Nobody seems to know how to cook anymore, and that makes meal planning even more complicated when people’s schedules and requirements don’t line up. What if you’re eating different things, at different times, for different reasons, and you have different needs?
The second reason for a trashed, messy kitchen is when there are multiple people sharing it who eat meals at different times. It means the kitchen is almost continually in use, and that means nobody thinks that wiping down counters or scouring the sink is “their job.” (The first reason is that the home is ruled by Not Me).
Bulk cooking is one way around this. People can take turns being the bulk cook, or trading off between shopping, cleanup, and meal prep.
The other way is something that I just figured out.
A lot of families are out of sync because there are multiple adults (or teenagers) working various shifts, going to classes, or fitting in sports and other events. There can also be an issue with people fixing meals and then carrying them off to other parts of the house, leaving dirty dishes, smears, napkins, food packaging, and crumbs all over the place.
Fortunately for us, we don’t have this problem!
We have two problems: one, when his business travel and evening gym classes either do or don’t line up with nights when I have meetings; two, when one of us is cutting calories and the other is trying to bulk up.
Why are our fitness routines always out of sync? Who knows? It just seems to happen that way.
He’s on a diet; I’m training for a marathon.
He’s training for his blue belt; I’m trying to drop fifteen pounds.
One of us is recovering from a sports injury and the other has a full plate in one hand and a smoothie in the other.
We have a deal set up where we take turns cooking throughout the week. My nights are Monday, Wednesday, and Friday because those are his gym nights, especially on Friday when he does sparring and class back to back. Then he does Tuesday, Thursday, and whichever weekend night we don’t go to the movies.
The main complicating factor is that I often have a meeting on Wednesday nights, and also a teleconference on Mondays right in the middle of the cooking window.
The other is that I’m in a two-month window of cutting calories.
We have a set of six meal prep containers. Last year, we were bulk cooking and keeping these full. We would plan what we wanted in them, and we would each cook part of it. Maybe he would make five gallons of mashed potatoes and I would chop the vegetables, or he’d chop and I’d make a pan of cornbread. Even with both of us taking turns in our miniature kitchen, because we couldn’t both fit in there at the same time, we could turn it around in under an hour. That means one evening of cooking for four nights’ meals: that night plus the six servings that went into the freezer.
This only works if we’re eating the same things.
Or so I thought.
Suddenly it occurred to me that I could continue to hold my end up, cooking on the nights that are my turn, even if the meal that I’m cooking for someone who just did a two-hour workout is not the meal that I plan to eat.
It goes like this:
Cook two servings of ordinary dinner. Serve one steaming hot. Put the other into the meal prep container with its three neat divisions. Put the lid on it, label it, and put it in the freezer. Eat whatever is on the alternate plan.
The next night, he can make whatever he wants, with the option of freezing half.
Within six to twelve nights, all the meal prep containers are full, labeled, and stacked up in the freezer.
There are huge advantages to this method. On busy nights, you can grab a meal prep box and microwave it, or even bring it with you. If one of you is out of town, the other can enjoy a nice home-cooked meal without having to cook or clean up.
An under-appreciated aspect of rotating meal prep is that the containers are almost always either in the dishwasher or the freezer. That means you don’t need to set aside as much space in the kitchen cabinets to store them.
Another under-appreciated factor is that this method generates much less trash than buying packaged meals. The busier the household, the less likely anyone is to feel like they “have the time” to take out the garbage or sort recycling. Less trash, less squabbling.
Any system that makes sense will reduce chaos. Each system that a household puts into place eliminates a persistent problem, and usually a bunch of them. For instance, an evening routine makes an easier morning routine, and giving each person a get-ready chair makes it easier to find the most important objects. Having a meal prep routine simplifies the one thing that is most likely to happen when people are hangry and tired, which is trying to figure out what to eat for dinner. Last-minute hangry, tired meal planning has about a 99.9% chance of leading to unintended consequences, such as me trying to eat in a car and getting ketchup all over myself.
The single greatest question to ask when you are trying to Get Organized is, will this make life easier for Future Me or harder for Future Me? Often the thing that you do now to make life easier for yourself tomorrow only takes two minutes. Bulk cooking and meal prep take a little bit more planning than that, but they can support the utmost in complicated and busy lives. It’s possible to use this method even for a household of multiple adults who are constantly traveling, taking night classes, working overtime, and doing body transformation - even all at the same time.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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