Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Make My Life Easier Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, I asked you for advice on things I could do to make life easier, juggling lots of responsibilities, three kids and the fact that I'm a crappy housewife. Your comments and suggestions were awesome. Yesterday I posted about the three things main things you could do to make everything else a little more manageable. Today, we're going to discuss specific tips, tricks, resources and ideas to make the six most commonly mentioned problem areas a little bit easier to deal with. Let's get started:

Areas we want to fix: Based on your comments and suggestions, most of the stuff that is driving us nuts falls under 6 categories:
  • Planning and Scheduling
  • Meals and Food
  • Laundry
  • Cleaning and Dishes
  • Managing Kids and Their Stuff
  • Staying Organized
Some of these suggestions may be things you're already doing or have already heard about. For the complete list of suggestions, click here and read through the 200+ comments. Lots of the ideas were new to me and I can't wait to start trying them out. Today we'll discuss 'Planning, Scheduling, Lists' and 'Meals and Food'.

Planning, Scheduling, Lists
1. Try a Household Master Calendar
This can be an electronic calendar or one hanging on the wall in the kitchen - but we got lots and lots of comments about how important it is to put everyone's stuff on one calendar. I have one in my house that is a giant peel and stick white board. It's the best thing that ever happened to me.

2. Use technology to help
Some people set timers and reminders on their phones and iPods. Others use apps to get schedules, lists and appointments coordinated. The app that was most recommended was from Cozi and after playing around with it on my smartphone for a while, I can understand why.
"I love my to-do app - ToodleDo. It really helps me remember to do things like pay the bills, make sure the oldest has is school library books on the right day, sign kids up for summer camp. That sort of thing. I even put long term things on it like washing the curtains. Stuff I am now on top of that I NEVER used to remember to do."
3. Shop Smart
Whether it's groceries or Target runs, the consensus was to minimize trips to the store (one big trip per week), go without the kids (like late at night), and stick to the list. It saves time, money and aggravation. There was also lots of suggestions about about using technology for lists (and even coupons). For some people, this included getting their groceries delivered via Peapod or another like service. Here's another idea:
"Amazon Prime is worth every penny. I can get so much stuff delivered for free with overnight or 2 day delivery. It has drastically cut down my Target runs (though some may not look at that as a good thing)."
4. Carpooling
This is a huge sanity saver for me. It's one thing I do that gives me HOURS back in my week. My older kids are just now big enough that many of their activities don't require me to be there the whole time. If there are other families you know and like on the same team/troop/class - discuss carpooling with them.

It goes without saying that the parent driving your child must be trustworthy and responsible. I mean, I get scared that a sex offender has abducted my kid if they're taking too long in the bathroom, so I'm extremely paranoid judicious about the people we share rides with. But it is so worth it. If you haven't started doing this yet and you find that you just don't have enough hours in the day to manage everything, maybe it's time to give it a try. And the biggest surprise? My kids completely LOVE riding in their friends' cars. Who knew?

Meals and Food
1. Meal planning
This was the number one thing that came up. If you plan out your week's meals, you can then create a master shopping list around that plan and know what you're doing (at least a little) heading into each evening. It takes a lot of pressure off. In my house, the witching hours are between 5:30 and 8:30pm. I will do anything to make that time of day easier.
"I plan my meals for the week on Sunday afternoon and try to hit the grocery store right then or first thing Monday morning. It decreases my stress level immensely to not have to stand in front of the fridge at 5:00 and wonder what's for dinner. And I write the menu on our family calendar, so my husband will know whats for dinner and not eat pizza for lunch if we are having pizza for dinner."
2. Use technology
There are lost of websites and apps that can help you with ideas and tips. Some sites like Epicurious and AllRecipes will even populate shopping recipes for you once you select recipes. Folks suggested using Pinterest to create boards for weekday meals, and while this makes total sense, for those of us who are easily distracted - SQUIRREL! - Pinterest is a fun diversion rather than a time saver.
"Ziplist.com has changed my life. No more staring blankly into the fridge every night wondering what to make. You build your recipe box online, choose your meals and it adds everything you need to a grocery list, organized by the aisle you'll find it in. It even has a little thing you can add to your toolbar so you can 'clip' recipes from other websites and add them to your recipe box."

3. Cook Once, Eat Twice
This is a pretty straightforward concept, also known as EMBRACE LEFTOVERS. As one commenter wrote: "Large roasted meats are your FRIEND! That's what she said." She suggested something like this: on Sunday, roast a large chicken. On Monday, make chicken quesadillas. On Tuesday, chicken with green beans and Uncle Ben's.

4. The Crock Pot
Food that cooks itself. AWESOME. And it doesn't just have to be pot roast. There are lots of great ideas out there for all kinds of good stuff. As a matter of fact, our culinary guru The Yenta is working on some crock pot recipes just for us that are perfect for kids and the warmer temps of Springtime.

5. Kids Snacks & Kids Lunches
Here are three reader comments on things they suggest:
"The bottom crisper bin in the fridge is now the lunchbox supply and snack drawer. On Sunday I stock it with ready- to-go servings of whatever fruits & veggies the kids will eat that week, pretzels, goldfish, milk boxes, etc. I still have to make a sandwich in the morning, but that's it. Makes the mornings way less stressful."

"I make their lunches right after dinner (while I'm still in the kitchen). I complain about it every time, but if I wait until the next morning we are SCREWED and will never get out of the house on time."

"Empower the children - we put plastic cups and plates in bottom cabinets, put their cereals and snacks down low, put coat hooks and cubbies where they could reach them, basically arranged the house so we could say, as often as humanly possible, "Get it yourself."

6. Leftovers
With the whole concept of cooking one and eating twice, you'll end up with a lot of leftovers. Here'a thought on how to deal with them:
"The Leftover shelf. One shelf in the fridge is the designated leftover spot. Any food that needs to be eaten gets put on that shelf. NOTHING else is allowed on that shelf. Our trash day is Thursday, so on Wednesday night I check and make sure that anything on the shelf is still edible and toss what isn't. That is also the night I decide if some of the leftovers need to be frozen. This way nothing gets lost at the back of the fridge and forgotten about. We purposely made it an eye level shelf so we don't forget about it."
Stay tuned for tomorrow, where we tackle laundry and cleaning. Woo HOO! Let's kick Randy the Laundry Fairy right in the 'nads!

(c)Herding Turtles, Inc. 2009 - 2011


  1. To help with lunch ideas for the kids and using leftovers, We usually roast a pork loin or bottom round and slice it down for sandwiches! We have the advantage of a home deli slicer, so we get a lot thinner slices than we could with a knife, and the kids LOVE it! And most times we get the meat on sale for around 2-3 bucks a pound! :)

    Soups and stews cam also be had for lunch if you have food jars (aka thermoses for food)- we reheat the leftover soup to boiling (or close to it if it's a creamy soup), and ladle it into the food jars. By the time the kids eat it, it's the perfect temperature! You can also put cold stuff in there too, like salads or diced fruit. Yum!

  2. On the idea of "Embrace Leftovers" ... When all the kids were still at home, we had "Fridge Night". It was usually Monday nights because of Scouts for the boys. Any and all leftovers in the fridge were fair game, and it was serve yourself night. There's the fridge, there's the leftovers, there's the microwave ... have something for supper! :)

  3. You can do two items at once. Have your kids pack their own lunch! My kids have been doing it since 1st/2nd grade. They make the sandwiches, they pick the fruit/snack, they put the beverage in. If they make it, they will eat it.

    Once they get older, they will still do it. Mine are in high school now with PACKED schedules -no lunch period- so they will pack granola, protein bars, water and maybe some fruit. It has to be be quick and easy.

    Start them now and they will continue. Of course you will need to limited supervise at first but then just do spot checks- just to check and see if they aren't packing a whole sleeve of Saltines and 6 cookies! And make them do it the night before as a pre bed time routine.

  4. This is what I thought was interesting: I looked at the "areas we want to fix" list, and except for the part about kids (I'm single and have no children) THE LIST APPLIES TO ME TOO. Does that make anybody feel any better? lol

  5. Pinterest! Yikes! After about a week pinning all kinds of things (recipes, how to make your own stain removal, tutorials on how to make fabric covered boxes, how to organize your linen closet/pantry, and many many other things) my husband said, "So when are you gonna actually DO any of these things?"

    uh...ummm, yeah.

  6. Lydia, THANK YOU so much for putting these two posts together! While thinking about your posts this week, I thought of something that has been 22 years in the making. I'm a murtherfurkin idiot about this.. Just like you I HATE LAUNDRY. I will restart the dryer eleventy-hundred times just so I don't have to hang the clothes up. I finally figured out WHY I hate it.

    It takes so damn long because I don't turn my clothes right side out before I put them in the laundry. I have been doing this wrong for over THIRTY YEARS, wasting my precious time.

    So I thought if your little ones are doing that too, you are wasting a lot of time too. If you want to read about my epiphany, I wrote it on my blog yesterday: http://randomthoughtswithjaime.blogspot.com/2012/03/after-only-30-years-on-planet-earth-i.html

  7. So. I was looking through the Babble slideshow and saw that the giant calendar pictured was credited to Wallnutz. I then typed "Walnutz" into Google shopping. Not recommended if small children are present, but good for a "should have seen that one comin'" (that's what she said) laugh.

    So where did you buy that calendar?

  8. I use flylady.net to stay on track with house chores. A lot of it is based on breaking tasks down into 15-minute jobs which I like because when it comes to cleaning I have the attention span of dryer lint. I also have an attitude problem. (the first step is admitting you have a problem...) so I listen to the radio dramas on BBC Radio Four Extra (google it) on my laptop while I'm cleaning/organizing. They have a lot of old murder mysteries and I'd rather be thinking about how Miss Marple is going figure out who offed the heiress than what it is that I just pulled out of the kids long-lost lunchbox.

  9. Freezing leftovers works well, too. Things like spaghetti, 1/2 a roast and such. Then we can still embrace the leftovers with out being sick of it.

  10. Wait...You're supposed to wash curtains?

    1. Apparently. According to my husband's stepmom.

  11. Love these posts! In order to tame the leftovers a lot of time I'll make two small casseroles/lasagnas/etc instead of one big one. That way we can eat one, freeze the other one and have two dinners without anyone getting sick of it.

  12. After my 5th child I finally purchased a crockpot and now wonder how I ever got along with out it. It takes the stress out of the dinner hour. I do everything from chicken tacos to lasagna in there to everykind of roast stew imaginable! It is a sanity savor- unfortunately with 5 kids we rarely have leftovers...

  13. Don't Panic Dinner's in the Freezer. Hands down the best and easiest make ahead meal book I have found. I have yet to find a recipe that was a dud in the book. The kids love them and it shows you how to get together with friends (and wine) and cook together thus splitting cost/time and you get to have adult conversation. WIN! I found it on amazon (ships free with prime) for about $10. A total lifesaver.

    1. I agree! I love that book, and the second one. I spent about a week cooking non-stop, but then didn't really cook again for months. I just noticed that the freezer only has about 4 meals left, so I'm about to do it again. Oh....I cooked in September and am just now running out of meals. Awesome!

  14. I love the idea of everyone having their own laundry basket! I have a 3 month old and a 3 year old and I prefer not to wash their clothes together! So, on laundry day, I find all the empty hangers and throw them in the laundry basket and take them to my room and dump them on my bed. The laundry that goes in a drawer, goes in the specific basket and I hang the clothes on the side of the basket. It takes half the time. I also use my 3yr old to help put the clothes in/out of the dryer. He likes helping!

  15. Leftovers: We take a trick from food service (my husband is a chef). There's a roll of masking tape and a marker in the kitchen, and when leftovers are packaged up, they get the date on a piece of masking tape put right on the lid. No more guessing how old that container of spaghetti and noodles is! If it's older than 7 days, we know, and we know to just toss it!

  16. I freeze simple sandwiches for my kids (ham and swiss, or cream cheese + jam etc.) in the tupperware containers that they are brought to school in. I take one out in the morning, and by lunch it has defrosted and is ready to eat, however it stays cold for most of the morning, so I don't need to think about an ice pack. I can make a batch of sandwiches for the week in just a few minutes, and you really can't tell that they have been frozen. Even with mayo. I also pack up multiples of the snack items and have them ready to go. Having even a few days worth at a time really saves sanity in the morning.




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