Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Ideas for Organizing – Managing Meal Planning (and a recipe!)

We are slowly but surely working on being better time managers and corralers of clutter; breaking down large jobs into manageable tasks, and focusing on the things we can do something about.  For example, last weekend, instead of being completely overwhelmed by the state of our home, we focused on the kitchen: pulled everything off the counters and cleaned them; cleared out a whole cupboard; to make room for a new three tiered spice rack; and reorganized items so that things we actually use on a daily basis are within arm’s reach. Hello tea station!

Another thing that I’ve been working on in an effort to be organized (and to not face the daunting question – “so what’s for dinner?”) is meal planning and targeted shopping. I won’t be the first person to write about this, but here’s what’s been working for me.

Meal Planning and Grocery Lists
New for me in 2015 is a binder of all the organizational tools that I like and am actually using. This includes everything from a daily planner to chore charts to budget worksheets to grocery lists. I’ve look at many cute printables and forms on blogs, Pinterest, and sharing recommendations with friends. But this one, from Crystal Paine at Money Saving Mom has been my favorite. She has several options on her menu page, but since I manage best one week at a time, this is the one that works for me. My husband and I can sit down, talk meals, and plan out shopping based on the actual contents of the ‘fridge and pantry.

Master Shopping Lists
Another organizational tool that’s been a huge asset is the master shopping list. This idea comes from Tsh Oxendreider’s book, Organized Simplicity, and is a personalized list of your most commonly purchased items from your favorite stores.  I’ve dropped the items by category into a simple Excel sheet and keep them on the refrigerator. As we run out of items, we can mark it off on the list and when we’re ready to shop, we have an accurate, active list ready to go to the store.

Multiple Meal Prep
The latest thing I’ve been experimenting with in the pursuit of an organized life is making multiple meals ahead of time for the week. It’s nice to have a later start to the day and be able to get our daughter to school at 9am, but getting off at 6pm is no picnic. One errand to run and you’re not home until 7pm and not eating until 8pm. This is not what you want on a school night.

I’ve been spending a few hours on the weekend cooking up a storm and prepping meals for the week ahead. A caveat here – I love cooking and it relaxes me to no end. I throw a little jazz on the stereo and break out the cutting boards and knives. This is another time that the meal planning sheets come in handy. I store them in my new binder and have a clear record of what we eat on a weekly basis. It’s so nice to flip back over the weeks and make sure that we’re not eating the same thing every week.

One of our favorite meals is my sister’s Garlic Chicken Spaghetti. It cooks up quickly and still manages to taste as if it were simmering all day long. We’re big garlic lovers in our family, so if the amount of that spicy bulb seems like too much – feel free to dial it back a bit!

Garlic Chicken Spaghetti
  • 2 – 2.5 lbs. chicken thighs (personal choice here – we prefer chicken thighs and have been buying the boneless skinless variety. A little more, but it saves so much time in prep and I’ve found we actually get more chicken)
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup sun dried tomatoes (I buy a jar from Costco and just scoop out what I need)
  • 1 large can mushrooms (stems and pieces)
  • 5-6 cloves garlic (or several scoops from the jar if you use that)
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 large bunch Italian flat leaf parsley – chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • Parmesan cheese for grating
  • Olive oil, salt & pepper
Fun optional ingredients
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons capers
  • 1 – 2 cups artichoke hearts
  • White wine to your liking – about a cup
  1. Cut chicken in to small pieces – about a 2 inch dice
  2. Season chicken with salt and pepper and brown in a large Dutch Oven or stock pot over medium high heat – about 5 to 7 minutes
  3. Push chicken to the edges of the pan and brown the garlic in the center space
  4. Begin adding other ingredients: basil, diced tomatoes, sun  dried tomatoes, mushrooms (other options ingredients as you like) – warm and brown – about 5 – 7 minutes
  5. Add chicken broth (and white wine if using – if no wine, use 1 1/2 cups broth) and allow the mixture to simmer for about 10 minutes
  6. Prepare spaghetti noodles in salted water; cook just under al dente; then drain – reserving about a cup of the liquid
  7. Add a little of the spaghetti water to the chicken mixture and allow to blend down and reduce – there should be quite of bit of liquid at this point – plenty for the spaghetti to absorb 
  8. Stir in the chopped parsley
  9. Add the cooked spaghetti noodles to the chicken mixture and simmer on low for about 10 minutes to allow most of the sauce to be absorbed by the pasta
  10. Use a grater or micro-grater to shave fresh parmesan over the top and enjoy
What are some of your best organization tips or favorite recipes? I'd love to hear and share!

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