Saturday, February 21, 2009

meal planning 101

I received the following comment from Shawn on yesterday's post, and thought I'd follow up:

I totally need you to teach me how to shop and plan meals. Your cooking is stunning, and you apparently don't have to go shopping every day in order to have the cooking supplies.

It's a skill.

I'm jealous.

I guess meal planning is a skill! Here are some of my general rules of thumb:

~ I shop at my neighborhood co-op, where I am a member. The store is smaller than a regular supermarket, carries just about everything I need, and I know it like the back of my hand, so grocery shopping goes very quickly. I prefer to shop on weeknights when the store is less crowded. This means I have to head to the grocery store straight from work, which takes a little pre-planning, and isn't always what I want to do every single week, but that's how I do it. If you follow my blog regularly, you'll know I usually shop on Thursdays, so I have everything I need on hand for weekend meals.

~ I start planning meals up to a week in advance. I usually flip through cookbooks and my recipe collections on Monday night. By Tuesday night, I've decided what meals (and what side dishes) I want to make for the weekend. Tuesday night, I write the grocery list -- I incorporate the running list of staples that need to be replenished, (which I have going on listpaper on my fridge,) plus produce and anything out of the ordinary that I'd need for meals. This gives me a little time to make any last-minute changes before shopping day!

~ This may sound strange, but "write grocery list" is an item on my to-do list for Tuesdays, so I don't forget to do it! I also do silly things like write "take seitan out of freezer" if I need to remember to thaw something a day ahead of time.

~ I tend to do a lot of prep for meals in advance -- probably not more than a day, but it still helps a lot. For example, on Thursday night, I started bread dough for pita and burger buns, chopped and washed lettuce for salads throughout the week, and made the dip for Friday night's dinner, (save for heating it through before eating.) This afternoon, I made a batch of blueberry muffins for breakfasts/snacks for Dan and I during the week, started the veggie burger mix to chill, and I also made the burger buns for tonight's dinner. I may chop the veggies needed for tomorrow's lunch in a little bit.

~ My favorite thing about pre-prepping meals is that, by the time you get to cooking/eating, there aren't nearly as many dishes to wash when you're done. Weird, but for some reason, the last thing I want to do after finishing a great meal is wash a mountain of dishes!

~ I really do the bulk of my cooking on the weekends, and live off leftovers throughout the week. This might be more difficult when cooking for a family, but things like bread, soups, muffins, cookies, etc. all keep well! Casseroles can also be assembled ahead of time and either set to hang in the fridge for 24 hours, or in the freezer if you're going to wait longer. When I make lasagna, for example, I'll often buy enough ingredients for two pans, and stick one in the freezer for several weeks later.

~ I have a very small kitchen, and am taller than my refrigerator, but I still manage to keep lots and lots of staples on hand. (All of my bulk flours/baking supplies actually live in my front hall closet with my pots and pans.) I also always keep black beans and chickpeas cooked and portioned in 2-cup containers in my freezer. Want a list of staples? I'll email one to ya!

Anybody else have any other helpful ideas?


Regina said...

Ooh, I love meal planning! I've been using this template for a couple weeks and it hasn't failed me yet:

It's important to look ahead at the week and know which days require a quick lunch/quick dinner. So I count out the following:
1) Quick dinners
2) Quick lunch
3) Regular dinner
4) Work lunch

Then think up dishes for each, sometimes noting when to make extra for leftovers.
A freezer stash is also important. Brown rice, pasta, homemade ravioli, and pizza dough are always at the ready.
It also helps to have "standby" meals for the week. Our week always includes one meal salad, one stir-fry, and some kind of soup (crock-pot friendly). It's great to go into the meal planning already knowing at least that much.

I love this post, and I love your blog!

Shawn Powers said...

Ha! While reading I was going to comment asking for your list of staples! Yes please, it's embarrassing how bad we are at planning/shopping/cooking. We end up spending way too much money on food, and then (I'm ashamed to say) we throw lots of it away.

But if you ever want advice on how to buy fast food or pre-packaged microwavable meals -- I'm here to help. :D

Liz said...

These are a lot of the same tips I give people in my Shopping Co-op on a Budget class! Thinking ahead and having a grocery list template are big ones. I also use a refrigerator message board to note perishables in the fridge that need to be used. Sounds like we use similar techniques to get it all done!

Mary Worrell said...

I'd love a copy of the staples you keep on hand! I'm still figuring out how to do this while also not boring myself. I like to cook a big batch of soup, but then we get bored after a few days of it. I need to plan smaller batches of more things.

Thanks for emailing!