10 Hacks for Working Moms


Before Livia was born, I thought that adding another person to our family would be an easy transition – really, how hard can it be?  It turns out a lot harder than I thought.  Seriously, working outside of the home for 40 hours a week, plus the commute time, is hard, way harder than I imagined it would be.  I spend most of the day at work so ready to get home, but my real job is much easier and less stressful than what I have to take care of at home.  It’s almost like I leave my easy job at 5:00 to go to my crazy one at home.  I’ve spent the last 19 months working to create some sort of balance between work, home, family and personal time.  It’s never easy to spread yourself thin – but with a few “hacks” I’ve picked up over the last year and a half, it can be a little bit easier.

I’ve split these into three categories:  Meals, Home and Kids.  Plus a few extras at the end.

Meals

Meal prep as much as possible.  Whether it’s batch cooking on the weekend, chopping veggies for a later meal or plating a week’s worth of lunches at once – eliminating tasks, therefore time, when cooking each meal can add up to extra time at the end of the day or before supper is ready.  Doug and I bring leftovers for lunch pretty much every day, eating out for lunch or grabbing a frozen dinner aren’t viable options for both health and money reasons, so keep the number of leftovers you need in mind when meal planning and cooking.

Utilize kitchen gadgets (aka: slow cookers and Instant Pots).  I know that everyone and their mom has at least one slow cooker in their kitchen, but they are easily one of the biggest time savers for getting supper on the table with minimal work.  Personally, I prefer the Instant Pot.  They are great for preparing staples – rice, hard boiled eggs, and broth.  But, are used for so much more, they are the ultimate one-pot, time-saving solution for supper time woes (man, I should have been an ad copywriter).

Have a list of easy, quick meals and keep the pantry stocked with the necessary ingredients.  For us, that’s Half Baked Harvest’s Caprese Chicken Bolognese, The Kitchn’s Sloppy Joes and rice and beans.  Find something your family loves, takes less than 30 minutes to cook and is easy to keep the ingredients in the house.  I’ve talked about some of my favorite meals before, here.

Home

This is a rough subject for me.  I’m not a particularly neat person (as my husband and parents can attest), so spending time cleaning is not high on my priorities.

Figure out something that works for you.  Do you need to do clothes once a week?  Every day?  How often do you want to fold and put away clothes?  What’s the best time of day to sweep or vacuum the floors?  Who’s doing what chores?  Ask yourself, your spouse, heck, even your kids, questions like these to figure out what cleaning schedule works best for your family.

Trade off with your husband.  Do NOT try to keep the house clean by yourself, all you will end up doing is running yourself ragged and resenting everyone else that lives in your house.  You both work full-time, you both wear clothes, you both eat supper, you both helped make those babies – make sure he’s an equal partner in all aspects of your life.  Example:  I cook supper while Doug plays with Livia.  We eat as a family and after one of us bathes Livia while the other cleans the kitchen.  I shower while he gets her dressed.  Then I get her (and me) ready for bed while Doug has some free time.  Then she and I go to sleep and he does whatever he feels needs to be done for the next day (at this point in my life sleep is more important than free time).  Our evenings are busy, but not hectic since we’ve started splitting the chores, additionally, I appreciate him so much for taking an active role in keeping our lives flowing smoothly.

Have a Top 3 list.  I normally have a running list of the most important things to get done for each day or week on top of our daily tasks.  Sometimes it’s get groceries, wash sheets and mop floors.  Other times it’s go through Livia’s clothes, clean out the fridge and hang up all my work clothes.  I never write these down, but this list is always in my head.  I don’t necessarily get to everything all the time, but I do my best to make progress.

Kids

I’m still really new at this whole parenting thing, I only have one kid, and she’s only 19-months-old, but I have learned a few things that seem to help keep our evenings less cranky.

Snacks, snacks, snacks.  I know I’m not the only parent whose kid turns into a monster when she’s hungry.  Livia could be the star of Snickers commercial – she is a perfect picture of hangry.  Keeping easy, healthy snacks for her on hand has made a world of difference in our evenings.  She currently loves pickles so I’ll give her five pickles to snack on while I cook supper or she will share a sandwich with Douglas (because adults need snacks, too).  I really like Plum Organics snack bars, and their snack sticks, both are really easy for her to self-feed and I don’t feel terrible about giving them to her.

Quality time over quantity time.  This is such a sticking point for me, I want to be with Livia all the time, but I can’t quit my job (for both personal and financial reasons – but that’s another story), so I end up constantly feeling guilty I’m not the one putting her down for her naps or eating lunch with her.  It took a long time to realize that just because someone spends all day long with their kids, that doesn’t mean their entire day is true quality time.  In the evenings when we are relaxing after supper, she is my main focus, I’m not worried about anything else and I do my best to keep distractions to a minimum.  I appreciate every minute I have with her because I have so few of them.  It took a long time and dealing with a lot of guilt to get to being okay with only seeing her for an hour in the morning and a few hours in the evening, but we are all happier this way.

A few odds and ends that don’t really belong well anywhere else or belong everywhere:

  1.  Grace, not perfection.  Perfection is unattainable, so give yourself a heaping helping of grace each day.  Sometimes, Livia eats a Gerber meal for supper or I just don’t want to wash clothes, so I don’t.  Instead of letting silly things ruin my mood, I give myself (and everyone around me) a dose of grace.  It will really change how you view yourself, your spouse and your kids.
  2.  Use the weekend to prepare for the week, but also use them to rest and recharge.  Like I said before, working 40 hours a week is hard, and you need those two days to recharge before gearing up to do it all over again – but spending a few hours getting everything ready for the week ahead will make all the difference on Thursday when you are just done with everything.  Balance – it’s important – find what works for you.

Working mama, I know it’s hard, I’m right there with you.  Sometimes all I need is a jug of coffee, a margarita and a massage (maybe all at the same time), but know that you are doing a great job no matter how swamped or inadequate you feel.

 

Working moms, what tricks get you through the long work-week?

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Once A Month Meals Review


Around Christmas time last year I was listening to a favorite podcast of mine, Hungry Squared  and they did an interview with the founder and creator of Once A Month Meals (OAMM from here on out), Tricia Callahan.  I was intrigued, “I only cook once a month and my family gets to enjoy home cooked meals all month long?  Where do I sign up?”  I listened to the podcast, used their coupon code, read all the literature online and set my cooking date:  January 2, 2017 (the day I was off since New Year’s Day fell on a weekend).  Let’s start the new year out with a bang, right?

What is Once A Month Meals, Anyway?

If you are unfamiliar with OAMM, it’s a paid service that helps you plan, prep and cook a month’s worth of freezer meals in one cooking day.  You choose and modify a full menu or mini-menu to suit your family’s tastes, diet preferences and method of cooking, as well as, how many servings you need from each meal.  There are thousands of recipes in their collection, and they have all been tested by OAMM to freeze and thaw well.  OAMM then prepares a master grocery list, master prep list, cooking steps, freezer labels and thaw/reheating instructions.  It’s a lot – my monthly instructions were nearly 20 pages long.  

My Experience:

In the podcast, Callahan said again and again, first-timers shouldn’t start out with a full menu because they get overwhelmed and then never try it again, but who’s one to listen to warnings?  Not me.  I chose to go with a heavily modified full easy-prep menu, most of my recipes were dump slow cooker meals.  I did, however, listen to her warnings to shop and cook on separate days, in fact, I shopped on two different days and prepped on a third.  She was right, starting with a full menu was intense.  I chopped something like 5 pounds of onions, my eyes hurt so bad I ended up using swimming goggles to protect my eyes.  I lost one of the sets of directions, and so my whole prep/cook process was thrown off.  We lost power midway through and I had to stop prepping and cooking for a few hours until we regained power.  It was basically a disaster, I’m sure most of it could have been avoided if I would have heeded Callahan’s warning and made sure I had all the literature I needed to accomplish what I set out to complete.  Honestly, though, closing our freezer full of meals that evening was one of the best feelings of accomplishment I’ve had in awhile.

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I was so proud of how full our freezer was, both of meals for Doug and I and liquid gold for Livia.

 

 

Why It Wasn’t For Me:

In case you couldn’t tell from the above, January was the only month I’ve done OAMM for our family.  Aside from the easily and uneasily avoided mishaps, there were other reasons I chose to forego additional months.  First, I learned really quickly that prepping a ton of a meal neither I nor my family, have ever tried isn’t necessarily a good thing.  There was more than one recipe that turned out bad, either the texture was off, the flavor was bland or it just wasn’t something we enjoyed.  It’s a real problem when there’s no backup plan because all the meals for the month have been prepared and frozen.  Another issue is that OAMM doesn’t eliminate the need to cook during the month, all of their recipes had a protein, most had a grain but few included vegetables.  My family likes vegetables and I really like to have at least one green food on our plates at night.  This process left me scrambling to find a box of mac and cheese or a can of green beans in our house because, once again, I’ve already cooked our meals for the month.  Additionally, it’s a lot of work.  From choosing the menu to grocery shopping, to chopping five pounds of onions, to the freezing everything correctly – it’s an entire weekend gone.  Sure, I probably saved time, but I lost sleep and sanity over it and it wasn’t worth it for me to complete again, and who wants to spend an entire weekend slaving over meals?  Finally, I relearned how much I actually enjoy cooking during the week.  There are days I would love nothing more than coming home to a prepared meal cooking away in the crockpot, but as an everyday part of my life I really missed the satisfaction and relaxation cooking brings me.  I love spending time cooking in the kitchen while visiting with Livia or watching her stack cans of tomatoes.  And, honestly, the time I was saving I was just sitting on the couch and watching Netflix, so it wasn’t really a huge win.

One caveat to my whole experience, I am toying around with the idea of completing a few mini menus before this baby comes in December.  I’ve started working on my list of freezer meals to stock our freezer and it seems easier to just let someone else figure out how many chicken thighs I need to triple this recipe or the best way to freeze this casserole.  I’m still early in my second trimester and I don’t plan on doing any freezer stocking until after 30 weeks so I have plenty of time to make up my mind, and I’ll probably let you know how that all works out.

My Takeaway:

Once A Month Meals is a fantastically developed program – the interface, instructions, and community are all top notch.  However, it’s a ton of work at one time.  Try grocery shopping for all of your food for an entire month in one go, it’s a lot of food and I was really stressed out about getting enough of everything, and accidentally skipping an item on my list, thus throwing everything into disarray.  You may not mind chopping a potato or two, but when you need to dice five pounds of potatoes you get really bored, and, then imagine you have to dice another five pounds of onions on top of that.  For my family, the effort wasn’t worth the return.  I have the time to cook in the evenings right now and I enjoy cooking, it helps me decompress from a day at work and it helps Livia develop an interest in cooking.  I’ve streamlined my meal planning and grocery shopping process, and I discussed it here, and it really works well for us at this moment in our lives.  But, if we were a busy family, with multiple kids doing multiple extracurricular activities or sports, I would probably be much more inclined to try again.

Have you ever tried freezer cooking?  What system works best for you?

How I Meal Plan and Favorite Recipes


Meal planning saves my sanity.  I’m already pressed for time in the evenings after work, and having a plan set in stone (or ink) makes my day go by that much more smooth.  I can’t recall the first time I started to meal plan but it was within the first three months of being married.  Having a clear idea makes grocery shopping on the weekends a breeze.  I know exactly what I need and how much of it I need.  Having a plan is one of the best ways to save my sanity during the work week.

First a few setup steps for the process.  These came to be part of my weekly routine organically, but if you are starting from scratch there are decisions to be made. Continue reading “How I Meal Plan and Favorite Recipes”