Our family went from this:
I cannot imagine our lives without Snuggle Puppy and Dancing Girl and I am so thankful that God knew exactly the children that our family needed and that needed us. They were the missing piece of “us”. I feel so blessed!
Making freezer meals has saved me thousands of dollars and countless hours, not to mention taking away the stress of having to think of what is for supper. At the moment, I have run out and won’t be making them again until September. Trying to figure out every day what to make for supper and making sure I have all the ingredients and then making time to cook lunch and supper is giving me a new appreciation for the times when my freezers are stocked with ready-made meals!
If you’ve never made freezer meals before, I have a step-by-step guide to making freezer meals that will walk you through everything you ever wanted to know about freezer meals.
Some of the recipes I use are specific to freezer meals while others are old family favourites that I have adapted into freezer meals.
(makes 2 meals or you can double this recipe to make 4)
Brown 2 lbs. ground beef (we use Yves Mexican Veggie Ground Round instead of beef)
Add 1 onion, chopped
3 cups water
3 cups thinly sliced zucchini
2 cups corn
2 cans stewed tomatoes (I sometimes used the Mexican flavoured ones)
Bring to a boil. Stir in 3 cups uncooked minute rice. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Divide mixture between 2 large resealable freezer bags. Label with these instructions:
Thaw. Reheat in skillet or oven. Near end of cooking time, sprinkle with cheese. Cover and let stand until cheese melts.
(makes 2 large meals or you can double to make 4)
Make whatever kind of rice you prefer so that you end up with 8 cups of cooked rice
Heat 5 Tbsp. vegetable oil in wok or skillet. Add 3 cups diced chicken breast and cook until no longer pink.
2 cups diced onion
1 cup diced celery
2 cups diced carrots
2 small jars of sliced waterchestnuts
2 cups frozen peas
Stir fry for a few minutes. Then add in the rice and 1/4 – 1/2 cup oil and fry
Stir in 2 minced garlic cloves, 4 Tbsp. oyster sauce and 8 Tbsp. soya sauce
Divide into 2 large resealable freezer bags and label:
Thaw. Heat in covered casserole in oven.
Tante Gisele’s Chicken Fried Rice recipe is available in my Dinner in 20 Freezer Meal Menu Plan which includes printable shopping lists, prep list, recipes, and printable labels.
(makes 1 lunch size meal or you can double or triple for more)
Run 1 1/2 cups of water and a 19 oz. can of black beans (with the liquid) through a blender. Add 2 Tbsp. VE dry salsa spice, 4 tsp. vegetable stock mix, and hot pepper sauce to taste.
Pour into medium sized resealable freezer bag and label with instructions:
Thaw. Bring to boil in saucepan. Boil slowly uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring often. Serve topped with sour cream and grated jalapeno jack cheese.
Sloppy Joes (gluten free)
Crock Pot Chicken Taco Soup (gluten free)
Beef and Corn Casserole (gluten free)
Spanish Rice Casserole (gluten free)
Sweet Potato and Black Bean Casserole (gluten free)
Vegetable Pesto Minestrone (gluten free)
Stuffed Peppers (gluten free)
Better Than It Sounds Prune and Olive Chicken (gluten free)
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about our perceptions of each other as moms. It’s easy for me to slip into the negative cycle of comparing myself to others and feeling like everyone else has it so much more together than me. When I read other blogs or talk to other moms, I imagine that their floors are sparkling, their children are well behaved, and their days are organized. This adds to my shame over the state of my house, my guilt over my kids’ behaviours, and my stress about my disorganization. I imagine them cooking every meals from scratch using all the food groups and feel embarrassed about my kids sometimes making themselves peanut butter sandwiches for lunch or me feeding them scrambled eggs for supper. I look at these other moms, at the parts of their lives I can see, and feel that I come up short.
But that’s the thing…I am only able to see the parts of their lives that they want me to see. I don’t see that maybe they struggle with controlling their temper with their husband or binge eating or yelling at their kids or drowning under laundry. I don’t see their insecurities or their flaws. I don’t hear about real issues their kids are having. Some moms may share that their 2 year old tantrums or their baby still isn’t sleeping through the night, but most don’t share that their 9 year old is still having tantrums or their teen is sneaking out at night. I’m just as guilty of it as the next person. And in our effort to make everything look like it is okay, we are isolating ourselves and making each other feel inadequate.
Then again, I want to be a positive person, an optimistic person. If all I ever shared were the hard things, this would be a pretty depressing blog! I guess it’s about balance.
One of the biggest reasons that this has been on my mind lately is because I lost a relationship in my life because of comparison. A friend or family member of mine told others for many years that it was hard having me in her life. In her words, “she has seven kids, homeschools, and does everything. How can I compete with that?” When the people she was saying this to told me what she had said, my response to them was to joke, “If I had known it was a competition, I’d have been trying a lot harder!”, but in truth, it hurt. It hurt because I had shared my struggles with this person. I had shown her my imperfections, my messy house, my weaknesses. I had shared with her my insecurities and fears about my failings as a mom and she still felt intimidated by me, by what strangers thought of me. She was so worried about being compared to me and coming up short that she instead began to distance herself from me and even take actions and speak words that were hurtful.
I am sad that comparison, the misperception of others, and perhaps jealousy resulted in the loss of a friendship with someone who had been in my life for a long time and due to circumstances will be in my life for many years to come. I sometimes examine the role that I played in the end of the relationship and wonder if I had been more transparent (not to her, because I was transparent to her), but to mutual acquaintances and strangers, if the relationship would still be there. Then again, I can’t imagine introducing myself to someone for the first time and saying, “hi. My name is Sharla. Yes, I do have seven kids, but my house is a disaster, I often feel like a failure, and I second guess my parenting decisions all the time.”
At the end of the day, I can’t change that I have a big family and choose to homeschool. I also can’t change that I find it fun to plan parties and do indoor activities with my kids. If it were a competition, I may “beat” some other moms in the party planning department, but I would lose every time in the ‘housekeeping’ category or in the ‘outdoor activities with kids’ category. God made each of us with gifts and with weaknesses. Organization does not come naturally for me. I don’t like going outside. Keeping house or keeping a schedule are also not on my list of talents. When I compare myself to others in these areas, I am always going to feel like a failure.
I’d love to wrap up this post with some lovely words of wisdom or platitude about how this problem among women can be solved, but I don’t have the answers. I have resolved to be more transparent, both in my real life and in my blogging. Helping others know that they are not the only ones who struggle with clutter or organization or insecurities is one of the reasons that I started this blog. It is the reason that I have been willing to display real pictures of the mess in my house and document the truth about my struggles to overcome it. That hasn’t been easy for me. It’s been a bit embarrassing, but if I hadn’t done it, I would have missed out on the comments from others who said things like “my kids saw the picture and thought it was our house” or “I’m so glad I’m not the only one”. Those comments help reassure me that no human being is perfect. I am not the only one.
Kris over at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers is hosting a Curriculum link-up and it’s the push I need to really get down to it. As homeschooling is going to look very different for us this year with the older two boys going to a brick and mortar school and just the five younger kids at home. The kids who will be here are all within a few years of each other and most are at approximately the same level. There are some unique learning needs in the mix with two English as a second language “students”, one with Aspergers, and one with a neurodevelopmental disorder! I need to give this year’s curriculum a lot of thought and have spent most of the summer worrying about it.
I tend to be drawn towards a very relaxed approach to homeschooling, but some of my kids NEED structure and routine and I am working towards that.
Here is what I know I am going to be using because it worked for us last year:
Lapbooks (Hands of a Child and various free internet printables)
Unit Studies using notebooking, lapbooks, reading, projects, crafts, activities
Memory Work (poetry, quotes, memory verses)
Color the Classics (Music)
Heroes for Young Readers
Art classes, swimming lessons, gymnastics
I am still completely undecided when it comes to Spelling, Geography, Math, Reading, Handwriting, Devotions, and copywork. I am considering all kinds of things.
It seems like a lot of people are talking about using All About Spelling this year and that is what I am leaning towards for Spelling because it incorporates sight, sound, and touch, which seems like it has the best chance of working with multiple kids. Does anyone have any experience with this curriculum?
For handwriting, I am torn between A Reason for Handwriting and Handwriting Without Tears. I have never used either. Any opinions?
For Science, I’ve looked into several options, but it seems that many of them require a fair amount of prep. work on my part or going to several different stores to purchase materials for experiments and I know that I won’t find success with that. I have a few friends who have suggested Sonlight. Science is not a passion of mine in the least and so I am nervous about the decision.
Math is where I am the most nervous though. I am not strong in the least in Math and feel inadequate to equip my kids with a solid foundation in that area. In the past, we have used Abeka, Switched on Schoolhouse (Fred really liked that, but our computer has been plagued with other problems and so I can’t use a computer based program), Life of Fred, and Math U See (that worked really well for awhile and then Fred hit a brick wall with it). So, I am stuck on what to use with the younger ones. Last year, they just used various workbooks. I may try Math U See with the three 9 year olds and see how it goes. Any other suggestions?
I really want to find a great Devotion to do with the kids this year. Last year, we did 2. We did a Veggie Tales one about honesty that was designed for younger kids, but adapted perfectly for them. The one we did after was a one year devotional and it was too advanced for the kids and the reading parts were too long every day to hold their attention. So, I am looking for suggestions for that too! And for reading and for geography and for anything else!
I guess instead of this being a summary of what we are going to be using this year, it is a plea for help. I need to know what has worked for others. Keep in mind that I need something that takes minimal prep. work for me and that some of my kids have special needs and that I am hopeless when it comes to Math and Science.
Just for fun, and as a kick off for our homeschool “under the sea” unit, I decided to throw together a little party. We invited a few friends at the last minute, which only added to the fun and it was a great day.
Sensory bin: rice (easier clean up than sand), seashells, various undersea creatures, colourful seashell beads, glass rocks
Obviously, I wasn’t going to buy 20 bags of Goldfish crackers to fill the pail with, so I stuffed the pail with plastic grocery bags to almost the top and then added the fish crackers. The popcorn represented coral. The goggles and seashell necklaces we had around the house. The blow-up fish and octopus I found for .99 cents each at Michael’s. I found the cutest seashell cupcake liners and filled them with guppies (candy). That was about the extent of my decorating other than the Finding Nemo cups, plates, napkin, bowls, and placemats that I happened to have in the storage room anyway. I had planned the day already and was in the midst of setting things out the night before when I remembered that years earlier, I had bought a Finding Nemo party set for $9.99 that was still in the storage room!
These cupcakes were super easy to decorate. I just iced them with buttercream icing tinted blue, added a pretzel stick fishing rod and a candy fish, then drew the fishing line with edible markers. White icing would have looked better for the fishing line though.
To make things go as smoothly as possible, I made up the craft table ahead of time with the glue, scissors, paint, paintbrushes, googly eyes, toilet paper rolls, tissue paper strips I had cut out, and jellyfish bodies my boys had cut out.
To make the octopus craft, make slits all the way around a toilet paper roll about halfway up. Curl each one around a thick marker or your finger. Paint it blue, including underneath the “arms”. Allow to dry and then decorate with googly eyes, bingo dabbers, paint, or clay.
To make the jellyfish craft, cut the body shape out of construction paper and tape or glue strips of tissue paper to the bottom. (when we cut out the body shapes, we used scalloped scissors along the bottom) Decorate by glueing googly eyes and making spots with Bingo dabbers or paint.
The crafts were the biggest hit of the party. Even the youngest kids (2 and 3 years old) enjoyed making these.
I sent each of the kids home with a little bag of just a few things including more seashell beads, a stencil, ring, and sea life grow creature. I got a pack of 12 ocean themed stencils for .99 cents at Michael’s.
Here are some more pictures of how the day went. There were 14 kids there and no major mishaps, so that qualifies as a big success with me!
If you are looking for information on making sensory bins, you may be interested in my book.
I have been making freezer meals for our family for over three years now. It has saved me thousands of dollars, not to mention the amount of brain space it has freed up not to have to worry about what I am going to make for supper every day. By spending one or two days cooking, I am able to have enough meals to feed our family for between one and three months! That is what I call a good use of my time!
In the first article in this series, I outlined what steps need to be taken in planning, in the second, I detailed what steps needed to be taken in preparation, and in this article, I will take you step by step through the day you assemble your meals.
At each of your stations, put out the rest of the ingredients. These will include refrigerated ingredients and the items you prepared in advance such as the browned meat, cubed chicken, and chopped vegetables.
Step 11: If you are doing this in a group, assign one person to each station and get to work. Making many of the same meal is hardly any extra work and at the end of the day, all of you will have many meals to take home to your families. If you are doing this on your own, start at one station and work you way around. It helps to keep your energy up if you alternate between a dish that is easy to assemble and one that is more difficult, as you will see progress.
Step 12: Freeze the meals. For all meals that are put in a bag, let out all excess air and lay the bag flat. This will optimize your freezer space. If you are doing this in a group, have everyone bring a box or a laundry basket to transport their meals in. Keeping the meals cold can be tricky the day of the assembly, but if you live in a place where the winters are cold, schedule your cook days for cold days and store the assembled meals in the boxes outside until people are ready to go home.
Step 13: Stand back and admire your work. For the next month at least, your meals are made. Last year, I did a freezer meal marathon of two days of assembly and ended up with enough meals to last over three months.
(this is a picture of my actual freezer following a day of freezer meal assembly – there are 37 meals in here plus four bags of homemade tomato sauce that can later be used on pizzas, in soups, or on pasta…the end result is well worth the effort!)
By using this method of cooking, I am able to feed our family of 9 suppers for between $8 and $10 a meal, averaging out to less than or a bit more than $1 per person. (note…those calculations were before I started couponing, so I expect that the per meal amount would be considerably lower now.) I am also able to go about my days without having that mid-afternoon panic worrying about what to make for supper!