Menu Planning Basics

Menu planningFeeding a family… it’s part of the territory, but sometimes it feels like painting the Golden Gate Bridge (a huge job that truly never ends). We gather recipe ideas, make a list of meals, check the kitchen for ingredients, make a list, check sales and coupons (maybe), go buy groceries, bring them home and put them away (or at least the cold stuff…), and there’s still nothing to eat because we haven’t even started with the cooking part. At that point, we want to just order pizza or something else that takes almost no effort, but even if we manage to cook supper, we’re really wiped out by the time we need to the kitchen. Does this sound familiar?

I would love to use the wonderful preplanned menus with accompanying shopping guides planned around this week’s sales at our local store, but between food allergies, sensitivities, and picky eaters, they just haven’t work for us. I’ve attempted to use some and just adjust the ingredients and recipes, but my family longs for their favorite dishes repeatedly instead. Also, I’ve probably spent hours walking through the grocery store checking labels in case any ingredients have changed, and I frequently find myself walking all over the grocery store gathering ingredients for an alternative meal because something was no longer possible to make with what’s available. I have, however, learned a few things from buying preplanned menus that could put our meals on the closest thing to autopilot.

There are two different ways I’ve done this.  The first way I will describe works best if you’re making a menu around ingredients, which works particularly well when you’re shopping sales or trying to use up what you have, and it comes in really handy when you’re working with a tight grocery budget for the month.  The second way I will describe is a little more ideal, putting together enough meal ideas to make a lot of this process close to being on autopilot.

Let’s start with the frugal, busted budget, clean-out-the-pantries method. First, take an inventory of everything you have in the kitchen.  It helps to group the ingredients in some way that makes sense to you.  Maybe that’s how it’s stored (freezer, refrigerator, pantry) or something else that makes sense to you.  Personally, I group proteins and other foods that are typically part of entrees, veggies that are typically sides, pastas and rice (because they could be either an entrée or a side), and basic ingredients that could be used for just about anything (flours, oils, herbs, vinegar, cheese, sauces, etc.). Next, I look over the inventory and “find” as many complete or nearly complete meals as I can, and I cross off ingredients as I assign them to a meal. Because I have such picky eaters (including myself), I’m mostly listing favorite dishes and I rarely need to look up recipes, but sometimes I do searches to find ways to use the last few ingredients in new ways. This method also works if you’re trying to plan around what’s on sale or what you can use really good coupons to buy. In my experience, I will always spend a little more time when saving money or a little more money when saving time, so I often “shop at home” (aka using what we already have), then look for sales to fill in the missing ingredients.

If you decide to start with recipes instead, you pull a month’s worth of recipes, allowing for a few favorites to be repeated.  You’ll make a reusable list of ingredients, and just print off a copy each month.  You can choose to divide the whole list into weekly or bi-weekly shopping lists if that’s best for your budget, or you can just put the perishables on a separate part of the list for weekly grocery runs. If you’re really determined to cut back on time, you can even make your monthly bulk purchases through a shopping subscription program like Amazon, truly limiting your time shopping after the first month. This is my ideal method, the one I aim to use the most.  I get a little closer to this each time I shop, but it seems there are always at least a few meals we didn’t cook from the previous plan, because I’m all starry-eyed when planning and lazy when cooking or because there are always a few more nights than I’d planned that the only solution to fit our crazy schedule is the dreaded drive-thru.

Most meal planning charts I’ve seen have a nice neat calendar format, assigning a meal to a day. If assigning a day works best for you, then by all means, put a date down! I’m a bit of a rebel, though; I don’t really like anyone “telling” me what to cook each day (even me!), so I make notes about times required for preparing and cooking the food, and I have special codes to help me see if it’s hours in a crock-pot or minutes on a stove top or shove-it-in-an-oven… I choose a meal each day and check it off as no longer being an option. Obviously, I cannot choose a slow cooker meal at 4 pm, nor can I choose something that takes an hour to bake if we have an afternoon activity that puts all of us away from home when it needs cooked. Conversely, if there’s no exact time we’re all home that evening, keeping a meal warm in a slow cooker is perfect for serving people whenever they can eat. Part of the benefit I’ve found in planning this way is that my husband or teens will volunteer to cook, partly because they like to help, but also because the cook chooses what we eat for supper.  It’s amazing how often they’ll help in exchange for eating what they want that day!

Also, when you’re planning all this out, you can even assign who has what meal-related duties each day. There’s preparing the ingredients, cooking the meal, setting and clearing the table, putting the food away, and washing the dishes or loading the dishwasher. It won’t be the same as if you did it all, but that’s okay; an important part of raising our children is teaching them the skills they will need as adults, and many teens leave home unable to even cook ramen. Even if you cannot bring yourself to let go of the cooking, they can learn from assisting you and watching what you do.

If you have any additional tips from experience or recipes you’d love to share, feel free to list them in the comments!

Homeschool Lesson Planning: a Simple Approach

Lesson PlannerI’ve been asked to share how to plan lessons for homeschool, and here are so many ways to plan lessons that this is just the first of many approaches I will post on this topic.

Let’s start with the simplest possible approach.  For demonstration purposes, I am going to use Math U See’s Primer level, which I will be using this fall with my youngest, so these are my actual plans. I’ve used MUS (Math U See) many times over the years, and most levels of MUS are organized into 30 “Lessons” which resemble chapters. Within each Lesson, there are a few things that typically happen: taking time to teach the concept, 6 pages of practice (pages A, B, and C on just this Lesson and pages D, E, and F with this Lesson and reviewing previous Lessons), and (at higher levels) a test.

We have 175-180 school days (35-36 weeks) a year. (That may be different for you.) We also do field trips and activities away from home fairly often, so I never plan on math taking place from our curriculum every day. Even if we stayed home every day, I’d want to break the monotony with some hands-on activities to explore math concepts without limiting it to book work, so I only plan on 4 days a week working from the curriculum. Simple math says that I will have approximately 140-144 days to cover the 30 Lessons in MUS.

Each “normal” week, my goal will be to spend the first day introducing the topic and doing page A for that Lesson. On the 2nd-4th days, we will go over pages B-F, doing about 2 pages a day, spending as much time as we need to review anything that didn’t “stick.” On a good week, that leaves us a day for a field trip, baking (a.k.a. applied math), or whatever awesome idea I saw this week on Pinterest. I love having a plan, but I never want the checklist to be more important than the child, so I love the built-in day of flexibility!

If you’ve followed my logic so far, you’ll probably notice that there are only 30 “Lessons,” we cover about one Lesson each week, and I plan on 35-36 weeks of school. This, too, is part of my planned flexibility! When we get to the concepts that stump my child, we slow down. We re-teach the concept daily and take time to find multiple ways to talk about it, especially with manipulatives. If there’s a song or cartoon on the concept, we YouTube it too! (Schoolhouse Rock is one of my favorites, but I find new resources every time I look.) Our access to information is so vast that there is no reason we cannot find at least a dozen ways to explore a new concept if our first explanation didn’t “click” with our child.

In less than half an hour, I have planned math for one of my kids for a school year. If you use a computer program for your lessons, you can go ahead and enter the lessons in and move them to shift your flexible days as needed. If you love putting things on paper, a simple note in a composition book about the pacing of the lessons or jotting them on a spreadsheet might be more your style. Personally, I love charts, so I make an Excel spreadsheet that has most of the information preprinted, knowing that I can still make adjustments closer to when we do the lesson.  (The blank column is for recording grades and other notes I want stored here.) Here’s a peek at mine for one semester of this subject:

School year subject planner

Either Friday afternoon or sometime over the weekend each week, I will finalize the lessons for the following week and transfer it to our assignment sheet for the week. In a computer program, this would be when you shift assignments to the correct days based on what your calendar says you have this week. If you’re frugal and want it all kept in a spiral planner, the cheap planners that are in dollar stores, Target, Wal-Mart, and teacher supply stores will work. There are also many awesome planners designed for homeschoolers out there, and I’ve used many of them, but I am lazy about writing the same thing over and over unnecessarily, so I tend to make my own Excel spreadsheet per student and then pencil in the assignments for that week sometime before we start each week.

When I’m transferring lessons to the assignment sheet each week is also when I evaluate whether we need to slow down, spend a couple of days on related enrichment to reinforce the lesson, take a day to do something away from home during the coming week, or anything else that affects our school week. For example, the week of Thanksgiving, we won’t even open the books, opting to do math together in the kitchen instead. I can check my Pinterest board to choose something I saved for “one day” and insert it for a fun change of pace, and I can put it any day of the week (not just Friday as the schedule shows). Or we may have had so many recent sick days that I need to review for a week before introducing anything new. Or maybe we have dental cleanings, eye exams, orthodontist appointments, clubs, activities, or classes away from home that we need to plan around.  If I have a basic plan, I can adjust it for all those things that deviate from the plan!

Curriculum that has a nearly planned structure like Math U See makes planning extremely quick and easy. One of the best things about homeschooling is flexibility, but we also need to have a goal of what to cover each year, adjusting it for interests and abilities. The years that I have done this, either at the beginning of the year or once a semester, have been far easier and more successful than the years we began without a plan, and we ended up having so much more time for the fun extras.

Soon, I’ll write lessons for something a little less straight-forward to show you how to estimate lesson plans when the pattern is less obvious.

-Tina Kaye

So You Think You Want to Homeschool Part 2: Our Personal Decision-Making Process

Homeschooling isn’t the perfect fit for everyone, and your goal is to make the best decision for you and yours, so don’t feel pressured into being the “perfect” parent who can do it all.  Just evaluate the cost and benefit like you do any important decision, and take it one year at a time when you need to!

I can only tell you what I have observed in our 14 years of homeschooling, but the truth of the matter is it’s different for every child and every family.  In our area, there are about 200 families that choose home education, and every single family I’ve met is unique.  Some homeschool happily, start-to-finish, with all their children.  Some choose only certain kids or certain grades to teach at home.  We’ve homeschooled one child 5K-12th, another 3K-9th (so far), and our youngest has been entirely home with me from birth and will start 5K this fall.

In our household, we talk every year about each of our children and assess what we think is best for each one for the coming school year. Each spring, I begin thinking about what we’ve accomplished and where we’ve fallen short of my hopes and expectations. I try to identify what caused successes and shortcomings to determine if any of those things would prevent success or need addressed in the next year. Each summer, I spend time adjusting our short and long-term goals so I can plan the fall. So far, we haven’t encountered a year that we truly thought someone else could do better with teaching our child everything, but there are years that we “farm out” a subject or a few subjects to another tutor to broaden our children’s experiences or meet their individual needs.

This year, my teen will take four classes outside our home once a week, and she’ll have assignments to do on the other days.  If she needs my help, I’m here and ready, but I’m not in charge of planning it all, and it creates a different level of accountability for her to have to confess to a non-parent if she falls behind or needs help.  (Those are life skills that she needs!)  Because I excelled at nearly everything academically, I could easily teach any class that doesn’t require a group experience, but choir and theatre aren’t solo activities, so at least two of her classes need other students.  This year, that will leave 2-3 classes that are entirely my responsibility to oversee, and I’m very comfortable with that number.  It’s really nice to share responsibility for her education instead of feeling like everything’s all on me, and I love teaching teens, so I want in on at least some of the fun!

My youngest, who will “officially” begin kindergarten this fall, will have clubs and fun activities where he interacts with others, but he really will learn best one-on-one with me.  He’ll experience a classroom setting in Sunday school, children’s choir at church, and a special science club with a few other families, and he’ll begin Cub Scouts (in the new Lion Cub level for Kindergarteners) and probably play on a soccer team.  I may even teach an early childhood art class and invite a few homeschool friends over to do projects together. (We have before, and it was quite popular!) We’ll spend a lot of time with “real” books, exploring whatever part of our world currently interests him, and the “3 R’s” will actually be sit-down lessons planned carefully to teach him basic reading, writing, and math skills. A lot of his day, however, will be meaningful play or fun projects to reinforce what he’s learning.

That leads perfectly into my next homeschool topic… Stay tuned for homeschool planning!

-Tina Kaye

So You Think You Want to Homeschool Part 1: General Q&A

At some point in our lives, every homeschool parent has been faced with a monumental decision: Do we really think homeschooling is a good idea for our child? If that’s you right now, keep reading; you’re in the right place!

The decision to homeschool has quite a few variables to it.  Is it likely to work well for my child? Am I going to be a good enough teacher?  How will my spouse feel about this decision?  Can we afford to do it? Does it change our income? What are the legal aspects of homeschooling? Can my child still get into college? What will we be giving up? What will we be getting that makes it all worthwhile? Whew!  It’s a mind-boggling decision when we try to figure everything out before we begin!  Some questions can be answered easily, and others are significantly harder to “know” with absolute certainty.

Some criteria, for me, are absolutely necessary for homeschooling.  I have to feel called to do it; as a Christian, I feel like I cannot do it without God.  (If that’s not you, please don’t let that stop you from reading the rest of this post; I am not going to beat you over the head with my Bible until you accept my beliefs!) I also feel like I need my husband’s support; if he’s not with me on this, he’ll either accidentally or intentionally undermine my efforts. My child being agreeable is preferred, but trusting your child to help decide his or her future is your call.  Some children and teens can objectively decide, and others cannot envision doing anything differently than the majority of their friends.

The fact that you are pondering this decision is actually a good indication of your dedication to making it work.  Parents who care this passionately are determined to assist their children in any setting, and homeschooling requires commitment! If you frequently change your mind or you have trouble sticking with decisions when things get tough, there may be a better solution for your situation than homeschooling your child.  You really do have to decide it will work before it can work, and, just like any job on the planet, there will be days you don’t like your job. Your child needs to know you’re going to do whatever it takes to make you both succeed, though, and feeling iffy just doesn’t give them stability. I know you can do it, but you need to decide up front that you know it too!

As for the legality of homeschooling, I suggest you consult to find out your state’s requirements. I don’t even want to attempt to tell you the legalities for places I’ve never lived, and we’ve lived in the same place for my children’s entire lives.  They’re experts, and they have many useful resources for the homeschool wannabes or newbies.

When looking ahead to college and other future endeavors, I can tell you my homeschooled son had no problem getting into a major university with a full scholarship, and I’ve not heard of any college that discriminates against homeschoolers in years… provided you have kept proper records, provide professional looking transcripts, and meet the class requirements and test scores listed for that college.  No matter what college or trade school they attend, beginning high school with the end in mind is ideal.  You really don’t want to discover that two years of foreign language was required at the beginning of the Senior year or that pre-calculus was a pre-requisite… or anything else that wreaks havoc on your sanity. Good SAT or ACT scores will also matter, and it may take more tries than you’d like to get accepted or get the full scholarship, so it’s just a matter of planning ahead and allowing time for bumps in the road.

Money. part 1: About costs… There are high and low price options for curriculum out there.  The more money you spend on carefully designed curriculum, the less time you need to invest in planning. I look for affordable curriculum that meets our needs, but I’ve seen really good free options that have tempted me to use.  In reality, I’m a little too good at procrastinating to choose ones that take a lot of time, and I hate waiting for just the right book to be in at the library or running to the store for a forgotten supply.  I want everything to be right where it should be when Monday morning rolls around, with no surprises to frustrate my day.  On the other hand, I don’t want a curriculum that takes me out of it, so I don’t need all the bells and whistles.  I choose what I think will best suit our child and our personalities, and it tends to be towards the middle of the price ranges usually.  Our costs are significantly less than private school tuition and books, but a bit higher than all the supplies and fees we’d face in public schools.

Money, part 2: What about working?  My husband and I planned on me staying home with our preschoolers, but giving up a second income when they could be in “free” schools was a tough decision.  I sometimes tutor or take part-time jobs to fill in a bit, but we definitely could do more with two full-time incomes.  That was our decision.  I have friends who simply work different hours that their spouse, tag-teaming so that someone’s always home.  Some of them share teaching as well, and others don’t.  If you don’t have the help of a spouse, you may have a friend that has the same hope to homeschool, and you may take turns watching each other’s kids and teaching so that you can both homeschool and hold part-time positions that call for working different hours. If you want to homeschool badly enough, you can often come up with a creative solution.

-Tina Kaye

One of “Those” Days

We’ve all been there.  The day is going great, then suddenly it isn’t.  Or maybe the “not-so-great” started before our feet even hit the floor…

One thing after another happens, and we end up torn between screaming, crying, or finding somewhere to resign.  It may be that one child who knows exactly how to get under our skin, that one bill that we didn’t see coming, a whole string of Murphy’s Law madness, messes happening faster than we can clean, an ever-growing to-do list that needs a notebook or a spreadsheet because it’s already so lengthy, a harsh word from a loved one… or maybe it’s something even bigger, like losing a loved one or facing something truly traumatic and life-altering…

Whatever you face today, just know that it won’t last forever.  It may feel like forever, but sooner or later every season of our life gives way to something new and different.  Today may or may not leave a mark on the days to come, but there are very few things we’ll face that truly never end or at least subside.

So take a time out. Breathe. Vent to a friend (briefly!) or talk it over with God, then resolve to find the silver lining or a blessing to count.  It may not be “fixed,” but you’ll feel a little more in control of yourself, and that’s the only thing truly in your control.  When we adjust our attitude, many things seem a little easier to handle.  The real trick is to do it before we say or do something we cannot retract.  Words and actions can truly hurt the people we love, and a bad day gets so much worse when we say things we regret, stretching a bad day into a bad week or a ruined relationship.

Be blessed, and endeavor to become a blessing to those around you.  Not only will they be blessed, but you’ll feel better too.Bad day, rough day

-Tina Kaye

My “Credentials”

Tina Kaye, Endeavoring Mom

Some of the best advice I ever received as a first-time parent was to look carefully at the children of each person who offered me advice and see how they turned out before deciding whether to follow anyone’s advice. It makes sense, too, that people may talking from the perspective of “I tried this and it worked” or “I tried this and it didn’t” in any area, but I prefer advice from people who have found something that does work. So… What makes me “qualified” to offer advice? I don’t claim to know everything or have all the answers, but people ask my opinions and advice rather often, so I’m just going to tell you a little about me and let you decide if I have anything to offer you.

I grew up on Army bases until my father received a medical discharge the end of my ninth grade year. I’m the oldest of three kids, and we are each nearly 7 years apart, so I spent a lot of time helping take care of kids between my siblings and babysitting for dozens of families in our neighborhood. It also means that the longest I ever lived in one place before graduating from college was less than four years. I spent a lot of time reading, babysitting, and doing crafts, as it was hard to have deep and lasting friendships when people were constantly coming and going. Nowadays, I’d just use social media and other online tools to keep in touch, but back then long distance was too expensive, and “snail mail” just wasn’t a gratifying way to communicate.

I took advanced classes in high school, I was active in many clubs and in band, I sang in our church choir, and I taught the kindergarten Sunday school class at our church. I graduated third in my high school class, which was perfect for this introvert… It meant I didn’t have to give a speech! I had planned on majoring in Engineering, but my summer high school internship with NASA helped me to realize I wouldn’t enjoy that job very much. I started college as a math major, switched to art, then finally settled in elementary education. That’s all over the place, but so are my interests!

In college, I met the love of my life, joined a service organization, and founded another service organization. In retrospect, doing all of that AND getting a degree was great use of four years of my life! Just two weeks after getting my diploma, we finally got married, and we have been happily married now for 22 years. I am truly blessed to have found a man who is compassionate, supportive, and reliable; he’s an incredible father and husband! (I could go on about him all day, but you didn’t come here to read about how awesome he is, so I will refrain.)

For the first couple of years, I did long-term substituting in local school (covering maternity leave and other longer absences) and I taught at a local Christian daycare, but the arrival of our first child began a new chapter in my life: SAHM. I had always dreamed of being a full-time mom, and I still love my job (some days more than others…). In the early days of being at home, I tried a variety of home based businesses to try to help dig us out of debt. Most of them were sales, either online or in person, but I’ve done a lot of tutoring too. My determination to stay home increased with the arrival of our second child, especially when we also began homeschooling. I’ve taught classes for homeschoolers and tutored a variety of students over the years, but I have refined my focus, caring for my husband and children first, and being careful not to let other commitments keep me from the job that is entirely mine to do.

We lost two babies, both at 16 weeks pregnant with no discernible cause, and we thought we could not have more children after several years without conceiving another. God, however, had a different plan in mind! When our oldest son was almost 14 and our daughter had just turned 10, we welcomed another son. He’s a welcome surprise, but that meant that I was faced with homeschooling a teen and a tween with a baby/toddler in tow. We’ve now homeschooled for a total of 14 years, including all 13 years of teaching my oldest. He’s now at college, working part-time and pursuing his future. Our daughter is still studying high school at home, and our preschool son will begin kindergarten at home officially this fall.

Over the years, I’ve been known as a jack-of-all-trades. I’ve been a preschool teacher, a Mary Kay consultant, a Creative Memories consultant, an online store owner, a Cub Scout Leader, a Girl Scout Leader, a Boy Scout Committee member, a homeschool co-op art teacher, a praise team singer, a Sunday School teacher, a Vacation Bible School director, a prom chaperone/sponsor, a book club organizer, an SAT testing organizer, a soccer coach, a Sing n’ Sprout (music and movement) teacher, a member of about a zillion committees, and so much more.  My kids have been in choirs, praise bands, music lessons, gymnastics, Cub Scouts, Brownies, Boy Scouts, Venture Crew, horseback riding, soccer, theater, and Order of the Arrow. They’ve volunteered at the library, at church, and pretty much anywhere else they see a need. My oldest earned Eagle Scout before he was 14, received Vigil Honor in Order of the Arrow, and was awarded a full scholarship for college tuition at a major university. My daughter is incredibly musical, is active in theatre, and works diligently to overcome dyslexia academically. Our youngest? Well, he’s an energetic, highly inquisitive 5-year-old. I’ve been blessed that I could be right there with them through it all, and each day is a new adventure with new challenges to test the limits of what I can do. That’s why I chose the name “Endeavoring Mom.” Each day, I endeavor to be what my husband, my kids, my family, my friends, my church, and my community needs me to be, and it leads me to a huge variety of projects that keeps even me engaged and intrigued. I hope to share whatever I’m learning or any wisdom I’ve gleaned with all of you, and I hope that it will be a blessing to you, leaving you hopeful and encouraged to keep on being the best you can be too.

– Tina Kaye

Hello, world!

With so many ideas I’d like to write on, new posts will appear as quickly as I can possibly type… in the middle of a three-ring circus called home, that is!  I’ve been collecting ideas for quite some time, and I’ll be sharing them as quickly and as often as I can.  If there’s something you’d like me to include, be sure to send me ideas!