Thursday, May 23, 2024

Meal Planning Tips and Tricks you Need to Know to Avoid Making Boring Food PLUS Free Meal Planner!

Say it with me: I will not eat the same boring meal 5X a week.

This is exactly what tends to happen when your grocery shop is poorly planned, and it probably means that you are shopping without any plan at all.

As a busy homeschool mum who not only had a home to look after but children to teach, and each with their own extra-curricular activities to keep up with, I learned early on that to avoid wasting money on take-out or having to cook meals that were quick but boring, I had to implement a meal planning system into my homekeeping routine.

This became a little monthly ritual which I looked forward to (and still enjoy today) and which saved me countless moments of angst at wondering what to cook for supper. 

It also helped me to be a better steward of our financial resources. My husband worked hard to support us as we followed God's calling to homeschool our two young children and it felt good to be dilegent in my role of managing the home and our resources.

Meal planning will not only help your family save money but it will also keep your fridge, freezer and pantry well organsied and reduce waste.

I have created a pretty, meal planner for you to download and use. 

There will be an autumn meal planning page coming out later this year as I love to keep things seasonal.

Don't forget to subscribe to my blog - it's a great way to keep in touch and to get the autumn meal planner when it is published.

Now, if you are new to meal planning this isn't a post on bulk cooking - that is an entirly different post. I'm not going to give you some strict and over-organized plan. I mean, who needs that! 

This is a post on making a few small changes that will not take great swathes of time and effort - I don't want to overwhelm and burden you. 

I aim to give you tried and tested tips and tricks that have worked for me over the years and that you can impliment right now, before your next grocery shop. 

Hopefully it will set you on a path to being a bit more organised and having fewer moments of horror when you open the freezer door and realise that you have nothing for dinner which everyone is expecting in an hour!

Now, grab your grocery shopping list (I have a little notebook that lives in my handbag) and gather your cookbooks/pinterest boards etc. Oh, don't forget your cup of tea or coffee!

Grocery Cupboard Staples

I like to begin my monthly meal planning by doing a quick stock take - this is a glance over the shelves of my pantry to see what running low or I am out of. 

There are certain products in my grocery cupboard that I always keep in stock. These are things that typically can be thown in to the slow cooker that make up a good base to a myriad of dishes. They are also things that I like to have on hand should I want/need to throw together some muffins or need to bake bread etc.

Here's a list of what I stock:
  • Canned chopped tomatoes
  • Baked beans
  • Tinned soups for casseroles (chicken, mushroom, chicken & Mushroom)
  • Pouched or canned tuna - perfect to add to all sorts of things for a quick lunch
  • Popcorn (the type you pop yourself). This is a great quick snack option with not too many calories.
  • Rolled Oats - I use oats in baking (so many yummy things to make) and to make porridge for breakfast.
  • Peanut Butter - apart from it being a traditional toast topper, I use peanut butter in baking (cookies and puddings) and cooking family favourites such as Chicken Satay Noodles.
  • Have a dedicated baking shelf: Strong all-purpose Flour, Self-raising Flour, Baking Powder, Bicarb, Eggs, Sugar, Vanilla Essence, tins of peaches, condensed milk, evapourated milk, caramel and golden syrup. You will generally be able to whip up something sweet and delicious if you have these staples on hand.
If I see I'm running low or run out on any of these staples - it goes on the grocery shopping list.

Getting Down To Planning - My Top Tips

Alrighty, lets get stuck into this. Youv'e got your free printable meal planner in front of you and all your cookbooks whether online or hardcopy. I would recommend grabbing your daily planner too.

  • Look at any upcoming events in your daily planner. What events are coming up this  month where cooking won't work with your schedule? You will want to plan something super easy for these meals. I like to do 'take-out at home'. This is something like crumbed chicken, oven chips, and a salad. I can make the salad the night before and the chicken and chips can be cooked from frozen.
  • Choose the day of the week you will do your grocery shop - pop that in your daily planner.
  • Now fill in your family favourtie meals on your free printable meal planner. In my home we have homemade burgers every Friday - so that's all Friday's sorted. We also like to have either homemade pizza or a comfort meal like mac & cheese on a Saturday, so those are plugged in. Sunday's is always a roast lunch so I fill that in.
  • Next I plug in all those meals I know that go down really well and that we like to eat on a regular basis such as lasagna, sausages & mash etc. I try not to repeat meals within a two-week time period so as to avoid falling into the boring meal trap.
  • Update your shopping list with the ingrediants you need for your regular family favourtie meals.
  • Plan in a 'Left Overs Day'. I always find that there is a lot of meat and veg left over from our Sunday roast. So I like to plan to use that food and prevent wastage. I may plan a roast dinner quiche and salad for the Monday. Or a roast dinner pie perhaps. Plug in your left-over days into your planner.
  • Now go through your cookbooks. Are there any new fun recipes you  have been wanting to try? How about an old favourite recipe that you totally forgot about - this happened to me just this week! This is the perfect time to try out one of those seasonal recipes that you pinned on your Pinterest board! Yes - we all have them...hoards and hoards of delicious looking seasonal meals that we never every cook. 
  • Plan for Treats. I like to plan in a baking afternoon. I would rather bake all at once than weekly because I am not someone that really loves to bake for the joy of baking. I like to indulge in it periodically. So I will make a traybake cake, various muffins, a couple of dozen various cookies and then portion them out and freeze them. They freeze and thaw well. My grandmother told me that she used to bake and ice cakes and freeze them just like that. When she was expecting company she would take a cake out of the freezer the night before.
  • Schedule a baking day into your daily planner.
  • Update your grocery list with the ingrediants you will need to make some of your favourite cookies and cakes.
Tip: I keep one or two months of meal plans for each season in my master homekeeping binder. That way I then have a rotating stack of meal plans so if I go through a difficult life season, I can simply work from a tried and tested plan from my archives.

The Grocery Store

We now have our meal plan and our grocery list and it is time to go shopping. 

When my children were small they would often come shopping with me as I didn't have anyone to watch over them while I was out. I chose a time when they would be their freshest. I would task each of them with things to find within the same grocery isle which made shopping a lot quicker and because they were involved, we avoided any shopping meltdowns.

If you are able to slip away and do your big shop on your own, here are a few things I try to bear in mind with regards to my meal planning.

  1. Number 1 top tip - do not visit the grocery store on an empty stomach. I'm sure you are well aware that when you do this - all manner of unplanned yummy convieniance foods find their way into your shopping trolley.
  2. Avoid Pre -Prepped vegetables unless you are insainly busy. They will always cost more and have a shorter shelf life. 
  3. The exception to this rule is frozen veg. Frozen veg is fantastic to throw into a stew, casseroles and slow cooker recipes.
  4. Follow a 5,4,3,2,1 pattern:
    • 5 different fruits and veggies - These should take up the bulk of your plate so your shopping trolly should reflect this.
    • 4 protiens that you really like - for me it's chicken, salmon, minced beef (mince, meatballs etc), and sausages. 

      TIP: buy meat in bulk if you can and process/portion it all at home. This will save you a huge amont of time and money in the long run! Plus - there is nothing nicer than seeing your chest freezer lovely and full! You will always have something on hand should you need it for unexpected visitors or life events!

    • 3 carbs - We like potatoes, couscous/rice and pasta.
    • 2 Healthy fats- I use olive or coconut oil for cooking and we love avocados so we always have them in the fruit bowl.
    • 1 indulgence whatever that is for you. It may be chocolate or crisps etc. Everything in moderation and it is nice to sometimes have a treat that we didn't or cannot make at home.

Preperation & storage

Very briefly, part of succesful meal planning is having your planned meals as prepped as possible. This will save you time and energy at the end of a busy day. 

I have recently come across The Batch Lady on Instagram. If you have not heard of her do check her out! She has so many great time and money saving tips when it comes to meal planning.

I purchased her new book which is full of really delicious freezer meals to pre and freeze ahead of time. I've worked my way through 2 weeks of meals and every single one of them has been a hit with my family.

It literally took me an hour to prep the meals and we have had an interesting and varied menu - it feels like we have been eating in a restaurant withouth all the time consuming prep that you would expect to go into preparing such interesting meals.

She also has some fantastic FREE summer meal plans for you to download and use. So if you feel that your life season simply does not allow you to take this time to meal plan then just download one of The Batch Lady's prepared meal plans. She has about 12 weekly meal plans in her summer list. That's 3 months worth of plans!

Honestly, you will want to bookmark her website! She has other seasonal plans too!

The time spent prepping these meals was so worth it. Plus - my nerdy nature just loved standing back and gazing at all the neat, full freezer bags once they were all in the freezer. 

My Recommeded Meal Planning Purchases (Pictured Above)

  1. The Batch Lady Grab and Cook Book (Best cook book I've bought in years)
  2. Resusable Food Storage Bags (20 bags)
  3. Adjustable Food Prep Bag Holding Stand (not entirely necessary but very helpful).

Have a Wonderful Week and I'll See You Back Here Soon!

Well lovelies, I hope that this post is in someway useful. I'm sure that most of you are seasoned meal planners but I am always reminded to be a Titus 2 woman and to pass on what I have learned through my years of motherhood, in running a home and being a Christian wife.

If you have any meal planning tips please do leave them in the comments for others to pick up and use. 

If you found this post helpful and would like to read posts on Christian homemaking, homeschooling and lifestyle posts then please follow me on Bloglovin - Follow

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Tuesday, May 14, 2024

A New Bible Study and a Walk Back In Time

A week ago today I wrote my final exam and it feels so SO good to be done. I've been spending this past week getting stuck into the things I've put aside for so long. 

My husband and I also took took two days to visit the Yorkshire Dales which was wonderful. I am feeling refreshed!

I have also started a new Bible Study which I am loving so I thought I would share it with you because when you find a great, biblicaly sound resource, it's too good not to share!

Years ago, I came across Melanie Newton of Joyful Walk Ministries. She writes the most wonderful Bible studies which are Christ-focused, grace-based and scripture rich rather than just commentary filled.

Instead of her studies really depending on a flashy speaker, her studies really encourage the reader to dig deep into the Word for yourself and to depend on Jesus to help you apply what you learn.

The other thing I love about her studies is that she offers them for free. Oh yes, you can buy them printed etc but she offers them free because it's the Word of God! 

Currently I am working through the God-Dependent Woman: Life Choices from Second Corinthians. In my last podcast I spoke a little bit on empty next and seasonal life changes and how, to my deep regret, I forged on ahead with my own plans. I really want to get back to being a God-dependant woman and not to just rush headlong into things. 

This study is inspiring me to better understand God's character and inspiring me to trust in Him, to let go of my need to control everything and let Him work in and through me.

So I'll leave that there - if you are looking for a solid Christ-focused bible study, check out her website and pick a study that is relevant to your own life circumstances right now. Let me know which one you choose!

 Now that I am no longer chained to my desk and computer, my daughter and I have decided to take a day each week or at least every few weeks and visit some of our favourite National Trust properties.

I have to say that it is rather nice going out during the week - the weekend's can often be very busy. We also like to re-visit properties and I think my husband finds that a bit boring, so I have the perfect companion when we set out on our adventures because she is just like me and loves to re-visit places we love.

This property is the industrial revolution property Quarry Bank Mill. We have visited this property at least 3 times prior to this visit and honestly, I'm going again when summer is in full swing! I love the gardens, the trees, the space. 

My favourite part of this property has to be the Apprentice House built to house the child workers who were given food and board in exchange for their labour. 

Up to 90 children stayed in this house so things would have been very cramped and certainly not as idyllic as it looks like now.

There is an orchard just along the path and to the left. It's not a large orchard but it has at least a dozen fruit trees. Off to the side of the orchard is a little pond where ducks can take a dip.

I love the veggie patch in front of the house. Being an enthusiastic gardener myself, I have to say that I am envious of the space to have such a lovely kitchen garden. I particularly liked this sign - it reminded me that wanted to make a little Peter Rabbit blue coat for my garden for the summer months. I think it would add a bit of whimsy to my English cottage inspired garden.

Across the way from the Apprentice House is this lovely field which was full of wild grasses, dandelions and clover. We just stood admiring the field and trees in their early spring splendour resting under a pretty impressive skyscape!

Isn't it just beautiful, peaceful and soothing to the soul! I do love being out in nature.

As usual, I found the most interesting and best room in the house to be the kitchen. I just love a good kitchen! I find them to be quite simply, comforting and inspirational. I'm sure I say this everytime I share a National Trust visit with you - but it really is the heart of the home. 

From this room people are nourished, loved, cared for. 

Conversations happen, caring happens, loving happens, living happens.

And of course, I could not leave Quarry Bank without some of their very own woven cotton woven on their heritage looms. 

I think that I'm going to use this fabric in a little wall-hanging quilt. I will combine it with some of my own little stitchery designs which speak of hearth and home. If it works with any degree of success, I will share the little stitchery designs with you.

Well, that's the end of our little trip to Quarry Bank Mill. I hope you enjoyed coming along. Until next time... may you have a peaceful and blessed week.

Thursday, May 02, 2024

Spring Beginnings - Under An English Sky Podcast Relaunched!

 I am so excited to finally bring you the relaunch of the Under An English Sky Podcast.

It has been a long time coming and as I explain in the video, the timing has not been right until now.

This episode is especially long (just over an hour) because there was a lot to catch up on since my last episode 3 years ago. Wow! I cannot believet hat it has been that long already.

Future episodes will not be as long. I will aim to keep them at around 45 minutes and I plan to have some much shorter chat videos of around 10 minutes each.

If you are wondering what sort of things I chat about, this episode covers the following topics:

  • Empty Nest Syndrom and dealing with the question of "What is Next" as you move into a new life season.
  • Two projects off the needles
  • Projects I am working on right now
  • Quilting and and what I am working on
  • I am sharing two books from my crafty book shelf, one on knitting and one on quilting.
  • Spring Yarn Inspiration - two spring inspired yarns from my collection and the stories behind them.

The podcast will focus on things I'm passionate about like being a homemaker, traditional home crafts, knitting and dying yarn, quilting, stitching, nature journaling and seasonal living. 

I do hope that you enjoy it. If you do, please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel and hitting the little bell icon to recieve notifications when new videos are published.

Wednesday, May 01, 2024

April Reflections

Hello my lovely friends!

I hope that you are all well. Apart from being exceptionally wet, how has April been for you? I hope that you have managed to find plenty of opportunities to appreciate the beauty in the small moments that present themselves to us each day.

Now that the bulk of my exams are over (only one more left!) I feel like the weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders and I have relished just resting in the moment when these simply, small moments present themselves. 

Like standing for a few minutes to take in the carpet of bluebells at the foot of a tree before we headed into church one Sunday morning.

I absolutly LOVE bluebell season, don't you? 

Coming from South Africa we didn't have bluebells. As a child my favourite author was Enid Blyton and she had a gift for describing the English countryside so I held vivid pictures in my mind of what carpets of bluebells might look like.

When we moved to the UK, I made sure that we visited our local woodland that very first spring to see this purple spectacular. I was not disappointed. 

13 years later and I still uphold the tradition of taking a woodland walk during bluebell season and they still bring delight to my soul!

On my needles, I am knitting a sweet little lacy baby dress using a skein of Miss Potters Paintbox. I think the colours are very springlike and I am loving working with this yarn. Don't you just love the sweet little forget-me-not flowers? I think they compliment the yarn quite nicely.

I've just dyed up some more Miss Potters Paintbox so if you are looking for a pretty spring yarn to knit with you can grab a skein in my shop now. 

I have spoken about this in my podcast but if you are not a podcasty type person I'll mention it here. I am moving away from Etsy. Their fees have become ridiculous. They charge a commission on everything from the listing fees, sale fees, and they even charge a fee on the postage and packaging - which is ridiculous because that does not come to me at all.

I still have my Etsy shop open but I am no longer updating it with new stock. I am now selling all my yarns from my Website. So that is where you will see anything new that comes along and any shop updates.

I wanted to show you my favourtie farm shop. It's called The Hollies and is rather pricey so we don't go often, but every now and again we head out into the countryside and enjoy a little wander through the shop and pick up a few of our favourite treats. It even looks lovely on a grey dreary day.

April has been a month of getting back to doing things that bring us joy, and one of those things is visiting National Trust properties. We love heading out after church on a Sunday and taking a walk through a bit of English history.

This past weekend we paid a visit to Attingham Park in Shropshire. Pictured above is the groundsmans cottage - which I could TOTALLY live in! The manor house is significantly bigger but I like cozy.

In fact, as we walked through the manor house, which is lovely, the bit that drew me most, as it always does, was the 'downstairs' areas.

For some reason the kitchen and servants quarters are just so much more interesting for me.

Perhaps its the connection I have with the kitchen being a hive of industry, a place where traditional homekeeping skills are cherished.

I can picture women wearing aprons gathering around and chatting as they cook up delicious meals. Or sitting by the hearth with a basket of mending.

I am absolutly romanticising it - I know - but for me the kitchen symbolises the heart of the home, as it has been through time.

I especially loved the copper pots in this kitchen and how all the ingrediants were laid out in brown paper bags. What is it about brown paper bags that harkens back to a simpler time I wonder.

I loved how the National Trust had used sprigs of lilac from the garden througout the house. We are lucky enough to have a lilac tree at the bottom of our garden and I too have got vases of lilac in my kitchen right now.

I wonder if, 100 years ago, the staff were picking vases of lilacs for the house. Although time and space may seperate us from bygone eras, we are still the same aren't we?

We love, laugh, cry, experience hard times and good times, and we pick flowers to adorn our homes.

 This property is a good hour away from our home but often think that the drive is half of the joy really. The weather was really quite nice on Sunday and it was lovely just to drive through the countryside. England is truly specatular in Spring!

Very happily, April saw me move into my very own sewing/craft room. I don't know why I didn't do it before now to be honest. It wasn't even a thought that crossed my mind until about a month ago, while working in the garden with my husband, the thought suddenly struck me out of the blue.

Our youngest daughter moved into her own flat two years ago and she has a huge room which is completley unused. The only ones to use it are the cats and I tend to fight a losing battle to keep them out and off the bed!

Meanwhile, right next door in a much smaller room, which I have utilised as my study, all my fabric, yarn, sewing machine etc sits packed away as there was no space for it to be easily accessible.

Still a lot of decorating to do - you can see we have started patching up the walls

"Why are we not utilising the space in our house in a way that suites us"? I wondered.

There is no good reason. Our eldest daughter commandeered the summer house which was earmarked to be the sewing room - funny how that happens - and for as long as I can remember, I have wanted a dedicated sewing room. Where I can have my sewing maching out at all times and my yarn and fabric around me.

So that is what we did. The office has become the guest room (it still fits my daughters double bed with space to spare) and I have a lovely large sewing room.

Don't you just love the bright rug? I loved how it looked like a quilt and thos colours! It's the boldest colour choice I think I have ever made.

I plan on making this a very cozy and creative space. I have so many things I want to make for it and so many ideas floating about in my head. I must actually sketch them out otherwise I will just get overwhelmed and end up not doing anything!

Just to let you know, I have relaunched my podcast. The first episode is very long - just over an hour - as there is so much to catch up on. It's not out yet as it is taking an absolute age to upload to YouTube. I seem to be having a real issue with it uploading. I'm on my third attempt over two days! Grrrr!

I will probably let you know on Facebook and Instagram once it has finally published.

In this episode I am talking about:

  • Empty Nest Syndrome and thoughts on navigating this change of season and thinking about the "what's next" question.
  • Sharing some of my finished knitting projects
  • showing you what I have on the needles right now.
  • Sharing two lovely crafty books that I have on my bookshelf
  • Spring yarn inspiration
  • and a little chat about quilting.

I'm going to end this post with a lovely view of the little art shed which sits behind our pond and and the apple tree, which is blossoming beautifully! Last year we harvested 5 apples - I'm hoping this year it will be more.

That's it from me today. I hope that you are all having a lovely week and I look forward to seeing you back here very soon.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Perfect Day...

Have you ever watched the intro to Beatrix Potters Peter Rabbit series? Oh it's just lovely! One of my favorite things. It opens with 'Beatrix Potter' painting in the Cumbrian countryside... it's all just so perfectly English and shows exactly what our lovely countryside is all about. Here, I'll show you...

I love how the rain washes the countryside clean - you can almost smell the rain hitting the earth. Well today is one of those days here in my bit of England. The scent's and scenes instantly conjured up memories of the clip shown above and of the song 'Perfect Day' by Miriam Stockley - which is just heavenly to listen too.

Wanna hear it?...

I love how puddles form and great big clouds dress the expanse of sky...

I love how the rain sits on the spring flowers, delicately balancing and dressing each leaf and petal with little 'diamonds'.

I love how it feels when I am inside looking out of the rain-speckled windows with a hot cup of tea cupped in  my hands, the steam gently drifting up and touching my face.


what a perfect day...

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