A New Year for Me

I just celebrated my 31st birthday! Yay me! Like most everyone else I tend to mark a new year by January 1st. This year, I am going to try things a bit differently. It seems like I use the new year as hype to try and launch whatever it is I want to do, then, like most, I fizzle out about two months in. So I am changing the game this time. My new year started with a new year for me.

What on Earth does this mean? It means that I am going to try and implement things without needing the societal proddings that everyone uses. That little electric jolt when we shout “Happy New Year” is great and all, but less meaningful in the long run.

I want to use this moment to make special note, this blog is for me and for fun. I enjoy writing for others to read and I enjoy hearing others opinions. I request that you be kind, as I will delete hateful, hurtful, or demeaning comments. I do plan on writing about a broad range of topics. I thought about forgoing hot button topics like politics, education, and religion, but these are all subjects I feel need to be discussed. I do plan on writing about much less heated topics as well. In April my husband and I will be welcoming an new little bean into the world. Household work, pregnancy, parenting, and pets will undoubtedly make an appearance on this blog too.

A short but sweet update. See you soon!

Too Much on My Plate

I read a lot. Blogs, books, news articles, ads… So much information and so little time. Some of the most fascinating things I read about are how people organize their lives, trying to glean tips to make my own seem so much less of a rat race. In a busy world, with lots to take care of, organizing the mess seems like the most logical thing to do. And I love lists.

Earlier this year I attempted to pile too many things on top of myself that I could not possibly accomplish. A fresh year, a new place to live, a new job, earning my certificate. Everything was new new new! I felt like I could conquer the world, so long as my hubby stayed silent and let me. Now, almost half a hear later (I know it’s only been 5 months) I realize I bit down hard on a tough piece of steak and I have been chewing, but not really accomplishing anything.

My biggest downfall, putting way too much on my list that I either won’t, or cannot, accomplish in the limited amount of time that I have. So, last week, I tried something new. Priority! You would think that me, being a nurse and a business owner, would have this down pat. I am a machine at work. Death by fire in a float pool for over a year will do that for you. Still working on the business thing, mostly because I DO TOO MUCH OTHER STUFF.

So, here is my plan, and I would encourage everyone to think about their day to day and really consider what you want to get done versus what you have to get done.

First up, routine cleaning. Boring as all get out, I know. Eventually I want to be the mom who has the spit spot house, but I don’t want to spend hours cleaning every day. How? HOW? Well, honestly, I don’t know. This one will fall into the habits category. I decided on a simple cleaning schedule that knocks out the majority of the work in small steps.

This is the cleaning schedule I use, with some modifications. Since there are only two of us I don’t have as many dishes or laundry to do. However, I do carpet clean once a week, because dogs and humans are gross, dirty creatures, so it makes up for it in the end. Morning chores are making the bed, either loading or unloading the dishwasher, and either starting a load of laundry or folding and putting away the load of laundry. Then, each day, I pick a bigger thing to clean. Monday’s are bathrooms. I knock this out to give us an nice start to our week. Tuesdays are vacuum, mop, and carpet clean. It makes the apartment smell fresh and clean, and takes about 1.5h to complete as long as I don’t take breaks in between (which I am doing right now). Wednesday is Organize Day. Again, I spend less than two hours on this project. Thursday I dust surfaces and give a good scrub to my kitchen counters. If I don’t work, I tackle a big project, like cleaning the windows, or my car out, or the kitchen appliances. One week in four I don’t have to do nothin’! Friday I vacuum again. Saturday, if I am not working, I do one of the Thursday projects. Sunday is a free day from cleaning, other than my daily things.

House cleaning done, the next group on my list of activities is working out. For some reason I am addicted to BeachBody. I should probably become a rep, considering I have bought four of their systems. Anyway, right now I am doing their 21 Day Fix, which I will extend to 28 days (see if I can squeeze out a little extra before I blow it up on our anniversary!). It’s a pretty good system for anyone wanting to try it. I am going to get their Piyo system here soon and give that a go too. That will be another post on all their stuff I have tried.

Back to the schedule. On the three days I work I only do the 21 Day Fix. On three of the days I don’t work, so long as it doesn’t fall on leg day, I also do the C25K app, which stands for Couch to 5K. Each workout is only 30 minutes long. Really, I play Bingo on my phone longer than it takes me to complete a workout, so there is really no excuse for not having time. I won’t make those excuses anymore.

Next up is House running and Money. Budgeting, bill paying, weekly scheduling, monthly scheduling, meal planning, meal prepping, and shopping falls into this category. Depending on the task’s time frame is where I put these into my schedule. This is a good launching point for anyone starting to schedule their time out to get more accomplished. If you work a 9-5, just do one task a day. KISS is the name of the game. Keep it simple, stupid. If you work 3 12h shifts, like I do, double some of these tasks up, such as shopping and meal prep. This is another on of those things I want to have ingrained as a habit before babies start popping out. It is also one of the biggest time sinks in most peoples lives and creates a lot of stress. Take your time, make the tasks small so that you can complete them. You can always add more stuff in later, and I plan too.

Last, but most definitely not least, is Hobbies and Fun. For me this includes cross stitching, crocheting, crafting, blogging, writing, reading, and video games. Yes, I do schedule this stuff in on my need to do list. I don’t have to spend 7h doing it (but I do anyway), but if I do get half an hour in or so, I can check it off my list of things done. There is a reason for it. I won’t sacrifice the things I love doing simply because it doesn’t seem productive.

There you have it. My list of things I do during the day. I have them all written down so I can check them off in my weekly planner. The list is short, usually between 5-10 items that need to be completed that day. There is purpose behind it being such a short list. I used to fill each day up with dozens of things I wanted to get done. I never completed the list and by the end of the week I could see all the good intentions I never finished. It was defeating. Now I have a list, that is manageable, and I complete it most every day. Sure, there are days when some stuff gets missed. Yesterday I didn’t write on my novel, but I did read a third of a novel. Balance.

In time I will add more to the list. I plan to increase on a monthly basis. Right now I am in the midst of a month. As I feel I have a good handle on what I am currently doing I will add one or two things a day and keep it like that for a month. This hinges on making good habits and getting them to stick. Overloading myself has not worked. Now to try a different approach.

What about you? What do you do to relax? How do you work your schedule so you get everything you want and need to do in a day done? Let me know. Until next time, Let’s make it happen Cap’n!

Nurse Struggles

I started to put my application in for another job yesterday. While we are not struggling financially (anymore than the next guy?) we could always do with more income. And it would be so simple to pick up another 24h a week worth of work. Come on, I only work 36h right? Plenty of people work way longer hours. I stopped myself today and closed out all the tabs of possible jobs I could take.

For any who didn’t know, I am a nurse. Yes sir, Masters prepared RN right here. I think that means I am supposed to be smart, and I guess I can be, but wouldn’t you know that in the things I should just know, I made the dumbest move, but I don’t have to keep at it.

I am a nurse, and I am good at my job. For 36h (erm 38h) I work directly with people, looking at critical results, or just abnormal results, and decide what to do. Most people think nurse… well, I don’t know what most people think nurses do, but it isn’t much. Pass medications I suppose. And bug the crap out of you through out the night when all you want to do is sleep.

Here is a rough breakdown of what a nurse does.

6:45pm-8pm: Coming on shift we get report from the previous shift. Nurse-nurse interaction right here. We are told what brought the patient into the hospital to begin with and what kept them there. A list of code status, diet, allergies, and medical history is relayed, as well as what team is primary on the patient’s case and if there are any consults. After this there is a run down of tests and procedures already completed and their results, followed by future tests and procedures to do. Abnormal results are discussed with the plan of care for each problem. A general rundown of current patient status follows, with discussion of any new medications added, pain medications, symptoms worth noting to be treated and when those treatments (medications) will next be available or if current interventions have been working. Finally there is discussion of the future plan for the patient. Are they going home? Do they need additional services? What is keeping them here? Basically is there anything that needs to be done that is not being done and needs to be addressed?

x5 and, ideally, done in the patients room. We have half an hour and multiple nurses to get report from. Anyone believe this takes less than half an hour to complete? How about more?

8pm-10p, Round 1: Welcome to hourly rounding.Ideally, from 7p-10p I will be in your room every hour. Between 7 and 8 I have already stopped in your room to say hello and fill out that infernal white board. This is the second most irritating part of my day by the way, these boards. As a night shift nurse trying to get the date and time correct without disturbing you if I don’t have to can be a ninja task. Now that I have introduced myself to all five of my patients (or three or four while I wait on another admission to come up) I have a second to do my assessment. I am not doing this to aggravate you and my questions, while they seem redundant, are actually kind of important. I am listening for changes from the report I got from the previous nurse. Yes, we need to get your vitals. Yes, I have to listen to your heart, lungs, and bowels. Yes, I have to ask mentation questions, plus a list of questions about your perception of how  your body is functioning. Yes, I am going to touch and squeeze some spots. I am not trying to purposely hurt you or cause you discomfort and we nurses try to minimize this as much as possible, but occasionally it cannot be avoided.

We are actively trying to avoid embarrassing you. We know that nakedness and bodily functions are not your norm. Outside of work, it is not our norm either. The good news is, there is nothing you have that we likely haven’t seen. I was about to get graphic.

We only have to do this assessment once. After that, hourly rounding is for better HCAHPS scores. I am only partially serious about this. There is a pervading theory that hospitals should be more like hotels and it is all about the patient experience. Ever wondered why all of your nurses say the same thing? “Hi, my name is Julie. I am going to be your night nurse. Here we do hourly rounding until 10pm, so I will be in every hour to see to your needs. Are you in any pain right now? On a scale of 0-10 how bad is it? Let me help you to the bathroom while I am here. There, are you comfortable? Is there anything else I can do for you right now? I have the time. If that is all you need I will be back within the hour. After 10pm I will be in every two hours to see to your needs.” We have script that we loosely follow. There is more theory behind why we say what we do. Either way, I say this to every patient I work with right off the bat, usually when introducing myself, then something similar every time I go into the room.

After our assessments, hopefully completed before 9pm, we pass evening medications. I don’t order medications, but you can be sure I am making some serious decisions about some of them. Blood pressure medications and insulin are two such meds. It’s me, the nurse, who has to determine if the medication is appropriate at the time of administration. Yes, I know you might not take it like this at home. But you aren’t at home and this isn’t normal, everyday life. If you can trust one thing, trust that we are not trying to kill you by messing up your medications.

After the 9pm med pass we make another sweep to see if anyone needs anything. At 10 we might finally get to sit down and chart. Ah, the bane of nursing existence. I doff my hat to paper charters but now we have our lovely electronic system. This can be both a blessing and a curse. Please understand, I don’t want to spend two-four hours of my night on this work. I would rather be ready in case something bad happens, a new admission comes, or feisty patients decide they don’t want to stay in bed even though they can’t walk.

If we are lucky we get our charting done before midnight.

12-4am, Round Two: More than a few admissions happen in this time frame. On top, we have vitals to do at midnight and four, and morning labs to draw. This is also the ideal time to do any bed baths. Yes, we do clean up our immobile patients in the middle of the night. Why? Because we don’t change shift at midnight and noon, which means night, when half the population would prefer to get cleaned up, is busy with shift change, assessments, and med-passing. The morning, when the other half is ready, is also busy with shift change, assessments, and med-passing. We will scrubby bubble you at 2am. There just isn’t a better time to do it.

4am-6:45am, Home stretch: This is likely the time we can get our second round of charting done. We also clean up orders, clean up medication lists and check to see if we missed anything. Ninja like, we sneak into your room and update all our white boards with appropriate times and dates, fill out any additional paperwork, including consents, and silently pray that lab doesn’t call us with a critical result.

6:45am-7:15am, Beauty: There they are, those beautiful angels. The next shift is coming on and we can go home and go to bed.

 

This doesn’t seem so bad right? And you are more than correct. Nurses dream of this night. This night rarely happens in most hospitals. With short staffing rampant throughout the country and hospitals still treating nurses like commodities, not necessities, these nights are the extraordinary. This is a night where everything is going right, the patients are generally self sufficient and not on the call bell every few minutes for everything under the sun. This is a night where we don’t code a patient for two hours, where critical blood levels don’t come back at 5am and you need to get a unit of blood hung before day shift starts, where vitals aren’t tanking or spiking because of illness.

But when you do code, a slew of nurses are there, working side by side with doctors, pushing medications, pumping your chest, and supplying the docs with all our knowledge of the events leading up to this. We are the ones who know your lab values, your vitals, your history on the fly. We are the ones recording the action, hooking up the machines or collecting equipment, and starting additional lines. The MD calls the shots, the nurse makes it happen. When your critical lab comes in or you have new or worsening symptoms, we are the ones on the horn with the doc, getting orders, discussing your current state and symptoms, helping to decide your plan of care. And when your vitals tank or spike, your nurse is quick to implement interventions and call the doc so you don’t find yourself in the ICU, or coding.

Then we get a complaint because we didn’t get someone to the bathroom fast enough, or their pain medication the minute it was available. We have to stay an additional two hours to finish up with our charting but still have to be back that night. We have to walk into our other patient’s room with a smile on our face right after we lost the code.

So I closed the tabs. I give my all in those 36h. My husband teases me about it. “How can you be so attentive at work and then be so oblivious at home?” I laugh, he knows the truth. Some nights are easy peasy lemon squeezy. Some nights I come home and have a very large glass of wine. I only have 36h to give normally. The rest goes to my sanity so that I can keep giving those 36h.

I hope when you read this you understand that your preconception of what a nurse is and what a nurse does is likely inaccurate. Often we are up to our elbows in bodily fluids and bad attitudes. We have to be the solid foundation for people going through some of their hardest moments. And we have to do it as humans. It effects us, even when it doesn’t seem like it. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment, just a moment, and accept them as they are, just like some nurse will accept you when you need them to.

30 Days

Boy, it has been well over a month since I posted last, and a lot has happened in that month. I started working again and I am on the cusp of finishing my certification program, my best friend got married, my little brother got engaged, my brother in-law graduated and one of my sisters just landed  her first career job since graduating with her PhD! Whew. I feel worn out all over again. With all these things going on my budget, diet, and workout schedule have gone in the tanks. Ah life. Time to get back on the horse.

First up, I am successfully on track to watch 52 new movies this year. Yeah, that is almost cheating on my New Year’s resolution, as that is probably the easiest one to tackle, but at least it’s one thing. Baby steps.

We failed quite miserably on our attempt at playing the Game On Diet. I was about to make a million excuses, but really that’s all they are, so I won’t bother. We will be playing again in April. It is fun to keep each other sort of accountable anyway.

A few weeks ago, when I was chatting with my mama, she told me an interesting tidbit. While listening to the radio, one of the guests took on 30 day challenges, in an effort to keep himself engaged in whatever project for at least a month. I have been thinking about that for a while now. I have several things I do want to accomplish but I never seem to dedicate the appropriate amount of time to them. So, April 1st will be the start of my first 30 day challenge. I’ll let you know what I have chosen when I choose it.

Over the next few weeks I will have several topics I do want to talk about. Chocolate has been on the forefront of my mind as I close in on my certification as a professional chocolatier. Health care has also been on my mind what with being a nurse and all. I am not sure I want to delve too deeply into politics, but I will likely brush into it. Education has also been on my mind. Three topics that will likely span multiple posts and I still have so many other things I want to discuss. Here is to the next 30 days!

Fitness Challenge and Games

It’s been a few days. I just started my new job and have been super busy with that. I almost forgot what it was like to work 8h a day for five days rather than 12h for three. I suppose the biggest bummer is that it is beautiful weather right now and I am stuck inside a hospital or car for 10h every day. But there it is.

I mentioned in one of my last few posts about the Game On Diet. Just want to remind everyone that it is a book and that you can buy it or probably borrow it from the library. From those few years ago I had made up my own set of rules strongly based off the books rules. I also saved their score sheet, their food lists, and other such sundry that the Game required. Well, I have been drafted into a Game… I know, I know, I said I was unlikely to play again, but considering the group I think this will go better than those other games I played. So here are a few details about what this Game entails and what I will likely be writing about for the next few weeks.

The game requires six small meals, eaten every two to four hours, a day. The science behind this is fairly simple. Eating smaller, more frequent meals staves off binge and over-eating, controls blood sugars better, and sustains energy levels throughout the day. Each meal is supposed to consist of a nonstarchy carb, a protein, and a healthy fat, in correct proportions. Easy peasy. This is one of the biggest challenges for the entire game! If you thought planning three meals was hard, take on six. So, we made a change. Instead of six full meals we decided on three full meals with three snacks. Meals have to follow game rules, snacks have to contain a carb and a protein or a fat. Fat and protein are not acceptable. Again, science backs this up. Fat and protein slow the digestion and absorption of carbs, sustaining energy levels and blood sugar levels. Also, packing two snacks and a lunch is way easier than three meals.

How to track all this loveliness is also a challenge. A great app to use is Lose It! I have used this app on an off for the past five years. You can make your own meals, scan bar codes, and map out your calorie intake for the day. If you were to eat 3 meals and 3 snacks you could feesibly remain under 1800 calories without being hungry throughout the day. One downside is that you cannot track separate snacks unless you make your own and each meal is broken down into its individual components. I would suggest anyone using this app to take the time to figure out meal composition and put in their own foods whenever you are going to use it a lot (like oatmeal and milk) so that you don’t have to pick everything every day.

The second part of the game requires 20 minutes of activity a day. This is not toodling around your house and does not include cleaning, though that can be a workout. This is concentrated physical activity meant to get you to sweat and burn calories. There is no specification on how this is to be accomplished. Some common apps that I use to track my activity, since I enjoy being outside, is MapMyFitness and C25K. I have a personal goal of eventually running a marathon, just to say I did, so I will be doing the C25K app, which gets you from the couch to a 5K in 8 weeks, but I plan on doing it in four. After that I will find a 10k app, then a half marathon training schedule, and a marathon schedule. I know there are apps out there for interval training, and when I find one I like I will post it. Fit Mommy has a nice six day, 16 week workout routine as well. I am planning on coupling the C25K instead of her running idea. Science, because I love it, has shown that cardio is good  but it is better when coupled with weight training, whether that be body weight or lifting, to reduce body fat.

The third part of the game, and really my favorite, is the habit building and breaking. Technically (and according to research) it takes approximately 54 days to establish a new habit, not 21, but 28 days is a pretty good start! Do this right before Lent, if you are Catholic, you are pretty much gold. The idea is to pick a habit you want to start and one you want to quit. I am terrible at flossing (gasp!) so one of my habits to start in one of the games I played was to floss every day. I don’t floss now, but it was a good habit to try and instill. A bad habit to break for me was, well heck, I don’t even remember now, but one I have now is that I touch my face, a lot. As a nurse, this is a terrible habit to be in. Now that I think about it, that will probably be my habit to break this go around. But that’s the idea. My good habit I will form is being prepared for tomorrow tonight. I will pick out my clothes, have my meals prepped, and be ready to go if I need to. Both of these are going to be really hard to do.

I know I said in my Game On post that I wasn’t going to focus on weight loss, and I am not, but that is a Game parameter, so I will have to keep track of it. But my goal for this is much more personal. I want to be a Mama and so far we have been unsuccessful. Mostly I think I was on the contraceptive medication for too long, but my body ins’t bouncing back from it like it did when I was 26. The goal is to get back to a much more healthy weight so that I can provide the right environment for our little ones. Fingers are crossed.

Let me know if you want to play the game! I will be happy to post the rules we play by and you can always use the Google to search out the score sheets, the FYT foods and the FLAAB foods, I don’t remember what they stand for.

Game On!

I am competitive. Not the mean, I am going to kick you if I lose, competitive, but more of a this is fun I am going to win, competitive. But, I hate to lose. Fitness has never been something I win at. I don’t run (usually), I sort of like to lift weights, but I really only like squats, and I find gyms to be boring. Martial arts and pole dancing I enjoy, but I like them more in a class setting, which requires money. I also need added incentive, like money, or sweets I don’t have to make, or alcohol. You can imagine my reaction when one of my sisters invited me to play the game The Game On Diet with her. I get to be competitive, supportive, and, in most games, there is a prize at the end (to be determined by the group participating in the game). All my favorite things.

Now, without going into the nitty gritty, if you want to play that game I suggest all players read the book and then, as a group, you sit down and has out the rules. Turns out I was playing by some very different rules than the rest of the teams playing. That one game destroyed my husband’s desire to ever play the game again. I played it with minimal success another time and I am not particularly enamored with the game. I think this has more to do with the teams I played with (usually 2-3 people made up a team and your combine points contributed to your score) and the fact that there never was a tangible reward has put the damper on my spirit.

So, where am I going with this? Tony and I have challenged each other to a walking competition. The goal is to walk 30 miles in a week first. The pay off is, the winner gets a bottle of wine and has the choice to either pick the date night movie, or not. I hate deciding what to watch! This is good incentive for me to do what I need to do without the focus being on my weight. Let’s face it, who hates a weight loss challenge? The answer being, everyone.

Come on everyone, let’s kick those nasty “weight loss” goals, the ones that make you feel bad about yourself for no other reason than society (aka the media) has dictated one form is the best. Let go of those numbers that you measure every week (or day) that tell you if you are doing it “right”. Let’s move the focus to something more important, which is actually getting active because you want to move and feel better, you like what you are doing, and you are engaging with others who like it, regardless of your weight and waist size.

I am putting my foot down against working out to get skinny (unless you like the gym and treadmill, then have at it), and gunning for being active because I feel good, like what I am doing, and want to do more. And a bottle of wine!

Let me know what you like doing in the comments and whether it is for feeling better or for getting skinny. As a side note, I am not bashing people who are getting fit so they can get skinny, but I suggest looking for a more sustainable reason. It is really easy to slide back once you reach your “goal”.

Meal Planning 101

Another part to budgeting is getting our food expenses under control. Food is expensive, time consuming to prepare, and if you don’t know how to cook or don’t like to cook, extremely aggravating. You have to go the store and deal with people too. Yuck! I know. I, fortunately, enjoy cooking. It certainly makes the process easier, but it isn’t needed necessarily.

First, let’s get the money thing under control. Then we can talk about the time portion of this. I am still mastering this, so we can journey together. I would suggest you set a good chunk of time aside, possibly an afternoon, or, if you are being really ambitious, a full day. Setting up your meal plan can be a bit time consuming, but it pays off in the end when you no longer have to think about it. If time is money, you are spending more now to make more later.

I use a simple binder with 4×8 index card space pages. Twenty pages have four slots and ten pages have two vertical slots, one horizontal slot, and a skinny slot on the side. I use 5×3 index cards though.

My lovely binder:

190

One of the pages I use. As you can see, the cards are smaller than the slots. I find it easier to pull out the cards like this.

191

My cards with recipes and my pens for writing everything out in color code:

Part of my choice to do a binder is to get rid of the seven thousand cook books I have scattered everywhere. I hardly ever use them, as I will go to the Google for the recipe I want first. So, I have taken on the task or writing down the recipes I will use, or would use, on index cards. I use different colors to denote different types of meals. For instance, red is for Hispanic inspired dishes and green is for Italian. There are hundreds of ways you can categorize your meals, but I broke them down like this:

Soups & Stews are in a dark gel pen blue

Hispanic is in gel pen red

Italian is in dark gel pen green

Assorted World Foods is in ball point pen black

Americana is in light gel pen green

Breakfast is in gel pen maroon

Lunch is in gel pen black

Appetizers are in gel pen orange

Sides are in light gel pen blue

Desserts are in ball point pen blue

Breads and rolls are in gel pen pink (with a maroon star if it can double as a breakfast loaf)

Staples (like pie crust and pizza sauce) are in ball point pen red

Twelve categories seems to be more manageable for me. Your question might be, why go through all this trouble when you can just look up the recipe. I’ll tell you why. I won’t go look them up if I think I remember how to make the dish, for one. Secondly, I won’t look in my pantry when I am making my shopping list if my ingredient list isn’t right in front of me. Third, if I eat a meal I love and ask for the recipe, I don’t have to find a place to put it, as I have my recipe box right there. It puts everything into arms reach when I am trying to plan out my weeks worth of meals.

This has been a lot of work and very time consuming. If you enjoy the hands-on approach to organizing like this, welcome to my complicated world. If you don’t, I would suggest writing down the names of the dinners you like and what page they are in your cookbook, or how to find them on the internet ( I always have a hard copy of the meals I like as I have had recipes disappear from the ether). To give you an idea of how big I am making my project, I want to be able to plan a year’s worth of meals (this is with one leftover day to clean out the fridge and night out every other week, or 78 meals), without repeating any. This is not to say we won’t repeat meals. We love Paella and hamburgers, and steak, and fettuccine Alfredo and, and, and, you get the picture. But if I can have a good mix of about 250 meals we like (I already have 35 soups and stews alone) then I think I will be in pretty good shape and can donate all my cook books.

You do not have to make this project so large! I have been meal planning for a while and this is my next step. My suggestion to you is to write down roughly thirty meals your family likes to eat on a regular basis. Thirty is not so tough, even if you only list the names. This gives you basically a months worth of dinners that you know your family will love and eat without much complaint. You also don’t have to be so ethnically diverse if you don’t want. The point is to make this easy on you, so don’t over think it with roasted lamb in mint sauce with Au gratin potatoes and homemade ciabatta bread with sea salt. That does sound really good though.

An example of a basic week worth of meals for us; Paella, spaghetti, hamburgers, baked potato soup, stir fry, dinner out, left overs. A week we don’t eat out, chili, pollo rosa maria, fajitas, shish kababs, steak, leftovers, leftovers (we usually have plenty left over). Two weeks without repeating meals, except on leftover days. You can make it so you don’t have left overs, but I have yet to find a family who doesn’t cook too much for at least one meal.

Why do them on index cards? You can mix them up! Like I said, I have 35 soups and stews right now. Some will get the ax after I make them, they were just soups I found in a book that I would be willing to try. If I have an equal amount of recipes in my other categories I can choose one from each stack and not repeat for months! I can also make my husband pick, which takes the burden off of me. Or, if you have kids, let them choose a card or two. Make it a game. Index cards also let me shift meals around according to schedule. If I am working 12h, I can’t and won’t cook for three hours (most of my meals don’t take that long but some do). I schedule longer prep meals on my off days, make ahead meals on days I work. Leftover day cleans out the fridge and means I don’t have to cook on Meal Prep day or shopping day.

One final note on the dinner cards. Make sure you note what side dishes you are going to make. If it is a packet of microwaveable veggies (we use Green Giants and they are yummy) and some store bought rolls, write it down. You will need to know what to buy to go with that steak. I usually write the sides I normally cook for a main course on the main courses index card.

The next step is to do your lunch meals. I work backwards, from dinner to breakfast, since breakfast is usually cereal or eggs and bacon. When we get to the bottom I will list some blogs that have great mason jar salads and some sandwich ideas. I pick one or two salads, one or two sandwiches (which can also be made into wraps for a bit healthier option) and use my left over soup one or two days for meals. This means I can prep them on Meal Prep day (think deconstructed sandwiches) and have them ready to go the day I need them. Supposing I have a moment to eat them when working… This also cuts down on your shopping list if you double up days. Like our leftover dinner days, I use whatever is left on the last day before shopping (usually Sunday). This helps clean out the fridge and means, again, no additional cooking on Meal Prep day.

Finally, breakfast. Like I said, I am a cereal girl, or oatmeal, because it is fast prep and I don’t eat a lot in the morning. Pretty much if I can put it together in under 5 minutes, I’ll eat it. Tony eats more than I do though, so a little bit of thought goes into this. You can see in my picture above that I have 7 different breakfasts listed out. Three of them are grab and goes, the yogurt, the oatmeal/cereal, and the banana bread.

Side note: I make little loaves of bread (about 32 of them) and we freeze 24 and eat the remaining 8 over the week. I love my baby bread loaf pan. I will do this with zucchini bread and apple bread too. I just found a lemon poppy seed loaf I want to try too. If you like cakey breads for a breakfast dish, I would suggest these baby loaves.

The other four meals take prep time, especially the blintz and chopping the Brussels sprouts, but they are all still under 15 minutes. About the sprouts. I know that seems like a really odd choice of breakfast fare, but I promise, slice them and pan fry them in some butter and garlic, then top it with an over easy egg. You will be pleasantly surprised.

I am going to start looking at mason jar breakfasts, smoothie recipes for breakfast, mason jar salads and all that coming up soon. They look delicious and if I can prep it all and have it ready to go in one day, that means I can work the other six and make up for lost income.

Alright, steps to meal planning:

  1. Set time aside to meal/menu plan. If you are brand new, set aside a good 2-3 hours (or a day if you are feeling ambitious). If you have been sort of, kind of planning for a while now, set aside an hour or so to get organized.
  2. Get your supplies together that make meal planning fun. If you are doing the binder method that I am, get fun pens, stickers (if you want to mark favorite meals) and such. Also make sure you have the binder, the page spacers, and index cards. I know they sell index cards in a bunch of fun colors, so you might go that route instead.
  3. Figure out how far in advance you want to plan. Do you want to do it a week at a time? Do you want a projected monthly plan, split down into weeks? Do you want to plan for the next three months? Choose your time frame. Much like your budget, stick with this time frame for 3 months then reevaluate. It will be hard, but it gets easier.
  4. Write down your first 30 or so dinners, about 10 different lunches and 10 different breakfasts. This includes meals you could make in your sleep. I know it seems silly to write down how to cook your steak (it’s not because you can make it perfect every time) but remember you have your sides listed on there as well. Yes, even the cereal. Write it down.
  5. Select your first weeks meals! Ah, perfection. You are ready to make your shopping list now. You know exactly what you need to buy and will only have to make the trip to the store once. Now, go look at your Ibotta, Checkout51, coupon apps, and all other sundry to save even more money on the items you know you need to buy.

A quick note on snacks. I don’t tend to buy them because we are two people. All I really have on hand at any given time are apples, clementines, string cheese, and Chobani’s raspberry and chocolate dessert yogurts. If you love your snacks and desserts, plan those into your meals as well. For a while I was making little packets of chopped up veggies, fruits, trail mixes, and other grab and go things. Then I threw out a bunch of them because we didn’t eat them fast enough. It all depends on family size, how much work you want to put into it, and how likely you are to eat it. Nothing worse then spending $130 and throwing out $40 work of food because you didn’t eat it.

Here are some blogs I found on meal planning:

Kalyn uses a similar style to me. It’s less complicated in that you don’t have to write down all your meals and organize, but it is more complicated in the fact that you have to look everything up, multiple times if necessary. She has helpful printouts too.

Rosemarie has some great tips for meal planning. This simplifies it nicely and explains a bit about different methods for food prep and types if meals.

Angela has some helpful ideas about breakfast, lunch, and snacks. Not really a guide to meal planning as a whole, but if you are stuck on the meal most of us eat out for (lunch), this could be helpful to kick-start that plan.

Here are a few blogs/pins on meals to make:

Thank you RedBook for this little list of nummy breakfast mason jars.

Clean Food Crush also has recipes for breakfast mason jars. Added bonus if you have your own dehydrator to make your own fruit!

Today’s Frugal Mom has a way to make freezer breakfasts! Smoothie packs and baking mixes are also listed!

Popsugar has a good post for ideas of mason jar salads.

Ms. Cassandra has a great post on not salad mason jars. I personally love the instant noodle idea.

Imgur has this link to a list of sandwiches you can make. Just some ideas.

Happy Deal, Happy Day has a great post on two things I love, freezer meals and crock pot meals. Time and energy saved!

Last but not least Melissa has what we all need, 25 minute meals.

This is just a short list. There are tons of ideas on Pintrest. Next up will be meal prepping for the week. That should be a much shorter blog post.