How To Streamline Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping with kids is enough to make anyone twitch. Why is this simple task so hard? What about “Don’t touch anything” means “Yes, please grab 14 boxes of pasta!”? Why the sudden need to exercise and run around despite the cart designed to look like a fire truck?

And what on earth is so intriguing about the other side of the store when you don’t even know what’s over there?

(Yup. Just answered my own question.)

I still struggle with this. We’ve moved around so much since having kids that I’ve had to get used to a new grocery store every 18 months. I wish I could pay Cub Foods for footage in their parking lot the other day. You’d see a pleasant, happy, engaged mama going in and then an hour later a crazy maniac coming out, running for her car as if fleeing a hungry bear.

HALP!

Lord knows I’ve learned a few things that have helped me. And hopefully we’ll get used to our new grocery spot soon. Here are a few things I do to make things less … well, torturous:

  • I categorize my list

I still prefer pen and paper, for some reason. I start my grocery list by marking 4 sections: produce, grocery, dairy, and frozen. As I add things to my list, I put it in the appropriate section. My trip through the store is much simpler and I don’t end up bouncing around as much. Here’s my Grocery List Printable.

  • If I can, I involve the kids!

Kids actually love to be a part of what you’re doing. If they’re old enough to be interested, humor them!

If we walk to the grocery store and I’m pushing a stroller, I let the kids push the kid-sized cart and lug the groceries. Why they love it, I don’t know, but my almost 3-year-old sticks to me like glue and is at the ready when I hand him something.

If I bring coupons to use, I let someone be in charge of them. I’ll bring a small envelope for one of my kids to hang onto and as I find the items, I’ll hand the applicable coupon for them to keep in the envelope. Again, they love being in charge of that.

I’ll bring a $5 bill, which a kid gets to keep in his pocket. He then gets to pick out a treat within a section (this usually means berries from the produce department). We keep that item separate – the kid can even hold it in his lap or carry it – and he gets to pay for it separately at the end of the grocery trip.

My last go-to involvement is loading the groceries onto the belt. Kids love it, even the heavy items. Again, I’m bewildered and so thankful 😊

  • I bring snacks.

Nothing makes a child stay put like a snack. Granola bars or string cheese are good for this situation. Enough said.

  • I take a trip to the bathroom, if necessary.

If someone keeps acting up, we take a trip to the bathroom (or in front of the bathroom if it’s not cart friendly). Here, they get a very direct reminder about what good behavior is in the grocery store. My kids hate the idea of being brought to the bathroom, so even the question, “Do we have to take a trip to the bathroom?” usually makes them wise up. They know what it means! Most of the time, if you give extra diligence to nip things in the bud, your kids will start to get it. Unfortunately, this often means having to inconvenience yourself by bringing them aside somewhere or taking them out to the car. Yes, grocery trips take 3 times longer with kids. Oi vey!

A word on rewards: I try to avoid rewarding good behavior in the grocery store, although I completely understand why parents do it. I try to remind myself that I want to encourage good behavior in public whether I treat them or not. Grocery shopping is simply something we have to do, and I want to encourage my kids to behave for its own sake. That’s their contribution. I also like giving treats because I love them, not to coerce them into good behavior. It’s way more fun that way.

You can do this, mama. If you like to grocery shop for yourself, you CAN. Even with your circus in tow. Just don’t forget how amazing you are. If you need an extra boost, just wear your cape to the store.

On Staying Connected with your Spouse after Childbirth

“Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder today.”

– The Impressive Clergyman, The Princess Bride

Find someone great, tie the knot, and boom! Built-in companionship for life. After that, you just hang out and enjoy each other and live happily ever after.

Aaaww!

Marriage isn’t exactly a crockpot. You can’t simply set it and forget it. It’s more like frying eggs: if you’re not there at the right time with the right tool to flip or scramble, they get a little burnt (or a lot burnt). They stick to the pan. They make a crusty mess. Then you have to figure do you stay with these eggs or throw them out and get new ones?

Then, you decide to add kids to mix. There’s bacon. Sautéing onions. Flipping pancakes. It’s easier to pay attention to your beloved eggs when it’s just them, but when you add more to the mix, those eggs have a higher chance of getting burnt. Plus, all that food on the stove is exhausting and the bacon spits at you and the pancakes flip onto the edge of the pan. Argh!

I want to share this week what my husband and I have learned about making sure the eggs (aka: him!) don’t get burnt or forgotten, and how we have successfully avoided throwing him out… for now. 😉

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Thoughts on Meal Planning

Meal planning can be such a doozy, can’t it? If a meal suddenly catches you off guard, it’s turned into a frenzy in your mind. GAH what should I make, what should I make, what should I make? So, what usually happens? Takeout. Never mind the fact that you have to come up with dinner again TOMORROW. (and the next day) Get out of that vicious cycle of last minute dinner prep and avoid the apathetic responses to: “What would you like for dinner?” Instead, choose to plan ahead. The benefits of staying on top of meal planning are endless: less stress, better nutrition, and happier tummies! In my life, it’s been worth putting a little forethought into each week.

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Shout Out To Baby-Wearing!

It seems as your family grows, the ways to keep up with housework become less and less reasonable:

  • Ignore children completely
  • Hire help with imaginary money
  • Operate at super speed
  • Grow more limbs
  • Burn house down

Right?

Now, before you go off to light matches, I’d like to share what has helped me immensely in this area. If I leave you uninspired, then by all means, do some research on becoming an octopus.

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Nurturing Your Older Kids: The Tea Time Ritual

I would never say having a baby is easy. On the contrary! But when you have an only child, the focus is simple. There’s only one tiny being to look out for. You can drop everything else for the sake of that tiny being and feel justified.

Dishes? They can wait. Laundry? Whatever. Errands? Hopefully you stocked up on canned goods. Everything else can be put on the back burner if your baby needs you.

But when you get pregnant with your second, you have to start juggling! What were your concerns when your first child became a sibling?

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Play Dates Are Actually Mom Dates

I love moms. I love motherhood. I love being a mom. And being around moms. I can’t put words on it, but there’s certainly something special about womanhood being lived together.

I’m almost convinced that play dates are secretly for mothers. Sure, we plan and coordinate. Oh yeah, let’s get the kids together! They’d love it! We say we’ll meet somewhere for the kids. You know – the park or PlayPlace or children’s museum. We tell ourselves this is good for our kids socially.

And, of course, it is. But man, aren’t playdates just so good for us? You could easily argue that the good vibes are even better for moms than for kids.

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Cheer Here #2: You Are Worth Helping

I began motherhood as an I-can-do-it-all mom. I was fiercely independent. I felt many cards were stacked against me, and I had to be in control in case they fell. If anything went wrong, I would have the assurance that I could handle it myself. It made me feel secure – this idea that I could bear it all.

Of course, this is unsustainable! Things go wrong, life happens, and it can quickly overwhelm a mother trying to do it on her own.

We all end up needing the support of others, which is a lesson I learned as I was preparing for my first international flight with my 12-month-old son. I was scheduled to travel for 25 consecutive hours without the help of my husband. Our situation was no anomaly to the dozens of military families around us, and one mom gave me sound advice:

Accept ALL help, she said, every single offer to hold something, get something, play, distract, retrieve, say YES.

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How Motherhood Changed My Hygiene

I have been dreading this post, for obvious reasons.

But now I have to face the music. Sigh.

Let me tell you how having kids has changed my hygiene (please don’t judge me, please don’t judge me, please don’t judge me):

I started motherhood near a Naval base in Japan. Three weeks postpartum, my husband deployed with his ship and was at sea for a month. I had to figure out how to take care of myself with no extra hands in the house and no family within 6,000 miles. Needless to say, I didn’t spend much time dolling myself up in the powder room.

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The Postpartum Experience and the Church

Five years ago, I joined the Orthodox Church. And I’m tempted to tell you all about it. I’m quite proud of this community.

But I won’t. I’ll spare you the boring testimony of my years of struggle and eventual deep appreciation for the teachings, traditions, people, blah, blah, blah.

But, here’s what I do want to acknowledge:

Although the Orthodox Church has a grandiose exterior and profound teachings, by being a part of the life of the Church, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing traditions that have smaller voices.

The Orthodox Church taught me about the 40-day rest period after childbirth. This can quickly become a controversial topic for some who think this is about the “uncleanness” of a woman (which it is not). I can tell you from personal experience that this gift is a blessing to a woman. Instead of feeling pressed to fulfill our religious obligation or to show face in church because it’s a good thing to do, the Church simply lets us off the hook and tells us to stay home.

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Double & Freeze: Bean and Cheese Enchiladas

This week, we’re introducing a series called Double & Freeze. It’s something I do often in our house in order to get more bang for my buck in the kitchen. The concept is simple: when you cook dinner, you make twice as much. You serve half and freeze half (often after assembly but before baking). This series will include meals that cater well to that idea – that freeze gracefully and don’t get mad when you stop them mid-process.

Our first Double & Freeze is bean and cheese enchiladas! I knew this would be our first as soon as I thought of sharing this concept. I double and freeze this meal pretty much every time I make it for our family. It makes life much easier.

So here we go! Let’s get started.

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On Having A Clean House

It was a peaceful spring morning. And then it wasn’t.

I don’t remember what I was doing at the time, or why I wasn’t minding my kids on the other end of the house. The shock of it all probably blocked that out. What I do remember is the moment I walked into the kitchen.

And all I could see was cocoa powder.

It. Was. Awful.

The 3-year-old had poured it down the cabinets. The 18-month-old tried to eat it (read: wipe it over every inch of his head). I think there were even paw prints from when the cat walked in to find his bounty.

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The Importance of Routine When You Have Small Children (and How to Make One)

Routine is golden. And for moms, it can be the guiding light in a frazzled world full of meal prep, butt wiping, and wrenches thrown in every system. Routines help us keep our heads above water and for that reason, I adore them.

I will say: routines are not schedules. Schedules are by the book, minute-by-minute. If you don’t keep up with them, it’s disappointing and stressful. But routines are guidelines. They’re helpful friends that are flexible and forgiving, ready to steer us back on track when we’ve lost focus or gotten behind. Routines work for us, not the other way around.

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How to Deal with Deep Sleprivation

We make plenty of decisions when we become parents. Daycare or stay-at-home parenting. Crib or bassinet. Stroller or baby carrier. Breastfeed or formula. Or both. But there’s one thing that’s inevitable no matter how you finesse your decisions. At some point, you will be sleep deprived.

Dun dun dun!!

Few parents say, “I get more than enough sleep!” in their child’s first year (or two) of life. It’s simply something we have to go through at one point or another, a sort of rite of passage. There’s no real simple fix, there’s no elixir of life here (though wine does help), but here’s what helped me when the going got tough:

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Cheer Here: You Are Enough

Every 8 weeks, we’re going to take off our big-blog-post hats in favor of simple encouragement. Our needs – a mother’s needs – are indeed physical and mental. But I believe our emotional and spiritual needs to be loftier, trickier to fulfill, and more painful when they’re left wanting. So, every two months, we hope to uplift all the moms out there (new ones especially) with a small encouragement, hoping it comes at just the right time for those who need it.

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In the chaos of life, when seeing your messy house, unbathed kids, and thrown-together dinner at the end of the day, it’s tempting as a mom to doubt yourself and think:

What have I accomplished today? All I do is keep these tiny humans alive!

Sure, we’d all like clean houses, check marks on the to-do list, to have finished that load of laundry that now stinks from seven hours of sitting in the washer, wet and soppy. We’d all like the feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day that, you know, what the other moms have when they go to bed.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we have to “get things done” to feel like good moms? Why does the laundry matter when those little stinkers poured salt all over the kitchen floor? Again!

If you’re there cleaning up that salty mess, then you’re a good mother. If you even thought about a to-do list, then you’re a good mother. If you hold your kids at the end of every day and can still say in your heart “I love you,” then you’re a good mother.

Don’t worry about that load that is still stinking up the washer. You’ll remember to fix it when you do more laundry. All you need to do is give every day what you’ve got. And let what you’ve got be enough for every day.

So, say it with me: I am enough, I am enough, I am enough …

An Ode to Best Friends

PREGNANCY IS THE BEGINNING OF YOUR SOCIAL DECLINE. Have you ever had this thought? Do you lie awake some nights over the loss of normal social interaction? From now on, my friends will think I have become a hermit and all I know is the rotation of: diaper change > nap > nurse > diaper change > nap > nurse > DIAPER CHANGE > NAP > NURSE!

Consciously or not, this is something we fear on some level.

The diaper-change-nap-nurse rotation can feel eternal at times. Like you’re in the 9th circle of hell.

Diaper change!

Nap!

Nurse!

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Why I Focus on Superfoods

I am borderline obsessed with superfoods. My husband hears me exclaim about them at least twice a week. “Oh, grapefruit?! It’s a superfood!” He’s also had to endure more than one occasion of me listing the superfoods that are in the meal he’s currently eating.

For better or worse, right?  

Once I discovered superfoods, I was hooked! I am familiar with the paleo diet and Whole 30 and various other theories on eating. I love them all. But I love them from a distance. I love them vicariously through others. I love them in stories that don’t involve me. I love them in someone else’s life. For me, it’s too much. Too complicated. With too many “can’ts.” I just can’t with the can’ts. Plus, I have children and am usually pregnant or nursing which means I need to have a full diet. I don’t know if we understand the human body well enough to say whole categories of foods can be safely removed from our diet all at once.

It all started when I picked up a cookbook highlighting superfoods and knew instantly that it was for me. What is a superfood? It’s whole food that has the most nutrition per caloric value. It has the most bang for its buck. These are the foods that are chocked full of nutritional value and variety. And they are what I plan our family’s diet and meals around.

Here are the reasons I love thinking this way:

  1. It’s safe and applicable to everyone.

Focusing on whole foods has nothing risky or quirky about it. It doesn’t omit anything that we should be eating. It’s good for my kids and their growing bodies. It works for me when I’m pregnant, when I’m nursing, and when I’m just breathing.

  1. It’s simple!

There are no riddles here. We just eat a lot of these foods and since there are so many of them on my list (which I share below), we get plenty of variety. Plus, by filling our diet with good food, the stuff that I shouldn’t be eating naturally gets pushed out. I don’t have to count calories or nutrients or try to fixate on anything in particular. Eating treats isn’t a negative. I just don’t eat as many treats now cause I’m too full with the good stuff.

  1. It’s vibrant.

I automatically shut down when told I can’t eat something. Womp womp. I’m like a child rebelling against restrictions. But with superfoods, instead of taking things away, I get excited about trying different dishes with leeks and quinoa and get to figure out how to add scallops to the occasional meal. It’s like a puzzle to me. It’s motivating, colorful and fun!

Here’s the list of superfoods I use. Unfortunately, the good old cookbook I mentioned is buried in storage and I can’t seem to find it online to reference for you. Luckily, these foods are as old as time and this list is in no way set-in-stone or exhaustive. What is the best dish you’ve made using ingredients from below?

  • Apples
  • Avocados
  • Oranges
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwifruit
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Bananas
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Red bell pepper
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Tomatoes
  • Spinach
  • Garlic
  • Kale
  • Celery
  • Peas
  • Beets
  • Leeks
  • Pumpkin
  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Grass-fed beef
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Trout
  • Scallops
  • Oysters
  • Kefir
  • Greek yogurt
  • Eggs
  • Brown rice
  • Kidney beans
  • Lentils
  • Pot barley
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Miso
  • Honey
  • Cinnamon
  • Green tea
  • Red wine
  • Dark chocolate
  • Walnuts
  • Brazil nuts
  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil

Baby Shower Activity: Pray Your Friend into Motherhood!

Church groups and bible studies can be so good at supporting a mother as she works her way through pregnancy and into motherhood. This can be in the form of a baby shower or mother’s blessing, bringing meals after birth, or simply praying for her. Women together in a small group also know how to address and nurture the spirit. This can be such a blessing to a mom as she makes this major transition that can leave her otherwise out of sorts, confused and overwhelmed. When friends you know deeply check on you, this can be so meaningful.

It’s also encouraging when you know you’re in your friends’ prayers. Try this activity during your baby shower or mother’s blessing thrown with church or bible study friends, and you can be “together in your prayers” as she braves new motherhood:

  1. Print the prayer card (see here) on cardstock and cut the sheets in half.
  2. Have your shower or mother’s blessing guests write out a prayer for baby and mom on two cards – the same prayer on both.
  3. She’ll keep one and give the other to mom-to-be.
  4. When the birth is announced, she’ll pray her prayer (and as much as she wants to otherwise). Mom can read through all the prayers that her friends are lifting up for her after she delivers.

She’ll know that – in a way – she’s surrounded by a group of women that love her and her child they have yet to meet. This beautiful activity allows mom to have her peace and space after giving birth while knowing she has the support of those closest to her. Happy praying!

Double & Freeze: Corn Chowder

This is our next installment in our series called Double and Freeze. The concept is that you get more bang for your buck in meal preparation by doubling your recipe, serving half and freezing half for another time. I always do this near the end of my pregnancies in preparation for the postpartum phase. When I’m cooking dinner for my family – and if it’s freezer/leftover friendly – I double the recipe and freeze the extra half to be consumed during the postpartum phase when I absolutely will NOT be cooking dinner. I do declare! At the end of this process, we have a freezer full of meals and even if we have a Meal Train (see here), our freezer meals fill in the gaps nicely or extend the time meal preparation is unnecessary. Win!

Our last double and freeze was my go-to: Bean & Cheese Enchiladas (see here). But today I’m going to share another meal I love: Corn Chowder! This is a family recipe from my mother-in-law, and we make it all winter. It’s creamy and nourishing and mostly definitely has its roots in the Midwest. In other words: ignore this post if you’re dairy sensitive!

Here’s what you need:

  • 4 cups water
  • 7-8 medium potatoes
  • 4 carrots
  • 4 stalks celery
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 4 cups milk
  • 2 (15 ounce) cans cream-style corn
  • 1.5 cups shredded parmesan cheese, and more for garnish, if desired
These items are for a single batch. Double these to officially double and freeze!
  1. Peel your potatoes and carrots. Dice them up and slice your celery. Chop your onion. Add all these vegetables to a large saucepan with the water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 12-15 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Do not drain!
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Stir in flour, salt, and pepper and whisk until smooth. Slowly stir in the milk. Cook 10-15 minutes until thickened. Do not boil. Add the parmesan cheese and stir to melt.
  3. Add cream-style corn to the vegetable saucepan, then stir the sauce in as well. Cook 10 minutes longer or until heated throughout. Serve with biscuits or muffins. 
And there you have it! Easy, right? Serve this for dinner in your last weeks of pregnancy and store the remainder in the freezer as a nice, hearty, and nourishing postpartum meal. 

Mom Tip: How to NOT Hate your Tupperware Cupboard

Tupperware: the ultimate love-hate relationship. Why is it that when you finally find the appropriately sized container, you cannot. Find. The. Lid?! I remember even when I was a kid, I despised my parents’ lid drawer. Scavenger hunt every time! And not in a good way. 

Shortly after we got married, my husband and I invested in our favorite universal Tupperware. But even so, containing it all drove us nuts. We thought stacking them in a cupboard would be fine, except when all the lids would fall out every time we moved one and we weren’t fans of losing that precious cupboard space. But sticking them on a low shelf is arduous, too. You have to get on your knees to find the one you want, which is inevitably in the back. Try getting back up again with an infant in one hand and the toddler sticking his head in asking, “What you looking for, mom?” as he grabs anything and everything.

In a rare stroke of genius my husband changed my life: he put them all into two baskets! Whaaaaat!

We fall into the category of storing all our Tupperware in bottom shelves. It’s a narrow shelving area, and pretty deep, so finding the right container was difficult. Until, that is, my husband came up with the basket idea. One – stored on the bottom shelf of our cupboard – is for larger containers and is usually used for leftovers after dinner. The other basket sits on top and holds the smaller guys. I pull that one out for packing up snacks and smaller items.

What a simple solution to an otherwise painful experience! There are only two types of lids, so all the small lids stay with the small containers, and all the large lids stay with the large containers!

Another added benefit is that instead rummaging around the shelf to find the four or five different containers I need, I just pull out an entire basket and work with it on the countertop. I pull as I need without having to bend over and reach into the cupboard when I inevitably forget one I need.

Prepping snacks and packing away leftovers is a breeze. Ah, when something in motherhood is simplified! I hope this tip helps you, too!