The Reluctant Cook’s Guide to Meal Planning: Homemaking Series, Pt. 6

In this final post in the Homemaking for Real People Series, I am getting really, really real! I am going to admit that I don’t like meal planning. But I still find it absolutely indispensable to the general health and happiness of my family, not to mention the maintenance of our budget. I also have to admit that I actually am not a big fan of cooking. Eating, yes. Cooking, not so much. It’s not that I can’t cook. I am actually a pretty good cook! I just don’t love it. I know some people who go bake or whip up a new recipe for the pure enjoyment of it. I don’t. I cook because I like to eat, and, as a matter of fact, so does my family! Since we believe that whole, natural foods are the healthiest way to fuel our bodies, we also like to eat food made from real ingredients. And having food allergies and sensitivities makes it even more necessary that I do a decent amount of cooking on a daily basis.

In order to manage all this cooking, I have to have a meal plan. But how does a reluctant cook go about doing this?

Enter, the Reluctant Cook’s Guide to Meal Planning:

Step 1: Make a Master Meal List

Make a master meal list of 20-30 meals that are simple family favorites that you can rotate again and again. For a lot of people, this means just dinners because they have about the same things for breakfast and lunch, like toast or cereal, and sandwiches or salad. Our family, however, doesn’t eat cereal except as an occasional snack, and since we have a wheat allergy, bread for sandwiches is a real pain. I also like a lot of variety, so I do actually have lists of our favorites for breakfast and lunch, as well. Your master meal list is something you can always fall back on when you are lacking creativity or just need a default for meal planning. Obviously, it is good to try new recipes, too, but it sure is handy to know you have this list of meals everyone will enjoy when you just need to hit the easy button.

Step 2: Find Your Style

This part takes some trial and error, in my experience, but once you find your groove, you’ll be set! Some people like to have a monthly meal plan, others plan weekly. I’m a weekly gal, thought sometimes I do plan for up to two weeks at a time. You may prefer to have a paper plan that you post in your kitchen, or a digital meal plan system like Plan to Eat. I actually put my meal plan right in my Happy Planner along with all my other weekly to-do’s so I can see everything all in one spot. There are myriad meal planning calendar printable online, so I encourage you to try out a few different styles until you find your sweet spot.

Step 3: Look at Your Calendar

Before you start writing out your actual meal plan, you need to consider what you have going on in your week. Knowing how much time you are going to have for meal prep each day helps you choose what to make. For example, I know if I’m going to be gone most of the day, I either need to plan to have leftovers for dinner or make a slow cooker meal that will cook itself while we are out. Also, consider the season and weather when choosing meals. If it’s going to 90 degrees and humid, you probably aren’t going to want to plan a lot of baking or roasting if you can help it.

Step 4: Make Your Meal Plan

Once you’ve got all the preliminaries done, all there is left to do is plug in meals from your master list (or maybe a few new recipes from a Pinterest board)! I like to write down breakfast, lunch and dinner in that order. For breakfast and lunch, I don’t have as many choices to rotate, so that goes pretty quickly. We like to try more new things for dinner, so sometimes it take me a bit longer. As I go, I have my grocery list alongside me, so I can write down any ingredients that we need for the coming week as I go. I also try and write in any prep-work that may need done ahead of time in my planner. If we are going to have soaked baked oatmeal on Sunday morning, for instance, I write down that I need to get the oats soaking while I’m making dinner Saturday evening.

Step 5: Follow Your Plan

So, you’ve gone to all the work of making a meal plan. Now you need to put it in a place where you will see it and do your best to follow the plan! I know there are times when plans change and meals will get switched or left out all together. I am fine with this as it is MY plan, after all. I have the freedom to change it as needed. But I also know that if I don’t take care, produce purchased for a specific meal may spoil, or meat may not get thawed in time, etc. If I want to be wise with my time and money, it helps to stick to the plan. And, yes, I do build leftovers into my meal plan as much as possible! It is frugal and time-saving, and even my kids have no problems with eating leftovers (most of the time).

Step 6: Have a Good Attitude

Okay, maybe this should have been first…and it certainly isn’t reserved just for meal planning and cooking! Having a good attitude and thinking positive about your role as cook and meal planner for your family will go a long way toward making it a more enjoyable experience. I know that I am always proud when I put a healthy, hot meal on the table for my family. It is satisfying to know that this is one way I can serve and bless my husband and children, and it really is not all that much trouble after all. Even on a frugal budget, we can enjoy good meals when I plan well and execute that plan. And so can you! So, go ahead. Make a meal plan and go cook something wholesome and delicious!

That wraps up our Homemaking for Real People blog series! I’ve enjoyed sharing a little more in depth on how we run our home, and I would love to hear what you’ve thought of the series! Would you like me to write more on topics of homemaking, planning, or routines? Leave me a comment below. I’m all ears!

Previous Posts in the Homemaking for Real People Series:

Intro to Homemaking for Real People: Homemaking Series, Pt. 1

Why Just “Good Enough” Housekeeping? Homemaking Series, Pt. 2

A Good-Enough Housekeeping Routine: Homemaking Series, Pt. 3

20 Daily “Quick Wins:” Homemaking Series, Pt. 4

Keeping the Laundry Monster at Bay: Homemaking Series, Pt. 5

20 Daily “Quick Wins”: Homemaking Series, Part 4

Welcome back to my Homemaking for Real People blog series! This week I wanted to give you a list of 20 Quick Wins– small tasks that you can do when you are short on time that still make a big difference around the house. Most of these ideas are things that you should be doing daily, or at least weekly, anyway. All of them can be done in a few minutes, except perhaps washing a full load of dishes. For tasks that may take longer, or areas that have become overwhelming problem areas, try setting a timer and see how much you can get done in a 5-15 minute time period. I suggest printing off this list and posting a copy somewhere you will see it when you have few spare minutes. One great place to stick this list is in your planner so you will see it when you are checking off your to-do’s for the day! Also, if you have kids, many of these tasks are things your children can and should be taught to do, too. After all, as the saying goes, many hands make light work! Here goes:

20 Daily “Quick Wins”

  • Make the bed
  • Put dirty clothes in the hamper
  • Put shoes away
  • Clear off kitchen counters
  • Wipe bathroom counter and sink
  • Wipe kitchen counters
  • Wipe down microwave
  • Sweep kitchen/dining room floor
  • Fold throw blankets and fluff pillows
  • Hang up jackets
  • Fold a load of laundry
  • Put away clean clothes
  • Wash dishes
  • Put away clean dishes
  • Do a quick pick-up of one room
  • Empty waste baskets
  • Take out trash/recycling
  • Sort mail
  • Straighten a bookshelf
  • Clear off your desk/dresser/nightstand

How many quick wins will you have today? Click here to get the free printable list of the above 20 Quick Wins to help you make the most of your housekeeping time. It is formatted to print 3 lists on a page, so you can cut them apart and post them around the house where you will be able see them often. Happy cleaning!

 

 

 

Previous Posts in the Homemaking for Real People Series:

Intro to Homemaking for Real People: Homemaking Series, Pt. 1

Why Just “Good Enough” Housekeeping? Homemaking Series, Pt. 2

A Good-Enough Housekeeping Routine: Homemaking Series, Pt. 3

 

A Good-Enough Housekeeping Routine: Homemaking Series, Pt. 3

Welcome to Part 3 of the Homemaking for Real People Series! Last Monday I wrote about my why behind the idea of  “Good Enough Housekeeping.” Today I’m going to talk about how we can start keeping our house in good working order and relatively clean without being total neat-freaks. I think most of us would like to have a house that feels uncluttered and could be “good enough” for company in under an hour. So we have to find a way to balance keeping order and not getting caught up in the details. Let’s get to work!

Define Your Priorities

The first step to creating a workable housekeeping routine is to take a good look around your home and decide what areas are the most important for you to keep clean and neat. You can do this a couple of ways. First, think about the areas in your home that get the most use, like the kitchen and bathrooms. Those are probably going to be your highest priority for getting and keeping clean because they need to be ready for use so much of the time.

You may also want to go through each room in the house and identify “problem areas” that seem to perpetually get messy or cluttered. Once you have identified all the problem areas, you can (hopefully) think of a solution to help keep those messes at bay, whether that be adding a daily “clearing up” time specifically for those spots, or better organization, or maybe just better habit training for your children (or yourself!). 

Take some time to write down a list of the areas of your home that are the highest priorities for you to clean, maybe even listing them in order of importance. I would also challenge you to write down at least one area that is NOT a priority for you right now, and give yourself permission to let it go for a while.

Divide Up Your Tasks

Next it is time to think about what specific tasks need done in order to keep your priority areas neat and tidy. Write each task down, then note how frequently you would like it to be done. In my kitchen, for instance, these are the main tasks that need to happen on a regular basis: 

  • Wash dishes: at least daily, preferably after every meal
  • Wipe down counters and table: at least once daily, preferably after ever meal
  • Wipe down stovetop, sink and faucet: once daily
  • Sweep floor: once daily
  • Mop floor: once a week
  • Empty trash: once a week, or as needed

There are some extra deep-cleaning tasks I could add to that list as well, but they are things that need done less frequently, like cleaning out the fridge, reorganizing the pantry, and cleaning the oven. 

Once you have written out what specific tasks you have and how often you need to be doing them, take a good, hard look at that list and make sure you have reasonable expectations for yourself and your family. When I look at my list above, for instance, I know that although I would like to have the kitchen and dining area mopped once a week, that rarely actually happens. So I need to decide if it is my routine or my expectation that needs to change.

Decide on a Plan

Finally, it is time to make a plan. This is the most personal and flexible part, so I am not going to give you specific instructions on how to make your plan. You need to find a routine for cleaning that works for you and your family. If you have children 3 and up, they can be taught how to help with some basic chores. If you are married and your spouse is willing, perhaps you can divide up some tasks between you. It may help to create a short list of morning tasks and evening tasks that you can post somewhere in your house to remind you to get those key things done daily. You may want to assign specific days to specific rooms, or to specific weekly tasks so that you know they will get done on a regular basis. 

The key in our “Good Enough Housekeeping” routine is having grace and giving ourselves permission to miss a day here and there. Maybe you even need to plan a “day off” every week in which you purposefully don’t do any housework beyond what is absolutely necessary. Keep your expectations reasonable. Don’t compare yourself or your current situation to someone’s pretty Pinterest or Instagram photos. Do what you can, when you can. Remember to put relationships first. Housekeeping is an act of service to your family and those who enter your home, but it is not the end all be all! 

Previous posts in this series:

Part 1: Intro to Homemaking for Real People

Part 2: Why Just “Good Enough” Housekeeping?

Why Just “Good Enough” Housekeeping? Homemaking Series, Pt. 2

The Backstory

Before I jump into the how of creating a “good enough” housekeeping routine, I wanted to give you a little backstory on the why. When my husband and I were newlyweds, we both started working outside the home right away, and when we were home in the evenings and on weekends we generally shared the load of housework pretty evenly. After he finished seminary and got a full-time job in music ministry, we decided I would stay home. But we did not have children for a few years, so I got used to having a lot of time during the day to do whatever needed done whenever I wanted to do it. Since time was at a maximum, I didn’t really need to learn to manage it well. Then, when we finally started a family, I was completely thrown for a loop. Life was messy for us on a whole lot of levels (that I won’t go into here), and I did not have a clue how to manage a house while caring for a baby and our pets and still be a halfway decent wife. 

Unreasonable Expectations

When I finally did what any normal internet-age housewife does and hit up Pinterest and Google for “home management planners” and “housecleaning schedules” and the like, I was immediately frustrated and dismayed. All the lists of all the things I was “supposed” to be doing just overwhelmed me even more! Some people’s lists included tasks that did not apply to my house at all. Others seemed to have no grounding in reality at all, at least for a mother of an infant or toddler. In an effort to measure up to these goals of housekeeping perfection, I would swing to the extreme and try to clean All the Things, All the Time. But I would quickly burn out and not to do any housework for days, if I could possibly help it. Obviously, this did not work well at all.

Finding Balance and Grace

I am glad to report that this crazy cycle did not last forever. I finally did find a balance and learned how to keep a reasonably clean house without going crazy over the details but not living in squalor, either. The key was GRACE. I had to recognize my own limitations, get over my perfectionism, quit comparing myself to others, and give myself grace. Once I received the grace of not having to measure up to someone else’s (or even my own unreasonably high) expectations, then I was free to do what needed to be done without any guilt. Yes, I still had to work at keeping a clean house. But I was released from the idea that it all had to be perfect or had to be done a certain way. It just needed to be good enough for our family. And that was a huge game-changer for this little rule-following momma! 

What’s Your Struggle?

Maybe you struggle with some other aspect of keeping your house in “good enough” shape. Perhaps it isn’t perfectionism that has you overwhelmed like I was. Perhaps you just plain don’t see the messes as a problem. Perhaps you are overwhelmed by too much stuff and don’t even know where to begin. Let me know in the comments what your biggest struggle with housekeeping is. I would love to get a conversation going and see how we can help each other out! I may have some extra helpful resources to share at the end of this series, so come on back next week for more!

Previous Posts in the Homemaking for Real People Series:

Intro to Homemaking for Real People: Homemaking Series, Pt. 1

Fitting in Fitness as a Stay-at-Home Mom

 Let me preface this post by saying I am by no means a fitness fanatic. In fact, most of my life I have tried to find ways to avoid strenuous exercise such as running or lifting weights. It is highly unlikely you will ever find me joining CrossFit or Camp Gladiator or the like.

However, as a wife and mother inching ever closer to that “dreaded” decade beginning with the number “4,” I am becoming increasingly aware of my need to take better care of my physical health. It’s not about being a certain weight or fitting into a certain size of jeans…hey, sometimes I think about giving up jeans altogether and just living in comfy pants and skirts year round! What fitness is about for me is being healthy enough to serve my family, friends and community well. I want to have the energy to chase my kids around the yard, to take long hikes through the local nature parks, and to get through long days of housework and homeschooling and not be too tired to enjoy time with my husband.

And those are just things I want for myself in the present stage of life. As I focus my thoughts on the future, say 20 years from now, my motivation for staying physically fit changes a bit. I want to be able to get down on the floor and play with my future grandchildren without worrying that I may never be able to get back up again. I want to be able to travel and enjoy the empty-nest stage going on new adventures with my husband without the concern of preventable health problems.

As a busy stay-at-home mom with young children and a budget that prohibits extra expenses like a gym membership, the trick is finding creative ways to fit fitness into my daily routine. Honestly, even if I could afford to go to a gym all the time, I really wouldn’t do it. I’m a major homebody and introvert, and I hate, hate, HATE working out in public. So it works best for me to find things I can do at home that are either very inexpensive, or, even better, free! Sometimes I get up early and work out first thing in the morning. Sometimes I use a few free minutes during my daughter’s nap. Others I unwind with a little exercise at the end of the day after the kids are in bed. The key is making it a priority and being intentional!

Here are a few of the ways I have found to fit in fitness even as a busy homeschooling mom who doesn’t really love to work out in the first place:

  1. Getting a FitBit and working on upping my steps. This is the most recent change that my husband and I have both made, and we are loving it! He works a desk job, and I sit on the couch and read to kids for a large part of the day. It is easy to become “couch-shaped” when that is the norm! Now that I have a FitBit to keep me accountable and remind me to get off the couch, I am becoming more active throughout the day. One creative way I’m getting in more steps is by walking around while I read a book. Exercising my brain and my body at the same time is a win-win!
  2. Doing 30 minutes of yoga every morning. I love, love, love doing yoga but had gotten out of the habit after having my daughter (3 years ago now, yikes!) My current favorite routines are “Yoga with Adriene” videos  on Youtube. I’m working my way through her 30-day “True” challenge from the beginning of the year right now, and it is so yummy!
  3. Following Fit2B workout paths. Beth Learn has created such a wonderful wealth of mom-life friendly workouts to do at home. She is a gentle coach, both motivating and encouraging. I have done many, many of her workouts since I found her membership site when my son was just a little guy, and I still love them all! Whether I am in need of some gentle stretching or a more challenging workout, I know I can always find something to fit the bill at Fit2B.

If you are a homeschooling mom, or a mom of littles, I would love to hear how you stay motivated and find time to work out on a regular basis, especially if fitness does not come naturally to you. I can always use more creative ideas to fit fitness into my daily life!