This year now that I have the three boys in school for the first time I’ve been thinking a lot more about the nature of weekly preparations. As far as groceries, meal planning, and regular household up-keep is concerned. Seeking new ways to help keep things rolling smoothly and alleviate some of the stresses a new school year (with multiple kids in attendance) now includes. Especially after coming off a three month vacation that had us kicking off “schedule” like stiff shoes in the sand. Dragging the family from beach to camp site, to pool party to play date, partly living out of out of a string of old cars like seasonal vagabonds without a care in the world, or clock on the wall.

As some of you may know – based on blurbs over on my personal blog – my organizational skills can be counted as sub par, at best. Always have been. Probably always will be. But that doesn’t mean I don’t yearn for fresh ways to improve in the area, year after year. This year being most vital in that, I have to do better if I don’t want to pummeled by the grind.

I started asking around, talking to friends about their own up keep and rituals, trying to gain sense of how others manage to keep things together during school months. Ways in which they prep and organize their time and households, to maximize the possibility of “spare” time. Still, I keep coming back to my one friend Sara, whom I remain most inspired by because of her solid sense of old school dedication to weekly preparedness. Sara devotes every single one of her Sundays to prepping herself, and her entire home for the week ahead. A devotion I can hardly see standing as a lasting, and realistic goal in my own life (we give in to spontaneity far too easily) but one I genuinely admire, in appreciating how sacrificing the entirety of one day, to ease the weight of a whole week, would greatly benefit the peace and functionality of a full thriving household.

Sara told me that she wakes up early and makes a run to the grocery store to stock up on what groceries she needs to fulfill her week’s worth of meals for her husband’s work lunches, her daughter’s school snacks, as well as her own specific meals that are made up of staples she leans on to be handy in ready to go containers filled with chicken, veggies, lettuce, beans, ect. All calculated portions to ensure healthy options are there for her to choose from in the midst of even the most hectic weeks, where, let’s be honest, we tend to fall last on the totem poll of balanced nutritional concern. Grueling schedules that run the risk of tossing us in desperate situations when it comes to solving our own hunger, landing us in drive throughs we didn’t plan on or eating crap food we aren’t ever proud of. I know I’ve been guilty for the past few years of bouts of neglect when it comes to proper preparation in caring for the quality in many of my own meals while taking special care to provide it as a constant for everyone else.

Meal planning in general is something I need to practice more. A simple way to help save time and money while feeding our families throughout the week. Making lists and planning exactly what’s in store for the week ahead is the best way to dissolve the stress of last-minute dinner decisions where a few missing items can ruin the whole recipe you kept loosely in mind. I know for me, this happens a lot more than it should and serves as the nixing factor to so many meals I thought I had as options on hand. So in this, I’m asking for some advice and input from you guys as to how you minimize the weight of a new school season. Or family life in general. Anything from homework habits, to shopping, to stocking, to cleaning. How does your household work to stay on top? What are your tried and true preparing routines, and how do they serve you best? And lastly, what tools might you consider detrimental to the overall flow of your home. What, if anything, would you share first if asked?

Sitting atop a desk piled with school forms and homework packets, a stack of laundry hanging around my feet, I’m all ears. .

19 Responses

  • Girl, I sure don’t have much advice, so I’ll just share some “input” with you! 🙂 I have 5 little ones, and we are also very sporadic. That’s what works for us. You never know what to expect with little ones, so for us it makes sense to go with the flow.
    I do try to have the kids do their homework promptly when they get off the bus, but sometimes that doesn’t happen, and that’s OK. One thing we are absolute sticklers about though is bedtime routine. Every single night we brush teeth, go potty, read a story, say our prayers, and then tuck in bed. We keep that same routine even in the summer (just maybe a lil later in the evening). It helps the kids fall asleep easier and it helps them the next day as well.
    I think I need to start meal planning again, it sure does help things go well! It doesn’t even take much to do the planning, and it lifts a big stress off all week. But then… The go with the flow thing. Sometimes what I plan turns out not to work with our day, so we might end up grabbing pizza.

    • we’re getting better about a stricter bed time routine around here too, Sylvie. In that, we always try and get baths done early and then homework before reading. Reading before bed. And, ideally, asleep by 8:30.

      It’s the food planning that I could improve, to help ease the week. Which is why it’s nice hearing about others and their meal planning ways. It’s one area I’ve never been that great in.

  • I would so love to get better at meal planning and grocery shopping in general. I’m always missing one key ingredient to something I was thinking of making. Drives me nuts. Or even worse, I manage to get myself to the store and back only to realize I’m out of another ingredient to make whatever it was.

    The only meals I’ve been successful with are tacos or fajitas. Sometimes I’ll even throw some chicken in the crock-pot with taco seasonings in the morning and by the time I’m home from work we have perfect shredded chicken for quick tacos or quesadillas.

  • I recently started preparing mason jar salads for people as a way of making a little extra money while I stay home with my two little ones. I had never meal prepped before that and let me tell you, you have to treat it like a business! Sunday is my day and like you described, it is a day-long affair. It’s very challenging but you have to turn down plans and prepare yourself to be dedicated to it almost all day. It takes me about 8 full hours to make about 30 large mason jar salads (I also make at least 8-10 for my family to have on hand).

    The first few times I did it, I made the mistake of wearing my usual household uniform of loungewear, no bra, no shoes. Wrong! When you’re on your feet all day, you need good shoes. My feet killed those first few Sundays, like back in my waitressing days! So I treat it like I am going to work and put on comfortable, supportive clothes! Sounds silly, but it helps.

    Lists and Shopping
    I keep all of my recipes in a notepad and make a shopping list the night before. Come Sunday, me and my two year old are out the door by 7(ish) to Sprouts. They open at 7am and it’s actually become one of our favorite rituals. Driving on Sunday morning is so nice – no one is on the road, no rushing around, it’s very mellow. We get to Sprouts and they are tying the balloons up, so of course my son gets a balloon and is in good spirits the whole trip because of that. Not a soul is in there yet except for the friendly staff who have come to know us. I was just telling my mom, I actually look forward to it now! Which is shocking because I generally hate grocery shopping.

    Kitchen & Cooking
    When we get home, I start cooking the items that require oven roasting first to avoid having the oven going during the heat of the day. Then I dice all of my food like I am a sous chef and put it in containers. I skipped this step the first few times because a) I dont like an unnecessary dirty dish! b) I love to cook and am a sloppy, fly by the seat of my pants kind of cook. But this doesn’t really work when you’ve got a lot to do. It is really nice to have all of your ingredients prepped and in containers so when you go to make the dish, everything is good to go and you dont have to stop your flow to dice an onion. This may just be necessary for me because I am making salads that have lots of ingredients, but I imagine it helps when making more than one large recipe also. One more thing I do is clean the kitchen (at least the counter) after each salad / recipe. This sounds a little anal, but I can assure you, nothing about me is OCD. The first few prep days, I didn’t do this and it wasn’t pretty! You start to lose counter space and before you know it, things are falling off the counter and you’re in a state.

    Help from your Village
    Another key thing is that I ask my mom to come over on these days and help with the kids for a few hours. Not necessary but sure does help with the kid-in-the-kitchen interruptions 🙂 It’s a fun ritual for me to break at lunch time and make my husband and mom big, hearty salads and we all sit down and enjoy them.

    I never would have done meal prep prior to starting Salad Vibes but now that I do it, I realize how invaluable it is! In fact, I protested it for some time. I enjoy cooking and I felt like, f there is one thing I deserve after a long day at home with a 2 year old and an 8 month old, it’s to be able to do what I love and prepare a nice meal. The reality is, it’s not a treat on busy weeknights. It doesn’t feel relaxed and fun. My husband is in construction and is physically tired when he gets home from work, so for me to be able to be in the mix with he and the kids and not stuck in the kitchen in the evening is nice for us all.

    I take meal prep pretty darn seriously now since I am prepping for people who have paid me to do so, but these things have greatly helped me. When I first started, I thought I would just be doing what I love (cooking healthy and hearty meals) for a few extra hours a week. But I soon realized there is a great deal of prep and organization that goes into prepping meals for the week! You gotta a run a tight ship! But it’s so worth it once the work is done. Good luck!

    • Lauren!

      You are a treasure trove of prepping knowledge! I loved reading how you work your Sunday and am so inspired by your unwavering dedication. AND, the fact that you’ve turned the passion into a paying job. If you’re ever up for it, I would love to have you document one of these Sundays and share it here. I feel like you’re the kind of teacher we could all use right about now 🙂

      Email me if you’re interested?

  • I work out of the home full time and my husband stays at home with the children, so we have had to adopt a weekly meal planning schedule. He is wonderful about cooking when I am too tired, but has a tendency to be a one dish man where I like multiple options on the table to suit all tastebuds (and food groups.) Once a week we sit down together and make a list of planned meals for the week and then build our list from that. That said, I always put a few extra “easy” dinner items on the list in case we end up wanting to do something spontaneous and not cook the “planned meal” on a particular day. And although I plan enough meals for the entire week, we aren’t always set on a certain meal that I have written down, so we shuffle them to suit our needs. Sometimes we have to make an additional pit stop at the store for something we forgot, but we try to limit ourselves to one grocery shopping trip a week, (which also seems to help us spend less on groceries in the long run.) Good luck in finding what works best for you and your family!

    • Sounds like you’ve got it down Cassie! Thanks for contributing. Always great to read about other routines that inspire.

  • I just want summer to stay a bit longer! But since I start back to work as a teacher on Friday I have no choice. My routine includes laundry on the weekend and on Tuesday nights (pending the sports practice schedule). I clean the entire place on Saturday mornings while the cartoons are going strong. But meal planning. Ugh. I like to hit trader joes on Sunday mornings before the parking lot fills up. (Or, truthfully, during my prep period or lunch during the school week!) So I guess it’ll be Saturday afternoons with the recipe cards. I’m thinking a cute chalkboard for the week might help.

  • I don’t think everyone is suited to strict meal planning. The idea of being locked into x, y, and z during my week is irritating to me. I like having flexibility with my taste, with the weather, with our schedule, with what pops up at the farmstand down the street. That being said, I think having your own “staples” on hand is key.

    We ALWAYS have on hand: onions, garlic, broccoli, sweet potatoes, greens (fresh or frozen), cooked beans (canned or from scratch and then frozen), canned tomatoes, pasta, rice/quinoa/grains, yogurt, eggs, cheese, oats, olives, tahini, miso, plus various spices/condiments. I find that I can almost always throw together dinner in a half hour or less as long as I have this minimum. For snacks, we always have various dried fruits, seeds, nuts, fresh fruit, and often pretzels (though my son often just eats breakfast all the way up to lunch time) that I can throw in a bowl when any of us get nibbly.

    I also do usually choose 1-3 dishes a week I really do want to make that are new or special, but I plan them for days when I know I’ll have the time for them.

    Breakfast for my son is almost always the same thing – a bowl of oatmeal or yogurt, doctored up with peanut butter and or fruit. And I pack his lunch box (even though we’re usually home for lunch) the night before so that if I don’t have leftovers to eat, I at least have the Very Hungry Toddler covered to give me time to consider my own lunch.

    • Good point about keeping the basics stocked Teegan. That’s one thing I try to focus on and it does keep me grounded when I stick to it. I like the flexibility it allows for – when you know you have certain staples on hand – but not specific meals or recipes on hand. I cook mostly simple, healthy meals when I do that almost always revolve around what you listed.

      Thanks for reminding me of this!

  • I used to think meal planning was something only obsessively organized and “perfect” families did. Then my aunt (who is a wonderful cook and continues to dine with her husband and two teenage boys every night) told me that meal planning was like lesson planning. This clicked with me (a teacher by training). I’m not really excellent at it – but I do try (TRY!) to think of at least 3-4 dinners per week. I make a grocery list based on that, and try to stick to it as much as possible. Thinking ahead avoids running out to the store at rush hour. I will say shopping at Costco (even though I love it) sometimes makes preparing meals hard. I feel like I come home with lots of fruit,staples and snacks, but I’m just not confident enough to buy meat in bulk and unusually end up needing something they don’t have. So I end up choosing from a few different smaller stores for some things. I also occasionally order from a wholesale produce store in Redlands. They have whole or cut up fruits/veggies and “meal kits” that take the guesswork and prep work out of cooking – everything comes pre cut and pre measured. The veggies are fresher than what I get at the store, so they last longer. And the fact that I can select a time to pick it up is so convenient. As far as laundry, I try to do me load a day. This keeps me from dealing with huge piles of clothes on one day.

  • I first want to say thank you for this site! I love the passages and looks into mamahood and family life without everything being sponsored by one thing or another.

    My husband and I both work outside of the home. Meal planning and prep is something we have been trying to figure out since child #2 came. We have a one and four year old and he gets home later so I am often in charge of weeknight dinners. Generally, on Sunday, we choose a few meals to have for the upcoming week and make a grocery list. (I try to keep it simple). Our four year old (who is a picky eater) picks one of the meals. We make it, even if it is mac and cheese. A successful week is when I can get to two of those three meals (low expectations help me out). I figure we will have leftovers and there is always our go-tos and trader joe’s to fill in the rest of the week. My husband usually does the grocery shopping on the weekend. I was feeling too overwhelmed with meal planning, the grocery list, shopping and then doing a majority of the cooking. Having him in charge of store runs is a good trade-off to me having to start most of our weeknight meals.

    We usually try to have a bigger Sunday dinner that my husband cooks. We can count on for leftovers on Monday or Tuesday. On slower weekends, especially in the fall and winter, I sometimes will make a soup to keep on hand for the week. Some weeks the above works, other weeks it does not and I am learning to roll with it. After a particularly busy couple of weeks I was happy to hear my daughter ask, “When are we going to eat as a family again?”

    This fall, I will also be doing a soup swap with some of my friends. A good way to get some different soups stocked up and ready in the freezer for a quick meal.

  • Oh always so much to learn from others on this topic! I’m still trying to get my head around the whole routine business but a few things seem to be working for us. We’re food obsessed so meal planning doesn’t really work for us (how are you supposed to know what you’re going to feel like eating on any given day?!). But we buy our veges from the market every Sunday and then I come home and wash/ cut them straight away. I found that otherwise things like lettuce tends to just sit in the fridge until it goes off because during dinner stress I don’t have the patience to wash the bugs out of it! I store everything in glass storage containers. I also whip up a couple of salad dressings etc to use over the week. If I do this bit of prep we eat waaaay healthier because it takes much less effort. Oh and I HATE going to the supermarket so I only go every two weeks now and stock up large (our pantry looks like a well stocked supermarket aisle for the first week). Wish I could figure out the housework part, probably not spending so much time on instagram and seeing other peoples immaculate homes all the time would help me stress less about the general chaos in mine!

  • When we’re in a time crunch, I don’t get creative. I have 7 meals that I’ll serve over and over again until I get some breathing space. No one minds (7 is the right number to get us from getting too bored), and these are our favorite easy meals. It’s wonderful to not make any decisions when you’re over-burdened.

  • This comes at the perfect time! Had baby #2 this summer and I’m trying to figure out some routines for running the house. Love Brandi’s idea of 7 go to meals. I do a load of laundry everyday to avoid one massive laundry/folding day. Load dishwasher and run it every night (even if not full) and then put away in morning. I’ve also started timing how long certain chores take me to do. When I know it takes less than 5 minutes to do something I’m dreading, it’s a lot easier to squeeze it in and not have it hang over my head. Good luck with figuring out your routines! I loved reading the comments to see what other people do.

  • We make breakfast muffins on a Sunday morning, the kids all help out and it marks the start of a lazy family day, warm muffins and coffee refills. I always make enough for a couple of days in the week too. Then if we’re rushing to get out of the house, they have a fruit and a muffin in the car on the school run. We have a few recipes but our favourite at the moment uses Greek yoghurt so they are full of protein.

  • I too, am constantly trying to find balance. George and I both work full-time out of the home. The best I can do, is prep on Sundays. I wake up, and while the boys are playing with Lego’s or the ipad, I work out my meals I want for about a week and a half, so we have options. Then, I list the ingredients. Then I try my best to cross reference what I have in the freezer/pantry, and I cross off items I don’t need. Then from there I create my list. I don’t have time to clip coupons, I don’t have club cards. I have always relied on my old faithful Staters and the farmers market. I could probably shop that store with my eyes closed. So, I go to the store, come home and begin to prep anything that we need for the week. Usually I will roast a chicken (for shredded chicken), make my cupcake pan egg muffins for our breakfasts, cut fruit, etc.
    During the week, I tend to feel like a drill sergeant when we come home, because if I don’t keep them on task, we would be up until 11. We come home (usually 6 o clock), they have 15 minutes to play, then they sit down at the island with me and they start homework, while I start dinner. I call it the witching hour. haha. They finish, and at 7 we eat. They help clean the kitchen, (wipe the table, stack the dishes on the towels) and then they get in the shower. We still wash both at the same time, because, time saver! Then in bed they go! They can watch 30 minutes of tv, usually they nod off before then.
    Then I get lunches ready, pull clothes out for the next day, take out cereal and bowls for their breakfast and put everything on the kitchen table that they will need for the following day. (I do these things the night before because I am not a morning person)
    We do this Sunday through Thursday. Friday is a free day for me. I do nothing that night. We order take out, the kids don’t take showers, they can play the iPad, there are no rules. They look forward to it, and so do I.
    That’s how I manage my two boys, that I often feel like are four boys. haha.

  • I go back and forth with meal planning. It certainly seems that it will be helpful and time saving but often I find the meals don’t end up working (due to schedule and/or taste changes) and I end up with more waste because of specific ingredients purchased.

    Now I have a newborn and need even more flexibility but also more help! What’s working is sticking with a stocked pantry and basics on hand. Another things is enjoying simple meals. I find the right seasoning (salt/olive oil) makes all the difference. If I have the time/desire I will purchase an extra ingredient here or there for a special recipe. Also cooking one or two large, hearty, healthful dinners and having plenty of leftovers for lunches is a huge help. It’s a bit harder in the summer but now that it’s cooling down a large stew, soup or pasta casserole does the trick.

    So typical days are toast with nut butter or eggs and coffee for breakfast. Lunch is leftovers and try to have vegetables. Dinner always has a veg or salad and then may be leftovers, pasta, chicken, sausages or sometimes take-out.

    One thing I did at the end of my pregnancy was make a bunch of chicken quesedillas and a bunch of black bean/kale/rice burritos and froze them all. Its been great to pull one of these from the freezer for dinner or lunch and I definitely want to keep this up.

    Our staples are:
    Fresh: fruits (seasonal), broccoli or kale, carrots, celery, onion, garlic, salad greens, sourdough bread, eggs, yogurt, butter, milk, meat (usually chicken), parmesan cheese, parsley
    Pantry: pasta, tuna, beans, almond/peanut butter, rice, seasonings/spices, chocolate, wine, coffee, tea, honey, vinegars, oils


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