Organization Required!

When it comes to meal planning, cooking, and grocery shopping (while trying not to make any trash), organization is not an option. I have to have a game plan, and I have to be prepared. Fortunately organizing and planning are two of my favorite things!

The key is knowing what I’m going to make for dinner. I have a six-week repeating meal plan for my dinners so I know what to put on the calendar each month. My meals are nothing fancy, but they’re made from scratch and made with love. I try to have a balance of grain types, meat types, and dish styles. Most of my meals contain vegetables and many are even tolerated by my children, although not necessarily the ones with vegetables! I cook on Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, so naturally my favorite nights are Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, when we have leftovers. Whenever I cook, I make enough for my parents (our neighbors!) and in return my mom makes us a pasta dish every other Sunday. You could say we’re like “mother-daughter-neighbor wives”.

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If I know what I’m making for dinner, I’ll know what to buy at the store. I go grocery shopping on Sundays (without kids) and Tuesdays (with kids). My mom gets our milk on Wednesdays at New Leaf with her senior discount to “repay us” for the extra groceries we buy to make their dinners (even though they gave us a house).

I also have to know where to go, based on which bulk items I need, and this took some research! Staff of Life has loose eggs, Whole Foods has organic coconut oil, New Leaf and Staff have organic olive oil, New Leaf has chocolate chips with no soy lecithin, raspberry granola sweetened with honey, and (at the Felton store) pretzels and maple syrup. I also make other stops on certain days, or when it’s convenient,  to buy special items like bagels and cream cheese, Panda Puffs, or fresh bread.

And of course, my bag has to be ready to go! I always leave it hanging by the door, stocked with cloth produce bags, empty jars, and other various containers. In its former life, my near-o waste shopping bag was a diaper bag for both of our sons. It was a gift from a dear friend, and I never thought it would have a place in my life after the baby years, but I’m so glad to have it! It’s extra large, durable, and even has pouches inside that prevent my jars from banging around.

Here it is, ready to go:

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In the store, ready to shop:

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At first I used cloth bags for my bulk items, adorned with tags my son labeled (“almonds” below left), but I soon realized it’s actually much easier to bring the jars to the store. You fill up, go home, and put them in your cupboards, no bag-to-jar transfer necessary. When I switched to jars, I started keeping a list of tares and item codes (PLU’s) on my phone, but I always ended up at the register, staring at my phone, scrolling, lost, trying to locate the correct item, and sometimes realizing I’d forgotten to type it in. Meanwhile my kids are grabbing candy, running the cart into other shoppers, hanging from the register, and the list goes on.

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My new masking tape labels have made checking out a breeze! I keep them on a clipboard, arranged by store, with tares on the right side (and it tucks ever so discreetly into my bag). The labels are easily removed, repositioned, and reused. For the items I buy most often I keep the labels on the lid, put the jars in my bag when they run dry, so to speak, and then when I’m at the store I know exactly what to put in which jar, and the code’s already there.

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If you’re filling jars on the spot, please note that large jars will fit under the overhead dispensers if you tilt them. I also hold the lid behind the opening to catch (most of) the bits that try to fly away. Pull slowly! Are jars heavy? Sure they are, but I just activate my core and consider it an extra workout.

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The first time I checked out using my new method the checker said, “I love this! This is great!” We chatted about my old system, my new system, and the jars he had at home, while two customers behind me listened in, I’m sure, as the store was pretty much silent. After I paid, he said, “That was fun! Good job!” I smiled, thanked him, and made my exit, somewhat awkwardly, as I’m still acclimating to people staring at me.

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As I was loading my trunk, one of the women from my line walked towards me and said hesitantly, “Can I ask you something?… Do they, like, weigh your jars first?” I couldn’t help showing her my labels, clipboard and all. “I want to do that!” she said, “Very clever!” The other woman from our line backed out on the other side of the parking lot, looked over, and gave me a smile that I couldn’t quite read, but I think it was somewhere between good idea, and you’re crazy, lady!

The second time I used my new method, I ended up in line behind one of my best friends. I’m pretty sure she was embarrassed to know me when I pulled out my clipboard… but it just so happened that I had an extra cloth bag for her when she realized her groceries wouldn’t fit in her purse.

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