Categories
Parenting Tech

Why I’m teaching my kid to be nice to Google.

Okay, this sounds totally like a first world problem. Because it is.

While browsing the internet the other day, I happened to come across a post about why kids should be taught to be polite towards their Google Assistants and Amazon Alexas out there. I believe it simply comes down to the golden rule. You know, the whole treating others as you would like others to treat you kind of thing. Maybe I’m also slightly worried about how much smarter computers are today than they were back when I was a kid. I’m sure there are people out there who think there will be an artificial intelligence uprising someday from human misuse and neglect.

I am not one of those people… But hey, it never hurts to be safe, right?

But seriously, have you ever seen anyone say nasty things to an Alexa to see how it would react? I’m sure there’s no negative reinforcement for those kinds of situations yet, but there is currently some positive reinforcement for kids who are polite to Alexa while requesting the song Baby Shark for the millionth time. Google Assistant will even be delighted if you use the words “please” and “thank you” while issuing voice commands to it and responds in a brighter demeanor when the user is being polite.

I start to wonder if this positive response could also train some rude as hell adults to become polite as well. I know many. And I can be one at times, I admit. How would we sound if we talked to others as we talked to Alexa and Google Assistant? Probably pretty rude and awkward.

The positive reinforcement after using manners on Google could help my daughter when addressing others for help in the future (i.e. not screaming “HEY GOOGLE, TURN ON THE TV!” to some poor person next to her) but it would also allow her to treat things with respect and care.

I like to think I take good care of my car, for example. I give it regular oil changes, wash it, keep the inside clean, and try not to drive like a jerk. It is one of the nicest things I currently own and have been able to pay for with my own money, and I view it as an important investment. My car is relatively new, and with the proper care, does not break down and is fairly reliable.

Our Google Assistant that lives in our phones and in our homes helps us multitask, set reminders and dates on our calendars, and even gives us some entertainment every now and then. (PJ loves asking Google what different kinds of animals sound like.) It is a useful tool in our home, and we take care of it so it can continue to be helpful.

While the jury is still out on whether AI can help or hinder a child’s development, there are definitely still some learning opportunities for both parents and kids while using these tools to aid in everyday life, and the technology will only start to become more commonplace and continue to get even smarter. That is if we are still following Moore’s Law, which basically says the speed of computer processors would double and chips would shrink in size every two years.

Still, there’s a whole other side of the discussion with kids and AI concerning privacy, whether or not to detect potentially violent situations in the home, preventing unauthorized access to certain content on the internet and keeping kids from going crazy with their parents’ credit card info on the internet, etc. But that’s a tangent for another post. This is how I’m trying to make good use of the technology to better my own daughter’s development.

Right now, our Google Home devices don’t always detect PJ’s voice, mainly because she is still getting a grip on the English language herself, and the device can’t always guess what she could be trying to say since she is still getting the hang of pronouncing certain vowels and such. For example, the “W” and “U” sounds are the trickiest for her to master currently. But there is a way for her to be detected as a child in Google’s eyes, and that is to create an account for her for the device to detect her voice and follow some setup steps for privacy and access restrictions. We haven’t gotten that far yet, though. She’s only 2 years old.

With our experience so far, we’ve learned that keeping PJ engaged with the tasks she uses Google for and not merely just barking out voice commands is essential. This enables her to reflect on her actions towards the device and not just merely enforce repetition (even though that alone in some cases is a good learning tactic). It also seems to be helping her foster a sense of curiosity with the world around her and makes her more inclined to ask questions. Lots of questions. Even ones that Dan and I would have never even thought of. It’s so interesting to see things from a child’s perspective sometimes. Juice up that innate, child-like wonder with the power of a seemingly magical internet genie in your kitchen, and it opens up a whole new world.

At the end of it all, I want my child to learn one main thing about things like Google and other powerful devices she may handle in the future. And that is to treat these things with great respect. Information can be used for bad things, even if it is thrown up into the internet for good intentions. I believe it’s better to be safe than sorry in some cases. We definitely take the power of the internet for granted these days, and it’s still hard to believe that I was alive and grew up in a world that did not even have it merely a few decades ago.

So it seems fitting to end this post with the following quote from my childhood: “With great power there must also come — great responsibility!”

Okay, Google. Get me a good recipe for pancakes (please!).

Categories
Children Parenting

#Relatable: Parenting in 140 characters or less.

Ah, the joys of parenthood.

Here are some of my favorite relatable tweets as of late, if you happened to be curious about what parenting is really like.

1. When you want that chocolate bar, but your child wants everything you have.

2.  Good enough is phenomenal in my book these days.

3. We can only keep up this charade for so long…

4. It’s hard to understand sometimes.

5. Not into GOT myself, but I’m sure some may appreciate this one.

6. Life is hard.

7. One of PJ’s first words was “Google”. She still loves talking to Google every day.

8. Those were the good old days.

9. Hell, I get this while trying to take food/shoes/books/anything of current interest away from PJ for five seconds…

https://twitter.com/Melicious_Mama/status/1128003304644964359

10. I miss my old Saturdays.

 

Categories
Issues Love Marriage Parenting

How to love your political opposite.

Guys, I’ve been wanting to post something like this for a long time now, but I am so nervous showing you what you’re about to read – go easy on me!


I remember waking up in the middle of the night after voting earlier that Tuesday morning. Not on purpose, just to see where the heck my husband was when it was so late. It was about 2 am. I dragged myself out of bed to see if he had fallen asleep on the couch again while playing Xbox.

When I entered the living room, I found he was on his computer, happily clicking away at another video game. I looked up at the TV. The news was streaming live. I was amazed that the whole thing was still going on so late. As I watched the results come through the screen, I suddenly felt nauseous.

I grabbed Dan’s attention to the screen, and we caught the final moments of the 2016 presidential election together. We even held hands. It was going to be a defining moment in history, regardless of who won. We could feel the tension seeping through the TV screen.

And then about a half hour later, it was final. News networks started frantically reporting that Clinton had called Trump to concede defeat. The election was over. Trump had won.

I stared blankly at the screen, completely devastated. It felt like I had just witnessed something apocalyptic happen to the entire country, like a nuclear bomb or something. Everyone I saw reporting was shellshocked. Early polls had predicted Hillary as the winner of the election. The news of her defeat came as a complete surprise. Even if it was a very close call.

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The uncertainty that followed the election results caused stocks to plummet that night.

“Are you okay?”

Dan must have noticed how horrified I was. I couldn’t even answer him. My eyes just kind of teared up and I had slumped over in a depressed heap.

“Do you want to get Taco Bell?”

See, this is why I married my husband. He knows the way to my heart.

As we made our way to Taco Bell at 3 in the morning, we finally revealed to each other who we had voted for – I had voted for Hillary, and he had voted for Trump. It was funny how our own household had become a decent representation of the country that night, almost evenly divided.

(Let me enter here that I did not like either candidate. I just didn’t like Trump more.)

And now just over one year later, we’re still here. Not divorced, not hating each other. Happily ever after. The end. Right? If anything, our marriage has become even stronger and more open than ever before!

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton gesture during the presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

See, I knew from the start that Dan and I had some pretty stark differences in politics due to our own experiences and beliefs we held. We don’t disagree on every issue, and we are not one side or the other. We’re kind of in the middle of the whole political spectrum, with opposing viewpoints on topics like immigration, healthcare, etc. We choose to love each other anyway, unconditionally.

I’m actually kind of nervous putting this kind of dysfunction of ours out here for people to read, considering how polarized things have become lately. But I feel it is necessary to discuss since it seems like people just cannot seem to get along these days. I cringe every time I scroll through social media, watching debates devolve into name-calling, nasty fights that compel mutual friends and their friends to unfollow and block each other.

You may have noticed that I have been MIA for a bit here. (Sorry guys!) That’s because my evenings for the last week have been spent with my husband discussing the recent developments of the Florida school shooting that took place recently. This was something that would impact us and many other families. Do we send PJ to public school with this kind of threat present? Should we try homeschooling to keep her safe? Not to mention all of the political debates we engaged in, but I decided to take a break on the blog to discuss this with Dan. This issue was important to both of us.

(We also had a huge number of jobs come in, and I’m not about to pass on some earning opportunities!)

I don’t need to say who said what here, but we disagreed on how to handle it, discussions got emotionally and politically charged, and a few small fights ensued. (Don’t worry, we’ve kissed and made up since!) We will both always choose love for each other over silly things like politics. When stuff like this happens regularly, it’s no wonder that more than 1 in 5 American millennials reported knowing couples whose marriages and relationships have been negatively impacted since the 2016 election. More than 1 in 10 of all Americans have even ended a relationship due to political differences. 

Still, I wanted to share my experience in hopes of helping anyone else out there in a similar predicament. Heck, if this can help anyone else out there get along with someone who may be having trouble getting along with someone else about touchy things like politics, then this post will not be shot down with fiery arrows from possible trolls/haters in vain.

couple-fighting-mad-men

1. You don’t have to AGREE, just UNDERSTAND.

There are just some things that my husband and I will never ever ever EVER agree on. And this is okay! As long as we can understand why and where each of us is coming from, it can make it easier to forgive, accept, and move on to something else if the argument gets too heated. Simply agreeing to disagree helps bring some closure to the discussion.

For example, Dan likes to eat instant ramen straight out of the package. To me, this is gross and barbaric, even with my college survival stories. I still love him, though.

People have experiences in their own lives that cause them to have some strong emotional reactions, and these can shape our beliefs over time. It’s important to understand while it is okay to accept one’s experience and acknowledge that it is valid, it is NOT okay to use said experiences to cancel out or invalidate the another person’s experience that could have been different from our own. Don’t try to disprove the other points made or *important* change the other’s beliefs! If changing people’s minds was that easy, we wouldn’t have this kind of political divide here in the first place.

Remember, listen to understand here, not just listen to respond.

mickey-and-minnie-tumblr_mmnmtaTurr1rlibrgo1_500

2. Remember that you’re still talking to a human being.

Sometimes, my feelings will get in the way and I will end up collapsing in a balled-up, angry-crying heap. There are issues out there that I feel affect me more than others, and are more important and relevant in my life. When my views towards those issues get challenged, it can feel like an attack against me and/or my own experiences that back up those views, like they weren’t real or believable. I also have to remember that Dan has his own views and biases too, and I should treat him with respect during one of those kinds of conversations. If either one of us starts to get heated over the topic, we take a break to collect ourselves and try again later.

Sticking to facts (not ones found on a meme) can help keep the strong emotions out of the debate, and help both of us approach the topics with a cooler head, and help keep a logical mindset. If we end up losing our cool with each other, we forgive and move on.

coffee-lovers
On a coffee break in Tiffin, OH at Sabaidee Coffee House.

3. Return to common ground (or find a common enemy).

OK, things got a little heated after a politically charged argument, and now things are awkward.

How’s about a beer and some pizza? Or maybe some Taco Bell? On the night of the election, we decided to come together with some Quesaritos and face the bathroom woes down the road together.

Again, it’s okay to not agree with every single thing in the world. I will acknowledge here that it is easier to hate than to forgive sometimes. But instead of stewing over your loved one’s flawed statements, find something else to hate together! For example, Dan and I hate most country music songs. That is something we can agree on. Better yet, our mutual love for all things pizza can move mountains.

matthews_sign
Straightforward. I like it.

4. Keep sacred things… well, sacred.

In other words, there are times where you should just not even bring up any prior discussions on gun control. Like at a funeral. That one should be obvious.

Other times, it’s not so clear. Perhaps designate dinner time to be politics-free. Don’t try to talk to them through the bathroom door, either.

Or recognize that maybe your spouse doesn’t want to talk about the Women’s March while trying to binge their favorite Netflix show before they have to go to work.

Just pick your battles, people.

baby-votes-not-really-but-still-cute
We both agree that our daughter should be able to think critically and be able to talk openly about her own views in the future.

5. Keep in mind what matters most and stay curious.

If anything, I’ve learned to keep an open mind and question my own biases from time to time. Putting myself in someone else’s shoes (quite literally!) can help me understand why they feel the way they do and can be a great learning opportunity. Dan’s parents own a business and have faced their own challenges that come along with that. After putting myself on a job site with them and experiencing those challenges with them, I can better understand the possible perspectives that a business owner could have.

I also like to think that being able to amicably disagree with my own husband also sets a good example for our daughter. She will be influenced by how we react to each other with tough questions and situations, but we do our best to not impose any of our own views on her. We want her to challenge herself and think critically on her own as she gets older.

couple-camping-in-tent

6. Take care of yourself.

Politics are only one thing in life that can be unpleasant to deal with. If it gets to be too much, I strongly recommend turning off the computer or putting down the phone and then go do something fun for a while. Being around so much negative and depressing news 24/7 tends to suck the life right out of us.

Dan and I have both agreed that we’ve had a bit too much to handle lately, and to fix that, we’re planning a mini-vacation in the near future where we can go camping and not have to interact with people for a few days. There’s absolutely no shame in retreating away from everything once in a while to recharge your own batteries.

We know we won’t be around forever, anyway. We’ve got to enjoy life as much as we can before we can’t anymore!

Categories
Parenting Videogames

Why video games make me a better parent.

This is coming from someone who has basically been playing video games since being in diapers.

It’s now 2018, so does the gamer stigma still rear its ugly head every once in a while? You bet it does. But from my perspective, it seems to be getting a little better, albeit rather slowly. Video games and the communities that enjoy and celebrate them have come such a long way since I picked up a controller for the first time.

No joke, I nearly cried tears of joy and pride when I happened to catch two big colleges in the area (Ohio State vs Michigan) actually stream a competitive game of League of Legends.

I grew up with video games ever since the Sega Genesis came out. I had all sorts of gaming consoles and devices, and I would be occupied by these games for hours on end. An entire day would easily be spent sitting in front of the television with my console and game of choice.

game_set_up
The first gaming setup Dan and I had while we were dating.

But how do I feel about games now that I am a parent? As with all other media and entertainment like TV, movies, and books: good in moderation. Games today can provide a helpful platform for me to teach PJ so many things, as well as improve some of her cognitive and developmental skills.

But I’m not talking about how video games will affect her this time around.

This one’s more about how video games can make me a better parent, and another excuse to talk about how awesome they can be. Here are a few things about video games today that I like to think are beneficial to me as a parent:

Engaged Parenting

Kids are smart. They can pick up on things quite well. And this can come back to bite me in the butt later when PJ is older. She’ll know if I try to pretend to be interested in something she likes just for her sake. I can only hope she will be into the Xbox as much as her mommy and daddy are when she gets older.

I’m eagerly looking forward to the day where I can hand PJ a controller and have her jump into the game with me. Better yet, I’ll grab the husband too and make it a family affair. We may not be going to the zoo or out to a restaurant together, and there may be days where the weather doesn’t cooperate and forces us to stay inside our home. This is still some A+ quality time spent as a family in my book!

We also get the opportunity to teach PJ while playing with her, whether the game is labeled educational or not. There are good things and bad things, but we get to talk and engage her in conversations about what happens in the game. For example, if we encounter toxic players online, we can use those moments to teach PJ about proper sportsmanship, and then proceed to pwn the trolls in the game. We can also just talk about how silly the characters look or how frustrating a level is to clear. (If you want to know what real anger is like, try Cuphead for a bit.)

Improved Decision Making and Multitasking

Just this past week, I can easily count how many times I needed to react quickly in order to avoid certain disasters involving PJ – and I can credit my fast responses to my favorite action games that required me to make decisions very quickly.

Now, this is not just in how fast I react to something, it’s also how well I can react to something in just a few seconds.

This neat little skill comes in handy whenever I’m about to see PJ fall off of a couch or bump her head onto something pointy and painful looking. It’s also saved me from getting into any car accidents even before I had a baby.

Also, remember in my first post when I said that multitasking was important after having a kid? Good thing I was already accustomed to doing this while gaming. I don’t know how I would manage to get anything else done otherwise. Baby carriers and slings were a lifesaver for me in the early days so that I could keep up with chores that needed to be done around the house. It even helped in my work life, especially while I was working in the food and service industries while in college. Without multitasking skills, I would have probably died long ago from exhaustion.

For Fun and De-stressing

Okay, this one is a duh. But it’s worth mentioning.

Too much stress is bad. Being able to jump into Saints Row IV after a bad day to take out my anger on some alien butt is awesome. Or if I’m going through a sad spot, I can escape into the post-apocalyptic world of Fallout 4 to mope around the nuclear wastelands and be glad that is not my actual life.

Or if I want a cheap and cozy date night with my sweets, I’ll load up some games like Don’t Starve Together and Army of Two to play with him and we’ll order a pizza. That’s perfect for when we are both tired from work or just life in general. It also helps that we both like video games, I suppose.

Fallout-4-XP
I LOVE this game. And anything made by Bethesda, really.

It’s important for us to have time to ourselves so we can be happy and healthy for PJ, and we are so blessed to have the family look after her when we need that time. Like tonight, for instance. I wish I could say it was for a date night this time, but I’m currently struggling with the worst toothache I’ve ever had, enough to warrant a visit to the oral surgeon first thing Monday morning. Fun.

What do you think? Do you think video games could be beneficial to parents, or are they just more distractions to tackle? Share with me in the comments below!

 

 

Categories
Children Life

Why my child isn’t my first priority.

I’m bracing myself for the comments about to come my way, especially from those who may get upset at the title without reading what I have to say first.

Also, check out this bit from Business Insider about why putting kids first can harm everyone in the long run. It seems I am (thankfully) not alone in feeling this way.

Lately, I’ve been feeling a little resentful about motherhood expectations. Particularly about what a dear friend of mine came to me to confess before heading out on a last-minute Christmas shopping outing. She had told me that she was feeling pressured by more than just a few people to cut back on occasional nights out with friends, concerned that she is not giving enough of her time to her husband and child. Meanwhile, her husband was happily playing Xbox with his friends online. Almost every. Single. Night. She was not the only friend of mine with kids to tell me this.

And boy, did that sound familiar to me… and it made me angry.

Why is it that when women go into motherhood, we are expected to act like nothing else exists in our lives? I’ll admit that there are certain “mom” stereotypes we most certainly fit now – the Target addictions, the yoga pants/messy bun combo, and the badge of honor that we wear on our clothing that can resemble spit up, poo, food stains, and the like. But why do some people still think that once we become mothers, that is our sole identity?

Why is it that when married women and mothers go out with their girlfriends, it’s a sign that she is having troubles or that her marriage is failing, but when husbands and fathers go grab a beer and bowl together, no-one bats an eye?

My name is still Jessie. However, I will be lovingly referred to now as PJ’s mom. (or another one that bugged me after I got married was Dan’s wife. I have a name, come on!!!)

Well, I am here today to let everyone know that I will not be guilted or pressured by anyone into sacrificing everything that is of me for the sake of raising PJ, or any siblings that may come after her. I understand that having children involves some degree of sacrifice and devotion to ensure the kid’s needs are met, but giving all of me, every day for the rest of my life is definitely pushing things too far.

Here are some things that would happen in my life (read: important!) if I decided to make my child the #1 priority.

1. My marriage would suffer.

I love Dan to death. He is my rock, my soulmate, and has been an amazing father. I couldn’t ask for anyone better to come along this wild journey of parenthood with. Just as Dan has made time for me in the past, I need to also make time for Dan too, as he is not just a father. He was a person with his own identity too before we got the news that would change our lives forever. And he still is.

The first few weeks after PJ came into the world were rough for me. Dan was there to make sure that I had what I needed while desperately trying to nurse our daughter and trying to recover from a tear I had acquired downstairs that had to be stitched up. Not to mention the hormones being all over the place, I was a wreck. He had to deal with that. Just as I have to deal with Dan when he has his moments where he feels like a wreck, too. I suppose that’s how marriage works.

And marriages need a lot of work investment to keep things rolling.

We need our date nights. We need to spend quality time with each other. We need to be able to talk about things besides diaper changes and napping schedules with each other. If I put 100% of myself into raising PJ, I will have 0% left for my relationship with Dan. And that would be a recipe for disaster. This is why having a quality babysitter or a fantastic relative who is able to watch our child is worth their weight in gold. There should be no guilt in taking time off from parenting.

And if we’re happy, guess what? We can be that embarrassing pair of parents that smooch, be affectionate, and have fun with each other in front of our kid. I want our daughter to know what a healthy relationship looks like. Those to me are marriage and parent goals!

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-16,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E:Y
Husband Dan holding daughter PJ during our holiday travels.

2. I’d lose myself.

Sure, having a kid involved a lot of sacrifices that needed to be made in my personal life, but I still need more than just food and showers to stay sane.

As a human being, I have needs, wants, and feelings just as valid as anyone else’s. I need some semblance of social interaction with others, outside of my house. Just as I had mentioned in a previous post of mine, I needed something consistent for myself to smooth the transition to parenthood and to keep a sense of normalcy in my life. And I feel that this will also help me develop healthy boundaries that need to be set so that I don’t feel completely drained of life at the end of the day. (I’m locking my bathroom door.)

You know the saying “Happy wife, happy life?” Well, it’s so freaking true. Taking care of myself will enable me to take better care of my family. Even on days where I just want to pack my bags and buy a one-way plane ticket to the nearest beach in California, I’ll still miss my husband and my kid at the end of the day and want to come running right back home to them. Absence does, after all, make the heart grow fonder.

3. My kid will have unrealistic expectations.

I don’t want PJ thinking the universe revolves around her. Or owes her anything. My job as a parent is to raise her to the best of my ability to live without me, not believe that she is royalty and deserves to be waited on hand and foot. She needs to realize that she is not the only being on this planet with needs. (And sure, that one may take a while before it finally kicks in.) I want to pass down the lessons I have learned from my mother about being a decent human being, and how to be considerate of others around her – without being a complete pushover.

More importantly, if she ever decides to have children of her own, I want her to know that her own struggles that she has while raising them are just as valid as they were for me while I was raising her. Of course, I will be there for her when she needs me, just as any parent should be, but I will not subject myself to be her on-demand personal dishwasher, chauffeur, or laundromat. Nor should her kids treat her that way.

So no, my daughter will not be my #1 priority, and that’s okay. And my priorities will change as I get older. As will hers. One day she will leave the nest, and I will be left to figure out what to do with my life once she is old enough to start leading hers. When that day comes, I probably won’t be ready for it. I will most likely bawl my eyes out. I will continue to support her when needed, and hopefully, take a few long vacations with all of the time that I will suddenly get back to myself. But I will still be missing her and loving her, no matter what.

 

Categories
Food

College food hacks you can use now that you’re a parent.

You needed to be crafty when all you could afford was ramen.

And you couldn’t eat this stuff exactly the way you’re supposed to make it every single day without getting sick of it. Even if you love ramen, there has to be a little variety so it doesn’t feel like you’re depriving yourself completely… even though you might be.

Here are some tips and hacks I use to stay afloat while managing the chaos. These little gems have served me well while in school, and have proven to be quite useful during the moments of parenthood when you just can’t even anymore.

1. Get ingredients that work hard.

Here’s my personal list of pantry staples for when things get tight. Good staples are non-perishable and versatile ingredients that can be used in many recipes.

  • Pasta, rice or ramen
  • Flour, sugar, salt and pepper (the basics people take for granted)
  • Canned or frozen veggies/fruits
  • Canned cream of something (Cream of Mushroom, Chicken, etc.)
  • Canned meats (I haven’t resorted to Spam yet, but chicken, tuna, and ham are great ones)
  • Dry or canned beans
  • Broths for soups or bouillon cubes to add for soups
  • Favorite condiment of choice, like ketchup or soy sauce

Some ready to eat canned foods are great to have on hand as well, such as soups and ravioli. Whatever you like is fine, as long as you will be able to eat it.

2. Add veggies to feel a little healthier.

I actually just used this one for dinner tonight. There was about a cup’s worth of leftover frozen broccoli, and I threw that together with a box of (maybe ancient?) Hamburger Helper I had lying in the depths of my kitchen pantry.

You can do this with just about any pasta or soup dish. Just follow the instructions on the packaging of the pasta you are using, then either add a can of drained veggies or thawed and drained frozen veggies.

Who cares if it’s covered in sauce or some cheese to hide the weird textures? You’re still eating them. Go you.

3. Hack your ramen.

Tired of your standard instant ramen? Play it up with other ingredients you have on hand. I love to put a fried or hard boiled egg in with my ramen, along with some scallions, some pork and some other veggies like carrots and onions.

You can also ditch the flavor packet and put in your own sauce or condiment. This opens up a new world of flavor you can have with your little square of nourishment. Or you can try putting the noodles in a salad. I absolutely love this recipe for crunchy ramen salad here.

4. Break the rules.

Here’s a little confession – I know I just said I was making Hamburger Helper for dinner tonight, but I didn’t have any hamburger. But I did have some canned chicken. It was a cheesy pasta mix, so it ended up working out pretty well! Heck, I could have probably made it without any meat. You could probably also use canned tuna for boxed pasta like that and be fine.

You don’t always need to follow the recipe every time to the letter – Try throwing a bunch of stuff you like on its own in a bowl and see what happens.

OK, I’m not saying you throw some vanilla ice cream in with some sriracha sauce, but if that’s your thing, I’m not gonna judge. I’ve thrown someone else’s leftover puppy chow on top of a Arby’s roast beef sandwich before – and I liked it.

5. Breakfast for dinner.

Who says that toast is just for breakfast? Along with the classic buttered toast, you can top that warm and crusty bread with jam and peanut butter, or some egg and avocado for breakfast, tuna and tomato for lunch, or just have it with some soup for dinner.

Also, leftovers from dinner were also packed for lunch many times. I would make enough to pack quickly the night before to take with me to work the next day.

6. Take advantage of free stuff.

You know when you go to Taco Bell every once in a while and see all of the sauces in their little bins near the napkins? Go grab a bunch of those. You can use them at home when you manage to make your own tacos. I’ve also used some of these to spice up bowls of instant ramen, chip dips, and even thrown it on my eggs for breakfast.

Of course, you can also browse for other condiments at other restaurants (maybe pay for something so you don’t get in trouble). Ask for extra ketchup and mayo packets, and you will never have to go buy a bottle of those things ever again. I still do this today.

Have I mentioned that I’m a bit of a cheapskate sometimes? Though I prefer the term “thrifty”.

You can also go to events on college campuses for free food, or go to your local church – some might have soup kitchens or events where you can get free food at. If you’re in need, they may also let you leave with some leftovers, or point you to some other resources that you can use, like food banks. Speaking of those…

7. USE your local food bank.

Finally, if you are really hurting to make due, try and contact your local food bank. They may need you to fill out an eligibility form or something, just to prove you are in need of food assistance. Some criteria they may look for are:

  • Job loss or being laid off
  • Change in household that affects income
  • Flood, fire or other natural disaster

There’s absolutely no shame in making sure you are fed and getting the nutrition you need. Some college campuses even have their own food pantries now. Check with your college to see if they have a program on campus that provide food assistance – they may be able to hook you up with other resources as well if you are struggling financially.

Have any other tips to keeping food on the table? Share them! I’m always interested in finding new ways to not spend all of my money on food.