Is there some unspoken rule that every blogger (with children under age ten) must write at least one post about meal planning? Let’s just pretend that there is, and that I’m meeting my requirement. My apologies to readers of the non-housewife, restaurant-preferred variety.
I’ve never been much for meal planning–while I loved the idea, doing it regularly never happened, so I opted to just have a general idea what kinds of meals I’d make in a week: something with chicken, something with beans, etc. It worked, more or less. But lately, I’d go to the store and buy milk and eggs and chocolate and then come home and wonder what to cook.
With a baby coming, oh any day now, I’ve spent the last few months trying to find every way I can to get my kingdom running itself, as a friend of mine says. For me, that means not having to think about what’s for dinner. Fortunately for our family, I had a huge burst of I’m getting my act together. And I did, and it’s working.
I started by planning meals for a full four weeks instead of just one. I could have kept going but was starting to feel compulsive (at one point my enthusiasm for the project was so great I almost made a super complex house cleaning chart, with each day of the week a slightly different chore. It was totally OCD, though I still fantasize about it.) Anyways, I came up with general themes for weeknights according to our schedule: oven fare on my baking day, crock pot day for the day I’m out in the late afternoon, beans and rice on Friday, because that’s what we’ve done for years and years (and called it a feast, too.)
Then I got out my cookbooks and left them on the table for a solid week. I tend to only turn to cookbooks when I’m feeling kind of desperate, and it seldom works out because I don’t have the right ingredients on hand at the last minute. But I love these books and want to be guided by them more, both to expand my kitchen skills and to have a wider variety of flavors on our table. For instance, if I knew we’d be having a stirfry one night, I wanted a different sauce each week. I took notes on what recipes caught my eye, and made a rough outline.
I found that the menus were like a puzzle, and I had to move the pieces around a bit to find the right balance between rich meals and healthier ones, to make sure we didn’t have rice every single night one week, and to vary the amount of cooking required each day. Some days are full-on cooking affairs where the oven runs for hours straight, other days we have leftovers, still others it’s twenty minutes to fry some fish and steam the veggies. While some days are very detailed, others are open: We’ll have vegetables, surely, but I won’t know what they are until I pick up our CSA for the week (but a safe bet these days would be turnips).
By organizing what we are having each day, I’m able to use our food much more efficiently. I know that if I roast a chicken on Monday, we’ll be having soup on Wednesday. I know when to soak beans, and when to defrost meat. And most importantly, for my budget and dwindling brain power, I know what to buy at the store each week. Yep, once I had the menu ready, I made up grocery lists for each week listing all the major components of the meals. If I already have an ingredient I can simply cross it off the list, which I find easier than putting it on the list by pulling it from some imaginative, dreamy part of my kitchen brain.
And yes, at first I rebelled like a willful child: What? I don’t want chicken tonight! I’d cry. But you know what, there is something so comforting about just having that dang chicken since it’s chicken night, and not having to think about it for another minute. Though of course, one could always change the sauce. I’m now on round two of my month long menus, and this time it’s even simpler: much less meat (as I won’t be pregnant too much longer, I hope!), and more straightforward meals that involve less use of cookbooks.
What’s cooking at your place? Please share tips about cooking, budgeting, babies, and other kitchen related epiphanies.
11 Replies to “Mealtime Grace”
Haha, what a wonderful requirement to fill. And a lovely job, too. I’ve been toying with the month-long menu idea, it’s just so tricky with changing gardens and veggie shares. Perhaps I just need to buck up. I love the idea of your kingdom running itself – may it be so!
So wonderfully written…
I tend to buy the staples every other week or so, and then each morning after breakfast is cleaned up – I start to consider what to make for supper…
Of course it is much more fun when I can go to the garden and decide and when there were more choices from the food I had put up (almost gone already! – can’t wait to double our gardens again this year)….
Usually by lunch, I have a general idea of what I will be preparing.. today it was soup so I began it right away, gathering what I had on hand.
When I want to be creative, I do get the cookbooks out and make a list for the next market day.
Warm wishes and blessings on your upcoming birthing day.
I’m still pretty much a week to weeker. The coming week will be surrounded by your master boule bread yum. Naan with curried chickpea yum, pizza (toddler decorated), boule with white bean and kale soup, and buns for black bean burgers! Will be sure to make a pasta with red sauce or pesto too. Thanks for your thoughtful posts. Such good soul “food” during the winter. Much love on your upcoming journey! xo, Cindy
Cindy, that is indeed a very impressive use of a master boule. Yum. Great to hear from you!
I rebelled again meal planning for a long time…and now I’m not sure how I ever put a meal on the table! I guess sometimes I just didn’t! I would go to the store and buy a pretty consistent bunch of veg and meat and then stare into the fridge every day, wondering what to make of it. We wasted a lot of fresh food by never using it.
Now, I plan weekly. I don’t have certain meal type nights, but I usually plan one or two more complicated meals, one using leftovers, one extra healthy and one that can be cancelled without fresh food going unused (i.e. homemade pizza or soup from the deep freeze, if we have a night we are unexpectedly out, the ingredients for these can usually wait without going bad). Probably 2 weeks a month I will roast a chicken and use it for meal, then have fajitas or sandwiches, then make stock to replenish my freezer supply.
I get Everyday Food every month and find it’s recipes very helpful. I also bookmark recipes online in a file. So every week, I sit down with the latest E.F., browse my bookmarks and flip through clippings of things I wanted to try. It only takes a few minutes to pick out a list for the week and make my grocery list from it.
It has made a world of difference in how we eat. Always a good, fresh meal and we use a much wider assortment of produce now.
This week, on the menu is roast chicken with risotto, homemade gnocci, ham and spinich quiche, soup made from the leftover chicken and risotto, udon with peanut sauce and probably some enchiladas from the freezer if we don’t eat out on Saturday
I definitely rely on my deep freeze and always try to make a second meal’s worth to freeze at least once a week. And I try to keep a loaf of homemade bread in the freezer to perk up a meal of soup or leftovers. And I often make biscuits and corn muffins. Yum.
So, I have gone from a rebel to a total convert and love to talk about it (because I’m a nerd), so I loved hearing your system!
Oh, I love this. I’ve been trying to figure out how to do menu planning for months now (really), but I just have not been able to wrap my brain around it (I tried writing down what we actually ate for a while, in hopes that a pattern would emerge–my husband thought I was cuckoo). I did finally have a breaktrough last night–assigning cooking nights (in the past it’s always been whoever happens to get home first, or whoever has a cooking inspiration or whoever loses the cooking standoff). Now that I know which nights I’ll be cooking, I can plan menus for those 3 nights and shop accordingly, which seems much more do-able than 7 nights (I really do love the idea of doing a whole month at a time–I did not relish the idea of spending an hour or more every week on this project; maybe I’ll do three months at a time and have four different seasonal 3-month menus that I can recycle every year!)
Yes, i look forward to someday recycling my menus too. Writing down what we are eating instead of what we WILL eat is totally something I would do also.
I am so impressed that you are able to plan so far in advance! After years of knowing I needed to meal plan, I finally wrapped my head around doing it. I can only deal with a week at a time (this said only 2 weeks into it) and it took some new inspiration to boot me forward.
Loved this post.
Happy New Year!
I meal-planned for awhile when I had a baby and a 2 year old. It was very orderly, unlike everything else in my life.
These days I wing it, but we put up so much food in the freezer, cellar and canning jars last fall, that those things are like the clay with which I start my dinner sculpture.
I’m excited to hear that that baby is coming any day now!
We are on an allergy rotation diet, meaning lots of foods are cut out and the rest we need to eat every four days. So if we have chicken one night, no chicken for four days. So there are four different days with specific ingredients and I have to say it is so much easier! I just have the ingredients and we know that it’s quinoa and salmon night or broccoli and beef day, etc. You can’t give in to cravings but I find that to be an unexpected side benefit, I am much healthier, my son eats everything on his plate and we plan for no leftovers or else freeze them and we have a quick lunch already made four days later!