The Weekend Our House Found It’s Personality

I won’t lie. I love Pinterest.

That’s my confession.

Why?

Laundry detergent I can make myself for less money and readily available ingredients. New meal ideas that I can make from ingredients we have here. Seriously, I can search “west indies pumpkin” and come up with a slew of recipes to use the variety of pumpkins we have here in Haiti. People are creative, and they like to share that info. Do you know what you can DIY if you just look for information?

So, I love Pinterest. Because of Pinterest I’ve been inspired to try new things and do stuff I would have just dismissed because I had no idea where to start. It was because of Pinterest that I found the Ana White website, the one that had plans for our fabulous dining table and coffee table. That’s what inspired me to get into building furniture. And, the funny thing is that instead of starting with something simple, like shelves, I decided to go for a coffee table, a dining table and a bed. Nice.

I’ve learned so much through the process of building some of our furniture.

I’ve learned that I can do it. That I can take an idea in my head and actually make it become reality. The plans for our coffee table I followed fairly closely to the ones on ana-white.com. The table was created with inspiration and basic plans, but adapted to fit our needs by adding the slid in extensions on the end.

Our bed? I saw the plans on the website, but fell in love with the original on the Pottery Barn website. I wanted less “farmhouse” and more of the feeling of something “more”. I watched the video on the PB website about how they made the beds and fell in love with the finish and the dark wood. And I love how our bed turned out for the most part. When we move, and have to take it apart, I have a couple minor adjustments to make, but for the most part we LOVE it. For the first few weeks I just kept saying how grown up I felt.

I’ve also learned how to work with what I’ve got. I can’t walk into Home Depot and pick out the nicest wood there for whatever project I’m making. There’s one hardware store in St. Marc that actually has decent wood, and that’s where I get most of my stuff, but even then there are times where I have to be flexible because what might be considered a “finished” board here, would be considered rough hewn back home. I have to account for measurements because a rough board here will truly be 1×4″, not planed down and just called a 1×4. I always have to have a good supply of sand paper on hand and be willing to commit the time to sanding. Often this is where most of my time is spent when I’m making something.

Since I started building furniture last year I’ve also learned what my true “style” is. Or I guess, what “our” style is as a family. We need a home that’s functional and that we can truly live in. Our kids are small. They will abuse the furniture. Having anything that we’re afraid of getting roughed up just won’t work. We’re not those kind of people, either. Chris and I would much rather be living in something comfortable than fancy. I think that living in a space with some element of “beauty” is good for the heart.

Over the years I’ve come to realize that it’s easy to only see the poverty in Haiti and miss the people. In that it’s easy to miss the fact that Haitians, while living in hard circumstances, have a lot of joy and appreciate nicer things. You can go into some of the most humble homes (sticks, mud/clay walls, and tin roof) and find beautiful hand carved cabinets with all the nice things the family holds dear. I remember the first time I saw it and how it struck me. We were in the middle of no where, and from the outside I would have had no idea. While I think the natural tendency when working in a place like Haiti is to live simply, there is value in enjoying your living space, especially if you plan on being there for the long haul.

Chris and I love the feeling of off white walls and big windows. I know that if we were living back in Canada we would be happier in a home with history than a brand new, looks like everyone else’s house. We like character. We have light aqua kitchen cupboards and we love them so much that they will be repeated in part when we move. We aren’t afraid of color, and to have anything otherwise just wouldn’t be us.

We like the feeling of a house that is lived in. We like being able to put our feet on the coffee table. Our coffee table was built with that in mind. I love the Pottery Barn feel of having worn wood and industrial metal mixed with simple white, cotton and twill and little bits of history. Stuff that feels used and recycled mixed with stuff that maybe isn’t. Yet, things being functional. In this sense, Haiti works in our favor. That wood I was talking about? Even after a lot of sanding, it looks “worn”. And, for our family that works so well. Our dining room table has small gaps and ruts – the kind of thing that people actually have to work at putting into their furniture to get that “aged” look. I don’t care if Alex bashes his spoon into it and makes dents. It adds more character. The coffee table is the same and the kids can bang their toys on it to their hearts content. It doesn’t matter.

I love that living here has made me be creative with things, because nothing will be what you want it to be if you get it here. You either make due, adapt or figure out how to make your own. And anything else? Well, it most likely has to come in a suitcase. Slip covers to convert a less than ideal couch or chair. Paint. Thinking outside the box and seeing how to use one thing for something else. For example, I wanted to hang our pots and pans above the stove where they were easy to get to. I hated having to lift a pile every time I wanted the one on the bottom. I decided to have a friend build the shelf and we used a thick piece of rebar painted black to hang things from. I love it. (And case in point about the color in our home…)

IMG_9911

This last week I decided to bust into the wood stash I still had and knock out some projects that I’ve had on my list or in my Pinterest boards for a while. They were all decor related. Back over the summer we finally decided it was probably time to actually print some pictures to put into the frames I had stock piled and put them on display. When we got back I hung some of them, but I had some shelves in mind for the living room for others. Chris wondered why I didn’t just hammer nails into the walls and hang them, but I wanted something that we could change up and move around, add little things to, etc.

Our living room now has shelves with photos. I still have one frame coming that will have our wedding picture in it, but for now we have a smaller version up.

IMG_9921

IMG_9920

I decided that while I was at it and had the tools out I might as well do some other things. I made a shelf for above the kitchen window. It’s only function is to hold decor stuff. I was tired of not having character in our house, so I scrounged around and found some stuff I loved, but that we didn’t really use, and put it up there, and made some other things.

IMG_9914

IMG_9919

The Open Daily sign and the “r” were hand made, and the rest was scrounged, with the exception of the black frame. That one had a picture in it, then fell and the glass smashed, so it’s going to hold seasonal art.

When I was a kid we had a chalk board in our hall way and we spent hours, maybe days, or our childhood playing on that thing. I was tired of hearing our kids fight and noticed that they’ve recently gotten into this drawing/coloring kick, so thought they would have tons of fun with a huge chalkboard on the wall.

IMG_1505[1]

IMG_1507[1]

I looked down the hall to see this hours after it went up.

Since it went up on Saturday afternoon Olivia has reassured me that it is in fact one of the best things ever. I also love the “give thanks” word art above it, and have already knocked something out for Christmas, but you have to wait to see that ;)

One more piece of word art in the kitchen was the icing on the cake. I love this. Just a rough sanded 1×6, a couple coats of paint, some traced and painted letters, then a pass with the sander and a satin varnish. Done.

IMG_9915

IMG_9918

Now we just need to get a different clock. The one we had there actually died a few weeks ago. I loved it. It was a red number that cost me $4 at Walmart. The one up now we stole from the round house and it eventually needs to go back there.

So yes, this weekend our house found it’s personality. I keep finding myself walking through the house, catching something new in my eye, and smiling. It feels like home. Not that it wasn’t home before, it just feels like a family with an identity lives here now. And we like it. This morning one of the workers came in to get something and noticed the shelves in the living room and said, “Those are nice! I like the photos.” And I smiled.

~Leslie

Advertisements

A This Is Life In Haiti Post

There are a lot of fun and funny moments that fill our days here. I think those felt more blog worthy earlier on in my time in this crazy country, and over the years much of that has become normal for us, so it doesn’t hit on the radar as much as it used to.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours down in the yard planting a bunch of things. You might remember when I posted about our trip up to Port Margot earlier this year, and the bounty of plants that Cory sent home with us. Well, a bunch of those were finally ready to go in the ground!

I know I’ve posted pictures of the yard on here before and chances are that when you look at some of these pictures you won’t notice a difference. That’s cool. Really, the difference is going to come in a little while when these plants get a chance to get established, because then they’ll start flowering. Some have already flowered in their roof top home. We have a few flowering things in the yard – a couple delicate hibiscus, a pink plumeria, a red flowering bush, and some type of lily that sets off these white firework looking flowers. But, given the size of our property, it wasn’t much. We also have a lot of shade, so it was a case of finding the right kinds of plants that would thrive. Cory was great about giving us a big assortment.

Yesterday I planted about 10 heliconia. I think we have 3 different kinds. The great thing about heliconia is that they continue to spread and you can eventually divide them. I tried to plant them in some strategic places where they could fill holes and we can see the flowers and enjoy them for various places.

IMG_1403[1]

Heliconia with some of those white flowered lilies in front and a flowering shrub. Looks sparse now, but in a few months it could look very different!

Several years ago I bought some canna lily seeds. Typically you buy a tuber from a garden center and plant it like you would a bulb for other things, then it grows. Starting from seed took a long time, and in the end out of a dozen or so seeds I think I got two plants. I honestly didn’t have high hopes for them. Eventually Chris noticed they were getting bigger (I was really pregnant so not going up on the roof at the time) and he transplanted them into a big cement pot I have up there. Without exaggeration that plant is now over my head, and Chris has divided it several times. We have 4 large plants now from the first ones, and two of those are now in the ground and another just got moved down onto our deck so we could see it and fill a corner. The first one is ready to divide again and this morning I broke off some seeds to give to someone.

IMG_1409[1]

The tall, lighter green plant right in the middle is one of my cannas.

At the same time that I ordered the cannas I also ordered some Hawaiian ti plants. They do grow here, typically the red version. I ordered both red and green, but was only successful getting the green ones to take. Yesterday I transplanted a few that weren’t in ideal spots and am hoping they’ll take over in their new homes.

IMG_1405[1]

A ti plant in the foreground with one of the heliconias right behind it (you can see the dead flower on it).

We also got some ornamental ginger from Cory and that went in the ground a couple months ago. Yesterday I divided the first plant to get another one going by the outdoor shower. When this ginger takes off it really fills in and gets these bright pink rod like flowers. I’m excited to see if it’s going to do something. I keep seeing it everywhere here in haiti and have just wanted some in our yard so badly.

IMG_1407[1]

The ginger is right below the shower pipe, and a couple new ti plants on either side.

Cory also gave us another shrub. He gave us two cuttings that were only about 6 inches long, and now we have full size potted plants, so they both went in the ground yesterday. they have darker green leaves and get this little bright pink flowers.

IMG_1411[1]

Side view of the round house.

IMG_1413[1]

From the other direction.

We’re in the middle of a training class right now. In the afternoons the students are with Thony, so Chris and I have been doing other things – like gardening. While Chris was over in the banana garden cutting some suckers to take to the new land he found a big toad. The kids have never seen one up close, so he picked it up with a banana leaf and brought it over, then dumped it in the kids pool. Olivia went and got Yonese and we had some fun trying to see if it could get out of the pool. When it did finally get out Yonese and I became toad wranglers as we tried to steer it away from the buildings. Chris apparently developed some love for Mr. Toad though and wouldn’t let Yonese dump him over the fence.

IMG_1424[1]

IMG_1427[1]

Did I ever tell you that the Creole word for frog/toad is krapo? It’s true.

IMG_1432[1]

Yonese giving our new friend a lift over the fence.

And, if I didn’t share this next bit of news with you Chris would be sad, and really, a gardening/things around the yard post would feel, well, less than without it.

Chris has been growing dragon fruit plants for about 2 1/2 years now. We’ve gone through 3 flowering cycles and until now the flowers have all just wilted, gone mushy and fallen off. This is normal as it can take up to 5 years sometimes to see the first fruit. Last week we went through an AMAZING flowering cycle. There were literally about 7 flowers per day. Each flower is about the size of Olivia’s head.

IMG_1041[1]

Something different about this cycle was that there were a ton of busy bees moving pollen around. Last time there were a few bees and nothing much going on. Two days ago Chris noticed that one of the blooms looked different. It wasn’t going mushy and yellow and getting ready to fall off. In fact, the flower wilted, but there was a very strong green bud at the base of it. He quickly figured out that one of the flowers had taken and we were starting to get fruit. We have one more doing the same thing! We’re keeping our fingers tightly crossed that maybe this time we’ll actually see the first fruit.

IMG_1401[1]

The reason this is so exciting is that to our knowledge there are no fruiting dragon fruit plants in Haiti. We know one property that has plants in St. Marc, and Chris has gotten cuttings from the owner, but he said his flower and have never given fruit. We know another project that has a tree nursery, and they’re growing plants, but theirs are very young and haven’t seen flowers yet. Haiti has the ideal growing climate for dragon fruit, so if we can get ours going, we can keep making cuttings and pass them on to others that want to try. We would love to see this fruit introduced to farmers because it’s so easy to grow once it’s established. As a cactus it needs little water and would work so well with Haiti’s dry season. We’ll keep you posted!

And, just as a wrap up, I know that growing up in Canada when I saw “tropical” plants they were typically in a green house, or as house plants. I thought that what I saw was exactly how those plants grew in their natural habitat. After being here for many years (8!) I’ve learned I was very wrong. It’s so fascinating to me to see what would be a house plant back home, in it’s natural climate. Completely different. A couple of examples for you:

IMG_1419[1]

This rubber plant is several years old and was given to us by a friend. We’re babying it so we can move it to the new property. Why don’t we want to put it in the ground here? Because we’ve seen a full grown one – one that was about 80 feet tall! It was AMAZING. For Chris and I, this is a long term commitment type plant and we want to pick the perfect spot for it at the new land where it will have the room to become huge and beautiful, and where we can landscape around it and enjoy sitting under it. If you don’t believe me, the one we saw in a yard about 5 minutes away from our house looked like THIS.

One of the most common tropical house plants that you see is a philodendron. While yours might be big enough to crawl along the top of your kitchen cupboards, mine look like this:

IMG_1418[1]

Don’t you want to come visit???

~Leslie

My Mom Journey: Meal Planning

Have I ever mentioned how much I love food? Seriously. For some people, food is just something that gives their body energy, and from a weight gain perspective, I’m jealous of that. For others, others like me, food is an experience. God decided to give me extra taste buds in my mouth (fact!) which gives me heightened taste receptors. I can be called a “super taster”, if you will. Because of that thing foods either taste super good, or super yuck. There are fruits here, for example, that can be tart and sweet at the same time. Chris and Olivia love them, but when I eat them, I pucker up and shake my head no. Too intense!

Because of things like my super taste buds, if I’m going to eat something, I want it to be yummy. Also, cooking is something I enjoy doing – most of the time. Feeding people is one of my spiritual gifts! Just kidding. But, in reality, I love that something I enjoy doing can not only nourish peoples bodies, it can nourish their souls too. All of our missionary friends get excited when we have them over for dinner because it’s a treat for them, even if I make something simple like spaghetti, and I love that we can love on our friends this way. One time our board of directors even made a comment about the fact that it was really a part of Chris and I’s ministry to the other missionaries in our area and that they loved that we did it (which is great because the mission covers most of our food budget!). I loved that they saw the value of it and encouraged it.

That said though, the whole process of cooking here can be challenging. It requires planning – lots of it. Most of the produce in Haiti is sold in the open market, and there are certain days of the week that are “market day” in each area. On those days marchands will come from all over to sell what they have. On non “market days” there are still people selling, you just don’t find the same variety that you would on a “market day”. In our area Thursday is our big market day, so each week we send Yonese to go get all of our fresh produce. We can get quite a good variety in our area, though some things you can only find in Port au Prince. Aside from fruit and veggies, we also get our eggs and fresh milk from the market, and most grains like beans, rice, flour,corn meal, sugar etc. We can also get these things in the stores locally, and often due if we’re running out before market day, but it’s less expensive to buy them in the market.

Other things like condiments, meat, cheese, etc are bought in the local small grocery stores. We used to do a big shop about once a month in Port, but since the beginning of this year one of the local grocery stores has been bringing in a wider variety of things and will even order meat in for us that they don’t sell in the store on a regular basis. Because of this we hardly ever have to shop in Port anymore, which is a huge time saver. The trip up to the grocery store itself could mean an hour in traffic each way.

Even if I need something from the store, it’s a 20 minute drive each way. We try to use our trips to pick Olivia up from school to do any shopping in town that we need to do, but again, that takes planning.

So, how do I put it all together so that life is actually simpler, rather than more complicated in an already complicated situation?

I meal plan!

I started doing this several years ago and it helped us immensely in so many ways.

First off, I really don’t love trying to figure out what to make for dinner at 4 pm. We get up really early and our work day starts at 6 am, so by the time late afternoon rolls around my brain is done for the day. Trying to figure out what to make for dinner with what I have on hand sucks. So I stopped doing it.

Secondly, food here is expensive. By meal planning I can buy what we need, not just random items that may or may not get thrown into something else. I realized we would have things we would eat regularly, and the things that seemed like a good idea at the time would either sit on a shelf, or die in the fridge. By meal planning I can buy what I know we’ll use and that’s it. Because the mission pays for our food as a small stipend, we want to be as effective as possible with how we spend that money. There’s always room for improvement, and I’m always looking at how we can not only eat healthier, but also cheaper. Meal planning has been a huge help in this department.

How do I do it?

I try to keep things pretty simple. I actually meal plan a month at a time, rather than weekly. This just works better for me because a week here can get busy and then I realize that I haven’t done it and things all fall apart. By taking about an hour once a month I can plan the whole month and its all ready to go.

I start by using a blank calendar page. Computer programs like Publisher have blank templates that you can use, or you could just make a simple table with enough boxes for 5 weeks and print it off. The one I use right now is actually a little calendar notepad thingie that I found in a dollar store. No dates, just days of the week.

I start by writing in the dates. After that I make little notes about anything special, like days where I know we’ll have visitors. This is important for me because when we have people in I have to cook a higher quantity of food, and I need to plan for lunches which is something I don’t typically do because we just eat leftovers or scrounge for something else. I also cook differently when we have people in. I learned several years ago that while I might want to cook something special, it’s often more of a time suck, and our days are already full with hosting duties. Keeping things simple during those times means it’s less meal prep time for me, I have more energy and the time I’m not using for cooking is time I can actually spend with our guests. Also, by keeping meals simple there are opportunities for people to help me out in the kitchen, which provides more time to connect.

After I note all that stuff I write in three things each week: Ryan Cooks, Leftovers and Chris Cooks.

Yep. The guys each cook one night per week. This wasn’t something I asked or demanded. When things started getting busier Chris asked if he cook take one night of cooking for me, and I said yes. I don’t care what he cooks, I just love that he does it. Usually it’s something simple like baked potatoes. But the important thing is that I don’t have to do it. When Ryan came we found out that he enjoys cooking and he offered to take one night per week. Ryan does Tuesdays and Chris does Fridays.

Leftovers…

Yes, I actually schedule a leftover night each Wednesday. We started to realize we were throwing out too much food because we weren’t eating it all. Aside from cutting down on how much I was cooking, I decided to add a leftover night like I had seen on organizing blog. Because Thursday is market day, we do leftover night on Wednesday. This helps us clean out the fridge and then I can see what we really need as far as produce, etc. Sometimes there aren’t many leftovers in the fridge, so occasionally I have to come up with a quick dinner idea in its place, but I’m okay with that. This morning, for example, I looked in the fridge to take stock, and while there are some leftovers, there aren’t enough to make a meal for 5 so I’m going to whip something else up – but I’ll be using up a bunch of the veggies in the crisper before they go bad to do it. I also know that we’ll eat up the leftovers that are there in the next two days just by feeding the kids lunch.

So, when all of those things are added in I only have to plan four dinners per week. On the side of my fridge I keep a list of all the meals that we enjoy eating so I don’t stagnate and just cook the same things over and over. A couple months ago I went through my cookbook that I have where I can add recipes in. It’s a just a photo album divided into sections. I took out anything that I a) knew I hadn’t ever made, or hadn’t made in a very long time, probably because it wasn’t a hit; and b) anything that I knew I would have trouble making here either because of time investment, ingredients, or because someone in our family just doesn’t like it. No sense in keeping something I’m not going to use when something I will use could be in that space. I made sure all my recipes were laminated and organized. Things had gotten a bit crazy because I just kept printing things and shoving them in the front cover. After I cleaned up the book, I updated the fridge list.

On my list things are divided into sections by the meat involved. Things that need ground beef go under one section, regular beef under another. Chicken dishes with rice are in one section and all other chicken dishes in another. Pasta, fish, soups and other ethnic or veggie based dishes in their own categories.

When I plan meals I like to spread things out and try to do chicken once a week, some type of beef another night, and even aim for a meat free night when I can. On a meat free night I might make soup and bread or something bean based like rice, beans and tortillas. Or it might be grilled cheese!

Once I have everything done on my paper version, I transfer it to the white board calendar stuck on my fridge. This way it’s out where everyone can see it, and I can change anything that needs to be changed if needed.

For planning purposes I also have a white board on the other side of our fridge that I took a permanent marker to. I divided it in half with a simple line, and on one side at the top I wrote “Market” and on the other “Store”. Now, I can look at the coming week and write down the things we need to buy. If it’s fresh stuff, grains, milk etc it goes on the “market” side. Other things that we need to get from the store go, you guessed it, on the “store” side! With three adults cooking through the week and people coming and going I got tired of forgetting things on my list when I went to shop, so I put the board up and the house rule is that if you know it needs to be replaced, either because it’s running low or it’s completely out – it goes on the list. It’s helped so much! We were having some magnet issues in the past couple weeks and I was getting annoyed because it wasn’t staying where I had put it. I was feeling out of sorts and unorganized so yesterday I did something about it and life is all better again!

I do want to mention that I like to keep a regular stock of what I would call “pantry essentials” on hand. For me it includes things like all my regular baking supplies, tomato paste (pasta sauce, pizza sauce etc), basic condiments, coffee, a couple different kinds of pasta noodles, oil, vinegar, and spices. Again, because going to get groceries is at least a 20 minute drive, and somethings aren’t available in our area, I stock up. For example, if I know I need flour, which comes in small 5lb bags, I’ll buy two – one to refill the plastic container in the kitchen and one to refill. I hate it when I feel like cooking or baking something and then run out of an ingredient half way, so I try to avoid that because I can’t just run out to get what I need to finish up. I do go through periods where I realize we have certain things piling up, like I did last week, so I then make an effort to use those things. For example, I had two and a half bags of oatmeal, and decided to make granola. Typically I wouldn’t have used that much oatmeal to make a batch of granola, but when I started I realized I was out of oat flour, so I whipped one and a half bags up in the blender to make my oat flour. All good!

The other reason I keep certain things on hand is because I want to be able to whip up a quick meal if we end up having company. As I mentioned, I cook differently when we have visitors. I pre-portion things like chicken and beef, so when we have company of maybe two extra people I might decide against chicken because for us right now a pre-portioned bag is 8 pieces (4 thighs, 4 drums) and 16 pieces of chicken is way too much chicken for 7 people! In that situation I might decided to make a pot of spaghetti with salad. We always have stuff for salad on hand, and I usually try to keep the makings for spaghetti on hand too. It’s just an easy meal that I can do on the fly. By having certain things on hand I can be ready for something spontaneous in a place where most things require a lot of planning and work.

I want to say something else about meal planning, and that’s the fact that it helps sort things out when you have a pick eater. In our house I go by the same rule that I grew up with, which was that you ate what was put before you. My mom tried to account for certain things, like my brothers hate of certain veggies, but for the most part we ate what was before us, even if we didn’t love it. I want to raise our kids with the mindset of trying something before you decide if you don’t like it, and to be polite when someone else prepares a meal for you. I don’t force them to eat things they don’t like other than taking a couple bits to be sure they don’t like it. Olivia used to be less picky than she is now, so typically I make her take a bite or two then leave it. Sometimes she ends up liking something that she thought looked gross, and other times she doesn’t. Chris is my really picky eater. He would live on meat and potatoes in any form if he could. When we first got married he wouldn’t hardly touch most veggies. How does a person meal plan for that???

Well, I remember that Chris is one person in our family. While I like to cook things that he likes to eat, I also try to balance that out with what the rest of us like. And, I make balanced meals. Many nights we have salad with whatever main dish we have. Usually I make up a big bowl of salad and we eat that until it’s gone. While I know Chris doesn’t like cooked veggies, it doesn’t mean that I avoid them. I figure he’s an adult and he knows how to use a fork, so he can pick them out, and he does. When I’ve expressed my frustration with trying to cook for him he’s (thankfully!) told me to not worry too much about it and just let him pick things out. So I don’t and he does. I’m proud of Chris too, because while he never used to eat salad when we first got married, he does regularly now. And while he only used to eat one kind of dressing on it, he eats a whole bunch of different things now.

My point is that meal planning allows you to account for your family’s preferences. If you know that one of your kids just wont eggs in most forms (like Olivia) then you can account for that. O had some bad experiences with getting sick after eating scrambled eggs, which were a staple for her when she was small. Now she hardly ever eats them. But, we’ve made her try other kinds and she found she loves hard boiled eggs and poached eggs. If I’m making breakfast and it involves eggs, unless I can plunk a boiled or poached egg in front of her, I don’t bother cooking eggs for her and just make sure she gets a piece of toast and something to give her some protein, but she’s only getting that because I’m making toast and other stuff for everyone else, not because I’m making a special meal for her. I used to worry more about what my kids ate, but then started paying attention to their food choices. Alex eats almost anything, and loves most veggies and fruits. Olivia might not love eggs, but she eats a variety of meat and will ask for salad. I think when the choices are healthy on a regular basis most kids will choose healthy foods in the balance that their bodies need.

I think we also need to be knowledgeable about what’s in our food. This is an area where I need to put more time in, but I’ve realized that while I might think about certain vitamins being in veggies, for example, I don’t think about the fact that some have calcium. My brain thinks dairy = calcium, so I used to worry when Olivia didn’t want to drink much milk. Then I realized that our water has a high calcium level, and she drinks lots of water, and she likes some of the veggies that have calcium in them as well as things like cheese and yogurt.

Now that I’ve been meal planning for several years I’m finding that rather than focusing on how to figure out what we’re going to eat, I can spend more time and attention on finding healthier or homemade options for things. Often people ask us what foods we miss from back home, and our typical answer is “nothing”. There might be something that a specific restaurant makes that we love, but for the most part I’ve figured out how to make the things that we did miss. I missed having tortillas, so I learned how to make them. And you know what? Even when we do have access to tortillas and they aren’t too expensive, I don’t buy them because mine taste better. I like knowing what is in our food, and I like making things from scratch. Recently I had people bring in canning jars and the few supplies that I’d need so I could do things like can sugar free mango jam when we had lots of mangoes, or canned tomatoes when tomatoes were in season. I loved being able to open one of my jars rather than a processed one when I’m cooking.

I hope this is helpful in some way. When it comes to meal planning you really need to find what works for you and your family. Some people need and want to plan every meal of the day. I don’t, so I don’t do it. Some people like computerized versions. I’ve tried several options and I keep going back to my paper and dry board version. Some people like to do a week at a time. I don’t want to have to do it that often, so I don’t. It has to work for you. And, it might take a while of trying things out to develop your system. Mine has literally taken years, but now we all rely on it. If things have been busy and I haven’t updated the plan yet I feel confused and unorganized and Chris often notices and says something about me not having updated the meal board yet. I realized that he likes to know what’s coming, and that makes me happy :) I like that I don’t have to think and can just look at the board that morning and know what needs to come out of the freezer or what other prep needs to be done. I don’t fee frazzled.

Question: Do you meal plan? If so, what works for you and what doesn’t. How does it affect things like your shopping and budgeting? 

~Leslie