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Organize My Life, Part Four: Meal Prepping

Organize My Life, Part Four: Meal Prepping

“Meal Prepping” can take on a variety of meanings depending on who you’re talking to, what they like to eat and what they consider a meal.  That may mean preparing things ahead so it’s easier to cook, that may mean cooking things ahead so having a healthy dinner at home is as fast as drive thru or anywhere in between!  So let’s just explore some of the meal prepping options and you can pick and choose what fits you and your lifestyle.  There is no right of wrong way to do it–you just have to try things out and see what you like. The guarantee of meal prep is that your week will be easier, less stressful, healthier, and you’ll save money!

I personally, do my meal prepping on Sunday most weeks, but sometimes that gets pushed back until Monday.  I like to prep for the whole week, but some people like to do it twice a week so that things stay a little more fresh.  In truth, there are some things that I can’t prepare ahead of time because it might not be used for 5 or 6 days, and let’s face it, that’s just too long for some things because they’ll be sub-par when I go to use them.

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Prepping for cooking later:

This is my biggest helper in the kitchen and it saves me so much time during the week.  Some of the things I like to prepare in advance are:

  • Slicing and chopping up any fresh produce for meals, such as bell peppers and onion for fajitas or carrots for pot roast. I also do this with zucchini to make “zoodles” with this slicer. To keep the veggies fresh, fill up the container with water before they go in the fridge!  They’ll keep fresh for days!
  • Boil your pasta ahead of time (to al dente) , put in a container with cold water and refrigerate.  When you’re ready to use, just drain them and toss them in boiling water for 1 minute to reheat.  I’ve even been known to just run them under hot tap water, but our tap puts our ridiculously hot water!
  • Brown your ground meats ahead of time if you’re not using Thrive ground beef and sausage crumbles.  You can do it all at once, then portion into containers and toss in the freezer or fridge for later use.
  • Make any meatballs, burger/sausage patties, etc so that you don’t have to do it later.
  • Slice up any meats you’ll use later in the week.  If they need marinated, put them in a container with the marinade and refrigerate until needed.  If you’ll be adding them to a casserole or other dish, you may be able to cook them ahead too!

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Assemble ahead of time:

These are my favorite because they’re so easy on a hectic night!  They’re already put together and just need a little bit to make an amazing dinner!

  • Pre-assemble casseroles and baked pasta dishes.  When you’re ready to use them just pop them straight in the oven!  (Tip: Make a second one and pop it in the freezer!)
  • If you like to bake fresh bread or rolls, prepare several batches of dough and freeze in portioned balls so you can bake it as needed.
  • Make ahead any salsa or condiments you will use this week.
  • Prepare burritos and wraps for the week, then wrap tightly in foil and store in the fridge.  They are great for lunches!
  • Put together a few meals-in-a-jar for the extra hectic nights
  • Assemble your salads ahead of time, just don’t add your dressing or croutons until you’re ready to eat.
  • If you’ll have a slow cooker meal or soup this week, put everything together in a large zip-lock bag or container so you can just throw and go!
  • If you’re a smoothie drinker, put all your ingredients together in zip-lock bags so you can just toss it in and blend!

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Cook ahead for quick reheating:

Some of the other ideas above also include cooking ahead, but these meal prepping ideas all sort of overlap at times.

  • Prepare breakfast foods like scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage.  They reheat wonderfully, and you can even make them into a burrito if you want to eat them on the go!  Or you can pre-assemble breakfast sandwiches–they reheat easily and the cheese gets all melty….yum!
  • If you love grilled foods, cook them all at once for the whole week.  We do the same thing with our smoker, and smoke several foods at once to eat during the week.  (Note:  We also grill and smoke foods to freeze because we miss it in the winter! It’s amazing to pull out grilled corn on the cob in the middle of January!)
  • You can peel and cook potatoes that you’ll mash later with a meal.  You just boil them until they’re done, drain off the water and pop them in the fridge.  When you’re ready to use them, heat in a pot of boiling water until heated through, drain, and mash away.  That trick right there saves a huge amount of time because peeling all those potatoes is too much work for your evening!  Yet, homemade mashed potatoes can really make a meal feel ‘homemade’ instead of ‘box-made’.  Ya know?
  • Make ahead homemade soup for a quick weeknight meal with grilled cheese or other grilled sandwich.  You could even do a soup, salad, and breadsticks for a light, quick dinner.
  • Consider planning and making your desserts/sweets for the week.  If you make them ahead of time you’re much more likely to stick to your diet plan and not overindulge!  You’re also more likely to choose something on the healthier side.  So, go ahead and make that dessert, then portion it off so you aren’t tempted to eat it all. (This one doesn’t work for me because I will eat it all Sunday and it will never even get portioned….LOL)

One things is for sure, meal prepping is not a one-size-fits-all activity.  You have to be creative in what you can make ahead, and how to store it until it’s time to use it.  It changes in my house from week to week.  It’s definitely something you have to make yourself do (because who wants to do all that on a Sunday?) but you’ll be over-the-moon happy you did it the other 6 days of the week!  You will eat healthier, and you will be more likely to eat at home more if you can just convince yourself to make meal prepping a priority every week.

I’d love to hear your meal prep ideas in the comments.  Tell us how you make your week easier, less stressful, and save money by planning and prepping ahead.

 

Organize My Life, Part Three: Meal Planning

Organize My Life, Part Three:  Meal Planning

What’s so great about meal planning anyways?  Why should I even bother?

Meal planning saves money!

You heard that right, it will save you money very consistently, week after week.  Every week I take a look at my favorite stores sale fliers.  Since my biggest food expense (like most families) is meat, that’s where I start.  From the sale priced meats I plan approximately 4 out of 7 meals.  Then, I buy a few more meals worth of meat to put in the freezer for later or to make freezer meals for later use.

Thrive does monthly sales on our freeze dried food so I usually do my best to buy sale items in larger amounts.  I also buy much of our produce items from Thrive since I never have to worry about them going bad that way, and I’m confident in Thrive’s high quality standards, which are much better than any typical grocery store.  I try to make it a point to put together a few meals-in-a-jar per month.  We use about one or two a month because, inevitably, something comes up where it ends up being dinner time and I don’t have a clue of what to cook or no time.  By putting together a different one each month, and some extras for later, I always have “fast food” in a variety of flavors!

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Meal planning means less stress!

By having a plan, I don’t have to think about dinner every single evening.  I have a list that has my meals for the week (or 2 weeks, or month, it’s up to you!), it’s straightforward.  No stress.  I look in the morning and decide which one I’m going to make, thaw anything that is needed from the freezer, so that’s it’s all ready to go by dinner time.  I cook every night with few exceptions, so I like to keep the time I spend in the kitchen to a minimum.  By doing just a little bit of planning ahead I can make that happen.

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Meal planning means a healthier family!

When you plan your meals, you will inevitably plan healthier foods than anything you might grab at a fast food joint, or have delivered.  Even if you plan to have a burger and fries at home, it will be healthier than what they’re serving you from a drive thru window.  Not to mention, planning can help you meet all of the nutritional needs of your family–especially if it’s like my house with differing diet plans going on.  Holy moly!

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How to start meal planning for your family:

  1. Choose how often you’d like to do the bulk of your shopping.  Keep in mind that if you do your shopping bi-weekly or monthly that you may need to make small trips to the store for perishable and produce items between “big shopping days”.
  2. Check those sale fliers.  I check all of them online, and “clip” any online coupons the store might offer.  My favorite store is Meijer and they have a coupon and savings program called mperks.  I save about $1000 per year using that.  I never clip real coupons.  The Sunday paper is too expensive to justify buying it just for the coupons within.
  3. Try to base your meals around what’s on sale to make your dollar go further.  Write out your meals fully.  Instead of just writing “pork chops” write “pork chops w/mashed potatoes, gravy, and green beans with dinner rolls.”  Instead of writing “hot dogs” write “hot dogs, macaroni-n-cheese, and steamed broccoli with ice cream”  This will help you to make your shopping list more quickly without forgetting important things, like dessert.  Ha!
  4. On items you buy a lot, stock up when they are on sale.  This week at our local grocery store, they had thick cut bacon 2 for $6.  I bought about 10 packages of bacon.  It won’t go to waste and it will last us for about 2 months!  Score!  Remember:  It’s only a good deal if your family is definitely going to eat it before it goes bad and has to be thrown out!
  5. When you’ve got your meals all planned, write out your detailed shopping list, including what you’ll buy at which store if you’re going to more than one.  Stick to your list and I guarantee you’ll save money!

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Plan to be prepared too!

It’s fantastic to plan your meals, and even to have a few meals put away in the freezer or pantry.  However, it’s important to plan for the unexpected too.  So why not spend a few dollars per month (your savings from planning your meals) on something that will help ensure your families preparedness if something bad does happen?  Why not start by researching 72-hour kits and what should be in them?  Just pick up one item per shopping trip!  Maybe I’ll do a more in-depth post about the importance of preparedness soon.

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Organize My Life, Part Two: Get Rid of Clutter

Organize My Life, Part Two: Get Rid of Clutter

How to get rid of clutter is a question everyone has asked at one time or another.  There is no right answer because it’s unique to each person, and each household.  Every person has certain things they do that clutter up their homes, and sometimes each house has it’s own “bad spots” that seem to clutter up more easily than others.  There is definitely not a one-size-fits-all approach that will work in all homes  or for all people.

As I’ve said before, I am chronically disorganized.  I’m working hard this year at turning that around.  I’ve had some great ideas to get rid of the clutter and some that will help to control it in the future.

There is no room in my house that is free of clutter.  Not a single one.  I suppose some clutter is to be expected when you have two adults, three kids, and two dogs.  However, that’s no excuse, and with our oldest getting ready to start college in the fall, I am ready to make some changes around here.

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{ Do a room-by-room assessment }

In each room, take note of problem areas for clutter, as well as what type of clutter you are having a problem with (paperwork, clothing, jewelry, craft supplies, etc.)

Mine looks like this:

  • Kitchen & Pantry- too many dishes, too much silverware, too many water bottles, pantry is poorly organized because the kids don’t put things in the correct places, too many small appliances/not enough space for them
  • Dining Room/Office Space- this is the room that catches all, just set it on fire and start fresh.
  • Living Room- mail clutter
  • Bedroom- old clothes, jewelry
  • Charlotte’s Bedroom- toys, OMG, does that kid have a million toys?!
  • Haley’s Room- Currently okay.
  • Ben’s Room- He’s a hoarder.
  • Attic Workspace- it’s a mess, I need shelves to organize it any better
  • Basement- organize food shelves

It’s a lot, right?  I know.  I hate it.

{ Work one room at a time, one task at a time }

This may mean that you concentrate on one room per day (or week, if needs be).  Maybe you need to concentrate on one task per day.  Whatever works for you, and as long as you can keep at it and stay committed to getting it cleaned up.  The idea here is to not get overwhelmed by how much needs done in the WHOLE house, or the WHOLE room.  If your desk is a disaster zone, like mine is, maybe that’s the one thing you accomplish that day.  That’s perfectly fine!  You worked at it, accomplished a goal, and tomorrow you can get started on another one.

{ Clean while you go }

I’m not talking a deep clean, but just keep a rag and a bottle of 409 with you as you work.  It takes like 2 seconds to spray and wipe something down real quick!

{ Things to help you organize }

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{ Sell what you can }

Why not make a little cash while you get rid of clutter?  You can put it towards buying things that help you get (and stay) organized!  There are lots of option for selling things you don’t want anymore.

If you’re selling craft supplies, try Etsy.  (If you sign up for an account with that link you get forty free listing, and so do I.  Thank you for clicking!!!)  It’s a great place for unloading craft supplies you no longer want or need.

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Ebay is great for selling adult and kids clothes, shoes, and jewelry that isn’t too pricey.  Actually, Ebay is pretty great for selling just about anything, but not everything will sell unless you’re willing to let it go cheap.  There are always local garage sale sites that are good for selling things to local people too.

Good luck, I hope you make a bundle!

{ Donate what you can’t sell }

It’s a great tax write off at the end of the year.  Why not get a good start at 2017 by donating and saving those receipts (in an organized folder, of course)?

This means put it in a box or a bag and take it directly to your car.  Guess what happens when you don’t donate it right now?  It turns back into clutter.  Because that box or bag will sit there and sit there until you make a resolution next year to get organized.  Trust me, I know!!

{ Trash what you’re not donating }

Say goodbye to that trash.  Getting it out of the house will make it feel like you can breathe again!!  Doesn’t it feel good to get rid of clutter?!

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