**Have you been enjoying this series on Organization in the Real Food Kitchen? Catch up on any posts that you may have missed in my Getting Organized category.**
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In the days before I began cooking real, traditional, whole foods, it wasn't such a big deal if I forgot to think about dinner ahead of time. I could thaw some meat in the microwave, or use a can of something or other, or whip up a mix for cornmeal. Dinner still happened and no one was the wiser.
Now that I've tossed my microwave, soak all of my beans overnight before cooking, and serve only sourdough, soaked or sprouted grains, it's not so easy. Yes, I can still figure something out in emergency situations. In general, though, my meal plan would grind to a screeching halt if I ceased to plan and take into account the food prep that needs to happen on a daily basis in my real food kitchen.
Over the years, I have realized that accomplishing these different food preparation tasks is really not difficult at all, but it requires three things of me:
1) Meal planning
If I don't have a plan, bad things happen. I begin to go over my grocery budget. Food in my fridge gets wasted. We don't eat as well as we should, relying on quick, convenience foods with an emphasis on too many grains. And most definitely, traditional methods of food preparation get tossed out the window (soaking, culturing, sprouting, fermenting, everything).
I've written extensively on meal planning. If that's an area of struggle for you, here are some posts to help you out:
Organization in the Real Food Kitchen: Favorite Recipe Lists (what I use to help me meal plan efficiently)
2) Daily notes of what needs to be done
My current method for doing this is to make a note of what I need to do each day, underneath my list of meals. I keep this in my homemaking binder, on my weekly planning sheets. Here's what it looks like:
The right hand side of my planner is where I list my meals, under B, L and D (breakfast, lunch, dinner). Below that, I write the word "prep", and here I make a list of anything that needs to be done that day, to ensure that the planned meals can happen smoothly over the next day or two. This might include thawing meat, soaking dough, grinding grain, making lacto-fermented veggies, soaking beans, making kefir, and even freezing the ice cream maker canister.
It doesn't matter what your list looks like, or where you record it. The point is to take a quick look at your meal plan, and then write down what needs to be done and when.
3) Set aside a time to do what's on your list
This is the kicker. If you make a lovely meal plan and carefully write out the food prep that needs to be done, but you don't look at your list, you'll be back at square one. This only works if you actually review your list and take the time to do what it says.
I like to do this in the evenings, after I clean up from dinner. Often I do it while my husband gets the kids ready for bed, or perhaps just after they've gone down. If we have something we need to do immediately after dinner or we're out for the evening, then I try to make a point of checking my list and taking 5 minutes in the kitchen before I get ready for bed.
Usually 5-10 minutes is all it takes. Run down to the freezer to grab an item or two (and why not pull out what you need for several days to save yourself another trip to the freezer?). Start some flour and cornmeal soaking to make cornbread. Whiz up some blender batter to make pancakes for breakfast. Toss a cup or two of dried beans into a pot and fill it up with water and a bit of apple cider vinegar.
The bonus? You've already started tomorrow's meals and your cooking time will be cut down.