Making Lunch Easy

It only took me 12 years of homeschooling and 9 kids to figure out how to make lunch easy.

Gah!  Why did I wait so long?

I finally figured out how to make lunch easy! | RaisingArrows.net

To be completely honest with you, what finally forced me to simplify our lunches was this new job/new house/new baby thing that all took place right around the holidays.  We did just about every major life change all in a matter of 6 weeks!  Go big or go home!

I was really struggling after Aspen’s birth (that’s another post) and needed to make life as simple as I could until I was back on my feet and fully present.  I made a list of all the things that were causing me stress, and one weekend I took some time away to pray and work through as many things on that list as I could.

Lunch was on that list, and the solution came in the form of 3 S’s:

Soup ~ Salad ~ Sandwiches

Make Lunch Easy with the 3's - Soup, Salad, Sandwiches | RaisingArrows.net

Soup

Last week, I told you about our Kitchen Sink Soup.  This is our go-to soup.  We make it a couple of times a week to finish off any random leftovers in the refrigerator.  I don’t really plan any soups besides this one.  When I originally made the 3S Plan, I was going to add in some “original” soups as well, but implementing that proved to be more work than I cared to do.

I try to keep a loaf of bread on hand to go with our soup.  I prefer it to be homemade, but will often grab some sort of specialty loaf from Aldi just in case I don’t get around to making something.  Sourdough or French bread are favorites here, as well as our homemade whole wheat buns.

Salad

Before I had Aspen, I ate salad almost every day for lunch, but rarely had the kids eat it.  Now, if I’m eating it, so are they!  The two salads we make most often are Taco Salad and Chicken Fajita Salad.  For the Fajita Salad, I buy chicken fajita strips at Aldi in the freezer case, warm them up and throw them in with salad greens and cheese.  Corn chips add filler to both of these salads.

Sandwiches

Because I need things to be as simple as possible, I purchase a couple of loaves of bread a week and keep sliced cheese and deli meat, peanut butter and jelly on hand at all times (although, I’ve never eaten a peanut butter & jelly sandwich myself, most of my kids like it).  If we have homemade bread, great, but if not, I know we can still throw together sandwiches with the store-bought loaves.  We will have the occasional deviation from these two types of sandwiches with something like my son’s fried egg sandwiches or my daughter’s grilled cheese or bagel sandwiches, but that is fairly rare.

This plan makes shopping for lunches super simple too!  My weekly list will always have these things on it:

Chicken broth
Shredded Cheese
Salad greens
Fajita Chicken
Chili Beans
Corn Chips
Peanut Butter
Jelly
Deli Meat & Cheese
Bread

I keep us stocked with those items so I always have what I need to make lunch easy!

**Huge sigh of relief!**

How have you simplified lunch at your house?  Or maybe you’ve learned to simplify another meal.  I’d love to hear your ideas!

Easy Homeschool Lunch – Kitchen Sink Soup

Some of you are going to laugh.  Some of you are going to wonder if I’ve lost my mind.  Kitchen Sink Soup?  That does not sound delicious…

Kitchen Sink Soup - because it includes everything BUT the kitchen sink! This is a grab and go lunch - video included!  (and yes, I should have named it something else, but this is what we call it - weird as it is!) | RaisingArrows.net

I seriously thought I ought to call this soup something else.  Something more…um…appealing?  But, for some reason this is what we started calling this pull-everything-out-of-the-refrigerator-and-stick-it-in-a-pot concoction, and well, if I were to name it anything else, I wouldn’t be true to the weirdness that is our family.  (Please tell me you have weird names for stuff too!)

The whole idea for Kitchen Sink Soup came about as a result of my needing to revamp homeschool lunches into something SUPER EASY.  Next week, I plan to share the full plan with you, but suffice it to say it has been a lifesaver!

So, what is Kitchen Sink Soup?  It’s everything but the kitchen sink!

Come on in to my kitchen and see what I mean…
(not seeing the video?  Click HERE!)

Kitchen Sink Soup is basically a soup made from your leftovers with a few add-ins to make it extra yummy!  Have a little leftover hamburger?  Throw it in there!  Have a few leftover veggies?  Throw them in there!  Have a can of beans or black olives?  Throw those in there too!  Add some broth or milk, some spices and cheese and you have a nutritious homeschool lunch that can simmer on the stove while you teach your little ones.

We have Kitchen Sink Soup a couple times a week to finish off any leftovers we’ve become tired of eating on.  I get quite a sense of satisfaction knowing I’m not throwing out leftovers, but reinventing them into something different and yummy!

In the video above, you’ll see how I make the soup, plus a short list of some add-in ideas.  You’ll also see me without makeup and my hair pulled up in my usual “mom-has-work-to-do hairdo.”  Try throwing together your own Kitchen Sink Soup – actually, why don’t you call it something else so no one will look at you funny the way they do when I tell them what we had for lunch – then, come back here and tell me what you put in it, as I’d love to have some new ideas for my soup!

***Read more about my easy lunch plan!***

DrinkBands Giveaway in Time for Easter!

It’s time to start planning for your Easter celebrations!  One thing you should consider adding this year is a set of DrinkBands.

DrinkBands Giveaway on RaisingArrows.net

If you give gifts to your children for Easter, wouldn’t it be fun to add a personalized DrinkBand in their favorite color to their Easter basket?

Are you having guests over?  Keep everyone’s cups separate with a set of DrinkBands!

Win a set of DrinkBands! | RaisingArrows.net

There are tons of colors to choose from.  You can personalize any color with your child’s name or nickname.  You can also bundle packs together and save!  They are wonderful to have on hand for company, and they make great gifts.  Grab a pack to leave at Grandma’s!  Grab a pack to give to a friend!  Shipping in the U.S. is always FREE!

CLICK HERE TO ORDER!

You know DrinkBands are a favorite here on Raising Arrows, so how about a giveaway?!

I’m giving away the DrinkBands shown above – a 9 Pack of Regular and a Party Pack (including the new Funky Tie Dye band!)  Enter the giveaway below (click here if reading via email):
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Using Google Calendar for My Menu Planning

Menu planning has always been a pretty big deal at our house – even when I had less kiddos to cook for. I enjoy the process of menu planning to an extent (finding new recipes, dreaming about how much my family is going to love the meals, etc.), but it is a big chore that typically takes several hours to complete.

(affiliate links included)

I’ve also found that no matter how great my plan, it ALWAYS changes.  I have to cross things off the list, move them to another day, or sometimes just skip the meal altogether.  After reading Mystie Winckler’s Paperless Home Organization, I decided it was time to ditch the pen and paper when it comes to menu planning and find a better way.

(See my full review of Paperless Home Organization HERE.  Use Coupon Code: raisingarrows for 25% off through Sunday 3/22/15)

How I Use Google Calendar to Menu Plan | RaisingArrows.net

Mystie introduced me to using Google Calendar to handle my menu planning, and I LOVE IT!  It has fixed a lot of the issues I was having with menu planning, and has simplified the process altogether.

So, let me share how I do it…

I use Gmail, so the calendar is built in to my email program, and I have it set up to sync to all my devices (my phone and my iPad – this is important for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.)

If you click the squares in the right hand side of your Gmail screen, you will get a drop down menu in which you will find your Calendar.

Using Google Calendar to Menu Plan | RaisingArrows.net

Using Google Calendar to Menu Plan | RaisingArrows.net

A large calendar pops up and you can add all sorts of things to it.  I have a household calendar, a blogging calendar, an appointment calendar, and my menu planning calendar.  I usually have all of them together where I can see everything at a glance; however, you can turn on and off whatever calendars you would like.  You can also share the calendars with anyone who has a Gmail account.  When I am menu planning, I usually keep all the calendars on, so I can see what might be coming up that week and plan my meals accordingly.

I only put in lunch and supper on my calendar.  Breakfast is almost always the same – whatever you can find!  Actually, I keep cereal, bread, yogurt and fruit on hand as our staple breakfasts every day but Saturday, when we make a bigger hot breakfast.

As I work through my Pinterest boards and cookbooks, I am able to add the meal to the calendar and add a link if need be into the description section of each calendar item. (Read more HERE about how I do this – you will notice I was not using Google Calendar when I wrote that post.)

Using Google Calendar to Menu Plan | RaisingArrows.net

I can also make notes and set timers for anything I need to do to get the meal ready…thaw meat, start sourdough, etc.  I can set the calendar to sound an alarm, put a pop up on my screen, or send me an email.  This is a great feature for me because I am forever sidetracked it seems!

The great thing about syncing the calendar with my phone and iPad is that I can use those devices in the kitchen to cook.  I can simply click on the link in the calendar and it opens up to my recipe!  If the recipe isn’t online, I can make a note of what page and what cookbook it is in.

And the best part?  If I don’t use a meal that day, I just drag and drop it to another day!  It really has taken a lot of the headache out of meal planning for me

If you need a little more information on using Google Calendar itself, Mystie has a great tutorial to help you:

And if you are interested in learning more about managing your home in a paperless way, take a gander at Mystie’s ebook Paperless Home Organization!  Don’t forget to use Coupon Code: raisingarrows for 25% off through Sunday 3/22/15!

Why Single-Serve Coffee Makers are Large Family Friendly

Are Single-Serve Coffee Makers worth it for the large family?  I would have said no way...until my in-laws bought us one.  Here's why I've changed my tune and would go so far as to say they are actually PERFECT for the large family! | RaisingArrows.netI need to start this post by telling you that for several years my personal opinion of single-serve coffee makers has been that they are frivolous, non-essential kitchen gadgets. I would see a giveaway for one online and think, “what a waste…especially for a large family.”

{affiliate links}

So, when my in-laws bought us one (a Keurig, as you can see from the photo) for Christmas, I was thankful, but really not sure I wanted to give up counter space for a “toy.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I like coffee…a lot.  In fact, my coffee and creamer is one of the few things I haven’t been willing to give up for Trim Healthy Mama.  But one cup at a time?  Just make a whole pot!  My philosophy has been whoever gets to the coffee maker first, has the right to choose the coffee that gets brewed.  Deal with it.  But, I have to admit when Ty gets there first and makes that nasty chicory stuff, I’m sorry I’ve held to such a philosophy.

But, is that really a good reason to own a single-serve?

Are Single-Serve Coffee Makers worth it for the large family?  I would have said no way...until my in-laws bought us one.  Here's why I've changed my tune and would go so far as to say they are actually PERFECT for the large family! | RaisingArrows.net

And what about the price of those single serve cups (K cups as Keurig calls them)?  My husband really likes his Caribou Coffee – something we can’t get where we currently live – but is it worth it to buy the K cups?  No, not really…but it sure is fun!  However, that said, we’ve found a way around this by using reusable cups…more on that in a moment!

My 10 year old daughter prefers tea over coffee.  She likes fruity blends like Grandma’s Garden.  Several others in the family have started drinking tea as well – some loose leaf, some tea bags.  Oh, and don’t forget the hot cocoa drinkers.

After mulling this all over, I decided to embrace this whole single-serve thing.  It didn’t take my husband nearly that long to decide it was pretty awesome.  Guys like gadgets. 😉

Now that we’ve had the Keurig for several weeks, I must say my poor coffee pot NEVER gets used.  Having a single-serve coffee maker has made it where everyone can have exactly what they want, and switch it up as often as they’d like.  I also don’t have to worry about a scalding hot tea pot on the stove or a wasted pot of coffee because it took too long to brew or we just plum forgot about it.

Let me give you an idea of how we’ve made it work…

For the tea bags and hot cocoa, the children simply push the button and run hot water through the machine.  This is also how we brew our iced tea.  Drop the bags (or powder) into the hot water and steep.

We do have some K cups, but we also purchased a reusable one (I want to get another one and keep our tea and coffee separate which is why I’m recommending this 2 pack).  Having a reusable cup means you can use ANY coffee or loose leaf tea.  We can often get 2 brewings out of each round as well, saving even more.

One quick note for you tea lovers…the Keurig doesn’t boil the water, so it doesn’t hurt the tea.  We brew the tea and then let the cup sit for a bit to “steep”.  It’s not a “perfect” cup of tea, but it’s pretty good.

We do have a K cup holder, but I wouldn’t recommend the one we have.  The two shown below would be much better than what we have because they hold more, are more compact, and the cups are less apt to fall out all over the place.

Other Resources: (some just for fun!)

*How to Clean Your Keurig
*The History of Coffee from International Coffee Organization
*Coffee Unit Study
*How to Make Your Own Loose Leaf Tea

Table Chores

Table Chores {our newest version since the move and new baby} | RaisingArrows.net

A couple of days ago, Ty’s mom was down for a visit, so Ty and I took the opportunity to go out for dinner with Miss Aspen.  When we arrived home, things were in utter chaos because the kids had left my mother-in-law to do all the meal clean up alone.

It was time for a new Table Chores list!

For the past several weeks, we’d been winging it.  Mommy or Daddy would throw out random chores to random children until everything got finished.  It was nowhere near the autopilot we were used to, but it was what we could manage.

When I asked the kids why they didn’t help Grammy with the after meal chores, they all exclaimed they had no idea who was supposed to do which chores.  (Well, all but my 16 year old son who has gotten to the point where he automatically does whatever chores he sees needing to be done.  He had helped Grammy to an extent, but had gotten sidetracked by the time I walked in the door.)

A new house always means a new list because every house has a unique dynamic and a unique set of chores that needs to be accomplished.  With the new baby and the holidays, I hadn’t gotten around to putting together a new list.  Seeing the chaos that night prompted me to immediately sit down at the computer and revamp the old list.  (It took me about 10 minutes, including multiple interruptions.)

Before I share our new list, I want to mention that there are other things that change Table Chores besides moving.  You might have a baby graduate to eating at the table or a toddler graduate out of the high chair.  Perhaps you have a child who is now old enough to help out and you need to add them to the rotation.  Or maybe you’ve had a child grow out of Table Chores.  There are a number of changes in a household that will subsequently change the Table Chores (and most everything else as well!).

For us, there was a toddler moving out of the high chair and a newly turned 6 year old being added in that needed to be taken into account.  I also decided it was time to switch out a few of the harder chores, giving them to a different child for a while.

Obviously, Table Chores are going to be unique to your family.  You will need to consider ages and abilities as well as priorities.  You can see from my 2010 Table Chores post that back then I didn’t have many children with abilities, and my priorities and standards were much lower than they are now that I have 5 children working at a time.

I’d encourage you to start by writing down everything you think needs to be done after a meal.  Assign those chores by ability (with mom and dad taking any chores that are too “big” for your children).

Next, look through the list and order it.  For instance, don’t have one child’s first chore as “Sweep floors” when you have his siblings still bussing the table and before anyone has wiped down the table.  That’s asking for a traffic jam and a floor that doesn’t look like it’s been swept.

I always work through the list in my mind child by child and then put it through a trial run before setting the Table Chores in stone.  There is almost always something that I missed or a chore or two that don’t fit correctly in the mix.  These things can be tweaked and the list printed and posted.

And now for our 2015 Table Chores:

16 (almost 17) year old son:
Unload dishwasher
Sweep floors
Mop floors (may just require spot mop)
Take out trash (as needed)
Wash stove, microwave, refrigerator

14 year old daughter:
Rinse dishes
Load dishwasher
Wash extras
Clean out sink
Wipe down sink area & dry

10 year old daughter:
Bus table
Put away food
Tidy counters
Wash island, bar, counters

9 year old son:
Bus table
Wipe down table & chairs
Help put away food

6 year old son:
Bus table

Yay!  No more after meal chaos!

If you’d like more tips on keeping your kitchen neat and tidy, check out this post – How to Keep The Kitchen Clean.