Ask Leslie

I’m going to step away from the political stuff for a while. It’s a good thing a reader sent in this question last week:

Since you home school with 4 kids, it must be tough to stay organized. Do you have any suggestions for recipe keeping/menu planning? I’ve got four kids and it seems like all I can do to get three meals a day plus the occasional snack on the table.

First, I have to agree that it is tough to stay organized. Before growing our family, it was so much easier to keep everything in its place, to make lists, to finish tasks, and to plan. I can remember those days of keeping my tiny, college apartment neat and tidy, scheduling when I would do my laundry, listing everything for my budget, and creating a chart for my schedule. I loved my little organized life.

Some days I look around me and take in the messiness: the growing stack of mail and papers on the table, looming Mt. Laundry, the multiplying piles of dishes, and I wonder, “What happened to me?! I used to be so together.”

Having children has taught me to loosen my grip on my life. Though we still live with a schedule, I don’t let it master me like I used to. It’s a tool I use to help me not have to think. The last thing I have time for is standing in front of the refrigerator or in front of the pantry wondering what we’re going to eat. So I plan what we are going to eat for lunch and dinner.

Sometimes I plan for a whole week. Sometimes, like this week, I plan for just a few days. Making a meal plan, whether it’s extensive or short-term, is one way I can serve my family. Three things can happen if I don’t plan. First, Karl and the kids get frustrated with me, and believe me, I hear about it. Second, I have to make several runs to the store during the week. Third, we can end up eating out too much.

I have to keep the planning simple. If it takes me hours to create a meal plan and a grocery list, then it’s not working for me. I’ve read several blogs by other women who love planning and organizing and they keep these detailed notebooks for every moment and every chore. I think those women are amazing! They have got it together. I decided I wanted to have it together like that, so I gave it a try. In fact, I tried it twice. I tried FlyLady and I tried following another blogger who did something similar. I downloaded the worksheets, punched holes in them, put them in the notebook, filled in all the blanks, and lost the thing. I can’t live handcuffed to a notebook. I failed miserably (that’s me in the picture).

I have learned that simple works for me because when I couldn’t find the notebook, I panicked. I had made so many lists, I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to do next. I realized that there is enough to do around here I don’t need to keep a list. I can just open my eyes and do whatever it is I see needs doing.

OK, back to the point. What do I do about meals and snacks?

When I was in college I worked for a home schooling family. One of the first things I noticed was that the mother put a meal plan on her refrigerator. It was just a simply scrawled list. So, following her example, I get a pencil and paper. I list the days of the week (usually with just the first letter) and follow that with a lunch and dinner idea. Dinner includes meat and a couple of vegetables. Then I secure it to the fridge with a magnet. And I don’t think about it again until we’re hungry. And when the week is over, I usually throw that list away and write out another one.

I always ask Karl what he wants me to add because I tend to put the same things on the plan. I could eat spaghetti every week, almost every day. He would be happy if he never ate spaghetti again. So, I ask him what he wants me to change up. It helps to include him because I like for him to grill for us at least once a week.

I do not write out what we eat for breakfast or what’s for snack. I just make sure I buy enough cereal and bagels and fruit. I don’t really regulate all that stuff because the kids are free to get fresh fruit from the kitchen anytime they want. I buy lots of fruit so I don’t really worry about snacks. The fruit is free to grab when we want some. I love it when the Clementines are in season because the kids can peal those all by themselves. If it’s a cantaloupe or something that has to be sliced for the kids, then I slice it up in the morning, cover it, and leave it on the table.

Lunch is easy. It’s almost always sandwiches. I don’t write it down. I just make sure we have bread, meats, sunbutter, peanut butter, and jelly. If we have leftovers, then lunch is leftovers.

I’d like to recommend a book to you. Shopping for Time by Carolyn Mahaney and her daughters is a very helpful book about time-management, planning, and organizing for the glory of God.

Thanks for asking! I hope you’re not too disappointed that I’m not so organized.

Please send me your questions and help rescue this blog from becoming too political this year.

13 Comments on “Ask Leslie

  1. I plan out a menu, usually weekly, prior to going to the grocery store. I’m not smart enough to wing it! And you’re right, when I fail to plan, I make too many trips to the store which end up being far more expensive than just the one trip. I have posted the menu in the past, and I need to do so again because I grow ever so weary of answering “What’s for supper?” Now if I could just find a cure for the “But I don’t like that!” response I usually get from at least one of my children, no matter what I cook!I have a question: what’s rolling? (on your exercise log)


  2. If anyone says that they don’t want what I’ve cooked, then they don’t eat. “I’m not a short-order cook,” I tell them. Usually they hush their mouths and eat. If it’s Karl who doesn’t want what I’ve cooked, then he goes to buy whatever he wants. Yes, he does. And sometimes I don’t even want what I’ve cooked. There was one night I tried something “new.” It turned out to be kind of yuck. The kids immediately protested. Karl and I muscled down a few more bites, looked at each other, and agreed that it was pretty bad. So, we left it and went out. We had a good laugh over it, though.Rolling? I have a funny story to tell about that one.


  3. I was wondering about the rolling thing too.I love how relaxed you are with this. There was a season where I was hyper list oriented and depending on who you talk to now, they might still think that :o)I use the polestar familly planner this helps because my husband and I try to plan the month and then touch base weekly. A planner helps with this.I write the days tasks on the white board with our school subjects that day. It drives me crazy to have to track down a list or book all day to remember. I too tried the household notebook…..I got it all made and pretty and never used it LOL! I also used to have a cleaning schedule….well now like you I clean what’s dirty. I still have in my mind a room per day of the week routine. But if that day is crazy then there is always tomorrow. Thanks for sharing. There is much to glean from others in this area.


  4. Thanks, Mrs. M. Wednesday is the day that the kids clean their rooms, but the rest of the house really needs to be cleaned up a little bit every single day. Especially the bathrooms. I’m not saying I clean them every day, but I do try to straighten them up. Karl and I are trying to teach the kids to clean off the bathroom counter when they get finished in there.


  5. Chalk one up for the non-type A’s! We found the same thing to be true about eating out if we don’t plan. Not big on the list thing either except we generally try to find a week at a glance planner with notes sections for each week. That way we can write menus and keep a grocery list together because if we don’t, it gets eaten by the mail/catalog monster on the table.


  6. I’m glad to read about what works for you! I feel like I’m struggling and I am just going from being childless to having one little baby! She sure has changed things. Meals are definitely more complicated now, that’s for sure. =)And btw, I just passed on a blogging award to you.


  7. Julie, Sunbutter is a lot like peanut butter, but it’s made with sunflower seeds. My boys are allergic to nuts, so this what they eat instead. You can read more about it here.


  8. I liked that book too.Are you nervous serving peanut butter to the other kids? I’m always afraid it will be on their hands or something.


  9. Wendy, that’s a good question. If the girls want to eat pb&j for lunch, then they eat separately (in a different room) from the boys. I always make them wash their hands and faces when they’re done. And, of course, I prepare their sandwiches separately, too. We’ve all seen Benjamin have a reaction to peanut butter, and the girls are happy to wash up real good after eating it.


  10. Don’t like it? Don’t eat it is our policy too! Most nights at least two of my children go to bed (presumably) hungry.


  11. Sounds like you run your house much the same as I do. I’m encouraged – I always think I should have more written down. Maybe when the kids are grown and I have TIME to make up all those fancy binders with schedules and lists. My kids go hungry too if they don’t like what’s served – I just tell them they musn’t be hungry enough. Funny thing with my husband – he will never outright say he doesn’t like something he’ll just eat half, then about an hour later make up a big bowl of popcorn =DAny tips on keeping Toddlers occupied while schooling?


  12. That’s good. That gives me hope that we could do that too once my girls get a little older.


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