There are only 24 hours in a day and 168 hours in a week. And if you are spending 49 to 56 of those hours in the state of sleep, well we are now down to 112 hours. And then when we factor in work hours, cleaning, taking care of your kids, quality time with your partner, social engagements...the list goes on! You can start to get a feel for how precious time really is.
A lot of us use the excuse ( and I am conscious of the word I used here) " I have no time" for why we cannot enjoy the things we want to enjoy in life. If we chose, there will always be reasons why we cannot do the things we we want to do. So I am here to give you some simple tools to help you shave off time in certain areas of your life so that you can have more freedom and space to do the things you really desire to do. And first up on that list: meal planning.
Meal planning at first may seem like it takes more time than it will give you. But that is simply not true. As a woman who did not meal plan and would stop at the store everyday after my work day ended to grab ingredients for the next days culinary treats, I can tell you taking an hour each week for a meal plan with save you quadruple that during your week.
1. Look inside your pantry and refrigerator
Check out what you have that needs to be used. Most likely there will be some sort of green leafy vegetable, root vegetable, cheese, etc which is perishable that needs to be used before it gets the boot to the compost. Write down what you have so you can refer to it later. And discard anything unworthy of your body ingesting.
2. Decide what you want to make for the week
This is usually the most daunting step for people. "But I don't know what I want to make." "How will I know what I am feeling like eating on Wednesday?" I hear you. I used to be the queen on wanting spontaneity when it came to...well almost everything! But as I have more and more responsibility I realize that way of thinking was actually robbing me of my freedom. (More on that in a later post) Sit down, grab a cup of tea, and begin to scribble ideas for your menu. Go grab your collection of 50 cookbooks,oh wait...that is me! Well if you are like me, go grab your favorite cookbooks and get to it! If you are not a cookbook collector, there are plenty of ways to get great recipes easily.
1. Pinterest- Pinterest is amazing! I think it is my favorite social media site. You can create virtual boards and organize all the things that inspire you! It is especially helpful for recipes. If you do not have a Pinterest account click on over and get one! And I have tons of great recipes pinned and I add to it almost everyday. So follow me here.
2. Epicurious- Epicurious is a site that my aunt introduced me to years ago and I love it! It has recipes from some of my favorite culinary magazines such as Bon Appetite and the highly missed by foodies all around, Gourmet. This site's recipes can be a bit more in depth and time consuming but they are usually A+ recipes.
3. Food Blogs- If there is a movement that I have seen formed over the past 5 years it is the food blog. And there are some incredibly high quality and healthy blogs that create recipes you will love. Some of my current favorites; Roost, Sprouted Kitchen and Food 52
3. Organize your weekly eats
So now that you have your ideas bookmarked, pinned or sticky note-d, it is time to get organized. The easiest way to organize all the amazing food you chose is with a menu planning template. This is the one I use but there are tons of free online templates you can download. Check out this one or this one. You can also customize your own using google docs if you are so inclined.
Once you have your template in hand, begin to plug in your meals and where you found them. If you just write in quinoa burgers but have no idea where it came from, you will be taking that precious time you saved and using it to locate your recipes. Now just because you write in minestrone soup on Wednesday does not mean you have to eat minestrone on Wednesday. The purpose for this step is so you will buy the proper amount of ingredients for the week without much waste. Now as you can see above, I do not plug in every meal for my week. It is only me and my hubbs so we tend to have left overs or have a lunch or dinner out during the week. But if you are a family of four, you may want to have every meal square filled in. This way you are sure to have everything you need.
4. The grocery list
As you can see in my meal planner, I write my grocery list on the left of my template as I am plugging in my recipes. Now, I know what is in my house already because I took inventory before I got to this step. So as I am plugging in my recipes, I write what I know I need. And after all that is done, I categorize what I need. If I left it as it is above, I would be running back and forth to the produce department and spending way more time with the sweet produce guy who always gives me free samples of the yummy fruit. Not that this is a bad thing but the whole point of all this is to have more time. My categories look like this:
Meats and Fish
Bulk and dry goods
Now your categories( and mine) will differ depending on what is in your pantry and what you are making. Use the back of your template for your categorized shopping list.
5. Prep, prep, prep
You are back from the store with all of your delicious ingredients for the week, and what do you do next? No, not put everything away, silly. You wash and prep your vegetables and meat or fish. You may want to skip this step but let me tell you a secret: it is the key to success. Imagine all of your gorgeous kale, swiss chard and arugula is clean and cut up. You are much more likely to make a healthy salad for lunch rather than grabbing something on the go that is less healthy and more expensive. Try this out. You can make one for everyday of the week adding in some lean protein or nuts to increase the nutritional value and keep you vital all day long!
And if all of your dinner vegetables and meat is prepped, it will take you a fraction of time to make dinner once you are home which is that much more time for you to love on your favorite people and finish that book you started a lifetime ago!
6. Eat the most perishable first
There is a short life for certain foods most especially fresh fish and meat. Fresh fish that is not frozen when you bring it home will last 2 days max. Poultry about 3 days and red meat 4-6 days. So if you meal planned two fish dinners for the week, you will have to eat them first thing or make a quick stop by the grocery later in the week for the tuna to make your tuna puttanesca. ( I don't use canned in this recipe, I grab fresh tuna from the fish counter.)
Once you have done all of the above, making meals throughout the week should be a snap! Now lately I can be a bit overly excited about list making but I when I am ready to make a recipe, I also write out a daily prep list in addition to having the recipe in front of me.
Is this step necessary? Maybe not for you but it works for me!
8. Roll Over
If by the end of the week you have not made certain meals, roll them over into your next week's meals. This happens sometimes if you go out to dinner, are invited to a friend's house or eat less of what you prepared. Once you meal plan for about a month, you will have a good idea of how much you (and your family) are eating and then can shop accordingly.
Meal planning is a ritual I create on Sundays. I might be starting the process throughout the week when inspiration strikes but I make sure by Sunday all of the above is completed and I can go shopping and prep. This is the best day for me but for you it might be Tuesdays! Chose what works best for you and stick to it! The first few weeks it may feel restrictive but trust me after a bit of time, you will feel the freedom. And isn't that truly what we all desire the most? It is for me.
Stay tuned for part 2, Creating your Living Calender! Now go forth and plan some delicious eats!