And, when you have bigger families and varying schedules it can be a full time job planning meals, making meals and keeping the pantry stocked.

Like all things, planning and anticipating solves a lot of those problems.  Systemizing as much as you can drives success and fewer decisions on a daily basis.  The first thing to remember is that all these systems have to be reviewed for change; often.  A schedule/meal plan for soccer season may not work for softball season.  One kid eats PB&J every day for 3 years and suddenly just won’t.  Make the changes as soon as they are needed and set up a new system.


The first thing to talk about is your pantry and fridge. These two areas need to be cleaned and cleaned out fully twice a year.  Things expire, things get left open and go bad, things just get forgotten and tastes change.  Also, spills happen and cleaning all the shelves keeps bugs and critters away.  Schedule this in your planner or reminders app – I suggest Fall and Spring.  

With the pantry and fridge, the principle of “like with like” works best.  It makes it easier to pull what is needed for a meal or just take inventory for weekly shopping.  So, by this I mean a dinner section, breakfast section, baking section, canned goods by type section and snack section.  The snack section should be accessible to kids (or at least their snack section.) This area will be much easier with baskets, bins and labels. Taking individually packaged items out of the bigger box saves space and prevents the empty box sitting there and you thinking it is full and it isn’t.  And don’t underestimate an over-abundance of chip clips!  A must for chips, cracker bags and cereal bags.  So much food is wasted by just going stale.  A small basket right in the pantry helps solve this problem (my favorite are the multi colored metal clips found at the Dollar Store usually found right at the checkout.)

Another pantry helper is having labelled airtight containers.  This helps with spillage and tracking how much you have on hand if you bake often.  They work great for the baking section for flour, sugar, brown sugar, cocoa powder and more.  Other bulk items do best in the same type of container.

The fridge can be set up similarly with shelves of like items.  And just like the snack section in the pantry, you can package up portioned veggies and fruits and add a bin for easy grab and go.  Somehow cut up veggies are easier to eat, who knew!

Now, let’s talk about meal planning.  Know your schedule.  Are you at home to eat every night?  Do you already have standing take out nights?  Plan out a typical Mon-Sun week with those knowns.  Now, do you want to prepare 1-2 of the same meal every week?  This makes pantry stocking and grocery planning a no thought process and makes it easier get dinner on the table.  Taco Tuesday for example.  Then, if you still have 1-3 nights left, plan the recipe you will make based on prep time and add those items to your shopping list.  Post the meal plan prominently so you stay on track and so the entire family can look at it and help if needed.  This saves everyone from frustration and impromptu expensive dinners out “just because.”

Meal prep and a shopping list go hand in hand.  I am a big fan of creating your own shopping list and pre-entering the items you get weekly or every few weeks (I do this on excel but can be done in other applications.)  I make sections for each large group at the store: Fruit/Veggies, Frozen Food, Canned goods, Pet, Baby, and so on.  This is where you would put the ingredients for your standing dinners.  And then, have empty spots in every category for new recipe ingredients and the odd ball items like AAA batteries or a special cleaner that come up every week.  Hanging this list on a clipboard in the kitchen with a supply of copies lets you add items you think of for the week directly on the list and then you just finish the list prior to shopping.

Kitchen design or placement of like items can facilitate independence but also keep things efficient.  A coffee station with all things to make coffee helps make that morning cup as quick as possible.  The snack section in the pantry helps kids help themselves (if young, when given the go ahead of course.)  How about a lunch making section where lunch boxes, bags, and specific containers all live in one cabinet to make that job more efficient- and ideally do as much as possible the night before.  If you are teaching kids to do this themselves, you could also include on the cabinet door a checklist, so they add all the components and not forget anything.

As I mentioned at the start, all these systems are in flux.  Your shopping list may need to be completely changed if someone develops an allergy.  Or your schedule changes so much you need a lot more on hand – think of Covid when everyone was at home for all meals and snacks, a lot more food was needed.  You may need a new section in the pantry for one person.  You may need more airtight containers for new staples.  If you adapt the system rather than give up, you will be successful and streamline the most used spot in the home!

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