Monday, November 26, 2012

$2 Toddler!

I'd like to introduce a new on-going series.  Drum roll please!...

$2 Toddler!

In $2 Toddler, I want to share the expanse of activity possibilities available at the dollar store!  Because, let's face it, toddler crafts and activities never go as planned, and the ones that never work are the ones you spend the big bucks on!  Enter, (my personal fave) the Dollar Tree.  All activities in this series can be done with supplies costing $2 or less.  Because, sometimes, less is more.  I'm calling this an "on-going" series because I don't want to limit it to the holiday season.  I found my inspiration for this series from Growing a Jeweled Rose.  There is so much fun to be had with dollar store finds and I can't wait to share!

In today's installment: water beads and a bingo marker
The result: a Christmas tree

In case you don't know what water beads are, let me enlighten you!  These little squishy balls of goodness are this prior preschool teachers dream...sigh :)  At the Dollar Tree they are located in the "floral" area.  They  are clear little balls that are in a medium sized bottle with water in it.  (You can also get them at Joann fabrics store in a variety of colors.  At Joann, they are bought in their dehydrated form in little packages.  They are more expensive, but worth it for emotion/sensory bottles!)  We have used these in the bathtub too, but that's another post for the series, so stay tuned ;)  Anticipation is killer, right!  Anyways, you can see them in the pictures below.

To make the tree, I gave my toddler a piece of white paper and plopped some green finger paint around in small blobs.  Then, I put some water beads on the paper and let him roll them through the paint.  

The preschool teacher in me was so excited for him to engage this squishy mess of fun, the mom in me, wished I had contained the paper in a plastic tub.  O well.  Live and learn, and keep wipes close by at all times!

When he decided he was done painting, I hung the paper high up on our garage door (exterior doors are magnetic...this is where he puts all his art work) to dry.  When it was dry, I cut it into a Christmas tree shape.  Then, I used a red bingo marker to dab on some "ornaments".  (I did the ornament part.  I wasn't patient enough to blog about this tomorrow, and Sully was already in bed. O well, group effort right?)  Then I hung it up!

Easy peasy, cheap and -in this case- SQUEEZY!

**Just a side note about the water beads.  These little suckers are FANTASTIC, but you need to be present and pay attention when your toddler plays with them.  They are super great for fine motor and sensory activities.  They are versatile and interesting.  And, they are squishy.  Temptingly squishy.  So temptingly squishy that your toddler WILL squish a few to pieces.  They are also small.  Think, smaller than a marble.  So, just a word to the wise, be there.  And to be honest, you will probably get more enjoyment out of the little things than your toddler anyways!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Menu Planning

My household runs better when there is a plan.  Especially for meals, because let's face it: boys eat ALL THE TIME!  I HAVE to be prepared!

Here are the top benefits for our family:
1. Grocery shopping is smoother and cheaper. If it's not on the list, it doesn't get picked up.
2. Days are less stressful.  I know what I'm going to cook ahead of time, so meat is already defrosted and all ingredients are already in the house.
3. We get a TON more variety.
4. Our "quick runs to the grocery store" are must less frequent, and are unavoidable really.
5. ANYONE can make dinner (hubs included) because something is planned and everything is in the house!

I've tried a lot of different ways to plan meals, but here is my fave so far:  Monthly Calendar Menu

Here's the break down:
1) Print off 2 blank calendars.

2) Go through calendar and write in your plans.  These can include: going out to eat, working late, after school activities, etc.  Basically, any and all plans that may intrude on dinner making.

3) Make a list of different dinners.  Mix it up here.  Choose a few with chicken, a few with beef, a few with pork, some Mexican,  Italian, etc.  Also, find a few of those recipes you've been dying to try (you know, the ones from Pinterest that you pinned and never looked at again!) and put those on there too.  Get input from everyone in the family. You do NOT need a meal for every day.

4) Put the dinners on a blank calendar.  Here's where it takes a little planning.  I start by putting easy meals on busy days.  Then, I put meals that require more time on days that I know I will have more time.  Next, fill in the blanks.  I fill mine in based on the proteins.  I put one chicken meal in each week, then one beef, then one...etc, etc, you get the point.

5) Add in leftovers.  After a few particularly good dinner nights, add in a night of leftovers.  I usually have 3 leftover nights a month.

This is what mine looks like at this point:

Ok, pat yourself on the back b/c you've got yourself a menu for an entire month!  If all you want is a menu, you can certainly stop here.  BUT, I highly recommend continuing on to the next steps...O how much easier life can be when you spend 20 extra minutes planning!

6) On the second calendar, begin filling in ingredients for each dinner meal.  List every ingredient you need to make what you want.  (This always reminds me to keep it simple!)  Add in the ingredients you need for sides also.  I found that because I was MEAL planning, I only had to add in a few side dishes here and there.  For the most part, the main part of the meal itself had a variety of food groups, so sides were minimal!

It should look a lot like this:

At this point, I wrote a few extra ingredients on the back that we needed (ie: cereal, milk, eggs, yogurt, bananas, etc) then went shopping.  I wish I had done the following:

7) Put a check mark or lightly cross through all ingredients that are already in the house.

8) Make an organized list for the grocery store.  This is where the little bit of my brain that is Type A comes out...I organize my shopping list based on what is in each aisle.  Then, I only have to go through the store once :)  See, Type A!

9) Shop!  We certainly do NOT have the means to fund an entire months worth of food in one trip!  However, I got all the meat, frozen and canned foods we needed and all the perishable things for almost 3 weeks.  Often times, things come up and we don't "use" a meal, so sometimes we only get through 3 weeks of meals anyways!

I'm telling you, this saves us money!  I buy what we need.  This includes snacks and whatnot, but if it's not on the list, it's not in my cart.

Now, enjoy the ease of a planned menu!  And tell me what you think!  I'd love to know if this helped you, or how you alter it for your family!