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My #1 Tip to Have Stress-Free Afternoons & Evenings

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One of the best ways I’ve discovered to feel more organized and less frazzled in the afternoons and evenings is to have a plan for dinner and have it already made before the kids come home from school.

That way, when they come home, I can just be present with them instead of trying to fix dinner and oversee homework and help kids with projects and get ready for whatever activities we have in the evening. Plus, it also saves us money because we’re not running to the store or through the drive-thru at 5:30 p.m. at night!

I’ve found that the best way to make this happen is to either have dinner already made and just needing to be heated up or to put dinner in the crockpot in the morning. I look for quick and easy meals that only take minutes to make in the morning or can be pulled out of the freezer and heated up in the Instant Pot or Crockpot or oven.

Want to Try Prepping Your Dinners in the Morning?

I want to challenge you to try implementing this habit of having dinner prepped in the morning in your home and see how it works for you. And to help you out, I’m going to do a fun Eat at Home challenge on my blog and on Facebook Live and Instagram Stories for the next 6 days — where I’ll be prepping our dinners on live video before we head to school in the mornings (I’ll be on live around 6:50-7:10 a.m.).

I’ll likely be in my workout clothes with no makeup on and the kids will be doing last-minute prep for school. It’s going to be real and raw and unedited… and I can guarantee there will likely be some mishaps or real-life scenes that take place. But I want to bring you into our morning and our kitchen to encourage you that you don’t have to do it perfectly for it to still make a big difference!

By the way, I’ll be using the Eat at Home Menu Planning Service for all of my recipes. If you wish you could simplify dinners and plan ahead but you feel like you just don’t know what to make or you don’t have time to plan meals, I highly recommend this Menu Planning Service. I tried them out for the first time last year and promptly fell in love!

And I’m going to show you how it works in real-time on my videos and in my blog posts! (And I’ve got a special discount for you at the bottom of this post!)

How This Challenge Will Work

The challenge will run for 6 days — September 13-18, 2018. Thursday, Friday, Monday, and Tuesday morning around 6:50 a.m. to 7:10 a.m. CT, I’ll be on Facebook Live prepping our dinner to throw in the slow cooker for the day so that when 6 p.m. rolls around dinner is READY!

(I’m taking the weekend off since we’ll be camping with our Community Group on Saturday morning and running the Tough Mudder on Sunday morning.)

Every day, in addition to doing a Facebook Live video on my Facebook Page, I’ll be posting here on the blog what I made that day, along with a link to my video (in case you missed it).

My hope is that this will inspire you with some new recipe ideas, encourage you to not wait until the last minute to think about what you’re having for dinner, and motivate you to eat at home more (even on busy nights!) so you can save money.

I’d love for you to join me in this challenge! To participate, go join the Facebook Page here so you can share what you are making every night and see what readers all over the country (and world!) are making for dinner each night, too!

(You can see all of the recipes I made in a recent Eat at Home Challenge + all of my videos by clicking here.)

Need Some Quick & Easy Recipe Ideas?

Like I said, I’ll be following the Eat at Home Cooks Slow Cooker Menu Plan. I love this menu planning service and I think you’ll see why after you watch my videos! It’s the best menu planning service I’ve ever tried — and I’ve tried quite a few different ones!

Here’s what you get when you subscribe:

  • An entire month of Traditional Menu Plans, including weekly grocery lists and printable recipe instructions
  • An entire month of Slow Cooker Menu Plans, including weekly grocery lists and printable recipe instructions
  • An entire month of Whole Food Menu Plans, including weekly grocery lists and printable recipe instructions
  • An entire month of No Sugar, No Flour Menu Plans, including weekly grocery lists and printable recipe instructions
  • Each menu plan comes with recipes created for small family (3-4 servings) and large family (6-8 servings)
  • Color-coded grocery lists make it easy to swap out ingredients or whole meals
  • Printable Menus to hang on the fridge or near your calendar, so you can easily see what’s for dinner that week and your family can too
  • Access to the entire month at once!
  • 1 Hour Freezer Stash Plans – a new plan each month to stock your freezer with 6 meals in 1 hour!

You can choose to stick with just the traditional menu plan or just the slow cooker menu plan or just the whole foods menu plan or just the No Flour, No Sugar plan. Or, you can rotate different menu plans on different weeks, depending upon what you feel like cooking or how much time you have!

And as a special offer for my followers, you can get 30% off the price of the Eat at Home menu plan subscription when you use coupon code FALL at checkout. That makes the monthly subscription $9.80 or the annual subscription just $58.80 ($1.13 per week!!)

If you struggle to make menu plans and would love for someone to make them for you + make a grocery list for you, it’s well worth spending a few dollars every week to let Eat at Home Cooks do the work for you.

Go read more about this incredible menu-planning service here. 

(Oh and they have a fantastic money-back guarantee if you think you want to try it out but aren’t sure whether it will work for you or not!)

I know that many of you are in the middle of getting back into rhythms and routines after summer break so I hope this Eat At Home Challenge will inspire you with simple and easy meals that you can make in the morning before your kids head out the door to school or before you head to work or before you start your day and then you won’t have to think about dinner the rest of the day!

Are you joining us for the Eat at Home Challenge? If so, leave a comment and let us know!

Would I Save Money to Shop at Costco?

I found out recently — thanks to our friends Ryan and Melissa — that our kids LOVE seaweed (go figure!). We were having a picnic together and their family had brought tuna salad with seaweed. They offered some to our kids and they tried it and fell in love.

And then they promptly begged us to buy some. Jesse looked at Whole Foods to buy it and it was some ridiculous price per package. So Melissa offered to pick some up for us at Costco.

You guys! This entire HUGE package of 10 packages of organic seaweed (each package has 5 servings) was $8.99!!!!

Help Me Out! I Want Your Honest Opinion!

I’ve always said that a Costco membership just wasn’t worth it for our family because I could beat almost all of the prices by shopping markdowns, coupons, and deals.

But I’m wondering if now that my kids are older and we eat somewhat differently (and a lot more!) than we did five years ago, if I should re-think that stance.

So I’d love to hear some honest feedback on this from you all. Do you think a Costco membership is something I should consider? Do you feel like you can often beat the prices I pay for things by shopping at Costco? I’d love for you to give me your honest thoughts and input.

By the way, you should know that we don’t have a Costco nearby our house (I actually don’t even know where the Costco is here!), so it would mean a little out-of-the-way trip to shop there. But if you think I could spend our $70 per week more wisely by shopping at Costco, I’d love to hear. Convince me!

Mountain goats, baseball, slime, and an Escape Room!

Welcome to my weekly post I share a peek into our lives, talk about things I’m loving, share links to interesting articles or helpful ideas I’ve collected throughout the past week, and just talk about whatever is on my heart! 🙂

One of the highlights of Breckenridge was getting to see mountain goats out in the wild!

My niece, Emily, came up with a creative way to carry her dolly around while we were walking around in Colorado.

We climbed up this fairly big rocky hill… and then the girls had the idea for me to take pictures of them looking like they were falling off the side of the hill.

After I took pictures of them, they wanted me to get in on the fun. And this was one of the pictures Kaitlynn took.

Only problem was, after I laid down flat on my belly on the rock to take it… I couldn’t figure out how to get back up without actually sliding down the hill.

I finally did make it back up on my feet, but it took me a good long few minutes and I was inwardly thinking the whole time, “You’re going to be the news report about the blogger who fell down the rocky hill while trying to get a photo for Instagram!”

Lesson learned: before you decide to stage some crazy photo, be sure you know how you’re actually going to get up from said crazy position. 😉

Kaitlynn was trying to get a contemplative photo of me… but I kept laughing because I felt ridiculous trying to pose for her! 😉

We came home from Breckenridge on Tuesday and the kids went back to school and normal life on Wednesday (read about our Wednesday here). On Thursday evening, Kathrynne’s school had a Meet the Teachers night.

I didn’t know what to expect as she started at this school halfway through the year so we missed all the beginning of the year stuff including this night. I guess it’s a common thing at many schools, but in case you’ve not heard of it, it’s where you get to go through a Day in the Life of you student — the bell rings and you got to their first class with their first teacher for 10 minutes and they talk about what they are teaching, expectations, and just introduce themselves.

Then the bell rings and you move to their next class with their next teacher. And so on and so forth.

We loved getting to hear from all of her teachers and getting to sit in her classrooms and get a feel for what her everyday is like there. It helps us have so much more context for her life. And if your child’s school has this, I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Silas started baseball up again on a new team this year. Jesse is an assistant coach and one of his good friends is the coach. It will be fun to get to hang out with good friends at the baseball field every week for his games!

Kaitlynn had a new friend over this week and they made, you guessed it, homemade slime. Because, of course. Kaitlynn found out that this friend hadn’t made slime successfully before, so she had to remedy that! 🙂

On My Heart…

I’m learning one of the greatest gifts to open up communication with my kids is to be a good listener.

Instead of trying to fix or preach, I’m learning to practice the art of being a quiet listener.

I often ask them, “What was the highlight of your day? What was the hardest part of your day?”

Oftentimes, questions like these will open up a trickle of frustration. Sometimes, it’s more than a trickle… more like a torrent!

Their frustration used to scare me. I’d jump to worst case scenarios: “What if the teacher senses my child isn’t enjoying their class?” “What if my child can’t hold their frustration in and it all boils out in an ugly way when others are around?”

My fear was ultimately about what others would think. Fear of how my child and my parenting would be perceived.

This fear caused me to jump all over my my kids’ frustrations & preach a mini sermons & tell them why they needed to get over it & stop having a bad attitude.

This only served to shut down the communication lines with my child and make them feel like they couldn’t share their heart with me or open up in any way.

God has been doing a work in my heart, helping me to stop parenting out of fear or for behavioral modification.

I’m learning to see the heart of my kids, to truly listen to them, to be okay with letting them air their frustrations & struggles without feeling like I have to go into fixer mode.

The unexpected result is that my kids now often come to me first with their frustrations. I don’t even have to ask!

When they open up to me, I’m learning to listen, ask questions, listen some more, ask them if there’s anything else they are feeling, empathize with them, and ask if I can pray with them or just sit with them and let them know they are loved.

If they ask for counsel or input (or I feel it’s a case when it’s necessary), I will give it — but usually in the form of asking them more questions, processing with them, & sharing what I would probably do in their situation & encouraging them to seek God & think about how He wants them to respond.

It’s a beautiful journey and I’m grateful for how God is changing my heart as a parent.

We celebrated Jesse’s birthday by going to an Escape Room and out to dinner as a family. We thought we actually weren’t going to make it out of the room this time, but we did it — with only a tiny bit of time to spare!

2018 Goals Update

Personal Goals

1. Read 100 non-self-help books that will build me up/encourage me/inspire me/recharge me. (Fiction/story-driven/biographies/inspirational living books/devotionals.) See the list of 44 books I plan to read this year.

**Progress: 55 books read so far this year

2. Read through the entire Bible.

**Progress: I’m using the Robert Murray M’Cheyne plan and am all caught up— yay!

3. Write one handwritten note to someone every week.

**Progress: 33 notes written so far this year

4. Run 500 miles.

**Progress: 335 miles run so far

Marriage Goal

5. Go on an overnight trip with Jesse without the kids.Jesse and I went to NYC together in January.

Family Goals

6. Read 10 books aloud with the kids.

**Progress: We’ve finished three books so far.

7. Take the kids to South Africa. We took this trip in July. What a memorable experience!

8. Go on a family road trip.

**Progress: We’ve been researching some options for this and are planning to make this happen over Fall Break. Stay tuned!

Financial Goals

9. Save up to pay cash to finish off an office for me and workout room for Jesse and me in the basement in our new house.

**Progress: The workout room is DONE and the office almost done!

10. Replenish our Emergency Fund (we dipped into it to replace my car when it got totaled because of the carpet beetle infestation.)

Business Goals

11. Increase our gross income from the business by 8%.

12. Launch 5 new courses.

**Progress: We launched 4 Weeks to a More Productive Life launched in January, Content Creation 101 in February, 4-Week Blog Coaching Program in March, Email List Setup 101 in March, Make Over Your Mornings LIVE in April, the Facebook Live Masterclass in May, and we launched Build Your List 101 in June!

Gretchen’s $52 Grocery Shopping Trip and Weekly Menu Plan

Dillons Trip #1

1 Hidden Valley Ranch Dip – $0.59

1 pkg Kroger Shredded Cheese – $3.29, used $0.70/1 e-coupon – $2.59 after coupon

1 Lucky Jack Cold Brew Coffee – $3.99, used Free e-coupon – Free after coupon

2 Green Leaf Lettuce – $1.29 each

1 pkg Kroger Tortillas – $1.25, used $0.50/1 e-coupon – $0.75 after coupon

1 Mom’s Best Cereal – $1.67

1 Simple Truth Applesauce Pouches – $6.99, used $1.50/1 e-coupon – $5.49 after coupon

1 Kroger Peanut Butter – $1.79

1 pkg Kroger Flour – $1.39

2 boxes Annie’s Mac & Cheese – $1 each, used $0.50/2 e-coupon – $0.75 each after coupon

3.3 lbs Bananas – $1.62

Total after coupons: $19.97

Dillons Trip #2

I ran into a different Dillons on the way home from school drop off to see what markdowns they had and was excited to find some great deals!

1 Cantaloupe – Marked down to $0.99

1 bag Cucumbers – Marked down to $0.99

3 Chobani Flip Yogurts – Marked down to $0.49 each

2 Kroger Yogurts – Marked down to $0.19 each

4 Kroger Greek Yogurts – Marked down to $0.39 each

3 pkg Happy Tot Yogurt Pouches – Marked down to $1 each

Used $0.25/1 Ibotta cash back for any receipt

Total after cash back: $8.14

Aldi

1 pkg Frozen Chicken Breasts – $5.99

1 bag Sugar – $1.27

1 pkg Crisp Rice Cereal – $1.49

2 dozen Eggs – $0.58 each

1 loaf Bread – $1.49

1 pkg Red Grapes – $2.01

1 pkg Spinach – $1.19

1 pkg English Muffins – $0.79

1 pkg Roma Tomatoes – $1.39

1 gallon Milk – $1.79

1 pkg Baby Carrots – $0.99

3 pkg Strawberries – $0.99 each

1 pkg Blueberries – $1.59

1 Taco Seasoning Mix – $0.29

Total: $24.41

Total for all stores: $52.52

Menu Plan for This Week

Breakfasts

Cereal, Yogurt, Toast, English Muffins, Fruit

Lunches

Tossed Salads, Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches, Cheese & Crackers, Hard Boiled Eggs, Fruit/Veggies, Mac & Cheese, Leftovers

Dinners

Spaghetti, Sauteed Apples (Apples are leftover from last week), Toasted Hot Dog Buns (from my freezer – I’m trying to be creative in using up stuff this week!)

Shredded Ranch Chicken Soft Tacos, Fruit Salad

Venison Roast, Potatoes, Carrots, Homemade Bread

Pancakes, Eggs, Cantaloupe

Pizza (We are hosting game night and everyone is pitching in to buy pizza!)

Mac & Cheese, Spinach Salad

Out to eat (My husband is working long hours this week so I’m declaring one night my night off from cooking. 😉 )

Look what I got for $0.05 each at Kroger!! (Plus, our menu plan for the week!)

I’m currently challenging myself to stick with a $70 grocery budget for our family of five. This includes almost all of our breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners + most household products (toiletries, laundry soap, etc.).

For live updates, be sure to follow my Instagram Stories. See all posts on my $70 Grocery Budget here.

Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links and we will be compensated if you click through and sign up. Read our disclosure policy here.

I ran into Kroger today to see what markdowns there were and to pick up a few deals that are ending tomorrow. I was also excited to find some good deals on organic honey and maple syrup as we just finished off the last of the honey and we go through a lot of maple syrup around here since we have Breakfast for Dinner so often!

I also got the four items above for just $0.19 total! I thought they were going to be $1.69 total and was excited about that deal — and then someone on Facebook Live this morning told me about the Stayfree iBotta rebate that I completely missed. That meant that I got $1.50 back for buying Stayfree and I only paid $0.79 for it!

So all 4 items were only $0.19 total — just $0.05 each!!! Sadly, it looks like the Skintimate and Colgate coupons are no longer available.

But the Stayfree coupon still is available so you can get it free + overage — if you’re planning to buy 3 other Buy 4, Get $4 Off Participating items. This deal is valid through Tuesday (September 11, 2018).

Monday’s Kroger Shopping Trip

Want to never miss a hot deal we post? Want to interact with other deal-seekers and share deals you’re finding? Be sure to join our brand-new Facebook Group here.

This Week’s Menu Plan

It’s a full week this week! It’s Jesse’s birthday so we have some special family activities and friend get-together planned for that, we have a number of activities and get-togethers, I have a number of extra work projects, we’re going camping with our Community Group on Friday and Saturday, and we’re doing the Tough Mudder on Sunday. Whew! 

We’re also starting another very popular Eat at Home Challenge on Thursday. I’ll be making dinner in the crockpot every morning on Live video and sharing what I’m making each day. More details to come!

Breakfasts:

  • Cereal, Oatmeal, Toast/Eggs (Everyone is on their own for breakfast!)

Lunches:

  • Hard Boiled Eggs, Avocados, Salad, Whole-Wheat Toast, Leftovers, Apples (Jesse & Me)
  • Sandwiches, Cheese/Crackers, Fruit, Veggies, Granola Bars, Cookies, Capri Sun (For the kids — They are in charge of their own lunches.)

Dinners:

  • Monday: Dinner out as a family for Jesse’s birthday
  • Tuesday: Top Golf and dinner out with friends for Jesse’s birthday
  • Wednesday: Meatballs, mashed potatoes, roasted broccoli
  • Thursday: Smoked Sausage & Sauerkraut Soup, Whole Wheat Bread, Fruit/Veggies, Crackers
  • Friday: Camping with Community Group — Everyone is bringing stuff for Grilling Out. We’re bringing beef hot dogs and brats for everyone (from the freezer), condiments (we already have them on hand), fruit, veggies, and baked beans (we already have these on hand).
  • Saturday: Camping with Community Group — Again, everyone is bring stuff for Tacos/Fajitas for dinner. We’re bringing sour cream, cheese, and salsa. (I think I mostly have all of this on hand.)
  • Sunday: Slow Cooker Black Bean & Salsa Chicken with Cornbread Dressing, fruit, steamed veggies

What I’ve Spent So Far This Week

Total I’ve Spend So Far This Week: $17.67

Total Left to Spend: $52.33

Cashback Earned This Week: 25 points from Fetch Rewards for buying Capri Sun + $1.50 back from Ibotta

Discipleship Group, a simple dinner, and cookie-baking!

Welcome to my weekly Slow Day post, inspired by Monica from The Homespun Heart. My Word for 2018 is Slow and, in the spirit of that word, I’m taking one day each week (Wednesday) off — I’ll be unplugged and offline and plan to move at a slower pace, take time to do things that refresh me, and just really focus on being present and savoring the moment.

Each week, I’ll be sharing a photographic peek into my Slow Day. Enjoy a little peek into our lives!

Starting my day out with water and time at Kaitlynn and Silas’ school.

I love getting to go to chapel with them on Wednesdays as it gives me a peek into their school life and I get to know the students and see what they are learning.

And this guy loves mama getting to sit with him during chapel!

After chapel, I went to church for our first Discipleship Group meeting of the year. I’m so honored to be co-leading another small group this year again… although it’s weird to be starting over from scratch with a new group of women — most of whom I don’t know at all!

This curriculum and the process of walking so closely with other women over a long period of time has been so life-changing. Also, for so many of you who have asked, I’m so thrilled to tell you that we are piloting some groups this year from our other church campus with the goal that we will be offering this curriculum to other churches sometime in the next two years.

After Discipleship Group, Jesse and I went to a movie together (date days are the best!) and then I came home and worked on some home projects and sat with Silas while he worked on homework. I read some of this book while I sat next to him.

We both read our books together!

We had a simple dinner of beef hot dogs, corn on the cob, and homemade mac & cheese.

After dinner, I took the girls to church and Silas and I finished a few projects together.

And then made cookies (yes, he still had on his school uniform!)

I got this cookie mix for $0.99 recently and it was so easy to make and Silas was pretty excited that it only took butter and an egg to make!

We melted the butter a little too much… but they cookies still turned out looking pretty good!

And I was sitting in bed reading when the cookies came out of the oven so he brought me a fresh one to eat. The perfect way to cap off a great day!