(I was) Garden Challenged

“There is nothing more boring than plants.”  I vividly remember saying these words in college to a friend.  I was a biology major at the time, and was trying to put off taking the course Biology of Plants as long as possible.  As a kid, I had a single aloe vera plant I barely kept alive by watering it once every month or two.  Can you relate?

But everything changed when Danny and I bought our first house.  The weed-filled small area across the front of the house with scraggly bushes was NOT going to work with my Enneagram 1 personality.  I needed order.  I needed practical.  I needed a little beauty with VERY little maintenece.  And I had no idea where to begin.

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This small, weed-filled bed with misshapen bushes was not a great first impression.

Thankfully Stephanie, one of my dear friends and a very talented gardener, stepped in to help guide me through the process of choosing plants that would come back every year and showed me how to put together a flower garden that looked beautiful in all four seasons.  I spent the summer building a retaining wall for our garden, selecting plants I loved, and finally putting them all in the ground.  It was hot, and sometimes hard work.  But it was SO GOOD.

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Toby loved to help me work on our landscaping!

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I had no idea where to begin…even what shape to give our garden!  Thankfully, my friend, Stephanie, was able to walk me through the process and give me helpful advice.

I discovered that putting together a beautiful flower bed was rewarding.  It brought me joy every time I drove up to our house and saw some of my favorite plants with beautiful blooms.  And most of all, I discovered that it isn’t an overwhelming process that only a professional or talented gardener can accomplish.  It’s something anyone can do, if they follow a few simple steps and are willing to get some dirt under their fingernails (or wear gardening gloves!).

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Our finished front garden, year one.

In the following years, that first garden flourished.  I was amazed at the transformation from the barren to beautiful and my transformation from a confused to confident gardener.  I went on to add three more flower beds around our house (mostly to problem areas I didn’t like to mow, haha!) before we moved.

If you feel like you need some help getting your garden started, download my FREE guide  with SIX plants you can use to create a simple landscape.

Now, I’m always looking for new garden inspiration, and I enjoy helping friends and family use the same steps I learned from Stephanie to create their own beautiful gardens.  Being outside always does my soul good, and having the ability to create a beautiful space that I will enjoy for years to come is now one of my favorite hobbies!

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Our finished front garden, year three.

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This bright burst of color brought me joy every time I saw it!

Do you feel like you’re garden challenged?  What is the part that is the biggest hurdle or challenge you face getting started or finishing your landscape?

How a Capsule Wardrobe Changed My Life

I’m sure you’ve heard the ice breaker question, “if you could have a professional do one thing for you, which would it be: cook meals, shop for clothes, or clean your home?”  Of course, I’d chose “all the above” if it was possible!  But to be honest, I HATE shopping for clothes.  I always have.  I joked that if my mom didn’t buy clothes for me in high school (and even into college), I wouldn’t ever have anything new!  In my ideal world, I would have a personal shopper pick out all my outfits for me because there are just too many options out there, and I have no idea how to get that special “put together” look I see so often on others.  I’ve considered Stitch Fix, but I don’t like spending tons of money on clothes, and I REALLY wanted clothes that were easy to mix and match multiple ways.  At best, my closet has always been slightly sparse and just “ok.”  Nothing fabulous.

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BEFORE: I was “style challenged”, but not in a good way!  All my outfits were pretty simple: a t-shirt & jeans (or shorts), or ONE outfit that I copied from a store mannequin.  I had no idea how to make an outfit interesting or mix & match my clothes!

GYPO-square-image-FINALWell, all that changed almost a year ago when I stumbled across Alison Lumbatis with her company “Get Your Pretty On.”  She creates challenges where she designs capsule wardrobes for different lifestyles.  I chose the Closet Staples Challenge, because it was filled with classic pieces that were simple, yet looked amazing when put together.  The best part is, she mixes and matches the pieces for you and creates at least a month’s worth of outfits that you just pull out of your closet and put on.  Absolutely no need to try to figure out how to put an outfit together.  And it’s fun to try some pieces and outfit combinations I would not have considered on my own!

Another benefit to her style challenge is you can shop your closet for clothing pieces you already have.  And you have complete control of where you shop and how much money you spend on each piece.  So really, the challenge can fit any budget and you can add pieces as you go.  After shopping my closet, I just add the most important pieces for each season as I find them on sale at some of my favorite places to shop (Maurices, Target, and Old Navy).

This way of putting together outfits has changed my life!  Now, I don’t have to worry about how to put together outfits from the clothes I have in my closet, because it’s all done for me.  Getting dressed takes almost no time at all!  I’ve become much more confident in what I wear, and have become even a little adventurous in trying out some seasonal trends in addition to the classic pieces I already have.

I’ve also learned how to style an outfit that really looks interesting by adding in accessories…something I always left out in the past.  Alison has a great blog, facebook community, and email list sharing tips and tricks that are an added bonus to the already amazing challenges she offers.  Shopping isn’t as stressful anymore, since I know exactly what I need to look for.  Now, when I buy something for my wardrobe, I KNOW it will go with what I already own and be a piece I will love and wear over and over again!

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I would NEVER have tried olive shorts…or known how to use them to create an outfit before Get Your Pretty On.  I love trying all the new ideas!

Get Your Pretty On has something for everyone: from a Stay At Home Mom capsule wardrobe, to Seasonal Style Challenges that help you add the newest trends in clothing to spice up your closet.  Whether you work or stay at home, there is something perfect for you.

Let me hear your thoughts.  🙂  Which Style Challenge are you most interested in giving a try?

This post may contain affiliate links.  All opinions are 100% my own, and I did not receive anything free from Get Your Pretty On for this review.

Six Favorite Podcasts that Encourage & Inspire Me

I love to learn.  I guess I always have.  When I was a kid, my favorite hobby was to get a new pet animal and learn all about it and how best to take care of it.  Maybe that’s why I had pet water frogs that lived for over seven years!  Anyway, my love of learning never really stopped, which is probably why I became a teacher after college.  Now that I’m a stay-at-home mom, I’ve found a new place to learn that fits into my lifestyle of mothering babies and toddlers (and a kindergartener who just started school this week!).

Podcasts are a great free resource I began listening to over the past year.  I can listen while I do tasks like fold laundry, wash dishes, make dinner, or go for a walk.  I don’t have to sit down and read (because I just fall asleep when I try that these days), and most are between 20-40 minutes long, so they aren’t very time-consuming.  Now, I listen to at least one podcast, if not more, each day.  Here are my top five podcasts I listen to and why I enjoy each one.  Even if you are not a mom, you will probably find inspiration and encouragement from them…they are geared toward a female audience, but probably have some male listeners as well.  

Mother Like a Boss by Kendra Hennessy

Making your home a place you enjoy can be a daunting task…especially when you have chores you dislike or avoid.  Kendra is full of wisdom and tips for how to make managing your home do-able without it taking over your life.  Even if you are pretty good at managing and cleaning your home, you will come away from her podcast with new ideas and inspiration.  She also does amazing interactive live q&a and short tip sessions on her Facebook page.  She is definitely a great person to follow!

Nutrition Redefined by Stephanie Webb

If you want to live a healthy, satisfying life without dieting or living as a slave to food, this is the podcast for you.  Stephanie is amazing at encouraging you to make the best choices for your body without all the “don’ts” of dieting and the disappointments when you “fail.”  You will love her positive approach to living a full and healthy life and loving the body you have, perfect for all women…moms or not. 

Hello Mornings by Kat Lee

I’ve never been much of a morning person, but this podcast is perfect for helping you start your day off right with a simple morning routine and encouragement.  Full of grace for every season of life, I’ve really enjoyed implementing the ideas shared…from the Three Minute Morning to listening to guest interviews.  

3 in 30 Takeaways for Moms

Each episode is just 30 minutes long, where Rachel and her guests share three practical things you can do to be intentional as a mom.  This podcast is both uplifting and informative, and is just wonderful to listen to!

Fresh Start Family Show by Terry & Wendy Snyder

This husband and wife team share practical advice on positive parenting techniques and applications that are perfect for parents who want to parent more from a place of choice rather than using fear, force, and bribery to “get” your kids to behave.  They cover a variety of topics from dealing with a bully, revenge behaviors, power struggles, and much more!

The Purpose Show by Allie Casazza

Feeling overwhelmed, too busy, and just tired of living in survival mode?  This minimalist mom of four kids offers encouragement, tips, and practical advice on how to live simply, live purposefully, and really enjoy your life as a mom.  She also offers many resources, classes, and courses on her personal website you need to check out.  

You can find these amazing ladies on iTunes Podcasts, Stitcher (for android), Facebook, Instagram, and from links on their own personal webpages.  Their websites all offer some amazing free resources you should check out as well.

I want to hear from you…what are your favorite podcasts you listen to?  Leave a comment with your suggestions for me to check out!

 

Five KidSafe Essential Oil Blends I Use Everyday

Essential oils…what is the first thing to come to mind when you think of them?  I know for me, it can be overwhelming.  There are SO MANY different oils to choose from, not to mention just as many suggested uses for just ONE oil.  So, where do you start?  As I’ve learned more about essential oils and how to use them in my everyday life with my family, I’ve found some favorites that are perfect ones to try if you’re just starting out (or, if you’re on a budget and can’t justify buying them all).

First, WHY essential oils?  I love essential oils because they are a simple way to benefit my family’s health.  You don’t need TONS of medications, cleaning products, scented products, etc. because with essential oils you can create simple solutions to common health issues, DIY cleaning products, or even helping your home smell welcoming and calming.  Lately, I’ve really enjoyed making my own cleaning products using household items like vinegar, water, baking soda, and essential oils.

So, here are FIVE Plant Therapy KidSafe synergy blends I like to use every day:

  • Self Esteem
  • Germ Destroyer
  • Sniffle Stopper
  • Sweet Slumber
  • Odor Zapper

Or, if you’d like to use single oils so you can make your own blends, here are my top six KidSafe oils:

  • Lavender
  • Frankincense
  • Tea Tree
  • Sweet Orange
  • Cedarwood
  • Spearmint

Want to get $10 off your first Plant Therapy order?  Click here!

*Note: For babies and toddlers, I’d highly recommend using hydrosols instead of essential oils topically whenever possible.  They are still effective, but much gentler and safer!  My favorite hydrosols are Roman Chamomile, Lavender (both great for calming skin or mood), and Tea Tree. Click here to learn more about hydrosols.

What does this look like for a mom of three kids four and under?  Here’s an example of how I use these essential oils throughout my day.  I listed the blends to keep it simple, and then put the single oils in parentheses as alternative options.

Morning:

  • Diaper Changes – spray Roman Chamomile Hydrosol on baby’s bottom to soothe skin.  You can also use diluted lavender oil on diaper rashes.
  • Diffuse – 3-6 drops in a diffuser of Self esteem (or Lavender & Spearmint) to boost your mood.  Use Germ Destroyer (or Tea Tree, Sweet Orange, Lavender, and/or Frankincense) if someone is sick.  *Note: It’s best to NOT diffuse essential oils around babies under 6 months old and use caution around pets…many essential oils are harmful to cats).

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Afternoon:

  • Cleaning – DIY all purpose cleaner (30 drops Germ Destroyer (or Tea Tree, Lavender, & Sweet Orange) + ¼ cup white vinegar + 1 ¾ cups water) and dusting spray ( 16 drops Odor Zapper (or Cedarwood & Sweet Orange)+ ⅓ cup water + ½ tablespoon liquid castile soap) are my go-tos.  If you want a bunch of great DIY cleaning recipes using essential oils, check out these FREE downloads by Clean Mama.

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Evening/Bed Time:

  • Bath – add a little Roman Chamomile hydrosol to the bath water for a calming end to the day.
  • Chest rub – Blend 3 drops in 4 teaspoons of lotion or carrier oil of Sweet Slumber (or Lavender, Sweet Orange, & Cedarwood) or Sniffle Stopper (or Spearmint & Lavender) for a stuffy nose.  You can also use Roman Chamomile hydrosol as a linen spray for bedding or your child’s favorite lovey toy.
  • Diffuse – 3-6 drops of Sweet Slumber (or Sweet Orange, Cedarwood, & Lavender) at bedtime to create a calming atmosphere.

Diffuse - 3-6 drops of Sweet Slumber (or Sweet Orange, Cedarwood, & Lavender) at bedtime to create a calming atmosphere.

The great thing about these oils is they are safe to use around children, but still work great for adults!  On each Plant Therapy bottle, they have more suggested uses for each oil or blend, as well as diluting and diffusing instructions.

I hope this gives you some ideas about how you can start using essential oils in your everyday life!  Want to see my favorite essential oil products like diffusers, roller bottles, etc?  Click here.

If you want to learn more about essential oils and how to use them safely, here are some wonderful resources I highly recommend:

Plant Therapy: on Facebookwebsite.  I currently buy all my essential oils from here.  They provide high quality oils, and follow the safety recommendations of the leading essential oil scientist.  They also do weekly live videos on facebook and instagram, so you can learn more about essential oils and how to use them.

Click here to get $10 off your first Plant Therapy order!

Aromahead Institute: on Facebook & website.  Andrea shares tons of ways to use essential oils, and teaches wonderful free (or paid) webinars/classes!

Using Essential Oils Safely: on Facebook & website.  This is a great resource to know how to use essential oils safely.

This post may contain affiliate links.  All opinions are 100% my own, and I did not receive anything free from Plant Therapy for this review.

Five Tips for Road Trips with Babies and Toddlers

We are just getting ready for road trip number two of three in three months.  All of them are 8+ hours ONE WAY.  With three kids four and under.  Yes, we just may be crazy!  Because, let’s be honest.  We still occasionally stop for emergency potty breaks 10 minutes after getting back in the car.  And we still have epic baby meltdowns sometimes.  And the road construction that turns a nine hour drive into a 12 hour drive will make us all go nuts. But I’ve learned a few things these last few years that have made trips much more enjoyable for everyone in our family.

Tip #1: Don’t stop if the kids are sleeping or happy…no matter what time it is.  

Tip #2: Feed kids meals in the car while you’re driving, if possible.  Stop to play for a short break AFTER they are finished eating (that’s when adults & babies eat, diaper changes & potty breaks happen, etc.).  Lunchables make great easy-to-eat lunches in the car.  If you do decide to stop and eat as a family, it’s so handy to bring in a Restaurant Survival Kit that you keep packed in your car.

Tip #3: If a kid is newly potty trained (within the last year or two), have them wear pull ups during the drive.  Because kids always need to have an emergency potty break when it’s impossible to pull over. Trust me.  It’s also helpful to keep an emergency bag in the car with a change of clothes, diapers, wipes, Clorox wipes, paper towels, and plastic bags for any road trip accidents or sickness.

snack catcherTip #4: Pack snacks that are not messy, crumbly, or sticky (no goldfish, granola bars, etc.).  Foods like animal crackers, pretzels, teddy grahams, cheese sticks, grape halves, etc. work great.  Bring snack cups like this Munchkin Snack Catcher for snacks.  Fill sippy cups to the top with ice first, before adding water.  This limits how much kids can drink at one time.  For babies eating solid foods, bring puffs/Cheerios, and food pouches for meals and snacks.

Tip #5: Bring out the toys/activities in phases.  There is no real rule for how long each phase lasts…its just when kids are done with all the activities and getting antsy.  Babies newborn to six months usually only need one or two toys.  They are great travelers because they sleep so much.  Here are the toys I usually pack and when the kids can play with them when we travel:

Babies 0-6 months

  • Let them nap, bring a few favorite toys, and that’s pretty much it.  Other than needing to stop and eat, they are pretty easy to entertain! 🙂

Babies 6 months – 1 year

Phase 1:

  • Pacifier or favorite toy (on a pacifier clip if possible, because they will throw it where you can’t reach it).  Start the trip like a regular drive in the car.  Hopefully they will end up taking a nap.  🙂

Phase 2: 

  • Teething toys
  • Plastic books
  • Small mylar balloon

Phase 3:

  • New toy
  • Unusual objects (kitchen utensils) given to them one at a time.  Only give a new object or toy when the baby is done with the previous one.  This light up spinner wand is amazing for getting a fussy baby’s attention and keeping them entertained!

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And the best entertainment?  A big brother or sister (if they have one)!

*This is the most difficult age for long road trips, in my experience.  They are too little to be entertained by media, AND all they want to do is practice crawling and walking.  So being confined in a carseat is the worst.  If they are learning to walk, bring a walker toy so they can practice and get some exercise during rest stops and bathroom breaks.

Toddlers 2+ Years Activity Ideas

*Note: I usually only give one item out at a time.  I let the kids pick what they want to do, depending on what phase they are in…until they’ve done everything on the list.  Then we move on to the next phase.  Generally, each phase lasts us about 1-2 hours.

Phase 1:

  • Music (iPods with headphones are NICE).  My kids LOVE these adorable and soft headphones with their favorite characters on them. They are comfortable and have a volume-limiting feature…perfect for toddlers!
  • Books (stories they know well, unless you want to have to read it to them).  Or, bring a Leap Frog Tag reader to read them stories.
  • New toy
  • Magnetic drawing board.  We have this one, and while it’s small and simple, it’s a great size for in the car.  My kids both love drawing on theirs every time we get in the car.

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Phase 2:

  • Coloring books
  • Melissa & Doug Water WOW paint with water books.  These are AMAZING reusable painting books that are fun and make no mess.
  • Stickers & sticker books.
  • Magnets & cookie sheet (search for activities on Pinterest, or just let kids play with magnets on the cookie sheet).  My kids love these Melissa & Doug animal and vehicle magnets in addition to the typical alphabet ones.
  • Lacing beads

leap padPhase 3:

  • Leap Pad (games/videos…most of them are educational).  My kids don’t get to play with their Leap Pads unless we are on a road trip, or have a long wait at a doctor’s office.  So this is a BIG treat for them!  We have these Leap Pads, but you can also find some newer versions too.

Phase 4:

  • iPad (movies).  We have this awesome case that attaches to the headrest of the car.  This works great for both forward and rear facing car seats.  We download videos in advance to our Plex app, so it’s ready to go with our kid’s favorite movies.  They only get to watch these movies on road trips, so it’s really special.

Well, that’s what we do on our road trips!  I’ll be packing up in the next day or two, so leave a comment if you have any activities your babies and toddlers enjoy during long drives in the car.  I’m always interested in new ideas!

Why you should consider sized cloth diapers (Buttons Newborn and Super Cover Review)

It’s been a while since I did a diaper review, and I have one today to share with you. Buttons diapers recently came out with new newborn and super sized diapers to add to their one size (OS) diaper collection. When I first started cloth diapering, I only wanted to spend money on OS diapers, but now that I’ve been using cloth for over four years, I can see so many benefits on spending the extra money and getting sized diapers for the different stages babies go through.

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Buttons newborn, one size, and super covers on their largest settings.

 

Why should you add sized cloth diapers to your stash?

*They fit better under newborn clothing. I started out with OS diapers when Jeremiah was one month old. While they did fit him without leaks (check out my blog post on OS diapers that DO fit newborns here), they were bulky under clothing, especially onesies. I quickly realized with Evelyn how nice it was to have a handful of newborn covers to use the first few months so she could fit in all her adorable outfits. The Buttons newborn cover is one of my favorites because it fits both tiny newborns, but also has rise snaps so it can grow and fit a baby well even after they aren’t newborns anymore. Caleb easily fit in his Buttons newborn cover at three-four months old.

*They fit larger toddlers better. Buttons super covers are perfect for toddlers when they are close to outgrowing their OS diaper covers. They are roomy enough to fit larger inserts (or even a fitted for night time), but can still get small enough to fit seven month old Caleb! They have flaps inside to hold inserts in place without them poking out the top or back. If you have chunky babies or toddlers that potty train later, the super covers are perfect for you.

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The Super cover is large enough to easily fit FOUR year old Jeremiah!


*If you’re going to have two kids of different ages in cloth at the same time, you’ll need twice as many diapers anyway. So why not get the second set in a size that better fits one of your kiddos?

Want my honest opinion? If you’re on a tight cloth diaper budget, I’d stick with OS diapers (because Buttons OS diapers DO fit newborns and my 2.5 year old toddler). BUT, if you plan on cloth diapering more than one child and have the extra money, I’d totally take some of your budget and get some of the Buttons sized diapers…either newborn, super, or some of each!

I received a Buttons diaper free of charge for the purposes of this review.  All opinions expressed are 100% my own and not influenced by the company.  This post may contain affiliate links.

Favorite Time Savers for Busy Moms Part 3: Meal Planning/Prep

I’m going to be honest with you…I don’t like making meals.  I’m picky when it comes to my own cooking (although I’ll eat almost anything if someone else makes it!), and I’m always trying to find new “favorite” recipes because I get tired of eating the same thing over and over.  And, with three small children in the house, I need meals that are quick and easy to make, that are still healthy and taste great.

I’ve found four things that have really helped make meal planning much more efficient (and less painful) for me…and thought I’d share them with you today!

The Seasonal Meal Planner by Natasha Red

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This has been a game changer for me!  Natasha breaks down all the elements of successful meal planning and puts it in an easy-to-use formal that helps you not only quickly choose meals, but also save money by using foods you already have on hand.  I’ve been using her meal planner system for the last six months, and it is by far my favorite tool for planning out our family meals (including breakfast and lunches).

I’d recommend buying the One Year Bundle to get the best deal.  You can choose to print it off at home, or have it printed and bound so that it’s ready to go.  Currently, my favorite recipes come from The Real Food Dietitians.  They have tons of quick, easy, and delicious recipes that my family enjoys and I know are healthy for us as well.

 

5 Dinners 1 Hour

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Why it’s fast:
– Your shopping lists are pre-made.
– Five simple recipes that can be prepped in one hour.
– Many one-pan meals make less dishes to clean up.

Cost: $2.50/week subscription (cancel when you want), FREE sample plans and FREE recipes on their blog.

My thoughts: I love that the recipes are very simple and can be prepped for the entire week…or you can quickly throw together one meal in just a few minutes.  I’ve tried their Classic Meal Plans, and the dinners come out pretty basic.  Nothing fancy, but most are ones our family enjoys eating.

This is my go-to when I don’t want to spend any time choosing meals or wait until the last minute to go grocery shopping.

custom-meal-plans-graphic5 Dinners recently came out with a Custom Meal Plan (officially launching Aug. 19), and I really like that option!  Before, there was usually one or two meals a week I didn’t really want to repeat in the future, making the pre-made shopping list less useful.  Now that I can choose all five meals myself, I’m guaranteed to get all meals we will actually eat!  It also lets you customize the serving size, so you can adjust it to fit your family (or double recipes to freeze for later)!

Meal Bundles with Wildtree

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Why it’s fast:
– Comes with pre-mixed all-natural, organic cooking spices & oils make meal prep faster.
– Uses very few dishes to prep meals, so little clean up is required.
– Keep prepped meals in the freezer until you need them.
– Many crockpot dump meals make prep and clean up easy.

Cost: Varies between $58-$78/bundle, unless you host a workshop…then you can get your meal bundle for FREE.  This includes the spices/oils and over eight recipes that you can make again and again.  You can find tons of FREE recipes on their website.  That comes to about $2.50/meal, if you buy a bundle.

My thoughts: If you’re looking for fast, flavorful meals, Wildtree is an excellent choice.  Of the meals we’ve tried, I’ve liked them more than any other meal planning bundle I’ve tried, and I’m happy to make them again and again!  These recipes are definitely family favorites.

Wildtree uses all-natural, organic products, which makes it a great choice if you or a family member have food allergies.  You can read the ingredients and know EXACTLY what you’re putting in your food!

If you host a Wildtree workshop, you can get your meal bundles for free, which is awesome!  I’ve found that I can use the Wildtree spices to make 2-3 sets of each meal plan, so they last a long time.

Organize Recipes with Trello

Finally, I was just introduced to using Trello to keep a digital recipe book of all my favorite meals!  I love how it keeps everything organized for me, it’s beautiful (you can include pictures of each meal), and I can easily access it from home or on my phone, if I’m shopping at the store and need to look up the ingredients for a recipe.

Here’s a screen shot of my Trello meal planning board.  I copy recipes from different categories in to my “Weekly Meal Plan” section, and now I have meals lined up for each day of the week in just seconds!

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Want to learn more about how to use Trello?  Check out this FREE class to learn all the basics you need to get started planning, organizing and managing your life with less stress and more peace.  Click here for instant access: http://bit.ly/2wMRFom

Leave me a comment…what’s your favorite time saver for meal planning and prep?