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My Thoughts on Menu Plans We've Tried

Over the years I have used many different methods for weekly menu planning. There have been times where I've made my own menus based off of meals from Pinterest that I want to try, times where I've kept it simple and rotated through the same few recipes every single week, and other times where I've shelled out money to other bloggers and influencers to do the work for me. I feel like I've used enough different menu plans by now that I know what I do and don't like, and thought I'd share that wisdom with you. 

Why I like menu plans:
I like menu plans because it takes the guess work out of what my meals will look like. A lot of people use meal plans for weight loss, but that really is never the goal for me. I want simple and nutritious meals, with micronutrient dense foods. If left to my own devices I'll have cereal for breakfast, nothing for lunch, and then five servings of whatever I make for dinner. Menu plans are great for me because they actually get me to eat all my vegetables which I likely wouldn't do on my own. 

A general review of what I've tried:
I've tried several menu plans in the past including Fitness Carli, Clean Simple Eats, Six Sister's Stuff, and currently Skinny Taste. The Fitness Carli menu plan was easy and light on the cooking, but I also felt like it was an easy way to develop an eating disorder if you followed the plan exactly. Basically everyone doing the plan is living off of roughly 1200 calories, it's not kid and family friendly, so you're basically cooking all your food, and then cooking for your family too. So not much ease and simplicity. 

Clean Simple eats was great, the meals were great, but it's really heavy on the cooking side. Like Fitness Carli, it provides three meals a day, and the dinners are large enough to feed the entire family, but the cooking eventually burned me out a few weeks in. I also don't love that it promotes ingredients with artificial sweeteners like zero calorie salad dressings and syrups. These could obviously be subbed out for better ingredients, but just something that generally turned me off. 

Six Sister's Stuff was great and we did that for a solid six months last year. The only thing I didn't necessarily love was that although we signed up for the "healthy" plan, there were occasionally ingredients that I didn't consider healthy, like cream of whatever soup and processed things like that. Six Sister's Stuff provided only dinner options as well, which meant I was on my own for the rest of the day. 

Currently we're three weeks into doing the Skinny Taste menu plan. I like this because it's FREE (all the other ones mentioned above you pay for). She posts new plans on her site each week, with breakfast, lunch, and dinner options. The breakfast and lunches feed one person, and the dinners feed 4 people. On the weekends, all the meals feed 4 people, which is really nice. The main thing that I like about this is that so far, I feel like it's mostly whole foods, with no processed ingredients, and the meals have been very simple to make with not a lot of prep work involved. It's based off the weight watchers program so the meals add up to about 1,000 calories a day, and then I guess you're supposed to get the rest of your calories from a list of "zero point foods". I don't do this, I just eat candy, soda, and a granola bar or whatever the heck I want and live my best life knowing I ate all my vegetables that day. 

How to do a menu plan without hurting your wallet:
When doing menu plans, especially Skinny Taste or Clean Simple Eats, it feels like there are literally 1,000 items on the grocery list each week, and then all of a sudden your grocery budget is $50-$100 more than it normally is. One thing I started doing was actually going through all of the recipes and eliminating the ingredients off the list I knew my family wouldn't eat. 

Fish tacos with purple cabbage on top? No thanks to the purple cabbage, we'll stick with the lettuce and other toppings that can go on them that we're already buying this week for other meals. A watermelon and feta salad? Nope, we'll just eat the watermelon as the side with that meal. Asparagus wrapped in proscitto? Nope, just cook the asparagus in oil, salt, and pepper and call it good. If I'm going to make food, I want it to be food my family will eat. 

By simplifying the meals and sides when possible, you save a ton of money on ingredients that will likely rot and get wasted in your fridge anyways. 

Let's wrap it up:
At the end of the day there probably isn't one perfect menu plan or solution that will work for every family. I love menu plans though because it simply saves me the time and energy of coming up with the food on my own. Just because one plan didn't work for our family, doesn't mean that it won't work for you. If you tried a menu plan that you've loved, I'd love to hear about it in the comments below. 

Our Summer Morning Routine

This post was sponsored by General Mills, but all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

Summer is my very favorite season of the year. Derek has more time off work, we take family trips, and we don't have a busy schedule where we're constantly running from one thing to the next. Even though the kids aren't in school, I like to stick to a very solid morning routine so that the kids know what they can expect for the most part, and it helps to get our day off on the right start. 

8:00AM: The kids wake up. Kyle comes into my room already dressed for the day to tell me good morning, and then goes into the living room to read until I make my way out of my room. Kinsley wakes up and she plays with some toys until I come in to let her out. I look through my emails and text messages to make sure there isn't anything pressing that needs to be done right away, and then I make my way into my bathroom to get dressed, comb my hair, wash my face, and brush my teeth. 

8:15AM: I head into Kinsley's room and get her ready for the day. I change her diaper, get her dressed, fix her hair, and put her leg braces on. I also take this time while we're in her room to go over her alphabet flashcards. I hold them up one by one and she says which letter it is. The ones she gets wrong, I lay out in front of her and say, "can you show me the... 'R'?" and she'll pick through the remaining ones she missed the first time around. 

8:45AM: The kids finally sit down for breakfast. We almost always have cereal in the morning. Since it's summer, we decided to add in the NEW Drumstick Cereals from Walmart into our morning lineup. I love that I can get it both in-store or online with grocery pickup, and that it is a fun summer themed cereal that helps make breakfast time just a little more exciting. Our kids are huge fans of the Drumstick Cereal Classic Vanilla Flavor, but I also really love the Drumstick Cereal Mint Chocolate variety as well! If you're looking for some fun options to have a great summer breakfast for your kids, definitely add these NEW Drumstick Cereals from General Mills into your summer rotation! 

9:15AM: Once we're done eating breakfast, we clean up our messes and start working on chores. Kyle goes and cleans his room, makes his bed, and puts any and all dirty clothes into the laundry. Kinsley cleans up her toys in her living room and bedroom while I make her bed. While they clean I go ahead and wipe down the kitchen, and clean my room before going into Kinsley's room to help her. 

9:45AM: I sit down at the table to and start working for the day... Whether that be on the blog, school work, or getting things done for The Bamboo Brace. I get a solid couple hours of work in while the kids play with toys, or read books before the entire afternoon routine starts... but that's a post for another day ;)

5 Ways to Manage Back Pain and Keep Doing What You Love

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #SunbeamTargetedHeat #CollectiveBias 

Back pain is something that I've struggled with for most of my life. It started very early in high school as I was running track while going through huge growth spurts and dealing with scoliosis, and has transitioned into my adult life with carrying Kinsley around constantly due to her disabilities, training for races and being very active, and just the day to day life of being a mother. While I would love nothing more than for Derek to give me back massages 24/7, that is not his idea of a good time, so I've found five thing that work well for me to keep pain at a manageable level so that I can keep doing the things I love. 

Heating Pads: 
I love nothing more than curling up in bed with a good heating pad, but sometimes they can be super awkward and don't stay in place right where you need them. I have been loving the new Sunbeam® Renue® Contoured Back Heating Pad because it straps around your body and stays in place, which means that I can work at my desk, or read a book on the couch without having to worry about adjusting every five minutes. 

The Sunbeam® Renue® Contoured Back Heating Pad provides targeted heat therapy that is clinically proven to relieve pain associated with muscle tension and stress. The pad’s contoured design is shaped specifically to fit the #1 area of pain for heating pad users, the lower back. The integrated waist strap helps keep the pad in place for hands-free, high-level heat therapy. I also love that it has 4 heat settings with a 2-hour auto shut off, the entire pad is machine washable, and that it's made with soft Micromink fabric for added comfort. 

Epsom Salt Baths: 
I used to be religious about taking ice baths when training for an upcoming race, but I've learned that my body personally responds better to heat therapy as opposed to cold. I love taking epsom salt baths because they're proved to help reduce pain and swelling, aid exercise performance and recovery, and promote sleep and stress reduction!

Core Exercises: 
When I was training for my marathon last year, I was constantly in pain and having to see my chiropractor every two weeks. Since then I've learned that if I stay on top of my core exercises, my pain decreases and my performance significantly improves. I try to do 500 reps each day, which takes me about 10 minutes, and I divide it up with the following exercises: 100 flutter kicks, 100 leg raises, 100 bicycle crunches, 100 V-Crunches, 100 plank shoulder taps. If you're unfamiliar with these movements, I recommend looking them up so you can try them yourself! 

Stretching Daily: 
I can tell a huge difference in my daily pain levels when I'm stretching everyday versus when I'm not. I don't go too extreme with this, but if I remember to stretch my legs out with some good hamstring stretches, this usually helps to relieve some tension in my lower back!

Chiropractic Care: 
While at home pain management is always my first line of defense, I do love visiting my chiropractor for occasional tune ups as well. I actually have a leg that is slightly shorter than the other one by about 4mm, so I like to go and get everything readjusted from time to time to make sure that I'm performing as best as I possibly can. The three minute massage that happens in these visits never hurts either ;) 

What are some ways that you manage pain at home? Do you love heating pads as much as I do? Be sure to shop for the new Sunbeam® Renue® Contoured Back Heating Pad at Walmart and walmart.com! #NewellHomeRefresh

RV Pony Express Deluxe Cabin Tour

As of Thursday at 5pm, Derek and I sold our house. I feel like I never did a great job at explaining this move, or why we were doing it, but the short answer is that Kinsley got into a new school for next year, 20 miles south of us, in the same town Derek was already working, so it just made sense for us to all be down there instead of commuting each day from our old home. 

We couldn't move into our new house until July 3rd at the earliest, so we had a few days of staying here at this cabin, and then going to Idaho to spend time with Derek's family as well. When traveling with our kids, if possible, I like to have a separate space for the kids to sleep. Kinsley is such a light sleeper that if nothing else, she needs her own space to get a good night's sleep. Often this looks like her sleeping on an air mattress on the floor of the living room in a hotel suite, and Kyle is in the bedroom with Derek and I.

When we were looking for places to stay in Salt Lake for a couple days this week, we came across the RV Pony Express Resort. This place has RV parking camping spots, along with cabins of varying sizes and amenities. We went for the deluxe cabin since it had a bunk bed room for the kids, a bedroom for Derek and I, a living room, and a full working kitchen. This made traveling super easy, limited eating out, and the kids had their own spaces for sleeping. 

One thing to note about the cabin is that the website said that it came with no linens on the beds, or towels, so we brought all of our own stuff, and it turns out all the beds were made when we got here, and we were stocked with towels as well. It also said you had to pay to rent the bikes, and those were free. If you have any questions about what the website says before you book a stay, I would call ahead of time to confirm. 

We also stayed here because it was pet friendly. We brought our dog at no extra cost, and they even had a dog park for him to run around and play. Other amenities that we loved were swimming at the pool in the evening, riding a family surrey bike, and playing with the large chess set and checker board. It was honestly a super fun trip for the entire family and the kids loved staying here. Want to hear the best part. $80/night. Yep, we got all of these amenities for $160 total, which makes it not only a super affordable place to stay in Salt Lake City, but an amazing "Staycation" for local residents as well. 

One thing that was a let down, the free WIFI is awful, so I did spend $10 for 3 days of upgraded wifi, which didn't work well the first night we were here, but was totally worth it and worked well the rest of the time.

I can totally see us making it a summer tradition to do a night or two here each year because it was just so fun. If you're interested in RV camping, Acess RV is located right next to the property, where you can also rent an RV and they'll pull it into the property for you! So many fun options, you totally need to give it a try. 

This post was not sponsored, Derek and I funded our own stay with our own money. 

Why We Love Inclusive Playgrounds

This post was sponsored by Landscape Structures as part of an Influencer Activation for Influence Central and all opinions expressed in my post are my own.

I love taking my kids to play at the playground, but it hasn't always been that way. When Kinsley was younger, and before we knew about accessible playgrounds, it was hard to find places that developed imagination, creativity, and adventure for both of our kids. We're lucky now to live in an area where there are so many Landscape Structures Playgrounds, that it seems like there are limitless options for play available to us. 

Landscape Structure Playgrounds design better playgrounds that welcome all ages and abilities. They are the signature gathering spaces for communities and offer the most innovative play experiences. So while they have plenty of things that Kinsley can play with right now in her current ability, there is also a wide range of equipment that is challenging for both her and Kyle, and stretches Kinsley to reach new milestones, get stronger, and progress in her goals toward independent walking. 

During the summer months Kinsley's physical therapist loves to hold our therapy sessions at various Landscape Structure Playgrounds in our area. Not only does it provide a learning environment that is more fun and engaging than a clinic or inside our home, but it gives her the chance to mimic the things she is learning in a real world application. It also does a little bit better of a job at masking the fact that she has to work hard in her therapy sessions. Swings, slides, and jungle gyms are a lot more fun than bolsters, gym mats, and other therapy equipment (you heard that first here), so it helps to keep the work fun and exciting. Landscape structures Playgrounds give kids the freedom to play and gain confidence through mastery and self-discovery and instill lifelong skills.

The best part about inclusive play spaces is that it gives Kinsley an opportunity to play with kids of all abilities. Studies show that inclusion is just as beneficial for children with disabilities as it is for kids without. As a mother of a child with a disability, there is nothing more heartwarming to me when other children take the time to play and chat with Kinsley at the playground. It helps to not only develop social skills between children, but to break down the walls that can often feel like barriers between us. I'm grateful for the barriers that Landscape Structures Playgrounds work to break down within our lives and in our communities. 

5 Ingredient Dry Rub For Smithfield Ribs

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #GetGrillingSmithfield #SmithfieldTeamFastTeamSlow #CollectiveBias

Summer is officially here which means that our family is officially grilling outdoors more often than not. One vivid memory I have from my childhood is my dad grilling dinner on the grill all year round. Whether it was the heat of summer, or there was three feet of snow in Upstate, NY, my dad would find a way to grill. 

While my infinity with grilling isn't enough to get me out there in the dead of winter, it is something that I do enjoy during the warm summer months. Ribs have been a favorite meal in our family for ages, and when we're shopping for Smithfield® Ribs, we always head into our local Walmart since they have the best selection. 

There are two methods to cooking ribs. You can be #TeamFast or #TeamSlow. I've always been on #TeamSlow for almost any cut of meat, but especially when using Smithfield® Extra Tender Fresh Pork St Louis Style Ribs. Smithfield Extra Tender Fresh Pork is more tender and juicy, so no matter the level of experience consumers have in the kitchen or at the grill, their pork ribs are sure to impress. I also love that they're hand trimmed and contain zero added hormones or steroids. 

I opt for cooking my ribs slow because I remember watching an episode of The Pioneer Woman a few years ago where she was cooking a roast and mentioned that if your meat isn't falling apart easily, you need to cook it longer, and good things can't be rushed. I totally took that to heart and since then have always cooked my ribs and roast on low-slow heat, and have had success ever since. 

When cooking these ribs, I love to rub them on both sides with this amazing five ingredient dry rub. It comes together with just a few ingredients you already have on hand in your pantry. Then you simply wrap your ribs in foil, cook them on low on the grill for two and a half hours, and then your fall off the bone ribs are ready to eat in no time. You can either leave them with the dry rub, or add some of your favorite BBQ sauce and warm under a broiler for a few more minutes. Either way, these ribs turn out amazing every time. 

In 2019, Smithfield® will feature recipes and tips from Award-Winning Pitmaster Tuffy Stone #TeamSlow and Smithfield® No. 10 race car driver Aric Almirola #TeamFast as they compete to show how easy and versatile fresh pork can be on the grill. You can learn if you're #TeamFast or #TeamSlow by checking out Walmart's sweepstakes and be entered to win a $500 Walmart Gift Card and other great prizes!

¼ cup sweet paprika
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder

Mix the above ingredients together and seal in an airtight jar until you're ready to use. When preparing your ribs, coat both sides of your meat liberally with the dry rub, wrap in foil, and grill on low heat (300ยบ), for 2 1/2 hours. When ready to serve, remove from the grill, top with your favorite sauce, and enjoy! 

Our Weekly Laundry Routine

This shop has been compensated by all® laundry detergent. #allOXIatWalmart #sponsored

Up until a few weeks ago, laundry has always been a major struggle in our house. I never saw the value in doing it each day, because it felt like there weren't enough dirty clothes to run a load, which resulted in me doing everything one day a week. The problem was that it would take hours to get all the laundry done, and then I would never want to fold it. So, we would pick clean clothes off the laundry room floor for an entire week before it was time to repeat the cycle all over again. Luckily, we've finally broken that cycle and I'm excited to share what's been working really well for our family.

Use Good Detergent:
My family and I have used all® laundry detergent almost exclusively since Derek and I got married. I love that it fights 100% of stain* types (*bleachable, oily/waxy, enzymatic, and particulate), and leaves my clothes looking as good as new wash after wash. We recently switched to all® OXI stainlifters which has proven its weight in gold time and time again. Especially when it comes to dirty soccer uniforms and messy playground clothes from the kids. With its amazing stain removing power, all® laundry detergent is our family's best ally to take on any new activity, stains and all.

We've also been huge fans of all® free clear OXI, which has all the same benefits as the traditional all® OXI detergent, but without the dyes and chemicals for those who prefer something more gentle for their family.

Right now when you spend $15 on all® OXI laundry products at Walmart, you can get a $5 Walmart eGift Card in return. To claim your $5 gift simply shop all® OXI products at your local Walmart, complete the online registration form, upload your receipt, and redeem your reward!

Get On A Rotating Schedule: Get on a rotating schedule with your laundry. Start with your whites one day, your colors the next, and then your towels after that. By doing each of these categories every three days, it means that you'll have three days worth of each category when you run your load. That makes it worth it to run the machine, but small enough that it's manageable and not taking over your life. I've found doing one load a day has really helped to keep everything at a manageable level.

Fold The Next Day: I typically like to put a load into the wash, switch it to the dryer, and then I'll typically let it sit in the dryer overnight with no guilt. When I go to do my load the next day, I'll put the new day's load in the washer, fold and put away the clothes that are sitting in the dryer from the day before, put the new load in the dryer, and then repeat the same routine the following day.

What tips do you have for managing laundry in your home? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below! And don't forget to shop all® laundry detergent at your local Walmart.