Phase 2 of my attack on the months ahead began yesterday.
Is there war breaking out in the Crumbs house? Possibly. School starts in T-minus four days and I have no idea what to expect. But I am excited though!
And a little nervous…
That’s why there’s a plan. We’re keeping it simple in the kitchen whenever possible. I have a sneaky feeling that those school days will feel like they’re missing a few hours or so…
We’ll save the “difficult” stuff for the weekends when there’s another grown-up in the kitchen to help me make tortillas or to remind me that the rice is burning.
Come to think of it, why not take advantage of those extra hands and get ahead on the upcoming week?
3 Ways to Work Smarter, Not Harder in the Kitchen
1. PLAN BETTER AND PLAN MORE
Sometimes I feel like banging my head against a wall when I talk about meal planning, but it’s just that important!
I’ve been SUCH a slacker in this area the past month or so. With company coming in town, a furloughed husband and lots of summer fun, coming up with ideas for dinner just hasn’t seemed that important!
However, my mentality MUST change if we’re going to make it through this transition period without any casualties. Kids included.
Some people only meal plan dinners, some plan all the meals. Some plan for one week, some plan for two, some for one month. My goal is to do all of the above.
When I first started meal planning in January 2012, I planned out four weeks at a time. To say it was wonderful to have the entire month done and not have to deal with meals for FOUR GLORIOUS WEEKS is an understatement.
Over time, I started planning breakfasts. A few months ago lunches were added in the mix. Going forward, I’m planning three meals and one snack each day for four weeks at a time.
Do I sound like an over-achiever?
Lol, far from it!
I look at it like this: if I’m already sitting down with my supplies out and my brain is in meal planning mode, what do I have to lose by planning an extra week or two? Think of the benefits an extra 10-15 minutes can provide:
- save time by not having to meal plan for the next four weeks (woo-hoo!)
- save money by buying groceries in bulk
- save time by making double or triple batches
- save money by making double or triple batches that don’t go to waste
- better stewards of the time that is available, for both work and pleasure
- big picture of nutrition in one day, for one week and throughout the month (as I wrote about here)
- meals and snacks become intentional and purposeful
2. WORK ONCE, EAT TWICE
This idea is covered in depth in my 5 Days to Real Food Fast challenge. Here’s a prime example:
I’ve mentioned a few (too many?) times that my kids love sourdough pancakes. It’s no skin off my back to make them either when I have some starter on the counter. Add a splash of this, a good shake of that, toss an egg on top and we’ve got breakfast!
Similar to meal planning, it only makes sense to make more if I’m already making them in the first place.
Instead of one batch of pancakes, try two. Or better yet, three or four! (All dependent on me feeding my starter enough of course.) Those pancakes will serve us for breakfasts, lunches and even dinners if we really wanted to. Can you imaging how far 32 will stretch?
The fact that you can freeze pancakes is icing on the cake. If the kids decide one day that they’re pancaked out, I can lay them in a bag and put them away for a couple week. When the kids are ready for pancakes again, they’ll be ready to go! (And I’ll look like supermom for having them ready in under a minute – BONUS!)
This concept applies to so nearly every prep task in the kitchen. Chopping, mixing, even cooking whole or partial meals. Here are some things I know for a fact that we’ll be doing to help us work once and eat twice.
- pancakes x2 (minimum)
- homemade yogurt, 6 quarts at a time (instead of 3)
- muffins and quick breads x2 (minimum)
Tip: You can freeze unbaked batter for freshly baked goods any morning. For muffins, freeze the batter in the muffin papers, in the baking pan. For quick breads, freeze the batter in the loaf pans. For both, after the batter is frozen, remove it from the pans and freeze in ziploc bags. This lets you store the batter safely for up to 6 months while you don’t lose the ability to use your tins! When you’re ready to bake, place the frozen batter back into the pans and add 5-10 minutes to the baking time in a pre-heated oven.
- a double batch of at least one meal each month
- soup x1.5 (freezing one quart)
- smoothies x2 (minimum)
Tip: Smoothies can be made ahead of time without any negative effects on taste. We regularly prepare a double batch of smoothies at night, then drink them the next day and the day after that. We’ve even made seven days worth of smoothies ahead of time! Store smoothies in a glass jar and shake well before serving.
3. RE-CAPTURE LOST TIME
Big baking sessions don’t happen in the Crumbs house very often. It would be wonderful to have a 4-6 hour block of time to bake everything needed for the entire week, and then some! If your schedule allows this, consider yourself blessed and take advantage!
For the rest of us, we have to find our prep time elsewhere. Our time is limited, sparse and less chunky, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be as productive. Think about what you can do when you’re…
- waiting 10 minutes for noodles to boil: clean the coffee pot and prep coffee for the next day, prepare a batch of soaked oatmeal for breakfast
- checking to see if an item is done baking: refill the water pitcher, unload a rack (or two) of clean dishes from the dishwasher
- waiting for something to cool before serving: make a double batch of smoothies for the next two days, feed a sourdough starter, soak beans for the week or month
- chopping veggies for stir-fry: chop an onion and a few cloves of garlic (which seem to be the base of many of our meals) and freeze, slice extra carrots and celery sticks for two days worth of lunches
- while bread is kneading in mixer: refill flour/sugar containers, pull out butter from fridge to soften, move butter from freezer to fridge to thaw
Think of all the reasons you go to the kitchen, all those little things you have to do and the time you spend waiting… for rice, for a simmer, for onions to brown, for pancakes to bubble. Re-capture those minutes and put them to good use.
It’s like filling in the blanks, but with time. Take all those little tiny annoying tasks and fill in the blanks of time with them. You’ll accomplish so many tasks that probably didn’t even make it to your to-do list in the first place. Your large chunks of time will then be free for you to focus on some of the big ticket items.
I look forward to sharing with you our monthly meal plan next week. You’ll get to see first-hand (well, as first-hand as you can get via the internet 😉 ) how we’re simplifying work in the kitchen and working smarter. I hope that the insight to our plan is a blessing to those seeking fresh ideas and ways to streamline their efforts!