Focus on Nutrition
March is National Nutrition Month! I have had an acute interest in nutrition for nearly 16 years, and as a result I’ve devoured books, magazines, shows, and websites to gain more information. This month I’m sharing my knowledge and enthusiasm with my husband and my sister. Since we had a few weeks before our move to Bend, I offered to be a health coach to my sister who wants to get healthier before an incredible European vacation planned for September. My goal is to make a big enough impact on how my sister feels while eating whole, real foods that she will want to continue eating after I leave. Follow me (Vitality in Focus) on Instagram or my Facebook page to see what we have been eating for dinner.
Vegetable fritters are amazingly flavorful. I paired these with a green salad.
Respite or Reprieve
With my husband in tow, I am spending the month of March in Henderson, Nevada with my sister. She is the middle girl in our family and older than me by 17 years. While that may not matter, I think it helps paint a picture if you don’t already know us.
The drive to Nevada started off very snowy. We couldn’t wait to find sunshine and dry roads.
It’s an incredible opportunity to get warm and dry and a chance to focus on our health and our work with fewer distractions. Especially since February was a huge distraction that, as a result, put this blog on a back burner. Read Moving and Mounds of Memorabilia to find out why.
This picture was taken on a day hike at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area near Las Vegas. The weather here is unseasonable warm. We are getting our wish for warmer, dryer weather.
3 Weeks to Build New Habits
One of my goals while we are staying with my sister is to help her cultivate healthier eating habits. You may know that research supports the philosophy that it takes 3 weeks to build a new habit. As luck would have it, that’s exactly how much time we have here.
I think that Romanesco is quite possibly the most beautiful vegetable. I chopped it up with zucchini, lightly steamed it and served it on top of quinoa with a dollop of satay sauce.
The fact that March is National Nutrition Month is serendipitous. Whether you call it “clean eating” or “real foods” or “whole foods” the idea is the same. Cut out the crap! Eliminate all of the processed foods with additives, artificial anything, preservatives and ingredients you don’t recognize or wouldn’t stock in your pantry. This is the foundation for our healthy adventure.
A really good chicken soup starts with homemade bone broth.
We are implementing the menus and recipes from the 21 Day Food Matters Program. The meal plan is based on gluten-free, highly nutritious recipes with a balance of alkalizing greens, proteins and healthy fats. In general, it’s a guide for those who want improved health. We each have our own goals. I’d like to experience better focus and clarity, increased energy and reduce the headaches I get almost every day. My sister wants to improve her fitness, focus and resiliency. We are both looking to be joyfully alive. Rob’s goals are to be fit, focused and energized. Focus appears to be on all of our lists. Did you know that what you eat has a correlation to how well you can focus? Eating a diet full of additives, preservatives and artificial ingredients can cause brain fog.
A lovely lunch with homemade gluten free bread and homemade hummus. We topped it with watercress and cilantro with carrots and celery on the side to dip into the extra hummus.
Half Way Point
We are half way through our 21 day eating journey.
The meal plan, recipes and shopping lists provided in the 21 Day Food Matters Program make the planning easy. I’ve made a couple adjustments to fit our schedules, but we have kept to the recipes given in the program. We start every morning with a tall glass of water enhanced with the juice of half a lemon. I send my sister off to work each day with a lunch box packed with a green smoothie for breakfast, lunch, snacks, four bottles of water and a couple of detox tea bags. Dinner is nearly ready in the evening when she comes home. This morning as she left she said to me, “I’m down another pound and I’m happy!” While she has a weight loss goal, I hope she discovers that eating a diet of foods as close to their natural state as possible makes her feel better. I know it works for me. While not knowing that he was going to have a health coach, Rob has fully committed to the program. His body fat percentage has dropped 1.5% in just nine days.
For easy to-go lunches pack your salad in a Mason jar.
Quinoa Tabouleh is one of our favorite lunches on the Food Matters 21 Day Program.
Essential Kitchen Tools
My sister has a well equipped kitchen with many of the necessary tools of the trade. However, when I started cooking in her kitchen there were a few items missing that I couldn’t cook for a month without.
- A good sharp chef’s knife. This essential for all the chopping required when cooking with fresh ingredients.
- A large, sturdy, bamboo cutting board.
- A fine mesh sieve for rinsing beans, rice, quinoa.
- Ball mason jars. I’m using a 32oz wide-mouth jar to pack salads for her lunch. I also like these small jars to portion nuts & seeds, hummus and snacks.
- My Vitamix blender came with me. I couldn’t get through three servings of smoothies every morning without it. It is the best blender I’ve ever owned. It can be used for salad dressings, soups and more. I like this one (6500) because it has the automatic “smoothie” option.
The other tools that I use daily when cooking are ones she had.
- A sharp pairing knife
- A small cutting board
- A set of measuring cups and spoons
- A set of nesting prep bowls
- A citrus juicer The one pictured is her’s, however, I really like the handheld squeezers. This particular one is stainless steel so there isn’t any paint to chip off like the yellow one I have at home.
Ingredients Not Calories
In honor of National Nutrition Month I challenge you to take the rest of March to focus on your nutrition. The easiest place to start is in the produce section of your grocery store. Increase the amount of fresh vegetables you eat. Make them a larger portion on your plate than any other item. In addition, read labels and eliminate my list of deal breakers. If a product has any of these ingredients listed on its label it will not make it into my shopping cart.
- Trans fats, partially hydrogenated oils
- High fructose corn syrup
- Artificial flavors, colors or sweeteners
- Enriched flour
- Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate
- Dried fruit with sulfites
- Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
- Soy (because I have a sensitivity to soy)
Those are my deal breakers and a good list to start with. Of course when eating out I can’t control this, but I can control what I buy. In general, I look for ingredients I recognize. You know, the ones you might have in your pantry and would use in your own cooking when starting from scratch. As a result, when you focus on eating real foods there’s no need to focus on calories. Finally, my attention has recently been drawn to a few others that should be eliminated. These include, Potassium Bromate, Propyl Paraben, Aluminum Additives, BHT & BHA.
National Nutrition Month
I’ll come back with a report on how we did at the end of the month. Happy National Nutrition Month!
What can you do to up your nutrition game? What are your health goals? Are you a label reader? Do you have any “deal breakers” when you are shopping for food?
Another favorite lunchtime meal is this Waldorf salad. The dressing uses yogurt instead of mayonnaise. Perfect for National Nutrition Month.
Of all the things I’ve saved through the years memorabilia has to be my downfall. It’s a crazy obsession I have and one my husband will never understand. Memorabilia includes souvenirs I collected on trips, boarding passes, brochures, rocks, shells, foreign coins, postcards etc… My memorabilia was also programs, awards, report cards, certificates, team rosters and schedules, calendars, birthday cards, Christmas cards, art work, school work, more cards… it’s endless. It takes up a lot of space and during all of our downsizing, packing and moving it has created way more stress than it’s worth. Carting all the memorabilia from one place to the next is a burden.
Packing up my home office for the second time. Notice, in the foreground, I’m still filling a bin with memorabilia to recycle.
On the Move Again
At the beginning of February Rob and I were presented with the opportunity to lease a condo in Bend, Oregon. It is in the exact location we’ve had our eyes on for a couple years. It’s near the river trail we love to run. We’ll have a view of six mountains, and it’s within walking distance to shopping, restaurants and breweries. Skiing on Mt. Bachelor is about a twenty minute drive away.
Bend is an active outdoor community that fits the lifestyle we want for our future. As empty nesters and with both of us working from home, moving away from Portland was possible. However, it wasn’t an easy decision. Portland has been our home for most of the past twenty-five years. Our friends and community connections are in Portland, therefore, leaving is emotionally difficult.
Change is an Opportunity
Ultimately, we decided that change is an opportunity for growth, and new experiences are exciting. This one year lease is a trial period for us. We will see if living in Bend provides us with more opportunities to live the active lifestyle we want and to experience life with a smaller footprint. At the end of the year we can reevaluate and decide if we want to make Bend our home, try another location, travel around the country in a Sprinter van, hike the Pacific Crest Trail or move back to Portland.
We spent February continuing to purge even more of our belongings including some furniture. With this move we truly are downsizing. I wrote about our move and the process of getting rid of things after Christmas in the post STEPS ALONG A PATH TOWARDS CHANGE from January 19, 2017.
At that time we only downsized by about 600 square feet, but this move to a condo will give us almost half of the space we are used to. To prepare for less space we sold furniture and decorations. We donated countless car loads of stuff we no longer need or have room for. I spent a weekend scanning and recycling twenty-two years worth of saved memorabilia from traveling, school, cards, awards, sports, and summer camps. Needless to say, moving twice within two months is exhausting. It consumed our time and energy in February.
These two bins were overflowing at the beginning of my beach weekend. What’s left are a few things to save and a little more to weed out.
5 Lessons I’ve Learned from Saving Memorabilia
I have learned some important lessons while sorting through my mounds of memorabilia. I’m not kidding about the mounds. The amount of paper I saved over the years was astonishing. I’m a scrapbooker. In fact, I sold scrapbooking supplies as a home based business for twelve years. I saved everything from birth announcements to teeth (eww) and ticket stubs to Christmas wish lists. Anything that I thought would help me tell the story behind my pictures when it came to writing about all of our picture worthy experiences was stuck into a file. I realize that not everyone has this compulsion. If you are one of those people who doesn’t save and hang onto things then you might laugh at my lessons. You will have no use for them because you were blessed with the ability to live in the moment and not attempt to hang onto the past. Your job to downsize someday will be much easier and less emotional than mine has been. Now that I’ve lived through the storing, organizing, filing, moving, moving again, digitizing, tossing, etc, here’s an enlightened approach that I wish I had figured out 22 years ago.
1. Make a decision right away
Don’t file everything thinking you’ll weed it out when the time comes. There’s an old adage; “Out of sight out of mind”. I think I was out of my mind for saving some of the things I did! Teeth? Really? Oh, well I have a laughable picture of them now.
The problem was, I knew how full my files were. I knew I had piles tucked here and there. I knew there were some bins in the attic full of memorabilia. Just knowing they were there was stressful. Thinking about the time I needed to organize and put all of these memories into albums with the pictures made my heart race and my chest tighten. I almost needed a paper bag to keep me from hyperventilating. I could have saved myself a lot of angst and time had I just been more selective to begin with.
2. Weed It Out Every Year
At the end of a school year pick out a few pieces of your child’s work to show their academic progress, writing, and artistic style. Keep a couple of pieces that touch your heart and remind you of your child at that age. Take a picture of large items and get rid of everything else! I kept school lunch menus and the teacher’s weekly reports from Keaton’s entire first grade year! Yes, I kept too much.
3. Don’t Save Every Christmas Card You Receive
Send the Christmas cards to the recycling bin in January! The stack of all the Christmas cards I saved could quite possibly have reached three feet high. This goes for most other cards as well.
4. Scan and Take Pictures of the Important Things
A good scanner can be your friend. Set aside a few hours in January to go through everything you saved the previous year. If you follow 1-3 there won’t be so much. Thin it out even more and then scan what you can. Save the scans in the folder with your pictures from the year or the pictures from that event if you sort that way. As I said earlier, I spent a weekend with girlfriends at the beach scanning some “treasures” that I pulled out from two big bins. I love my scanner. It is an Epson flatbed scanner that scans photos, documents, negatives with a high enough resolution to make enlarged prints. It also allows me to make color fixes on faded pictures. You can take pictures of three dimensional items or those larger pieces of children’s art work.
5. Don’t Save for Some Day
Don’t save something just because you think you might do something with it some day. I can almost guarantee that “someday” will never come. When it came down to it I never had the time to get to all of those scrapbooks that I imagined in my head. I have many completed albums that we enjoy now and then. It is fun to reminisce and look back at the photos and stories that document the events and adventures of our family. However, in the grand scheme of things how important is it to remember the price of a movie and when you saw it? I think that time spent in the present is more valuable. The experiences we had as a family are a part of us and important memories are there without the pieces of paper that show what we did. When you save it all the decision to keep or toss has to be made all over again. Of course, it is easier when you realize you don’t have room to save those things and you are exhausted from sorting through it all. Toss it! You’ll feel a little lighter and a little less stressed and more capable of enjoying the present.
Why did I feel compelled to save it all?
Did I think I would forget without the memorabilia? Mostly, it came down to scrapbooking. I thought I could write a better story if I hung onto the details. My big life lesson here is that the time in our lives is precious and slips away much too quickly. Fill your time with what is truly important.
Are you a saver or a tosser? If you are a tosser I’d like to know your secret. If you are a saver what is the most embarrassing or ridiculous thing you have saved? For me it is my children’s teeth and school menus. Or, maybe it’s the bandaid from Rikley’s first shot and the sticks from the popsicles Keaton ate after his adenoid surgery. I told you I was a compulsive saver. One last take away, I don’t need the bandaid to remember how I cradled Rikley’s head and sang into his ear when he got shots.
Thank you for reading I would love it if you’d leave a comment.
When children are young the focus of their birthday is on the party with friends; invitations, theme, games, decorations, cake, gifts….. And maybe a separate celebration with family. I always tried to make my boys feel special on their birthdays, but a lot of work went into the celebration.
When children get older and celebrate their birthday away from you it’s different. For me, I get more reflective and sentimental about their life. I realize how much my life was enriched by them, and I wish I could go back and do it all over again. That’s what I’m doing today on my first baby’s 22nd birthday. He is far away, but he is very present in my heart and mind.
This post is in his honor, but also for all the moms out there who are missing their children.
Cheers to My Son on His Birthday
Cheers to this day, January 31st, the day when I became a mom. It’s the day when my life was changed beyond my comprehension and in ways I could not believe possible.
Cheers to this tiny baby whose light head rested softly in the space between my neck and shoulder.
Cheers to this baby who snuggled in my arms and cried when I put him down.
Cheers to this baby who climbed before he could walk and who started walking at ten months old never to slow down again.
Cheers to this toddler who moved ever so quickly and whose hugs were given on a quick flyby as he chased after another adventure.
Cheers to this little boy who transitioned seamlessly when we moved to England. Cheers to this little boy who, without hesitation, let go of my hand to join a new group of classmates.
Cheers to this boy who learned to read and comprehend math so easily. Cheers to this same boy who loved baseball and soccer and always checked to make sure I was watching.
Cheers to this boys who cultivated strong friendships, loved his family and was a positive role model for his brother.
Cheers to this boy who embraced life with vigor and excitement and who played with such passion.
Cheers to this kid who had more than his fair share of scrapes and bruises. Cheers to this kid who announced so valiantly that he thought it was time to make yet another trip to the ER to stitch up the newest gash in his skin.
Cheers to this teenager who shares my love of skiing and who races down the slopes while flying, twisting and turning off jumps.
Cheers to this young man who has compassion for others and deep loyalty to his teams.
Cheers to this young man who graduated from high school with high respect from his teachers, family and friends.
Cheers to this young man who left home to pursue a higher education and continue his passion for playing soccer and lacrosse.
Cheers to this man who grew up much too fast and will graduate this spring with a degree in Physics and Math.
Cheers to this man whose hugs are now longer and stronger than ever.
Cheers to this man whose sense of humor warms my heart because it is so reminiscent of his grandfather’s.
Cheers to this man who will always be my little boy, full of spirit and action, love and dreams!
Happy birthday, Rikley, as you turn 22 I know your future is as bright as you. Always know that you are loved beyond measure and my pride for you is monumental. Thank you for all the joy and memories you have blessed my life with.
PS. Remember to call home.
As the mother of two boys I’ve had two fears. The first is for their safety as they fearlessly tackled physical challenges. If you have boys you know what I’m talking about. They’ll climb on counters and jump off, luge on a skateboard down a steep neighborhood road, or sail off of every jump they can find on a ski hill. The second is that they will move far away and never come home to me. Now that my nest is empty the second fear is becoming greater than the first.
What are some of your favorite memories of your children?
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Steps Along A Path Towards Change
I’ve been taking steps along a path towards change. I’m not talking about the kind of change that jingles in your pocket or falls between the seats in your car. I’m talking about the changes that happen in our lives. Life is all about changing, and change is all around us. It’s inevitable and little changes happen every day. It’s the big changes that challenge us, create stress, make you struggle and make you realize what is truly important.
Sometimes the path looks dark and lonely.
“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” John F. Kennedy
What I’m learning is that change isn’t necessarily bad, It’s just different. Most importantly, it’s our response to change that determines its impact. It’s a path we all travel, and one thing I have learned from all my years of hiking is that there can be a lot of beauty at the end of a particularly challenging or scary path.
“Life ain’t always beautiful. Sometimes it’s just plain hard. Life can knock you down…but the struggles make you stronger and the changes make you wise. No, life ain’t always beautiful. Tears will fall sometimes. Life ain’t always beautiful, but it’s a beautiful ride” song by Gary Allen and written by Tommy Lee James and Cynthia Evelyn Thompson
A Decision for Big Change
In my blog post, Obstacles; Two Weeks to Declutter, I wrote about our decision to sell our home of eleven years. We started the process in September with the goal to be out of it by the end of the year. While we were excited with the sales process and getting a step closer to our empty nest simplifications, I now realize just how much stress this change brought on. Add in Thanksgiving and Christmas, which we hosted, and you could say we had the lion’s share of stress.
For me the best way to handle it all was to break it up into parts and take on one piece at a time. First, we dealt with selling the house and the work of getting it ready, an Open House, inspections and the appraisal. Second, after we had a signed agreement, we started to conquer getting rid of the things we didn’t want to move. Next, we packed up things we didn’t need for the month of December and I focused on being ready for Christmas. Finally, on the day after Christmas we begun the final packing and moving.We were completely out of the house on December 28th.
The Steps I Took
Most of my stress came from making decisions on what to keep and what to get rid of. Then there were decisions and work that went into how, when, and where do we disperse SO MUCH STUFF! These were the steps I took.
DECIDE ON WHAT TO KEEP AND LET THE REST GO
Selling our house was an opportunity to have less clutter in our lives. Rob and I started to look around at new places to live. We asked ourselves, “Where do we want to be?” Since we are not currently tied to a location for its proximity to work (we’re both working from home) or school boundaries we, could quite literally go anywhere.
In her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo suggests to her readers that they should have a very clear picture in their head of what they want their living space to look like and what lifestyle they want. My picture does not involve a big house with lots of rooms. It used to, but now I want less space to manage. I want more time to do the things that bring me happiness and the activities that bring vitality into my days. My vision of our empty nest is one where we will have the ability to do more while having less.
So, we went to the Portland RV show in November and dreamed of working while traveling the country in a Sprinter Van, which appeals to me on many levels. Then we started to look at condos in the Portland Pearl district. I saw a couple I liked and this gave me a concrete visual feel for what less than 1500 square feet looks like.
Kondo’s philosophy is to keep the things that bring you joy and discard everything else. So with the vision of a small and clutter free space in my head and the questions, “Does this bring me joy?” and “Will this fit in my new space? resonating, I filled our garage with items to discard. Fortunately for Rob he is still on the keep list.
2. DECIDE HOW TO GET RID OF THINGS
We decided that a garage sale should be our next step. We already donated a closet full of clothing in August. However now, given the amount of items we had, it seemed reasonable to try to sell what we could in a garage sale. December first doesn’t’ seem like the wisest time to hold a garage sale, but given our timeline, we couldn’t wait for spring.
I have amazing friends who jumped in to help me sort, price and organize it all. As we did this I came upon some items that have more value than what they’d get at a garage sale. I saved these to post on sites like Nextdoor, Craig’s List and maybe Ebay. We worked for four days and this is what my garage looked like when it was all set up. We could not have pulled this off without the tireless help of friends.
Even though our garage sale was a December success, we were still left with an enormous amount of STUFF!
3. REEVALUATE AND COME UP WITH ANOTHER PLAN OF ATTACK
Anyone who has had a garage sale knows that not everything will sell. Therefore, you must have a plan on what to do with what remains. You certainly don’t want it back inside your home! I identified some items that I thought could sell at a local consignment store and took those there. We donated boxes and boxes of items to charity. Then there are the higher value items that I set aside for selling online. It’s a long and arduous task. Even with everything I cleared out to sell and donate there was still plenty left inside our home. When it came time to move we were surprised by how much we had to pack up and take with us.
Looking Forward to the Changes Ahead of Me
We decided to rent a house close by and take some time to evaluate our next step. It’s a lovely home, and although it is smaller that the one we left, it is still much bigger than where we plan to land. So, as I continue to weed out the things I don’t use or that don’t speak to my heart, I’m keeping two thoughts from Marie Kondo in my head.
- “No matter how wonderful things used to be, we cannot live in the past. The joy and excitement we feel here and now are more important.”
- “Does it spark joy?”
I truly believe that the whole process of clearing away the clutter will bring new energy to my life and help me live with vitality. After all, my goal is to live well as long as I possibly can. Taking steps along a path towards change, and meeting the challenges along the way with an open mind, is one step towards achieving my goal.
What challenges you most when trying to tidy up your home? Are you currently challenged by a particular change in your life? I’d love to hear from my empty nest friends and how your empty nest has changed your everyday life.
Leave a comment and be entered into a drawing to win a copy of Marie Kondo’s book. You can share this post on Facebook to earn 2 more entries. If you follow Vitality in Focus on Facebook like this post and leave a comment there for another entry. I will draw a name on January 26, 2017.
About the Pictures
The pictures in this post were taken during our recent heavy snow storm. This kind of snow is very rare in Portland. After the snow fell we were graced with days of sunshine and cold temperatures. The snow lasted a week and I enjoyed every day of it. These pictures were taken on a walk through the Tualatin Hills Nature Park. My fingers were numb, but it was worth every step I took.
SAYING GOODBYE, AGAIN
And they are gone again, sigh. One of the hardest things about being an empty nest mom is saying goodbye to my children, all over again, each time they have to leave. I know it is difficult for the empty nest dad as well, because when Rob and I drop one of our sons off at the airport we ride home in a mostly silent funk. We are both sad to see them go. However, we know they are spreading their wings, gaining their independence and are off to do great things.
This is a view of Portland on our way to the airport.
TWO TRIPS TO THE AIRPORT
This week their flight status was questionable and the commute to the airport was tenuous. Keaton’s flight left on Sunday evening. Fortunately for us, the worst of the ice storm, that hit Portland Friday evening and early Saturday morning, was over. The freeway was clear of ice and the traffic was light. As a result we had one of our fastest rides to the airport ever.
Today was Rikley’s turn to leave. Even though the snow storm ceased two days ago, the aftermath of the epic snowfall was still very much present. Our travel time was much longer, but the end result was the same; a big strong hug and a quick kiss on the cheek goodbye. Of course I have to remind them to call, text, be good, be safe, have fun (but not too much), and to let me know when they have arrived safely.
We had a slow drive on snow and ice today.
OUR NEW NORMAL
Did I mention that they are gone again? After leaving Rikley at the airport, Rob and I drowned our sorrows in a latte and a shared almond croissant before getting back on the ice chunked freeway. We moped around for the rest of the day but, tomorrow we will get back into the rhythm of our new life in an empty nest. We will embrace our new normal! Of course we will also start to plan our spring trips to visit our boys and watch them play in a few games of lacrosse. I can’t wait! Is it spring yet? From the view outside my office window spring is a long ways off. sigh … I guess I’ll just have to get used to the fact that they are gone again.
I’m enjoying the snowy view from my office window.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
I can think of 6 reasons why I create a weekly dinner menu, but first let me give you a little background on how cooking dinner became important to me. I’ll also share my planning tool that you can get when you subscribe to my blog.
I’m the baby in my family, but I was raised as an only child. My two sisters were a sophomore in college and a senior in high school when I was born in September of 1963. They were 20 and 17, and my mother was 40. It wasn’t common for women to have babies in their 40’s back then. I wasn’t an “oops” baby, or at least that’s what I’ve been told. I guess my parents weren’t ready to embrace the empty nest and for that I have always been thankful.
Family photo from Christmas 1965
By the time I was born Mom had 21 years of cooking experience under her belt. She made cookies, cakes and pies from scratch. I loved the frosted Halloween cookies that she cut out into ghosts, witches and pumpkins and decorated with colorful sprinkles. We were even featured in the Medford Mail Tribune in a story about baking cookies with children.
From August 1970 newspaper story. My nephew and I are helping make cookies while my niece takes a taste and my mom looks on.
LIKE MOTHER LIKE DAUGHTER? YES AND NO
Family and friends thought of her as an expert; a gourmet cook. My parents hosted elaborate dinner parties for their friends, serving fancy dishes like Coquille St Jacques in scallop shells. Mom would plan the entire menu and cook everything from the appetizers to dessert. When I was old enough she employed me to help her serve. I walked among the elegantly dressed guests offering a delicious selection of appetizers, brought plates filled with perfect portions of food to the table and then cleared them away at the end of that course. She used the china she inherited from her mother and had special soup bowls and spoons. The compliments flowed from the 4-5 couples lucky enough to be included that evening. Sometimes she sent out invitations in the mail, but most of the time I remember her calling friends on the phone. There weren’t any kids at her dinner parties because none of my parents’ friends had children still living at home. Her example of a dinner party is something I’ve never followed, but I do love to entertain and have friends to our home for dinner. Over the years our gatherings have been organized through email or texts. We usually include the entire family and they bring something to contribute to the meal. We use our regular every day dishes, and the meal is served buffet style. Even though our dinner parties are more casual, socializing with friends over a good meal has continued. I learned that dinner was important whether it was a special occasion or a regular family meal.
Me and my mom delivering a homemade blackberry pie to a friend. Food was something we shared with others.
CONTINUING WITH A FAMILY TRADITION
As I grew up I saw my mom spend a lot of time in the kitchen on a daily basis. She made breakfast, packed my lunches when I went to school, and always had a home cooked meal for me and Dad at the end of the day. My dad came home for lunch and she’d have it waiting for him when he got there. She didn’t use Hamburger Helper, Rice A Roni, or pull a TV dinner out of the freezer. She collected recipes and tried new things. Dad and I were Mom’s guinea pigs. When she was planning a dinner party she tried new recipes on us first. I learned from the best so, it’s easy to believe that I would follow in her footsteps when it came to preparing a meal for my family at the end of the day.
WHICH CAME FIRST THE GROCERY LIST OR THE DINNER MENU?
I remember that she made grocery lists and cut recipes out of newspapers and magazines. She had cookbooks that she used and marked up with her notes. There were also meals she just knew how to make like fried chicken with mashed potatoes and a salad, or pork chops with apple sauce and steamed broccoli. Surprisingly, I even liked her liver and onions with lots of ketchup! However, I don’t recall seeing her write out a weekly menu. I recently asked her how she planned our dinners before going grocery shopping. She reminded me of the newspaper ads she would look through each week. She looked to see what was on sale, clipped the coupons, and planned around those items, but she didn’t write a weekly menu down on paper. This is where our system is different. It was probably my experience as a teacher, where I made and followed plans all day, that made me feel like I needed to be organized and have a plan at home as well. So, I make a weekly menu first and then make a grocery list. Like Mom, I do all the shopping, and most nights of the week I cook for my family.
Keep reading and you will find the 6 reasons why I create a weekly dinner menu. However, let me focus on my number one reason first.
THE FAMILY DINNER
Sharing dinner together is what I learned from my mom. Our process may be different, but preparing a meal and coming together at the dinner table has remained the same. For my family, eating dinner together has always been important. It hasn’t always been possible, especially when sports interfered with the dinner hour, but it was something we have done most nights of the week.
Our last dinner together before the boys head back to college after winter break.
THE WEEKLY MENU
I started creating a weekly menu soon after I was married. I was scribbling notes and lists on bits of paper until my wonderful husband created a menu and shopping list template using our old Apple Macintosh computer. It was a tool I could print and fill in each week before going to the grocery store. We lost the file for this planning sheet years ago when we made the switch from the Macintosh to a PC. However, I’ve been able to keep making copies and I’ve been faithfully using this wonderful tool nearly every week for 25 years.
the weekly meal and grocery planning sheet I used for 25 years
Above is the tool I use to plan menus and make a grocery list. It lost its complete heading long ago, and the food categories don’t match what I purchase most frequently. Just this week I finally gave it a new look and updated it with more current shopping preferences.
GET MY MENU PLANNING TOOL
Subscribe to my email list and I will send you a pdf of this revised menu planner and shopping list. You will also receive a blank version so you can fill in your own categories and customize it to fit your needs.
6 REASONS WHY I CREATE A WEEKLY DINNER MENU
- The family dinner is important and planning the week out keeps me organized. There’s no trying to figure out what to fix for dinner at 5pm. It keeps us from falling back on take-away meals.
- With dinners planned out we eat more healthfully. I find it is easier to stay true to my nutritional values while shopping.
- I make better use of ingredients and have less waste. How often do you buy something, use part of it and then find the remaining portion has spoiled before you found a use for it?
- I can shop once for the whole week. Ever since I quit teaching 18 years ago, Monday has been my shopping and errand day. My menu starts on Monday, but in the blank version you can write the days of the week in any order that fits your schedule.
- Over the years of trying recipes from magazines, cookbooks, and websites we’ve had our share of variety. Planning a menu has made it easier for me to follow recipes from different sources. I’ve found dishes we love, and those become favorites that make it to our table again and again.
- I’ve learned a lot about cooking through the experience of following recipes. As a result I have developed a passion for experimenting with ingredients and flavors. Now, more often that not, I find myself “winging” it in the kitchen. I’ll leave some days blank and, when I get to the store I can make choices based on what’s on sale and what’s in season. If there’s a new local product I’ll buy it and then figure out a way to use it. When I get home I fill in the blanks on my menu so I don’t forget my ideas for that meal.
SOME CONFESSIONS FROM ME
That all sounds great, doesn’t it? I have to admit that there are times throughout the year when trying to decide on a menu for the week is difficult. I get tired of making food decisions, or nothing sounds good. During those times my menu doesn’t look like much when I head to the store on Monday. That’s when I really rely on my experience to buy what grabs my attention and then come up with a way to fix it. We also have a great grocery store here in Portland, called New Season’s. I love their meat market. They have a good selection of quality meats and they have a variety of them that are already prepared in a sauce and just need to be cooked. It’s pretty easy to come home with some marinated chicken skewers, throw them on the barbecue, and make a salad to go with them.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
I’m curious to know how many others plan a weekly menu? How do you plan your dinners?
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