by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Growing up, family meals fell into a predictable pattern: steak for Sunday dinner, frozen pizza Sunday night, pasta and meat sauce on Monday, hamburgers on Tuesday, roast chicken or lasagna on Friday, leftovers on Saturday. And although Wednesdays and Thursdays didn’t have set meals, there was a short list of options.
So, of course, when I was on my own, I refused to fall into this pattern. But I didn’t want to run to the store every day to pick up the fixings for dinner. Instead, I made sure I had certain basics in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. I’d wake up in the morning, decide what to defrost for dinner and that was that.
When Mac and I moved in together, I kept to this spontaneous meal planning – unless we were having company. I never planned out meals for the week until I found myself adding into the rotation new recipes that included items that I didn’t keep on hand (like bean sprouts or a can of diced pineapple). I disliked running to the store for a single item (like that’s possible), so I learned to meal plan.
Stock Up on Basic Pantry Items
When I was younger, I had no clue what to keep in my pantry or in the freezer. My parents tended to overbuy items that would sit in the freezer or pantry until the item was no longer edible. They couldn’t pass up “practical” items when they were on sale. At one point, I organized their pantry and found over 40 cans of tuna fish even though they didn’t eat that much tuna!
I knew I didn’t want to go that route. After a while, I realized that if I had a box of pasta, I was good; I’d buy a new box when that one was gone. I’m now more willing to keep a couple of boxes of rice or pasta on my shelf, but I don’t go crazy when things go on sale. I’ve decided that I don’t need a six-month supply of pasta on my shelves.
At first, I didn’t know what basic pantry items I needed, so I went online and looked at a bunch of lists suggesting “essentials” for meal planning. I bought a lot of items that I thought I should have but didn’t use until I forced myself to use them.
Over time I learned to look at the meals I served and then kept things like canned tomato sauce and diced tomatoes on hand. I’m thinking this is the case for you too and you rely on the same items over and again. Those are the items to keep on hand.
If I don’t have some of the ingredients on hand for a dish that I want to prepare I put the items on my shopping list and plan to serve that meal the following week.
I also keep the ingredients for scratch-made chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and yellow or chocolate cake on hand in case I forget to pick up stuff to make dessert. (Although, usually only for company or holidays.)
Easy Meal Planning Ideas
How to Meal Plan Using Leftovers
When I find leftover proteins in the freezer, I incorporate them into one of these basic meals. The more leftovers that fit into a dish (potatoes, veggies, rice, whatever’s in food storage containers), the better the chance is that I’ll pick that recipe.
How to Do Your Own Meal Planning
To wrap up,
Prepare Easy Meals
These are my guidelines for everyday meal planning. I enjoy cooking but I tend to favor simpler meals with few ingredients and easy preparation. We go out to eat once, sometimes twice a week, and rarely do takeout, so easy meals guarantee that I'll actually cook the meals that I've planned.
How do you keep meal planning simple? What are your go-to meals? Share in the comment section below.
by Susan Caplan McCarthy
Decluttering small spaces gives you a quick win. More important than the organized appearance of the space is your feeling of satisfaction and progress at becoming organized. So, why bother decluttering a hidden space?
Because, you know it’s there. I’ve met people with clean, organized homes … until you go into the basement and have to walk sideways through the maze of boxes. These individuals don’t feel organized because their attention is laser-pointed on the basement. And, worse, they feel like they’re living a lie every time someone standing in the immaculate living room or kitchen compliments them on being so organized.
So, even if you feel that cluttered, hidden spaces don’t make a difference, remember that it doesn’t matter whether the clutter is on the kitchen counter or shoved in a drawer, if you know it’s there, then it’s a task waiting for you. Obvious or hidden, decluttering a small space is all about your progress.
Under the Sink Decluttering
Each sink in your home – kitchen, bathroom, laundry room – is its own task. If you don’t have a cabinet beneath a sink, give a quick sort through items that have gathered around this spot. And, it isn’t necessary to organize beneath every cabinet in single day or even on consecutive days.
Why Declutter Under the Sink?
The cabinet (or other organizing tools) beneath your sink not only contains but also hides the items you have stored there, so you may not know what’s in this space. And, bonus, going through the items under the sink can save you money and time.
Money – If you have a lot of supplies beneath your sink – house-cleaning or toiletries – there’s a good chance you have duplicates. Maybe you notice that you’re running low on shampoo so the next time you go to the store you buy more.
Only, you forgot that you already bought a new bottle of shampoo when you saw it on sale a few weeks ago. But, the bottle of shampoo was squeezed in with a lot of other items under the sink and “disappeared.”
Time – Decluttering under the sink can save you time. One, you won’t waste time looking for the bottle of glass cleaner that you’re certain is stored in a particular space. Also, you won’t spend time shopping for supplies that you don’t need. And, after decluttering and organizing, you’ll have an easier time maintaining order (putting things away).
How to Declutter Under a Sink
Don’t focus on the visual appearance of the space – a pretty “after” picture is less important than how you retrieve and then put away the items stored under the sink.
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Susan Caplan McCarthy
I'm a professional organizer-coach with 26 years' experience as a teacher. I believe that an organized home isn't your destination but a step on the path toward the life you want to create. I teach decluttering and organizing skills through articles; books; and speaking engagements; as well as virtual coaching sessions.