Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A (Wo)Man With a Plan

This will probably not come as a shock to anyone who knows me, but I try to plan at least four or five meals per week.  That usually gives me enough leftovers to kind of punt the other nights.  I know some folks think it takes a lot of time to sit down and do that kind of planning, but honestly, it doesn't, really. Now, don't get me wrong, usually "the plan" goes awry at some point in the week, but not so much so that I can't get back on track later on down the road. And I have to say that it actually saves time and stress knowing you've got the ingredients in the house to make any one of 5 different meals, whether you make the one you actually planned for on the exact night or not.

Another key tool that has helped me with planning is an online note-taking app.  I use Evernote, but there's probably a gazillion types of those apps out there. This is how I use it for meal planning:

On a given night, usually when I realize that I need to go to the store in the next day or two and don't have any meals plans, I will sit down and type in my notes (my meal planning list is called "Meals for the Week), such as:

  1. Sunday -- 
  2. Monday --  Steak, sauteed chard with bacon, tabbouleh
  3. Tuesday -- soup with chard, garlic sausage, cannelini
  4. Wednesday -- grilled pizza (pizza dough: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/basic-pizza-dough-recipe/index.html)
  5. Thursday -- chicken and dumplings (Paula Deen, p. 74)
  6. Friday -- smothered enchiladas (Southern Living cookbook, p. 303), corn salad
  7. Saturday -- out...
At the bottom of the same note, I make a grocery list as I go, plus, as you can see, if there's a recipe that I'm using, I either provide the link (if it's online) or note the cookbook reference, so I don't forget where to go.  My old fart brain needs that kind of detail.  Having the grocery list with the meal plan helps me at the store, too, because: a) I never forget my list; and b) when I have a question why I put one thing or another on the list (or, more likely, I forget that I have a plan for, say, Thursday), I can refer back to the meal plan. Easy peasy.   :-)

I must have been sitting down on Sunday to do this, since that day was blank on this particular week, but that just shows you how flexible this can be.  If you don't need or want a plan for a particular day, just leave it blank. Monday's menu happened to consist of a steak I had bought for a barbeque that we ended up not using, plus some beautiful Swiss chard I bought at the farmer's market the Saturday before.  That kind of fresh stuff is something you need to use up within a day or two of buying it, unless you do a mid-week run to replenish fruit, veggies, and milk (as I often do).  The tabbouleh was left over from the barbeque as well.  

Tuesday's menu made use of leftovers I already had.  I made a soup with the leftover chard and bacon, added leftover garlic bratwurst that I sliced up, added a can of beans and some chicken stock and voilĂ ! You've got yourself some soup for dinner.  I also happened to have some sliced up, stale bread in the freezer, so I pulled some of that out, toasted it, tossed it on top of the soup (in the bowl), and grated some parmesan over it. It was tasty!  That's the beauty of meal planning.  You can make a little extra of something a day or two before, and it's already prepped for dinner another night, making it that much easier to get dinner on the table. Plus, you can make better use of leftovers, thereby eliminating throwing out food.  The only problem is that, sometimes, my husband will eat something as a snack or for lunch that I had been planning to use later in the week.  Oh, well.  Nothing it fool proof!

For Father's Day, I gave my husband a pan to make pizza on the grill, so that was my inspiration for Wednesday's meal.  The other days, I went with what the kids wanted, within some confines (I already had chicken and ground beef in the freezer, so they had to pick meals that used those ingredients).  Thursday's meal also works, because it cooks in the crock pot, and my son's birthday party is that day, so we'll have the meal cooking during the day and ready later in the evening, after everyone's gone home and I'm too tired out to make anything.

And Saturday, I was going out with friends to visit a couple of area wineries, so you know I wouldn't be in any shape to cook, so the plan that night was to order something or go out.  We ended up at a friend's for an impromptu barbeque, but either way, I wasn't cooking.  :-)  There are nights where I just don't feel like cooking (gasp! I know, but it happens to the best of us).  On those nights, we'll often clean out the fridge and eat up any leftovers we have from the week. I like to call it smorgasbord night.

All told, I spend about an hour planning the week's meals.  That might seem like a lot of time, but if you think about it, I don't waste any time during the week worrying about what to make that night or if I have the right ingredients (or having to make an extra, unplanned grocery store stop along the way).  I figure I'm saving money, too, since I'm not doing as much impulse-buying at the grocery store.

You can also make it easier by doing theme nights.  During the school year, we had Taco Tuesdays and Pancake Thursdays. Originally, I instituted those nights to make sure that my youngest son would have two nights where he would actually eat something, but it turned out to make meal planning even easier, since it was two nights I didn't have to think of something new to make.  We did switch things up by doing different kinds of tacos (chicken, fish, pork) and pancakes (buttermilk, chocolate chip, gingerbread, etc.).  Eventually, the boys got tired of tacos, so we're taking a break from that idea.  I do like Mexican food, though, so there's usually at least one night each week where we're eating it.

This is not to say that I do this every single week. There are some weeks that's it's nearly Wednesday before I get an actual plan together, but then I just roll the plan into the next week.

If you're not sure how to even get started, there are some websites that offer plans, complete with grocery lists.  One of my favorites is found on Martha Stewart's website.  Just scroll down or search for Grocery Bag; there are a number of different options.  Kraft Foods also has their "1 Bag 5 Dinners" website as well. Kraft's recipes, understandably, specify their products, but I tend to look past that and just use whatever brand (usually store brand) I usually buy. Rarely, because of a certain picky 7-year-old, do I use the exact same 5 meals that are offered, but will substitute something I know he'll eat based on the general ingredients used for the rest of the recipes.

No pictures this time, but I hope this is useful information, and perhaps some inspiration, for you to do a little bit more meal planning.  Maybe save some money and time along the way, too!

1 comment:

  1. Just came across another menu planning site you might be interested in: http://shrinkingkitchen.com/menu-plan-your-butt-off-more-menus/
    Haven't tried any of the recipes/menus, but they sound good!