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.