We’ve talked about getting organized and tailoring your routines to match your needs. We’ve talked about tackling the things that bug you and working in small chunks of time. I’ve got one more realization to share with you, but before we get to that, I did a little investigative documentation yesterday.

After the kids got on the bus, I timed myself doing my normal routines. The one difference was that I stayed on task (not something I do easily) and did the chore uninterruptedly from start to finish. Here are my results:

Make bed and clean up bathroom (wiped down the sinks, mirrors and toilet, changed the hand towels) = 10 minutes

Empty the dishwasher = 5 minutes

Load the dishwasher = 5 minutes

Tidy up living room/dining room and vacuum both = 10 minutes

Putting away miscellaneous papers, clothes, books and stuff = 5 minutes

All these tasks added up to a total of 35 minutes.

35 minutes.

That’s it.

That’s when I force myself not to get distracted from one job by another job, when I force myself to not dwell on the old greeting card I just found in a stack of papers I was sorting (just as an example).

35 minutes, and my house is a place in which I can sit or invite someone over without being annoyed or embarrassed by the tasks that need doing.

When you break it down, it isn’t quite as daunting anymore.

Organizing Your Meals

I had another area that took me a long time to adjust: meal preparation. When you’re a couple, you have flexibility and the capability to fend for yourselves when necessary.

When you’ve got children, they depend on your to feed them.

It should be obvious, I know, but it took me a long time to catch on to.

For a long time, when dinner rolled around it caught me off guard. I mean, didn’t these children just have a snack an hour ago? How can they possibly be hungry? For them to expect dinner seemed so unreasonable. In reaction, we’d run out and get fast food, or we’d try and go to a “sit-down” restaurant (because at all the other restaurants you’re forced to stand??). We’d end up stressed out from trying to contain impatient, hungry toddlers, or we’d be stressed because we spent too much money on eating out.

Not a winning situation.

meal planning

meal planning (Photo credit: LizMarie_AK)

When I finally realized that these people, however unreasonable, were going to want to eat EVERY DAY, we made a couple changes.

1. I joined a meal co-op.

The meal co-op was a fun idea that worked well for a while. I won’t go into great detail here, but it was a group of moms who delivered hot meals to one another.

2. I froze meals.

Freezing meals worked wonders for us. For example, we weren’t at a point where we could eat an entire 9×13 pan of lasagna. By preparing it in two smaller dishes and freezing one of them, we got two meals out of the deal. I found a fantastic book that had recipes that my family enjoyed and didn’t require a lot of exotic ingredients. It is still a go-to cookbook for me, and I recommend it to anyone, even just as a good general entrée cookbook. http://amzn.to/18lWh4I

3. I stocked up supplies for quick dinners.

Everyone has times when they just don’t feel like cooking, but eating out is expensive and not particularly healthy. We started keeping on-hand supplies for quesadillas and refried beans, soup and sandwiches, or taco salads. These don’t take much work, and my kids will eat them. It saved us stress, time and money.

4. If there was something I knew we needed regularly, rather than buying one I bought two.

For a long time I bought only what we’d need once we were almost out of it, and didn’t think ahead to when we’d need it again. Sometimes this was because it was cost prohibitive for me to buy ahead, but sometimes it was just a lack of planning. As we got more established, and I got better at managing our home expenses, it saved us trips to the store which in turn saved us money since we weren’t picking up all those little extras that end up in the cart when you shop with three children.

There you have it.

Getting our meals organized has made our supper times much more enjoyable. There are many tools out there to help you plan your meals, even planning out a couple weeks in advance, so I won’t offer those here. However, I do think that having a plan cuts down on the hunger induced crabbiness and anger that can well up when everyone wants food and no one knows what to do about dinner. It can also help the main chef in the house share the work of cooking. When there’s a plan, the chef can point out things others can do to help out.

I hope this series has been helpful. It comes from learning it slowly over time, the hard way.

My goal for structure  is to get things done and thus free me up to have adventures and fun everyday, investing in friendships and relationships. Rather than rigid schedules or routines, these little helpers are there to serve you and keep things working smoothly in your home so it can be a place people (including the people who live there) can be welcomed and valued.

I’m always on the lookout for other ideas to make things easier around family life. If you’ve got any favorite routines or tips, please share them with the rest of us! And as always, thank you so much for reading.