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Meal Planning Rez-o-lutions

Meal planning for Indian Country, say whaaaat?? Indeed, it is happening and we are on that bandwagon. Since when has any Native not cooked for 8 with a family of 4 or considered how nutritious are our eating & shopping habits? We’re up to our headdresses (pun intended) in our ceremonial calendar, football pools, third grandbaby’s birthday dinner or playing in some tournament Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 9 a.m., 12 p.m. and if we win.. for Championship on Sunday. Round up the kids, grab a variety pack of hot flavor chips, the Gatorade, $20 bag of pinons, cash for the popcorn and nachos, my seat cushion, gym bag and let’s roll!!


While raising my children in the early years, I was that tote packing mom that had a ton of toys, snacks, drinks, blankies, diapers and change of clothes running from school-to work-to appointments, after school or local events, birthday parties… and at no time was I checking the ingredient labels or contemplating the sugar dosage or carbs of anything I was putting into our bodies. Don’t worry, no Diabetes or High Blood Pressure lecture is pending. Just good ‘ol sharing information.

It wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that I actually sat down for lunch with my co-workers over their home-cooked meals. And me with my drive through lunch bowl or fried, greasy goodness. Of course, hospitality ran deep, so I’d be invited to share their meal. Let me tell you… the flavors running through my mouth were so delicious, I started asking questions. At the time, I didn’t actually think, “Ahhhh, meal prep.” Looking back, my friends shared their super quick & easy recipes that were the pre-fad meal prep design. Boil a huge pot of beans on Sunday, package it and use it in everything all week. Every head nodding. Someone else would pipe in one ingredient and the rest would take their turn to add in… I always keep fresh garlic, spinach, limes, cilantro, tomatoes, Serrano chile, onion and rice stocked.

Those meals & conversations were the best lessons I’ve ever had during a lunch that was over if you blinked your eyes. I started to think more about what I was actually feeding my family, how much processed crap I was shoveling in out of convenience and then I started to try different things, not just eating but creating. Cooking has become one of my better talents (and self- therapy time). I have fun doing it and I love feeling good about what I consume and feed my family (& friends).

If you’ve run across diet fads, infomercials or the latest ‘lose weight fast’ self-help books, that’s not where I’m going with this. To truly change your eating habits, it has to become a part of your lifestyle and you should feel good about it. If you’re not quite there, start small. *Story time. That epiphany I had about healthy eating while I was away from home, the reservation, invigorated my joy for cooking and eating. Fast forward to coming home to rural Native America. I was devastated. First, I really missed my friends and the life we created in a small, but growing, town. I loved that my supermarket choices were within a .25 to 3 mile radius and mostly, I now greatly appreciated the quality of food choices I had in an urban setting.


Coming home, I am 45- 60 minutes from the nearest town or commercial grocery store slash super center. Sadly, no farmer’s markets included. I get super excited about the 90 minute excursion for access to a farmer’s market and other choice grocers. Locally, I have a few choices of grocery options… you would take your chances at the quality of the produce and your cash flow is significantly impacted with the semi-outrageous mark ups. As early as a month ago, I spent nearly $3 for 2 small in size, half ripe (anything’s possible) Roma tomatoes. Partially my fault for not making a list when I went into town just 2 days prior. Some weeks I have good experiences shopping local. Then I go back and it’s a total nightmare and I kick myself for trying to have a little faith.

One early shopping trip I had upon moving home, was mid-week and I had not yet come to terms with my predicament of limited access to groceries. [Seriously, some weeks I’d go into town for 2 grocery trips, not counting the weekend fix.] I was second in line to  check out and had some revelations. Please remove all judgmental thoughts from this scenario because it was more of a reflective celebration for my own habits. I observed the belt loaded in front of me with at least 3 family-size bags of chips, 6 – 12packs of soda, 2 Ramen cases, and a ton more processed & packaged items. The tab was just over $300.00. It wasn’t until I’d set my items on the counter, that took up maybe 1/3 of the belt, when I made a comparison of my grocery choices that included some meat products, vegetables, fruit, and juices. Number one, the visual of fresh vs. packaged captured my attention. Number 2, I was proud of myself because I remember when I used to be that shopper in front of me. Number 3, I wanted to be able to keep the habits I’d established with my family as we transitioned home.

Some of the challenges of preparing healthy meals while living in a rural area, are the local quality of groceries, the distance to travel to maintain my grocery needs and reminding myself of the benefits of eating healthy. At the time, I was going to be able to afford my food choices. However, there are times that the overall cost & commitment could be a barrier for an of us – rural or urban. It’s easy to slip into old habits and the limitations can be frustrating. Brace yourself. This is a big area that I try to share with friends, family and new comers to the area so that they can make adjustments and have a better transition to the rural lifestyle.

So what I have to offer you here are a few items I am also working to continuously implement. Up to now, winging it on grocery lists and no meal prep, has worked out. Where I have my own challenges are in wasting food and in not planning meals, a healthy-balanced meal may not always be an option.

The benefits of planning meals can be overly simplified by saying…

Meal Planning saves money. How?

Less waste, as all foods purchased will be used. Reduce expenses of unplanned trips for groceries (locally or 30-90 minutes). Alleviates impulse buying (if you stick to your lists). No frazzled mid-cooking crisis of missing ingredients (less stress). Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom/dad, single-parent household or someone in the home who makes dinner, meal prep will not only reduce the anxiety of “what’s for dinner?” but will add some continuity to the home. At least where food’s involved. That’s a good thing. If I wanted to dump on you, the multitude of studies that show either negative or positive impacts of eating healthy, I may as well write a book and get paid for this.

You might be asking, “Exactly how is my life better for spending time planning my meals?”


Meal planning can be fun. If you’re not the organizer, maybe delegating the task of inventory to the kids or a spouse as a weekly chore would be helpful. Some people are just great at it and they LOVE it… I am not one of those people, however, I am that person designated. So I try to carry over my “Do what you Love and Love what you do” attitude into the process. Why fight it? Rock with it, roll with it, lean with it… whatever works.

There are online templates for meal planning. If you use social networks, they can be overwhelming. It’s important to find and save links to pages that speak to you. Not every internet personality is for you. I’ll continue to update and add any links I find helpful.


Do what works for you. I’m the last person that would tell you how to go shopping, but do be purposeful and try to stick to your lists for meal planning. Too many options might be more of a distraction. Using grocery ads is good if you are shopping on a budget. If you’re not a guru with supermarket apps, find out what days your local papers have the circulars if it’s going to help you stay on budget. Ads also have sale items of your favorite ‘go-to’ items that you can freeze. I don’t know about your part of Indian Country, but around here, some of us have an extra freezer or two. If they’re not stuffed with deer meat. Lucky ladies I say.

What’s an item that I would stockpile?

I do go a little ape over fresh berries. Every now and then, I run across the .99 frenzy and take 3 of each, wash and freeze those suckers!! I use them in smoothies, salads, pancakes, pies and fruit topping. I get a little sad when I’m down to my last freezer bag and there’s no sale in sight. You feel me?

My husband and I love seafood. So we do occasionally splurge a paycheck on some wild sockeye salmon, swordfish, shrimp or something that sounds exotic. The boys also enjoy seafood, my daughter not so much. Win some, lose some. They’re really great for a quick 10-20 minute grilling and eaten as a main dish or in fish tacos. Shrimp is awesome in pasta or grilled with a quick fruit topping as glaze (freezer bag style). In the case you have a picky eater, try as best as you can to make the meals reasonably flexible so that you’re not prepping 2 completely different meals. It might even be just one main dish item that they can’t stand but the rest of the family loves. This might be a good time to let them be their personal chef for the night. It’s good practice to incorporate a picky eater’s delight into the menu once in a while. Now who’s the picky one (or bunch)?

In consideration of having to rack up some miles for a good grocery run, you do want to have an idea of what you’re cooking up. I’ve read and I think it’s a great idea, to be flexible. Once you get the hang of what your family enjoys, seeing something on sale will perk your ears up. Don’t be afraid to change up a meal and modify your list accordingly. As for the unexpected, it’s good to know your local grocers and products. This will help you in the long run, to know what you’re willing to negotiate. They may not have the best of what you need, but there are items that you can get away with for one or two meals.

In my local store, I’ve found and used the random generic mushroom soup to work up a mighty tasty brocolli-bacon-potato soup that was pretty darn awesome! So, don’t write the local grocers off, just be willing to experiment and let go of the mishaps.


As I mentioned earlier, we all know the meals our family loves. Keep a list of recipes, keep recipe cards (if you’re into that) and try new things. Incorporate more fresh veggies, create salads or meals that you’ve had in a restaurant, experiment with the varieties of rice and beans or lentils. Having been raised in a cultural-social structure, we often get teased about how good or bad of a cook we are. Don’t be afraid to pick up a cookbook. I’ve come to acquire different tastes for food and desserts that sometimes require a little order that calls for a recipe.

Start a seasonal or traditional fruit bowl for the house. This was actually one that scared me early on. I had this warped idea that buying fruit was going to cost me more financially than I could keep up with (as a full-time working, single parent with 3 kids in the middle of my Master’s program). In the beginning, it did. Not because the fruit was expensive, but my children LOVED it!! They were eating it up. They were STASHING (more like hoarding) the fruit that they enjoyed. I’d find random plums, strawberries or peaches in their beds, closets, bathroom drawers… it was getting a little crazy.

The conclusion I came to after talking with the kids, was that I wasn’t going to put more fruit in the bowl and they’d miss out. So we had a family conversation and came to the understanding that we’d keep fruit in the house as long as we didn’t let it go to waste. And we were all in agreement that having one or two pieces of fruit a day would get us through the week. In addition to replacing soda for fruit juice, I was totally excited that we easily transitioned potato chips and sugary snacks off the grocery list for fruit. Who knew?

You’ll decide what format works for you, but know what and when you’re cooking. Some households may not do all meals. Whether you eat at the staff dining room, pack a lunch, or you only prepare dinner… make a plan. Start with Google and type in the search bar: ‘menu planning template’ then click on images and you will have a variety… a slew actually of options. Pick one and get started with a draft menu with items you have on stock in cabinets and the refrigerator.

But I don’t have a printer.

You don’t need a printer… map it out on a piece of paper. Use the format from the internet options and run with it. Into the kitchen.

There are some serious meal planners out there. If you’re on facebook, you might think it looks like so much work. You’re going to cook anyway, why not be prepared? Try not to associate the ‘meal prep’ photos of people packing up on protein or for weight gain/loss. This is about you and your home, your healthy lifestyle. However little or more you can handle, just start. You’ll feel great about it and I hope that it becomes a habit.

That’s it folks.

May the force be with you.






Developing Intentional Partnerships for Indian Education

Have you ever wondered about the opportunities that lie in waiting for you and why they took so long to present themselves?

I’ve been exploring the power of giving life to my passions by putting them out into the world to be delivered to a person, place, or idea where I can be an asset. Much like the germination process where pollen is released, carried by the wind or clinging to the wings of a hummingbird, without much intent, invoking the process of life. Sounds simple right? I’m learning that it can be. The power lies in embracing your journeys and being able to inspire others to do the same.

With that, I want to share the product that’s developing out of a thought being nurtured. I’ve just returned from presenting at Native Education Alliance’s (NEA) Gathering of Educators (GOE) in Sells, Arizona where I had many revelations about what I have to offer and the opportunities that are spurred by sharing information. If you know me, I make it a point to share as many experiences as I can for the benefit of bringing perspective, creating new meaning or understanding, and hoping to inspire people to enact change. The GOE is an event that is organized by Native Education Alliance, a small cooperative group of inspired educators from Tucson, Arizona and supported generously by committed indivudals who submit voluntary presentation proposals. Selections are conducted by a committee of NEA with the clear and distinct purpose of providing culturally relevant best practices to interested stakeholders and educators. Its inception is both ingenious and much needed in a time where Native or Indian Education moves towards innovation and establishing deep-rooted connections to the students we serve in all sectors of education.

The two presentations titled Creating Meaningful Partnerships; Engaging Families & Community in Support of Student Achievement along with Exploring Opportunities for Tribal Partnerships in Education were meant to engage practitioners in reflective thinking, evaluating current structures and resources in order to begin planning to engage in partnership development (both I am willing to share and make readily available to you via email). With hour presentation slots and 10 of those minutes set aside for evaluations, the opportunity to expand and take this into strategic planning for partnerships fell short. However, I’m excited to work towards that and will share what takes shape as it develops.

There were so many rich experiences that developed out of the 2012 GOE and I’ll take you through the realizations I’ve come to in the hopes that you are able to nurture, restore, guide & inspire 1 action to develop partnerships for your link to education or community. Here we go!

Gathering of Educators attracts the spectrum of educational practitioners and most times, the hosting organization requires their faculty to partake in the opportunity to increase their knowledge base for serving Native populations. A small twist of the arm, nonetheless, it’s a Saturday and we all know educators are unpaid, time and a half employees. In anticipation of this, I embedded opportunities to engage my audience. Indian Oasis Baboquivari School District of the Tohono O’Odham Nation, a true oasis in the desert, is rich with scenic views, an amphitheater style auditorium, and my favorite part – technology. It started out feeling like it was going to be a tough crowd to engage, but it quickly turned around as we got into inserting relevant stories to bridge content into context. While I don’t consider myself a cultural expert, I also know I tend to undersell my assets. I know this about myself and I still do it regularly. Go figure.

As we maneuvered through age-old topics with links to historical implications and building understanding for broken partnerships throughout Indian education, stories told from the perspective of our cultural elders furrowed brows and painted compassion. It actually made a whole lot of sense to me that we have to work harder to make these connections in order to break down barriers, even in adult education. Too often, as we progress (not really), we forget that across Indian country, there aren’t many exemplary stories (know any?) of attempts to restore the partnership between tribal communities. Historical impacts live on in the daunting tales and hollowing experiences of imposing a formalized educational system on indigenous communities across our nation, as well as globally. There is still hurt and anguish over the stark realities housed in museums, books, and now webspace, memorializing the pain.

Recognizing this allowed me to dig deep and change the direction of my presentation to encapsulate knowledge from the heart so that the relationships I was creating could be given some clout for the work ahead. If we are ever to move forward in education for indigenous populations, we have to make change relevant and purposeful.

As we moved through the recognition, then comparison of education structures of public education and the skeletal postulations of tribal education, it occurred to me that what I was attempting to do was monumental and not going to be covered in 50 minutes. In these moments, you have little time to restructure an entire presentation, but you have opportunity to leave an imprint.

Ask yourself these FUNDAMENTAL questions:

What are your educational aspirations for children?

What do STUDENTS want from an education?

How do we see education impacting our communities?

Where will students be able to apply their skills to come home?

*Think outside the frame of what is here for them vs. what they will bring back.

Whenever we come of age and choose to leave the reservation, we hardly think twice about when we’re coming back. You hear and read about the remote lands, equipped with little to no resources, poor housing structures under systems that do little to support their people, much less education. Grim? Desperate.

I’m here to tell you and remind those of you who may have forgot, WE are not a reflection of the print in newspapers or the statistics in databases that leave our schools with labels and our children facing their success one assessment at a time.

You need evidence? More Than That, a YouTube video in response to ABC’s 2020 documentary titled Hidden America: Children of the Plains (full video is now difficult to find, then again, it could just be me or Aliens). The filming of  2020’s Hidden America: Children of the Plains takes place on an Indian reservation and offers a small glimpse into the lives of 3 children who face difficult challenges in their life through family dynamics and personal choice. If you’ve watched it and your reaction is that it painted a pretty good picture, I can assure you that this documentary is a mere corridor into the soul of a child facing struggles such as those reflected. Surface.

I watched this video with my 10 year-old daughter, whom I consider fortunate, alongside her two older brothers. Heartwrenching, yes. Real? More than you could ever know. However, it’s the stories like this that get pushed to the forefront in order to justify poverty, poor conditions, and lack of progress for Indian country. Stories like this leave politicians with their foot in their mouths over statements that there’s no need to worry, then assuring the American people that there is a system in place for the poor and disadvantaged. From where I sit, ineffective systems that have been handed to us without the input from the communities they are supposed to support are a poor standard of accountability.

I’ve learned that there is little we can do about stories that capture hearts and boost ratings, except to respond and act. And that’s exactly what the tribal students of this community did. We need to support our students being their own advocates and develop the 21st century skills that empower them to respond and ACT. The power of technology is evident in their response.

So where do we go from here?

YES, I am going to make that BIG leap from poverty to partnerships. We see it all the time. Social media feeds RT messages of support and sponsorship for struggling people and programs. So how do we get from there, into our own backyards?

Back to the fundamental questions and a quick look at blending two worlds (wink-wink… presentation). The societal structures of indigenous communities everywhere were so far advanced, they carried us into this world and have sustained our people & cultures for hundreds of years (if not more). From the dynamics of cultural roles & responsibilities, social calendars (yes, we were planners), onward to clan systems. We need to take more credit for the ingenuity that runs through our veins. Long before Marzano and Understanding by Design, our entire existence (including today) revolved on systemic values and process.

Reciprocity. The “Pay it Forward” model sustains Hopi society. From the day we are born, the process has been set in motion into the time and belief of the journey to leave this world.

What does reciprocity look like in an educational setting? Partnerships. We’ve got to apply self-evaluation to our own tribal and school-based education systems. Evaluate our practices as a people and embed those factors that contribute to success into educational systems of support. This includes establishing a purpose (fundamental questions) for education and reviewing policy and practice to determine if they support one another. Engaging in strategic planning to clarify goals, who will be responsible for what, and how we are going to measure our progress.

We can’t do this alone and we shouldn’t. Shooting back up to some of my initial statements of imposed systems, we’ve got to build understanding and gain consensus in order to solicit partners to support the vision. Knowing what we are aiming for will help us prioritize immediate and long term goals.

When you have a destination, you almost always know who you want to travel with. Get out and engage your parents and community, local businesses and organizations in efforts to share the journey. Be expected to know what you’re talking about because your partners will want to know how they can help, who they need to contact, where they can be an asset, and when they should show up. Create intentional partnerships by setting clear expectations and the level of engagement you desire from stakeholders. The investment may take time, but you will see your rewards as you continue to evaluate, refine and nurture your partnerships.

Be transparent. Share the purpose, how you came to establish that goal, and how you expect it to support the learning community to benefit students. Invite them in to see the opportunities they have created for children to be successful and celebrate your progress with your partners.

I have some insightful and creative ways I end my presentation, but I am going to leave you wondering. So send me an email to request the powerpoints. If you aren’t satisfied, I’d be happy to talk about potential partnerships to work with your organization or learning community to develop a deeper understanding of how to build effective partnerships.

Thank you for reading to the end.

Women in Leadership; Inspiring Women Towards Leadership

What are your thoughts about Women in Leadership? Take the poll before you read this blog, watch the video then post your thoughts.

Inspiring Women Towards Leadership

Social Good for 2012

How many of our modern-day heroes are women?  Media and society project a male dominant hero, but that’s not to say that the qualities of great leadership have not presented themselves through and for women.

Leadership is a natural quality in so many women that has not been nurtured to its full potential.  The capacity for women in leadership is exemplified through accessible personalities like Hillary Clinton, Sheryl Sandberg and the likes of the financially influential members of society who advocate for great causes that include Angelina Jolie and Jenny McCarthy. All have a desire to utilize their knowledge, talents, and influences to create change and opportunity.

As my contribution to changing the world in 2012, I would like to assist in creating direct opportunities that assist women in nurturing their skills of leadership through avenues of advocacy, committee representation, engaging in government & politics, and organizing community efforts. This can be accomplished through the sharing of knowledge, collaborative efforts amongst women & men with specific talents under a shared responsibility to nurture, restore, guide and inspire women towards leadership.

Through this contribution to Social Good in 2012, my dream of starting an umbrella organization called NRGI-1 (Nurture, Restore, Guide & Inspire-1) will be rooted with women building capacity for leadership. I have long sat on the bench, dutifully filling roles of mother, community member, and contributor inside the invisible lines. I am committing to painting the world with shades of women whose collective talents, aspirations, and qualities will present opportunities to enhance and drive leadership to its greatest potential.

My goal is to engage in activities or reading, develop networks of people, plan events or provide presentations, and gather feedback that will provide opportunities for women to nurture their talents, restore confidence, and guide and inspire each potential leader to share their experiences with 1 other; individual, community, cause, or personal commitment. I welcome and challenge you to undertake this same commitment, however large or small, in your own networks and communities. Together, we can change the world.

Sahmie Sunshine Wytewa

“Every society needs educated people, but the primary responsibility of educated people is to bring wisdom back into the community and make it available to others so that the lives they are leading make sense.”

from Red Earth, White Lies by Vine Deloria, Jr

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