3 Steps to Your Easy Meal Plan or …

… how meal planning gives me an extra 90 minutes each week!

What would you do with an extra 90 minutes each week? Would you read a good book? Would you spend that time with your kids? Would you hit the gym and do a little cardio? No doubt you’d rather spend that 90 minutes doing something fun, not spending it grocery shopping.

 

 

Meal planning Pinterest-2

 

Years ago, I was no fan of meal planning. In the meantime however, it has become a great habit, which has saved my family a lot of money and time over the years.

Before we had children and were living in Switzerland, we worked full-time. In Switzerland, people tend to eat a big lunch and then a small dinner – cold meat and cheese with bread or a soup. Our workplaces offered a canteen so we typically ate there for lunch. There was no real reason to meal plan.

The weekend was the only time we really cooked, and that was if we didn’t go out. A few times I tried to implement meal planning, but it just wasn’t for me. I was also under the misconception that meal planning would take away any flexibility, spontaneity and freedom. I mean what if I wanted one thing but planned for something else?

You know what’s coming … once we had kids, everything changed! It didn’t happen right away of course. It actually happened after we moved to Australia… a whole new culture to contend with. You see, I was a stay-at-home mom with two toddlers (one and three years old). My husband’s workplace offered a canteen but he’d rarely eat there. And, this is when I found myself cooking dinner every single night.

It was becoming quite clear that meal planning may be a good idea after all. So, I started it and tried several things. When you check out Pinterest, you get all kinds of ideas and pictures on meal planning systems. The reality though is who has time for doing all of this so elegantly and beautifully? I don’t, and I don’t really care to do it so creatively. If you are the creative type, more power to you and have fun!

Let me share what worked for me.

 

3 Helpful Tips To Create Your Own Easy-To-Follow Meal Plans

 

Do Your Math

Meal planners are going to tell you that you save yourself a ton of time. However, I’m a bit of a skeptic so I sat down and did some calculations. If I did a weekly plan and the grocery shopping takes me roughly an hour and half each week for a family of four (combining my trip with a school run and shopping), I spent about 78 hour or three and quarter days a year doing this.

If, for some reason, I have to shop more than once a week, I’d still need approximately the same amount of time to do the shopping. However, no meal plan and a trip to the grocery store all the time would take me three hours a week or nearly one week a year. And, that cuts into my work hours or dragging the kids to the shop. Talk about added stress there!

So, what did I learn? I learned that meal planning is a big payoff for both me and my family.

school equation with apples

 

 

Find Your Best Day For Meal Planning and Grocery Shopping

I used to do my meal planning on a Monday morning before school and doing the shopping first thing after the school run. Right now, I am doing my meal planning on Saturday. We talk about the next week over breakfast and consider what everybody’s plans are … sports, business trips, doctor visits, extracurricular activities, etc.

For instance, I don’t cook fish on Monday night because one of the boys and hubby come home after 7 p.m. My other son and I don’t want to eat that late and have dinner shortly after 6 pm. Keeping this kind of meal warm is not an option. And, I don’t feel like cooking twice. Therefore, I need a meal I can re-heat or keep warm easily, such as a one pot meal (find interesting recipes here).

I then pick the menus. During school holidays, each boy gets to choose the meals for one week. This encourages them to help with the cooking and, in my eyes, learn an important skill without even noticing. I see it as an added bonus.

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Find A Planning System That Works For You 

I tried meal planning using my computer, but I found that didn’t work for me. And, doing a paper and pencil system seemed too wasteful and time consuming (of course you could keep the plans and re-use them some weeks later).

What I did was create little cards using thick paper, printed the meals on them, laminated them and cut them into card size. You could also use empty laminated cards and write on them using a whiteboard marker.

I then used a cheap Ikea photo frame and put some fabric in the frame behind the glass, painted seven wooden pegs and glued them onto the glass. I didn’t bother writing the names of the days on them since we know the first day is Monday. Now, all I have to do is add one card per day. The board is situated in the kitchen and everybody can see it.

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Our Meal Plan

My meal planning doesn’t include breakfast or lunches. That’s because breakfast is generally the same every day. As for lunches, I don’t list them on the plan but they are considered. I don’t like giving our kids sandwiches. Perhaps that’s a cultural thing because, in Switzerland, we don’t have them for lunch. Rather, I give them the night before’s leftovers. I give them their food in Tupperware Heat ‘N Eat containers so they can use the school’s microwave to re-heat them.

Once I’m done with the planning, I make the shopping list, which can be done quickly. I go shopping and that’s it for the week. I rarely ever have to visit the shops again during the week for fresher vegetables and/or meat. If stored right, you can keep vegetables and fruit fresh for the week and I freeze the meat.

 

 

 

Extra Time Saver Tip: Combine Your Errands
Try combining your grocery shopping with other errands to save yourself time and petrol money.

Errands List

 

 

 

Remember earlier when I said I was afraid of losing my freedom, flexibility and spontaneity? Well, doing this for several years now, I can tell you that this just isn’t true. I am still flexible, and in fact often do move menus around the week. However, since everything is at home already, I don’t need to do any last minute shopping trips.

 

What kind of meal planning system do you use (if any)? What works for you? What doesn’t work for you? If you have a picture of your system, I’m sure we’d all love to see it!

How to organise food leftovers

How can you organise food? Today, I’m not talking about meal planning (of which I am a big advocate). Instead, I’d like to share an easy method to organise food leftovers.

 

Despite the best planning and organising efforts, we all will have food leftovers from time to time. I actually cook too much on purpose because I’m not a big fan of sandwiches. Whenever I do give our boys a sandwich for practical reasons, I can be sure to be greeted (if greeted at all that is …) by really hungry and grumpy children when I pick them up from school. Hence, I prefer to give them leftovers from the night before for lunch. They have a microwave at school and can heat it up themselves. When they were younger, I heated it up at home and used a food thermos to keep it warm. Often, I would have leftovers for lunch, too.

 

So, how do we make sure that we are not throwing out leftovers because we forget about them or can’t remember how old they are? If you are meal planning, you might think that you can just look at your plan and find out when you had which meal. However, if you’re anything like me, this is not always reliable. I do plan and do go shopping once a week. This means I have everything I need at home and sometimes we move things around. Because I then don’t change things on my plan, it’s not very reliable anymore.

 

So, I have come up with my own method to keep track of our leftovers which I share in this little video.

 

I hope you find this useful and – as always – I would love to hear about your method or experience.

 

 

 

Save money by being organised or Why organised people have more money!

Organised people have more money (and time for that matter)! Why? Because they don’t have to pay late fees, don’t lose uncashed cheques, don’t pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars for off-site storage to store things they don’t need – the list goes on and on.

For many of us, times are tough, at least financially. Spending less is only one possibility to help you save money, but there are other things we can do to reach the same goal. One of them is being organised.

As a professional organiser, I frequently come across old cheques that can’t be banked anymore or payment reminders that have often incurred late fees. There are more substantial and often unnecessary expenses, too, such as paying an awful lot for off-site storage for things we don’t need. Or even people who pay for a bigger house to have enough space to keep all their stuff. Remember: everything needs space, and space doesn’t come free of charge!

Let’s start small and see what you can do to never pay your bills late again.

 

Deal with your financial affairs

Many people – including me – don’t like to deal with all the paperwork that comes with financial matters. However, it is worth the effort to have it under control at all times. You will feel so much better and might become more creative and resourceful, too.

Regaining control includes having

  • a budget
  • a system to track your expenses
  • financial goals so you can plan accordingly
  • a system to always pay your bills on time

 

Bill-paying system

This is how I have set up my personal bill-paying system that works a treat since many years:

  1. When an invoice arrives in the mail, I open it, throw the envelope in the recycling bin, and put the bill in an inbox in our kitchen. This box is emptied weekly, and all the actions that come with it are done weekly as well.
  2. From the inbox, bills go into a manila folder labelled ‘to pay’ on my desk.
  3. Every fortnight (a day after payday), I open this manila folder and pay the bills via online banking. It’s so easy to schedule payments nowadays, and I never miss a due date. I have mirrored my manila folders in my e-mail inbox and also check whether any bills are in this inbox.
  4. I enter the expenses into our tracking system which is a simple Excel spreadsheet.
  5. If I want or need to keep the bill, I note the date of payment on the top right corner of the invoice and file it straight away. I don’t print out electronic invoices but file them on my computer once they’re paid and then delete them from my inbox.

Done!

 

How to avoid high seasonal expenses

I’d also like to mention something we started a few years back. If you can, set up automatic payments for your utility bills. Especially gas (but also water and electricity) usage fluctuates a lot, at least here in Victoria with for seasons (yes, sometimes in one day!). However, with regular payments, you don’t have to worry about huge gas bills in winter because you will accumulate a credit during summer.

These are only a couple of possibilities to save money by being organised. Other tips include:

  • meal planning
  • having a home for everything so you don’t buy things you already own
  • decluttering your space (because space costs money, remember?)
  • avoiding off-site storage if possible
  • re-thinking how many of one item you really need—are you sure you need 50 pairs of shoes?

Let me know what you plan to do with all the money you save by being organised!

 

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