As you’ve probably already discovered, cooking ahead requires planning and thinking ahead. I fail miserably in this department on a regular basis!
Last January, my dear friend Jodi visited my home for a week. I had spent a good part of the fall on bed rest, and my new baby was only 6 or 8 weeks old. I had NO routines in my house at that moment. I was doing well just to get myself dressed in the morning! 🙂 So even though she loved reading my blog and had been looking forward to trying some of my “weird” bread and “kombucha,” I fed them cold cereal and store-bought bread.
But now that my little guy is nearing his first birthday, I’ve been able to gradually put the routines back into my life. Planning ahead means I have to rely on some handy kitchen routines. I’m just too busy to have to think about ONE MORE THING. (Anyone else feel that way?) I need cooking and food preparation to go on “auto-pilot,” or else my brain just might explode.
Here are some of the routines I use. I wish she could visit again (although I suppose we’d talk so much that I’d get off routine again…). You might do these things at different times than I do, but the important thing is that you think of these things and PLAN times for them into your day. So grab a piece of paper and brainstorm as you read.
- Make a menu. (We talked about this last week.) I print my menu and grocery list each Monday morning, then I fill them in right after lunch. I do my grocery shopping later that day. I keep a copy in a binder of all past menus so that I can refer back to them if my brain can’t think of anything to make. I also email recipes to myself throughout the week if I see something online that looks good. My grocery list is pre-printed with items I buy each week so I only need to add items we’re low on or that are special to that week’s menu.
- Keep a running grocery list on the side of the fridge. This is just a magnetized list, with a cup of pens within reach, so that as soon as I realize I’m low on something, I can write it down.
- Keep the fridge and kitchen clean. I wipe down the shelves of my fridge on Monday, when it’s relatively empty. On Friday afternoons, I make sure the rest of the kitchen gets a good wipe-down (or I assign this job to one of the kids). After every meal, we do all the dishes and wipe clean the sink and counters. It’s NO fun to work in a dirty kitchen, and it’s impossible to work in a kitchen when all the dishes you need are already dirty. It’s MUCH easier to clean dishes right away, rather than wait until everything’s dried and caked on. And whatever I do, I try to never, ever go to bed with dirty dishes in the sink. (Okay, maybe a cup or two…)
As my children do the dishes (it’s slave labor around here, LOL), I do the following for about 30 minutes. Then we’re off to start school.
- Bake bread. For sourdough, you would have gotten the process started yesterday. This morning, you’ll be kneading the dough, then 2 hours later, you’ll divide the dough into loaves and place on pans. In 2 more hours, you’ll pop them in the oven, ready to be enjoyed for lunch. For breads using sprouted or soaked grains, you’ll just simply follow the recipe and should have bread ready for lunch as well. Time required: 20 minutes now, then 5 minutes later.
- Start stock. Fill your stockpot with bones and filtered water, plus whatever other ingredients are called for in your recipe. Bring to a boil, skim, then simmer all day. Time required: 5 minutes now.
- Check supper ingredients. Have you taken frozen foods out of the freezer? Do you have all the ingredients you’ll need to make dinner? Do you need to put anything into the slow cooker? Any other prep jobs needed? Time required: 5 minutes.
To be honest, at my house I often do these jobs before lunch, just because I need a break from book work and the computer. It feels good to get up and moving in the kitchen.
- Check sourdough and/or sprouting grains. This is a good time to prepare your sourdough starter for tomorrow’s bread. If you’re sprouting grains, be sure to check them. Time required: 5 minutes
- Water your house plants and herbs. Time required: 5 minutes
- Check your kombucha (or any other long-term projects you have going, such as pickles, sauerkraut, etc.) Time required: 5-15 minutes
- Bake healthy cookies. If you make the dough, your kids would probably be happy to help you with rest of the job. They can lick the bowl if they help with the dishes. 🙂 Time required: 15 minutes
Again, working in the kitchen, with occasional trips outside for fresh herbs or to go to the compost pile, feels really good after an afternoon of work around the home.
- Begin sprouting grain, if you need to start this. Time required: 2 minutes
- Soak oatmeal for breakfast tomorrow, and if you’re soaking any grains for bread, start that, too. Time required: 2 minutes
- Check the freezer for any food you’ll need tomorrow, such as meat, stock, butter, milk, cream, cheese, etc. Time required: 2 minutes
- Making cookies tomorrow? Start soaking flour. Need nuts? Soak those, too. Beans? You got it! Time required: 2 minutes
- Decide what you’ll eat for lunch tomorrow. Time required: 1 minute
- Finish up the stock you started this morning. Time required: 15 minutes
- Check your week’s menu for any other prep jobs you should be doing for the next 2 or 3 days. Time required: varies
Lest you think that I can remember all of these jobs, even though I’ve been doing this for several years, I must confess that I keep a list on the side of my fridge and mentally check things off. Otherwise, even I will wake up in the morning having forgotten to soak some oatmeal for breakfast. We busy moms just have too many other things on our minds! So feel free to download the list I use as an idea-starter for your own list.
I look forward to your comments and stories!