We’ve talked about how information overload can impact our happiness and productivity and we’ve explored how getting a handle on a small task, like organizing your clothing, can make a difference in creating an organized mind. Are you starting to feel a little calmer?
Did you ever take one of those spiritual gift inventories? I did, and discovered that my gifts were procrastination, disorganization and forgetfulness. So please know that I approach this topic with huge deficits and frankly out of a sense of desperation. I recall well the rigors of homeschooling four kids, trying to maintain some sense of order in my home, all the while keeping the little buggers bathed and fed.
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I came to the conclusion that nothing would get done without some systems in place. My free spirit bristles at the idea of systematizing ANYTHING, but I also know that systems saved my sanity. Also, when you have systems and plans in place, it frees you to spend your mental energy and time on things that are more important. I sought to systematize the mundane aspects of life so I would have more time and fun for relationships and fun.
Another area that has consistently tripped me up is the prospect of preparing and executing meals for a larger family. Planning 3 meals a day for 365 days a year translates to a bazillion meals! Just the thought can be overwhelming! That’s a massive undertaking.
Ya gotta have a plan. That plan starts with a menu. Planning menus saves time, reduces trips to the store, saves money, makes it possible to cook in bulk, minimizes stress and saves sanity. My free spirit rebels against this idea. I’m the kind of person who wants to look in the refrigerator and say, “Hmmm, what shall we do today?” This is neither effective nor economical.
If you plan menus for a while, you’ll have a data bank of menus that you can choose from and cycle through.
To begin, what about all those recipes and cookbooks you have been saving? I used to ask my audiences how many cookbooks they had in their home and would give a free book to the woman with the most books. Some had more than 50 cookbooks! Not to mention all the clipped and printed recipes that are stacked up somewhere.
Gotta get a grip!
Take the first step and start going through those books. If you’re like me, you actually use 3-4 recipes out of each book. Consider making photocopies of those frequently used ones and GETTING RID OF THE BOOK. (Getting rid of any book is traumatic. Gather up your books and give them to your local library for their book sale. You can rest in the knowledge that someone new will use your ignored cookbooks.)
Once you’ve waded through these and copied the valuable ones, you will have quite a stack of papers. There are two main ways to deal with them:
Index card method. Use larger index cards and paste or tape the recipe. Put a menu on the first card and arrange the recipe cards behind it in the box.
Notebook method. Get a nice notebook and a sturdy set of dividers. Gather the similar recipes together, like chicken recipes, breakfast ideas, baked goods, etc. When I did this, I realized that I had saved multiple recipes for the same thing! How many lemon chicken recipes do you need? Pick a winner — and toss the rest.
Here’s a link for some free menu planner printables!
With fewer options to flip through, you’ll find recipe searching less overwhelming.
I like to cook. I resent having to do it all the time.
There is a joke about once-a-month cooking that goes like this: “We do once-a-month cooking. The other 29 nights we order out.”
That sound like a good plan to me, but not affordable for most of us.
Here are some time-saving alternatives:
1. Always cook multiples. Never ever make one of anything. If you are making one batch of soup, it is just as much work to make 2 or three batches of the same item. The same goes for stews, chili, meatloaf, and homemade sauces.
If you have the oven fired up to cook chicken for the night, why not cook up a whole bunch of it? You can bag and freeze the additional chicken and use it another time. Ditto for ground beef or other meats.
2. Use tag-a-long recipes:
a. Prepare two batches of spaghetti sauce and two batches of pasta. Rotini is best. Serve spaghetti and rotini noodles the first night with a big salad. Use the second batch of noodles to prepare a cold pasta salad. Serve the second batch of sauce over rice anytime.
b. Prepare a stir-fry with fresh vegetables and chicken and make two batches of brown rice. Use the second batch of brown rice for a new breakfast idea – serve it warm with chopped apples and raisins, with honey or brown sugar.
c. Prepare baked chicken and fresh broccoli and two batches of couscous, a Moroccan pasta in the rice section of the store. Use the second batch of couscous to make a cold tuna salad the next day with vegetables and a salad dressing.
d. But a whole, pre-baked chicken and potato salad from your supermarket deli and serve for that day’s dinner. Use the chopped chicken leftovers to make a casserole with wild rice and mushrooms the next day.
3. Designate menu nights. In our home, most Sunday nights we have a big salad for big salad night. Fridays are usually pizza night. Many families have a regular taco or spaghetti night. This simplifies decision making because use simply prepare a memorized recipe on its designated day.
COMPLETELY DEFROST ANY FROZEN ITEM BEFORE COOKING. IT WILL TASTE BETTER.
Want to save even more time?
Chop all the onions at once for the week. Put them in baggie sized portions to grab and add to your recipes all week.
You can prepare vegetables or salad ideas all at once and enjoy them for the week. Get some good storage supplies and save yourself tons of time.
The shopping grind
There is nothing worse than beginning to cook a meal and discovering you are missing a needed ingredient. The way to avoid this frustrating situation is to keep a running, perpetual shopping list. When you notice an ingredient is missing or needed, make a note on your list because you know you won’t remember it!
Here are some free printable perpetual shopping lists.
I have used clipboards for so many applications! People used to ask me how I get so much writing done and I would reveal my secret weapon – clipboards! I would write in the car or on the mom chairs while at the kids ballet lessons, or from the sidelines while they played soccer.
Each student in my homeschool had a clipboard to hold their daily assignment sheet and any other needed printed items. It kept them organized and on track.
Today, I still take a clipboard to the grocery store. The board holds my perpetual shopping list as well as coupons securely held by the clip. It fits well into the cart baby seat and keeps me from forgetting items and remembering to use coupons.
Shopping and cooking services
I like the idea of clicking off needed items on the computer and having them picked and/or delivered to my home, but I haven’t done it yet. Many larger grocery stores offer such a service and this might be a real lifesaver for you, especially with a new baby or illness in the family.
Try some of these ideas and let me know how they work out for you. What ideas have you used to get out of the kitchen quicker?
Other posts in this series: