It was nearly time for me to leave for the grocery store, and I was still frantically googling for “Real Food Menu Plans”. I had a list of dream features in my head for what I needed/wanted in a menu planning service, but I assumed it didn't exist because it was basically like I was hoping for a personal mind-reader.
I saw Real Plans come up several times, clicked on it, and left the page. Like 3 times. I assumed it wouldn't be everything I was hoping for, even though it looked close. On the 4th time, I said, “You know what? I can just do this for a month and see how I like it. I don't have to keep up a subscription if I don't want to.”
So I did. After the first week I said, “Yup. I'm buying the whole year subscription.”
And now, 3 months later, I'm still finding new things to love about it. Update: It has now been 8 months since I purchased my subscription to Real Plans, and I'm still extremely happy with it.
This is going to be a long post, because honestly it's got everything. But here we go. Here is why I am loving Real Plans so stinking much.
(Disclosure: this post includes affiliate links)
1. Customize likes, dislikes, food allergies, etc.
When you first set up your profile, you can choose whether or not you eat a specific type of diet, like Paleo or Whole30. I don't even remember how many choices there were. There were a lot. I just chose a traditional diet.
Additionally, if you have specific allergies or even foods you dislike, you can add those and it will not include any recipes in your meal plans that have any of those ingredients in them.
I so much love that all of the recipes are real food recipes, and not something where I have to make manual substitutions for foods we wouldn't eat.
2. Customize your meal schedule
I can choose which days of the week I want it to plan menus for and which meals I want planned. So, for instance, if I know we don't eat breakfast on Saturdays but have a large brunch instead, I would set the Saturday schedule to only plan breakfast and dinner. I can event set the Saturday breakfast settings to “large” meal size so that it would be appropriate for brunch.
Every meal can be customized with advanced filters. So, for example, if I know we have soccer practice on Thursday nights, I can set the prep times for Thursday night dinners to always plan a 15 minute dinner for me. (What?! I'm still blown away by how amazing this software is.
If I want to have a crockpot roast for Sunday dinner every week, I can tell it to do that.
If I want to do a Mexican Mondays, I can set Monday dinners to always be Mexican cuisine.
I could keep going, but I think you get the point that you can do so much with this software!
3. Customize to your real food cooking style
Another thing in your account settings is what your real food cooking style is. Do you typically buy organic, pre-made ingredients from the store? Do you make every ingredient from scratch? Do you make certain easy things like bone broth and purchase the rest?
Depending on the settings you select, the software will add ingredients to your shopping list or else add to your weekly instructions that you need to prepare those ingredients.
4. Customize how many servings you want
A downfall of some menu planning services is that the recipes are based on a certain number of servings and you have to adjust your own shopping list accordingly if your family is larger or smaller.
With Real Plans, I can set each meal to be the number of servings I want, and it will automatically adjust the recipes and my shopping list.
Right now, I have all my dinners set to 14 servings, and I leave the lunches blank. This way I don't have to cook a separate meal for lunch, and I can be sure that my dinner recipes make enough to ensure leftovers that we can eat.
5. Use pre-made menus, customized menus, or a combination of both
After you set up your weekly schedule, your menus are automatically generated for you each week. Simply log in or open up the app on your phone and your menus and recipes are already there waiting for you. Don't care for a specific meal on the schedule? You can search the database and replace it with any recipe you like, or you can play “recipe roulette”, where they will generate some random choices. You can keep clicking the thumbs down sign until you see one you like and it will replace the originally planned meal with the new one you selected.
6. Add more recipes from your favorite bloggers or import your own
Real Plans comes with a database of 1500 real food recipes, but they have also partnered with some favorite recipe bloggers. You can also purchase an upgrade and it will add every recipe from their site into your recipe rotation.
Additionally, you can install the chrome extension (free) and use it to import any recipes you wish from around the web and then add hem to your meal schedule.
7. The shopping list is automatically created and syncs to the phone app
No matter how many adjustments I make to my meal plan, the app automatically adjusts every ingredient on my shopping list.
I LOVE that the shopping list is divided by section of the store, making everything so quick and easy to find. Each item has a check box beside it, and once I've added it to my cart I can click it and it disappears. This makes it so nice so that I can see the items disappearing off the list instead of hoping my eyes haven't missed something as I skim over the list.
(If I make a mistake, I can go to the “Got it” section and re-add the item to my list.)
8. Additional shopping list convenience
Since I shop at multiple stores, I can tell the software which items I typically purchase from which store. Every week it puts my Aldi items on the Aldi list, the Walmart items on the Walmart list, the online items on the online list, etc. That way when I go to Walmart, I only see the 3 items I need to get when I'm in Walmart.
If I always have certain items on hand, coconut oil or apple cider vinegar for instance, I can check “always have it” and it will not clog up my shopping list with those items week after week. If I want to purchase certain items on a schedule (for instance, I like to order my sprouted flour once a month) I can set the shopping list to schedule it for me once a month so that I remember to buy it. (I'm telling you, once you enter your settings, Real Plans is like having your own personal mind reader!)
9. Cooking timeline
If you know anything about real food, it's that you always have to be a couple steps ahead of the game. (Whoops! Beans for supper tonight, but I forgot to soak them yesterday!)
Real Plans is so smart that it reads the ingredients in your recipes and creates a timeline for the week. Here's a snapshot of mine for the week:
10. Cooking convenience
With other menu planning services I've used, I either have to print the recipes out, or go tracking them down via my Pinterest profile when I'm ready to cook. It's time consuming and a pain.
With Real Plans, all I do is open the app on my phone, and the recipe for whatever meal it is automatically pops up. (If I decide I want to eat tomorrow's meal today, I can just scroll down and click on it.)
I also just noticed that there is a place to rate each recipe from 1 to 5 “hearts.” I'm assuming that if you really like a recipe, you can just give it a high rating and Real Plans will add it to your meal rotation more often. (Like I said, I keep finding new things to love about it!)
11. Nutritional data on every recipe
If you have special health concerns or you're dieting and want to count carbs, each recipe has all the nutrition facts included.
12. 24 hour chat
If you're stuck or confused on how to use a certain feature, you can just click the chat button (available 24 hours a day and they will help you immediately.) Seriously the best customer service ever. They even called me when I first signed up to see if I needed anything.
13. Money back guarantee
Not that I think you would need it, but it is always reassuring to know that if something doesn't work for you, you won't be out anything.
I paid $72 for a year of Real Plans and even though it's only February, I have already more than paid for the service with the amount of time I've saved and with the money I've saved at the grocery store.
I am super picky about products and don't often recommend things because I'm hard to impress. But Real Plans has honestly been like a dream come true for me. We're eating healthy meals and saving money in the process!
I can still feel the pit in my stomach. Our family had recently made the most difficult decision of our lives, and we had no idea what lay around the next corner.
Would people support us or would they ridicule us? How would we pay for the necessary expenses? Would people understand just how difficult this was for us or would they assume we had gone off the deep end?
As I sought for a good “thinking place” amidst my turmoil, I decided to lie down on a sheet on the ground outside. It was a balmy spring day, and I could feel a gentle breeze brushing over me.
With my head so close to the ground, my attention was drawn to the tiniest of flowers – flowers I couldn’t even see without being down so low.
My children were running around in the grass near me, and I watched as the flowers seemed to be crushed under their feet.
But no sooner were they crushed but they sprang right back up, no worse for the wear.
As I watched those little flowers, I thought of the song by the late Alfred B. Smith:
I was wearied, I was worried with my trouble,
And my heart by its burden was oppressed.
Now I’ve learned my Savior’s lesson on the lilies,
And I find in its teaching perfect rest.
In case you didn't catch it, that song is based on Matthew chapter 6, where the Holy Spirit through the writer tells us not to be concerned about whether we’ll have enough to eat or drink or whether we’ll have clothes to wear.
Matthew 6:24-33, KJV:
“Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
God knows what we need before we even know ourselves what we need.
As we are faithful to seek Him above all things, he will faithfully provide all that we need – whether that be physical needs or even emotional needs.
God said that even Solomon with his riches and glory did not compare to the beauty with which God clothes the lilies of the field.
Grass and flowers which are beaten down by wind and rain and trampled underfoot are cared for directly by the hand of God – how much more will he take care of his children?
Those tiny purple flowers which go completely unnoticed under normal circumstances are important to God! He clothes them in beauty and provides the resilience for them to make a full recovery after being crushed underfoot.
Will he not care for my needs? Will he not give me the strength to heal when I’ve been hurt? Will he not give me courage when I’m afraid?
When I’m tempted to look around at my problems, I recall the image of the purple flowers and I remember that God is there.
And I can rest peacefully in Christ’s lesson on the lilies.
As I sit here typing, I can hear the baby “talking” loudly in her crib while her big sister indulges her by speaking back to her in baby talk.
They should be asleep, and I should finally have some silence to think, plan, and accomplish some things. But instead, you’ll most likely end up reading a blog post full of jumbled thoughts as I try in vain to think clearly amid the ruckus.
Life around here is never dull, which means it’s never very quiet either!
I have so many things I need to be doing, but most of them require clarity of thought – something that is hard to come by when there is noise all around me!
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the constant noise?
Maybe it’s the constant “Mama! Mama!” you hear all day long.
Maybe it’s the sound of the vacuum and the dishwasher and the washing machine (and the smoke alarm?) all going at the same time.
Maybe it’s the never-ending buzzing and dinging from your phone.
It’s highly possible that it’s all of the above.
Is there hope of finding peace when you can’t even seem find a quiet moment to go the bathroom alone, let alone think about anything important?
Homemaking places so many demands on us, not just physically, but also mentally and even spiritually.
Quiet moments do not come easily; therefore you will have to intentionally create them.
If your life seems chaotic and disorganized, creating some quiet time to get your thoughts in order will go a long way toward helping you create a more peaceful home.
So how in the world do you create quiet time when you’re overwhelmed with all the noise in your home?
Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.
1. Get up early.
Say what? I have little ones who don’t sleep through the night! OR I have chronic insomnia, and there is no way I can get up early!
I hear you. I have been there. I have been through seasons of life where getting up early was not the right thing for me.
Don’t worry. There are other suggestions here to help you create some quiet.
Hint: You might want to check out Crystal Paine’s Make Over Your Morning course. She teaches you how to overcome some of the overwhelm in your day with a smooth morning routine – regardless of whether you can get up early or not!
2. Stay up late.
Okay, now you’re confusing me. I thought you just told me to get up early. I can’t do that if I stay up late!
I agree. If you’re going to get up early, you need to get to bed and get some sleep. But maybe you’re just not in a season of life where you can do early mornings right now. So flip that on its head and stay up a little later than everyone else. Not late enough to wreak havoc on your body, but just enough to hear yourself think after the house is (finally!) silent. I know it’s tempting to just veg. out in front of a screen because you’re tired, but taking 10 – 15 minutes to get a clear picture in your head of how you need to order your day will save you from frustration and chaos tomorrow. Hint: If you’re more of the evening type, you’ll want to snag Crystal Paine’s Make Over Your Evenings course, where she’ll walk you through how to use your evening to create a peaceful day the next day. Best part – her courses are super affordable!
3. Institute a daily quiet time
If you have small children, most likely they will still take naps. Do your best to put them down for naps at the same time so you can have an hour or two of quiet in the midst of your day. If your kids are too old for naps, you can still have a mandatory quiet time every day.
In my home, the kids may read or color or play quietly with Legos. Occasionally I will put on a movie for them. Having everyone doing something quiet gives me a few minutes to breathe, regroup, and prepare myself mentally and spiritually for the remainder of the day.
Even if you don’t have children in the home, taking a time out in the middle of your day to just Be Still (Psalm 46:10) will do wonders for your soul, especially when your mind feels pulled in a million different directions.
4. Turn it off
I am a big proponent of listening to Godly, uplifting music in the home. It can keep our hearts and minds in the right place and help us to keep our focus on Christ. But occasionally I find that it’s just adding to the noise of the moment. With lots of little people talking and timers beeping and phones ringing, it’s just one more thing to add to the cacophony. Don’t feel guilty turning off the music if it’s doing more harm than good!
To keep a peaceful and orderly home, it’s important not to be mentally distracted. Turn off notifications from your phone, stick to set times to be on social media, and even remove apps from your phone if you find yourself picking it up too often throughout the day. Too much social media adds to the mental clutter and creates noise in your brain.
I don’t know about you, but for me it doesn’t matter whether the noise is in my brain or in my ears – noise is still noise! And too much of it makes it hard for me to focus on keeping my home running smoothly and giving the attention to my children that they need.
6. Learn to focus on one thing at a time
This is an area where I struggle. I know I need to get the laundry done, get dinner made, oversee the children’s schooling and chores, and accomplish all of the other miscellaneous to-do items from my list each day. But like the internet browser on my computer, ALL THE TABS ARE OPEN AT ONCE. Instead of finishing one thing, I flit around from one to the other. And it’s just more mental clutter.
When I focus on one thing at a time, I can do it well, and it doesn’t hurt my brain because I’m not trying to remember 20 other things at the same time.
7. Go outside
When I’m starting to feel like the noise is closing in on me, one of the best ways for me to regroup is to go outside for a while. The fresh air does me good and helps me clear my head (not to mention, when the little munchkins get outside to run, they’re a lot less noisy when they go back inside.)
8. Prioritize your to-do list
I could cook and clean and take care of kids for a hundred years, and I would never, ever run out of things to put on my to-do list.
But looking at a list of 25 things is a lot for my small brain to take in, and adds to that mental clutter and feeling of overwhelm.
But listing the top 3 things I need to do? That is much more manageable and helps to create a little bit of “white space” in my mind so that it doesn’t feel so noisy in there!
9. Take a break
If you want a sure-fire way to burn yourself out as homemaker, then don’t ever take a break from your responsibilities and just relax with no guilt!
You don’t ever need to feel guilty for leaving the kids with dad or a sitter and taking a shopping day or a bubble bath or whatever else you want to do! Me time is not selfish when it is done in the interest of recharging your batteries so you can be fresh and revitalized for your family! (Here are 13 Free Ways to Take Care of You!)
10. Play the Quiet Game
When the chatter reaches its highest crescendo, and you can’t even hear yourself think enough to remember whether it was two or three teaspoons of baking powder you just added to the biscuits, it’s time to play the quiet game.
Whew! The sound of silence immediately after a deafening roar is heavenly. It only takes a few minutes of the quiet game before you’ll be thinking clearly again and ready to continue managing your home well.
Join the 5 day Overcoming Overwhelm email series by clicking on the image below.
“Christmas is only 11 weeks away” my son informed me. I groaned inwardly, not because I don't like Christmas, but because I was not prepared for another stressful season of shopping for the perfect gifts and then trying to make homes for all the things my children receive. I longed for a Christ centered Christmas, and I knew from years past that in spite of my intentions for Christmas to be a simple celebration of Christ's birth, there was still too much emphasis placed on the gifts.
Don't get me wrong. I don't think that gifts are a bad thing or that giving and receiving gifts at Christmas is always materialistic. We try to give our children things they need or things that will have some usefulness for many years rather than loading them up with the latest toy trends.
But shopping for those gifts takes a lot of my time and energy away from some of the other things I'd like to do to celebrate Christmas. When you live with a chronic illness, even the simplest things are difficult and stressful.
Additionally, our budget is not exactly what you'd call large, and trying to find gifts that fit within it is a challenge and a time suck.
What I want this year is to enjoy spending time together as a family celebrating what Christmas really is instead of spending so much time shopping for gifts.
So I sat the children down one evening and told them that Christmas gifts were going to be extremely simple this year. I was honest with them about our budget as well as my desire to put even less emphasis on the gifts than we usually did.
I asked them what, in their opinion, would make Christmas meaningful.
Instead of groaning that we were cutting back on our already simple gifts, they seemed excited. I learned something that evening that I already knew: KIDS DON'T WANT GIFTS; THEY WANT YOU!
“We could sing Christmas Carols together.”
“I would like it if we could play some silly Christmas games together.”
“I just want to spend time as a family.”
These were the kinds of answers they gave me that night.
And so, as I began to brainstorm what a Christ-centered Christmas would entail, I came up with some guidelines:
For several weeks, I mulled over exactly how we could do those things. We knew where we wanted to go; we just didn't exactly have a plan to get there yet.
I prayed for wisdom and ideas, and in time the Lord showed me exactly how we could celebrate a Christ-centered Christmas.
My 4 year old went shopping with grandma on her birthday, and one of the things she picked out was a little Christmas mailbox.
(Get your own mailbox here.)
At first, the kids used it to deliver kind notes to each other (sounds like they were already in the spirit of a Christ-centered Christmas!)
But after a couple days, it got to be overload on the little scraps of paper all over the house. They were beginning to write nonsense instead of meaningful notes just for the novelty of using the mailbox.
So my husband told them they had to wait until we came up with some guidelines for using the mailbox.
After about a week or so, I had an idea!
Our mailbox will be a central part of our Christ-Centered Christmas!
Each morning when the kids come to the table for breakfast, they can check the mailbox. Inside I will have placed a folded slip of paper with the day's date on it. On it they will find the day's Christ-centered Christmas activity.
I'm really excited about this because it doesn't have to be completed in advance like a lot of Christmas countdown calendars I've seen. This will give me the freedom to decide based on how I'm feeling that day whether I write something simple and low-energy or something more ambitious. Plus, as I see different Christmas activities come up on our local community calendar, I can decide on a whim whether to include that in our mailbox.
So, I know what you're wondering. What are some of the activities I'm thinking of putting in the mailbox?
I have here a list of 25 Christ-centered Christmas activities to get you started on your own family Christmas.
If all goes well, I imagine this will become a yearly tradition for us.
1. Go see Christmas lights.
Remind the children the Christ is the light of the world. You could also do this fun Christmas lights scavenger hunt that's included in free Christian holidays printable set from Not Consumed.
2. Make a meal together.
3. Write a letter to a relative.
Be a blessing to someone you don't get to see very often.
4. Sing Christmas Carols together.
Talk about the meanings of the songs that you sing.
5. Play a Game.
Here's a fun version of Christmas Carol Catch Phrase
6. Let the kids decorate their rooms for Christmas.
7. Make Healthy Homemade Hot Chocolate.
8. Decorate Christmas cookies together.
Here's a fun set of nativity cookie cutters.
9. Go on a family outing (ice skating, Christmas parade, tree lighting etc.)
10.Bake and deliver goodies to the neighbors.
11. Make a Christmas craft.
(Tons of ideas on Pinterest!)
12. Watch a Christmas movie together.
Here is one I have watched.
13. Read a Christmas book together.
This is a good one.
14.String popcorn for the Christmas tree.
16. Make cinnamon rolls for breakfast.
17. Act out the Christmas story.
Be as simple or elaborate as you wish with costumes.
18. Pick out a gift for a child or family in need.
19. Prepare a scripture, song, or poem to share with the family on Christmas day.
20. Put together candy cane tracts to give to people as you're out and about.
Here is a free printable candy cane tract from my mom's blog.
21. Go to a Christmas concert.
22. Visit residents at the nursing home and sing Christmas carols for them.
24. Make a family video with scripture and songs for friends and family.
25. Draw names and do a secret acts of kindness for a family member.
Looking for more ideas to celebrate a Christ-centered Christmas?
This Christ-centered Christmas countdown looks fantastic!
If you've been reading the blog for the past couple days, you've seen that I'm sharing ideas for crossing items off your gift list for free or really cheap!
A couple free things here and a couple free things there will knock a nice chunk off your budget!
I try to take advantage of each of these opportunities that comes my way and by Christmas I have a good little stash of gifts already collected. It's a huge help when money is tight!
Today I'm going to tell you how to get free clothes that you can give as gifts!
Here's how it works:
Tips and Tricks:
Thredup and/or Schoola sell gently used clothing, which you may or may not feel comfortable giving as a gift. However, you can find plenty of articles that are new with tags. On Thredup, click on the “price” filter and check the box that says New with Tags. On Schoola, you'll click on the “condition” filter and choose New with Tags.
If you're giving something to your children, you may not care if the item doesn't have tags on it.
For example, my 10 year old is into Under Armour, so I've been able to find inexpensive Under Armour clothes on Thredup for him. He won't even care or notice whether they have tags on them!
Other items that make nice gifts:
Wristlets or wallets
Don't forget to check out other inexpensive gift ideas too:
I'm shopping for Christmas on a super tight budget this year, and I've come up with lots of creative ways to get gifts for free or nearly free.
Yesterday I shared 10 Gifts You Can Get Free or Nearly Free from Grove Collaborative, and today I'm sharing some stocking stuffers that you can score for free!
Here's how it works:
Sally Hansen nail polish – $3.49; FREE after $5 sign-up credit
Burt's Bees lip balm – $2.29; free after sign up credit
Conair hair brush – $2; free after sign up credit
Goody hair elastics – $1.50; free after sign up credit
Light up Love sign – $5; FREE after sign-up credit
Softcover notebook – $1; Free after signup credit
Kumon educational activity books – $4; FREE after sign-up credit
Multi-colored sidewalk chalk – $1.50; Free after sign up credit
Melissa and Doug scratch art kit – $1.50; Free after sign up credit
Hello Kitty mess free activity book – $2; Free after sign-up credit
DIY Canvas Tote – $2; Free after sign up credit
Basketball hoop – $5; FREE after sign-up credit
Jump rope with counter – $3.29; free after sign up credit
Cobi building sets (compatible with Lego) – $5; FREE after signup credit
Snowball launcher – $3; FREE after signup credit
Enjoy your free shopping!
Also check out: