Before my husband and I married he was very clear that his cooking skills were non-existent. As he put it, “I heat, I don’t cook.” This was fine with me, I was perfectly happy to take the lead on all things food. Since this post is not about his previous eating habits and overcoming his limited palette I’ll refrain from elaborating on those hurdles. For me, the greatest hurdle was cooking for two. Then shortly after, 14 months to be exact, cooking for a family of four. This may sound crazy to many of you, but in my single days, I had more of a Carrie Bradshaw relationship with my oven. It didn’t actually contain my sweaters, but it certainly could have in those days. Meal planning was not something I felt deserved ink on my to-do list. Let me also say, as a disclaimer, there are certain areas of my life, mostly teaching, where I am very planned and prepared; however, there are other areas that are extremely messy. Because I can fully understand the value of a planned lesson I quickly realized that this type of organization could also help at home.

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My planning process

Decorating a planner using flair pens and stickers seemed like such a waste of time until I started to actually do it. Now I love to sit down, choose a color scheme and find the perfect stickers to represent my week ahead. A friend introduced me to the Happy Planner. I have loved the layout they provide. There are also accessories like grocery list notepad inserts to make it extra easy. This system has greatly helped me stay organized at home. Sitting down on Sunday afternoon to plan has now become my habit.

I like to start by writing in all the week’s events. These events can have an effect on what’s for dinner. When I have more time in a day I like to try new recipes and collect them on my Pinterest board, Carly’s Kitchen. I reserve the bottom square of each day in my planner for dinner menus. I write the title of the meal and then each side. This makes generating a grocery list for the week easier. Add the usual breakfast and lunch items, plus a few snacks if the drawer is low, and I’m ready to head off to Kroger.

I’ve always been the kind of cook who has no problem following a simple recipe. As long as it has normal ingredients and cooking methods I can follow directions. Soon I discovered that choosing recipes, even from Pinterest, was not very fun and it was extremely time-consuming. That’s when a friend asked me about hosting a Tastefully Simple party. Now, this is not a post or blog about me being a direct sales consultant, but this is how I made my life a little easier so I’m going to share my story.

Prepare meals in advance

When I joined Tastefully Simple they advertised making it easier to get dinner on the table during the school year at a decent time. All without feeling too exhausted to enjoy the meal. I love their concept of the Freezer Meal Workshop. The kit of products comes with 10 recipe cards, a pre-made grocery list with options for sides, and even a few leftover ideas. I would send out a message to my friends asking who needs 10 meals in their freezer? The ones who responded YES would gather their groceries and join me in my kitchen on a set day and time. About two hours is usually enough time to put all the meals together. Having someone to talk with while preparing the meals is much more fun. Sometimes we even poured a little wine.

There are so many positive outcomes from this kind of meal prep:

1. In the end, I have meals ready to go.

2. I’ve spent time catching up with friends.

3. The meals are going to save me time after work from needing to prep.

4. I’ve only spent money on the groceries I actually needed.

5. We are going to eat home-cooked meals for two weeks.

For the times that I’m not able to find a friend or two who can join me I still use the recipes, I just follow the “cook tonight” directions. It does require more prep time after a full day at school, but it’s usually only 30 minutes or less.

I know there are systems that will also send you the groceries, but I actually enjoy grocery shopping. Not everyone does. For me it’s relaxing, and it has that nostalgic feeling to be pushing my daughter in the cart like my mother used to do for us. I have always been impressed with my mother’s grocery shopping skills. The woman can write her lists in order of the aisles! I prefer someone else make the list for me.

That feeling of checking things off the list! Add using coupons and then putting it all away knowing you have a stocked kitchen makes me feel ready to tackle the week. I’ve also started to use this time on Sunday to set my goals for the week. For keeping track of my goals I’ve been using Lara Casey’s Powersheets.

Are you an Instant Pot user? Be sure to sign up for our newsletter and download your FREE monthly meal plan of pressure cooker dinners. Share your secrets for planning meals. What works best for your family? What tips or tricks have you discovered? I’m a sucker for a good app!

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