Want to win NaNoWriMo and keep your family alive this November?
(Yes, my writing-crazed friend. The answer is yes. )
All of the planning you’ve done for your novel this Preptober is vital to your NaNo success. But none of it matters unless you actually have the time to write. If you’re a busy mama (or papa) bear, then the easiest way to carve some extra writing time out of your day is to reduce the time you spend in the kitchen. How?
By creating a meal plan for NaNoWriMo and prepping meals ahead of time.
These two suggestions may seem trite, but they are game-changers! And I know that’s a bold claim, but it’s one I’m confident making. Because I learned the value of the tips I’m about to share with you the hard way.
By losing NaNoWriMo.
I know. Ouch.
The first year I tried NaNo, I followed all of the steps on my Preptober Checklist – including creating a meal plan and prepping meals –and I hit the 50,000 word mark in just 18 days! So, with that “easy” win under my belt, I jumped into my next NaNoWriMo competition on a wing and a prayer. And…well, you can guess what happened.
Seriously. It was pathetic.
Today, we’re going to talk about how to write a meal plan for NaNoWriMo, and I’ll share with you some of the tips and resources I use to win NaNo and keep my hungry cubs well-fed.
So let’s dive right in, my friend, and I’ll show you the ropes.
Plan Your Menus for the Whole Month
Are you the kind of person who plans detailed menus before each week begins and shops for the week’s groceries all at once?
Or do you run to the store every day to grab ingredients for the dinner idea that just popped into your head?
Obviously, shopping every day chews up precious writing time, but even those who plan and shop just once a week lose valuable time in the process. And during NaNo season, every minute counts!
So this November, try making a meal plan for the entire month ahead of time. This will save you buckets of time, but that’s not the only benefit. Planning meals in advance also frees your brain to focus on the creative task of writing rather than the practical chore of feeding the little humans in your household (and the big ones, too).
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Here’s how you do it.
Step 1: Brainstorm meal ideas.
If you and your family are home all day (homeschooling, work at home, etc.), then you’ll need to plan a breakfast, lunch, and dinner for each day. That’s ninety meals!
If this sounds overwhelming, then simplify the process by coming up with just ten ideas for each meal time. Then simply plug each dish into your menu three times, and you’ll be done!
To fill up your menu, ask your family for their requests, flip through your recipe box, and peruse Pinterest for yummy meals to add to the list. (I love Pinterest for this!)
If you typically give Gordon Ramsay a run for his money in the kitchen, then you may want to set your chef’s hat aside for the month and choose meals that are quick and easy to prepare. Soups and sandwiches are always a good choice for their ease of preparation. (And who doesn’t love soup and sammies??) And, thanks to their set-it-and-forget-it simplicity, recipes created for an Instant Pot or Crock Pot are perfect for NaNo season.
Instant Pots and Crock Pots are five-star kitchen tools every day of the year, but during NaNoWriMo, they are absolute lifesavers! Without these two devices, I never would have reached my word count goals the first time I did NaNo. So I load up my November menu with meals created just for them. (There are many models of both devices, but these pics show the ones I actually own and use religiously.)
The beauty of these appliances is that you just add your ingredients and the cooker does the rest! A Crock Pot cooks your dinner nice and slow, filling the house with its tantalizing aromas for hours. An Instant Pot is like a Crock Pot on steroids, using pressure to cook your meal in a fraction of the time (but still every bit as delicious!).
Seriously, friends, you can make the most mouth-watering Mongolian Beef in 10 minutes in an Instant Pot!
But I digress…
During NaNo season, I also rely heavily on freezer meals. Because they’re prepared ahead of time, freezer meals are a fantastic way to put a hearty dinner on the table with minimal effort. And less effort in the kitchen means more time at your keyboard.
Now, the terms “freezer meals” and “quick and easy” may have you thinking you’re going to be trapped in Blahsville for a solid month. Not so, my friend! Just take a peek at my NaNoWriMo Meals board on Pinterest. All of the recipes on this board are on my NaNoWriMo menu this fall…and, honey, I don’t do Blahsville!
Step 2: Add your meals to a calendar or spreadsheet.
Of course, you can pencil your meal plan onto a calendar, if that’s what floats your boat. But I’m more of a spreadsheet kinda girl. So I’ve designed a spreadsheet to help you create your meal plan for NaNoWriMo. Just download the blank NaNoWriMo 2020 Menu spreadsheet and add your own meals to it in Excel or any open-source spreadsheet program. (In Excel, you’ll have to click on “Enable Editing” at the top in order to begin filling in your spreadsheet.)
But let’s run through my menu for a sec to go over how the spreadsheet works.
PURPLE BOXES: Events & Special Days
The purple boxes on my menu highlight days that include an event (soccer practice, birthday, etc.) that will affect a mealtime. Choose any color you like for your own spreadsheet, but be sure to highlight your special days before adding any meals to the menu. Then, as you’re plugging all of your good eats into the grid, take care to plan appropriate meals for the days you’ve marked.
For instance, your husband’s birthday probably calls for more than a grilled cheese sandwich, so plan accordingly. But if you have Bible study every Wednesday night, then grilled cheese night it is!
These color-coded boxes do double duty: they help you create a meal plan according to your family’s schedule, and they help your frazzled NaNo-focused brain keep track of important upcoming events.
Because “I was busy writing” is no excuse for forgetting your husband’s birthday.
BLUE BOXES: Freezer Meals
The blue boxes on my menu indicate that the entrée for that night is a freezer meal I’ve prepped ahead of time. These highlighted boxes allow me to see at a glance when a freezer meal is coming up so I can transfer it from the freezer to the fridge to thaw overnight.
Never made freezer meals before? I’ll walk you through the whole process next week. It’s not as hard as it sounds, and the results are SO worth the effort!
GREEN BOXES: Nights Off
Every once in a while, you’ll probably want to take a break from cooking, so go ahead and schedule that in now. This visual reminder that I have a night off from cooking always adds a little wind to my sails!
A note about lunches:
My kids are all grown, and the two who still live at home work full-time, so I’m usually on my own for lunch. So Monday through Friday, I plan breakfast and dinner for the family and a super-simple lunch for myself (often “This & That,” which is just my fancy way of saying “leftovers” LOL). However, if your family is home at lunch time or packs a lunch for school or work, then you’ll need to give your lunch menus a little more thought than I’ve given mine.
Write Your Grocery Lists Ahead of Time
Even a “quick” trip to the grocery store steals time from your writing, and during NaNoWriMo, every minute counts! By shopping just once a week, you can potentially save yourself hours of valuable writing time over the course of the month. And if you can have someone else do the shopping, then you’ve hit the jackpot!
When your meal plan for NaNoWriMo is completed, take a few minutes to go through it meal by meal and write a separate grocery list for each week. The spreadsheet linked above includes a grocery list section where you can quickly jot down any ingredients you’ll need for each week of NaNo. Do not include ingredients for your freezer meals because these will be purchased and used before November.
Post the lists on your fridge (or in another conspicuous place) and add to them as needs present themselves. Each week, when it’s time to go shopping, you’ll have your grocery list already written out for you, which is a godsend for any busy writer!
Let’s Talk Numbers
By this point, you may be thinking, Okay, but how much time is all this work really going to save me?
I get it. The benefit has to outweigh the effort or what’s the point, right?
So let’s do a little napkin math…
On weeknights and Saturday nights, I often spend an hour cooking for my family. On Sundays, this usually stretches to two hours because I like to make something a little more special for Sunday dinner. So on an average week, I spend a grand total of eight hours on meal prep and cooking. And that’s just for dinner!
By using freezer meals and planning simple dinners, I can cut my prep and cooking time in half (at least!), freeing up four hours a week for writing. Over the course of the whole month, that translates to sixteen hours I can spend writing instead of cooking, which is a win in my book any day! And that extra sixteen hours could very well mean the difference between sprinting across the finish line and never even catching sight of it.
My kids usually fend for themselves for breakfast and lunch, so I didn’t include those meals in my napkin math. But if you have a houseful of littles, then the time you spend in the kitchen could easily be double what I’ve noted above. If so, then creating a simple meal plan for NaNoWriMo and filling the freezer with meals ahead of time will be a crucial part of your NaNo prep.
Penny for your thoughts…
How much time do you spend in the kitchen on an average week? How much of that time would you rather spend writing? Let me know in the comments below.
My Preptober series continues next week, when I’ll share the meal prep tips and kitchen tools I can’t NaNo without. Until then, buckle up, buttercup, and let’s write!
In case you missed it: Last week, I shared five tips and tools for finding the BEST story ideas! If you’re still searching for a story idea for NaNo, it’s not too late! Click on over to the post and I’ll show you how to kick your idea factory into high gear!