by rebecca stewart
We all know the drill, with the dawn of a new year we find ourselves approaching things with renewed optimism, filled with incredible intentions. We will eat right! We will go to the gym! We will do all the wonderful things that equal living our best lives!
Yep. You bet.
Obviously, there’s no small amount of cynicism attached to New Year’s Resolutions, yet we’re here, ready to put one out there. Bright side, we’ve come up with a plan to help on the follow through front. First, the resolution: We’re looking at taking a deep dive into the family kitchen, creating a Meal Makeover in 2019. Starting with organizational elements, then adopting some changes to the family menu, and finally the big guy: Meal Planning. Now, recognizing that January 1 does not hold actual magical qualities that will enable us to suddenly develop an iron will and follow through for days, we decided to baby step our way through easy-to-attain (and sustain) steps in making over the heart of our homes.
There are a lot of handy little tips (a.k.a. “hacks”) out there for creating these (in theory) beautifully labeled, fully organized kitchen spaces; from the refrigerator to the pantry and cupboards. But, real talk, the reality of putting some of those things into action can sometimes be unrealistic or ultimately more of a space suck, which defeats the purpose, no?
So, I turned to the most organizationally savvy person I know, my sister-in-law, Kara, and asked her for her top tips for keeping the kitchen organized.
- Clutter-free Countertops – Let go of the knickknacks on the countertops (they just get grimy, and you have to move them all the time anyway).
- Tupperware Torpedo – Go through Tupperware once or twice a year, tossing gross looking pieces, or those that have officially lost their lids.
- Space-Saving Solution – Kara swears by her built-in silverware organizer that includes a slider feature that makes for one drawer, two organizers.
- Farewell, Fancy – Perhaps you’re a family that uses your fine china on a regular basis…If you’re like us, though, it’s just taking up more valuable space, so don’t be afraid to box it up and tuck it away in the crawl space/attic/closet.
- Creating Communication – In our kitchen, we created a communication station on our pantry door using chalkboard paint. In our world, it's primarily home to keeping our schedules straight, but you could absolutely use it to list the week's menu or for the family to write their grocery list needs.
- In this digital world, you can also use shopping list apps like "Out of Milk" to communicate grocery needs across the family line.
In the Pantry
- Stackable Storage - Utilize cereal containers and stackable Tupperware for sugar, flour, noodles, etc. Kara prefers clear containers for ease of visibility.
- Bye, Bye Boxes – Keep a “tubby” in the pantry for snacks, making easy access for the fam to grab and go, plus getting rid of the bulky boxes.
In the ‘fridge
- Tubby 2.0 – Using a shoebox size tubby in the refrigerator for yogurts, pudding, and cheese sticks once again allows you to lose those space-sucking boxes and provide a nice space for that chilled grab-and-go option.
- Web Wonders – One of our favorite online tips suggests including an “Eat This First”-labeled tub in the fridge, which holds items that are soon to expire and need to be nibbled first, thus saving on food waste.
- Condiment Conundrum – Never buy more condiments than will fit in the door of your refrigerator, advises Kara; it’s the biggest clutter of all!
- To that end, periodically check those expiration dates and purge your fridge/cupboards/pantry of expired space-takers.
Eat This, Not That
More real talk. My kid is a picky eater. Most kids I know, picky eaters. More power to the parents who have managed to create a utopian world where the kids eat all the things. That’s not been my reality. As a teeny tiny, she ate all kinds of things, then as more foods could be introduced, virtually everything she loved lost traction, and our life was reduced to mac and cheese and chicken nuggets. As she's gotten older, more things get moved into the plus column, but one thing that has never returned? Vegetables. It's a hard pass on all things veggies.
Maybe you find yourself nodding along to this, offering a hearty, “Same!” Well, we’ve been told* that some options are lurking about in the grocery aisles that will – admittedly, somewhat sneakily – add some of those missing items back into our families’ diets. Or are simply a straight up healthier alternative to the norm, done in such a way that our families won’t even notice a difference!
*Names have been omitted to protect those who are obliviously consuming these alternatives, and the mamas making it happen.
- Turkey Burger – One mama swears by the magic of turkey burger in things like tacos or chili. We were advised that if you tried to do turkey burgers on the sly that would not pass muster for the blissfully ignorant and you would quickly be found out.
- Alternate Noodle options – Veggie Spaghetti Noodles (dry; rave reviews from a clueless family, easy-to-find), Spaghetti Squash (fresh), Zoodles a.k.a. zucchini noodles (fresh), Brown Rice Pasta (dry), Green Giant Veggie Spirals (frozen-butternut squash, zucchini, carrot).
- Plain Greek Yogurt instead of sour cream (One way the mama behind this likes to use this substitute is in making Hidden Valley dips).
- The Pizza Alternative – Cauliflower Crust, Crispy Fried Zucchini as a crust for mini pizzas.
Meal Planning and Meal Prepping are all about finding ways that you can make your life easier by planning for and preparing everything from individual ingredients to full meals, or dishes, in advance. Often, Sunday is considered the day when all the magic happens. You can prep everything starting with snacks and breakfasts, all the way through lunch and dinner for the whole week. With families constantly on the go, this puts a routine in place that not only helps solve the "What's for dinner?" conundrum but often helps to put healthier choices in play.
- The planning portion of the meal prep is of vital importance. Without the plan, you don't have the list; therefore you don't have the ingredients. As you're making the menu for the week, keep the schedule in mind as well.
- Remember that age-old pearl: Keep It Simple.
- Take it back to those baby steps. Start small, find what works for you, and keep moving forward. So, maybe you start with portioning out snacks or pre-packing lunches. Or start with the veggies you’ll need that week before graduating to the main course.
- You don’t have to pick one single day and meal prep for the entire week. Again, look at the schedule and find what works for you. Remember, it’s supposed to make life easier!
Handy Prepping Helpers: Tupperware, Ziploc Storage Bags, Snack Size Baggies, Freezer Paper, Dry Erase Markers/Sharpies, Slow Cooker/Instant Pot.
5 Things to Make on Sunday That You Can Use All Week!
- Bake a chicken (or boil to shred) to be used in a variety of meals: Enchiladas, Chili, Stir Fry, Fajitas, Alfredo…
- Take one step out of the equation and take advantage of a pre-cooked/pre-shredded rotisserie chicken!
- Brown your burger: Spaghetti (you can also pre-make your sauce and freeze for later), Tacos, Enchiladas, Taco Soup, Sloppy Joes…
- Throw a roast in the crockpot for one meal, then use your leftovers for French Dip Sandwiches or shredded beef or pork sandwiches
- Ham – Maybe you start with ham and scalloped potatoes then move on to sandwiches and/or ham and bean soup
- Make-ahead smoothie packs for breakfast/after school snack/meal replacement. Tip: Don't forget to sneak in some greens like spinach or kale – they'll never know it's there!
Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s January 2019 issue.
Check out the digital edition, here!