Meal Prep Update-Success!

Just a quick update: Week one of my two week meal plan went pretty fantastic. I really loved having dinner planned and practically ready. It was so easy to throw my Make Ahead Mac & Cheese in the oven on Wednesday and yesterday whip up my Ricotta Meatballs with some red sauce (both recipes came from the January 2016 issue of Real Simple Magazine). And both were quite delicious.

This week: Chicken fajitas, tacos and chicken stew–all of which have been pre-mixed and frozen. All I have to do is thaw and cook. It should be pretty easy!

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Two Week Meal Plan And Prep

This weekend I decided to sit down and give my meal planning and prepping another go. So far, so good. Although I discovered I need to do it over a couple days, and by myself. I need the place to myself! My husband ended up having yesterday off, which was when I had planned to do all my prep work. For some reason, having him home really threw me off my game. It drove me nuts! And it isn’t like I didn’t get everything done—for some reason it was just very distracting. And maybe, if we had gone shopping earlier in the day Sunday I would have been able to do the prep that day as well, but I was so over it (I really don’t like grocery shopping) that I just didn’t care. So, I need a day for shopping and a day for prepping.

Here you can see where I decide what meals I want to make and what I plan for lunch and snacks for the week. Also at the bottom I wrote down what I would have to prep on Sunday as well as what needs to be done next Sunday (placing frozen meals in fridge, etc.)

Here you can see where I decide what meals I want to make and what I plan for lunch and snacks for the week. Also at the bottom I wrote down what I would have to prep on Sunday as well as what needs to be done next Sunday (placing frozen meals in fridge, etc.)

Anyway, I decided to share with you my process. I started Friday afternoon by sitting down and planning out two week’s worth of meals. In order to do this, I needed my cookbooks, my schedule, pen and paper and some peace and quiet. I typically plan three full meals each week. My husband works evenings three days a week and I just don’t see the point in me cooking a full meal if he isn’t here to eat it. So I eat leftovers or a sandwich—something easy. On the days I do cook, I look at my schedule and decide which days I need something to be simple and easy and which days I can do a little more involved cooking. For example, tomorrow I work 8-3:30 and I know that by the time I get off and home I’m not going to want to go all out (especially since Thursday I work at 4:45am), so I prepped some casserole yesterday that I can just throw in the oven. Saturday, however, I get off at 2:30 and will have plenty of time that evening to cook, so we are having meatballs! I plan what to cook according to what I work that day. I also plan lunches and snacks for work. Another thing I like to do to make it easier for myself is to use the same main ingredients. Next week we are having chicken fajitas and chicken stew. I only had to buy chicken for next week’s meals. It makes it easier for me at the grocery store, not having to pick out a bunch of different meats (plus, I don’t have a ton of freezer space, so I can’t go buy 5 lbs of chicken and only use 1 lb of it. I wouldn’t have anywhere to store the extra). So what I did was gather all my cookbooks (which I keep in a nice little container on my counter), get my notebook, pen and a cup of coffee and sit down at my kitchen table to pick out meals. Once I picked out meals, I went through the recipes and made my list. I organized my list according to departments at the store—produce, meats, dairy, etc—and ordered it for which department came first. This way I don’t have to backtrack.

My grocery list. You can see it divided out into departments, as well as my prices next to each item and the circled items I couldn't find.

My grocery list. You can see it divided out into departments, as well as my prices next to each item and the circled items I couldn’t find.

My next step was to go grocery shopping. My favorite store here in town is Food 4 Less. I like it so much better than Walmart. It’s less busy and I don’t feel like I’m congesting the aisles when I stop to compare. I like to bring a couple of my own larger bags so I can pack more stuff in it. At Food 4 Less you bag your own groceries (which makes me happy because I can do it my own way!) so it’s easier to bring your own bags. We also shop with a budget in mind. I brought my grocery list, divided out into departments. I wrote down the price of everything, rounding everything up to the nearest quarter of a dollar. (If something costs $3.79, I round up to $4.00. $2.17 gets rounded up to $2.25. You get the idea.) It allows me a little bit of wiggle room when it comes time to pay the bill and it’s also easier to add. Speaking of adding, I add up my total at the end of every department. Once I get to the end of my produce list, I add the total. After I get all my meats, I add the total. Then at the very end, I add all my department totals for a grand total. There are certain things I can’t get at Food 4 Less (my shampoo and conditioner) or things I know for certain are quite a bit more there than at Walmart (the dog food we buy). These items get put on another list. Also, if I can’t find a certain item, I will circle it on my current list and transfer it to my other list after I’m done at that store.

The final step—MEAL PREP!! This is the most time intensive, but hopefully worth it (I’ll let you know what I think in the next couple of weeks). First things first—start with a clean kitchen and lots of clean bowls, cutting boards, utensils, storage containers, etc. Then, gather all your recipes (if you marked them as you were picking them out earlier it shouldn’t be too hard). I used recipes from cookbooks, magazines, and my own handwritten ones. Gather them all. Figure out what all you need and the best order to get it done. For example, I made some Make-Ahead Mac and Cheese, chicken salad and Ricotta Meatballs (thanks to Real Simple magazine) as well as some slow cooker chicken fajitas and a chicken stew, both of which I prepped and put in the freezer, since those are for next week. I decided that the mac and cheese needed to be first, since it needed to be cooled before I stored it in the fridge for dinner later this week. While the noodles boiled I made the chicken salad because it was simply mixing ingredients. It took a whole five minutes. I then started the cheese sauce for the mac and cheese, put it all together and set it aside to cool. Next came the chicken fajitas and chicken stew—both of these needed cubed chicken, so I cut my (raw) chicken and divided it into my freezer bags. Both of these also need onion—one needed it diced, the other sliced. So I cut an onion in half, diced one half, sliced the other and put them in the appropriate bags. From there I added the rest of the ingredients to those meals, closed the bags and put them in the freezer. After that came the meatballs, and last but not least I chopped a pineapple. Make sure everything is labeled appropriately. Also, be very careful when using Ziploc bags for freezing meals, especially when those bags are full! I was extremely careful and I still had one spill! It was a long 2-3 hours, but I now have all my major meals for the next two weeks prepared. All they need is to be cooked. Also, for next week’s meals (which are frozen) I simply have to pull them out of the freezer and place them in the fridge to thaw. Hopefully it will be worth it!

My cookbook display in my kitchen. Isn't it cute?

My cookbook display in my kitchen. Isn’t it cute?

It’s 2016! Time To Continue Living Life

Happy New Year to all you out there!

I’ve never really been one for New Year’s Resolutions. That’s not to say I haven’t made them in the past. I have. It’s more like I’ve made them and gave up on them all within the same calendar week. So for the last few years I haven’t made any. But that doesn’t mean I don’t look at each new year as something exciting and new, full of possibilities and change. I do. I always make myself a (mental) list of things I’d like to accomplish or achieve with each new year. I generally achieve most of them. I guess some would call them resolutions. I never do.

That being said, this year I’m making an “I’ve-already-began-the-steps-of-trying-to-improve-myself-so-I’m-just-going-to-continue-with-those” list. Over the last few months I began trying to make myself more organized, less stressed, financially secure and somewhat healthy. (If you’ve followed my sporadic posts, you’ll know all that. I’m sorry I suck at this whole blogging thing. Here are links to my most recent—*cough cough* months old *cough*—posts.  The beginning of it all, the failures and the little successes.) I’ve decided to just continue with these goals instead of trying to add more and stress myself out (LESS stressed is one of my current goals!).

A current list of what I’ve been trying to do:

1) Work out a budget and work with it. It’s difficult to do sometimes because I never know exactly how much is coming home each week. My husband works two jobs right now, but is considering quitting one. Currently our method is my paychecks pay rent and most of the bills, his paychecks pay his student loans, his gas and everything else goes to savings. Which works for us, for the most part. We both have a mental figure of what we bring home and what we need to survive. The part I have the most trouble with is groceries. I’m trying to work out a method where we use both paychecks to buy groceries. Which brings me to…

2) Meal plan and stick to it. Meal planning honestly does help with cutting down spending. I’ve experienced it. When I know what is for dinner each night and what we have, we are way less likely to go out to eat or run to the store for something frozen to heat up. Meal planning truly does make me less stressed, help us stick to a budget, help us eat healthier and keeps me organized. My biggest problem with it was my work schedule is(was) so insane. However, our scheduling system has changed. I now work only in the mornings! No more getting off at 8:30pm and going in at 5:00am! It still isn’t consistently the same, but I know that I won’t work past 3:30pm on weekdays unless I offer to stay late. It makes it much easier to plan knowing that I’ll actually have time to rest before I need to cook, and I’ll actually have time to cook before I have to go to bed!

3) Incorporate more “Me-Time” to reduce stress levels. My job sometimes stresses me out like crazy (example: yesterday I worked 11 hours non-stop with no lunch break, only a 20 minute break at 8:30am and I didn’t get off until 3:45pm) and sometimes it’s the most fun place to be. I never know what to expect when I go into work. Sometimes when I get off I am the grouchiest grouch alive and all I want to do is sleep. But I can’t. I have to keep going. In moments like these, a little bit of quiet “Me-Time” would help immensely.

4) Keep up with house-work in an organized manner. Laundry. Dishes. Vacuuming. Pick up dog toys. Laundry. Dishes. It literally will never end. I’ve been trying to come up with a method of getting everything done in a timely, organized manner so I don’t end up coming home one day with a sink full of dirty dishes, three piles of laundry and dog toys (covered in dog hair) all over the house. I’ve been there. Many times recently. It’s not fun. I wrote previously that two loads of laundry each week was my goal. I don’t think I actually ever did that. Here’s to keeping up with it in 2016. My goal is to do a little bit each day so there is time for fun and relaxation at the end of every day.

In addition to these main goals, I also want to:

1) Give my closet a major overhaul.

2) Clean and organize my bedroom, bathroom, and spare room (I recently did this with my kitchen, living room and dining area).

3) Blog more consistently. In order to do this, I’ve decided that I want use my blog to try to keep myself accountable. For each week I work out a meal plan and stick with it, I’ll blog about it—what the meals were, my list, my prep plan, etc. When I finally clean out my closet, I’ll write about it and how awesome it felt to get rid of so much stuff! When I stick to my budget, I’ll write about how I did it. You get the idea. I want my blog to be a place where I hold myself accountable, work out new ideas and write about how the old ones may or may not have worked. So here’s to doing that. Follow along if you will. You never know what you may find!

Staying Organized Update #2: Meal Planning Success

Friends. I know it’s been a while. BUT. I’ve been productive! For some reason, I seem to have got my mojo back and have been getting stuff done! I’m staying productive and organized. My kitchen is currently clean AND re-organized so it functions better and most everything has a place now. My crock pot and toaster oven are still on top of my cabinets, but I just don’t know where else to put them. It’s a bummer because my toaster oven doesn’t get used near as much as it would if it were in a place I could reach without having to get a chair. I still use my crock pot a lot, I just make hubs get it down for me before he leaves for work (he’s 6’5”—he can reach the top of the cabinets easily). But overall, I am very happy with my kitchen now. Everything has a place.

Not only is my kitchen clean, but I’m practically caught up on laundry! I know, as soon as I say that the piles will magically appear again. But I’ve been doing load after load this past weekend and it’s all finished! I’ve been trying to come up with a system to keep up with laundry, but the piles are hard to get rid of when hubs comes home and leaves his dirty clothes everywhere. My goal is two loads per week, for now. We will see if that’s enough to keep me from drowning in dirty clothes. (I have to give hubs credit though, for as much as he leaves his clothes everywhere, he is actually really good about doing to laundry for me when he is home.)

I think what I am most proud of, though, is my meal planning! I’ve actually come up with a method that I think is going to work for us (for now). It’s taken me several weeks to come up with this, and I’m still working out the kinks, but so far so good! What I’ve done is come up with several different meal plan “options.” Each option has 4-5 different meals. The meals in each option never change, except for options with “Try a new recipe” in them. My plan is to have 5 or 6 different options to choose from. For example, option number 1 might have the following meals: crock pot potato soup, crock pot chicken fajitas, baked chicken with hasbrown casserole and Mac & Cheese with chicken nuggets. If this is the option we choose for the week, I go to the store and buy ingredients for these meals. Eventually I will have a grocery list specific to each option so I don’t have to go through my recipes each week and make a list. I’m also trying to include ways to use leftovers. One way I did that was to make chicken salad with our leftover baked chicken from last week. (Option number 1 was our plan last week). The chicken salad then went into our lunches, which is typically the same each week (sandwich, crackers, fruit, yogurt, fruit snacks or any combination of those). Having the same lunches each week makes it easier to grocery shop and pack them. Another way I used our leftovers was to use the leftover chicken fajitas to make chicken nachos for dinner last night. I even included chicken nachos in another meal plan option. I can always freeze the leftover chicken fajitas until we decide we want that option for the week. So last night we had chicken nachos with a side of Spanish rice, and I made enough Spanish rice to go with our enchiladas we are having later this week so I don’t have to cook the same thing twice! I really am trying to think it out and make it work well. As we keep doing it I will let you know how it goes!

If anyone has any tips or suggestions to help with my meal planning, laundry schedule, or anything else I mentioned feel free to leave a comment! And as always, thanks for stopping by!

Update On Staying Organized: Nowhere So Far

I’m beginning to think my blog should be called “Chronicles of a Super Slacker.” Remember my last post (three weeks ago) where I talked about all the research I was doing on trying to create a budget, make a meal plan and over all just stay organized? Well, that’s as far as it’s gotten. Research.  I have had absolutely no motivation to do anything—and I mean anything at all—since we got home from our honeymoon. I cleaned my kitchen earlier this week and it took me an HOUR just to do the dishes because it had been so long since I last washed them. I have this ever-growing list of things that need to get done. And all it does is keep growing because I never check anything off it. All I want to do when I get home from work is sleep. All I ever want to do is sleep. And I don’t know how to get out of this slump I’m in. Gah!

My list of things to do:

1) Get my named changed (legally, so then I can get it changed everywhere else).

2) Open a new bank account in this city, or join the hubby’s account.

3) Clean the apartment—actually clean it, put things where they belong, and keep it that way.

4) Thank you letters—I’m not even sure I know who all attended my wedding. I honestly don’t remember the day.

5) Re-organize my kitchen. I got a bunch of small kitchen appliances and utensils for wedding gifts, and my kitchen currently can’t hold everything. I’ve got to rearrange the whole thing just to make sure it all fits.

6) Make a budget, meal plan and grocery list.

7) Laundry. It never ends. Laundry will ALWAYS be on EVERYONE’S list.

I’m not sure I want to keep going.

Someone, help me. Please!

I guess that’s it for now. I just wanted to say, I’m still alive. I’m here.  Perhaps getting back on here and keeping it updated will encourage me to actually get stuff done. We’ll see. And, as always, thanks for stopping by.

Staying Organized: Budgets And Meal Plans, Oh My!

Now that I am a married woman, I’ve been doing a TON of research on staying organized, working out a budget (and sticking to it), meal planning, saving money and basically everything responsible. Pinterest has been my best friend and I’ve been reading all sorts of blogs on different ways to make and maintain a budget, different ways to make and stick to a meal plan and various ways to stay organized. I’ve found forms and worksheets online that I can print out for free ranging from a beginners budgeting guide to the most in-depth grocery lists you will ever see. The one thing all these have in common is that what works for one person may not work for you. Everyone has different methods that work for them. My best friend is a budget-making master. She uses an Excel spreadsheet and goes into extreme detail. I know for a fact that making a spreadsheet like hers would not work for me. I am a pen and paper sort of girl. I like writing things down and making lists. I like having something solid and dependable I can carry with me. I typically feel like electronics make me more frazzled than organized.

One big thing I’ve noticed in my research is the use of binders. Everyone uses them in different ways, but binders seem to be a very common, trendy way to organize—especially household finances. So I think I am going to try making my own budget binder. I’ve found a lot of budget forms and worksheets available to print for free online; however my biggest pet peeve is that they are very broad. I want something personal to me. I want something where I can list all of my bills and my savings and not have a bunch of extra empty spaces. For some reason those empty spaces really drive me nuts. So, I think I am going to create my own worksheets. Obviously, this is going to be a very long work-in-progress. What I begin with won’t be anything near what I end up with, and it’s going to be an ever-changing thing. But I’ve thought about it a lot so far, and I’ve come up with some things I know I want for sure in my budget binder: a monthly budget overview, a bill-pay checklist for the entire year, a savings plan, a list of fixed expenses and flexible expenses, a list of annual expenses and something to keep track of unexpected expenses. I’m sure I will end up adding to or taking away from this list. But this is my start. We will see how it goes.

Something else I’ve been wanting to do is meal planning. My biggest problem with meal planning is our work schedules. Sometimes I work at 4:45am and am off by 1:30pm. Others times I don’t go to work until 12:30pm and don’t get home until almost 9:00 at night. And it’s rarely the same from week to week. And his schedule isn’t a whole lot better. For example, tonight he works until 10:30 and then tomorrow he is working from 7am to 2pm. It’s hard to plan meals in advance when I’m not sure who is going to be home to eat them. And obviously, I’m much more open to cooking full dinners when I’m off earlier. When I get home at 9:00, I don’t exactly want to be in the kitchen for the next 45 minutes cooking a meal. With all of this in mind, I’ve been thinking a lot about freezer meals and Crock Pot meals. We received a 7 quart Crock Pot as a wedding gift. I LOVE MY CROCK POT! I use it a lot already, but I would definitely like to use it more. The thing about freezer and Crock Pot meals is that you spend one afternoon in the kitchen prepping and then you are good to go until you run out of prepped meals. I’ve also read about planning around a certain type of food. For example, one week you buy a bunch of chicken and plan meals for the week out of that. The next week is pork, and then beef, and so on. I’m considering trying to combine these two methods. This week—chicken. My mother-in-law came by this afternoon and brought with her a large package of chicken thighs. She had gone grocery shopping, and since she knows how much her son can eat, decided to help me out a little. So now I have a bunch of chicken to use, and considering I make a lot of meals using chicken anyway I am quite excited.

Overall, I am trying to organize my new life and make it manageable as best I can. If anyone out there has any tips for budgeting or meal planning or grocery shopping, or has any lessons learned from their own experiences, I would love to hear them.

As always, thanks for stopping by. I’ll try to keep posting and update about my wins and losses with budgeting and meal planning!

I Went To The Chapel (Well, The Park, Anyway)

So, I’m a wife. I got married. And it was probably the most stressful day of my life. To be quite honest, I don’t feel any different. It seems to me that it was just another day that went by. It came, it went, it’s over. Some people threw some big fits over something that only lasted a few hours. I can’t even honestly say I enjoyed it. I felt rushed, I felt overwhelmed, and I felt like nothing happened the way I wanted it to (though I can’t say much about that, since I didn’t have much in planning the thing. However, I thought I had been pretty clear about a couple of things, and those did not go as I wanted). Everyone had been telling me “It’s your big day, have fun and do what you want.” Well, the day came and everyone seemed to forget that. People were more concerned about getting things done and getting it done on time that no one seemed to notice  I was on the verge of breaking down until my aunt came over and took care of me. Anyway, in conclusion, I got married. I had a wedding. It was not the best day of my life. There were parts that I enjoyed. But to be honest, the ceremony and reception were not the parts that I enjoyed. If you’re planning on getting married, just elope. It would have been so much easier.

But. My best friend, who recently got married as well, gave me a suggestion: Write down 10 to 20 things from the days before, the day of, and the days after the wedding that I truly, honestly enjoyed, and keep them somewhere I will be able to see them and remember the good times. So I did. I typed them up and saved them into a PDF and I thought I would share them here, as well as printing them out for myself.

Favorite Memories From The Days Surrounding My Wedding

It was really a fun little activity, and I would definitely suggest it for anyone else getting married, even if you did enjoy your wedding. The day goes by so fast that you really don’t get to notice the little details or get to see everyone. This is a fun way to recall the things you do remember and write them down for future reference.

Anyway, that’s it for now. Have a great evening friends!