Family Summer Challenge: We Are Not Sucking At This

I’m not sure if I’m a genius or an idiot, but starting our family’s summer challenge on a weekend where we would need to eat out a couple of times is a little bit hilarious. These times were special occasions planned well in advance, but still. I guess I could view it as easing us into this slowly, but that sounds a little silly. I do have to say, we did things A LOT different than we would normally, so that’s an improvement right there. For example, we made a bag of snacks for our drive on Saturday while on our way to the Sunset Magazine event so that we only spent money on one meal instead of two. Sunday’s lunch plans with friends have been in the works since March, so I also let that fall under the “special occasions” umbrella. Since the major point of this challenge is that we don’t just stop by and pick up food on the way home from work or from practices, I’m not mad about our special occasions this weekend. One of my biggest goals in doing this is to get us organized so that coming home at 8 o’clock at night doesn’t mean we have to eat out…or eat cold cereal.

Starting all of this in the summer is the best way for our family to make better habits. No school means the kids have more time to help. (And they do.) It means that we can work together to set up meals and lunches and snacks in the mornings and/or evenings. It also helps that they can eat an early dinner BEFORE practices instead of after. We are still super busy, but we’re not quite as pressed for time. All of this makes it a little easier on me since the summer is my busy time at work.

Even though I said that official start date was June 1st, we had been working towards this goal for the past couple of weeks. And we had been doing pretty well. It helped me out a ton that The Dude has tackled the past few Costco trips since he has every other Friday off. And a couple days after his last trip, I took one of Sarah’s genius ideas and implemented it for our own family. It’s not as detailed as what Sarah does, but this list has helped us keep track and be better about meal planning:

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This has been a game changer. I’m not even joking. You would think that just opening your fridge would give you a glimpse of what food you can choose from, but if you’re anything like me? It doesn’t help at all. Having a list of what’s in your fridge and dinner ideas makes dinner planning so much easier. It also helps me keep track of what we have so that I can be better at making sure that food doesn’t go to waste. Because let’s not talk about how often I forget about that asparagus I bought and now it’s a slimy mess in the garbage. I mean, I know we won’t be perfect at this, but I couldn’t believe how much the list on the fridge helped.

Also, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that everything on that list is the epitome of health and wellness. ONE CHALLENGE AT A TIME, MY FRIENDS. But it’s a huge start in that direction.

Now…if your family is like mine, they are more likely to each fruits and vegetables if they are cut up and ready to go. Even if that means staying up way past your bedtime to make a fruit salad.
 today_fruit

I also remind myself that nothing about this has to be perfect. So using a small scoop to do half-assed versions of melon balls is JUST AS GOOD as cutting the entire watermelon. When you’re rushing around making lunches, making the huge mess of cutting a watermelon is unappealing. Weird looking melon balls work fine. They just do.

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Also? Smoothies.

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When we’re trying to get out the door to school or to a (very, very) early softball tournament, we can pack a lot of healthy goodness and even a bit of protein in our smoothies. (May I direct your attention to my new blender that works so well and I’m probably in love.) Smoothies are great when your kids don’t want to eat a full breakfast because it’s so damn early in the morning and they’re about to go play 34 games of softball. Or 3. Something like that.

SO. Those are the things that have helped us get started with our challenge so far. We’re supposed to grill up some ribs tonight, but since I’ll be driving across town to take a kid to practice, we may do that tomorrow. But the nice thing about having the ideas and the ingredients listed on the fridge is that a lot of the guess work is already done and I won’t feel so stressed about trying to figure out what’s for dinner. And one less thing to stress about totally makes my day.

I Think This Means I Actually Need to Cook

When you take a good, long look at your budget, sometimes you are horrified by some of your habits. I’m not a shopper, so my money generally doesn’t go there. (Except for makeup. I could buy makeup all day long, every day of the week.) But when I took a look at how often we ate out in April and May? I was appalled. Like, really embarrassed and THEN appalled.

Listen, we all know that my life is crazy. When you don’t get home until 7:30 or 8 at night, cooking is the last thing you want to do. And even if we did cook something up, then we’re not eating dinner until 9. And, well…a 9pm dinner time is embarrassing, too.

So today I was thinking about what I can do to change this bad habit. I know that it is ultimately up to me to get things going. Like it or not, that’s just the way it is. The great thing about my family is that they’ll all jump on board and help out with whatever we decide. I just have to get the ball rolling.

And so here we go:

Starting today, June 1st 2013 I’m going on a mini-spending freeze for the entire summer. The. Entire. Summer. From now until at least September 1st there will be no eating out for my family of four. Now. Full disclosure: We do have some special occasions to celebrate and a few things on the calendar that will take exception, but other than that? NO EATING OUT AT ALL STOP ASKING ME YOU KIDS.

For some of you, this might be pretty ridiculous. And maybe it is. But sometimes, just surviving and getting through each day and practice and insane work projects and other such scheduling nightmares is all you can do. And sometimes that means you pick up Thai food on your way home from a game. But I don’t want it to be like that this summer.

Summer is probably the easiest time for me to try this spending freeze and make it a habit. We won’t be rushing around quite as much (although, still SOME) and so that makes a little bit more time to get dinners on the table at a reasonable hour. Plus, living in CA we have so many options for fresh produce and good stuff, it almost makes meal planning a no brainer. And if we’re home more to cook, then we, theoretically, have more time together as a family. Yeah, yeah, yeah…cheesy, yeah.

I’m going to pretend that I don’t hear your heckling.

So. A game plan.

I don’t totally have that all figured out yet, but I’m going to take some cues from my amazing Sarah. She’s an absolute genius who does food prep for the week all in one day. Like chopping all the veggies that she’ll need for the week. I think she even prepares the sauces that she’ll need. Grill several chicken breasts and the like so that SOMETHING is always read. BUT YOU HAVE TO SET ASIDE SOME TIME. This is going to be a huge deal for me. I’m not going to lie to you, finding a specific time that works every, single week is near impossible. But if we plan well, I really feel like we’ll be able to do it. It just might not be the same time every week.

And that’s ok. Because this will definitely be a work in progress.

I decided that saying/writing this out loud is the best way to start keeping me accountable. Because I really, really want to do this. I just need to be really, really consistent and be better at planning.

Welcome to summer everyone.

Don’t you dare ask me out to dinner.