Routines, Meal Planning and Matrices
Why I love routines
As a middle school teacher, my classroom management system depended on clearly outlined rules, procedures, and expectations.
Each year my students learn the pattern for beginning class.
It went like this:
1) Pick up the lesson outline from the front desk;
2) Sit at your assigned seat and take out your math binder;
3) Open the binder to the previous night’s homework and
4) Start the warm-up problem for the day.
I loved this routine.
Not because it allowed me to sit back in a silent room and passively watch well-trained-robotic children solve math problems far from reality; instead, each class period typically came with its mini-drama.
For example, Ibrahim enters fuming because Mrs Hopkins gave him a bad grade on his previous assignment. Or Travis walks in crying because he can’t open his locker alone. Or Jennifer needs to go to the school nurse immediately because of “reasons”. At the same time, Fernando explains that he just lost a tooth and is wondering if I have a plastic bag he can use to bring home to the tooth fairy.
People often associate routines with rigidity, stiffness, and severity. However, I see them as doing the opposite. The strict ways gave me the time and space to help each student through their mini-drama.
While the rest of the class was taking out their homework and solving the warm-up problem, I could quickly step outside into the hall with the in-crisis student and help resolve the issue. Without my practices in place, I would not have been available to spare even the 2-3 minutes to talk one-on-one with my students.
I am no longer a school teacher but still love my routines.
Much of parenting involves logistics. It’s an enormous task to ensure that your child has the right clothes (that fit!) for the right day or enough food at the right time and can get safely from point A to point B. There are also various considerations for bedtime and naptime.
We all know how important it is to be home at the start of naptime. Heaven forbid the child to ruin the nap by taking a micro-nap in the stroller or car. Game over.
But for me, the worst task is cooking.
You can see her detailed Meal Matrices on her blog here. Essentially, you can repeat and rotate your list of chosen meals.
Below is an example of a snippet of a meal matrix that I created for my family. I have a planned rotation for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. I don’t have a set course for dinner as I prefer more variety.
|Day 1||Day 2||Day 3|
|Breakfast||Green Strawberry Smoothie + Avocado||Sprinkle Toast||Blueberry Oatmeal||(Buy Fresh Bread and Rolls today after school)|
|Z’nuni||Popcorn||Pizza Twists||Boiled Eggs|
|Lunch||Quesadilla||(Add White Beans or veggies)||Veggie mac and cheese||(Boil an egg while cooking)||Hummus and Ham Sandwich|
|Z’veri||Zucchini Muffins||Date cookies||Rolls|
The Ideal vs Reality
Lest you think I serve faultlessly cooked meals to my well-mannered children, let me remind you that I like routines not to obtain perfection but rather because they provide flexibility.
I aim to cook nine times a week but almost always skip at least 1-2 meals per week in favour of cold cereal or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And my children do not gobble up every cooked meal. Indeed, they frequently turn up their nose and opt to wait around for the next opportunity to eat.
Nonetheless, I love that this meal system allows me to consistently predict how much time I need to cook and prep. And best of all, if I have a busy day during the week, I can quickly cook ahead or switch the items in the rotation to opt for the most leisurely meal of the week.
Besides discovering that there is no shame in repeating meals, I have also found some other general benefits to the meal matrix system.
For instance, I can create a grocery list for a given day or week and reuse the same list endlessly. Also, when it comes to baked goods or ingredients like sautéed onions or shredded chicken, I can cook extra and store the leftovers in the freezer for subsequent use. I can invariably cook enough for two days. Hence, in theory, I cook nine times a week but have enough food for 18 weeks.
I hope this example encourages you to rethink some of your practices, whether about meal planning or another area of your life.
Routines can be a great way to streamline the extra clutter in your life and provide you with some space to deal with the mini-dramas in life.