If you're looking for "Best Parenting Hacks to Save You Time" - here it is!
PART 1: 3 Time Management Strategies for Meal Planning and Cooking.
If you're serious about implementing some time management strategies to make life more manageable at work and at home, you've come to the right place. We're kicking off a series of blog posts to help you save time in areas that need the most help: meal planning, parenting and taking care of ourselves. We'll focus on the big picture first, and then take a look at some time-saving hacks for meal planning and cooking.
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Anyone else feel like this is the time management strategy you use most often?
It's a brilliant campaign, but not a brilliant long-term strategy for surviving life.
Not long ago, I realized that I need to take some of the time management techniques I use in the classroom and apply them to the rest of my life. Why in the world haven’t I thought of this before?
I’m really good at keeping track of time when I’m teaching—in my early years of teaching both high school and college students, I was so intentional about planning my time down to the minute! It’s second nature now because I’ve done it for so long. I have a reason for everything I do when I teach, and it’s based either on research or experience.
That’s pretty much how Mary and I approach our blog posts because we want to serve you well! And there’s nothing better than solving a problem with help from people who research it and those who have lived it.
So here’s the bottom line on time management strategies: We need to take a step back, breathe a little, and decide how we’re going to tackle life. What are the things that are most important? What really drives us and helps us move forward? If you want to get serious about managing your time, take a little time (even if you think you don’t have it!) to analyze your approach and make changes where necessary. Then, you can figure out what time-saving hacks work best for you and your family. We have plenty of those below and more to come in upcoming blogs! (Feel free to skip ahead if you just want the tips and tricks for meal planning and cooking.)
TIME MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES FOR THE BIG PICTURE
But first: here are the 3 time management strategies that jumped out at us after doing a little research and talking to moms at all stages of life. Each one requires more of this and less of that.
STRATEGY #1: SAYING NO (Instead of Yes)
Science tells us to stop overcommitting ourselves and say no more often. Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter, psychologist and author of High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout, explains why we often say yes and why we need to say no in this article. If you’re a people pleaser or if you use busyness as a coping mechanism (I’m guilty of both), this will be a big challenge. Here’s how you can actually learn to say no:
Have someone hold you accountable. Just the other day, my sister-in-law wouldn’t continue a conversation until I promised not to take on any new responsibilities for the remainder of the school year. Now that I’ve said it out loud and told someone else, I’ll be more likely to follow through. (We can thank cognitive dissonancy theory for that! Here's how a Toastmasters group explains it.)
Value your time. Remember that saying yes to something always means saying no to something else. Here are 10 ways to say no when you should from Forbes.
STRATEGY #2: PLANNING (Instead of Reacting)
I had a speech coach who was fond of saying “Plan your work and work your plan.” This is excellent advice! It’s essentially the same advice Mary and I give to our students when we’re teaching. And it applies here as well. On the days (or weeks!) when I don’t have a plan and I just wing it, things start to spin out of control. There will certainly be times when life doesn’t go according to plan, but I would rather spend more of my time planning and less time reacting because I’m a lot less grouchy.
Use a planner. I’ve tried a lot of online and paper planning tools, and the one I love right now is the Simplified Planner by Emily Ley. That word “simplified” is key! When I looked at other planner options, I felt overwhelmed and stressed just browsing! Planning shouldn’t feel burdensome and it shouldn’t make you feel boxed in.
Give yourself some grace. Emily Ley has a motto that’s also the title of a book and it's something I need to remember more often: Grace not perfection. So, let’s make a plan and do our best to stick to it, knowing that life will sometimes get in the way.
STRATEGY #3: MANAGING (Instead of Doing)
Your family is a team, and everyone needs to contribute so the team can be successful. A single person can’t win in a team sport, and a family can’t thrive if one person (you!) is doing all the work. For one thing, you’ll be so exhausted you won’t enjoy anything. And you might also be raising kids who will never move out or who will drive their future spouses crazy. I love my boys, but I also would love to see them move out of my house someday and be husbands and dads who share the work as part of a team.
Keep the future in mind. We have to focus on our long-term goal even when our kids push back right now. And believe me, they will. I just heard all about it: “Chores, again?? You don’t care if we’re happy! You want us to earn everything and you won’t just give us stuff and let us do what we want!” Well, at least they’re listening and getting the message! (I do want them to be happy, but their character matters more to me. And teaching them to be grateful will ultimately contribute to their happiness. We have a free download because it's that important!)
Delegate. So moms, we need to start managing more and doing less. It’s better for everyone. If you need help learning how to delegate, check out this article from iMom.
Okay, now that we’ve talked through the time management strategy, let’s get to work on some practical tips and tricks. We decided to dedicate Part 1 of this series to meal planning and cooking because it's a common area of frustration and overwhelm for working moms!
MEAL PLANNING AND COOKING HACKS
TIME-SAVING HACKS FOR STRATEGY #1: SAYING NO
No complicated recipes. If cooking really isn’t your thing, don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be. You know your family better than anyone else, so make those tried and true recipes or experiment with some easy ones. At this stage of life, who has time for 25 ingredients and 18 steps?
No short order cooking. You’ll have to deal with more complaints, but you’ll make better use of your time if everyone eats the same thing for dinner. It also requires a lot less mental energy to plan one meal instead of several! Another benefit? Your family is more likely to sit down and eat together. It’s not an easy feat to get everyone at the table, but we know there are countless benefits. This FAQ from The Family Dinner Project is a great resource.
TIME-SAVING HACKS FOR STRATEGY #2: PLANNING
Stick to one meal-planning blog, app or cookbook. I can’t tell you how much time I used to waste searching for recipes! Streamline the meal-planning process by finding a blog, app or cookbook that you like and sticking with it. Here are my favorites:
- The Joy of Cooking It was a wedding gift and is the most comprehensive cookbook I’ve ever used. My other go-to is a family cookbook!
- eMeals There's a membership fee for this one but it’s been worth it for me because it saves me so much time! The app sends me 7 recipes each week and I can switch between different menu plans. My current favorites are Quick and Healthy, 30 Minute and Mediterranean. It also creates a shopping list that works with multiple stores that do grocery pick-up or delivery.
- Cozi This does double duty as a meal planner and family calendar. I can easily pull recipes from any website into the app and I can link to saved recipes right on my calendar so I know what we’re eating each night. It will also create a grocery list from the recipes I choose.
Cook meat and sauces ahead and freeze them. I’ve done whole freezer meals, and it works, but it requires a huge grocery trip and a lot more time. Instead, I just prepare and freeze the protein and sauces. It’s crazy how much time this saves me when it’s time to make dinner! Plus, it's a lot less expensive and much healthier than getting take-out a few times a week. There are so many more benefits of setting aside time to plan meals. Here’s what I prep and freeze:
- Taco meat: I cook beef, turkey or chicken with taco seasoning for tacos, soup and enchiladas.
- Chili meat: I cook beef or turkey with onions, peppers and seasonings.
- Ground beef or turkey: I cook some with salt and pepper or Greek seasoning so I can use it in other recipes.
- Shredded chicken: I put several pounds of chicken breasts in the crock pot with salt and pepper and chicken broth. *I shred it with a hand mixer* I use the chicken for soups, chicken pot pie, chicken salad, etc.
- Pork roast: I buy a large roast and freeze it in smaller portions.
- Pesto: I make a large batch and freeze it in ice cube trays. I can pop out the cubes and store them in a freezer bag.I just grab one or a few when I need them! Here’s my favorite pesto recipe—I use whatever nuts I happen to have on hand because pine nuts are crazy expensive!
- Enchilada sauce (I make this ahead in a large batch because I’m not crazy about store-bought enchilada sauce.)
- Pizza dough and sauce: My kids love to help with this one and if we’re going to wreck the kitchen, let’s get a few meals out of it.
Choose a “company meal.” I have to give credit to my mom and aunt for this one, who said the idea came from my grandma. She always served the same meal to her guests. She had a plan and it was something familiar and easy for her. Her company meal was beef roast cooked in the oven with potatoes, onions and carrots. I imagine it was waiting for them when they came home from church on Sundays! (Anyone else remember meals cooking in the oven during church? Crazy. And if the pastor’s sermon went long, the tension was palpable. This sermon better not mean a burned roast!)
I always serve tacos because it’s a crowd pleaser and easy for people to customize. Or I just order pizza!
Don’t worry about serving the same thing all the time. I taught with a football coach’s wife who served exactly the same meal to groups of players every week. Those boys never complained and always looked forward to her baked spaghetti and brownies. There’s a lot to be said for comfort and tradition—we explored the many benefits of traditions here.
TIME-SAVING HACKS FOR STRATEGY #3: MANAGING
Double the recipe and freeze half. If you’re already going to the trouble of cooking a meal, make double and then freeze half of it. Presto! Another meal will be waiting for you down the road when life interferes with your plans and you need a back up. We’re big fans of Kristen and Liz of Cool Mom Picks. They have another site called Cool Mom Eats with some great recipes and tips for freezer-friendly meals.
Use leftovers in another meal. This saves time and reduces waste so it's a win-win! If you cook chicken, roasted vegetables and quinoa for a meal, make extra so you can use it later in the week. Use the veggies in an omelet and combine the quinoa and chicken for a hearty salad. Here are suggestions for leftover chicken, leftover pork and leftover vegetables.
Think semi-homemade. I often buy rotisserie chickens to shred and use or freeze. Pre-cut veggies or fruit can be really helpful when you're short on time. And although I prefer to bake from scratch, these Betty Crocker oatmeal chocolate chip cookies get rave reviews anytime I make them.
MORE TIME-SAVING HACKS: USE SERVICES!
If you want even more help with grocery shopping and meal planning, here are a few services that Mary and I love!
SHIPT I order groceries on the app and they show up at my door. It’s magical. Seriously. I meet the delivery person at the door and then hand off the bags to my kids who put everything away. In our area, Shipt shoppers go to Meijer and Target. There is a yearly fee to join, but you need to know this: I don’t impulse buy anymore. And if my grocery total is too high, all I have to do is delete the item from my online cart rather than walk back through the store to put it away. (Let’s be honest, I never did that. I just bought it.) Also, as much as I love Target, we all know it’s a dangerous place to go because you’ll leave with 10 more things than you needed and you’ll forget the one thing you walked in there to buy.
LOCAL GROCERY PICK UP We have several choices in Central Ohio (Kroger, Giant Eagle, and WalMart) and I know more stores are adding this option all the time. You order your groceries online or on an app and then drive to the store. You don’t even need to get out of your car! They bring everything out to you and you pay a flat fee with no option (or expectation) to tip. Again, no impulse buying and it’s easy to add or delete items.
FARE AND SQUARE This is a Central Ohio company started by a mom who was trying to simplify her own life. Meal delivery services like Hello Fresh or Blue Apron sent all the ingredients, but it's still time consuming to cook the meal. So this mom launched Fare and Square, a company that prepares and cooks meals and then delivers them to your door. I’ve ordered a few different times and the food is delicious! A friend swears by this company because she absolutely hates to cook. If you don’t live in Central Ohio, take a look online because you may find something similar near you.
AMAZON PRIME Do I even need to explain the benefits of this? If you don’t have Prime yet, you should definitely consider it!
AMAZON PRIME NOW If you happen to live in an area that offers Prime Now, you can order just about anything for delivery in 2 hours. Not long ago, I completely forgot to get ingredients for a recipe that needed to be ready in a few hours. I couldn't get to the store, so Prime Now saved the day!
Do you have other time management strategies or time-saving hacks? Let us know in the comments below!
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