Organize Your Kitchen-8 Ways to Get Started!

Organize Your Kitchen-8 Ways to Get Started | MealPlanningMagic.com

Last week I announced the Keeping It Real 2014 Tour  (read more about that by clicking here and January’s theme is Organization! So I thought I’d start by sharing some posts that I’ve already written but may be new to some of you. Or maybe you’ve seen them before but never moved to action and this will serve as that little nudge to get you going!

An organized kitchen area helps you be more efficient in the kitchen when time is at a minimum. Or even on those days when you or your family has more time to experiment, knowing where things are means the experience is a lot more enjoyable. I’ve got tips for organizing your spaces, recipes and how to get started meal planning. Consider this your kick start for even more ideas to come!

Click on the links below to get started!

Organize Your Kitchen Spaces

Organized Pantry

Organize Your Freezer in 5 Easy Steps

Three Tips for an Organized Kitchen

How to Organize Your Refrigerator

Six Tips to An Organized Pantry

Organize Your Meal Plan

Simple Step To Start Meal Planning

Organize Your Recipes

Got recipes? Keep track of them more easily with a copy of the index![/

Got recipes? Keep track of them more easily with a copy of the index![/

Create A Meal Planning Board!

Organize Your Magazine Recipes
Organizing recipes is one of the most common questions I get from my readers. I’ve got several ideas and suggestions so that will be the topic of one of my next blog posts. Be sure to stay tuned!

Don’t want to miss a new organizing tip? Be sure to SIGN UP HERE to receive updates via email or RSS feed (you can choose the reader you prefer!) And don’t forget you can always follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram. They all offer a little something different and are a great way to stay in the loop on recipe ideas, menu plans, reviews and giveaways, organizing tips and more!

5 Tips to an Organized Pantry

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Recently I decided to organize my pantry. It seemed a lot of extra items had made their way in there…whether it was ingredients for meals I never ended up making or items received as food gifts or purchased when on vacation (I like to buy food “souvenirs”). This time of year is a great time to get your pantry organized too—before the holiday rush is in full swing. You’ll be thanking yourself when things are easy to find and it’s not overcrowded with extra ingredients.
For those of you that have been reading my blog awhile, you know I’ve told you my tips before on how to organize a pantry. But it’s time for refresher so here are a few tips for getting started!
1. Take everything out. I mean EVERYTHING! Don’t just do it shelf-by-shelf. Take it all out. If you’ve already got it sort of sorted by like items, keep those together if you want to, but it’s not key.


2. Wipe down your shelves. Whether they’re wood shelves like mine or wire shelves, now is a great time to get that food that has drizzled out of containers (we found some light dustings of flour and a small bit of honey) or even just the dust that has settled there.

3. Look at the food you’ve pulled out–decide what to keep and what to toss. Is any of it past it’s expiration date? When was the last time you actually used it to cook with? Since I love to cook, I’ve got a lot of basics. I probably have a half a dozen types of vinegars and at least that many types of rice. Those seem to last “forever” so I didn’t toss too many of those. Are there any half packages of items that you can consolidate? We do that with cereals sometimes and make a hodge-podge blend combined in one of my Tupperware Cereal Storers.. The same goes for snack crackers. Can you put things into a smaller container so you can save space? I also realized that some of the random, unopened sauces or baking mixes were originally part of gift baskets that we’d received or for planned meals that were never made and just never used. I looked at expiration dates and tossed those that were over a year old (yes, there were a few really OLD things in there!) I also decided that if it was not able to be stored in a sealed storage container or bottle then it wasn’t going back or it was to be eaten this week–and quick!

4. Assess your storage options. When we were first married I became a Tupperware consultant so I could earn enough to buy my own storage system. I love the Modular Mates system . I know there are lots of options out there but I urge you to find one that works for your space and budget. Storing your items in glass or plastic sealed containers will not only keep the bugs out but they will also help preserve freshness which will save you money in the long run.

5. Group like items together and put it all back. I’ve got labels on the shelves in my pantry so that anyone who goes into my pantry can hopefully find what they are looking for. My categories include Canned Veggies/Fruits, Cereals, Crackers and Dry Snacks (like nuts), Baking, Pasta/Rice, Soups, Sauces/Vinegars, etc. I also have a shelf on the bottom where the kids can reach snacks that they are allowed to get themselves (they still have to ask first)…things like raisins, dried fruit, granola bars, etc. This gives them a little independence in preparing their own snacks.

In the end we found the culprit source to our bug problem–a box of opened fish fry cornmeal. Upon reading the box it was supposed to be refrigerated after opening–oops! Turns out that is one way to keep the little buggies from showing up…freeze or keep your grain products cold.
I don’t know if you’re like me but I always feel so good after cleaning out and reorganizing a closet or cabinet. My pantry was no exception—I’m still enjoying the benefits of my labor because things are easy to find and I can then spend less time in the kitchen. Like any closet or cabinet, you should plan to clean out your pantry at least once a year or every six months. I bet you’ll be glad you do!

How to Meal Plan-Simple Steps to Get Started

How To Meal Plan--Simple Steps to Get Started | from MealPlanningMagic.com

Learning how to meal plan is the one question I seem to get over and over again. And even though I’ve done blog posts before on the basics, it has been awhile so I’m doing a little update now. I started meal planning years ago as a way to try and save my sanity. You can read more about how I began HERE.

When I used to teach my meal planning workshops, I always started out with the WHYS of meal planning. It’s important to understand why you should meal plan to help you get started!

Why Meal Plan?

To save money! When you have a plan, you know what you need and you (hopefully) buy just what you need for that week’s menu. Without a plan, you’re more likely to make impulse buys and that means spending more money! You can also work leftovers into the plan which will save you even more money.

To save time—in the kitchen and at the store. How many times have you opened the refrigerator or pantry and stared blankly into them trying to figure out what you have on hand to make for dinner? Or are you one to wander aimlessly at the grocery store hoping that going up and down the aisles will inspire you to think of what you need or want to buy? And if you bring your kids shopping with you (which I DO like to do—read here why) all that wandering can mean you might walk out with something you forgot and something you did not mean to buy.

Staring and wandering wastes time. Don’t do it! Have a plan and you’ll be more efficient on both fronts. Plus, you’re more likely to be able to just make one trip to the grocery store because you can buy all that you need.

Eat Healthier and More ConsciouslyMeal planning helps you be a conscious cook. You’re less likely to make impulse buys and can think about what you are making and serving your family. Will that be less-processed, organic, local, more budget friendly? The choice is yours, but when you have a plan, YOU can decide.

Less stressful.
When the end of the day comes and you realize you’re hungry and it’s time to make dinner for your family, you’ll feel better knowing that you’ve got a plan! Maybe that means a quick and easy recipe, having something ready to go in the slowcooker or pulling something from the freezer, but just knowing ahead of time what’s for dinner equals less stress. Or maybe it’s in the morning…having a breakfast plan means you won’t have to feel bad about serving cereal day after day after day and can mix things up a bit with some variety in your plan.

What Tools Do You Need?

There are a number of things I gather to help make the meal planning process go more smoothly. They are:

Tips to Choose a Shared Family Calendar to Get Organized! | MealPlanningMagic.com
A Calendar/Planner: A paper calendar/planner, computer calendar or whatever works for you is it. Discover what I like about my current family planner in the post and video HERE. If you use a computer calendar (such as Google calendar), I suggest you print it out for the month as it’s easier to see and write on it as you are planning.

How To Meal Plan--Simple Steps to Get Started | from MealPlanningMagic.com

Recipes! These will come from a variety of sources. I like to have my laptop handy so I can check my website’s Recipe Index, Pinterest boards, or other online recipe boxes. I also pull out my family recipe box, magazines, cookbooks or recipe clippings I’ve collected. Of course I’m not pulling them ALL, just a few that I maybe haven’t used in awhile to give me some inspiration. You might recall, I have quite a collection!

How To Meal Plan--Simple Steps to Get Started | from MealPlanningMagic.com
Shopping List printout
Years ago I came up with a grocery store list that was customized to the grocery store I shop at most often (this blog post that talks about it is REALLY old—I need to do an update! But it will give you an idea of what I’m talking about). It is so handy because everything is organized by aisle so I can get in and out of the store more quickly. I also keep copies of it inside the door of my pantry so that anyone in our family can add something to the list when we run out of an item. Of course having a printed out list is not necessary. But I do suggest you go into the store with some sort of list for sure! It will help you stay on task and avoid those impulse buys!

How To Meal Plan--Simple Steps to Get Started | from MealPlanningMagic.com
Grocery Store Flyers and Coupons
Using the flyers that come in the mail or newspaper for your local grocery stores helps with meal planning goal number one—to save money! You can look through the ads to see what is on sale and plan accordingly. I don’t use coupons too much, but if you do, have them handy so you can add up even more savings and include those items in your meal plan. Why don’t I used coupons? I prefer to buy store brands which for me, saves me more than coupons do. Plus, the coupons available are often for items our family does not really eat.

How To Meal Plan--Simple Steps to Get Started | from MealPlanningMagic.com
Meal Planning Binder
I developed a meal planning binder years ago to collect all things meal planning related. Really many of the things I’ve already mentioned here. It is kind of an evolving thing and while it’s not necessary, it is handy when you’re getting started to have a place to keep all your meal planning tools together in one place.

How To Meal Plan--Simple Steps to Get Started | from MealPlanningMagic.com
Freezer Inventory List
If you’re not keeping an inventory of what you have in the freezer (or pantry or refrigerator even!), you need to start now. Once you’ve got your inventory, pull it out when you’re ready to meal plan so you can use up what’s in the freezer. Maybe you got a really good deal on ground beef and need to use some of it up. Check the inventory! Or maybe you made a double batch of that lasagna last time you made it. Check the inventory and use it up! You can download my free Freezer Inventory sheet by CLICKING HERE to help you get started.

Making the Menu Plan!

Schedule a time to meal plan. Just like exercise, meal planning doesn’t just “happen”. You have to set a time to get it done. But with practice, you should be able to get a week’s menu plan done in less than 15 minutes and you’ll be oh so much happier for it. I personally like to meal plan on Sundays and shop on Mondays. Schedule your planning day based on the day you like to shop. That might mean every Thursday to shop on Friday or Saturday or maybe every other week when the paycheck comes in. I usually put on a favorite television show and sit down after the kids are in bed. I can have all my meal planning tools laid out and enjoy a favorite show at the same time as being productive. Win-win!

Plan Your Meals to the Calendar
Now comes the fun part. It’s kind of like a puzzle. Look at what activities you and your family have going on for the week. Is one day an extra crazy day with lots of evening activities? Make that a slow cooker meal kind of day! Maybe another day is not so busy and you can try out a new recipe. Or how about those days that you’re just too worn out at the end of the day but want to avoid the drive through? A meal pulled from the freezer (made ahead) is perfect to just heat, serve and eat!

How To Meal Plan--Simple Steps to Get Started | from MealPlanningMagic.com
Write It Down
So now you’ve got an idea of what you want to make you’ve got to write it down. That might be in your planner or on your calendar or added to your computer calendar. That way when each day comes, you can refer to the plan you’ve already made and see what you need to make or do to get dinner on the table more easily. As you are going through the

Now Go Forth and Meal Plan!
I hope some of these ideas will help you get started meal planning. And remember, as with anything new, it takes practice and dedication. Over time, it will become easier for you to get a meal plan together and you’ll wonder why it took you so long to get started! As always I’m available to answer your questions. Just leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

Don’t want to miss an update? Besides sharing tips like these, I also share all kinds of meal planning and kitchen organization ideas and recipes. Be sure to SIGN UP HERE to receive updates via email or RSS feed (you can choose the reader you prefer!) And don’t forget you can always follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram. They all offer a little something different and are a great way to stay in the loop on new menu plans, recipe ideas, giveaways, organizing tips and more!

Finding a Great Shared Family Calendar That Works For You

Tips to Choose a Shared Family Calendar to Get Organized! | MealPlanningMagic.com

When it comes to meal planning, you need to have a calendar or planner that works for you. Because you have to know what’s going on to make a plan, right? And when it comes to choosing a calendar/planner, I know everyone’s a little different but today I’m telling you about my new favorite planner and pointing out some of the key features that I like so that hopefully, it will help you find the features that work for you when choosing one of your own. The Mead Day-Timer Family Plus calendar/planner is a great  shared family calendar that helps me keep track of everything going on with my family.

Last year I tried going all digital. I told myself I was only going to use the calendar on my computer (I like Google calendar). After all, it could sync to my smartphone and I’d always know what was going on at the swipe of a finger, right?  Well, I managed to make it through that year ok but I regularly felt like I was forgetting something. Rarely did but I decided that confirmed what I already knew and that is that I’m a visual person.  I like to be able to see the big picture when making plans. So I decided to go back to paper and pencil and stumbled upon my new favorite planner. I say stumbled because we were actually looking for something my daughter could use to keep track of her school assignments. This planner, which never  really worked for her, was available and I seized it! And boy, am I glad I did! I now keep this calendar open on one of my small counters in the kitchen so it’s handy to glance at whenever.

Some of the great features like:

Tips to Choose a Shared Family Calendar to Get Organized! | MealPlanningMagic.com

At a glance you can see everything that is happening in a week. Different columns for different family members or activities help keep it all straight.

Calendar: Duh. It is a calendar. But what I like about this one is it has a weekly calendar with different columns for all the members in our family. That gives me enough space to write what each person has going on and still see at a glance what is happening on a particular day. Or since we have a family of four and there are six columns, I use the extras for keeping track of blog activities or community volunteering things.  You can customize however you like!

Tips to Choose a Shared Family Calendar to Get Organized! | MealPlanningMagic.com

I like that I can keep track of my to-do list for school/volunteer commitments or just personal to-do’s.

To Do List: Here’s where I keep track of errands I need to run, tasks I need to do, phone calls I need to make, etc. It’s broken up into different sections, so I can keep track of school/community things separately.

Notes: Here’s where I can make notes on things I might want to follow up on or keep track of someone’s name and phone number.

Tips to Choose a Shared Family Calendar to Get Organized! | MealPlanningMagic.com

The Mead/Day-Timer Family Plus calendar includes a meal planner section…something I love! Meal planning when I know what’s happening that week just got easier!

Meal Planning: The pièce de résistance! Well, maybe not that much but it is a highlight for me! Because this section is on the same page as my weekly calendar, I can see at a glance what we’ve got going on so that when I’m planning my meals I can plan accordingly. Is Monday this week going to be extra busy? Then that might be a great slow cooker meal night? Is another night going to be filled with going from one practice or lesson to another?  Maybe that’s a night when simple sandwiches on the go are in order.

The back of the planner is expanded and includes a lot of extras like a ton of Notes pages, Important Numbers and even grocery lists.

Tips to Choose a Shared Family Calendar to Get Organized! | MealPlanningMagic.com

These are just a few features that I like about my planner that will hopefully help you think about what things will help make your life simpler.  I purchased my planner at Target but you can also find them online (you can contact them to find out where to buy as they don’t seem to have this style on their website–only the refill pack which may work for you!) Or contact Mead directly to find out where you can get a planner like this!

Check out this (my first!) video I did showing you the features. I’d love your feedback on what you think and what you look for in a calendar/planner.

What’s your favorite way to keep track of your family’s busy lives?

Disclaimer: I have not been compensated in any way for this post. I just liked this planner enough I had to share!

Six Tips to Organize Your Pantry

Not everyone’s motivation to organize your pantry is the same but for me that inspiration is rarely because of a general desire. I usually like to organize it before the holidays to make room for extra ingredients for holiday meals or treats or food gifts. Or sometimes it’s long after a vacation when I’ve purchased food souvenirs. This time, it was shortly after our vacation and an mini-ant invasion had occurred. I found the offending open bag that invited them in and I think I’m slowly winning that battle–thankfully! I’ve shared some of these tips before but as the new school year is just around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to share them again so we can all get started off for a more organized school year (and even if you don’t have kids in school, why not take this time to do a “reset” on your pantry too?)

Here are six tips to help you organize your pantry:

6 Tips For An Organized Pantry from MealPlanningMagic.com

Take everything out.

I mean EVERYTHING! Don’t just do it shelf-by-shelf. Take it all out. If you’ve already got it sort of sorted by like items, keep those together if you want to, but it’s not key.

6 Tips For An Organized Pantry from MealPlanningMagic.com

Wipe down your shelves.

Whether they’re wood shelves like mine or wire shelves, now is a great time to get that food that has drizzled out of containers (we found some light dustings of flour and a small bit of honey–that’s an invitation for ants waiting to happen!) or even just the dust that has settled there.

6 Tips To Organize Your Pantry | MealPlanningMagic.com

Look at the food you’ve pulled out–decide what to keep and what to toss.

Is any of it past it’s expiration date? When was the last time you actually used it to cook with? Since I love to cook, I’ve got a lot of basics. I probably have a half a dozen types of vinegars and at least that many types of rice and nearly as many different types of flour. Those seem to last “forever” so I didn’t toss too many of those. Are there any half packages of items that you can consolidate? We do that with cereals sometimes and make a hodge-podge blend combined in one of my Tupperware Cereal Storers.. The same goes for snack crackers. Can you put things into a smaller container so you can save space? I also realized that some of the random, unopened sauces or baking mixes were originally part of gift baskets that we’d received or for planned meals that were never made and just never used. I also decided that if it was not able to be stored in a sealed storage container or bottle then it wasn’t going back or it was to be eaten this week–and quick!

6 Tips To Organize Your Pantry | MealPlanningMagic.com

Assess your storage options.

When we were first married I became a Tupperware consultant so I could earn enough to buy my own storage system. I love the Modular Mates system . I know there are lots of options out there but I urge you to find one that works for your space and budget. Storing your items in glass or plastic sealed containers will not only keep the bugs out but they will also help preserve freshness which will save you money in the long run. I’ve slowly been switching over to more glass storage options although I’m still cautious because with children around, I worry more about breakage.

 

6 Tips To Organize Your Pantry | MealPlanningMagic.com

Group like items together and then put it all back in those groups.

I’ve got labels on the shelves in my pantry so that anyone who goes into my pantry can hopefully find what they are looking for. My categories include Canned Veggies/Fruits, Cereals, Crackers and Dry Snacks (like nuts or dried fruits), Baking, Pasta/Rice, Soups, Sauces/Vinegars, etc. I also have a shelf on the bottom where the kids can reach snacks that they are allowed to get themselves…things like raisins, dried fruit, granola bars, etc. This gives them a little independence in preparing their own snacks. And in the last year I have dramatically cut down on the number of crackers and cereals that we have… usually only a couple of different varieties at a time. We’re just eating fewer of them and if we have too many to choose from, they’re more likely to get stale.

Keep track of what’s in there so you can use it up and reduce food waste.

I modified my freezer inventory form to make a pantry form. As I was putting items back into my pantry, I was writing them on my form so that when it comes time for meal planning, I know what I have and can use it up before I buy new! You can download a Pantry Inventory form for yourself by clicking the link!

Pantry Organization Inventory Sheet - 6 Tips To an Organized Pantry - MealPlanningMagic.com

I kept track of what was going in and what needed to be used up so I could reference it when I was doing my meal planning!

I don’t know if you’re like me but I always feel so good after cleaning out and reorganizing a closet or cabinet. My pantry was no exception—I’m still enjoying the benefits of my labor because things are easy to find and I can then spend less time in the kitchen. And I know that I’m reducing food waste by using up the leftover ingredients that never got used the first time around. Like any closet or cabinet, you should plan to clean out your pantry at least once a year or every six months. I bet you’ll be glad you do!

Vacation Meal Planning – 10+ Tips For Families On the Go!

Last month I asked on my Facebook page how many people meal plan on vacation and most people said not so much! This post originally appeared in July 2011 but I’m sharing it again for all my new readers. Or maybe it’s a refresher for those of you that have been around awhile. And since vacation travel season is upon us, I hope you find these tips helpful. Happy travels–and eats!

Vacation Meal Planning-10 Tips to Get Started for Families & Groups | MealPlanningMagic.com

My idea of a vacation means a vacation where someone else is doing the cooking! But since money doesn’t grow on trees (at least for us it doesn’t!) and going out to eat is not always an option, having a meal plan ready when we vacation is in order. Whether you’re vacationing with friends or family or just on your own with your immediate family, vacation meal planning doesn’t need to be complicated. Just a few tips will help everything go a bit more smoothly and hopefully help you save some money to spend on the fun things that help make memories. Here, I’m sharing some of the tips I’ve learned along the way with traveling and meal planning.

Single Family Vacation Meal Planning Ideas

If you are traveling by car, consider packing a cooler with snacks and drinks from home. It will not only help you eat healthier but help you save money too! Don’t forget to bring plenty of water. If you’re traveling by plane, pack small snacks that will help you get through the long security lines and to the gate. Sure, there are lots of food vendors selling things but they can be overpriced and may not always have the healthiest choices. We always bring an EMPTY water bottle with us too in our travel backpacks to fill up once we’ve passed security. It’s amazing how thirsty we can get just waiting to board the airplane or once we’re on it and in between beverage service (if your airline still offers that!)

Is your lodging a vacation home, condo or other place that will have an oven or microwave? Think about bringing frozen meals to heat up and serve after a long day of sightseeing or other activity.

Try to find out ahead of time what kitchen equipment is provided and what you might want to bring. If you can’t live without your morning coffee with toast, you’ll want to make sure there’s a coffee maker and toaster—or bring your own! If you’re not staying in a rental home or condo, remember, many hotels now have in-room coffee makers with complimentary coffee and tea and many offer free breakfast too!

Search for local restaurants in the city of your destination and plan for healthy choices. Do you like a particular restaurant in your own hometown? Hop online to see if they have a location in your vacation town. Or do a little online research ahead of time, either by searching the Chamber of Commerce websites or visiting a travel bulletin board to ask for advice. Or best of all, ask friends or family that have visited your destination town and ask for advice. When you do a little planning up front you can find restaurants that are better for you than fast food and that offer local flavor—it will just add to your vacation experience!

Group Vacation Meal Planning Ideas

Have a group meeting up front to determine general food preferences (even if your “meeting” is done via email). There’s no need to go crazy trying to accommodate everyone, but if the majority of the group doesn’t like something (say beans), then there’s no need basing a whole meal around that.

Assign one meal per family or assign a whole day of cooking. When we get together with my husband’s family for several days over the holidays, we find it’s easier for one family to take one whole day of cooking…that means breakfast, lunch and dinner plus clean up. It worked out well because we knew we were “on duty” that day and there were no mixed signals about who was responsible for what.

Decide together if you’ll have a “out-to-eat” day where everyone gets a break. We usually like to plan these for the days that we’re gone all day and no one will feel like cooking or cleaning at the end of a full day of fun!

Make a plan for clean up. Be clear from the start that whoever cooks does the cleaning. Or give that job to someone else. But just make sure everyone is on the same page so that there are no bad feelings when dishes aren’t done.

Decide up front if you will share all food expenses or if each family will purchase or bring their own food. It usually makes sense to share some food like condiments, but if you’re really craving your favorite ice cream, consider purchasing that on your own. Or make one family in charge of snacks, the other in charge of fruit, etc. for community sharing.

Give each family a different shelf in the refrigerator or freezer (if that’s easy to do). Label them if you want with a sticky note. Of course, you may want to keep in mind the relationship you have with the other families and decide if this is a good idea or not.

If you vacation at the same place every year, like my family does, get a copy of the store layout for the grocery store you shop at when you arrive. Make a master list of “first shopping trip necessities” and keep it in a place where you can find it each year (maybe type it up on the computer and print it out before you leave each year). This can save you a lot of time, and you’ll be on your way to fun a whole lot faster!

I hope these ideas help you get your vacation started off in the right direction. If you have any other tips or ideas to share, please leave them in the comments. I’d love to hear them!

How To Organize Magazine Recipes-A Few Tips!

Got recipes? Keep track of them more easily with a copy of the index![/

Got recipes? Keep track of them more easily with a copy of the index![/

I have a confession. I am a recipe hoarder and I cannot help it! The pretty pictures and catchy covers always seem to call my name whenever a new magazine hits the stands. I’m especially fond of the special issue softcover recipe collections. It seems as though I can never have enough ideas! The challenge comes keeping track of all those recipes and remembering which ones looked good to me as I paged through the books. (By the way, I get a lot of these softcover books at Sam’s Club where magazines and books are 30% off the cover price!)

But I’ve come up with a solution! Most of the books in this format or magazines have an index in the back that is only one or two pages long. What I will do is scan and copy the index so I can print it out on a regular sheet of paper. Don’t have a printer at home that will do that? That’s ok! Just use a regular photocopier at the local office supply store or your local library. It might not be in color but it will still do the trick. I also copy the cover so that I can remember which index and book it belongs to in case I want to store it separately in my meal planning binder. I’ll either make it double sided (one side cover, one side index) or staple it to the index sheet.

Next, as I’m going through the book, I have my printed index copy and a highlighter handy so that as I see recipes that look worth trying, I can just highlight the recipe title. After I’ve tried a recipe I go back and put a star next to the title so I can mark what is good (or what is not!) What’s nice about the highlighter method is that the index is already sorted into categories for me which makes it easier later when I’m looking for some inspiration. Perhaps I want a meal that uses chicken or maybe a new side dish. All I have to do is scan the index, see the titles that already looked good to me and flip to that page to get the recipe.

Scan and copy the index at the back of the book or magazine!

Scan and copy the index at the back of the book or magazine!

I like to copy the front of the magazine or soft cover book so I know where the index came  from!

I like to copy the front of the magazine or soft cover book so I know where the index came from!

Use a highlighter to remember which recipes looked good to you!

Use a highlighter to remember which recipes looked good to you!

A new index ready to be marked with favorites!

A new index ready to be marked with favorites!

Two different indexes...I will put them in my meal planning binder to refer to when I need some recipe inspiration.

Two different indexes…I will put them in my meal planning binder to refer to when I need some recipe inspiration.

After I've tried a recipe, I mark on it with a star or an X or some other note so I know if it's a keeper--or not! I don't feel bad about marking on my index because it is not in the original!

After I’ve tried a recipe, I mark on it with a star or an X or some other note so I know if it’s a keeper–or not! I don’t feel bad about marking on my index because it is not in the original!

I have done this for several of my books and it’s SO easy! I like to take my books to the kids sports practices or when I’m watching television or a movie. It’s an easy task that helps me do double duty towards my meal planning organization.

How do you like to keep track of your recipes? I hope you find this tip helpful too!

10 Grocery Shopping Tips To Save Time and Your Sanity

My last several trips to the grocery store have reminded me about this post that I wrote last year so I’m sharing it again here in case you didn’t see it the first time. Just the other day I had people squeezing past me to get to what they needed. Um, ok. A simple “excuse me” will suffice and can go a long way! Sometimes I feel like I should pass out these grocery shopping tips to those I encounter in the store! Ok, well, maybe not. But I hope you find some of them helpful and maybe you’ll share a few or two with some of the shoppers in YOUR store. They’ll likely save everyone time and hopefully some of our sanity too. Happy Shopping!

10 Grocery Shopping Tips for Saving Time and Your Sanity | MealPlanningMagic.com
Have you noticed that the grocery stores are tad more crowded this time of year? Or maybe a lot more crowded? It seems that no matter what the practice is the rest of the year, November through December seems to bring a surge of cooking and baking—whether it’s for entertaining, baking with the kids or making that special holiday meal. And that can mean confused shoppers who wander up and down the aisles looking for ingredients they may not normally use.

Besides our grocery lists, there’s one thing we all should bring to the store these next couple of weeks (well, and any time!): patience. A few weeks ago I asked my Facebook fans what tips they had for making the shopping experience a bit easier and I’m sharing some of them here. I’ve also added a few of my tips too!

Shop at non-peak times if you can. But keep in mind some specialty departments like the meat counter, pharmacy and deli often close earlier than the rest of the store so find out your favorite store’s hours and adjust accordingly. The busiest times are generally weekday evenings (between 5-7 p.m.) and weekend mornings (or in our area, all day on Sunday!) I know when my kids were younger, we’d often head out really early (because they were up anyway!) or I would go shopping after they were in bed and my husband could stay home with them.

Keep phone calls short & sweet. If you need to make or answer a call on your phone, move to an area where you’re not blocking the aisle. Meandering down an aisle unaware of those around you, while not as bad doing that on the road, is just plain inconsiderate. This is especially important when you’re pushing a giant kid’s cart. (And believe me, I’ve been there, done that—those things are hard enough to maneuver much less try to multi-task and push at the same time!)

Mind your carts & buggies. Don’t leave your shopping carts unattended in the middle of the aisle. If you need to park your cart, try to do it to the side or in an out of the way area so that others can still get around you to continue shopping. And if what you need is on one side of the aisle, keep your cart with you. Don’t park it on one side and then shop opposite of that. Nobody likes an aisle hog.

Keep social hour to the side. If you run into someone you know at the store (which I seem to do a lot!), move your carts to the side to chat. Who wants to be the grouchy customer that breaks up the party right there in the middle of the store? Be mindful and move your social hour over so others can be on their way with their shopping.

Use your words. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at the store taking some extra time to compare prices, ingredients, etc. and found myself in my own little world only to turn around when I’m done and discover someone has snuck up silently behind me , waiting for me to move so they can get what they want. I feel bad because if they had just asked I would have gladly moved out of the way for the minute they need to grab what they want. Most people won’t bite if you politely ask them to move so you can get what you need so use those words and ask nicely.

Don’t wander aimlessly and bring a list. If you’re not sure which aisle to go down, move to the side of the main aisle and look for the aisle markers to try and figure it out. Or ask an employee where something is. Even if they are working in one department, they most often know the layout of the whole store and can help you out. Or make your own customized shopping list that lists items by aisle so you can just go up and down as needed and spend less time hunting for things!

Put things back in their place. If you decide not to get something, put it back where it belongs, especially if it is refrigerated. No need to waste food unnecessarily. Consider it a Random Act of Kindness or a pay-it-forward kind of a thing to help out a store employee from coming upon misplaced food and have to deal with it.

Treat others how you want to be treated. Be nice to the employees, especially if you need something. As the saying goes, you’ll attract my bees with honey than you do with vinegar and everyone appreciates a little kindness. If you (or your kids) spill something, let an employee know immediately so that no one slips and falls on it. Common sense, y’all!

Help the kids help you. I know many of you will be bringing kids who are out of school to the store during this holiday season. Check out this post I wrote this past summer. It might help you get in and out of the store a bit more quickly—and with your patience intact!

Corral those carts. After you’ve left the store and put the groceries into your car, the consideration doesn’t stop there. Take the extra minute or two to put your cart in the designated cart corral. Not only will it keep your cart from potentially hitting another person’s car but who couldn’t use a little bit of extra exercise? (Tip: If you have children and don’t want to leave them, next time try to park close to the cart corral so that when it comes time to leave it is closer to you and easier for you to put the cart there).

Most of these tips are common sense but in our haste to get our to-do lists checked off we can all sometimes need a reminder of how to make the shopping experience for ourselves and others go a little more smoothly. Last of all, don’t forget your reusable bags and an extra dose of patience!

Party Planning Success: 5 Top Tips + Free Downloadable Checklist

It’s party season! If you’re planning any holiday parties this season (or any time of year), then I want to let you in on my secret to staying organized: it’s my Party Planning Worksheet! I love to throw a good party but I also like to be organized and not be running around like crazy trying to get things done. So several years ago after realizing that my “To-Do” list always seemed to look about the same, I decided to type it up so that all I needed to do was print it and fill it out as my guide to staying on track. It also helps others helping me (i.e. my husband and kids!) to know how they can help out too. I like to print it on colored paper just to make it more fun–it is a party afterall! And I print it double-sided so that all the information I need is handy.

Here are my top five tips for staying organized AND throwing a fabulous bash!

Start early! When you’ve got a plan you can do a little bit of the prep work each week rather than stressing down to the wire. Ahead of time you can: plan the menu, make your guest list, do a little housework, pull out serving trays, make ahead food for the freezer and more!

Choose a theme. Helps you focus and stay on track. Even if that theme is just color scheme, you’ll be able to get a lot more done when you know what the end result should be.

Involve the guests. Do it yourself food bars like cocktail stations, make-your-own taco or baked potato bar. Ask close friends for their help and if others offer, accept it! Many friends are happy to arrive a little early to help with prep work or even by bringing a dish to share.

Do your cooking ahead of time (or as much of it as you can). There are tons of foods that you can make ahead—either just enough for a few hours before the party starts to well ahead of time for the freezer. A couple of ideas include: Cranberry Amaretto Chutney or these Beef Crostini with Balsamic Drizzle and Parmesan Crisps Doing a baked potato bar? Make your baked potatoes in the slowcooker!

Go Green with Partyware: You can buy inexpensive sets of clear glassware and basic silverware (both of which goes with every theme) at discount stores like Target & Walmart. I’ve also found lots of neat sets at garage or tag sales. My mom once came across an estate sale from a former caterer! Talk about a great way to get some good deals on great serving ware! You’ll not only save money in the long run but you’ll also be saving the planet! Lots of kids coming to the party? There are tons of neat melamine plates and bowls on the market now that will ease your mind when it comes to breakability.

No room to store all those extras? Set up a “library” of serving ware with friends and family so that you can borrow and share what you need without having to store it all. And be sure to reciprocate when you can!

Don’t forget to “>download the free Party Planning Checklist that I use. It will get you started towards Party Planning Success. Still on the fence about throwing a fabulous bash? Don’t be. Check out my book review from the Reluctant Entertainer and you’ll soon realize things don’t need to be perfect to have a fun time with family and friends. Happy planning and I hope you have a great party!

Organize Your Freezer In 5 Easy Steps

This is my freezer below the refrigerator. It may not look super organized but it is! On the upper level is baked goods like tortillas and bagels, on the right is our ice cream stash. On the bottom, left side is nuts and some other leftover recipe ingredients. On the right is frozen fruit & veggies. In the upper edge, I have frozen herbs like parsley, cilantro, garlic, ginger, etc. and some homemade coffee creamer. I use my extra freezer to hold bigger items like meat or prepared meals ready to heat and eat.[/

This is my freezer below the refrigerator. It may not look super organized but it is! On the upper level is baked goods like tortillas and bagels, on the right is our ice cream stash. On the bottom, left side is nuts and some other leftover recipe ingredients. On the right is frozen fruit & veggies. In the upper edge, I have frozen herbs like parsley, cilantro, garlic, ginger, etc. and some homemade coffee creamer. I use my extra freezer to hold bigger items like meat or prepared meals ready to heat and eat.[/

As I’ve mentioned, I have been participating in the Pantry Challenge hosted by Real Mom Nutrition. I included my freezer and refrigerator too. And since I’m getting ready for a big freezer cooking session coming up in the next week so getting my freezer in order is very important! I’ve talked about freezer organization before but it’s been awhile and a lot of you are new so sharing my tips with you today!

Now before I started meal planning, I didn’t give much thought to how things were organized in my freezer. I mean, you just throw it in and it’s saved forever, right? No! As I started meal planning more, I realized I’d need to have a system of some kind that helped me keep track of what was going in so I could use it up later. Freezing foods can help you save money in the long run too by preserving leftover food or letting you take advantage of sales or bulk food purchase (check out this video I did for the LiveWell Network for even more tips!)

Organzing your freezer is pretty simple so here are my top five tips:

Figure Out What You Can Freeze
I get ask this question all the time! My answer is usually “just about everything!” People are surprised to learn that I shred and freeze my own block cheese, cut up fruit, and of course prepared meals ready to pull out, heat and serve. I also freeze other dairy like buttermilk or It is recommended that items remain in the freezer no more than three months, on average, to avoid quality issues but you can store some things for longer than that. Find out how to best prepare your food for freezing by checking out this link to get you started or this link. to get you started.

Choose The Right Containers.
To make the most of your freezer space, choose containers that work for you. I use a combination of plastic containers made for the freezer (like those from Tupperware). I also use glass containers (like those from Pyrex) that allow me to thaw and heat in the same container. I also sometimes use zip-top bags. If  you freeze the contents flat, you can stack them on end like a bookshelf when they are frozen to save you even more space. Sometimes I will line a baking dish with foil and freeze it right into that dish. Then when it’s frozen, I pop it out like a giant ice cube, wrap it in more foil or slip into a freezer storage bag, label it and then when I’m ready to bake it, I just slip it back into it’s baking dish and I’m good to go!

Label It.
I want to say right now that if you do not label your foods when it goes in you will not remember what it is when it needs to come out. I’m pretty sure on this one. No matter what kind of awesome memory you think you have, lots of things look the same when they’re all frozen. And what if other members in your family want to pull something out to make for a meal? They need to know what things are. My favorite example was the time I thought I was thawing (unlabeled) pork chops in cranberry sauce from a freezer meal exchange to have for dinner only to discover once it was thawed it was spaghetti sauce. Whoops!

5 Tips to Organize Your Freezer | Label Your Foods for the Freezer! Reusable labels are perfect too! | | Meal  Planning Magic

I personally love the reusable labels from Label Once. They adhere to a lid and will not come off in the freezer or dishwasher. When it’s time to reuse your container, just use the eraser that comes with the starter set (or any eraser will do) to erase the contents and date and write on the new information. Labeling your ziptop baggies with a marker works great too!

Log it.
Now that your items are labeled, you’ll want to log what goes into the freezer (plus, you’ll save energy by not opening the freezer door!). I created a form that helps me find what I’m looking for more easily. It has four categories: Prepared Meals, Fruits & Vegetables, Dairy/Nuts/Bread/Other and Meats/Fish. Don’t forget to date it too! When it comes time for meal planning, just grab your list and scan it to find out what you have on hand and choose your recipe accordingly. Get a copy of the form shown below by clicking here to download. (I have two different options–full pages for if you have a large freezer and a smaller one with all categories on one page for your smaller freezer).

5 Tips to an Organized Freezer | Keeping a log helps! Download free template at Mealplanningmagic.com

Map It.
We have a medium chest-style deep freezer. In it I have some plastic crates to help me organize it into compartments. My parents have an upright freezer and they also use crates to containerize loose items. For my freezer, I divided the freezer into “zones” that correlate to my log sheet and made a little map that shows what categories are where. For example, the upper right crate holds fruits and veggies, like the blueberries we pick every summer or sliced bell peppers that I got on sale. I have this diagram taped to the top of the freezer that shows the crates and what is contained in each so that other members of my family can find what they are looking for more easily too! Even if you have just a freezer with the refrigerator, having different zones and a map will help everyone find what they need when they want it!
I hope some of these tips will inspire you to organize your freezer too. It’s easy to get organized when you have a few tricks up your sleeve! 5 Tips to Freezer Organization  | Create a map of where things are in your freezer | Free downloads at MealPlanningMagic.com

Disclaimer: I am an Amazon affiliate which means when you order products mentioned in the post using the links provided, I receive a very small portion of that sale. But all opinions are my own.