When I am thinking about getting creative I try to set up my environment to allow me to be at my best creatively. I am a very left handed, right-brained person who can live in a fairly high level of chaos for short periods of time without getting too freaked out. But, I am finding as I get older that the problem is that high levels of clutter and disorder can be distracting to the creative process. I am not a neatnik by any means, but there are certain areas of my life that I try really hard to stay on top of so that I can have more time for creativity, calm and general happiness.
One way that I have found to set up a regular routine, which allows me to have a handle on my home life is by regularly managing the food in my house. I used to spend hours every week trying to figure out what to make, looking up recipes, shopping for a handful of items a few times a week only to then throw away much of the food I bought because it had gone bad before I could use it. My husband and I who are both creative people were feeling overwhelmed at dinner time because we didn’t have a plan. I have always been someone who likes to solve a problem so I thought, there has to be a better way . . .
I started to realized that there were some things that I wanted to change with our grocery shopping and cooking style so that I could have more time to do what we want. Here is what I did, I found this pdf, which is a menu and grocery list all in one and it has made my life easier at dinner time. Here is how it works . . . every Sunday or occasionally if I am running behind, on a Monday, I sit down with my husband and son and we make a menu for the week. In my house we like to have at least three I-don’t-have-to-think-about-it meals a week and three “actual meals”. With our new system we try to make one big menu item on Sunday, sometimes we cook a whole chicken, or some other thing that we can add to other menus over the course of the week, so that all that we make gets eaten. We try to think of ways to use everything. If we buy a chicken we save the carcass, wrapped in plastic wrap so that we can turn it into a broth for soup, then we add some of the leftover meat and other ingredients. We go out to eat one time per week and I only shop one time a week. Here’s an example of dinner items that we have this week on our menu.
Sunday - Pork and rice (My husband made a lot of pork for the week)
Monday - Pork tacos
Tuesday - Pork sliders with cole slaw and salad
Wednesday – Teryaki chicken (from Trader Joe’s frozen section) *
Thursday – Nachos *
Friday - Out to eat
Saturday – Burgers and salad *
* all of these items are the I-don’t-want-to-think-about-it meals
Having this list accomplishes so many goals for our family:
1. SAVES TIME – We are able to do all the shopping, planning and even cooking in 6 hours or less a week, which is about half the time we use to spend on these things. I have more time for creativity and for family/friends.
2. SAVES MONEY – We have cut our food budget in half. We throw away almost no food. We used to spend around $1200 a month going out to eat and buying groceries (half of which we ended up throwing out).
3. LOWERS STRESS – We have a sense of order to our lives and in our home. This is huge!!! My husband and I are able to work together at managing the food in our house. We usually write the list together, I do the shopping, then he does most of the cooking. He doesn’t mind cooking as much as me most of the time, but never liked coming up with the ideas of what to make and didn’t want to shop at the end of the day and cook. Now he can come home, look at the list, which lives on our fridge and get to cookin’. Sometimes we aren’t in the mood for a particular menu item on a given night, so we just cook and eat another meal from a different night. We also do this if we are too busy one night to make an actual meal and want to use an I-don’t-want-to-think-about-it meal from a different night. Doing this list has really reduced the chaos in our home at dinner time. The stress level is much lower and we have so much less waste in our lives – food, money, time, etc.
4. INCREASES SHARING – It is something that all members of the house share in. My husband and I share doing the workload in an efficient way and our son has a way of looking ahead to see what we will be eating later in the week. This gives him a feeling of order and structure. He loves to look at the new menu for the week and gets excited about particular menu selections and likes to suggest items for the week when we are planning menus.
Here are a few tips for setting up your own menu/grocery list for the first time:
- I found it helpful to collect a handful of menu ideas and recipes in a spreadsheet before we started making the menu/shopping list, but you could write them on a piece of paper too. When I was first making menus/grocery lists I would refer to my master list a lot, but now it’s old hat and we can build a menu/grocery list in 10-15 minutes.
- I find it useful to check the fridge and pantry before I start building my list to see what we already have. If we have lots of pasta I will get sauce or buy fixin’s to make sauce. If we have frozen peas, I try to work them into a meal, etc. It’s a great way to use what you have, save money and lower the consumption level in your home, which is very stress relieving.
- I save all of my menu/grocery lists and on a really busy week I reuse older ones and simply add or cross out grocery items as needed for the current week.
- For my family we only focus on the dinners we want to cook, because we eat the leftovers for lunch and usually have simple things for breakfast, like cereal or oatmeal.
I hope you find this post helpful. This is just one small way that you can create order and routine in your home. It has made such a difference the lives of my family. I started doing this for one reason: to make more time, and found that I got so many other things out of it. Happy menu/grocery listing and now that you have created more time, go forth and create!
by Jen Neitzel