I’ve never been a big New Year’s Resolution maker/keeper. It felt cliché. Besides, I knew I wouldn’t keep them. However, in the fall of 2013, I started reading Crystal Paine’s blog. She is big on goal setting and I as the end of the year drew near I felt challenged to do so myself. After all, if you never set goals you reach them every time! So as 2014 began, I felt compelled to make several life goals or resolutions. Here is a look at how well I did or did not accomplish these goals.
One of the biggest ways I was inspired was to read more. In 2013 she had challenged herself to read 50 books!! I was in awe. I used to read … before I had kids. Then life got crazy and I was either too busy or too tired. I couldn’t tell you the last time I read a book from cover to cover. I had started several, but that’s it. I could count on one hand how many non-picture books I had read in the last decade.
But my kids are getting older; the youngest is almost 5. I’m entering a new season in life. Besides, if I want to be a writer I need to be a reader. So I talked to my husband and we challenged ourselves, not to read 50, but to read 24 books in the course of a year — two a month. It seemed do-able. An even mix of fiction, nonfiction, and biographies to keep us balanced. (I tend to gravitate toward nonfiction and my husband gravitates toward fiction, though we want to read both).
Well … I didn’t read 24. I read five. But I still feel successful! I read five more books than I had in many years — I’ve stretched myself, I’ve opened my horizons, I’ve learned new things.
Here’s what I read:
- Julie and Julia by Julie Powell
- Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot
- George Mueller by Faith Coxe Bailey (I tried reading GM’s autobiography first, but it was difficult to get through because of the language so I opted for an easier read rather than drop it altogether.)
- Say Goodbye to Survival Mode by Crystal Payne
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin
Yes … the ever-present weight loss resolution. I really wanted/needed to. I had dieted off and on the last few years to no avail and I figured that what I was missing was exercise. I was eating right, but lacking the cardio needed to burn calories. So … I bought an exercise bike right after the new year. I lowered my carb intake; cutting out grains (mostly) and limiting sugar. I ate a moderate amount of potatoes and rice. It was the most successful diet I had ever done. I felt good, and I wasn’t depriving myself of anything but bread — and when I ate bread I felt bloated so I really didn’t want it. By summer I had lost 2 sizes. I was down to a size I hadn’t been since before my second child. It was great.
However, this fall I have not been so good. I stopped exercising. I added a grain here and there. Since Thanksgiving, I’ve had a severe lack of discipline, eating everything in sight! I feel pathetic and the jeans I bought in my new size are tight!! Ugg! So, come January 2 (because who wants to start on the first when all the good food from last night is still there) I’ll be starting all over again.
I wanted to take a hold of my spending by starting to use a sort of cash budgeting system. Yes, I had a budget, had one for many years. But I don’t keep it very well; it’s more like a suggestion. It’s too easy to swipe that card when we need milk and I know there’s money in the bank, even though I know I’ve gone over my grocery budget.
I did do that a couple times, but not very successfully, and I didn’t keep at it. I’m looking at some new ways to budget for the coming year. On the other hand, I did do one new thing this year that helped us tremendously. We receive a few small payments in cash on a monthly basis. In the past, I would just use them to cover whatever was needed at the time. This year, however, I decided to be proactive. I took the cash and set it back, calling it my “christmas account.” I had never had a christmas account, and I always barely scraped by each year. This year it was so comforting to know that I already had the money for all the gifts I wanted to buy and none of it had to come out of my regular budget. I never want to go back to the old way of doing it.
So there are my triumphs and failures for 2014 in a nutshell. I am currently working on a list of goals for 2015 which I will publish soon. I really like being able to look back at how I well I did or didn’t do and how I can challenge myself in the future. Did you have any triumphs this year?
Update February 18, 2019: Fast forward five years since I originally wrote this piece. I still do a lot of the same meal prep as I was trying out at that time. I still write out all my meals for the month and then pencil them into dates on the calendar. I still buy meat in bulk and process it into gallon-sized Ziploc bags by the meal. Some of the prices and portion-sizes have changed, but the overall system remains the same. It is the best money and time-saving routine I have found to feed my hungry family of eight.
Figuring out and implementing daily meals is a regular battle in my house. After a full morning of homeschooling and lunch duty, I’m ready to get on to other matters than need my attention. The 1:30-3:30 time block is really my only free time to work on blogging and other non-school matters, but more often than not it has been necessary for me to use that time just to figure out what’s for dinner and prepare it. After I decide what to make, I then have to defrost and prepare all the components so dinner can be on the table before five allowing us time to eat before we have to rush off to our evening engagements. All of a sudden, my afternoon is gone! This insanity must stop! So I began a search for a better method, something which I talked about in my post on freezer meals. I am trying to become more organized regarding daily meals by doing much of my dinner prep in advance.
Like normal, I bought a months worth of meat on Saturday from Sam’s Club, my local warehouse store. Shopping like this saves me from having to go to the store all the time thus saving me time and money. To feed my crew of eight, I typically buy three 6 to 7 pound trays of chicken breast tenderloins (I like that the chicken is already cut into manageable pieces) for about $2.18/lb. I also pick up a ten pound roll of 90/10 ground chuck for about $3.50/lb. Then I typically pick up either a pork tenderloin or some other meat that is on sale. For all this I spent approximately $80.
On Sunday, I divided the meat into meal sized portions. The amount of chicken necessary to satisfy my family in a typical meal is three pounds. I used to eyeball the amount and place the approximate portion in gallon-sized ziploc bags. But in order to make my prep time easier and more accurate I have purchased a kitchen scale to use at times like this. So I place ziplocs on the scale and fill. I was able to get seven meals out of the chicken. I do the same for the beef, except we only need two pounds of beef per meal and it fits in a quart sized bag.
This time I did an extra step, however. I planned what I was going to do with the chicken! I had previously gone through my favorite cookbooks and found four marinades I wanted to use. One for a stir-fry, a southwest, a BBQ, and a spicy Dijon that we’re going to try for the first time. It took just as long to pull out all the ingredients and mix four marinades as it does to make one. I poured the marinades in the ziploc bags with the chicken and labeled it. Now when I pull out the chicken to thaw two steps will already be completed — figuring out what to do with the meat and making/adding the marinade to the already thawed chicken. It is actually marinading as it thaws, thus also saving me time. The other chicken will be used for non-marinaded recipes. Two of the books that I got these recipes from are: Fix, Freeze, Feast and Not Your Mother’s Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook. These have become favorites and are some of my “go-to” recipe books!
I wrote a list of all the meals I was planning to make with the prepared meat and then divided the list into days on my calendar. It feels good to know what we’re eating every day this month. Now that this is completed I’m hoping to utilize Sunday afternoons to prep all the veggies and other things I will need to go with each of the the weeks meals. Let’s see how well I do!
How do you keep the insanity of meal prep at bay?
The idea of freezer meals have attracted me for a long time. Having something already prepared waiting for me to take out and cook. I’ve messed around with it here and there, bought several freezer cookbooks, frequented many internet articles and blogs dedicated to the subject, but have been unable to successfully create a freezer meal plan that works for me and my hungry family. Here are two of the plans I have used:
I got this plan from the book Fix, Freeze, Feast by Kati Neville and Lindsay Tkacsik. With this plan you buy the bulk trays of food from your local warehouse club and make a triple recipe from it. Viola! Three meals in the time it took to make one! Just freeze, then thaw and cook when you’re ready to eat it.
Pros: The basic premise of this book, that it is a time and money saving way to feed your family, is very accurate to it’s content. It’s concepts are well presented and the recipes are, for the most part, very good. This book continues to be a go-to book for some of the recipes as well as the general principles of a good freezer meal plan.
Cons: As I did not have the freezer space, nor the money, to make meals that we were not going to eat within the month, we grew tired of eating the same meal three times in a short span of time. Also, there was one meal we absolutely did not like, yet there were still two more of them in the freezer! It felt like a waste of food, space and money. Luckily, we were able to pawn those off on a couple church potlucks — shhh.
Concensus: There are a couple of meals I have kept from this book like the Lasagna (a family favorite), and the homemade red sauce. But as an overall freezer meal plan — it is not something I have been able utilize to it’s fullest potential at this time.
Slow Cooker Freezer Packs
I purchased an inexpensive plan for 20 meals (or ten if you need to serve 8 people like I do) from a freezer meal website. I received a shopping list including everything I would need to buy, 10 individual recipes, the assembly line instructions, and Ziploc labels. It was really well organized. It was something I had never done before, and had been nervous about trying, but I was tight on time (and brain power) so I decided it was worth a shot.
I started early in the morning and prepped all the veggies and set them out on my counter. The program boasts that it is a two hour process after prep, but as the prep took me four hours I felt like it was a little misleading.
I then followed the instructions on putting the bags together. It was really simple once I got to this stage. And the packages all looked very pretty and appetizing.
Result: Pretty food that, unfortunately, didn’t taste as good as it looked. What I ended up with was a low quality dinner experience. Putting everything together raw like that, freezing it, and then throwing it in the crock pot resulted in food that had a rubbery texture and all tasted the same. I enjoy cooking good food and was embarrassed to serve these to my family. While we did eat them all, we were counting down the days until they would be gone. I also cooked several of them in the oven so they would have better flavor and texture.
Will I Quit? … Nope!
As a busy mom with a full-time job, that is home educating my six children in addition to my many other hats, I need to find a way to make the household chore of feeding my family every night less time-consuming. So I need a new method, one that involves meals that I already know my family likes. One where I get to cook my way, but with less day-to-day prep.
I already buy my meat in bulk at the beginning of each month and separate it into gallon ziploc bags in meal-sized portions. So why not go a step further and prepare a marinade to pour in each bag prior to freezing. Most marinades have similar ingredients so I can make several fairly simply. This will save me having to thaw the meat and make a marinade on meal day. Plus, I already know what I’m making with the meat! Believe it or not, this small thing takes up a huge amount of my time in the afternoons.
I have also seen where working women will prep all the veggies and other side dishes for the coming week on Sunday, saving them valuable time in the evenings and still allowing them to eat good nutritious meals. I get lazy because I am at home and therefore I can make dinner in the afternoon. But that doesn’t mean I should! If I think like I’m a busy woman, which I am, and I need to have dinner prepared early, which I do, then it is more likely to happen. Read my post on attempting an organized meal plan to see how I implemented this idea.
To that end, I resolve to have a kind of partial freezer meal plan. With some components frozen leaving the fresh ingredients to be prepped on the weekend. Most importantly, I just want to be more organized when it comes to meals. To have a meal plan for the week set in place on Sunday will be indispensable when it comes to saving my time and sanity!
How do you serve dinner to your family every night while still maintaining your sanity?