Simple meal planning for busy families

It’s a brand new year, and here at I Love Mom Life, we are trying something new: a series that focuses on healthy meals for busy families. Over the next several weeks we’ll be sharing tips, tricks and delicious recipes that are kid-tested and approved by our in-house dietitian. Enjoy!


meal planning materialsIt’s 2018! And the News Year’s resolutions are in full swing. I, of course, jumped on that bandwagon and came up with a few health-related things I’d like to focus on: exercising more, reducing stress and continuing my quest to eat healthier. Today I’m focusing on healthy eating and how meal planning makes it much easier for my busy family.

First, a disclaimer: I am not (nor have I ever been) very organized. Or very good at cooking. Or a fan of grocery shopping. It’s like the worst trifecta ever! But since getting healthy meals on the table is such a necessity for my growing family, I sucked it up and started researching.

It turns out that that one of the most essential things is meal planning. I had heard people talk about meal planning, but I didn’t really know what it entailed. But I jumped in headfirst and now, two years later, I can’t imagine my life without it! Here are just a few of the benefits:
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Getting our groove back with a bedtime routine

Mom time

It’s not even 9 p.m. and all the kids are in bed! Cheers to this wonderful new routine!

“WHY IS PARENTING SO EXHAUSTING?!” This is a question I’ve been exclaiming quite a bit lately. Everywhere I turn, there’s another thing that requires a goodly amount of patience and energy. And a lot of those things have to do with bedtime for my wild little boys: Brushing their teeth. Getting them in their pajamas. Helping them wind down. Reading them stories. Tucking them in bed. Dealing with their 82,375 attempts to stay up just a liiiiitle bit longer … yeesh.

So it’s no wonder that after my daughter was born five months ago, the boys’ already-lax bedtime routine quickly became extinct. My husband, God bless him, isn’t the most … consistent person in the world. So he wasn’t too invested in getting the boys to bed in any sort of a routine fashion. And I was so exhausted from caring for a newborn that I could barely stay awake after supper. Between the hours of 7 and 9 p.m., I’d take every opportunity possible to lay on the couch with my eyes half closed. During this time I’d half-heartedly yell things to the boys, like “Go brush your teeth! Get some jammies on! Get in bed!”

Yeah, that totally didn’t work. Because they are 3 and 5. And they can’t put themselves to bed. Duh. But even faced with these very logical facts, I kept wishing and hoping that one day they would just magically jump in their beds and fall asleep like little angels. That kind of desperate and delusional thinking started a downward spiral …

At first it was kind of funny. The boys’ version of getting ready for bed consisted of stripping down to their undies and chewing on their toothbrush for a minute or two. Then, in a (rather successful) attempt to stay up as late as possible, they would put on a full-fledged variety show for us. This ridiculously cute display would go on and on until they got so wild that someone would undoubtedly injure themselves from sheer sleep-deprived clumsiness. Then we’d finally chase them downstairs and put their nearly hysterical buns into bed. It was not a good system.

Soon, our whole family was suffering. The boys were staying up until 9, then 9:30, then 10 — which meant that our new little bundle of joy was also getting to bed later and later, and that made her progressively less joyful (aka crying for an hour or more). Sometimes it was 10:30 or 11 before we had all of the kids down for the night. As a result, my hubby and I had no time left to unwind — unless we wanted to party like rockstars and stay up until midnight watching some garbage-y shows on Netflix.

The later we all stayed up, the crabbier everyone got (duh again). When my sister would drop her girls off at 6:30 a.m., I’d lay in bed until the very last second, dreading the sound of her van pulling up in the driveway. After I reluctantly dragged my butt out of bed, I’d spend the next hour feeling super guilty because I knew I was a hot, grumpy mess as I tried to wake up. Not an awesome time for the kids, I’m sure! And the boys weren’t getting out of bed until 8 or 8:30 a.m., which I knew would be a big issue once the school year started.

There were other unforeseen consequences: My 5-year-old got a cavity because I wasn’t helping him brush his teeth properly before bed. My 3-year-old started waking up and crying at night, when usually he’s a great sleeper. And because the boys were getting to bed so late, I was skipping the bedtime books. That meant I wasn’t regularly reading to them anymore, and that’s something that’s really important to me.

School time finally rolled around, which gave me great motivation to make a change. I decided to establish a bedtime routine and follow it as best as I could (even on the weekends. Especially on the weekends!). For us, that routine starts at 8 p.m. I’ve found that the key is standing right next to the kids and doing each step with them (versus just telling them to do something — they are too easily distracted if we’re not right there). Our routine goes like this:

  • Walk the boys downstairs
  • Help them find their jammies
  • Carefully supervise their teeth brushing
  • Turn on the music in their room
  • Have them each pick out a book
  • Sit next to them on the floor and read
  • Say prayers
  • Hugs and kisses
  • Lights out

The first week was kinda rough because they were still used to going to bed much later and this quicker, more straight-forward process wasn’t what they were expecting. But soon afterward, things started to click. There wasn’t (as much) crying and whining before bed. Then they started doing some of the steps on their own because the routine was becoming more … routine.

It wasn’t long before we started seeing some of the benefits: Our 5-year-old now gets up at a decent hour (about 7 a.m., which is perfect for school). Our 3-year-old still wakes up from time to time, but overall he is sleeping much better. Our 5-month-old is now going to bed at about 8:30 p.m. and she’s sleeping through the night (hooray!). As a result, me and the hubs get some time to ourselves each night! I can’t say I’m really making the most of this precious gift (I’m just drinking beer instead of doing helpful things like prepping for the next day, exercising or sleeping). But let’s just take some baby steps here and focus on the little victories : )

I guess what I’ve (re)learned through all of this is yes, parenting IS exhausting. But it’s a good kind of exhausting — for the most part : ) And you really do get out of it what you put into it. The things that are the hardest are usually the things that are the most important and beneficial in the long run. So stay strong, mommas! (And dads too : ) You can do this. Find your motivation; stock up on the essentials like beer, coffee and jasmine tea; turn on a sweet Pandora station and get to it!

Watercolor painting: my new go-to art project

watercolor painting

Minimal setup and easy cleanup? Yes, please!

Today was chilly and gloomy, and the kids were intensely lobbying to do an art project – but they weren’t interested in just the standard coloring sheets or some good ol’ fashioned cutting and pasting. So what’s a tired, uninspired pregnant lady to do? Get my Pinterest on, that’s what. I quickly found some cute painting projects, but I wasn’t excited to deal with the accompanying mess. Then I remembered I had some watercolor paints tucked away in my craft bin. Score! We figured out a fun Easter theme and just like that, I had a troop of content little artists who were crankin out some good lookin art projects!

What I love about watercolors is that they are really easy to use. I tried two different methods: coloring a design with a white crayon and then painting over it, and putting some masking tape on a paper plate and painting over that. The crayon method seemed to work slightly better if you want a more exact design — but having slightly raised edges on the paper plate was a nice feature for the kids (that way they weren’t painting all over the table).

I loved the results — and that everything was super easy to clean up!  I think I have to add this one to my regular art project rotation 🙂