Through this journey and the pandemic, I have learned the importance of planning and pivoting.
For the last 10 months or so, I have used a portion of my Sunday to plan for the week ahead. A properly planned week reduces unnecessary stress by providing certainly along with opportunity to tackle the surprises that life gives us.
I would love to report this was an easy and seamless transition. However, that would be untruthful. I spent most of my life moving from crisis to crisis responding and reacting to things. The result is often higher stress, less satisfaction, and poor choices. You get to the end of a long day with no food in the refrigerator and no energy to cook. Hello fast food!
The truth is planning for the week is hard to start. You must consider all that is on your calendar and what might be. What events must you attend? What tasks must get done? What do you want to do? It is a lot to track. It is worth it. Trust me. It just is. Start the habit today and your life will be immeasurably better.
Start small. I began by planning dinner for 2-3 days. To be honest, it started by accident. I started making a vat of chili on Sunday. The chili would serve as dinner on Sunday and lunch and/or dinner on Monday. I would go to the store and get the ingredients for the chili on Sunday and anything else on the family grocery list. I would also pick up the ingredients for a couple of nice simple healthy salads for dinner on Monday and Tuesday night. Finally, I would pick up some canned soup and healthy breakfast items. The result was almost instant. I got into a routine. It was one less thing to think or worry about. Further, it helped my cravings. An additional benefit was I went to the grocery store fewer times.
This strategy served me well until Wednesday rolled around and we were out of food. I had to plan and go to the store again. Because it was winter and cold, I found some easy soup recipes. I found them by typing “healthy easy soup recipes” into google. Prior to Fall 2020, I don’t recall making soup. Now it is my go-to meal. I love making soup. It is easy, filling, and healthy. Make a big pot of soup and you are good for a couple of days. In our house, weekend meals are not my responsibility, so I didn’t plan a meal for Friday or Saturday.
Ultimately, I would challenge myself to pick up all items for the next week in one stop on Sunday. I was able to do this writing down my shopping list. In my head, I would think about items that could be used in multiple recipes, items that were healthy, and items that could keep for a week.
Creating the list had at least three substantial benefits. First, it allowed me to avoid most impulse buys in the grocery store. Second, it allowed me to get out of the store faster. Third, it cut down on grocery spending as there was less wasted food. An additional benefit was fewer trips to the store.
After a few times of creating the list, I began to expand my recipe list. I found I enjoyed trying to create different soups and salads. I would add different soup or salad every week. Expanding my repertoire also kept me from getting bored with same meals. I learned how long the soup or salad lasted (i.e., were there leftovers for lunch the next day). See above for how I found new recipes.
I would eventually add written weekly life planning and weekly written meal planning. Generally, it takes me about 10-15 minutes to plan meals for a week. It takes about 30-60 minutes to plan for the week. I no longer need a “list” at the store because I know what ingredients I need. (In a later post, I will share a sample weekly schedule, shopping list, and plan). For now, understand that a little bit of planning went a long way to provide certain and stability to an otherwise chaotic life. Further, my wife appreciated not having to worry about meals. With less stress, I ate better. Just did. Because I didn’t purchase things not on this, I only had healthy options in the house.
What I didn’t expect from all this planning was the ease in which I could pivot and adapt as life got in the way. There was often something from the night before if we were extremely strapped for time and sapped of energy. Don’t want to make soup? Throw a basic salad together quickly. Don’t have time to cut up the vegetables for the soup? No problem. Already bought the vegetables precut (a little more expensive but worth it if you are strapped for time). Yet, most of the meals take less than 15 minutes to prepare (sometimes longer to cook but you can rest while that is happening). I established the mindset that I always have 15 minutes to make a quick meal for us. Since we had the ingredients and the recipes were healthy, I didn’t have to worry about deviating too much from my plan.
Today was beautiful fall day where I live. It was unseasonably warm (71 degrees). I had planned to eat lunch midafternoon and take care of other work after. Then I looked at the weather forecast. It said it will be much cooler and rainy tomorrow. Because I had a plan in place, I was able to shift my calendar. I didn’t have any more scheduled meetings. Instead of a midafternoon lunch, I took an hour-long nature walk. I had canned soup instead of making a salad. I did some work from home this evening. It was major pivot from plan. The picture in this post is from my walk today. But because I have a plan, I know I got everything I need to get done today. Planning allows you to pivot when needed without the stress.