Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Reduce your stress levels, make weekly meal plans.

Does this sound familiar; you're busily working, your mind engrossed in what you're doing when suddenly you look at the clock and realise it will soon be time for dinner, but you haven't a clue what to cook? The fridge contains a nothing more appetising than a dried out lump of mouldy cheese and half a tin of baked beans, and you don't have time to go out and shop.

According to most of my 'work for themselves' friends, it's a very common situation. 

I have to say that until the new school term started this September, that had been me, pretty much all the time. I used to idolise, and rather envy, my - shall we call them 'earth-mother' friends, the ones who had it all under control, who would pop a casserole in the slow oven in the morning and come home to a hearty meal at dinner time.

Even if by some miracle, I'd got as far as buying the stewing beef, the chances of turning it into anything other than shoe leather in half an hour before the family arrived home were slim indeed.

Of course I knew what I should do - we all know that we should 'get organised'. But how do you actually embrace this alien concept?

Well, this September, I was all overcome with a desire to 'get on top of things'.

I knew myself well enough, to realise that I actually manage my work much better when I have my home life under control. I'm not talking major housework stuff here, for me the basic necessities are; clean school uniform and underwear for the girls, work shirts for himself, clean toilets and a tidy(ish) kitchen. If I'm being particularly domestic, I might vacuum round a bit too and plump the odd cushion.

The piece of the puzzle I'd never quite managed to put in place, was feeding the family at dinner time. What I eventually decided to do was to stop viewing the domestic responsibilities as chores that stop me from doing my 'work', but instead to think of them simply as another 'job' that I hold down as well. Now I know that when I'm 'at work', I'm a pretty good organiser, so changing my attitude to my home 'job' means I can approach it in the same way.

So far so good. 

I knew that the best way to get organised was to plan our meals for about a week ahead, but I'd tried this before and although I could do it for a week or two, something would always crop up to throw me off track and before I knew it, I'd be back to the cheese and baked beans nightmare.

What could I do? Well the answer, kind of came together when by some delightful coincidence (or was it fate?) I found a little book on Amazon with the unlikely title, How to feed your whole family a healthy balanced diet with very little Gill Holcombe. Thanks Gill, you've made this mad mother very happy!

Gill's book is no Nigella style cookbook - instead she comes to the issue of fitting in the feeding your family with working and having to stretch a tight budget, in short exactly the situation so many of us find ourselves in.

The practical advise is spot on. There aren't any fancy or expensive ingredients in her recipes and no cooking techniques that you'd have done once in Home Economics if you were at school in the 1970's.

At the end of the book, Gill gives ideas for weekly meal plans and shopping lists. Now this is where I had my break-through. Rather than write a meal plan one week at a time, write up four or five plans and keep them all together in a book or a ring-binder. That way, when the inevitable spanner comes winging along, you don't have to start from scratch with a blank shopping list on a cold Monday morning.

It did take me a couple of hours to work out five plans that I thought would suit the various dietary preferences of the family, but now having done it once, I don't have to keep doing it every week. I just rotate the plans.

I've been living with this system now for nearly two months and for me at least, it works!

OK, I might make the odd adjustment as we go along, but in principle, I know what I'm going to cook each day in a week and when I shop I make sure I buy everything I need for those recipes. 

There's a bonus too, less waste. When you  know what you're going to prepare, you don't end up buying lots of 'I might be able to do something with this...' purchases.

Now, when the afternoon wears on, I'm much more relaxed - I'm back in control and it feels good.

If you've any helpful tips for getting organised, please leave a comment.

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