A blog about the grief after losing a child to Niemann Pick, Type C, a rare disease, and how I'm moving forward with my life.

Monday, May 22, 2017

How We Keep Sane (sort of)

Sometimes it's the random things that have an impact.

Maybe a month ago I casually posted on my personal Facebook page something about cooking is done for the next 6 weeks and how I spent under $300.  Immediately, the had people asking how I did it. So I answered them and then someone suggested a blog post, so here it is.

As a preface to this: it's really just 2 of us, as Shelby doesn't eat enough in any one sitting to have an impact as a "serving".  And we primarily focus on dinner - and I usually take any leftovers to work.

Step 1: I look in the freezer for what we still have from the last cooking session, plus random packages of meat or chicken that we picked up along the way. I make a list of these two types of items.

Step 2: I review the stack of recipes we have (or cookbooks or Internet searches).  I have several different meal plans from Lauren Greutman. Her plans are based on Aldi shopping, so coupons are not needed.  From the stack of recipes we have I pick out 10 to 15 recipes and make a list of ingredients. I total the amount of each ingredient (for example: 8 pounds of chicken, or 2 beef roasts, each 1 1/2 pounds or 6 apples).

I write down side dishes and spices too, not just the main ingredients.

I write a list of recipe names on a separate sheet of paper, or tab them in a cookbook so I can find them when I get home. As I use multiple cookbooks, I also write down the name of the book it came from, as there are similar recipes in multiple cookbooks.

Step 3: I go through my cabinets crossing of everything I already have. Most times I'm crossing off spices, as we have quite a few. It also serves as a double check to make sure we have cooking broth or condiments that we will need.

Tip: I try to stock up on cooking broth and cooking wines, spices, etc.  Having them in the house at all times makes a quick meal easy to prepare.

Step 4: I clean up my list and rewrite it, with the totals I need per item. I try to group like items together - so meat is in one section, canned goods in another, produce in another, etc.  You can see some of the organization in this photo, although this isn't a great example.

Tip: As you get more comfortable doing this, the list in step 4 will be how you start your list in step 2.  Don't fret - it takes quite a few months to get to that point.

Step 5: Go to the store. My first stop is Aldi for the bulk of my needs.  I get what I can, which is usually most items. From the picture above, the only items I couldn't get at Aldi were the circled items. I go to another store depending on what I still need and how much time I have.

Tip: I always pick up more chicken breasts than we need, as well as a few pounds of ground beef, and meats that are price reduced.  I also try to pick up speciality meats when they are on sale - so corned beef in March/April (sometimes the discount in April is better than the sale price in March because they have too many); turkey and ham in November/December.  These freeze well for quite a few months (if you have the space).

For those who don't know, Aldi is a grocery store. It is no frills, and usually only has 1 or 2 sizes per item - the sizes commonly used.  For example, spaghetti sauce is 16 oz, not 32.  Frozen chicken breast is in 3 pound bags.  You need to bring your own bags, and pack them. Products are in display boxes, which helps keep the items organized. There are very few "name brands". There is quite a large gluten free selection. Also, bring a quarter to use a shopping cart (returned to you when you return the cart).

Step 6: Come home and start organizing. For me, this is the longest part, so hubby and I usually work together.  Most of the meals we cook can be frozen before cooking, which saves time.  Even if the entire recipe can't be prepared ahead of time, sometimes a portion can be - like marinading meat.

We start with one type of meat (let's say chicken). I find all the chicken recipes and  we start separating chicken breasts into freezer bags.  It's probably a good idea to invest in a small kitchen scale so you can weigh meat. As he is separating chicken breasts, and cutting them up as needed, I am labeling the bags and putting in the other ingredients that can be frozen.

We do the same with any other type of meat we will be eating. Always work with one type of meat at a time. We put a paper plate on the scale to weigh the meat for each recipe. That way we can discard the plate before moving on to the next meat.

Same thing with cutting boards. Keep them separate for veggies and meat. Either wash well between uses or invest in a few.

Step 7: Make sure all the recipes are labeled on the bag. If something needs to be added to the bag when it is cooking, I usually write that on there too.  Place in freezer.

Step 8: I make a calendar of meals. The calendar includes the meals I found in the freezer plus what we just put together. I usually schedule 4 or 5 meals a week and mix up the meat flavors. As most of our meals are frozen Crock-Pot or frozen grilling recipes, we can pull out a recipe the night before (or morning of) to let it thaw.  Putting only 4 or 5 meals on for the week leaves room for leftovers or for a simple meal like spaghetti or tacos.

I also try to schedule meals early in the month​ that need ingredients that are "fresh" like peppers or apples, since I probably just purchased them.

The calendar has really made the difference for us. We can look at it and know what is planned.  It's taken the "what's for dinner question out of our daily lives"

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One thing I really should mention here, I am blessed that hubby is home with Shelby during the day, so he can start cooking these meals in the Crock-Pot mid-morning.

This pre-planning has eliminated MOST trips to the grocery store.  Milk, bread, eggs are still frequent trips. And sometimes I'll stop on my way home from work to pick up a bag of salad greens or some fresh fruit or veggies for dinner that night or the next.

We do try new recipes - usually a few a month. We obviously keep going back to our favorites.  And if you have a list of 20 or 30 favorite recipes you cycle through, the list prep, shopping, and meal prep, get easier each time.

I can say, this entire process does take 8-10 hours. If I can I do the first 4 steps at night while watching TV - a bit at a time.

I would love to know if this has helped you! Please leave a comment below and let me know.

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