It was almost exactly a year ago when I sat nervously at my computer, getting ready to launch The Organization Toolbox. Of all the posts I’ve written over the years, I was the most nervous about that one. I worried that no one would like my printables…or use them. I worried people wouldn’t subscribe to get them, and I worried I was wasting my time. I had all these ideas and plans for tools, forms, and systems I wanted to create…but until that launch, I had no idea if any of them would ever come to fruition. In the year since that launch, thousands of readers and visitors have subscribed to gain access to my printable library; and many of you have even taken the time to write or message me to let me know how much you love and use them. I knew that I loved making and using printables and coming up with systems and processes to make my life easier. But until the success of The Organization Toolbox, I never realized how much I genuinely enjoyed creating those same systems and products for you guys! Week after week, month after month, my confidence was bolstered and I finally found the courage (and time!) to put a plan into motion to launch all those printable ideas overflowing in my mind!
Today is another launch day that has filled me with a lot of nervousness, but also a lot of excitement. Today I launch a total labor of love…a pack of over 200 pretty printable pages to help you organize and improve function in each and every area of your kitchen! I can’t wait for you guys to check out all the goodies in my Ultimate Kitchen Printable Pack!
The Ultimate Kitchen Printable Pack contains pretty printable pages in my signature style to help you organize your kitchen, streamline your meal planning and grocery shopping processes, and ultimately create a kitchen that is a prettier, more organized, and better functioning place to cook, eat, entertain, and more! The bundle includes 4 printable packs plus 3 bonus kits (because I just couldn’t stop creating fun new things for you guys!) You can check out ALL the details, sample pages, and pricing HERE, but here is quick snapshot of what’s included!
4 Printable Kits
Meal Planning Kit –Meal planning is a tried-and-true method for reducing meal-time stress, keeping pantry/fridge clutter at bay, and sticking to a grocery/food budget. This kit includes dozens of meal planners, trackers, and shopping lists to provide you with countless options and ultimate flexibility.
Recipe Organization Kit –Having your recipes sorted, organized, and accessible is key to reducing meal time stress, streamlining your meal planning process, and efficiently generating complete grocery lists. The recipe categories, inventories, recipe cards, stickers, and tabs in this kit are all color-coordinated and designed to create one comprehensive Recipe Binder.
Food Labels & Inventories Kit – The printables in this kit will help you to inventory, track, label, and organize the foods you have on hand, enabling you to generate grocery lists and prepare meals easier and more efficiently. This kit also includes pages and pages of printable labels for everything in your pantry!
Coupon Organization Kit – Having a comprehensive system to sort, organize, and access your coupons is the key to effectively using coupons and ultimately saving money. The printables in this kit are designed to be used together to create a Coupon Binder. The color-coordinated cover sheets, dividers and tabs will help you quickly sort your recipes and make finding exactly what you need while shopping quick and intuitive.
Did you Say Bonus Kits?
I sure did! I just couldn’t stop coming up with fun things to include in this bundle, and these three mini bonus kits are the most fun of the bunch!
Mini Cleaning Kit – You guys have been asking for it, and I am happy to respond! This mini cleaning kit has “Clean Routine” worksheets as well as fun cleaning stickers for your planner/calendar. This kit is a mini version of a full Spring Cleaning Kit coming down the pike soon!
Dinner Party Planner – This kit is a great way to track all of the details of any parties or events you’re hosting. There’s a one-page planner for small events, as well as an expanded 12-page planner for larger gatherings!
Fun Extras – I wanted to provide a variety of binder covers, spines, dividers and tabs to help you create a fun, unique and personal kitchen resource binder. There are 10 bright and fun covers to choose from to give your kitchen binder some extra pizzazz!
For more details, pricing, and sample pages, click HERE!
So…you’ll notice this post is a little short on my usual pictures because well…#Christmas and #baby! However, in the coming weeks, I’m going to have several tutorials on how to use the various printables in this kit, including how to assemble the ultimate Recipe/Kitchen binder, how to use the spice/pantry labels, as well as more about the cleaning routine I’ve developed so keep your eyes out for those.
We are in the final few weeks before Baby arrives – eeeek! (Honestly, sitting here at 38 weeks, I sure wouldn’t mind if he made his appearance any time now!) This pregnancy has flown by…in fact, I can still remember thinking during Henry’s first week of full-time school back in September that I had SO much time to knock out a ton of to-dos before my due date rolled around. From a bunch of organization projects in our new house and designing my soon-to-launch kitchen printables to finishing the nursery and sewing a bunch of fun things for baby, perhaps my expectations were set a bit high. #guilty On top of everything else I had planned, I also really wanted to have a fully stocked freezer of healthy, wholesome and easy meals that we could eat in the first few weeks after Baby’s arrival. While I had very high hopes that I would do some massive freezer meal preparations, I was just never able to carve out the time in our busy schedule to make it happen. But that doesn’t mean we are wholly unprepared! Today, I thought I’d show you my easy and practical approach for stocking the freezer before baby arrives without having to do a massive shopping/prepping marathon. Whether you have a baby coming too or would just like to dip your toe into having a better stocked freezer, hopefully these tips will get you moving in the right direction!
*this post contains affiliate links
First, let me preface this post with the disclaimer that I am NOT a freezer meal maven. If you’re looking for some serious freezer meal tactics, I’m not your girl. In general, I don’t like to have too much stocked up because 1) we don’t have a ton of freezer space; 2) I don’t like stocking up on things that will never get eaten (i.e., forgotten things stuffed in the back of the freezer); and 3) doing massive shopping/prep sessions overwhelm me. That said, baby coming or not, it’s always handy to have a few meals in the freezer ready to go for busy (or lazy!) nights, and I have found some great ways to keep a steady stock at all times.
What’s My Secret?
It’s pretty simple:
Whenever I make something that freezes well, I double/triple the recipe and freeze the extra into additional meals.
Yep. It’s that straight-forward and simple. Whenever I am making a meal, in our regular meal rotation, that I know freezes/re-cooks really well, I will simply double or triple the recipe while I am making it. We have one “serving” for dinner that night, and then I package and freeze what’s remaining (usually before it’s cooked) into meals that are suitably sized for our family. Here are a few quick reasons why I love this approach so much:
There is very little extra work. Oftentimes, a full recipe is enough to make 2-3 meals for just Greg and I. Instead of half-ing the recipe for our small family OR eating extras as leftovers, I’ll package up the meal (before cooking/baking) into smaller meals to stock the freezer. And if a single recipe isn’t quite enough for a additional meals, doubling or tripling it rarely requires extra work. If I am making something labor intensive (like lasagna or stuffed chicken), I might as well make it worth my time and make as much of it as I can!
I don’t need to shop for lots of extra ingredients. Frequently, making a recipe leaves me with extra or leftover ingredients. By doubling/tripling the recipe, I use up what I’ve bought for that recipe rather than letting it sit in the fridge/pantry (where it will often expire before I get a chance to use it up).
I don’t need to carve out extra kitchen time. I don’t particularly enjoy meal prep as it is, so I certainly don’t want to spend a random/full day in the kitchen if I don’t have to. As such, I only double/triple recipes at the time I am already preparing them for that day/night’s meal. Again, if it’s time I am already planning on spending in the kitchen, why not make the most of it!
My Favorite Freezable Recipes
The internet is FULL of handbooks, workbooks, cookbooks and round-ups of the “best” freezer meals. So if you are trying to really get into freezer meals, I would suggest searching “Freezer Meal Cooking” on Pinterest. As much as knocking out a ton of meals all at once kind of appeals to me…it works better for me and our family when I simply stick to meals we already make and love and just prepare extra of them. As such, I suggest you go through your recipes and identify ones that freeze well and start there. If you need some ideas or are just curious, here are the recipes/meals I find myself freezing over and over:
Creamy Rosemary Penne Pasta Bake – This one is pretty labor intensive and requires ingredients I don’t often buy. So whenever I make it, I triple it and freeze up the extra into disposable baking pans.
Other Freezable Dishes
Rachel Ray’s Lazy Greek Chicken – We LOVE this chicken dish, but I find the recipe labor intensive. As such, I will typically prepare/stuff 6-10 chicken breasts at a time and then wrap them and freeze them individually (before they are cooked). Once thawed, they cook in just 20 minutes. I then pair them with freezer rolls and a bagged salad to get a nutritious meal on the table without having to really cook!
Pulled BBQ Chicken/Beef/Pork – A single recipe usually makes enough for several meals. Since this one is typically cooked before you package it up, all you have to do is heat it up in a microwave and pair with buns and a bagged salad for dinner! I often do a big recipe in the crock pot and then package up 2-3 serving portions into Ziplock bags and store them flat (less bulk!).
Slow Cooker Asian Chicken (for lettuce wraps) – I make this recipe ALL the time. Not only is it quick and easy (hello crockpot!) but it makes a lot and freezes well. It’s a nice change to pastas and other dishes that typically come from the freezer. Once heated up, I just serve it with lettuce leaves and cut up veggies. Couldn’t be easier!
Sausage & Beef Barley Soup – This is another recipe that makes a ton without even doubling it, making all the chopping and browning of meat worth it. We usually get 3-4 meals from a single recipe and it’s also my go-to for families who just had a baby!
Chili – Obviously.
Meatloaf – I typically load extra meatloaf mixture into a muffin tray to freeze it into individual portions. (Once frozen, I transfer the “meatloaf muffins” into a Ziplock bag for storage). To prepare, I pop as many as we need back into a muffin tin, thaw, and bake according to recipe directions.
This is one of my favorite tricks and really makes getting dinner on the table fast! A lot of the dishes I make are pastas or stir-frys that taste “fancy” because of a sauce that is simply added to basic ingredients at the very end. I have a few I now make all the time; and when I do…yep…I make them in bulk and freeze them in small containers or bags. Here are my go-tos that will get a lot of love in the coming weeks:
Rachel Ray’s Artichoke Pesto – We make this in big batches while I have the food processor out. We’ve found it is best served tossed with a hearty pasta (like penne), arugula or spinach, and chunks of Italian sausage.
Rachel Ray’s Thai Peanut Sauce – I only use this recipe to make the sauce (again, in big batches). Instead of using it with noodles, we toss it with a stir fry of chicken, onions, carrots, spinach all over brown rice. We easily have this 2-3/month, as it’s my “go to” when I have no energy to cook.
Chicken Spaghetti Sauce – We tend to rely on off-the-shelf jars of spaghetti sauce when we’re doing meatballs or sausages. But a few times a year, I will make my Mom’s Chicken Spaghetti Sauce in large batches and store it in smaller portions. I like this recipe a lot because the meat is already in the sauce so all I have to do is cook some noodles (rather than also cook the meatballs, sausage, etc).
Items I Rely On for Storing Freezer Meals
Over the past few weeks/months, I have been slowly adding to our freezer inventory with many of these dishes. I can’t say I’ve made them all (however some ARE on our list for THIS week!). Some are waiting to for when baby arrives, but others have already been eaten because this Mama has been a bit too tired to cook in recent weeks! Still, I thought I’d show you the items I rely on over and over when putting meals into our freezer:
Glass Snapware – I LOOOVE these. They are small and sturdy, making them ideal for packing up 2-3 serving sized dishes of casseroles, soups and more. I love that they are both freezer- and oven-safe so (once the food is thawed as necessary), I don’t have to transfer dishes before cooking/baking!
Disposable Bakeware – I’ve started storing casseroles and other things that need to go into the oven into disposable tins in recent weeks. Not only am I running out of my glassware, but the fewer dishes the better once baby arrives!
Gallon and Quart Freezer Bags – Soups and sauces are best stored flat (for less bulk), and I find the Ziplock freezer bags NEVER drip or leak. I also use the Gallon versions overtop my glass and disposable baking pans for extra protection from freezer burn.
Tin Foil – Not only can lids be bulky and breakable (especially on the disposable pans), but so many caseroles need to be covered in tin foil for baking. I often skip the included lids, cover the pan in tin foil and then add a Ziplock bag for good freezer protection + easy stacking.
Dry-Erase Markers–I label my freezer items in various ways (I’ll show you here in a sec!), but for any of my glassware/plastic lids, I love using dry-erase markers. Not only are they quick and easy to grab and scribble the contents directly onto the containers, but they wipe/wash off pretty easily once you’ve eaten the freezer dish.
Avery 5264 Labels – Sometimes a scribble on a lid isn’t quite sufficient to describe the contents and cooking instructions of a meal to so I often rely on these easy-to-print labels. More on these below.
Freezer Inventory and Labels – Depending on how much you freeze and store, keeping track of your freezer meals can be just as important as making and labeling them! So that I don’t need to hunt through my freezer every time I put together a meal plan, my freezer inventories have become a handy part of my freezer meal system (more below!).
I LOOOOVE having a bunch of these labels printed out and tucked into my Kitchen Binder, ready whenever I need them. When I prepare a meal for the freezer, I simply fill out a label and stick it right onto the Ziplock bag for the corresponding dish. (Note – I found these labels don’t peel off the plastic lids cleanly, so applying them to a disposable cover is a better bet!). No more mysterious dishes in the back of the freezer OR having to look up the recipe once it’s time for cooking!
For my small glass dishes that often contain sauces or small servings, I often just grab a dry erase marker and write the contents directly on the lid. A simple wipe with a wet sponge gets the words off every time!
Keeping Track of Freezer Meals with an Inventory
(Psssst – These inventories are also similar to my Freezer Labels & Inventory post from last Spring. I’ve re-designed and expanded them for my new kitchen printable pack set to release early next month (and they are soooo good!!!) but if you want access to some similar inventories now, get them HERE!)
As I have mentioned in recent months, I’ve been working hard to create a series of systems and printables to help make my meal planning and prep easier. You’re going to find out all the details here soon, but one of the main things I wanted was to be able to plan out our meals without having to really hunt and peck around the house for all my recipes and meals already on hand. As such, keeping track of what meals, what servings, and how many are on hand has been super helpful. As I make each meal and package it up for the freezer, I simply add it to the inventory in my binder. When I sit down to plan out our weekly meals, I can see at-a-glance what is still on hand as we eat things up!
I have some more cooking and stocking I want to get done in the next few weeks, which is why our meal plan for this week is mostly dishes that freeze really well! Even without a massive cooking day, I can take comfort in knowing I have a tried-and-true method for getting some meals into our freezer. Do you prepare meals for your freezer? What kinds of methods do you use? Any tips to share? Be sure to chime in in the comments!
I know I’ve been yammering on about it for quite some time, but the release of my whole new library of kitchen-themed printables set is just around the corner. I’ve been working like crazy on it and I think you guys will really love (and use!) what I’ve pulled together. Right after Christmas, I am going to be sharing sneak peeks and special pricing for those on my mailing lists so if you’re not on it already, be sure to sign up here:
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I hope you all have a great weekend! Next week will be my last week of posts before I take some time off for the holidays/baby (that is if he doesn’t come sooner!). I’m hoping to (finally) show you some glimpses of our holiday home, as well as launch this year’s reader survey. See you back here soon!
P.S. Be sure to check out my collection of over 200+ kitchen organization printables to get every area of your kitchen, meal planning, and grocery shopping organized and on track!
For those of you that have been around here for a while (and especially since the “very beginning,”) you likely know that I am somewhat of a meal planning junkie. In fact, one of my very first posts to ever go viral was my Magnetic Menu Board; and despite very little work on my part, it is still one of my most popular and shared posts almost 6 years later! While I still love and believe in that monthly meal-planning system, somewhere along the way it stopped working for me. I’m a pretty big believer in adjusting our organization methods to meet our needs (or else we won’t stick to them!), so I simplified our system about 2 years ago and have pretty much stuck to it ever since. Fast forward to this year and, for some reason, I have been in a meal planning, shopping and prepping rut! Planning out our family meals, and even more so, shopping for them, has become one of my least favorite (and most procrastinated!) home responsibilities. Since that’s usually a big ol’ red flag that I need to change something, I set about to re-vamp our system yet again. Today, I thought I’d chat a bit about all the various things I’ve tried over the last year to get our meal planning system back on track and share why, despite all my failed attempts, I still can’t quit meal planning (even if I really want to!)!
The Magnetic Menu Board System
As I mentioned above, my first attempt to reign in our meal planning was a project I called the Magnetic Menu Board. Henry was a brand new baby, and I was not enjoying my weekly meal planning sessions at all, so I decided to adopt a one-month-at-a-time system. At the start of each month, I sat down for a few hours and hashed out all of our outside-the-home meal commitments, new recipes I wanted to try, and other events, and then filled in the rest of the calendar with a well-balanced variety of meals and sides. The monthly planning session did require quite a bit of time, but I really liked that I only had to sit down and plan once a month. And while I continued to shop for perishable items weekly, having the entire month planned out allowed me to take advantage of sales and bulk offers on certain shelf/freezer-safe items. I actually stuck to this monthly system for several years. There were certainly times that I moved meals around or strayed from the calendar entirely. But overall, the single month system worked really well…until Greg left on deployment…and then the whole system seemed too much for a single person.
Planning from a Recipe Log
When the monthly menu board became too much, I wanted an easier version of the same system. Besides planning out one month at a time, the other “trademark” of the above system was how I organized my recipes: by protein source. For some reason, this method of organizing and dispersing recipes across a week made the most sense to me (so much that I haven’t changed this particular part of my meal planning ever since!) I find these 6 categories are enough to keep things separate, distinct, and organized, but aren’t too many to keep track of or understand.
I then used my Recipe Log to plan out my meals weekly in my planner…
When Greg came back from deployment, I stuck to this weekly planning from my Recipe Log but displayed meals on a dry-erase board in the kitchen so he could see too.
I found the weekly meal plan was quicker and easier to manage (meaning I was more willing to actually do it) compared to the monthly version. However, planning one week at at time didn’t quite guarantee a strong recipe rotation, use of freezer stock, or bulk shopping the way the monthly system did. Still…it got the job done for about another 2ish years.
Then this past Spring, my willingness to meal plan came to a screeching halt. Not only was I “over” planning out our weekly meals (and shopping for them), but I was really, really tired of our usual recipes. I decided to halt all my planning and try the “just wing it” system. I eased off on following recipes (which were feeling really burdensome to pull together) and instead stuck to more of a protein + side + salad combination. Surprisingly (or perhaps, not surprisingly), this approach proved even harder and more frustrating for me. Without a list of recipes (or at the very least, loosely planned out meals), my shopping list became difficult to fill out. This caused me to spend more time and money at the grocery store just filling my cart with things I “might” use or need. More over, without a plan, pulling together evening meals became an even bigger chore. I would stand looking at the pantry and fridge and become increasingly frustrated that I couldn’t make basic meals because I was missing one thing or another. What I thought would liberate me from my meal planning boredom and frustration actually led to an even greater disdain for the entire task.
When we moved into our house here in California, I knew I needed to get our meal planning back on track. The “no system” I was using before, during and right after our move was increasingly making me frustrated and caused me to dread grocery shopping and meal time even more. For some reason, my previous systems felt too cumbersome to return to so I began the hunt for a fresh approach. This research lead me to the digital meal planning service: Relish! This very reasonably priced service did everything I didn’t want to do: pour through/select recipes and generate a grocery list…and I was more than ready to give something new a try!
Once logged on, all I had to do was drag-and-drop the meals that appealed to me into The Weekly Menu and set the serving size. I loved that it showed me which meals were crockpot-, freezer-, and kid-friendly and that I also had the ability to browse their full recipe library (rather than being restricted to certain meals for the week). Each meal also came with a pre-designated side dish, but it was super easy to go in and change out anything that didn’t appeal to us!
But my absolute favorite part? Once your meal plan was done, it automatically generated a printable grocery shopping list pre-populated with all of the items needed for that week’s recipes (in the correct quantities!).
In just a few minutes, I was able to pick all of our recipes for the week, and print out a grocery list as well as all the corresponding recipes. Not only did this cut my meal preparation time down dramatically, but it also was super efficient when it came time to prepare the meals. The recipes, when printed, included both the main dish and all the corresponding sides on a single sheet of paper. Each night, I just had to grab the next sheet and get to work.
I honestly thought I had found my ultimate meal planning solution. I loved Relish’s online platform; the pre-populated grocery lists were pretty much the best thing ever; and the meals were super tasty and easy to make. It took away so much of the effort and brainpower behind meal planning and prep and really got me out of my meal planning funk. Unfortunately, it only took a few weeks for me to grow tired of this system as well. Why? Well, for one, I found that I was buying lots of random ingredients to make very specific recipes. This left me with higher-than-usual grocery bills and lots of leftover ingredients. Second, I again grew weary of making a recipe every single night and didn’t enjoy feeling like a “slave” to the system. Third, I was having a hard time working in my “usual” recipes, pantry staples, and family favorites on both the meal plan and the grocery list. I don’t like to duplicate my my efforts or use two systems to accomplish the same task, and it was taking me a lot of time and effort to adapt/merge the online system with my family-specific needs. Finally, as nice as it was to have a pre-populated grocery list, it didn’t match up with how I shop our store(s) and organize my own lists. I was constantly missing items as I was shopping because the list wasn’t organized the same way, making my trips longer and more tedious.
What I’m Doing Now
After my experience with Relish!, I was feeling a bit defeated. I was so hopeful I had found a perfect system (so much that I was planning a whole post to tell you all about it!), and was frustrated when it turned out to be too cumbersome for my needs. I waffled around a bit more with not planning at all, planning a month at a time, and even thought about digging my dry-erase board back out of the garage. While I brainstormed and worked through my options, I decided to print out a bunch of my Weekly Planners and Grocery Lists as a “for now” solution. About 2 months later, I’m still using my printable worksheets and am LOVING the simplicity of it all.
I printed out a bunch of both my the weekly planner and grocery lists printables and have them clipped to the side of the fridge. I sit down every Monday morning with one of each and plan out that week’s activity and meals on the same sheet and then fill out our grocery list to match. I’ve eased off on forcing a consistent spread of protein sources and recipes and instead try to pick recipes that are easy to make, satisfying to the whole family, and work with our schedule (crockpot versus freezer versus fresh). It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s no fuss. And what’s most important: I’m sticking to it!
So you might be thinking to yourself, “Gosh Megan, if you’ve struggled so much, maybe meal planning isn’t your thing!” But it is. If there’s anything I’ve learned about myself in the last few year of my meal planning is that I need it. If I don’t use some sort of meal plan, grocery shopping and meal preparations becomes infinitely harder; our grocery bills go up; we constantly face an empty pantry and refrigerator; and we eat out more often. I don’t LOVE meal planning, but I’ve learned that, for our family at least, it’s a necessary evil!
While my simple two-page printable system (shown above) is working pretty well, my experiences with all of these different meal planning systems have taught me a lot about what works and doesn’t work when it comes to meal planning. As such, I have identified a variety of new systems that will truly make meal planning a more efficient (and maybe even pleasant!) experience. I’ve been spending a lot of time over the last few months brainstorming and creating a whole series of printables to take the hassle out of meal planning, grocery shopping and meal preparation! I am so excited about what I’m putting together and think you guys will love it too. I’m not quite ready to spill all the beans just yet, but here is a sneak peek!
These printables and SOOO much more will be ready in the New Year. To make sure you stay up to date on what and when everything is available (and to get more sneak peeks and freebies!), make sure you are subscribed to my mailing list. If you aren’t already, you can sign up below:
I’ve learned a lot over the years, but I’d love to hear from you! Is there anything specific you need from a meal planning system? What do you currently use? What kind of system works best for you? What is something you really need from a meal planning system that you can’t find elsewhere? You guys always have the best ideas, so be sure to share in the comments!
This week is Thanksgiving in the United States (so Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers!), but I will be back here on Thursday nonetheless with the post that was supposed to hit last week (when I took a very much needed break!). I’ll see you then!
I did not receive compensation for this blog post; however Relish!did provide three free months of their meal planning service for me to try. Please remember that I only work with brands and products I fully support and that make sense for my home, my family, and this blog. All opinions are 100% my own!