There are seasons for everything.
Some seasons bring a calm stillness, when you can breathe, spend extra time in the kitchen, and even cuddle up with a good book at night. And then there are full seasons.
Full may also appear as busy, but I shy away from that word because it indicates a sense of chaos. I’m talking more about living a full season of life. For us, this looks like doing life with two kids and a growing food photography and recipe development business (a natural by-product of Live Simply).
Last month, our full life got extra busy. Yes, I’m going to finally use that word, busy. We had taken on some giant food photography and recipe development projects with short deadlines, and the kids had just started back at school. I did my best to keep up by making sure that everyone was dressed and loved before school each day, and keeping real food a consistent part of our life.
Preparing and serving real food day after day over the course of the last six weeks has been a challenge at times. If it weren’t for a few life-saving (literally, these hacks saved my sanity and kept real food being served in our home day after day), then I probably would have resorted to nightly take-out at the best option in town, Chipotle. We love Chipotle, but our bodies need a bit more than rice, beans, and guac seven nights a week, and so does our budget.
Last Friday, we completed the last big project we’ve been working on, which means that once again the seasons are changing. This time I can feel the calm approaching, or, at least, the “calm” that also involves raising active kids. Parenting means accepting a new kind of normal and calm, right?!
Let’s talk about the “hacks” that save our real food lifestyle during the busy seasons.
5 Life-Saving Real Food Hacks When Life Is Busy
1. Make a Busy Weeknight Meal List:
I keep a Busy Weeknight Meal list on my fridge. This is my go-to list for meal planning during the busy seasons of life. Each week, I simply glance at the list on my fridge, which is compromised of meals that may be cooked in less than 30 minutes and/or lots of prep may be done in advance, and create a meal plan from these recipes/ideas. This list also includes no-recipe-required ideas. For example: Burgers, hardboiled eggs, scrambled eggs, roasted vegetables.
First, print my Busy Weeknight Meal printable, or simply pull out a piece of notebook paper. Think about the criteria you’ll use to determine the meals that go on this list. For me, the meals must require less than 30 minutes to cook and/or lots of prep may be done in advance (such as: quesadillas, soup, and tacos). Just remember, the goal during this time is nourishment and simplicity.
Next, sit down (this does require about 30-45 minutes of time, but this is a one-time activity), and jot down every recipe and/or meal idea that you know will work on a busy day. 15-20 meal ideas is ideal, divided between breakfast and lunch/dinner. This may be an on-going list. Next time you try a great recipe, or think of a meal idea, and it meets your criteria, jot it down on this list.
2. Use That List to Meal Plan:
Yes, I know life is busy right now. And I completely understand that meal planning is probably the last thing someone wants to think about during the busy seasons of life. Well, that is a pull-from-Pinterest-and-every-cookbook-ever-created meal plan. I like to take a different approach to meal planning, which simplifies the entire process.
I use my Busy Weeknight Meals list to create meal plans during busy seasons. This list means that I don’t have to use mental energy to create a meal plan each week. And we all know just how valuable mental energy is when you’re busy.
Use the recipes found on your Busy Weeknight Meals list to fill in empty spaces on your weekly meal plan calendar. And if you want to take the simplifying a bit further, save your weekly meal plans (I use my workbook.). If your schedule is extra busy one week, simply look through your old meal plans and find one that appeals to you, and voila…your family’s meal plan is ready!
3. Cook Once, Eat Twice:
“Cook once, eat twice” simply means doubling a recipe or meal to create two meals. For me, this looks like only planning to cook 3 times a week on my meal plan, doubling those recipes, and then enjoying the leftovers on the “off” nights. And remember, the recipes on the Busy Weeknight Meals list are easy, so doubling them won’t take much time at all.
Simply plan, and shop accordingly, to double the meals on your meal plan.
4. Prioritize What to Buy Versus Make:
There are so many great real food options in stores these days, which means I can skip making mayonnaise and purchase a quality jar from the store (that’s just one example), or I can purchase a quality bread instead of making a loaf at home. I use a few simple questions to help guide my decision about what to buy versus make.
The next time you’re at the store and/or market, take a look at the real food options that are available for staple foods in your home. If there are real food options available, take a mental note for future shopping trips. Staples may include: cooked (canned) beans, spaghetti sauce, bread, yogurt, mayo, pre-cut fruit and/or veggies (many stores offer this convenience), and even a cooked whole chicken. What you buy versus make will vary with your budget, weekly needs/schedule, and the sources in your area.
Don’t feel ashamed that you’re not making homemade bread, yogurt, or the perfect apple-spiced cake on the weekends. Friend, the goal is getting through the busy season with a nourished body. The homemade bread, yogurt, and apple cake recipes will still be there in a few months, if you want to make them ;).
5. Make Use of Kitchen Helpers:
We live in a day when there are so many wonderful helpers ready to help us out in the kitchen…electronic helpers! A few of my kitchen helpers, include: a crock-pot, food processor, blender, and freezer. These appliances help me get meals on the table with little to no effort.
My crock-pot cooks broth and whole pieces of meat while I’m away working on projects. My food processor allows me to quickly chop veggies or form salmon burgers. My blender blends pancake batter and smoothies in under sixty seconds. And my freezer allows me to freeze leftovers for future meals.
On your Busy Weeknight Meals list include a few crock-pot or Instant Pot recipes. If you don’t have any favorite recipes yet, look online for “real food crock-pot recipes” or “real food Instant Pot recipes.” There are a handful of crock-pot options here on Live Simply, like: pulled pork, whole chicken, broth (for soups), and beef stew. My absolute favorite slow-cooker/crock-pot cookbook is Quick Slow Cooking. Renee from Raising Generation Nourished shares real food Instant Pot recipes on her blog.
How do you make real food work during the busy seasons of life?
I love tips like this! Most meals I make are at least two nights worth, usually more. It definitely helps to keep the workload down when everyone has busy, not always predictable, schedules.