In January 2013, I had an “a-ha” moment, which followed on the heels of a very rough fall/winter. I lost my mom that August and following it I was a complete crank. Anything would set me off—everything was a bigger deal than it needed to be. This “anger” phase of grieving meant that I was a bit of a ticking time bomb. What exasperated the situation was getting behind schedule. If Zain wasn’t waiting by the door in his karate uniform and ready to go at the moment that we needed to leave, I would lose it. If we were running out of the house for swimming and I was still throwing suits in a bag, I would lose it. And invariably when it was time for dinner and I didn’t have it figured out, I would lose it.
So short of yelling out, “Stop the madness!!!!” in front of my family, I realized that I needed to take back my life and start being proactive, versus reactive. For me, that meant preparing for the entire week before the week began. This a-ha moment spurred on what I now refer to as Sunday Cookingpalooza.
I’ve always been a once a week grocery shopper and have always planned what we were going to have “in concept” prior to going to the grocery store so that I was prepared. But that wasn’t enough. My grand ideas of a fruit salad was dashed at the end of the week, when I was fishing out nasty fruit from the crisper, and wondering what smelled like death in the veggie drawer, only to find cauliflower past its prime. And a “block” of frozen chicken at 5 o’clock is of no help.
So I decided to dedicate my Sunday afternoons to preparing the house and the kitchen for the week ahead. I would plan the week’s meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner), snacks, and treats. Make a list and do all the shopping, and then before I put it all away in the refrigerator, I would do all of the cooking and prepping. I would prep everything in a “garanimals” fashion—am I dating myself? I would prepare all of the staples needed for the week, and then I would mix and match them for meals all week. For example—broiled chicken, brown rice, pasta, etc. which could then be used for baked ziti, quesadillas, fried rice, pizza, etc.
Over the past year I’ve fine-tuned this by creating a standard grocery list that I have saved in my computer and has all of the necessities on it. Each week I print it out and cross out items I don’t need and write in the items that are needed for the week that were out of the usual. Along the left side, I have my “formula” for the Sunday. I have a list of all of the items that I make every week to assure that we have enough meals for the week.
Hard Boiled Eggs
Salads in a Jar
Ground Beef 1
Ground Beef 2
I then decide what type of “ground beef”, “chicken”, and “fish” dishes to make for that week and it’s the ingredients for those that I add to the list. You can follow my “Sunday CookingPalooza” Pinterest board of all of the recipes that I’ve collected from others for this exercise. Every single week I make hard boiled eggs, egg cups (baked scrambled eggs in muffin tins), fruit salad, salads in mason jars, rice, pasta, soup, etc.
When I get home from the grocery store, I take everything out of my refrigerator and wipe it down. The goal is to use everything that I removed, in conjunction with everything that I purchased, in the preparations for the following week, i.e. left overs, veggies and fruits from the crispers, etc. It’s like a huge challenge for me as to how I can transform a left over into a meal—I’m insane, I realize! If it’s too far “over the edge” I dispose of it then. By the end of the day, the refrigerator is chocked full of goodness and I can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that my prep time for each night is 15-20 minutes versus an hour plus.
To break up the day, I set my timer for 15 minute increments (see my post on my obsession with my timer). I cook for 15 minutes, and then “clean” for 15 minutes—fold laundry, dust, pick up toys, sort through papers, etc. The ultimate goal is that when I sit down (fall down) at the end of the day, the house is in order, the meals are made, and everything is back in its place.
It’s like a huge reset button for the week.
My process was included in an article by Brian Alexander in More Magazine last June. You can read it here.