The Vegetable Scheme

As parents, we’ll try anything to get our kids to eat right. There are so many tips and tricks out there and even bestselling cookbooks that help hide veggies in meals. For some parents, these approaches may be very effective. For others though, nothing seems to work. If you are the latter category, we found an unconventional approach that has worked surprisingly well.

I have often admitted within my blog posts that I’m not an expert parent – just trying to become one.  Because of this trial-and-error method, there might be valid critiques to this approach and I’d encourage any such comments. With that in mind however, I offer up The Vegetable Scheme, which is entirely attributable to my brilliant wife.

My kids are well-aware of the value of fruits and vegetables – reenforced both at their preschool and at home. They know that these foods make them healthy, strong, and help them grow. Such knowledge, however, does not seem to provide enough incentive for them to embrace consistently eating them. They need a nudge in the right direction, which now comes primarily from a combination of reverse psychology and good cop/bad cop. We don’t do this in a devious way, however, but rather as a light-hearted game of sorts.

Quite playfully, my wife (the bad cop) tells the kids they are getting too big and strong, and growing too fast. She tells me (the good cop) at the dinner table that I should stop giving them fruits and vegetables so they can always be her beautiful little babies. The kids giggle and adamantly claim that they are big kids now. I whisper to each of them that they can still eat their vegetables but we just won’t tell mom. They love the notion of having a secret, despite how obvious it is that it’s more of a game.

With broccoli on their plates that would previously have gone relatively untouched, they now have that nudge they need, coming in the form of playful rebellion. Eating vegetables has become mischievous. They even devised their own way of disguising their would-be treachery. Giggling adorably, they tell their mom to look at something on the counter behind her. She turns in a slow and deliberate manner, taking her time. All the while, those florets disappear into their mouths until she turns back around. They even take it further, reaching over and swiping some off her plate, giggling through their broccoli-ridden teeth as she acts incredulous at the vegetables’ disappearance.

Given the prevalence of tips that suggest just getting kids to try just a bite at first, or suggesting that kids will have a greater tendency to eat foods once they have tried them several times, The Vegetable Scheme is certainly accomplishing these steps quite well. It has also been quite fun for all of us, while our kids sometimes eat their vegetables first, eliminating the often-used “too full” excuse  later in the meal.

Perhaps The Vegetable Scheme may seem too devious to some or have unforeseen downsides, but the fact is that it has been quite effective for us. It replaces the stigma of vegetables and makes eating them more of a game. And so, if increasing their vegetable intake and/or trying new foods are the overarching goals, The Vegetable Scheme has worked like a charm.

Categories: SAHD/SAHM tips | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Ask the Kids First

Another day has gone by and another valuable lesson learned. While I’d like to say that I imparted some great wisdom on my kids, they have proven once again that they can often have a greater ability to teach me than the other way around. So what did these brilliant four-year olds teach me this time? That I need to start asking them first.

We’ve all been there, realizing on our way out the door that we need some additional, integral this-or-that for the upcoming outing. In my latest instance, that must-have was mittens. While the kids are otherwise ready to go, I frantically search, feeling as though I have already checked every place twice to no avail. I look in places that they would never be, because I’ve already looked twice in all the usual spots. The frustration mounts and time ticks by, so now the assumption of lateness piles on – the lack of preparation so evident in this fruitless search. A few grunts and heavy sighs are emitted, the slightest venting of that parentally-supressed anger in a feeble attempt to forestall completely losing it.

This time though, teetering on that precipice, the vicious cycle was broken. My salvation came from my four-year old daughter, who sweetly asked what I was looking for. In a far too gruff and frustrated response, I barked back “I’m looking for your mittens…sweetie” – the delayed endearment a lame attempt to somehow mask my unwarranted tone. Instantly, she tells me they are in pouch on her bike. Mystery solved. Sanity recovered. Epiphany reached.

I realize now, that over these past few years I have grown accustomed to being the finder of lost things (most of which I lost initially), preparer of meals and agenda, launderer, and the all-around go-to guy for the kids’ stuff. All of these tiny little tasks and chores culminate in the quintessential stay-at-home parenting experience, yet they have fortified a routine of  mindlessly getting things done just so we can move on to the next task. Particularly in those moments of frustration, when I have a million things to do and feel like I just have to get it all done, it’s the perfect opportunity to get my kids more involved.

I have to stop thinking that every task is mine alone to complete as this simply isn’t the case anymore. I have kids now, not babies – little people that can think, react, and yes, help. The seemingly endless daily chores need not be entirely parent-centric as  they continue to take more responsibility for their actions and contribute to the household.  These new skills, whether seemingly minor or major, are all part of a glorious trend toward self-sufficiency. And while this is certainly a common parental goal that we all share, we can both marvel at our kids’ development and also celebrate the impact it also has on our own lives. It’s a small step toward a much larger, and ideally lifelong, trend. As a family, we’re all in this together and despite the myriad motivations, whether selfless or selfish, our goals are still perfectly aligned. I’m proud of every step my kids have taken but I shouldn’t be ashamed that my life becomes easier with each one too. While it’s utterly magnificent that my sweet little girl showed empathy and a desire to help – traits that I’ll always try to instill in her, a little sliver of my sanity could have been preserved this time if I had only asked her first where those mittens were. I won’t make that mistake again. My kids aren’t the only ones growing up here.

Categories: Introspection, SAHD/SAHM tips | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Lazy Parenting Yields Frustrated Parent

Like most other parents, I try to fill my kids’ time with fun, engaging, and wherever possible, educational activities. We all know this is no easy task as there are just too many hours in some days. Kids can get bored too easily and there are only so many times you can hit those same favorite hot spots before someone has had all they can take. Quite often, I cross that threshold long before my kids do. So what can we do?

While the answer to that question can be elusive, too often I make the tragic mistake of attempting to do nothing. The deluge of bad weather systems lately and the seeming acceleration toward winter has been forcing us to stay home and get cozy. While these factors may have once yielded a pleasant, restful afternoon, now the prospect of keeping four year-old kids from boredom induced chaos makes such relaxation nearly impossible. Yet, I still try to pull it off sometimes.

It’s not that my kids require constant attention and engagement. It’s not that they are spoiled and always have something fun to do. We do our share of chores and tedious errands but these are at least actions that can forestall restlessness. If anything, I’m lucky that in many of these down-times, my twins have each other to play with. This tends to last for a short time, generally until they find something over which to compete. This can be absolutely anything, whether a coveted toy or something as seemingly competition-free as who gets to brush their teeth or get in the car first. In any case, when they aren’t engaged, the peace can be frustratingly short-lived.

I always know it’s going to happen. I see the tell-tale signs of trouble and get preemptively defensive. They start getting restless and chasing each other around at top speed, and we’re likely only moments away from some trivial offense changing one of those delightfully giddy laughs to a whiny complaint for which they’ll seek my intervention. Like every parent, we know our kids well and at times, can pessimistically predict this annoying future all-too-easily.

While I know all these things and have this (hardly) uncanny ability to predict the future, it never seems to stop me from attempting the lazy route yet again. I try to get away with doing nothing, hoping that this time, my kids will finally be good with it.  And yet, unsurprisingly, it doesn’t work – again. They get bored and annoyed, so predictably I start grumbling to myself and question why they can’t just be content. Of course, I know why – it’s because they are four year-olds. When engaged in an activity, they are content. When I’m being lazy in my parenting however, their energy is bound to boil over into chaos.

So when it comes time to plan the next activity, whether stuck in the house on a nasty day or not, I need to remember this inevitability. I need to do this for their sake as well as my own. I may not always want to be that entertainer, reader, game host, teacher, fort builder, puppeteer, etc., but if I take a moment to recognize the inevitable alternative, maybe next time I won’t repeat this all-too-frequent mistake. I need to remember that when I get lazy as a parent, through no fault of my kids, that eventually I’m going to get frustrated. It doesn’t take a constant, unsustainable, fun-filled agenda to avoid such a pitfall. Instead of thinking I can regress into pre-kid lazy mode where I could completely shut down, I need to recognize a new base level of activity that keeps my kids from driving each other, and me, crazy, for those moments of down time between more engaging activities. Ironically, I just have to stop trying so hard to be lazy.

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Case Study of a Compliment

I don’t deal very well with compliments. I can dish them out but I can’t take them. Rather than just being gracious, I often find myself trying to introspectively debunk a compliment rather than just accept it. No doubt, I completely over-think it but I wonder, is this emblematic of the self-doubt most parents face? Ultimately, I come to my senses and just accept the compliment but in the meantime, I seem to question every bit of it in much greater depth than any casual comment should ever warrant. With this in mind, here is a bit of a case study showing the lengthy thought process of an overly introspective and sometimes regrettably cynical stay-at-home dad:

Once in a while, I am told by a complete stranger that I am a “good dad.” Bear in mind, I don’t even feel very comfortable admitting that this happens since it sounds invariably like bragging, but my deconstruction here will show that I derive more far more shame than pride by doing so. In any case, complaining about compliments may forever brand me as an ungracious jerk, but perhaps that’s exactly what I have become.

There are a few ways my über-cynicism can deflect such an innocuous compliment as “you’re a good dad.” The first is to simply dismiss it, letting my own reflexive self-doubt discount such a nicety. I may think to myself, “I look like a good dad right now, but I’ll look quite different at the end of the day when the kids are running around crazed and I’m just trying frantically to get dinner ready.”  This is always an easy deflection, as I assume this friendly stranger is just catching a glimpse of me at the top of my game. Anyone can look like a great parent at the right moment, just as great parents can look awful if you catch them at the height of their frustration.

Another way to deflect such a compliment is to question its inspiration. Here is where my cynicism can get a bit convoluted depending which direction I take it. Am I seen as a good parent just because my kids aren’t being disruptive or running around? If so, does having compliant kids really make me a good parent or rather just an effective disciplinarian? If the latter, is that even a good thing or might I be raising followers that will never question abusive authority later in life? See? I told you I don’t deal well with compliments.

Yet another way to deflect this is to question the perspective of the source. This is where I switch gears from self-centered to radical cynic. As nice and genuine as a comment may be, I wonder if a mother would get the same compliment. Is it that I’m simply seen as a good dad by some because of (albeit diminishing) social norms that expect fathers to be less hands-on than mothers? If so, I resent the implication rather than appreciating what is almost certainly just a nice compliment. But if it’s true that the same person wouldn’t make a similar compliment to a mother, then am I wrong? I strive to be a good parent, and if the prevailing expectations for fathers are less than for mothers, then I have somehow managed to interpret what may be a genuine compliment as an insult instead. My special blend of egocentrism and self-doubt then yields an unspoken judgment on a stranger who has gone out of his/her way to pay me a compliment. My cynicism seemingly knows no bounds.

To be clear, it’s not that I think I’m a bad father. I believe I’m a pretty good one, actually, though it’s a distinction that will ebb and flow over the course of any given day. At some points I’m definitely too hard on myself but at other times, I’m probably far too conceited. Whatever the implications may be to my vacillating confidence and the mood-driven seesaw battle between egomania and cynicism, I do get past it. Once I work this all out in my head, I can conclude the absurdity of my introspection (as writing about it has accomplished here), and just accept that a nice person gave me a warm and unsolicited compliment. If I choose to mangle it into something sinister, that’s entirely on me. Maybe I’m a good dad. Maybe I’m a good parent. Maybe I’m a horrible person. In any case, by acknowledging these possibilities, I can improve regardless.

I don’t do these things to beat myself up, though perhaps I’m rationalizing. Instead, I simply try to think critically about anything I do, whether it’s my budgeting, grocery shopping, or my personal behavior, so that I can always seek improvement. I can’t teach critical thinking skills to my kids if I don’t first possess them myself. And, since we all strive to give our kids the best things in life, shouldn’t our best selves be at the top of that list?

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It’s Doable

I had a moment on Sunday. Rather, a seemingly trivial moment came and went but it has me thinking more and more ever since. All it took was a simple phrase that keeps resounding in my mind – “it’s doable.”

It was a moment not unlike so many others – just two proud fathers watching their sons playing soccer (or as close as 4 year-old kids get to it) on a sunny fall day. Among other things, we discussed a recent outing he had taken with his family. By going, they had deviated from their typical sleep schedule to let the kids experience an astronomy lesson and use a telescope on the observation deck of a science center. The overly-structured (read: controlling) dad in me instantly leaped out, almost defensively saying that we always try to keep our kids on their sleep schedule so I’d likely never take my kids there. He shrugged it off with a smirk, pointing out that they had a great time and slept just fine. Then he said those words…”it’s doable.”

Ever since then, I just keep thinking – yes, it IS doable. Of course it is. My kids aren’t those little babies who needed 14 hours of sleep anymore and I’m not the parent that is desperate for them to be asleep so I can finally rest. My little, fragile, utterly-dependent babies are now full-fledged kids.

I don’t change diapers anymore. I don’t go everywhere laden with various ointments, pacifiers, extra clothes, and strollers. I don’t cringe at the thought of forgetting something at the store, seething with frustration at the thought of spending a half hour to do something that should take five minutes. There are no cribs, no bouncy seats, no high chairs. All gone. Yet while I have shed all this excess baggage in a literal sense, it took just two simple words – “it’s doable” – to make me realize there’s still a little baggage – just figuratively.

I’m not suggesting that I just realized my kids aren’t babies. Believe me, each bit of baby infrastructure that I have cast off has been truly momentous. However, that apparently doesn’t stop me from hanging on to certain old habits – like my sleep fixation. Having weathered those early infant days as a parent of twins, perhaps this is some kind of mental defense mechanism – an automatic response to anything that encroaches upon that precious sleep. We’re fortunately a few years removed from the depressing blur of sleep-deprivation now. Yet as I demonstrated in my conversation that day on the soccer field, I still reflexively cling to the seemingly paramount, albeit outdated importance of a good night sleep.

How many other things am I doing that are just antiquated throw-backs to the bygone era of labor-intensive baby parenting? Or conversely, which have been those persistent strategies that contribute to our successes? Ideally, I’ll find a mix of each but by simply being conscious of these things going forward, I should be able to shed a bit more of that baggage yet. It’s doable.

Categories: Parenting Philosophy | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Get in the Picture

Remember the Fotomat? Remember film and the need for “reprints” if you wanted to share copies? Our kids certainly don’t have a clue as such relics make the obsolescence of 8-track players seem quaint by comparison. Photography has come a long way in our lifetimes, which is great for families that want to catalog all their wonderful moments for posterity.

However, there is one yet-undiscovered technological advance that continues to haunt me. I chase my kids around day after day, snapping shots and videos with such ease on my phone, able to review, save, or delete instantaneously. I don’t have to limit the pictures and hope to have captured the right shot after paying for development days later. In their four and half years, I likely have thousands of pictures of my kids, including hundreds that were snapped in rapid succession just in hopes of getting them to look and/or smile at the camera simultaneously. Yet for this overwhelming abundance of pictures and videos, there is one thing missing in 99.9% of them – me.

Now, this may sound like vanity, but I can assure you it is not. Rather, much of it stems my own relatively undocumented childhood. You see, my father died when I was young. He was a very busy man and I was the third kid, so like so many other non-firstborns, there isn’t the same glut of baby pictures or documentation of childhood firsts. As a result, I have only one picture of myself alone with my father – a grainy, off-center snapshot hastily taken at the kitchen table when I was about three years old. Speaking as a former kid, this just isn’t enough.

Now that I am a parent, this has helped me to realize the the potential benefits of something so simple – just getting in more pictures. I may not know everything but I’m fairly certain that I’m mortal. It may be nice to have a million cute pics of your kids to share with relatives and friends, posting on Facebook for those “likes” and obligatory compliments that you’ll receive. There can be so much more to those pictures though. Be proud and show off your kids but recognize that one day, ideally so many decades from now, they’ll want to remember those same shared memories that you had cherished all your life. As adults, your kids may appreciate how cute they once were climbing on a playground, but they’ll appreciate it infinitely more to see you there with them.

If I practice what I preach here, my kids will have ample evidence and pictures to spur their memories long after I’m gone. Again, this could easily be construed as vanity on my part. Yes, of course I want them to remember me fondly – who wouldn’t? This is hardly the point though. They can remember every mistake I have made, every time I lost my temper, every time I acted contrary to what I have espoused in these pages. If they live their lives knowing I loved them unconditionally, then I’m fine with that. So if “a picture is worth a thousand words” as the saying goes, then giving my kids several thousand from me is the least I can do to help them remember.

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Write About It

I started this blog originally as a way to document my insights and tips on parenting as well as to diversify for my freelance writing work. What I didn’t fully grasp, however, was how the blog itself might actually make me a better dad. While it might not be the best approach for everyone, it nonetheless has uncovered a potentially useful strategy that can make us all better parents – just write about it.

Aside from the benefit of looking back at my successes and failures (there have been many) of various parenting approaches and tips, I often find myself thinking about future topics or discussing new ideas with my wife and friends. This tends to keep good parenting top of mind and when I suddenly find myself slipping into bad habits, I recalibrate. It also makes me strive to come up with new ideas for activities with my kids, keeping in mind that it’s not just about filling time in a given day. It’s about doing something constructive for their development, yet thankfully and unexpectedly, it has been constructive for my development as a parent. This is not to say that every moment of every day is filled with enlightened educational or developmental activities but when there is a choice between what is easy and what is good, I find myself more often choosing the latter – if/when I happen to have any energy left.

It doesn’t have to be a blog, a book, or even a structured journal. Jot down an occasional thought on a post-it note. Keep a pad in your pocket. Email yourself or log an occasional idea into your phone. The benefit doesn’t come from writing for public consumption; it comes from the intrinsic value of introspection and critical analysis. Just as a quarterback watches hours of game film, he is able to improve by having the means to review strengths and weaknesses. Such anecdotal scrutiny not only provides the basis for the next game plan but, equally important, brings the necessary confidence to the players. Those that are at the top of their profession rarely (if ever) get there with just natural ability alone. They get there by constantly training and striving to be better. I’m a professional parent, so I can relate to that.

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Does having 4.5 year old twins result in a near-constant barrage of questions? Yes. Can it get a little frustrating at times? Absolutely. Would I change it? No way.

I want my kids to ask a lot of questions. Naturally, I want them to be curious about absolutely everything as this implies a quest for knowledge – one that I hope will continue their entire lives. While it’s true that such questions – varying from the mundane to profound – can often be difficult to answer, I always want to constructively respond. By the evening after a long day, I try (often unsuccessfully) to remind myself of this when my patience runs short. Much to my dismay however, I don’t seem to know everything…yet. Quite on the contrary, my kids constantly remind me how little I know. Much like them though, I am learning every day, and it’s important that they realize that too.

As parents, perhaps we strive to maintain our credibility and authority in our kids’ eyes and, while there may be value in doing so, we don’t necessarily diminish that credibility by admitting that we don’t have all the answers. Instead, it can present an opportunity to show that learning should be a constant endeavor and a gratifying part of the human experience. In many cases, it could certainly be easier to make up a cute or overly-simplified answer (e.g. thunder is god bowling) but in the long run, such responses could suppress a child’s natural curiosity or ultimately diminish your credibility once a scientific reason is learned later.

Instead of taking the easy way out, think of every question as an opportunity. Even if you know the answer, ask questions right back to help your child arrive at an answer him/herself. Obviously, this isn’t always possible but it can broaden the conversation and help to boost deductive reasoning skills. If you’re not sure of an answer or can’t explain something in terms that he/she might understand, suggest that you can research it together. Make it an excuse to get a book on the subject at the library or to look something up together online. Show your child that when you don’t fully understand something, that you want to learn more about it too. Don’t be content to leave questions unanswered as your follow through can demonstrate a thirst for knowledge, perseverance, and a commitment to a life of learning.

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Consignment time is here

‘Tis the season for consignment sales. Some don’t like the idea of second-hand clothing but I’m certainly not one of those people. While it’s safe to say that my overly-frugal tendencies have been well-documented in previous posts, used clothing isn’t just about saving money. For our family, it’s also one of the best ways to recycle and reduce waste.

More recently, I’ve been lucky enough to make some great friends who have kids slightly bigger than mine, unleashing a wave of incredible hand-me-downs and mitigating a lot of our shopping. This is obviously an ideal situation as it allows us to benefit greatly and our friends get to hollow out their storage a bit. However, this option wasn’t always available to us and because of new activities on the horizon (e.g. ballet and soccer), I’m reminded of our shopping fundamentals and our strategy to fill in any blanks that might still remain. Much like the grocery shopping strategy, time and money can be saved (and waste reduced) by simply assessing your needs ahead of time and planning accordingly.

Consider how your kids wear clothes and out-grow them. Then think about some of the clothes in your closet. Most of my clothes are older than my kids. Admittedly, I have no style but it demonstrates the point that my clothes are still perfectly wearable after six months, just as my kids’ out-grown clothes are. I also think how my kids tend (inexplicably) towards certain shirts while other sit untouched in their drawers day after day. Consignment sales are full of such relatively unworn clothes, often available for cents on the dollar. Until my kids are old enough to clamor for some awful, peer-pressure-induced, must-have styles or brands that will inevitably happen in the future (e.g. I think of designer jeans or Air Jordans from my youth), I’ll save every penny I can on their clothing now.

Depending on your preference or location, you’ll likely have several options to find all the stuff your kids need. Keep an eye on your favorite parenting or local news sources and you’re bound to see some upcoming mega-consignment events or check a site like this to find one near you. There also may be dedicated consignment shops in your area, where occasional trips can yield a lot of great deals. There are even online consignment shops now. If you do have a local consignment store, it’s also worth noting the value of periodic trips there, as parents just like you clean out their kids’ closets at different times, providing fresher inventory and the ongoing potential for newer and greater deals.

Before you buy anything or check out any stores/sales though, start by taking an inventory of your kids’ upcoming needs. Consider how quickly they have been out-growing clothes and think about the upcoming seasons and sizes.  Make a comprehensive list of everything they’ll need over the upcoming months, going beyond just clothes (if applicable). For example, consider those activities in which they will enroll so you can preemptively get their gear (e.g. shin guards for soccer, ballet shoes, or a backpack for school). By considering all the additional pieces as well as the clothes, you can ideally get everything in one shot rather than dragging this process out over weeks and months.

If you don’t have anyone to whom you can pass along your kids out-grown clothes and toys, you might want to consign some/all of them as well. Aside from making a few bucks back that you had previously spent, you can recycle these items and dollars to offset your latest purchases. Additionally, at many of the consignment events, selling your own items often gives you first “dibs” or a preview shopping day ahead of the event being open to the public, providing even greater value and selection. Similarly, in the case of dedicated consignment stores, bringing in these out-grown items may provide a rolling credit to be used in future visits. For example, I just picked up those shin guards and two pairs of snow pants (yeah, I know it’s August) yesterday at our local consignment shop. While I would have spent only a whopping $18 for all three, I had a credit from some stuff that had sold over the previous months, so my out-of-pocket cost was exactly $0. By considering well in advance what my kids’ needs would be, I’m now set for the next several months and miraculously, I spent nothing to do it. Interestingly, if I had bought these things new, I’d likely have bought cheaper/flimsier brands than I ended up getting at the consignment store, so my kids instead get more durable clothing and I save $50+.

Kids will inevitably bring expenses that you never considered in your earlier, kid-free days but planning ahead and saving where you can will leave you with more money for those things later that can’t be bargain shopped. In the process, you can also teach valuable lessons to them about conservation and reducing waste that will ideally stay with them, providing them with environmental consciousness and a foundation for future savings. Everyone wins.

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The Grocery Strategy Revealed

Following the post on reducing waste and saving money, I have been considering my approach to grocery shopping. This is an in-depth look at ways to save on our grocery bills and get the most efficient use of what we buy. While these can all be useful, implementing even just a few of these tips can help us get the most out of our food budget.

1. Plan and shop once a week – Aside from saving on gas with few trips to the store, I plan our meals in advance for the week. Keeping our “menu” on our kitchen chalkboard, I check the fridge and pantry for all the ingredients I’ll need and add any missing ones to our grocery list. At the store, I don’t deviate from my list, ensuring that I only get what we’ll need; eliminating impulse buys entirely.

2. Coupons/buying in bulk – In my younger days, I’d often get creative with new meal ideas but with finicky-eating kids now, that has changed a bit. I have a good sense of what they like and don’t like, so viable dinner ideas are more limited. Therefore, when there is an opportunity to get a staple ingredient cheaply with a coupon or by buying in bulk, I don’t hesitate. As long as items aren’t perishable (or can be frozen) and I know they’ll be incorporated into a meal eventually, I buy where there is greater value. For me, I always look more closely at the per-unit cost than the total price. If I’m buying more at a better price, those ingredients simply won’t need to be put on future grocery lists and I’ll have gotten them at a lower cost. This is where a membership at a wholesale club (e.g. Sam’s Club, Costco, BJ’s, etc.) can be advantageous too.

3. Consider “day 2” – If you’re making a big family dinner each night, think ahead about what will be left over. Could the rest be another good reheated dinner the following night? Can my wife take some to work for her lunch? I often make our favorite baked penne recipe with this in mind. Aside from being great for leftovers, I also don’t have to cook the next night – an added bonus that any parent can love. Consider the last bite of the meal along with the first and make an effort to throw away as little of it as possible.

4. Consider the total cost of each meal – Do a quick tally of the ingredients in your favorite/most frequent meals. You may find that some are pricier while others are cheaper. Having this mind when making your menu can save you a few extra dollars per week, which adds up quickly. You can also consider a weekly meatless dinner. This is recommended by researchers for better health, by environmentalists for conservation, and by me for cost reasons.

5. Track spending over time – View your bank statements online over a two or three month period and look for your transactions from your grocery store. Your costs will fluctuate from week to week, particularly if/when you buy things in bulk, so take a larger sample and get an average cost per week. Do the same quick analysis once a month to check your progress. If any of this makes you feel excessively cheap, then make yourself feel better by putting your savings toward a special outing with your kids.

These are just some of the ways that we can all save money and reduce waste, though I’m sure there are many others that I have yet to consider. What are some of your strategies?

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