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! |

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 |


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  When I originally made the 3S Plan, I was going to add in some “original” soups as well, but implementing that proved to be more work than I cared to do.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.


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.


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
Deli Meat & Cheese

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!

When Your Meal Plan Falls Apart

When Your Meal Plan Falls Apart {how to get back on track} |

My menu plan pretty much crashed and burned the past few months.  We moved, and I lost my groove.

I told you several months ago how a solid menu plan is the backbone of your day. Well, let me tell you, having mine fall apart made this beyond clear! Without this “backbone”, I had one seriously loosey-goosey day, that turned into a week, that turned into a month plus!  It was a mess!

Sadly, this isn’t the first time my menu plan has fallen apart.  Every time we have some major life event, it seems my menu plan is the first thing to take a nosedive.  However, I’ve learned a few tricks for getting things back on track quickly, and today, I’d like to share those with you (cuz I’m guessing I’m not the only one with a messy meal plan. ;) )

The first thing I did was go back to a pantry list.  I already had an old one on hand from my Once a Month Shopping series.  I had to do some revamping to make it fit our current eating habits, but that didn’t take much.

Simplified DinnersSimplified Dinners is an ebook that operates off this same principle, only it takes it a step further and gives you a pantry full of foods that will make many different meals all from the same list.  All the recipes and instructions and lists are included in the book, making it a no-brainer (precisely what you need when your meal plan has fallen through, eh?)  Working from a pantry list is one of the quickest ways to get back on track without needing to think too much.  It bought me time I needed to keep working on unpacking the house and getting back in a routine.

A couple of weeks later, I had more time to think through meals, so I pulled out my planner pages and my little red index box full of tried and true recipes.  Everyone needs the equivalent of my red index box.  You should KNOW what meals are family favorites.  You should KNOW what your family will and will not eat and how often they will eat it.  These are your GO-TO meals.  Pulling from tried and true meals to create a meal plan takes a little more energy than a static pantry list where you just cook from whatever you have on hand, but it would be beneficial to eventually create a pantry list around your tried and true meals.  (When your meal plan has fallen apart may not be that time, though.)

I’ll be honest, during this time, Pinterest was calling my name.  It wanted me to come and try NEW recipes, but when you’ve fallen off track as badly as I had, experimenting from Pinterest is NOT the answer.  I needed to get back to business first…then, get creative.

It wasn’t too long before I was back to my regular menu planning, pulling from several different resources and being much more creative!  I have found that one of the fastest ways to get me back in the meal planning mood (because let’s face it, you HAVE to be in the mood), is to find inspiration from others.  Looking through websites, cookbooks, and ebooks are a great way to find your inspiration to jump back into meal planning.


This past week, I decided to start being even more proactive with my meal plan.  I decided to make a 4 week rotating schedule with grocery lists on the back to keep on hand for times when my menu plan falls apart.  This coupled with a solid pantry list should help to keep everyone in the house on track and eating well!

Planning Precooked Meals & Easy Menus For Others

Planning Precooked Meals and Easy Menus for Others |

Last weekend, Ty and I and Creed attended a homeschool conference and left the other children in the care of Ty’s mom.  We were gone 2 nights and 2 days, and I wanted to make it as easy on Grammy as possible.

Now I need to disclose something here.  Being this organized for others is pretty new to me.  I struggle terribly when it comes to planning ahead, but I was recently inspired by another mom of many who planned and prepared a whole week’s worth of menus, of which I reaped the benefits.  I considered the plan she put in place and realized it wasn’t as difficult as I believed it to be.  So, this past weekend, I decided to try my hand at it, and boy, was my mother-in-law appreciative!

Today, I’m sharing this success with you which will hopefully give you the confidence and encouragement you need to successfully plan meals for others

Consider How Many People You Will Be Feeding

Since we only took 1 child who doesn’t eat big people food anyway and replaced ourselves with another adult, I could make the same amount of food I usually make and be fine.  But, had I been taking more children with me or had more people been eating, I would need to adjust accordingly.

Brainstorm Simple Meals

Don’t try something new or extravagant.  You are not trying to impress others with your culinary skills.  You are doing this to feed them and make things easier for them.  Think about simple meals that can be easily thrown together from the components you provide.  Also, consider what the people you are cooking for like and any food allergies they might have.

Here are the meals I chose:

Pancakes (from Homemade Pancake Mix)

Sandwiches (meat & cheese, pb&j)
Pizza (frozen)

Spaghetti (the meat was precooked and the spaghetti sauce was store-bought), Frozen corn, French Bread
Bierocks (made ahead of time and frozen), Frozen peas

You can also plan snacks, which is something I didn’t do because I knew Grammy would bring plenty of that kind of thing.  Cookies are a really simple snack/dessert that freeze and keep well.

Some other simple meal ideas are:
Peanut butter/Banana toast (these are easy to put together with ingredients that keep well)
Baked oatmeal (put together, but don’t bake, and leave in refrigerator)
Breakfast Casserole (most of these can be frozen)

Taco salad (shred your lettuce and have the meat and beans precooked and mixed)
Quesadillas (these freeze well, but are also easy for even young children to make)
Sloppy Joes (have the meat precooked and seasoned, freezes well)

Crockpot Hamburgers (idea taken from Tricia at Hodgepodge)
Soup (easily frozen!)
Chili (again, easily frozen)
Lasagna (yep, easily frozen)

Grocery Shop Based on Menu

As I plan my menu, I take note of what I already have on hand and what I need to buy.  I make my list and head to the store.

Prepare Anything You Can Make Ahead

I baked several loaves of bread and fried up all the meat needed for the meals and froze in individual ziplock bags.  I made the bierocks and froze them, and put together the baking mix.  Anything you can do ahead of time and combine to make prep easier, do it!

Create and Label

I wrote out a menu for each day and wrote next to the meals where the components could be found.  So, for the spaghetti, I wrote:
Thursday -
Dinner:  Spaghetti & sauce (pantry), Frozen corn (freezer 1), French bread (fridge 2)

We have 2 refrigerators and 3 freezers, so I wanted to take the guesswork out of where I had stashed everything.  Also, remember to label all food with baking, cooking, and/or assembling instructions.

Explain Your Menu to Caretaker

If possible, explain either in person or on paper the system behind your menu.  Give them any extra instructions they need to know and put it in the simplest terms.

Planning and preparing meals like this works for a variety of situations.  It really is a simple way to bless those who are taking care of others and could use a break!

Shopping Azure Standard as a Frugal Way to Eat Healthy

Today, I’m writing at on eating healthy in a frugal way.  One of the things I mention is ordering from Azure Standard.

I’ve been familiar with Azure for many years, but I never ordered from them until this past year.  Part of the reason I never ordered was because I was afraid it was too complicated.  So, I thought today I’d take some time to demystify Azure and give you some tips on making ordering easier, plus introduce you to the family behind the trucking company that handles the Midwest area orders.

First of all, what is Azure Standard?  You can read how their company came into existence here.  Basically, they are a bulk food company out of Oregon.  The food is trucked all over the country via private trucking companies like the Christian family-owned and operated Covenant Ranch Trucking, who delivers my order every month.  (For a listing of routes CRT delivers to CLICK HERE.  For a listing of all Azure drops, CLICK HERE.)

So, how do you order from Azure?  If there is a drop near you, you can sign up as a customer for that drop via the Azure Standard website.  If there is not a drop near you or you would like establish a new one, please read this information and/or contact Covenant Ranch Trucking or Azure Standard. (you can reach CRT via email here: CovenantRanchTrucking at gmail dot com)

To order from Azure, you need to be purchasing at least $50 worth of product each time.  However, you don’t have to order every month.  The food comes in bulk quantities, so it is perfect for larger families, but if you are not able to use up as much as is packaged, you can split an order with someone else (often drop sites have a facebook page or yahoo email group that makes it easy to find someone who would be willing to split an order with you.)

So, you have your account set up, now what?

The simplest way I’ve found to keep track of what I need is to use my online shopping cart as my list.  Anytime I find I need something, I throw it into my cart and it stays there until I am ready to finalize my order and pay for it.  I get an email notice telling me the deadline is nearing, so I don’t accidentally miss it.  The next week, on the scheduled route drop off day and time, my husband or I show up to grab our order off the truck.  It’s that simple!

What do I order from Azure?

I order a multitude of items from coconut oil to palm shortening to whole wheat pastry flour.  Next time, I’ll be ordering almond four and flax meal because I have a serious addiction to the Muffin in a Mug from Trim Healthy Mama! ;)

So…how would you like to meet the family behind Covenant Ranch Trucking?  Here they are:

The Wood Family

 Wood Family

The Wood Family, including Jeanette’s parents who will soon be living on the farm with them.

Hi, my name is Jeanette Wood. My husband, Joseph, and I operate Covenant Ranch Trucking LLC, along with our 11 children.

If you€™re interested in saving money and eating Real Food then we just might be of interest to you. In 2010 our family started hauling organic and natural food for Azure Standard to 14 of the Midwest states.

We love working with families who are just learning of Azure or wanting to develop a drop in their community. No town is too small for us to come to delivery too. If there is enough interest , we€™re willing to bring you your groceries each and every month. To learn more about the Wood family please visit us at:

Our family lives in Topeka, KS on 16 acres where we enjoy fresh air and farm life. We have multiple fruit trees, a growing garden, and many livestock to tend to each day. We have been home educating our children for the last 19 years. Joe, my husband has driven truck for 28 years; he is the owner of Covenant Ranch Trucking LLC. and I tend to the endless paperwork and record keeping that owning a trucking company requires. I also help develop new routes, set up drops and any other customer service needs that might come up.  Several of the children go with Joe to help unload the truck, making multiple stops across the Midwest. Bethany, Joe€™s second oldest daughter, helps in the office with phone calls, emails and customer assistance.

Please, take a moment to connect with Covenant Ranch Trucking and the Wood Family!  (and don’t miss the story of why Jeanette signs her name Mrs. Joseph Wood – I LOVE this story!)

Covenant Ranch Trucking

Joe & Jeanette Wood & Family

Ask Amy – Meaningful Gift Ideas for Children & Large Families

This week, we have a topic that will probably strike a few chords with several of you.

Question:  “I have no clue where to begin with my kids’ gifts (mostly ideas for the grandparents), but I do know what I don’t want them to get (think: useless toys and other “junk”). Do you have any ideas or great general resources that you would suggest (books, music, educational toys, school resources, etc)?”

Great question!  And one I love because it fits so well with our family philosophy of doing and buying things that have “lasting value.”

Let me start by suggesting you think outside the box of one gift per person.  This is hard for grandparents to do because they are afraid the children will feel deprived, but I’ve actually seen the opposite when there has been a family gift given.  They are all thrilled and get to share the joy of it together.  If they are really bothered by the notion, suggest they get a few stocking stuffers to “compensate.” ;)

So, what sorts of things might a large family (or even a small family) be interested in?

  • Zoo passes
  • Museum passes
  • Year-long memberships to local attractions
  • Memberships to DVD rental sites like ChristianCinema
  • A night at a hotel (with a swimming pool and breakfast! ;) )
  • Gift certificates to eating establishments that are family friendly
  • Family games (like Apples to Apples – they also have a Junior version!)
  • Jonathan Park or Brinkman Adventure CDs (these have provided hours of entertainment!)
  • Furniture or electronics the entire family can use (example: new TV for the whole family to be able to watch their movies from ChristianCinema on!)
  • Something needed or wanted that tends to get pushed to the backburner by the family (that speaker system in the van so the family can listen to their Jonathan Park CDs on trips – *cough cough*)
  • Huge box of food (one of the best Christmas presents we ever received from a family member!)

The list literally could be endless if you thought long and hard about what your family could really USE this Christmas.  And with a large family, the cost spent individually adds up quickly!  Even $20 a person for my family is $160 total – think what that could buy beyond trinkets and toys!

However, most of us still need some Christmas gift ideas that are individualized.  So, how do you determine what kind of individual gifts have lasting value?

  • What are the child’s interests, talents, or needs?
  • How can I invest in their interests and talents?
  • If those interests disappeared tomorrow, would this gift still have relevance?
  • How can this gift be used to bring glory to God?
  • How is this gift leading my child in the direction I want them to go?
  • Is this gift likely to break or cause strife in the near future?

Those questions might seem kind of vague, so let me walk you through it with a specific gift…

Child A is musically inclined.  You think a guitar might be a good present.  You are investing in their giftings by giving them something that reflects that and tells them you know how much music means to them.  If the child decided he or she didn’t want to play the guitar after all, it could be passed down to another child.   The guitar can potentially be used to play praises to God for personal worship or corporate worship time.  You are wanting your child to contribute to the family with their musical talent, and this is a good way to get started, plus you are investing in what could potentially be a source of income in the future.  Oh, and it’s not likely to break soon, but it might cause strife if there is another potential guitar-player in the house.  Not everything can be prevented.

Taking this gift a step further, what about asking a grandparent to help pay for music lessons or accessories/music/etc?  Again, think outside the typical gift-giving box!

Some examples from our own family of individualized gifts that had meaning include:

  • Luggage – they needed it and were thrilled to have it!
  • A book of WWII battles with a map and pins to mark the battles
  • Set of hair clippers and hair cutting lessons (I’ve saved a mint over the years!)
  • A digital camera
  • Bedding
  • Money put into savings account for the children
  • Lifetime hunting and fishing license (this is a big investment, but well worth it)
  • Nature Friend magazine subscription
  • A serger that had been sitting collecting dust in a grandparent’s house

We are also big fans of gifts that make children think and be creative such as:

  • dress-up clothes
  • art supplies (like those from See the Light)
  • stationery
  • a tea set
  • cookbooks
  • camping gear
  • fabric and patterns
  • historical/educational books and toys
  • games
  • puzzles
  • outdoor toys

and the list goes on!

So, as you make out your list or begin suggesting gift ideas to grandparents, I’d encourage you to think forward, think lasting, think value.  Just as the Magi brought gifts to Jesus that might have seemed oddly out of place for a child, those same gifts had meaning and purpose that would reach far beyond those early years of Christ’s life.  Be thoughtful in your gift-giving this year and do not be afraid to ask the same of others.

Have some great gift ideas?  Please share!

Feeding the Crew

Raising Arrows: Homeschool Meal & Snack Ideas from @amyarrrowsWelcome back to 10 Days of Large Family Homeschooling
Start at the Beginning of the Series

One thing I have found to be challenging as a large family homeschool mom is feeding 3 meals a day plus snacks day in and day out to a rather large and diverse group of people.  At any given time, I have teenagers, toddlers, and babies – all with different palates and needs.

Many of you already know breakfast is not my forte.  I like to eat it, I hate to cook it.  I’ve never been real awake in the mornings.  I can remember as a youngster never feeling as if I had fully awakened until about 10:30 am.  I always wondered why teachers thought math needed to be taught first thing in the morning when I was so very tired.  I am most on top of my game starting late morning and again at about 4:00 pm.  I try to have things on hand that can easily become breakfast, but rare is the occasion that I actually cook a hot breakfast.

*GASP*  Now, you know my secret!

So, now that you know, here’s a list of breakfast ideas – Roberts family style!

  • cereal
  • fruit
  • toast with peanut butter
  • hard boiled eggs
  • muffins
  • breakfast cookies
  • yogurt
  • baked oatmeal
  • pancakes with real maple syrup
  • fried eggs

Next is lunch.  By this point, we have been going strong with school and I almost hate to stop for nourishment!  Lunch happens here between 12 and 1 pm – or whenever there is a natural lull in our school day.  Occasionally, Daddy joins us, but most often, it is me and the 6 children.  We typically have a light lunch rather than something heavy for two reasons:

  1. Our big meal is at night.
  2. It is better and simpler to make something that takes less preparation when in the middle of a school day.

Here are some of our favorite lunch ideas:

After we’ve cleaned up from lunch, we head back into our school day.  If I were pregnant, this would be Rest Time, but as it stands right now, only the 18 month old is taking a nap right after lunch.

Our school day is usually finished around 2:30, but this is not a good time to go outside since our road becomes quite busy at that time of day due to the high school down the road.  So, at about 3:00 pm we have a snack and then head outside.

Snack ideas:

  • cheese & crackers
  • fruit
  • foldover peanut butter sandwich
  • veggie sticks
  • smoothies
  • cookies – yes, cookies ;)

After we have played outside for a while, I head inside (usually with a helper) to prepare for supper/dinner.

Mommy cooking with Garin in Mei Tai

We eat supper between 6 and 7 pm due to Daddy’s schedule.  This is typically our biggest meal of the day since Daddy is home.  This is also the meal I am most creative with.  I like to go through cookbooks and my index box full of recipes I’ve been collecting for over half my life and pull interesting recipes I would like to try or family favorites.

Some recent meals have been:

Now, we all know you can’t feed your crew without either buying or growing your own food (or a mix of both), so here are a few of my favorite shopping posts:

Once a Month Shopping Series (how we shop once a month and save!)

One Store Shopping Method

The Subscriber Pack contains a One Store Shopping Planner and the Bulk Grocery List from our OAMS trips!  To get yours, subscribe to Raising Arrows here:

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Other Resources:

Find all the Large Family Recipes here!
Large Family Recipes

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