The ultimate preplanning meal planning strategy

Like I’ve said before I have always been a meal planner. For me, I really struggled to adapt to the differences between pre-brain injury meal planning and meal planning in the midst of exhaustion and grief. I nearly always missed ingredients that were crucial or got quantities wrong. Half the time meals that looked good on Saturday before grocery shopping were overwhelmingly difficult by Wednesday night after 7 clients. I just really wasn’t great at it and it meant we ate take out a lot.

I reworked my planning multiple times over the last two years and it pretty much always failed me. Now, just a few months ago we started a new system and I have to say we have had much more success. We moved into this house and were blessed with tons of storage space which is probably the issue that might be the most limiting for this system.

Our bin system, nearly fool proofized

Step 1: Once a week on Thursdays I take out all these bins and lay them out on our counter. And then I start planning. In theory, my planning includes looking at flyers for what is on sale as of Friday (when we grocery shop) and what our week looks like to choose time sensitive recipes. Sometimes that happens. But if not, my most lazy planning involves looking through our recipe binder and pinterest and printing off recipes for at least dinner (lunches are often leftovers and breakfasts often smoothies).

 

Step 2: I use a half sheet to write out what we will eat each day to keep myself organized and place the required recipes in each bin. We try to keep all the recipes in protective cover sheets so they survive cooking accidents.

 

Step 3: Then I go through every recipe and pull all pantry items that we have and place them in their respective bins. Based on what is in the bins and in my fridge I am able to create my shopping list for any other ingredients.

 

Step 4: After we shop on Friday we fill the bins with their items and place them back under the counter.

Each morning ourhome reminds us to check the bin so that we can confirm we know what the dinner plan is and that we have taken out any meat that needs to be defrosted*.

This system is somewhat brain intensive for organizing and getting used to, and I tend to be the one that does it most often in our house. The real energy saver comes when it’s time to cook and all ingredients are in one bin, ready to go. We have also had far fewer nights where recipes are missing ingredients since we started using this system, meaning we eat home cooked meals more often now than before. This system solves a lot of the problems we were having with meal planning and cooking at home. 

*Right now we are trying to add in a step where I add post it notes to each bin with what needs to be pulled out of the freezer for the next day’s dinner. It works well when I make time to do it.

 

 

Lists we love

Throughout Jason’s recovery we have tried tons of different lists. The list saga has definitely proven to me that what I think is a good system, is not always the case. In the beginning my lists had colours and sublists and were scattered throughout the house like it was a scavenger hunt. Just in case anyone is wondering, that was not useful for managing Jason’s energy levels.

I think an important thing to clarify for anyone dealing with a brain injury is what medium works best for them. I’m a paper and pen girl. I LOVE scrawling lists on post it notes, crossing everything off and the joy of throwing the list in the fire when it’s complete. However, written notes mean Jason either needs to remember to bring them with him or needs to go back to the fridge every task to see what is next. We found quite a few good templates on etsy and pinterest that might work for different families. One we used for quite a while was this one from etsy:  https://www.etsy.com/listing/174372800/daily-page-notepad-6-pack?ref=shop_home_feat_4 (there are also digital download versions available that you can fill in and print off easily)

When we used this list we had Jason’s daily routine detailed in the green To Do’s section and then filled in the rest of the page as needed so that while I was with clients he could navigate his day easily. We made the change away from this list when initiation and time management were becoming more problematic.

We now use OurHome which I’ve written about before. It’s a list app that works well and allows us both to add things to our own, and each other’s, lists as needed. You can set up reminders within the app so that you get notified when a task needs to be done (we always have reminders set for things like feed the animals, phone calls that need to be made etc).
Still, remembering to look at the list was a challenge so Jason found this app, After Unlock, that makes ourhome the first thing that pops up every time he unlocks his phone. This seems to work well for us, for right now.

Our Home – the app that helps

As I start to get back into writing I have a whole folder on my computer of articles I want to share and discuss and studies that are being published. Today though I want to start with discussing an app we found just before Christmas that has been a huge help.

We’ve discussed previously how post TBI initiation and memory can prove challenging and for a long time I felt like Jason’s mother constantly advising him on what he needed to do each day and when. It does not make for a good relationship when one is always in control and neither of us loved the arrangement. We have various lists and routines around the house that took some of the burden off of me, but weird one off tasks or phone calls were still falling through the cracks regularly. We needed something we could both access, when we were at home AND away from home and that we would both use. It’s a pretty tall order.

OurHome is an app that is free to download on itunes and Google Play and allows members of a household to share to do lists and grocery lists. I know there are tons of apps out there that sound similar but this one has the unique feature of awarding points (determined by you) for tasks and then those points can be redeemed for points (again, determined by you).

OurHome met our needs.

  1. We both needed to be able to access it, at home and away from home. This one is pretty obvious – download the app to each of your phones. Take your phone with you when you leave the house. OurHome allows you to set up a family account and you can each add tasks to each others lists, put in due dates and assign points. The app seems to automatically assign points in relation to the time it should take to complete the task but this can be changed to make important tasks more valuable. Being able to access  the app anytime and anywhere has meant fewer tasks get forgotten. We’ve all had that moment where you are at the gym and suddenly remember you need to take meat out for dinner right? Now I can actually write that down quickly and it actually happens when I get home.
  2. We needed to use the app. Here’s  the issue with pretty much any coping strategy that is suggested to those with TBI’s. They only work as well as you make them. Lists, phone alarms, pneumonic devices – they may all help but you need to do the work to use them. When Jason is already tired and struggling with cognitive skills he often won’t remember that he needs to check the list or he’ll swipe away his phone alarm without changing tasks. The possibility for these limitations is still there with OurHome but the incentive of having points and rewards really minimizes how often things are forgotten. As a family you set up your own rewards, for us things like getting a new tea or a no alarm day are extremely valuable and so take more points to achieve.
  3. We wanted to feel like a couple of adults again. It’s very hard to feel like one partner is the parent and one is a child in day to day life. When I presented this app to some other TBI families they brought up the fact that it would seem condescending to bribe your husband to do chores. I have to say, that is not the dynamic in our relationship and it probably has everything to do with how you approach the app as a family. Jason and I both use the app, we both have the ability to add and remove tasks and determine our own rewards. Rather than feeling like a manipulative tool it feels like a good way to keep our life on track and get some well deserved me-time/tea/treats/fun activities.