Reasons and ways to make meal planning happen

“No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.” (Julia Child)

Growing up we ate the same two week rotation of meals until I graduated high school. I can still recite the 14 dinners my mom made for us throughout my childhood. Because of this, I avoided meal planning for years. It felt like returning to the predictable meatloaf Mondays and taco Tuesdays.

All this changed when Josh and I graduated college and both began working full-time. Cooking, health, and budget suddenly became vital aspects of our lives. We each took two nights in the kitchen and spent the other three nights eating leftovers or going out. Spending time chopping, sautéeing, baking was a welcome break from teaching — it became meditative and restorative.

During this season, I began looking to cookbooks and specific cooking websites for inspiration rather than Pinterest, which I found overwhelming because of the infinite amount of available content.

Reasons why meal planning helps your budget, health, and daily rhythm:

  • Going to the grocery store with a list of specific items keeps you from impulse purchases and overspending. Taking stock of what’s left in the fridge and cupboards before heading helps too.
  • Having a list of meals planned for the week prevents those 5 p.m. munchies from happening. When you have a dinner on the docket, you aren’t scrambling and eating the easiest, least healthy thing in sight. Whenever I’m cooking, I pull the trail mix out and munch on some nuts and dried fruit to hold me over. Not having unhealthy foods in the house to begin with leaves the snacking options limited.
  • When you meal plan, pay attention to what else you have going on during that day leading up to dinner. If you’re aware ahead of time how much energy and time you’ll have for preparing dinner that day, you won’t overload yourself with an intense meal on busy days and you can enjoy a longer more involved cooking session on days with more space.

How to make meal planning a part of your life:

  • Set aside time every week to go through the fridge and cupboards to see what’s available and to sit down and create your weekly menu.
  • Write it down. Write down the meals you will make and write down the items needed to make those meals. I use pen and paper for the meals and keep it on the fridge. I use my phone for the grocery list.

Things to consider when creating your menu and grocery list:

  • The current season. Using ingredients that are seasonal prevents getting stuck in food ruts. It also promotes sustainable farming practices and supports local and regional economies.
  • Your season of life. Working full-time? New baby in the house? Give yourself grace to find a pace for meals that works for you.

Some caveats and resources:

  • Be flexible. Sometimes you need a break, so take a night off and make some grilled cheese or pancakes.
  • It takes time — start small and slowly change habits and practices incrementally. If you start small and go slow, change is sustainable and long-lasting.
  • Include some easy days and leftover/clean out the fridge days each week.
  • Maybe you’re in a season when a meal planning service makes more sense than anything (Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, and Daily Harvest are all great options)
  • Try to mix up the protein throughout the week and have at least one vegetarian night (this is good for your health and the environment!) This provides a loose structure and helps to narrow the choices. For example:
    • Monday: beef
    • Tuesday: chicken
    • Wednesday: vegetarian
    • Thursday: leftovers
    • Friday: breakfast for dinner (could be as simple as eggs and toast)
    • Saturday: fish
    • Sunday: take-out or restaurant
  • Cookbooks are inspiring and informative. They don’t just include recipes, but provide valuable insights from experienced cooks and chefs. Here are some of the most helpful ones (budget friendly tip – check them out from your library for free to see if they work for you before purchasing):
    • Simply in Season – this is helpful for a crash course in seasonal cooking
    • The Art of Simple Food – one of the most foundational cookbooks full of cooking wisdom and knowledge
    • Salt Fat Acid Heat –  the cookbook that completely transformed my approach to cooking (FULL of amazing information and beautiful illustrations that will elevate your skills)
    • An Eater’s Manifesto – not a cookbook, but an essential resource that will change your mindset surrounding food and eating habits
  • Those four are foundational resources. Here are a few more if you want to dive deeper:

“Every repast can have soul and can be enchanting; it asks for only a small degree of mindfulness and a habit of doing things with care and imagination.” (Thomas Moore)

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Spring: a time to plant and a time to uproot

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With robins bouncing around the yard and the ground softening with spring rain, you can feel the earth preparing herself for a new season.

Spring is all about preparation and transition. It’s laying out plans for growth. It’s putting away the winter gear and pulling out the rainboots and lightweight jackets. It’s an awkward season that’s mucky and transformative.

There are moments and times in our lives that feel a lot like this: those spaces between and those pauses in rhythm. We can feel change just around the corner, and yet it hasn’t happened yet. It’s like the gap between the last step on a swinging bridge and land or the intentional silence between one note of music and the next.

The difficulty comes in letting go of, or more intentionally the uprooting of, things that may have beautiful in a past season but have since become stale or no longer producing life or things that are weedy preventing growth. In our garden bed, the kale from last fall remains. It looks half alive with its yellow and green leaves, but it’s not good to eat. There are weeds popping up in the mostly empty soil.

The temptation to hold onto emotions and mindsets that once served a purpose can leave us stuck in winter when spring comes. We are created to live fruitful lives, and being fruitful requires a little effort.

Sometimes facing those garden beds in our hearts and minds is overwhelming. We think about that disappointment, resentment, insecurity, fear, anxiety and turn away focusing on something else. Doing the work of digging up the roots of these things takes courage and honesty. It requires a vulnerability that’s uncomfortable; it’s a little messy and dirty.

“Those who plant in tears

   will harvest with shouts of joy.

They weep as they go to plant their seed,

   but they sing as they return with the harvest.”

(Psalm 126:5-6)

Once the soil is rid of its weeds and half dead plants there’s a certain amount of surrender and hope involved in planting seeds. Every seed disappears into the dark ground before it springs to life. For a little while you wonder whether the seed is actually going to produce any life and then one day a tiny sprout appears, both delicate and strong.

Take that root of resentment out and plant a seed of forgiveness in its place. Remove the disappointment and sow some hope. Pull out the insecurity and replace it with love. It’s something that sounds so simple yet requires the soft and steady rain of grace and the bright and warm sunshine of honesty. Grace for others and with yourself as the tiny seedling grows. Honesty with others and yourself as different things come to light. Here are some things to ask yourself that may tug at some of those roots and create space to plant something fresh:

What do I want to see grow or how do I want to grow in this next season?

Socially in relationships

Emotionally in your soul

Mentally in your intellect

Spiritually in your spirit

Physically in your body

What things need to be uprooted in my life in order for growth to happen?

How do I plant the seeds for this growth and then tend them to maturity?

Take this season of uprooting and planting and embrace the mud and sweat because the harvest will be beautiful and the fruit will be nourishing. Marilynne Robinson describes “grace as gratuitous” and that’s the measure you have to use – a bottomless, free, unsubstantiated amount of grace. So make sure to pour that grace out as well as receive that grace in.

After the rain, I went back into the field of sunflowers.

It was cool, and I was anything but drowsy.

I walked slowly, and listened

to the crazy roots, in the drenched earth, laughing and growing.

(Mary Oliver, “Sometimes”)

 

Rhythm series: fruitful over productive

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A few months ago, I began the rhythm series looking at rest and the place it holds in our lives. The opposite of rest should be work or activity or productivity. The problem with this framework is that it has the potential to leave out our purpose or intention. Productive is all about doing and works. It’s a mechanical and technical word that has implications of busyness and visible, external results. Instead of focusing on productivity between pauses of rest, I’ve been convicted to think about being fruitful.

Fruitfulness is the first mandate humankind received from God in Genesis – it’s part of our nature and makeup. Fruitful has more to do with being than doing. It’s a word full of connotations relating to life, fullness, and internal growth affecting the external. This is especially difficult when we can look productive if we’re busy on our phones all day or if we’re moving from activity to activity from morning until night, but fruitful asks: are these actions producing fruit in my life?

“[She] is like a tree planted beside flowing streams that bears its fruit in its season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever [she] does prospers.” (Psalm 1:3)

What does it look like to bear your fruit in your season? This is so challenging because our tendency to look around to see what others are doing and how others are living usually eclipses our own purposes and desires. We look at the friend who creates pinterest like crafts for her kids and think we should do the same. We look at the friend who works full-time and is thriving in her career and wonder if the work we’re doing is as valuable. We see the produce in our friends’ lives and begin to compare something that’s not meant to be compared.

When we’re able to embrace the type of tree we are and remain connected to the source, the streams, the God who sustains us in every season, we are fruitful in our season. It’s a fruitfulness that is unique and entirely our own. We weren’t created to replicate someone else’s fruit — our apple tree isn’t meant to bear oranges.

“Sit. Feast on your life.” (Derek Walcott)

Fruitful lives produce a feast we can sit down and enjoy. Productive lives for the sake of getting things done produce burn out where we hit a wall and crash. There are a few questions we can ask ourselves that prompt us to think about our own fruitfulness in the season we’re in.

What does fruitful mean for my season? 

This comes down to values and determining which aspects of our life are most valuable and necessary right now.

What are my actual priorities right now? This should be a short list — we can’t do all the things all the time.

Answering this question in complete honesty can be difficult because our priorities may not seem grand or glamorous, but if we’re honest about the most essential things needing our energy and time it will allow us to do what’s important rather than what’s immediate.

When to quit and when to say no?

It takes wisdom and courage to know when to quit something and how to say no with grace.

Where do I spend the resources I currently have? 

If we are clear on our season and priorities, figuring out how to allocate our finite amounts of time, energy, and money becomes a lot less complicated. It still requires some tough decision making, but it eases and clarifies the process.

If it feels like you’re running on the wheel of life without going anywhere, take some time to reflect on these questions. Honor yourself and the season you’re in; give yourself permission to be fruitful rather than productive. Choose enduring over short-lived. Choose wholeheartedness over instant gratification. If we can ask ourselves every night, “what did I begin today that might endure?” (John O’Donohue), it may just be the reminder and encouragement we need to keep choosing fruitful.

“Sometimes I need

only to stand

wherever I am

to be blessed.”

(Mary Oliver)

That’s all for this Tuesday, friends. Cheers!

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