If you know Jon or I personally, or have been reading this blog for any length of time, you realize that we are newlyweds. At this point, we have been married just over a month. It is a month that has been full of fun, stress, exhaustion — but it has been wonderful. The stress and exhaustion part are mostly from me in trying to balance my new role as a wife with my absolutely crazy work schedule that my (amazing) husband has been so gracious and understanding of. First, I want to make clear that I love my job; however, it is not an easy one to have and being away for long hours creates exhaustion (especially when we’re running calls all night) and a certain level of stress as I begin to think about the things I need to accomplish once I get home in the morning.
Even through all of this stress, I have found something that is of immense help: menu planning. I am really good at sitting there at the fridge/freezer/pantry at 5pm looking to see what I might be able to cook and hoping not everything that I have is frozen solid. I have tried a new approach to this. I plan our menu out for 9 days at a time (based on my work cycle). In deciding what to cook each night, I take into account that I have or have not worked the day/night before, if I am picking up extra shifts, if I will be working the next day and any other events that we may have going on that week.
Why all those factors? For starters, if I am working an extra shift (usually a day shift), the amount of time that I have to spend on a meal is less than if I have the day off. If I have worked one of my regular shifts the day before, I am often very tired and feel like putting less effort into my meal, but still want it to taste amazing. If I happen to be working the next day, I want to provide Jon with food he doesn’t have to cook while I’m gone, and also meals for my work day.
It takes a little effort to sit down and plan out a full week (and then some) but the end result is much less stress about preparing meals. I can look a day or two ahead, know what is on the menu and, as a result, plan and prepare by defrosting things before the day of. (It works out so much better that way.)
To be honest, I don’t always follow my menu plan. As much as I love to cook, I have days where I don’t feel like cooking and just don’t want to. On those days, we fix soup and a sandwich or something along those lines. Easy. Despite what I thought (and what actually happened the first time), it is not a stressor to me to deviate from a plan (me, the huge planner, not stressing about not following a plan — tough to believe, I know). I easily push things back and make it another day.
Making a menu plan is not difficult. It you convince yourself to try it for a month, see how you like it. I know that I feel so much more prepared for my week ahead and when I make my grocery trip. I am not aimlessly wandering around the grocery trying to figure out what looks good or sounds good for a meal. I already know what I’m making…and I am pleased with the food choices I have made. Start with simple foods. Don’t try putting 7 new recipes on your menu for the week. That has a great potential to end in disaster (and too much stress). Find one new thing per week, or two if you’re ambitious, try it and see how it goes. If it works, add it to your base for recipes. If not, no harm done — and at least you know that you don’t like it for future menu planning. A helpful thing would be to cross off (not completely scratched out) those things that you and your family don’t like. Also, never throw away a menu plan! Save them so you can go back and look to see what you’ve made in the past. This will help with future plans. (And you can see what you didn’t like to avoid another blunder — but if you’re brave, try it again and see if you can improve upon it!)
Trying this may cause a routine change for you and your family, I realize that. But I would suggest trying it. If it can work for me and the strange/weird/crazy schedule that I keep, I can almost guarantee that it will work for you — so long as you give it a good shot.
Making a plan and more-or-less following it has been helpful as I have been transitioning into my new role as a wife. I think Jon has found it to be positive as he knows ahead of time what’s for dinner (if it matters all the much to him at a particular time, anyway) and it produces a happier wife when she removes a stressful element from life.
And everyone knows, a happy wife is a good thing.