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”)

 

Winter: a time to throw away and a time to gather

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A good beginning is half the work.

(Old Irish Proverb)

Happy New Year, friends! How do you approach your new year? Do you set goals? Make resolutions? Come up with a word for the year?

Winter, especially the first month of the year, is all about bringing things into fresh focus. The snowy landscape even reflects this in the way you can see a tree’s actual form and shape without the covering of leaves. Everything in nature becomes more obvious against the backdrop of white snow and bright skies. The clarity is refreshing.

It is winter proper; the cold weather, such as it is, has come to stay. I bloom indoors in the winter like a forced forsythia; I come in to come out. At night I read and write, and things become clear; I reap the harvest of the rest of the year’s planting.

(Annie Dillard)

Mentally, most of us use this time of year to prioritize and plan. The cold days and long nights seem to provide more opportunity to take stock of how we spend our time and allows us to alter and adjust for the year ahead. For some this means doing a health cleanse or detox. For others it looks like committing to a budget. And for others, it’s simply taking the inspiration to change a habit and making a commitment to do certain things differently.

All change begins with removing the old, the stuff that doesn’t work, the dusty unused things, the bad habits and practices and replacing them with the new, the new gifts, the useful and helpful things, and fresh habits and practices for a new season.

These cold months provide a time to throw away material clutter and to gather fresh organization. It’s a time to throw away negative mindsets and habits and to gather positive attitudes and practices. It’s a time to throw away striving and comparison and to gather contentment and confidence. This snowy, cold season strips everything down to the most essential, the core, the heart and gives us fresh eyes to see what matters most. It blows in winds of inspiration that lead to transformation.

For me personally, this looks like going through my day and making small adjustments where I feel led to change. Life with a newborn can be a challenging season with sleep deprivation and learning a new rhythm, but there have been a handful of things I’ve felt convicted to change in the midst of this transition.

In spending habits: to purchase with the environment and the local economy in mind

(think beeswax wrap over plastic wrap and local stores over Amazon)

In health: to move two times a week (think walks in the woods and yoga with Adriene) and eating a vegetable with every meal

In parenting: to value presence over productivity — this one is especially difficult for my type A personality, but it’s something I’m keeping top of mind with the time I spend with my kids

In relationships: to encourage and reach out more often — as someone who doesn’t mind going days without connecting with friends this looks like being more intentional with being the one to send a text or message rather than the one who always receives

Within each of these areas there are things that need to be thrown away in order to gather the new intentions and make them a reality. If you haven’t yet taken time to reflect about this new year, take some time this week and ask yourself what habits, thought patterns, or things need to be thrown away in order for you to gather some healthy, fresh ones. Don’t feel pressure to start big, rather think of something achievable and maintainable and go with that.

Watch, now, how I start the day

in happiness, in kindness.

(Mary Oliver)

It’s easy to lament the lack of sleep during this season and the challenge to wake up each morning with a song rather than a complaint is intense, but so worth the effort. Psalm 59:16 says, “but I will sing of your strength and will joyfully proclaim your faithful love in the morning.” This has been top of mind as each day begins with the opening of the curtains. I’ve created a bright and restful playlist on Spotify called Winter Wonder 2018 if you need something to listen to this season.

Click here to find listen.

I pray this is a time where you are able to throw away those things that have become hindrances in your life so you are able to gather the things you feel rising in your heart to do. Letting go of the old to grasp onto the new can be difficult, but God’s grace is sufficient and His mercies are new every morning so don’t feel disheartened when you stumble a little. As Scarlett O’Hara famously said, “after all, tomorrow is another day!”