A Step-by-Step System to Meal Plan Like A Wizard

01 - Dinner Table

Editor’s Note: While I’m busy putting the final touches on my podcast (launching NEXT WEEK!) this is an EPIC guest post from Deron Bos, professional organiser and Apple Coach at Bos Organization. Enjoy!


Look, I’m a dude and yes, I’m a professional organizer and Apple coach, but I’m not Felix Unger. Meal planning did not look like an immediate utopia for me, but when I commit to it, these are the benefits:

  • Grocery shopping ceases to be the game of “What new frozen meals are available?” and instead becomes intentional and focused: a lot more fresh produce, grains, and beans end up in the cart on meal planned trips. (Okay, yes, the sea salt potato chips still to manage to jump in there on these trips, but they are the sirens of the healthy grocery ocean!)
  • At 5pm, I’m excited to start cooking rather than shovelling a bowl of chips and a jar of salsa in my mouth and hoping for the best.
  • Learning meals by repeating gives me confidence in the kitchen. Confidence in the kitchen begets more cooking. Cooking almost anything almost always beats eating too much pre-prepared processed food.
  • If I’m all set up to cook specific meals through the week, I start to really enjoy cooking. It feels fun, it feels creative, which is how you want it to feel, not like you’re taming your stomach.

Healthy, fun, confidence boosting, it has it all – just needs a bit of work at the beginning.

A workflow for geeks, a workflow for everyone

Brooke has already shown you how to meal plan with a paper and pen, so today I’d like to show you how to do it digitally. There’s some real pluses about working with this stuff in pixels rather than ink:

  • Grocery lists! Throw a few recipes into the meal plan and the app spits out a list: easy peasy.
  • Easy capture: the internet is ripping at the seams with recipes, a digital app allows you to collect them quickly and in a much more compact way than a counter full of cookbooks or a bursting binder.
  • Easy to repeat menus: as we’ll discuss in a moment, repetition is a good thing in meal planning and once you find a rhythm to this thing, you’ll be able to repeat weeks that work no problem in the digital realm.
  • Access anywhere: aka, once you set this up, if you need to throw together a meal plan in 5 minutes in the store parking lot: you can do it.

I’ll be talking about how I use Paprika, an app voted by The Sweet Setup as The Best Recipe Manager for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac but the basics of my workflow could translate to other recipe software and even the pen and paper. As Brooke says, “You can do something. We can do something. It doesn’t need to be all or nothing.”

Note: I’ve also created a 10 minute bonus video of this process that will show you exactly how I do my week’s meal planning with Paprika.

First Step: theming

Theme that week: This is without doubt the meal planning hack that’s helped me the most. Brooke highlights it in her “M is for Meal Planning” post and the format for my own is heavily inspired by her simple living colleague Tsh Oxenreider’s spring plan. And surprise! this is the one part that I do on paper. Here’s what it looked like for Winter:

02 - Theme Notebook

This works so well because it helps you avoid decision fatigue right at the beginning, instantly brings variety to your meal plan, and ensures a regular place for your favorites. Want to have curry every week this season? So do I, so it’s my Wednesday theme.

The delightful dozen: You’ll notice on my plan that Saturdays are reserved for “something new” but the rest of the days are cuisine category and “something easy.” Within those cuisines I put a lot of tested favorites, recipes within those categories that I’ve grown to love after making them multiple times. This is the delightful dozen. I’d recommend coming up with your own 12 or so staples and audition new up and comers once or twice a week.

Step two: capturing

This won’t always be step two, because if you’re using Paprika for the first time, you’ll want it fill it with some options the first time and after your first successful week you’ll continue to fill as needed. But I wanted to share it with you after going over the theming step, because it’ll help to have those decided before beginning the captures.

Also, while I’m presenting a number of different ways to gather recipes, my advice: go slow on the collecting. Pick stuff that’s simple, that you can image cooking at 6pm after a long day. And if you make something and it’s just “meh” – you have my permission to delete that recipe and move on.

Paprika’s browser: There’s a web browser built right into Paprika and it makes it super easy to capture online recipes right there.

In most instances you can just hit the blue “save recipe” button and “poof!” you’ll instantly add it to your collection like a fourth year Hogwarts student.

On sites where Paprika can’t figure out the formatting, it’s still pretty quick you just highlight the different parts of the recipe (title, ingredients, directions, etc.), click the corresponding button at the bottom, and keep pulling together all the elements till you have the full recipe.

Here’s a shot of capturing Brooke’s Slow Kitchen Lentil and Vegetable Chili for later. (Mmmm…chili).

03 - Paprika Browser

I feature steps like this one in my video too, so you can see them in action.

Copying and pasting from documents, eBooks or PDFs: Any recipes that you already have in digital text format are simple to add into Paprika by just doing a bit of copying and pasting. A lot of my cookbooks these days are in Kindle format, which thankfully supports copying and pasting – although it will always bring over the author and title metadata with each paste. This is easy to delete of course, just paste, delete and you’re on your way.

Room at the party for books made out of paper: Don’t worry, I heard you saying that you don’t want to leave the old school books behind and no fretting needed, there’s some great options for the traditionalists out there:

  1. Just go to the recipe tab in Paprika, hit the “+” button to start a new recipe and transcribe it like Hemingway with your fingers and the keyboard.
  2. To up your geek game: use a scanning app on your smartphone (for iOS I like: Genius Scan), convert that recipe into a PDF or other text document and then copy and paste away.

Bonus idea: Create a super index with your Eat Your Books

One of the advantages of working from the web is that when you sit down to do your planning and you see that Tuesday night is themed as “soup or stew” you can just search soup or stew at your favorite site and be hit with numerous options. (Sometimes too many, alas.)

But what about the books you invested in, you don’t want to leave them behind, right? Why keep them around if not to use them?

Well someone came up with a brilliant idea with the web app Eat Your Books. At its simplest: you add books that you own into your virtual bookshelf by entering the ISBN, author, or title and then you can go to it and type in “stew” and it will list all the stew recipes that exist in your physical or eBooks. A super powered index! Use it for good, if it seems too overwhelming, you can also adopt a Julie & Julia approach and cook your way day by day through a single text.

04 - Eat Your Books

Third Step: Scheduling

Check your day to day calendar: That date night on Friday with your spouse might mean you just want to leave some mac and cheese for the babysitter. Having your friends over on Sunday for a potluck may mean you’re just making Slow Kitchen’s Packed Salsa instead of a whole meal. Looking at the events of the week will allow you to build the plan accordingly.

Now your meal calendar: This is where theming really helps me knock out a plan in minutes. I just go to the Meals tab in Paprika (it has a calendar icon) and drag and drop in meals from my collection.

It looks like this:

05 - Paprika Calendar

Final Step: creating a list

Again, the ease of this step in a recipe manager like Paprika may be the biggest benefit of going digital.

It works like this: once I have my plan in Paprika’s calendar I hit the share button at the top of the left, select “add to grocery list” and then “entire week” and a box comes up listing all the ingredients. I review this list, removing anything that I already have (like pantry staples like salt and spices). Looks like this:

06 - Add To List

Once I’m satisfied it, I click “done” and it’s all added to the “Groceries” tab like this:

07 - Groceries Tab

Paprika has its own sync engine so the exact list that I create on the Mac app will be available to me in the iPhone app as well. (Turns out it’s easier to walk around the store with a phone than an open MacBook Pro. I learn these things the hard way and then pass on the knowledge to you.)

So, quick review, just four steps needed to completely transform your week:

  1. Theme
  2. Capture
  3. Schedule.
  4. Create a list.

Brooke writes, “the reason we do things like this is to make life simpler, not harder. We want to free up time for what is important: like drinking cocktails and chasing unicorns.”

For me bringing this process to the digital space has netted me more important cocktail/unicorn/satisfied tummy time than ever before so I’ve produced a free video showing you my exact process.

I’ll show you everything we covered today: capturing with the in-app browser, copying and pasting from other sources, simple scheduling with the calendar, easy list making, and more.

For access to that free video, click here.

Deron Bos is a professional organizer and Apple coach that teaches folks how to remove physical and digital clutter from their lives and organize what remains so they can enjoy the good stuff whether it be an Old-Fashioned or unicorns. Grab his free video here.

Celebrate the Little Wins

Celebrate the little wins

I’ve never really been one to celebrate my wins. Big or small, Sparky and I usually allow ourselves a moment or a smile, but we don’t really celebrate. It’s always seemed kind of… self-centred.

But recently I completed a 10-day workout challenge and at the end of every session, when I was out on my feet, I was told to dance a little celebratory dance. The instructor encouraged us to sing out loud, “I did it! I did it! Oh yeah, I did it,” while doing the running man. The sillier the better.

On Day 1, I ignored her. I didn’t win a marathon. I deserved no post-workout dancing.

On Day 2, however, her joy was enough to convince me. So I tried it out. I danced a little celebration. I shook my arms and hopped around like a idiot. I celebrated finishing my workout.

Do you know how good that felt? To celebrate that little win?

It didn’t cost me anything. It didn’t bother anyone else. It simply said to me, “You’ve done something today. You could have skipped your workout, you could have stopped before you finished, but you didn’t. And that’s awesome.”

It filled me up. And, yes, it was self-centred. But that’s the point of celebrating, isn’t it?

Celebrate your little wins

Did you get up early this morning? Dance a little celebration – a little booty shake is all you need.

Run to the top of the hill? Give yourself a Rocky moment up there – hands in the air.

Managed a discipline issue with grace and a level-head? High-five yourself in the mirror.

Sent an email you’d been putting off? Give it a little “whoop, whoop.”

Finished the pile of ironing that’s been sitting there for weeks? That’s worthy of a song. About yourself.

In fact, why not have a little win right now?

  • Pick up 5 things.
  • Meditate for 5 minutes.
  • Do 5 push-ups, 5 squats and 5 sit-ups.
  • Drink a glass of water. (Or 5.)
  • Write a list of 5 things to do this week. Go do one.

Then, celebrate.

Even if you’re not a celebrator, today – just for today – give it a shot. Try telling yourself that you are, in fact, pretty awesome. Because it’s true.

(This post was originally written in 2013, but I really needed to revisit it today. Thought it might help you too.)

Ignore the Shoulds. Do something you love.

Ignore the Shoulds. Do something you love.

Sunday morning: the sun was shining, the kids were playing, the kitchen needed tidying and the floors were overdue a vacuuming.

But I was slacklining. Aware, yet not caring about all the other things that needed doing.

I could have waited until all those things were finished. I could have waited until the floors were vacuumed and the kitchen tidied. But by then I would have realised that the laundry needed doing and the beds needed making and the grocery list needed writing and so on. There is rarely a perfect time for relaxing. For slowing down. For stopping and smelling those gorgeous flowers.

Because life is busy and we all have expectations of what it Should look like. (Tidy home. Nice hair. Things under control.) But sometimes you just have to go ahead and do the thing you need.

In my case what was needed was down time. Some slacklining. Some listening to good music. Some wilful ignorance of the Shoulds floating around in my head. Just for a little while.

Slowing down isn’t about laziness. It’s not about shirking responsibility. It’s not about mediocrity or lowering of standards.

It’s about being intentional. Being present. Enjoying the moment in front of you. And sometimes it’s about ignoring the things you Should be doing and opting for things that fill you up, make you smile, change your perspective.

3 Steps to Rediscover Your Rhythm

I like to think of myself as a pretty good dancer. Which is fortunate, because no-one else does.

But when I have a couple of champagnes, or when I listen to Dance Apocalyptic while cooking dinner, none of that matters because I am convinced I look amazing.

What I actually look like is this:

But that’s OK. I feel like I have rhythm. The moves feel good. I feel comfortable. Yes, I look like a frog in a blender, but I feel great.

And that’s what rhythm is all about. Feeling comfortable. Knowing the tempo, knowing the moves, knowing (or not knowing, but feeling OK about that) what comes next.

Feeling good in my day is one of the main reasons I aspire to having rhythms (not routines) to my mornings, my days, my weeks. You can read more about my reasons for that here, but suffice to say rhythm is a much friendlier way to approach your days, and  as far as I’m concerned, rhythm is where it’s at.

But what happens when you mis-step? When your flow is interrupted? When the tempo changes unexpectedly? When someone gets all up in your dancefloor space and throws you off your game? What happens when you fall out of rhythm?

How do you get that back? Or how do you find a new one when you’re reeling? When you’re struggling? When you’re stuck doing the Running Man and getting nowhere? (Sorry. I’ll stop the dancing analogy now.)

That’s where I’ve been for the past couple of weeks. I’ve lost touch with my rhythms, some of my circumstances have changed, we’ve been fighting virus after virus here at home and things felt really freaking hard all of a sudden.

It left me feeling anxious and overwhelmed and depressed. Everything that used to just happen as part of my rhythms suddenly stopped happening. Things that were easy got really difficult. I thought there was something wrong with me.

Turns out I just lost my rhythm.

So how do we get it back?

1. Check in with your discipline.

First I needed to figure out if my rhythm had to change or if I needed to sack up and re-engage my discipline. Turns out it was the latter.

I had gotten a little lazy in the approach to my days, and things had fallen by the wayside.

I had stopped writing my 3-item to-do list. I had stopped working through my Dailies and my Weeklies. I had been doing what I felt like doing, rather than what I had already established needed doing.

I got back to the things I know work for me, stopped being lazy and suddenly my rhythms felt a little closer to being right.

So check in and see that you’re still doing those things you know are necessary. Sure, you might not want to. But if you’ve worked through the process of establishing rhythms already, you know those tasks need doing for a reason.

So do them.

2. See what else has made its way in to your days.

Commitments, responsibilities, projects, shoulds, yeses and new interests all squeeze their way into our daily lives over time.

I’ve got two new projects underway that weren’t on the radar when I established my rhythms earlier in the year and I hadn’t made any room for them. But there I was, expecting those same rhythms to continue to help me get it all done.

I needed to shift things around, re-prioritise, decide on what remained important and what was no longer a high priority. Continuing to do that helps me see where I need to make more space and makes it easier to spot those time-sucks and energy vampires that sneak in to my days.

So re-evaluate the current flow of your days. What’s changed? What habits have slipped? What seemingly small shifts have happened? These could be the key to finding that rhythm again.

3. Finally, be kind to yourself.

Some seasons of life – be them a day, a week or a month – are tougher than others. Life has a way of squeezing meetings and phone calls and sick kids and deadlines in to the same week. Understand that there is going to be ebb and flow to your life, and accept that there will be seasons of busy-ness. This is not a failing on your part.

I can see that these few weeks would have been busy regardless of my rhythm, simply because a whole heap of stuff happened at the same time. While it’s helped a lot to take the first two steps and check in with myself, it’s also helped to show myself some kindness.

It takes the pressure off a little and stops me from making it seem worse than it really is.

So by all means, check in, re-evaluate, re-prioritise and re-invigorate your rhythms, but understand that this rhythm-less phase will pass soon enough. And in the meantime, be kind to yourself.

Losing your rhythm is not necessarily a bad thing. It can force us to re-evaluate and re-establish our priorities, and help us see what stuff should be removed or downgraded from our days. It doesn’t feel good at the time, but work through it and you’ll be ripping up the dancefloor again in no time.


A Vacuum-less Life

A Vacuum-less Life

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked about simplifying and slowing down is: “What if my husband/wife/kids/parents aren’t onboard with adopting this lifestyle? How can I convince them to join me?”

The short answer is: you can’t.

Unless you do it for them, which I don’t suggest as an option because A) that’s not really them joining you anyway and B) getting rid of stuff that doesn’t belong to you is a really great way of pissing people off.

The fact is, you can’t force someone to adopt a new way of living.

What you can do is start making changes to your own life. Declutter your belongings, start saying no, intentionally slow down, change the food you’re eating, start moving more.

You can make these changes, you can start to feel the benefits and maybe, just maybe, they will see those benefits and feel inspired to join you. But also, maybe not.

The key to moving forward with these changes and being content with the impact it makes on your life is to understand this: You don’t live in a vacuum.

Your decisions, your choices, your actions have implications on those around you. If you start simplifying, slowing down, eating different foods, the people closest to you will notice. They might join you, they might be happy for the change, but they might not.

Similarly, the decisions, choices and actions of those around you will have an effect on your life. They might pick up after themselves, they might honour your request to not buy toys for the kids, they might accept that you don’t want to go to the candle party, but they might not.

We don’t live in a vacuum. And yet, wouldn’t it be easier if we did?

We could say no and not care and toss that annoying trinketty crap that clutters our flat surfaces. We could get rid of the toys our kids love but that drive us mad. We could let go of the old, holey t-shirt that is special to our boyfriend, and the expensive yet ultimately unused crystal wine glasses we were given as a wedding gift from a great aunt who asks about them when she visits.

But that stuff is called life. Or, more specifically, it’s called being part of someone else’s life. There are thousands of ways our lives interlink with each others, some of which makes life easier, some make it more complex.

So understand that you do not live in a vacuum. You will meet resistance. There will be friction. You will face challenges. But ultimately you are in control of your own choices and reactions, not anyone else’s.

And in terms of how to deal with this resistance and this friction, my philosophy is quite simple:

Don’t be a jerk. But don’t be a doormat.

Remind yourself to be grateful, to understand that we each have different love languages, to recognise that the world does not revolve around you and your desire to simplify.

But also remind yourself that it’s OK for you to want different things in life. To crave different outcomes. To want a slower home or a decluttered bedroom or an empty space on the calendar. You’re allowed to want those things just as much as someone else is allowed to want their torn, holey t-shirt.

Also remind yourself that you are in control of the choices you make and the reactions you have. You get to choose how these frictions feel. And you get to tell yourself that your relationships with the people you love are not defined by stuff at all. 

So either they will get on board, or they will not. Allow your vacuum-less life to continue on regardless, and enjoy all the moments and the links and the relationships in spite of your differences.

Don’t get caught up on what you cannot change. After all, creating a slower life is about saying no to unnecessary stress, and there’s nothing more unnecessary than stressing about things you cannot change.


In other news, I was recently interviewed by Joey over at Fearlessly Questioning. We spoke about slowing down, making room and how  video games or Walking Dead comics fit into a simpler, slower life. (Hint: they totally do.) Head over here to see the video or check it out on iTunes.

Finally, I’m interviewing Carl Honore this week for my upcoming podcast. If you have any questions you’d like me to ask him let me know in the comments.

Enjoy your week!



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