Being organized when it comes to meal time saves you. It saves you stress, time, money, calories, fat, sodium and so much more. There is freedom that comes when you take control of your family’s diet and say, “Enough!” to the corporations trying to convince you to purchase their next conveniently prepared dinner option. Whether you’re concerned about saving money, eating healthy, weird ingredients in your food or just want a little of your independence back, being organized with meal time is the answer.
But first, a little about me and why I’m so passionate about this.
Truth be told, I’m passionate about a lot of things. I’ve often felt conflicted over which passion to pursue and end up pursuing none of them. It wasn’t until recently that I learned how most of my passions tie together in this neat little package that, once opened, reveals a very important aspect of my personality. I’m a helper. If I can help ease a little bit of struggle for someone, I will. If I can share my experiences and it prevents someone else from having to learn the hard way, I will. Let’s face it, life is hard. We’re all just meandering through hoping for the best and looking for just a little help. If I can be of any help, I want to be. I’ve learned a lot over the past few years about healthy cooking, meal planning, meal prepping and the all-encompassing meal organization. I’ve learned that it’s not just a matter of making a grocery list and choosing some dinner recipes for the week. So much ties into whether or not I will have a successful week. (Success being defined as no last-minute decisions to just eat out instead, no wasted food and staying under budget.) If I want to have healthy meals, I have to plan them out and make a list. If I want to be able to keep my sanity and not waste anything, I have to be diligent about having a clean kitchen. If I want to make it worth not eating out, I must have a budget and stay under it.
That’s why I’ve been unable to start this blog thus far. I feel like there are so many facets to meal planning and I don’t want to rush through and forget to cover something important. I’m still working through various ideas of how this will all look as I continue, but it’s time to start. This is also why I’m referring to it as meal organization instead of meal prep or meal planning. It’s more than just preparing and planning, it’s being organized.
So let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
1) Make a plan.
Sit down with pen and paper and write out what your goals are. Why are you doing this? Do you: Want to eat healthier? Regain your independence from food corporations? Avoid weird processed foods? Save money? Impart kitchen memories to your children? (I think many of us have fond memories with our parents or grandparents of making cookies or lasagna or whatever else. Had we just simply bought cookies from the grocery store bakery aisle or thrown a frozen lasagna in the oven, those memories wouldn’t exist.)
Then, decide how you want to do it. Is your goal simply to cook dinner at least 5 times a week? That’s a great goal! Are you wanting to fully prep all of your breakfast and lunch for the week on a Sunday afternoon? Another great goal! Are you wanting to stock your freezer with meals to easily pull out on busy days? Yet again, great goal! Once you know what you want, you can make it happen.
Personally, I take it a week at a time. I used to do 2 weeks at a time, but it just wasn’t working for me. I make our plan on Friday or Saturday and shop on Sunday or Monday. After I’m home from shopping, I freeze any meat we won’t be using in the next 2 days and try to prep as much as possible. Bake some oatmeal, roast some veggies, cook some hamburger…anything that I can do in advance, I try to do immediately.
This part is the least fun of all of it, but is completely necessary. Set aside an hour or two for just you, your kitchen and some good music and get to it.
- Music: no explanation needed there. Turn up your guilty pleasure Pandora station and let the fun begin.
- Do the dishes: again no explanation really needed. Get everything washed and put away. Organize any of the cabinets that are bursting at the seams.
- Maximize counter space: clear off that precious real estate. If it’s not something you use on a near daily basis, it can be stashed in a cabinet. We even went as far as ditching our microwave a couple of years ago in order to be able to fully take advantage of our space. We didn’t really use it and don’t miss it at all. I keep a vase with my mixing spoons/spatulas, my stand mixer, a bowl of fruit, a bowl of vegetables and our knives on my counters. The rest is empty to make room for all the mixing, chopping and cooking to be done.
- Purge all clutter: This one may be a little trickier, especially if you’re sentimental. This is where you go through all of your dishes, gadgets and knick-knacks and decide if they’re really worth the space they’re taking up. The number one thing that keeps me from wanting to be in the kitchen is when it’s messy. The more dishes I have, the messier it gets.For example: I once had 2 large stock pots even though I had no use for 2 large stock pots. I never made 2 huge pots of soup at a time. The only time I would use the second was if the first was dirty, which then resulted in 2 large dirty stock pots, instead of me washing the one.
Another example, I had a stand mixer and a hand mixer. There was no need for both, so I ditched the hand mixer. We didn’t need 15 mugs, so we got rid of all but our favorites. We still have more than we need, but mugs are fun to collect. Go through all of your Tupperware and discard anything that doesn’t have a lid or is worn out. Go through all of your kitchen utensils and discard any duplicates that you don’t need.This not only clears space in your kitchen, but keeps it cleaner and more organized in the long run. Less stuff = less mess. This is a pretty good kitchen essential list to get you started. Feel free to add and take away as you feel necessary.
- Clean out cabinets/pantry/freezer/refrigerator: Pull everything out. Wipe up any spills and clean any drips running down the side of the bottle. Toss anything that’s expired. Now make a list to stick on your refrigerator of anything that will go bad within the next week or so and make it a priority to use those up. Anything you know you won’t end up using, either trash or give to someone.This is a big job, but once it’s done you’re going to feel so relieved.
3) Find recipes.
I highly recommend Pinterest for this one, because it’s so easy to organize everything. Get specific with your board names and start pinning.
Some ideas to get you started:
Freezer Meals — anything you can prep and freeze or even fully cook, then freeze.
Breakfast Prep — recipes you can make a batch of early in the week and just grab daily.
Lunch Prep — recipes you can make a batch of early in the week and just grab daily.
Dinner — recipes you’ll actually make. You know what I’m talking about here. It’s fun to pin recipes just because they look good, but you’ll probably never get around to making them because the ingredient list is long or the recipe is too extensive. Those recipes don’t go on this board. This board is reserved for things you know your family will eat and that you know you will cook.
Snacks — anything you can prep a large amount of in advance is ideal. No one wants to spend an hour making just enough for 1 snack.
Sweets — whatever satisfies your sweet tooth. I just recommend keeping these recipes separate from everything else, that way when you’re meal planning you don’t get distracted. 😉
Keep these boards organized. Be diligent about deleting anything that you don’t like or realize you’ll never actually end up making. If you want, make a separate board to move your favorites to, which will make them easier to find later. I have a recipe box with recipe cards that I transfer favorites to. I love recipes boxes 🙂
4) Grab your grocery ads.
Make a plan for which store(s) you plan to shop at and get a feel for prices. Personally, I don’t want to run around town to 4 different stores to get the best deal on things. It might save me a few bucks, but once I calculate time and gas, it often isn’t worth it. I have 2 grocery stores that I typically split between based on what’s on sale. Sometimes I hit up both, but I try to stick to just one per week. We have an Aldis that I go to for very specific things. I’ve price compared a lot of their products and have found that the store brand at my local grocery store is usually right around the same price, or at least close enough to not justify a separate trip. There are a few things that are definitely cheaper at Aldi’s, so I go there once a month or so and stock up.
It also might be worth making a little list of the price on some of your pantry staples, to know when a sale is really worth taking advantage of. If something is only 50 cents cheaper than normal, it might not be worth stocking up on. However, if it’s $1.00 or more off, you might want to grab a few extra. This is especially true of meat prices. One of the stores I go to will put a sale on grassfed beef every few weeks, which makes the sale price of that cheaper than the non-sale price of normal beef. I try to grab some extras when that happens. (We don’t eat strictly grassfed beef, but when it’s on sale I certainly prefer it.)
5) Get everyone on board.
If it’s just you, then you’re good to go. If you’re married and/or have kids, it can be a little trickier. Talk it over with your family and let them know what you’re wanting to do and get their feedback. What would they like you to include/not include? Take all of it in to account. You will only succeed if everyone is happy with the new system. If any of them are capable of helping, take advantage of it.
I don’t have kids and I work part-time, so I do the majority of it in our home. My husband gets home before me during the week though, so he will usually get dinner going. Sometimes he makes something start to finish, but typically I try to prep things the morning of or have some freezer meals ready to go. If dinner is already going when I get home from work, I’m happy to jump in and help finish and less likely to just order pizza.
6) BONUS! Be flexible.
Your first week might be a flop. Your 6th week might be a flop. I’ve thrown away more food that’s gone bad than I care to admit. I’ve relied on a specific recipe to be our breakfast for the week only for it to not turn out edible. I’ve prepped it all and done everything perfect, but still caved to the pizza craving. I’m learning to accept that it doesn’t need to be perfect. When you feel like you failed one week, make notes about what happened and try to learn from them for the next week. If a specific plan isn’t working, make another. If it’s not possible to do all of your meal prep in one afternoon for the week, split it into 2 days. If you don’t want to make a weekly shopping trip, make a bi-weekly plan or even a monthly plan. You know your family and yourself better than anyone else, so make it work for you.