Lately, I’ve been getting A LOT of questions about organizing one self for intention. And while I am no professional organizer, I am happy to share my particular life hacks with you and to round up some other resources that I have come across in my effort to improve my own systems. I’m going to call this group of occasional posts “Spark Your Systems” and I will try to run at least one a week through these early months of the year. I hope you’ll share how you systematize yourself so that we can have a plethora of ideas for every reader to consider that might meet all the varied needs out there.
To help me plan through how to better help folks facing organizational challenges or questions, I put together a brief (it will take you less than two minutes to complete so please go take it if you haven’t already so I can come up with specific, helpful content) electronic survey. One of the runaway requests was help with menu planning so today, we’re tackling that topic together.
Step one. Figure out how often you are willing to go grocery shopping. I go once a week– typically every Saturday morning while my boys are still in pjs and lollygagging around the house. If I am leading a workshop or have a Circle de Luz event on Saturday morning, I go on Sunday morning as soon as the store opens. You may want to go 2x a week or 2x a month or something else entirely. Or you may need to shop at different times at different places (maybe Farmer’s Market on Saturday Morning and grocery store on Sunday afternoon). But what I do know is knowing when you wish to shop for groceries is an important first step towards having intentionality with your meals.
Step two. Pick a planning day. Since I go to the grocery store on Saturday morning, I plan our meals for the next week every Friday afternoon or evening. I start by looking through what we have (especially perishables) and plan how to incorporate those into our dinners. Next, I plan what other meals we need (for example, if I have an evening meeting for Circle de Luz, I plan for something really simple for BF and Happy to do like heat up a frozen soup in the refrigerator and then steamed broccoli). On our family’s master calendar, I write down each night’s meal on the coming week’s schedule. I keep in mind how much prep time we will have for meals, meetings out of the house, and other responsibilities as I plan. As I do this, I go through my printed recipes and on Pinterest and put any recipes I need that week in a little plastic sleeve that only contains that week’s recipes. That way, I can quickly reference what’s on deck for the week.
Step three. The grocery list. As I am planning our next week’s meals, I make our grocery list. My grocery lists are made on the back of scrap computer paper but I organize that paper in sections that correspond with the grocery store where I shop. Imagine the paper divide up into six quadrants– three across the top half and three across the bottom. The top left hand column is for the produce section. The top right hand column is for dairy and meats. The middle section is for things in quirky sections of the store (I shop at a Target for a lot of our basics and so maybe I want a new candle. That goes in that top middle column). The bottom 3 columns are for canned, boxed goods (tomatoes, beans, applesauce, rice). The middle column is for cleaning supplies– for both the house and our bodies. So both Tide and Shampoo would be in that column. And the far right column is for frozen goods. This set-up works for me (it is kinda like zone
defense grocery shopping). It may not work for you. I know some people who completely break their grocery list down aisle by aisle (this would be like man defense grocery shopping) and that might be worth trying. What I do know is that organizing your grocery list will save you mad time in the grocery store. The other thing that saves me time is going through coupons right then and only taking with me to the store the coupons that I need. That way I have less coupons to go through while I am shopping which help me keep my time out to a minimum. One more note: as soon as I get home from the grocery store on Saturday, I start my next week’s list. There is a spot where it sits on the corner of the counter and as soon as I come across something that we need during the week, I go write it on the list. So when it is time to menu plan on Friday night, several things are already on my list.
Step 4: The nightly review. After Happy goes down each night, there are a few standard things I do. Clean the kitchen (with the help of BF who is a great kitchen cleaner), occasionally make Happy’s lunch if I can stomach going ahead and doing that, and then pre-planning the next day’s meal. I’ll go check out the command center and see what the next day’s dinner is and then do any prep work for it. It could be as simple as pulling out the non-perishable ingredients and putting them together on the counter with the recipe. It might be marinating something or cutting up vegetables. While the degree of effort varies, I do spend anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes doing some meal prep for the next day so that things are a bit smoother at an often busy time of the day.
Step 5: Cooking. I incorporate Happy into as much of the cooking as he can safely assist. For example, he will help me peel fruits and veggies. And while he’s not great, I’ll have him peel three to five times and then I peel three to five times. He does almost any mixing we need (away from the stove), he coats veggies in olive oil (Thank you for the misto, Mary Rose). This all takes longer and means things aren’t done quite the way I want them to be done but it also means that he’s proud of dinner and eats a few things that I am pleasantly surprised about because he helped to prepare them.
Step 6: Cleaning. BF does a lot of our dishes (this is from an early deal in our marriage that went ‘Cook doesn’t clean.’) but not all of them. One thing that really helps us manage the dishes more smoothly is organizing our dishwasher for an easy unload. We have 5 utensil pockets in our dishwasher. 1 pocket only gets adult spoons, 1 adult forks, 1 adult knives, 1 Happy’s cutlery, 1 cooking utensils. In our dishes section, we load like dishes together. Same thing with glasses. When we open the dishwasher to unload it, we can do it pretty fast because like things are all together.
Another thought: A friend recently taught me the adage, “Cook Once, Eat Twice” and I love that idea and try to do it as much as possible. I try to make enough at dinner to either freeze a whole ‘nother meal from it (easy to do with pasta or soups) or to have leftovers for our lunch the next day.
What are your meal planning strategies? What works best for you? Where do you need more help?
Some resources you should know about:
Ann Dunaway Teh is a friend of mine from college who is now a dietician in Atlanta. She’s great and has a wonderful blog and one of my favorite features of it is her weekly menu plan. Every Monday, she posts the meals her family is having with recipes. If you want someone else to do the menu plan for you, check out Ann’s site.
Are school lunches about to put you over the edge? Check out Laura Fuentes’s Momables. She has great ideas for how to pack healthy lunches for your kid. You can read her blog or pay a small subscription fee for basically a regular lunch menu plan.
Are you working to move past processed foods? Check out Lisa Leake’s awesome, resource-filled site 100 Days of Real Food and her challenges.
If you have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and need to be careful about what you eat, check out the PCOS Diva’s menu plan. You can pay for a season of menus all at once that include the plan, recipes, and grocery lists.