutrition class through our university's cooperative extension service, I learned some tips for feeding young children that helped me immensely. I hope they help you too.

Divisions of Parent-Child Responsibilities When it Comes to Eating:

Parent's responsibilities:
  • Respect the child's ability to know when he is hungry and full.
  • Make sure to serve small, child-sized portions
  • Prepare and serve healthy meals and snacks
  • Set regular meal and snack times
As the parent, you decide:
  • What food will be given (making sure it is nutritious)
  • When it will be given (making sure it is provided every few hours)
  • Mealtime rules and where food will be given
The child decides:
  • What, out of what is given, he or she will eat
  • How much, out of what is given, he or she will eat  
End of struggle. For good. This really works. I've been following Ellen Satter's wisdom for feeding young children for the past several years. It's common-sense, it eliminates almost every food battle, and my boys are learning to be pretty good eaters (that's a boy thing, I know). :) In the event one of them is picky at mealtime and doesn't eat too much, I don't stress about it too much. Maybe the picky jag will even last a day or two, but eventually, he will get really hungry, he will eat, and it will end.

The other key to success with this program is to make sure there is at least one food at every meal your child will eat (as in, he likes). Often times, this can be bread. Bread three times a day for several days is not very balanced, I know. But again, eventually, he will get sick of eating only bread and will decide to venture into uncharted territory and try other foods. And it will be without a control struggle. That works for me.

I'll be posting more tips for feeding young children in the next few days. You can even call it a series if you want to. :)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Messy Monday: Why Bother

The funny thing about chores is you actually have to do them.

I know, that's deep. :)

Good intentions will not get the job done. You can, however, go all day--even all week--intending to vacuum upstairs, mop the floor, put away the laundry, you name it. And those jobs will never get done unless you decide to actually do them.

I have always been great at procrastination. One time during college I even pulled an all-nighter at Denny's cramming for some big exam. I don't remember what it was for specifically; but I do remember the 15 cups of coffee I drank with the 30 packets of Sweet and Low, and how I felt neither sweet nor low in the morning.

While I no longer cram for exams and no longer drink 15 cups of coffee and no longer use Sweet and Low, I am still the queen of putting things off. Did I vacuum my upstairs last week? No. But I fully intended to. I will try for this week instead. Check with me next week to see if it got done. :)

Especially as mothers with little ones, we can grow weary as we strive to keep up with it all. As the saying goes, "Cleaning house while children are small is like shoveling snow while it's still snowing." It is tempting to look around at all that needs to be done--and all that has been undone--and think "Why bother? Really, why? If I pick up these toys, they'll just get all dumped out again a minute later, and then a minute after that if I pick them up again. If I mop this floor, it will just get spilled on in a few minutes. If I clean this glass, it will just get smudged again by dirty hands in a few minutes. So really, why bother?"

Why? That is a good question.

There are certainly some times when I would say don't bother. After the birth of a child, you need to recover and rest. During an illness, you need to recover and rest. When your children are sick, they need you more than you need your clean floor (unless it's been puked on). During those times, doing the bare minimum is more out of necessity than laziness.

But otherwise, why bother?

We should work hard to create a haven for our families in our homes. Generally most people feel more comfortable in clean and relatively tidy environments than in dirty and overly cluttered ones. My husband will feel much better if he walks after work and I have swept the floor, picked up the toys, and put away the paper clutter. Even for a moment, the house will create a nice image. Contrast that with walking in to find crumbs and toys all over the floor, laundry thrown around, and clutter all over the counter (which happens at my house more often than not). Which one would you prefer?

There are also sanitary considerations. Dust mites can trigger allergies (although our pediatrician has said you can't completely prevent and eliminate them even if you dust everything every day). Floors, countertops, and other surfaces that are not cleaned well allow germs to grow, which can make our families sick. (Is that why everyone is sick at my house right now?).

Additionally there are other factors to consider. If you don't care to bother about your house, will you care when someone stops by unexpectedly? If toys are laying around in a mangled mess, children are less likely to play well with them; their ensuing boredom will likely mean more misbehavior and whininess, which will translate into more work and stress for you.

I read this once. I think it was from here. I thought it was so lovely I want to share it with you as we ask ourselves, "Why bother?"

What I'm doing here in my home is too important. Order precedes beauty. Radiance is the goal. Our housekeeping routines are crucial to the smooth functioning of our days, our weeks. Life in a well-ordered home does shine. Radiance streams into our lives like the grace of God. Ordering a home isn't something you do once and it stays that way. Instead, it's a continual commitment. Nutritious meals served predictably and eaten together at a well set table lend a graciousness and civility to everyday life. It's nice to open a drawer and find clothing folded and ready regardless of the day of the week. It's a blessing to go to a closet, see freshly pressed shirts and inhale the sweet smell of herbal ironing spray. It's nice to settle to work at the learning room table and know where all the books are. My family deserves nothing less. Making it so requires all of me.
So this week, as I aim to live what I write, I'll try my hardest to replace "why bother" with "let's bother."

It will make a difference. If I actually do it, that is. :)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Eating from the Pantry Challenge: When to Call It Quits

While I think it is noble to see how long one can go without going to the grocery store, sometimes it is just as noble to call it quits.

This week, as my husband was eating toast for lunch because he didn't find my from-the-pantry creation all that appealing (pasta salad with whole wheat noodles, Italian dresing, pepperoni, red and green peppers and mozzarella cheese--just for the record), I knew it was time to break down and go to the store.  As wives, our number one priority after serving the Lord is loving and honoring our husband. When he is no longer on board, it is time to jump ship and head for the nearest grocer.

As you break the fast, so to speak, a word of warning--you will be tempted to go overboard and overbuy at the store. "Food! Food!" you be your cry. It will all look so wonderful and yummy and tantalizing. You will be tempted to buy things you normally wouldn't, just because you got down to bare bones from eating from your pantry for too long, and you'll feel like a kid in a candy store. I, in fact, bought a gallon of Hi-C, which I don't think I ever have before--just because it looked so good, high fructose corn syrup and all!

And you know what? If you overbuy a little and treat yourself to some things you normally wouldn't...why, I think that's ok. Stretching your family's food dollars by eating from the pantry for awhile is admirable. You save money in the process and develop creativity in the kitchen as you think up things you can cook and bake from what you already have on hand. It is a good exercise to do now and then. And when you go to the store again, if you want to buy yourself a cookie as a reward, I say go ahead. You earned it. :)

(linked to Money Saving Mom.)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Menu Plan: The Week of Simple Meals

As I'm trying to get caught up on laundry (and other things around the house that have fallen by the way-side) and finish work on the church cookbook, we are eating super simply this week. My goal in choosing these meals was minimal prep while still maintaining a semblance of healthiness.

Breakfasts: Baked oatmeal, raisins, milk, OJ
Scrambled eggs, toast, mandarin oranges
Smoothies, toast
Blueberry pancakes, milk
Spinach and red pepper omelets, toast, juice
Cream-cheese coffeecake for the weekend (if I get caught up by then!)

BBQ beef sandwiches from leftover roast, salad
Leftover teriyaki pork stir-fry and rice
Pasta salad with veggies
Mac and cheese, mixed vegetables
Bologna and cheese sandwiches for the boys; turkey for me; baby carrots
Tuna salad sandwiches, oranges, red pepper strips

Chicken Divan, Rice
Fish sticks, baked potatoes, peas
Taco soup, leftover cornbread
Crustless quiche, spinach salad

Broiled London Broil (from my OAMC day), baked potatoes, some other green vegetable

snacks: fruit, yogurt, string cheese, nuts, ants on a log, water...etc :)

To save more time this week so I can get caught up (and money), I am planning around everything that I have on hand, either in the cupboard or in the fridge. Life as Mom and Money Saving Mom are inviting you to plan from your pantry too!
Visit for more menu ideas!

Messy Monday: Dirty Laundry

How did this happen?!

(plus more upstairs)

Christmas! During the lead-up to Christmas, I spent more time in the kitchen and less time in the laundry room. Now I'm going to spend less time in the kitchen and more time in the laundry room.

Although I've been doing much better at getting my laundry put away right away, it's piling up on the front end--clearly.

When your laundry gets backed up like this, you could:

1) stop wearing clothes for awhile
2) since that's neither practical, modest, or legal, you could keep re-wearing the same clothes for awhile
3) since that's not realistic, you could work really hard on getting caught up.
4) You could also go to a laundromat (but the last time I did this, someone came in with basketfuls of urine-soaked clothing; I was pregnant and might now still gag at the vivid recall of the stench.

Since I haven't gotten over #4 yet, let's go with #3.

While you're working hard at getting caught up, even if you're working at 100% exertion, you'll have to slack in other areas, because there's only so much time a day. Sure, you could get up earlier than usual or stay up later than usual for a few days, but are you really going to do that to get caught up? I'm not.

I can tell you what I am going to do, though. I am going to create more time for laundry by taking away time from other areas. This week, we are going to be eating fairly simple fare. Paper plates sound pretty good right now. We're going to use them as much as possible.

This week, I also need to take a small break from posting. My laundry needs me! In addition to laundry, we are working hard to mail off our church cookbook. I'm chairing the committee, and it's keeping me real busy right now. We have over 600 tried-and-true family favorites, including some from Venezuela, Spain, Germany and Mexico, thanks to our missionaries there! It's going to be a great book to support our church's building fundraiser; I may just even have to give away a copy when it's all said and done. Stay tuned!
Washer, here I come!

Food: Generation to Generation

I am busy at work organizing and editing our church's cookbook as it gets ready to go to press. It's been fun to see the recipes coming in and know they are the contributors' favorites from among their collections (unless they're keeping those private!). A thought hit me--there is something special about recording your family favorite recipes. The foods you cook today will be what your family remembers about you when you're no longer here (hopefully many tomorrows from now). :) It allows your ancestors to connect with you in a very tangible way. There is something truly endearing about cooking a pan of cinnamon rolls and knowing it is your great-great-grandmother's recipe. You can't meet her personally this side of heaven, but you can feel like you know her from sharing her recipes.

It saddens me that because my family has not preserved our ancestor's recipes, I can't remember them in this way. I can almost taste my grandmother's chicken noodle soup and pork chop suey, but my own mother doesn't know how her mother made it. They are lost.

I don't want the same thing to happen to me. Call me selfish, but I would like my cherished recipes to be handed down to my grandchildren and great-grandchildren and beyond. The clothes I've worn will be destroyed by then, the pictures of me will fade; but our recipes will last.

Jesus Himself valued food. If He as God put a special emphasis on it, I can, too! I read once that many people in Jesus' day considered Him a glutton because He ate and drank with so many "sinners". When He reappeared to the disciples after the Resurrection, He cooked them fish on the beach. The Bible tells us we will feast in Heaven and eat fruit from the tree of life. There's something special about eating good food together.

Food is a gift. Great recipes are a gift. Knowing how to cook your ancestors' dishes is a gift. This side of heaven, let's record our favorite recipes. Let's pass them on.

What is your favorite? Do you have your ancestors' favorite recipes?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Saturday Evening Blog Post

Elizabeth Esther hosts a monthly Saturday Evening Blog Post at her site, where we can link up a favorite post from the past month.

My favorite spiritual growth post (this one really helped me):



But since I could pick only one, I went with this:
*Warning: It's politically incorrect!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Once-a-Month Cooking Festival: Cooking Clubs and Co-Ops

More hands make lighter work. It's as true in the kitchen as it is in other areas of life. By sharing food preparation with others, you are blessed and you bless others!

One way to lighten your load when it comes to cooking and cleaning up is to get some friends together and start a cooking co-op. Essentially, you and 2-3 friends with like-sized families who live nearby would get together and discuss meals you like. One night a week you would cook 2-3 times more food than your immediate family needs that night. You would then deliver the extras to your friends (pre-cooked or prepped and ready to cook). Then the other two or three nights, your friends bring you the food!

To make this work, you and your friends will need to figure out what the meals will include: are you providing just a main dish or a complete meal (salad or other veggie, bread, dessert)? Also hash out meal delivery times, cost goals for meals, nutritional considerations, and a schedule of who's bringing what when. You don't have to aim for every week--maybe start with once-a-month and work up from there if it's working for all of you. You will also need to purchase containers your friends can use to bring your food to you--a large 9x13" pan, for example.

Another idea is to form a group of friends and begin a cooking club. Here you would meet one day a month, perhaps at your church kitchen if you can use it and it's large enough, and cook several meals for participants to take home and freeze. Each person would be assigned a dish to make and assemble for all the participants. So let's say I'm in charge of chicken parmesan. I would buy all the ingredients and make up five pans of it (if we had 5 people). I disperse the pans and go home with four other dishes.

Making a co-op work successfully requires these ingredients:
  • a large enough kitchen for everyone to work (or do it separately at home and deliver the dishes, but it's more fun to work together!)
  • discussion and planning about what meals to make, how much everyone wants to spend, etc. (Save your receipts for ingredients; everyone can split the cost).
  • a morning (or another 4-hour chunk of time) for everyone to work. Participants need to be committed to this and not back out at the last minute (of course there are exceptions, but if you're planning a cooking day and buy 10 pounds of chicken, and everyone cancels, it will definitely curb the enthusiasm).
  • Uplifting conversation and good attitudes while you work!
  • pans for everyone's food to go into, tin foil, and boxes to hold your meals on the way home
Making and baking extra foods takes time. Time is a commodity that is a limited resource--there is only so much of it a day. If you need to use more time to accomplish more baking than usual, you will have to come to terms with the fact that there will be less time that day for other things, like laundry (that's probably why I'm so backed up there but that's another post!). Trying to do it all won't work. I think that's what I finally realized. Making it work requires a great attitude about why you're doing the extra baking and cooking and an understanding and acceptance that, for those days, you will slack on other things.

I would love for you to share any kitchen-shortcuts you've found. Either link up with a post or share in the comments section! I'd also love to know if you've ever tried a cooking co-op or club and what your experience with it has been. Any additional hints to make it successful?

Once-a-Month Cooking Festival...Stay Tuned!

Happy New Year! The once-a-month cooking festival post will be up a little late due to the holiday. I'll try to have it posted by noon. Please stay tuned!