I would love to be an organized person. I dream about daily schedules that are kept consistently. I imagine closets full of shoeboxes and totes all organized and labeled. And I long to be able to sit down on a Sunday night and plan seven days of meals at a time so that I don't have to decide what's for supper every night of the week.

But it just doesn't work for me. I try. I really do. But over and over again I end up frustrated and discouraged, because there is a limit to how successfully you can organize a life that's as unpredictable as ours. Take meal planning, for instance. Many times I have written up a seven-day plan and posted it on the refridgerator to take some stress off my week. Then as we get into the week, I find out that on the day I had planned a special dinner, my hubby will be away from home. We get last-minute company on the night I was planning to heat up hot dogs. The vegetable seller doesn't show up on the day that I was planning to make stir-fry. (Or she comes, but is sold out of everything I need.) Or the supermarket hasn't restocked the ingredients I was counting on for one (or more!) of my meals. It just doesn't work!

For a long time, I blamed myself for this failure. I was such a bad housewife that I couldn't even make and stick to a meal plan! Why couldn't I get my act together and get organized enough to do something simple like plan a week of meals? Don't do this to yourself, ladies! In America we get pretty good at planning and controlling our lives, but it usually just doesn't work that way overseas. This does not mean that you're a failure!

I finally came to the point where I accepted the fact that traditional meal planning was not going to work in my situation. And that's when I was able to develop a system that did work for me. It's not exactly meal planning, but it's a system of flexible organization. :-) So what do I do?

**At the beginning of the week, I write down everything that needs used that week. Leftovers, vegetables, any meats or perishables in the fridge, anything in the freezer that is getting old. When my hubby brings a surprise home from market, I add it to the list. When the vegetable seller comes, I write down what I bought from her so it will get used while it's fresh.

**While I'm making this list, if any good meals come to mind using a combination of ingredients on hand, I jot them along the side. If there is anything obvious missing, (such as, no meat left in the freezer!) I start a grocery list.

**Each evening while I'm making supper, I consult the list and plan the meals for the following day. It helps if you also sit down sometime and make a master list of all the meals that you make regularly. This will help your fuzzy brain on the days when all you can think of is chicken noodles and spagetti! I actually made four "master lists" - 1) Local foods that I make for my family, 2) "American" foods that I make for my family, 3) Local foods that make good company meals for visitors, 4) Special meals that are easy but good for visitors. This works well for me because we have a LOT of visitors and I need the extra reminders.

So that's what works for me! How do you ladies handle meal planning? Are your lives more predictable than mine? Please share in the comments below!

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  • I love this post!! I can totally relate to desiring to make a plan, making a plan, and then having that plan turned upside down by the end of day 1! I've also made a master list of most of the meals I know I can make with ingredients here in Romania. I love your idea of making several master lists to include easy go-to's for last-minute guests! Thank you! I also go ahead and make a rough plan for the week (in pencil!) and I keep track of the changes, so I am still able to go back and see what things I've made (or ended up making!) throughout the month so I don't repeat meals too often. I still get frustrated when any of our food goes bad; that's one of my "failure-feeling" moments. In America, we got so used to all the preservatives that keep food "fresh" longer. I'm happy that our food here isn't as processed or chemical-laden as it is in the states, but that means I have to stay on top of the leftovers in the fridge and make better use of my freezer! Thanks for the encouragement and reminder that we're not failures! We're just learning the virtue of flexibility :)

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  • Yes, Katie, I was amazed at first by how quickly things spoil! That is one reason I have a list - otherwise I'd forget something for a few days and it would be wasted!

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  • I like this post, Melissa! I long ago learned to hold my meal plans very loosely. I'm glad you found a method that works for you, and I think your suggestions are really great! You *are* organized, just not in the typically American way :)

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