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Meal Planning Part 2: Achieving Your Perfect System

Before you sign up for any service, subscribe to a plan system, or purchase anything for the kitchen and pantry, think through your ‘why’ as well as what piece of the process causes you the most pain. This feature is part of an on-going series which will focus on the kitchen so that you can optimize each step of the way from planning, set up and everything along the way to putting delicious, healthy meals on the table without stress.

Yesterday I asked you to think through the below 7 key questions:

1. Is your pantry set up such that you know what you have very easily, at a glance, and can quickly and easily create your weekly shopping list? Do you find that you buy things you already have? And forget to rotate stock so you end up with an odd assortment of expired items?

If you cannot easily glace and determine what you have at any given moment, this is the first place to start.

  • If no, Monday’s feature will be about organizing your pantry so hold tight, but between now and then think through which areas do work and which do not. DO NOT, I repeat do not, buy any organization bins or storage items yet—wait until after you follow the steps in Monday’s article.
  • If yes, yahoo… yet still check back Monday to be sure that you’ve optimized things for maximum efficiency.
  • For both yes and no: between now and Monday, pull out any items past their expiration date and toss them; also donate any items that you will not use up by the expiration date—most grocery stores have food bank deposit areas or check with local churches or shelters.
2. Do you have enough recipes/meals that are healthy & moderate-easy to make so that you and your family don’t get bored?
  • If yes, you are probably not the best fit for Meal Service firms that ship recipes and all ingredients to you. Skip to next question.
  • If no, an easy place to start is with service like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh; at the end of this article, I give a link to my guide to Meal Service Firms.
  • If no, there are many online planning services that will suggest new recipes and give you 4 sample week’s menus to follow; I’ll also link to these options at the end of this post.
3. Do you have the right kitchen tools stored such that they follow the 3 cardinal rules of the kitchen?

Rules: items should be stored (1) right near where it’s used or (2) right near where it ends up once it’s clean, and (3) your most accessible areas are filled only with things you use quite often. For example, your dinner plates should be stored in the cabinet/shelf that is either right by your dinner table or right by the dishwasher.

  • If yes, good for you! Do take a moment to deliberately consider the 3 rules above though in case there are a couple areas that could be better. Skip to next question.
  • If no, before you start to do any reorganization, draw a very basic layout of your kitchen in pencil and label what you currently have in each cabinet and drawer, then write down the same items on to small sticky notes so that you can play with different arrangement options. Place the sticky notes based on the 3 kitchen principles and do this without restraints in mind—just think through what the ideal is and we can work through how to get there on Monday.
  • If no, write a list of any items that you think you need and/or items that are not in good condition—again don’t buy anything yet just make a wish list.
4. Do you need to learn to be a better cook and/or brush up on some time-saving techniques?
  • If yes, skip to next question.
  • If no, there are cooking courses online as well as near most cities; note that many in person classes have a set menu or theme and techniques and cooking connected to that theme is mainly what you’ll learn other than picking up the occasional tip here and there.
  • If no, the food services like Blue Apron can help too as they’ll expose you to techniques and new ideas for recipes.
5. What’s your current system for planning, shopping, cooking and what is the biggest pain point of it? What takes the biggest amount of time? And what part of it do you dislike the most?

For everyone: it’s important to know your likes, dislikes, strengths, and challenges. There are many work-arounds or ways to help that we’ll review Monday and, in the meantime, really drill down on this and even break each part down. For instance, I used to get incredibly frustrated every week when planning my menu. I’d ask my family for ideas or opinions and would get zip back or ‘I don’t know…’ and I HATE grocery shopping so I figured out a better way to do both. If you hate shopping too, why? Is it the crowds? Or the commute to the store? Or some other reason?

6. Is your life so chaotic that you need a quick win immediately? And then over time you can develop a better system?
  • If yes, hire a professional organizer and do a full re-org of your kitchen. In the meantime, try one of the meal services listed below but be sure to choose one that sends the ingredients fully prepped so all you can skip the chopping and just assemble the dish and cook it. There are also local take out places that sell prepared family meals that will be less expensive and more nutritious than most take out restaurants. Even on little ole Vashon we have 2 places like this so I’m guessing you’ll have options too.
  • If no, start with the area above that would make the most impact on getting things working better for you and tune in Monday as we continue to explore how to set up a perfect system for your need.
7. Is budget an issue that overrides the quick win?

If budget is a concern, you’ll need to take things slowly by following the advice above and continuing to hone in on best systems for you and your kitchen. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to focus on kitchen optimization and other pieces of having a smooth, low stress system. Just prioritize logically and you’ll get to the goal before you know it.

I’d love to hear from you about which part of the above areas is the biggest stressor for you so email me at [email protected] and let me know how I can help you! Last, as I’ve mentioned, check back Monday, and in the weeks ahead for many ideas to get you on a better track by honing your home to liberate time and enjoy life more!

If you’re interested in the differences between the Meal Services and Meal Planning Services, click here >>

If you missed Meal Planning Part 1, be sure to read it now!

*This contains some links but none are sponsored or affiliate links. NQM does not receive any compensation from the vendors and these NQM links are purely information – listed only to help you.

Feature Photo by Angela Carlyle