Category Archives: Helpful Bananas

Summer on a Budget

Summer time! FREEDOM!

But let’s be real a minute, parents. Summer can be costly. Summer camps, road trips, stops for slushies (sometimes you might even buy one for your kids). Cha-ching! Long-time followers know I like to share my budget-saving ways so I’ve compiled the various activities and programs we have implemented to have an amazing summer, but not break the bank.

Games are always a fun and easy way to spend quality time together. The $1.50 to buy a fresh pack of cards is money well-spent. But you know what’s even better? FREE. Here are some games that are free or almost free and guaranteed to please at least some members of your family.

Stop Being Ridiculous

It’s Okay Not to Fight About Dumb Stuff

You Don’t Own Air

I Was Watching From the Corner of My Eye

He’s Allowed to Look Out Your Window

Games aren’t really your thing? Looking for a more structured program? Why not run your own summer day camp? Here are some that are consistently popular with our crew.

Camp Fend-for-Yourself. Young campers have the opportunity to learn skills such as sandwich making, cereal pouring, and juice distribution. Merit badges can be earned for Counter Wiping, Fridge Closing, and Eating Over Your Plate. Gold Star award presented to the camper who achieves “Leave No Trace Behind” status. Broom sweeping skills are recommended, but not required.

Camp Quityerbitchin. A popular one with parents, this camp teaches children that life involves chores, particularly if you want to live in harmony and for free. Ample opportunities are given to practice tucking shoes away, hanging up hats, and putting away the clean clothes that were washed, folded, sorted, and stacked for them in advance. Merit badges for Timeliness, Lack of Eyerolling, and Least Amount of Sighing.

A great one to pair with Quityerbitchin, is Camp Clean Your Room where the motto “If it’s on the floor, it’s out the door” comes to life. Merit badges include Under the Bed, Only Furniture on the Floor, and Bring Your Dishes to the Kitchen.

Finally, friends, nothing beats Camp Call on Your Friend to provide hours of fun and entertainment. A classic, this camp cannot be matched for simplicity. Unless they congregate at your house and keep asking for snacks. Then might I recommend a remedial session of Camp Fend-for-Yourself? Merit badges for this family favourite include Ring the Doorbell Once, Least Amount of Snacks Eaten, and Bicker-free Afternoon.

 

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Coming to my non-existent Etsy shop soon!

Break-out sessions are a great addition, if you have the resources. Some suggested titles include “Sunblock is Not Optional”, “Yes! You CAN Change the Toilet Paper”, and “Why Popsicles are Not a Meal”.

 

 


How to Feed a Family of Six and Not Lose Your Mind

People often ask me how we manage to feed our four boys and not break the bank or lose our sanity. For real. They ask me (like I actually know what I’m doing).

“You must meal plan really well.”

“Have you had to take out a second mortgage?”

“Your grocery bills must be astronomical!”

The answers are yes, no, and not really.

Yes, we meal plan. No second mortgage or job (yet). And the bills are high, but not ridiculous.

What’s our secret? There are a few things. We have a large chest freezer that we use faithfully. This allows us to buy in bulk when things go on sale. A few dollars on chicken fingers can add up to big savings when bought in large quantities rather than week-to-week. We also buy pasta, sauce, crackers, cookies, and other staples and pantry-type items in bulk when the deals are found. And anyone who knows us is well-aware that we have an entire section of our fridge designated solely to cheese. WE STOCK UP, SON.

When it comes to planning, we do it, but nothing too complicated. I was going to just share my most recent plan with a friend or two, but since others have expressed an interest, I’m sharing it here. This type of post is new for me, so be gentle.

First step: I make a list of well-liked meals based on past experience. This time I loosely broke it down into categories to ensure I had a balance.

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I really like paper and pencil. I mean, REALLY like them.

Second step: I slot five meals into weeks for the month. I don’t worry about selecting seven because sometimes we eat out/order in and often weekends we play by ear.

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It’s not that I CAN’T use technology. It’s that there’s something satisfying about using a freshly sharpened pencil. Trust me.

Third (this is a new step): I take an inventory of the staple items we have on hand and then make a list of general grocery items we need as well as things for specific meals. The number beside some items refers to the week we are planning to use that ingredient. That way we can wait until it goes on sale and also stock up.

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As the week begins, we tentatively decide which nights we are having each meal and which one of us is cooking it. Creating this in pencil allows us to adapt as the week or month requires.

I’m no hero. Life gets busy. Sometimes I double up a recipe and freeze one for a tough week or an evening when we have a sitter. And sometimes I accept that the thought of making a meal will break my spirit and we just heat something up. It’s important to go easy on yourself, too.

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*disclaimer: Vegetables are implied. I do not plan that part in advance since Bearded Husband  makes bi-weekly trips to the Farmers’ Market (or is it Farmer’s Market?)and stocks up on produce. We eat them, but we eat what’s in season or on sale.

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GRAPES FOR EVERYONE

Interested in reading more about our budget-friendly shopping? Here you go.


Press Pause

Work. Marriage. Kids. Housekeeping. Friends.

So many things demand our time and attention. Struggling to maintain a balance is not new or unique, but it is a challenge. I used to think that this particular challenge would get easier when we were out of the baby stage. Then when we were out of the toilet-training stage. Maybe when they are all in school. But no. Struggling for balance doesn’t go away, it just changes as life moves along.

If I focus more on housekeeping, I enjoy the feeling of being organized. It gives me a sense of calm and peace when the kitchen counter is cleared and I can walk across the floor without collecting crumbs on the bottoms of my feet. But when I let that task take over my time I can slide into the nagging zone and transform into the “THIS-IS-NOT-A-DAYCARE-JUST-PICK-UP-YOUR-STUFF-WHY-ARE-THERE-COCOA-PUFFS-IN-MY-UKULELE” ranting mom.

That is not balance.

The weekend rolls around and this time I decide to say “yes” to the invitations to have breakfast with a friend followed by a walk with a neighbour and then an at-home date night with my husband. But giving the social side of me the priority leaves me feeling guilty for neglecting the kids and the housework. And out comes the scary cleaning-machine-mom.

Still not balance.

When the week has been long and filled with work, stomach flu, and extra errands to run, I just want to curl up in my pajamas and forget all responsibilities. So when Friday night finally arrives, I decide to give myself a break. We shove aside the Legos and Hot Wheels and eat take-out pizza in the living room. It’s a fun and relaxed family night.

And it’s exactly what we need. What I need.

I’m not going to find the perfect balance. I think it’s an unattainable goal. It’s a worthy goal, and for our own mental health and peace of mind, we need to strive for some balance. But a truly balanced life? I don’t think so. And I’m learning that’s okay.

We will always be pulled in multiple directions. Crises will arise, friends will need support, people get sick. Sometimes plain old daily life is too much. So instead of feeling guilty for not finding the right balance, I’m learning to pause.

When the state of the kitchen makes me want to scream, I can pause and pull out something easy for dinner, giving me time to get ahead on something else. When a child is sick, I can pause my work goal for the week and just accept that sleep isn’t really going to happen, but cuddles will. When I have to back out of a commitment because now I’m sick, I can put aside feelings of culpability, pause, and take friends up on their offers to help.

Pause and breathe and let go. It’s working.

The payoff is less guilt, less stress, and more joy, more laughter. And insight. Pausing let me spend time with one of my favourite little people who shared this gem as we enjoyed a hot chocolate together.

“Jesus and Yoda are alike because they’re both very wise and humble and sometimes confusing.”

The house might not be as tidy as I’d like. I might not have a homemade dinner on the table every night. I still feel overwhelmed sometimes and lean into the cranky-zone, but it’s worth it to give up on finding the perfect balance and allowing myself to pause.

 


School Lunches Made Easy

The internet is buzzing with back-to-school lunch suggestions, organizational tips, and photo shoot ideas (so many chalkboards). Many of you found my Summer Calendar For Kids post a real lifesaver (it was pinned at least twice – my head is still spinning). So I thought I’d create a budget-friendly, simple, and nutritious meal plan for all those lunches we parents need to pack for our little darlings. Don’t worry, I snuck in a little treat each day, because life should be enjoyed, right?

Busy families do not have time or energy to create a new lunchtime meal every day. To maximize simplicity I’ve carefully selected four items that will keep your offspring nourished and ready to learn.

Convenient and affordable

Convenient and affordable

You might be worried that your children will become bored with the same items each day. No. You can keep things fresh and exciting by cutting the cheese sandwiches into triangles, then squares, and if you’re feeling really Pinterest-y, go ahead and try rectangles. Kids are easily duped.

Feeling a litte adventurous? Go ahead and swap out the apples for bananas. You be you.

Bonus Feature:

Breakfast for the parent on the go. All in less than ten minutes.

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Coming soon: Afterschool Snack Ideas


Summer Calendar For Kids

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Getting ahead on our summer plans.

Next on today’s To-Do list: Summer Bucket List followed by Summer Meal Planning. Be sure to follow me on Pinterest for more organization tricks.