Good Ideas: Meal Plan Folder

I love hearing about a great idea! Don’t you?

Recently, a friend shared her method for keeping track of meals for her family. It was simple and sweet, covering what she needed in a way that was easy to access.

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A yellow file folder had all seven days of the week written in black marker on it. Under each day was a sticky note with three meals written out. At the end of the week, all she has to do is remove the sticky notes and start over.

The plan is to eventually have the breakfast for each day of the week be the same, so then it could be written on the folder also. Then, the sticky notes would only need to have lunch and dinner on them, saving one step each time.

Also, the sticky notes can be stored inside the folder to be reused in the future, giving meal ideas and saving time writing them out again.

The folder is kept with several other household folders, keeping bills and school records and such ordered and within reach during the week.

I love it! Perhaps you will too.

Notes:

  • The same process could be done by hole-punching the folder and including it in your household binder, if that is your tool of choice.
  • Once the breakfast is included on the folder itself, smaller notes (i.e., 2×3 instead of 3×3) could be used for lunch and dinner plans.
  • You could also use the really small sticky notes to have lunch on one and dinner on another for each day. That would let you re-use individual meals easily when you did your meal planning.
  • If you plan two weeks or a month at a time, you could have two or four folders set up and ready to go.

Unpleasant Duties

“Disorganization, procrastination, addiction to technology, or refusal to do unpleasant duties tends to stress us more than diligence, organization, decisiveness, or self-denial.”

Reset by David Murray has a good point here. Are we shooting ourselves in the foot sometimes? Putting off things we need to do, leaving the mess because it’s overwhelming, not mopping the floor for a month because we really hate it?

Most of us would agree that we don’t like stress and its effects on us. We’ve even heard, and tried to ignore, the health horror stories of how stress makes you sick over time.

BUT

Has that made a difference in how we tackle life?

  • Making an hour to plan out two weeks of meals will cut out the daily stress of answering “What’s for dinner?” with “I have no idea!” for a beautiful 14 days.
  • Creating a cleaning routine and racing yourself to finish the daily section will take the stress out of housework piling up and add a little bit of fun to your day.
  • Going to the grocery stores for the main shopping with a list and a plan saves time and constant decisions in the store.
  • Biting the bullet and cleaning out that closet you try not to see will give you access to storage and a more peaceful environment. Then you can exercise tiny bits of effort to maintain the order and hold off the chaos from coming back.
  • Having a current to-do list and calendar keeps the day on track and gives you the comfort of knowing where you are going and what you truly need to do.

Just one of these steps will help you and your stress level and the peace of your household. It will take some effort up front, but that work will pay off over and over after that.

Clean Cars

As promised, here’s how my truck-cleaning effort went. The entire process took 1 hour, although I did not vacuum (since our cordless went with my husband the day I did this). Most likely the time for pictures and setup this time around would offset cleaning time for a normal routine.

Back Seat Storage

Since I have a truck, the interior storage is primarily under the back seat and in the console. I tackled the largest area first! Before are pictures of the space, all the stuff originally in it, and the final arrangement.

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I put all my extra shopping bags in one bag, which fits nicely in the shallow middle. The pillow and picnic blanket went in one well. My road trip guides and other books went in the other well. The umbrella and ice scraper went on the ledge in the back. The insulated bag is on top of it all on the driver’s side, because that is what I grab most often.

Since several tools and notepads and other items had accumulated since the last cleaning, I took those and put them in the appropriate areas for when I got there.

Console

This started out pretty ugly; we use this most often when driving because it’s easiest to reach.

truck 11The keys here are to 1) only have what you need handy and 2) contain the small items. I stacked the flat books and iPod. Medicine and keys/bobbypins/money went in two separate cheap plasticware boxes that I pulled out of the kitchen drawer. The manual went in the glove box and the napkins went in the grab bag (seen later).

Doors

I love the deep pockets in the doors. My driver door has my favorite shopping bags, because usually I only use two or three, and gum. The other side has activity books for traveling and the GPS. Here I simply had to take out the trash and stuff that had migrated to the wrong section.

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Grab Bag

Truck bagBecause of the limited storage, I like to keep a tote bag with various things handy. Mine sits in the middle of the back seat (on the hump), but it is easy to move temporarily if the back seat is full. This is where the food items (snacks, napkins, straws), wipes, towel, emergency toy, and such are stored. It is arranged so I can reach in and get what is needed without searching or unpacking.

Other

Truck cordThis time around, I used an idea from Pinterest browsing to corral the charging cords that typically spread all over the front. A Command hook next to the charger worked nicely.

Also, I always have a trash bag in the middle of the front seat. Sometimes it is a small plastic bag. A box or cereal storage bin or cheap car accessory works well also.  The important thing is that it is handy and used (and emptied occasionally…).

The back of the truck has the big stuff, since it is available. Two lawn chairs, a tool box, and a tote to hold anything needed for transport are what stay in the back. The tool box and tote contain smaller things that would otherwise just float around and scatter while driving. They are both easy to grab for use when needed.

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I hope this encouraged and helped you — or will someday in the future. Nothing I did required a trip to the store; I just used what I had. You can put more effort and money into it, but it isn’t necessary in order to keep to the organizing principles. Best wishes on your efforts in this area!

Our Mobile Command Centers

How much time do you spend in your vehicle each day? Who shares it with you? What do you accomplish using that vehicle? Is it worth the time and effort to keep it ordered and clean?

I’m going to say “Yes!” to the last question, as you might have guessed. With as much as we use it and as many people as it affects, it is worth the time — and I consider it part of my household. That said, what would be helpful to consider as we make the effort?

IMG_4587Trash goes in a trash bag. Whether it’s a nifty car accessory or the last fast food paper bag, trash needs to be accumulated in one place. One contained place. There is no need for it to be spread all over the vehicle. If your children are old enough to generate the trash by themselves, they are old enough to put it where it belongs. If you are the one unwrapping, you can make the habit and keep it neat. It sounds simple and obvious, but it makes a BIG difference.

Bring it with you. If the bag needs to go in the house, the owner (whether you or your child) can bring it in the house. This is for those times when you think you’ll just get it later, but later is a separate trip and an interruption to your flow and doesn’t keep items in the place they belong and you have to find the keys and then you get sidetracked on the way… If you have a hand, go ahead and bring it with you. Note: groceries are usually multiple loads, and if something needs to stay in the car to go somewhere on a later trip, that is a different matter also.

Contain items. There are a number of things that I keep in my truck always. So I have a tote bag that holds all those things (snacks, towel, wipes, road map, road trip dream list, hat, etc.) in one place. I can reach in and grab what I need when I need it, and stuff is not strewn about the interior.

Truck 7Built-in storage can be wonderful for this as well, but use it wisely. Put in what you need to keep, not what you want to ignore. Because it is out of sight, you will need to treat it like a closet and refresh/reorganize every so often. In bigger storage units, use smaller containers and label them. This will make it easier to restock and find what you need.

Make a habit of cleaning. Not constantly, of course, but at some point and then repeat. It doesn’t take an unreasonable amount of time or money to vacuum (and the more often, the quicker it goes) and run through the car wash a few times a year. You and your riders will feel better about and in your vehicle when it is clean.

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Wow! All that reminds me (again) that I am long overdue for a clean-up of my trunk and under-seat storage. Now I really have to do it! I’m off — and I’ll post before and after pics, along with concrete examples, in the next blog post.

Meal Timelines

Do you ever get to the end of the afternoon and realize with a shock that dinner will be expected shortly and you have no idea what it will be? Well, it happens to all of us, but if it happens regularly, I’d recommend reading two previous blog posts, Planning Your Day and Meal Planning. This post will build on what we have already started discussing.

Planning ahead involves knowing how your day will go (roughly) and knowing what you plan to make for a meal, but you also need to know how the various steps for your chosen menu will fit into your schedule. When do you need to start preparing? Do you need to figure on 2 hours in the kitchen or 20 minutes?

Many recipes now include prep time and cook time, which is very helpful. But you still need to know what you’ll be doing when.


Note: if you use frozen meat for your meals, remember to add defrosting the meat to your steps or your schedule the day before or early the day of.


As you look at your menu, map out the different steps and when you’ll need to do each of them (i.e., 2 hours ahead, 45 minutes ahead, right before serving, etc.). Some recipes or dishes are simple enough that you only need 5 minutes of prep time 2 hours before dinner. Some have a few more steps. Others are all last minute, just before you eat. Write it down in a timeline, counting backwards from your target mealtime.


Note: if you collect tried-and-true recipes or standard menus for a monthly meal plan, this will be helpful to keep with the recipe. That way you don’t have to think it through each time.


For an example, using the menu outlined in A Simple Meal, you would sketch out a timeline like this:

  • 2 hours prior — prepare meat and put in oven
  • 45 minutes prior — prepare sweet potatoes and put in oven
  • 15 minutes prior — set table and steam vegetables

Now you know that you have less than 30 minutes needed for the meal, but also you don’t need to do anything between the 2 hour mark and the 45 minute mark. You can plan on 75 minutes to devote to other tasks.

Now you also know what you are doing and that your bases are covered. Way to plan!