The days are long, but the years are short

MJ and Mommy

I’m a very type-A person. When you’re a type-A person and you become a stay-at-home-mom to young kids, it can be a difficult adjustment. You’re on someone else’s time (routine and a schedule only go so far with unpredictable kids) but you still have a strong drive to accomplish something. ANYTHING. How often do we take a step back and soak in our kids? We’re probably too busy breaking up fights, wiping noses, getting food ready, changing diapers or helping with the potty, or wondering why it isn’t bedtime yet because there’s so much to do still. Wondering why we can’t find time to work out or make Pinterest-worthy snacks or crafts. Keeping a mental list (or if you’re like me, a paper list) of the billion things you need to cross off. On the flip side, if we’re working out of the home or in school, our time is stretched so thin that we have to balance all of the household tasks with maximizing quality time with our little ones. We become totally preoccupied with wondering if we’re giving enough to any part of our life.

My youngest son isn’t quite two. He put his hand in my hand tonight on the couch and rested his head on my chest and let out a big sigh and said “mama.” It was the reminder I needed to check the type-A frame of mind at the door and try to be more present with my kids and not so into what needs to be done all the time or doubting if I’m doing it right. There will be a time when they don’t want to play at home. When they don’t want to paint and ride bikes and play on the swings with mommy. When they stop asking for help all the time. When they don’t need us the way they do now. When we aren’t their whole world. When their faces don’t beam as much when we tell them they did a good job, or that we love them. When we aren’t cool anymore. They’ll want to see friends, to be out in the world. As much as a parent of a small child dreams of greater independence, there are so many things we’ll miss about this stage. I needed a reminder to slow down and stop obsessing over the next thing on the to-do list, and tonight it came in the form of that sweet little hand. As I’ve heard from so many… the days are long, but the years are short.

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8 Ways to Save Time in the Kitchen

Frozen Lime Juice

Last week, I posted about freezer meals, which are a GREAT way to save time in the kitchen. I have a few more tips I’ve learned over the years that I want to share in case you aren’t already doing them! These are great for everyone, but particularly helpful for those of you who don’t have a lot of time to devote to food prep but still want to cook frequently and have a clean kitchen.

  1. Prep your veggies and meat when you get home from the store
    If you know you’re going to be making a soup, stir-fry and a roast later in the week, wash, peel and cut all of your vegetables ahead of time. Trim and divide all of your meat right away. Prepping ahead of time can cut your cooking time in half when it comes time to make the meal. When my kids are running around like crazy at 5pm when I’m trying to get dinner started, being able to pull everything out of the fridge already cut up is a HUGE time-saver and saves you a lot of clean-up time on cooking nights, too.
  1. Make a double batch when you’re cooking
    Whether you’ll use an extra batch for leftovers the next day (that’s usually what happens around here!) or freeze them for a future meal, making a double batch of whatever you’re cooking will give you an easy second meal for no extra work!
  1. Plan to make “take two” meals
    I try to make one meal a week that can be turned into a second meal (and not as leftovers). For example, when we make crock pot chicken tacos (4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, one large jar of your favorite salsa and a ½ cup of water on low all day, then shred), I use the leftover chicken in quesadillas, salads or soups at least one more time over the next few days. Great way to stretch your dollar.
  1. Buy limes and lemons and freeze the juice in covered ice cube trays
    A GREAT tip from A Bowl Full of Lemons (have you read her blog? You should!) on Instagram @abowlfulloflemons. Her example used lemons, but we cook with lime juice a lot so I used limes first. So many great recipes call for lemon or lime juice (guacamole, garlic-lime fajitas) but we don’t always have limes on-hand. Until now! Buy 10-12 lemons or limes on sale, juice them into a bowl, and pour into a covered ice cube tray (most are about 1oz, or 2 tbsp) and pop into the freezer. Once frozen, pop the cubes out and drop them into a zip-top bag and return to the freezer. Pull a few out any time you need lime or lemon juice! I’ve heard this works well too with olive oil and herbs but haven’t tried that one yet. Next on my list!
  1. Bake extra potatoes to keep in the fridge or freezer
    If you’re baking or grilling potatoes, you might as well throw another few in because they take a long time to cook and they’re cheap, so they’re a GREAT candidate for bulk cooking. What can you do with extra baked potatoes? Baked potato soup, hash browns for a weekend breakfast skillet (we’ve been LOVING this lately!), potato skins, potato salad…or any recipe that calls for already cooked potatoes. This will save you so much time later. Baked potatoes will last 5-7 days in the fridge and 6-8 months in the freezer. Just store them in zip-top bags and pull them out whenever you need them!
  1. Freeze cookie dough if you don’t want the whole batch at once
    My kids LOVE to bake cookies, but I don’t like having a bunch of cookies calling my name all week from the counter. Over the last year, I’ve started to freeze the batch in thirds (bake a third, split the other 2/3 and freeze in cling wrap). When they want fresh baked cookies (they especially love to cut out sugar cookies and decorate), I just pull some out of the freezer and pop it into the fridge the night before and we can make cookies the next day. Alternatively, you can also bake the whole batch and freeze the baked cookies to pull out six one at a time for yourself. If you have more self-control than I do. 😉
  1. Run your dishwasher each night
    This tip is for everyone with a dishwasher!  When I had my first baby five years ago, I was so overwhelmed with dishes. BOTTLES EVERYWHERE. Then sippy cups everywhere. Since then, I fill and run my dishwasher every night and then empty it first thing in the morning. When you have an empty dishes throughout the day, just put them directly in the dishwasher. This will totally stop all accumulation of dishes on the counter (or couch, or floor) throughout the day.
  1. Clean up as you go
    I hate sitting down to a meal and looking into a big messy kitchen because then all I can think about is having to clean it up. Instead of letting dishes accumulate on the counter or in the sink while you’re cooking, clean up as you go. Discard of scraps right away, put cutting boards and prep bowls directly into the dishwasher (or if you don’t have a dishwasher, into the sink to be washed), and wipe down your counters. It truly only takes a minute but saves you so much time after a meal.

Know someone who could use these tips? Feel free to pin, post or share! What are your favorite tips in the kitchen? Feel free to share below in the comments!

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Whole30 Q & A

Whole30 Q&A

I am no expert on Whole30, but I posted a call for questions on my Instagram account because I’ve been getting a lot of questions here and there, and thought I might be able to help others who are considering it by sharing my experience. I’ve compiled a list below and did my best to answer everything!

Q: What is Whole30?
A: Whole30 was designed by Dallas Hartwig and Melissa Hartwig and is a 30-day nutritional reset. It’s designed to remove processed, inflammatory, allergenic, and otherwise potentially harmful foods from your diet entirely so you can fuel your body with foods that won’t interfere with the way it’s designed to work. You can read more here: www.whole30.com

Q: Is Whole30 the same as Paleo?
A: No. Paleo has no defined rules and everyone interprets Paleo eating differently. Whole30 also excludes some things that are generally allowed on most people’s interpretation of Paleo. Whole30 has very clear restrictions.

Q: Why did you decide to do this?
A: See my post here.

Q: Do you have to pay for this program?
A: There is a book they suggest you read, “It Starts With Food” but I haven’t read it, and I found everything I needed on their website for free (steps, rules and shopping list).

Q: Is snacking allowed on Whole30?
A: The answer is no. There’s a great section of their website which addresses snacking and the message there is that if you’re going to snack (on compliant foods), you should be reflecting on why you need the snack (not eating enough at mealtime? Not eating enough vegetables? Not drinking enough water?) so that you don’t snack in the future. I still struggle with this part, personally. I’m trying to craft my meals in a way that stays with me until the next one, but if I’m hungry, I eat (but only compliant foods).

Q: What results have you been noticing?
A: SO MANY. I’m on day 12 now. I can feel a difference EVERYWHERE. I’m sleeping better, my blood sugar levels don’t spike and dip, my energy levels are better, I no longer have stomach issues, I don’t feel bloated after meals, my clothes are fitting better, I’m thinking more clearly, the list goes on. I also don’t feel that emotional attachment to food which is HUGE for me. Food is just fuel now. It’s not a friend, it’s not a time-killer, and it’s not a reward. It’s fuel. I will be forever grateful to have learned that feeling. In terms of weight and measurements, I will report back at the end of the Whole30. But my husband says he can see a difference!

Q: Is your husband/family doing Whole30 with you?
A: My husband was such a great sport and said if I was going to do it, he wanted to do it along with me for support. For the most part, we’re eating the same stuff. He and I do like some different foods (he doesn’t like sweet potatoes, I do. He loves eggs, I don’t.), so I’ve just tried my best to make sure we have enough around of what we both like if it’s a meal we both aren’t in love with. If he has eggs over hash browns for dinner, I’ll make myself some bacon, slice up some avocado and have some of the hash browns on the side. So, our meals are similar but not identical. For the most part, our kids are eating some of what we do and some of their own foods. We did not cut any food group from their diet, but we have removed a lot of the processed foods they were eating and swapped them with more fruit, veggies, raisins and cashews. I do make some different foods for them at mealtimes. (I should note that my daughter has some sensory issues and her diet is always a bit different from ours). My little brother is also doing this with us long-distance from Houston, and he’s the one who asked me to start. He’s done this before and checks in with me every day to see what I’m eating and how I’m feeling, and he’s giving me the encouragement I need when I need it. He eats crazy healthy and I’m so grateful for his help!

Q: Did you have headaches when you started? If so, how long did they last?
A: Oh my gosh YES. The first day was absolutely awful. I couldn’t believe how awful I felt. The combination of skipping caffeine and sugar sent me down fast – but it was an incredible moment of clarity for me. I realized how much my body depended on crap and I HATED that and wanted to stick with the program even more. By day two I was a little groggy but ok! Day three on I’ve been great!

Q: Do you get cheat meals or is it super strict?
A: No cheat meals or snacks! Not even a bite or lick of anything. You aren’t doing Whole30 if you’re cheating!

Q: What are some red flags on labels?
A: The last time I read labels this much was when I first joined weight watchers and they had a little cardboard slider card to determine points values and you had to calculate EVERYTHING (anyone remember that?). Now, I have to avoid anything with added sugar (often listed as dextrose), most oils, MSG or alcohol. You wouldn’t BELIEVE how much of those things are in EVERYTHING we eat.

Q: Where do you find sugar-free bacon?
A: I found mine at Sprouts, but I’ve heard Whole Foods and Trader Joes carries it as well! Read the labels VERY carefully! It’s expensive, but it’s worth it.

Q: Have you had any cravings for non-compliant foods and how do you deal with that?
A: Occasionally, yes! I’m an extremely competitive person and once I know something is off-limits, I block it out of my mind. If I don’t, I get so fixated on it I want to cave. I will not cave in these 30 days so I just stop thinking about it and distract myself. If I want something salty, I go for cashews or almonds. If I want something sweet, I reach for some fruit. It’s not the same as a donut but I feel a lot better afterwards!

Q: Do you follow a specific workout regimen or program on Whole30?
A: No. Whole30 is totally focused on food. I’m just doing me regular routine at the gym.

Q: Other than water, what have you been drinking on Whole30?
A: Nothing. I tried coffee black and decided I’d rather drink water. Ha! A lot of people drink tea or sparkling water (as long as it’s naturally sweetened with fruit juice and not sugar).

Q: Can you have smoothies?
A: Nope. Even with compliant ingredients – the point of this program is to eat the actual whole foods. Ice cream made by blending whole frozen bananas is also off-limits. The way you eat the food is just as important as the food, according to this program.

Q: How did you get started?
A: I only took a few days to prep. I thought a lot about why I wanted to do this. I think getting mentally ready is just as important as being prepared on paper. I read the Whole30 website and then printed off the shopping list from their site. I scoured Pinterest and Instagram (search #whole30) for meal inspiration and made a list of things I thought my family and I would like. I got rid of everything that was part of my old diet (coffee creamer, dark chocolate, cheese). Then I went grocery shopping!

Q: Where do you get your meal inspiration?
A: Mostly Instagram! I’m a visual person and need to see a picture of something before I try to make it. If you go to my account (@jen_plans), you can click on who I’m following (upper right corner) and I have a bunch there that I love! You can also search #whole30 for pictures too! There are a TON of blogs out there posting Whole30-compliant meals so don’t be afraid to search Whole30 + your favorite foods. And don’t be afraid to try new foods.

Q: How long does meal prep take?
A: Honestly, less than before. Less ingredients, more grilling and roasting and more foods in their natural form make prep really easy overall. I probably spend 30-60 minutes on shopping day to prep food so that it’s ready when I need to cook it, but I’ve always done that so it’s no time added. If I have cut up broccoli in a big zip-top bag in the fridge, it’s easier to dump some in to steam than if I have to get out the cutting board each time. Anything I can do to make meal time faster or easier, I do ahead of time.

Q: Do you miss any non-approved foods?
A: Of course not! YES. My coffee creamer. See you July 1! For everything else, as each day goes by there’s less I miss, truly. I like the way I’m feeling. I like that I don’t have to worry about portions. I like that I’m fueling my body and not making it groggy, slow or bloated.

Thanks so much for reading! I hope I was able to answer all of your questions!

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Review of the 2015-2016 Erin Condren Life Planner (Horizontal Layout)

Another launch day (!!) has come and gone, and now comes the waiting for deliveries and, for some who are still considering purchases, mulling over final decisions about which planner to choose. Though I already posted a video overview here, I’ve now had the planner for a few days and wanted to put together a more comprehensive post with pictures to share all the details with you!
We were coming back from my kids’ swim lesson on Saturday morning and as we pulled around the corner, I saw THAT BOX. You know. The colorful, fun EC-patterned shipping box that everyone waits (not so) patiently for. I yelled STOPPPPP at my husband and literally jumped out of the car and came running to the front steps.

Running girl

Normal? If you’re an EC fan, of course it is.

In my package:

Erin Condren 2015-2016 Ready-to-Ship (RTS) 18-month Life Planner in the NEW horizontal layout

Assorted gift labels

2 sets of Keep it Together bands

Coil Clips

Keep it Together pen holder

Snap-In To-Do List

Designer Sticker Book

COVER

Let’s jump right in, shall we? The cover on the Ready-To-Ship (RTS) is deep purple with the quote “and so the adventure begins.” Indeed! If you choose a RTS, you’ll get a code to order a free cover which will snap onto the coil. All covers are interchangeable.

ECLP and so the adventure begins cover

VELLUM OVERLAY

When you open the cover, you see the nice, thick, vellum overlay which has a design pre-printed. Under the vellum layer is a page to mark down your contact information in case your planner is lost. I love that they moved that block onto the pages since the covers are interchangeable now, to keep you from having to write it over and over. Great and thoughtful update.

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MINI MONTHLY CALENDAR

The next big turn is to the mini-monthly calendar/year-at-a-glance. You’ll find July 2015-December 2016 in this spread, and of course you could use it just as reference, but plenty of people use this space actively to keep track of monthly goals or challenges, their menstrual cycle (especially for those who don’t want it on their weekly spread but like to track for health reasons), keeping track of vacation and sick days all at once…you really have a lot of flexibility in how you use this space and I always encourage people to use every inch of these great features.

ECLP Year at a Glance

GOAL PAGES

Next you’ll find a NEW section, a spread with 12 flagged boxes. You can use them for important dates, goals, lists, or keeping track of your measurements/weight (which is what I’ll be doing!).

ECLP goals

NOTES PAGE BEFORE EACH MONTH

MY FAVORITE PART IS NEXT. No secret that my favorite addition to this year’s version is the notes page before each and every month. This used to be a feature of Erin Condren Life Planners but they were removed the last few years. I will use these to keep track of monthly projects, gift lists, things I need to buy or make and sooo many other things I don’t need on my weekly layout and that are too big for the Goals section on the monthly layout.

ECLP Monthly Note Pages

MONTHLY LAYOUT

Speaking of the monthly layout, past EC users will feel right at home using this month-on-two-page layout. The Goals section is the same also, and a great place to put goals, bills, workout challenges or a favorite quote.

ECLP Monthly

HORIZONTAL WEEKLY LAYOUT

The horizontal weekly layout is next and it’s SO BEAUTIFUL. The colors are vibrant and soothing and I really love the jewel tones used in this option. It’s clean and crisp and gives you the choice of keeping it clean or taking a LOT of freedom with decorating for those who like to use stickers and washi tape (me!). You’ll notice that Monday-Thursday is on the left page, while Friday-Sunday is on the right, along with an equal-sized notes section. Thank you, Erin Condren, for making Saturday and Sunday full days in your planners. It is a huge plus to this planner. The day boxes are mostly lined with the exception of a box off to the right on each day.

EC Horizontal Weekly Layout

TABS

The tabs are laminated and coordinate with the main color of each month.

Tabs

NOTES PAGES

Next up are notes pages in the back! You have six pages (two full front and back and one front and one back – so three spreads) of lined notes pages. Perfect to keep a list of favorite meals on-hand for easy meal planning, books you want to read, gifts you want to give or anything else you list out that you don’t need to be specific to a particular month. You have four graph pages (one full, one front and one back, so two spreads), perfect for room layouts or charting weight, finance goals or annual tasks. After the graph pages, you have 5 blank notes pages for doodling or taping in your own lists or pictures (two full, one half, so two and a half spreads).

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2017 CALENDAR

After the last notes page is a one-page 2017 calendar. You can use a sticky note or write off to the side any important 2017 dates (weddings, graduations, etc).

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BOUND-IN STICKERS

Next up are the stickers! Every planner comes with four bound-in sheets of stickers, two pages have text (birthdays, vacation…see picture for all text) and two blank pages (I’ve already used two to test a new idea!).

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FOLDER

After the stickers is the updated two pocket folder. You can also use packing tape to secure the bottom of the folder and slip even more things into the middle section! Thanks to @crafty_renee for that tip! This folder has really evolved over the years into a very strong, shiny finish folder. The back of the folder contains the perpetual calendar (coming next!).

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PERPETUAL CALENDAR

Each planner contains a perpetual calendar which you can use from year to year to keep track or birthdays, anniversaries or other special dates. I’ve seen these repurposed into daily gratitude journals, baby milestone logs and more! The people in the planner community are so creative. This year’s version also includes a contacts section, password log and list of annual holidays.

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ZIPPER POUCH

Next is the bound-in zipper pouch which has the party pops design this year! This pouch is great for keeping things secure (stamps, concert tickets, pictures or anything else valuable). Another HUGE upgrade this year is the contents of each zipper pouch! You’ll get one coil clip to try, a sampler sheet of the do-it-all-dots stickers, compliment cards and referral cards.

And that’s it for the planner itself!

EXTRA ACCESSORIES

I also got an awesome stash of extra accessories you can find in the accessories section of the Erin Condren site! There are elastic bands to keep your planner closed in two color options (three bands each), a pack of 12 coil clips to keep any extras in your planner or notebook (invitations, shopping lists, etc), a pen holder to attach to your planner, the new party pops markers (red, pink, orange, blue, green and charcoal, which do NOT bleed on your pages – see pictures below!) a snap-in laminated to-do list, and the BEAUTIFUL Designer Sticker Book! With 10 sheets of stickers and priced at $15, this is a GREAT value especially considering these stickers are adorable and many of them are foil-pressed!

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(On the left, check out the EC markers; on the right, you can see the back of the same sheet).

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I’m so excited to jump right into my planner! This is by far the most upgrades I’ve seen in a single year in the time I’ve been an Erin Condren customer and I’m thrilled that I had the opportunity to review it! If you’re a new customer, be sure to use this link to create your account and you’ll get a $10 code e-mailed to you to use on your first order!

Thank you to the Erin Condren team for sending me these wonderful products to review and share. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments!

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First week of Whole30

This first week of Whole30 has been such a valuable learning process for me!

Some history: My brother has been encouraging me to do this program for a while now. I always said no because I was scared I’d fail and honestly because I didn’t want to give up the food I love. I love food. I love eating. I love events that revolve around food. When I know I’m going out to eat, I look up the menu online ahead of time to read every single thing and decide what I’m getting then drool until I go. That’s how much I love food. A few weeks ago, he came in town and stayed with me for a few days and finally convinced me to try it (and said he’d do it too, long-distance). I also roped my always-a-good-sport husband into the program.

Whole30 Image

Why’d I say yes? A few reasons. I’ve been a lifetime member of Weight Watchers for 13 years. I joined in college to lose the freshman 15, went back after each of my three children were born to lose the baby weight (successfully), and have maintained pretty close to my goal weight. I love Weight Watchers and will always recommend it, but I was ready for something that was solely focused on healthy foods. I’ve been feeling sluggish lately and the scale was stuck despite “eating mostly well” and exercising. I want to break my love affair with food. Not because I don’t want to keep loving what I eat, but because I don’t want to love things that are bad for me. I need to retrain myself. I’m also a very competitive person (with myself) and really don’t like feeling like I can’t do something. Because I can. I can do anything. And so can everyone.

Fast forward: So after I clutched my coffee with crack-creamer and shoveled donuts in my mouth, I logged on to www.whole30.com and started reading. These are the things that stuck with me: “Certain food groups (like sugar, grains, dairy and legumes) could be having a negative impact on your health and fitness without you even realizing it . . . so how do you know if (and how) these foods are affecting you? Strip them from your diet completely. Cut out all the psychologically unhealthy, hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days.” Ummm. LIGHT BULB. “It is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard.” LIGHT BULB. “there may be other foods that you find are not psychologically healthy for your Whole30. Use your best judgment with those foods that aren’t on this list, but that you suspect are not helping you change your habits or break those cravings.” LIGHT BULB.

Noticing a theme? The PSYCHOLOGICAL relationship with food is also being addressed. I love this. This is not about creating your favorite junk foods with Whole30 ingredients and pretending it’s healthy. It’s about really, truly, eating clean. And feeling good about it.

The food: I printed off the grocery list and started thinking about meals. You don’t have to get fancy or eat a bunch of stuff you’ve never tried (though it’s been GREAT trying new foods). I looked at Instagram pictures tagged with #Whole30. I made a list of easy dinners I know I could make. I went to Sprouts (comparable to a Trader Joe’s or small version of Whole Foods) and stocked up on produce and healthy proteins. More on meals in a bit.

The first week: The first day was awful. I was SO excited to start and stayed compliant, but I skipped coffee because I didn’t want to drink it black, and if you go from drinking four to six cups of coffee each morning to zero, I will tell you a secret. It hurts. Also, when you completely cut processed sugar out of your diet, that doesn’t feel great either. So around 2 p.m. I started getting dizzy and feeling nauseated. I’ll spare you the details but basically I was literally sick to my stomach from about 4 p.m. on, and for the first time in 10 years, had to call my husband home from work because I physically couldn’t care for the kids. WHY DO PEOPLE DO THIS TO THEMSELVES? Then I realized . . . huh. These things I was putting in my body were so significant that it made me physically sick to remove them. I was literally dependent on crap. Our bodies were not made to depend on crap. They were made to depend on real food. Food is fuel. That was a big eye-opener and one of the things I’m happy to have learned right away.

Photo Jun 07, 12 00 42 PMBreakfast: I have a weird texture issue and cannot eat eggs unless they’re on toast. Like in the same bite. (Weird, I know). So eggs are out for me. I also am/was not a breakfast eater, but without my morning coffee (wasn’t ready to try it black), I decided fruit and some cashews or almonds (or almond butter) were good.

Today I made a big brunch for the family and had fruit and compliant bacon (not cured, no sugar added. Did you know most bacon contains sugar? I didn’t.

Photo Jun 03, 5 32 33 PMLunch: These have been the hardest for me. I’m by myself with the kids all day and it’s so easy to make a sandwich and I can’t eat a salad every day. I bought a big container of shredded rotisserie chicken from Sprouts and kept it in the fridge all week. (Lasted three to four days, then I bought a second container). My lunches were pretty much the same every day: Chicken, half an avocado, some fruit, almonds or cashews, and sometimes raw carrots. You can eat compliant lunchmeat (check the ingredients!) on Whole30, but it’s fairly expensive, so I skipped it this week. All in all, it was repetitive but good.

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Snacks: Mostly fruit, cashews, almonds, avocado with a little sea salt and roasted sweet potatoes.

Photo Jun 05, 6 43 03 PMDinners: The first night, I was too sick to eat. Two of the nights, I had lunch repeats. The other dinners this week included Philly cheesesteak-stuffed peppers (minus the cheese), grilled steak and zucchini with baked potatoes, grilled boneless pork chops with roasted vegetables, and a chipotle salad (lettuce, chicken, pico de gallo and guacamole). See end of post for recipes!

 

Whole30 Dinner

Overall reflection: I’m so glad I’m doing this. It’s SO HARD, but I am breaking my dependence on crap food, eating SO MUCH MORE healthy food (especially fruit and veggies) than I ever have,drinking more water, being more thoughtful (am I hungry or just bored?), and really fueling my body. I’m setting a good example for my kids. My blood sugar is so much more stabilized – I don’t feel that up and down and food coma you feel after eating. That part is crazy to me. It’s going to be hard to stick with this for another 23 days, but mentally I’m just taking it one day at a time. I can do one day. I can do that 23 more times.

Do you have any questions for me? I’d love to answer them! Comment below and I’ll answer them in my next Whole30 post!

RECIPES:

Philly Cheesesteak-Stuffed Peppers (minus the cheese):Whole30Food

Ingredients: 4 green bell peppers, two yellow onions, half a pound of compliant roast beef sliced thinly, a splash of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), salt and pepper.

To Prepare: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut peppers in half from top to bottom and remove stem and seeds. Drizzle with EVOO and season with salt and pepper and pop in the oven. Caramelize onions in a little EVOO (this will take about half an hour). Remove onions from pan and crank heat to high. Tear up roast beef and toss in the pan to sear. When all the meat is seared (will only take a minute or two), add the onions back in and mix everything up. Pull your peppers out of the oven and fill each one with the roast beef/onion mixture. Serve!

Roasted Veggies:

Ingredients: 1lb carrots, 4 red potatoes, 2 onions, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), herbs de provence herb mixture

To Prepare: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Season and sear all vegetables on high heat in a little EVOO and put on a foil-lined baking sheet. Pop into the oven for an hour, flipping everything halfway through. Serve with grilled pork chops or meat of your choice!

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Picky eater tries Whole30

I’m writing this the night before I start Whole30, which is a 30 day commitment to only eating whole, unprocessed foods. (To learn more about Whole30, click here.)

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I decided to do try Whole30 for two reasons. I’ve been following Weight Watchers for 13 years (of which I’m a HUGE fan and which has helped me lose the baby weight successfully three times), but over the last few years, I’ve felt a major decline in energy. After blood tests came out normal, my doctor said my fatigue is likely from my environment (mom of three kids age four and under), and to try to improve my exercise and diet. I like the structure of Weight Watchers but want to try something more rigid that didn’t include shakes or supplements (not knocking them, they’re just not for me). I’m going to try Whole30 and then gradually reintroduce certain food groups to see how my body responds (I’m guessing dairy will be a difficult one). The other reason is that I’ve become much more of an emotional eater recently and I really need to get a grip. I love food, it’s the part of my life I feel like I can indulge in that doesn’t require a lot of time or effort, it’s the focus of most family celebrations and it’s fun and relaxing to prepare. I don’t want to stop enjoying indulgent food – but I want to stop making that food the center of things that bring me joy.

I don’t doubt my willpower or my ability to meal plan. My biggest challenge is that I’m extremely picky (actually, I’m fairly certain I have some sensory/texture issues), and that limits what I will be eating from the Whole30-compliant foods. I won’t be eating eggs as part of my Whole30 experience, which are a HUGE part of what I see when I look at Whole30 meals. I’m nervous to give up coffee for a month (or at least to try and drink it black) because I have about 47 cups every morning. I love cheese. Enough said.

Whole30ShoppingListMy prep work included reading about the program on whole30.com and then printing out the shopping list, grabbing a pen and meal planning. I searched #whole30 on Instagram for meal ideas because I’m a very visual person and that helps me feel like there are a lot of options. If I can see what other people are eating, it makes me feel a lot better.

I’m looking forward to cleaning up what I put into my body and seeing if it makes a difference in how I feel! For good measure (and possibly because he knows me well enough to know that I need a buddy), my brother is doing this with me (long-distance from Houston), and I’ve dragged my always-a-good-sport husband along for the ride, too. I’ll report back soon on how things are going. 🙂

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2015-2016 Erin Condren LifePlanner Unboxing!

It’s here! The 2015-2016 Erin Condren LifePlanner! I’m very fortunate and thankful that the Erin Condren team shared a preview copy of the new horizontal LifePlanner with me so I could give you all a sneak peek! Here is my unboxing video – I’ll share a full review soon.

Included are my thoughts on the new horizontal layout, new EC markers, planner bands, dashboard and new EC sticker book. Plus, see the extras included in this year’s LifePlanner!

I can’t wait to share more in depth thoughts! If you’re buying your first ECLP this year, feel free to use my referral link here to save $10 (I get a $10 credit, too, which I often use for giveaways).

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Organization for home maintenance, manuals and warranties

When we moved into our new home a few months ago, I vowed to keep things organized and easy to find. There are a few documents we don’t need very often but when we do need them, it’s helpful to have on-hand without having to dig for them. They all fall into the categories of maintenance, manuals and warranties. Paperwork for garage instructions, water heater warranty information and so on can really come in handy if you need to quickly fix something!

In the past, I’d file them away. Despite our best attempts at keeping our filing cabinet organized, we’d let our “papers to file” pile add up…and up…and up. We still file old bills and statements, but I really needed a better system for these home documents. I searched Pinterest and combined a few of the ideas I saw pop up over and over.

Time Needed: 15 Minutes

Materials Needed:

  1. Large, durable 3-ring binder. I got a 3’ D-ring binder
  2. Page protectors
  3. Dividers

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Time to Assemble!

  1. Gather all of your maintenance records, manuals and warranty documents and put them aside.
  2. Assemble your binder inserts, dividers up front and all of the page protectors in the back. As you add documents to your binder over time, just pull a page protector our and move it to the appropriate section.
  3. Decide how you want to organize the documents within the binder. Some people like alphabetical, some people like by category, some like alphabetical by category, and some people like to just put everything in the order in which they add to the binder. I chose to just add them as I get them because it would drive me crazy to see the little divider tabs not line up if I switched them around.
  4. Write out your tabs for your dividers to correspond with what you’re putting into each page protector. I like to have a tab for each individual item rather than each category.
  5. Slip the paperwork into a page protector and pop it in behind the corresponding divider.
  6. As new paperwork comes in, just keep adding!

IMG_5912 IMG_5911 Avery Labels JenPlans IMG_5910

Voila! I keep mine in my kitchen in a high cabinet. Always accessible but tucked away!

Do any of you have great storage solutions for your home paperwork? Share in the comments!

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Stocking the freezer

The cycle is pretty much the same two to three nights a week in our house. I have an ambitious plan to make a nice, home-cooked meal and have it on the table when my husband gets home from work. Four or five o’clock rolls around and it’s time to start prepping, but with three unpredictable small kiddos, I just can’t always step away to get started. One of two things happens; either I make nothing and we do a fend-for-yourself night, or I start cooking after he gets home and we eat super late. Both of those scenarios stress me out.

I’ve pinned a bunch of freezer meal ideas on Pinterest, but I’ve never tried them, and I’m always worried I’ll make something in bulk and then not like it. I decided to jump into the freezer meal world and just start easy and simple. The older I get, the less fancy I try to be (should it be the other way around? Oops). I decided to pick three meals we already make and like, and start there.

Stocking the Freezer

Here are the things you need to think about when you plan to cook in bulk for the freezer:

  1. Space available to store food
  2. Containers/food storage items
  3. Time available to prep and make food
  4. Cost

Once you’ve determined what you have to work with, pick a few meals you already cook and like. I have learned that starting small and easy makes new things less intimidating. I picked Beef Stew, Chicken Fried Rice and Chicken Pot Pie for my three meals. I think they freeze well and they also have a lot of crossover ingredients that make prep really easy (carrots, onions, etc). You save time and money when you can stretch ingredients over several meals.

First up, making a shopping list. Inventory what you already have and then create a list of what you need, including quantities.
I recommend prepping everything the day before you actually cook/assemble so that it doesn’t take up one big block of time. I cooked the chicken in the crock pot with chicken broth or water all day, then removed and shred for the chicken fried rice and chicken pot pie. I peeled and cut the carrots and onions, diced the celery and made rice in my rice cooker. I put everything in airtight containers in the fridge so that it was all ready to use the next day.
Containers FreezingBeef Stew

Once it was time to make the meals, I started with the one that would take the longest – the beef stew. I always sear my stew meat before throwing it in the crock pot. It gives the meat more flavor and locks everything in. I might become more adventurous in the future (and feel free to use your own recipe!) but I just took a beef stew seasoning packet from the store, threw the beef, carrots, onions and potatoes in the crock pot, mixed the seasoning packet with 3-4 cups of beef broth and poured over the food. I cook 8-10 hours on low to make sure the meat breaks down properly.

Once it was done, I ladled into 32oz freezer containers, label with the expiration date and put them in the freezer. Easy! When it’s time to call on this freezer meal, just pull it out of the freezer and put it in the fridge the night before you want to eat it, then about half an hour before dinner time, throw it in a pot on the stove with about ½ cup of water and cook until heated through. If you want to cook directly from the freezer, just give yourself more time on the stove.
Chicken Fried Rice
Next up was the chicken fried rice. After years of watching hibachi chefs make this one, I just tried to replicate what they did. Cold rice, diced carrots and onions, a scrambled egg and some of that shredded chicken are all ready to go. I cook the vegetables on a hot griddle in a little butter first, then add the rice, chicken and egg right right in, mix everything together, sprinkle with garlic salt and a little pepper and then pour soy sauce over the mixture. Once it’s all done, I put them into those same 32oz containers and label with an expiration date. Done! Thaw in the fridge the day before and just heat up in a frying pan to kind of re-fry the rice.
Chicken pot pie is last. I use this recipe (link), pour them into disposable single serving foil bowls or mini meatloaf tins and cover with unbaked pie crust, cutting slits along the top for steam to escape. I cover them with foil and pop them into the freezer, again with the expiration date (for these, I also write “Bake for one hour at 400 degrees” so I don’t forget).

If you’re unsure how long food will last in the freezer, use this guide: http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/storagetimes.html
I always label with expiration dates instead of “made on” dates because it’s easier for me to know how long I can use food.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with recipes you love or try new recipes! Ask friends and family if they have any recommendations, too. You’ll be happy you have a full freezer on nights you don’t have the time to cook but want a home-cooked meal. Bon appetit!

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Organizing kids’ artwork

I can’t bear to let go of the things my children create at school. They come home every day with projects and art, and I knew I needed to find a way to keep it all organized so it wouldn’t take over the house.
My first thought was to create a binder for each of my kids and add their work to it as it comes home. I realized quickly that their things are oddly shaped or too big for that option, so I moved along to something bigger. I bought these bins on Amazon and a pack of hanging file folders.

Kids' Artwork Bins

I labeled each hanging file with a year and gave each child a bin. I used my silhouette cameo to create labels for each bin.
Labels for Kids' Artwork
I keep them easily accessible so projects don’t take over my kitchen counter!
At the end of each year, I sort through the bins and keep the things that are most special to me (usually anything involving hand or footprints!) and take pictures of the rest. I upload them into shutterfly albums (by child and age) so that I can make photo books of their artwork later on.
How do you organize your child’s art?

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