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Being a stay-at-home mom, as well as the main grocery shopper and cook, my writing and other creative pursuits take a backseat; I fit in writing and knitting whenever I have a few minutes. Lately, I have been trying to really streamline things around the house. I started with meals. I admit that I have never had a set plan for the week’s meals. I usually start the week with a vague idea of what I can make during the week given the ingredients we usually have in the house.

One inspiration for streamlining the meal process (buying the food, meal prep, etc.) is the grocery shopping. Grocery shopping every week with little ones can be fun, watching them help pick things out and learn why we buy some foods and not others, but it is also a challenge to get everyone out the door in the morning, not to mention putting the groceries away when we get home with tired and hungry little ones wanting to try all of the food that we just bought. I thought the answer would be menu planning, so I tried a two-week menu plan. The idea was that you cycle through the same menu every two weeks. I tried to like the plan, I really did, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. I was put off by the idea of having the same thing every two weeks. The menu plan was tossed and we went back to me having a general idea of what food was in the house and every day trying to decide what was for dinner.

Then one day I read about a month-long menu plan. I admit it seemed a bit extreme, planning a menu for an entire month. At the same time, we are trying to cut grocery expenses and, frankly, I was tired of going to the grocery store each week. So, I got out my recipes and began writing down 4 weeks worth of meals. I didn’t think it would work. I didn’t really think I would stick to it. I thought on pasta and sauce day I would want rice and beans. Then I went to the grocery store. I shopped for the entire month (aside from produce). We lugged the many bags home, found places for everything, and started using the menu.

My conclusion, after an entire month of using the menu plan, is that 4 weeks is just right. We had a wide variety of favorites, I had to shop only every few weeks (with the occasional pickup at the grocery store for produce, as the farmer’s market was not yet open), and I didn’t have to think about what we were having for dinner each day. There were a few changes when we had enough for leftovers and I hadn’t taken that into account on the menu but, overall, I stuck to it. I also found that we were spending less at the grocery store, which is always a good thing!

What I didn’t realize was how much time I had been spending thinking about meals. Deciding what to have, finding the ingredients, getting everything ready, and actually cooking the meal was taking a good chunk of time that I now have back. Because I know in the morning what we are having for dinner that night, I can do prep work throughout the day. I am also finding that my mind is now free to wander to other topics, like my writing. I was surprised to find myself writing more and in quick little bursts throughout the day. I can now go on autopilot for meals and meal preparation so I am free to fill that time thinking about story ideas and plots and dreaming up characters and settings.

Meal planning begets creativity, at least for me …. who knew?

What little tricks do you use to give yourself time to be creative?

P.S., What-I-Learned Wednesday will return this week. I took last week off (though not from learning) to enjoy a wonderful week with visiting family.

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