52 FEATS – NUMBER 18 (Meal Planning)

8 May

DAY 7 UPDATE (SUNDAY):

Well, I haven’t completely mastered this one yet, but I did get a great start on it.  With most things I do, I require planning and organization before I can really get into the swing of things.  I need things written down, or visually present and accessible somehow, in order to easily utilize them.  I realized that for meal planning, I needed to create 2 things…

The first was a comprehensive list of meals my family likes.  That may sound completely moronic, but I swear sometimes it is just so hard for me to think of what to make.  (My grandmother had the same problem – the woman managed to put decadent meals like Swiss Steak and Chicken & Dumplings on the table every single night at 6 pm, but still found it difficult to think of what to make every day!)

So I started writing a giant list of things that we like to make, and broke it up by categories – breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks/dips, desserts, and sides/veggies.  I was excited to see that I really do have quite a variety of meals!  I put a copy of this in the “Food” section in my Mom Notebook.  (FYI – This list did NOT contain recipes, just the names of dishes.  Also, my Mom Notebook is my go-to spot for things to do, places to go, birthdates, emergency numbers, wish lists, etc.)

The next organizational issue I needed to tackle was my recipes.  They are everywhere – on index cards in this cute little recipe box my mom started for me when I was 20, in magazines, on xeroxed pages from my grandmother or my mother-in-law, etc.  And while my husband and I are usually able to remember where each one is located, there have been a few times when we’ve torn through the stack (yes, STACK!) of cooking magazines in our pantry to find that one particular recipe we need.  So I created another notebook for recipes, also broken up by category.  Very cool.

(Side note:  I found this really cool computer program for recipes called MacGourmet, which I thought would be the most amazing thing ever.  Enter your recipe, write notes, link to websites, add a picture, do ingredient searches, etc.  But then I realized the problem with computers is that they’re impersonal, and cooking is just the opposite.  I wanted to have something in my hands, something that I could pass down to my kids.  One of my favorite things to look at is my grandmother’s recipes, written in her own handwriting.  That can’t be replaced by any kind of technology.)

I also picked a place to write down what we’re going to eat for the week.  It had to be in plain sight or it would be forgotten, so I cleared off a spot on the whiteboard in our kitchen.  I didn’t assign days for each meal, because on Monday I have no idea what I might be in the mood for on Thursday.

Some great websites I’ve found:

www.allrecipes.com – my favorite for finding recipes

www.weelicious.com – excellent kid-friendly recipes

www.onceamonthmom.com – great recipes with freezing instructions

www.thepioneerwoman.com – tons of recipes, plus pictures showing each step

Allrecipes.com also has the coolest iphone app called the “Dinner Spinner”.  Tell it what type of dish you want to make, what ingredient you want to use, and how long you want to spend cooking –  it will spin up some matches, slot machine style.  Way cool.  Epicurious also has a great app full of recipes.  Both of those apps are free!

There were a couple of nights this week that we strayed off of the meal plan, but that’s OK.  I’ll be building this up slowly, hopefully getting better at it with more practice.  But I’m loving the extra level of organization it has already provided me.  Who knows?  Maybe one day I’ll plan out an entire month at once, and stock my freezer full.  It could happen!

DAY 3 UPDATE (WEDNESDAY):

Some of the comments below brought up some good questions about meal planning.  First of all, how far in advance should you plan?  I’ve often heard about people who schedule an entire month of meals.  An entire month!  I can’t imagine I will ever get to that point.  For me, and apparently for my friends, one week in advance seems to be plenty.

In the future, my goal is to sit down on Sunday, decide what I want to make for the week, and then shop accordingly.  This week, since I’m just beginning, I did things a little differently.  I started by rummaging through my crisper drawer, ransacking the pantry shelves, and exploring the depths of my freezer.  I took inventory of what I have and built a menu around that.  Thrifty, huh?  And since I had been to the store recently, I had plenty of food for the entire week.  I hope that eventually I’ll get to a point where I don’t have tons of “extra” stuff jammed in the fridge, since most of that just ends up getting thrown out – and like Stacey, I HATE wasting food!

Since I was just working off of what I already had in the house, this week’s menu wasn’t terribly interesting.  Nothing new or exciting.  But once I use up all the stuff I have in the house, then I’ll feel free to explore one of the millions of new recipes I have tucked away!

Even though I will probably never plan ahead more than a few days at a time, I’ve often wanted to get better at making meals ahead and freezing them – or even just cooking a bunch of stuff on Sunday to have it on hand for the week.  (A friend of mine cooks several chicken breasts on Sunday night, and uses them throughout the week for various meals.)  I love the idea of having stuff ready in a pinch when time is short in the evening – and most nights, it is.

Do any of you have good “make-and-freeze” recipes?  So far I’ve tried it with chicken divan, meatloaf, and spaghetti sauce.  They all came out just fine. Maybe that’s something you could do to almost any recipe?  I learned in that cooking class that you can dice and freeze peppers.  Sounds like a good way to keep them handy and not waste any!

Let me know if you have any good make-ahead ideas!

ABOUT FEAT NUMBER 18:

As a stay-at-home mom, I’m in charge of making most of my family’s meals.  Lately, I am not doing such a great job!  Lack of planning on my part has led to far too many pizza and drive-thru nights.  Not only is that unhealthy, it’s costing a fortune!

When I attended the Project Mom conference back in April, I sat in on a breakout session about meal planning.  It was inspirational!  I discovered that with just a little bit of effort on my part, meal planning for my family would relieve a lot of my burden during the week.  (Most of the stress comes not from the cooking itself, but from scrambling to figure out what to make at the last minute!)

The weekend after Project Mom, I attended a cooking class at The Kitchen Store in Arlington.  I had the time of my life!  It was like attending the taping of a cooking show, except I got to actually help prepare–and eat–the food.  I had a ball listening to the very accomplished cooks in the group; I took copious notes.  I learned how to make several different fantastic dishes, and the sauces were to die for.

So with all that food-related motivation fresh in mind, I’m going to work on establishing a meal plan for my family this week.  I don’t have it all figured out just yet, but I’m going to jump in and see how it goes.  I can modify it along the way if need be.  For me, the most important thing will be to write it down.  If I don’t do that, it might as well not exist, because I sure won’t remember it!

I’m also going to organize all of my recipes.  That will be the huge task for the week.  My husband and I adore cookbooks and cooking magazines–the bottom shelf of our pantry (and part of the floor) are covered with them.  But what a pain it is, always trying to remember which magazine or cookbook has the recipe we need!  I’m going to simplify this as much as possible.  I bought a huge notebook, and I’m going to start putting all of our recipes in it.  Only the ones we’ve actually prepared will make it in; I’ll have a separate place for recipes that we want to try some day.

Throughout the week, I’ll fill you in on some amazing websites that I’ve found, and I’ll share some of the trial-and-error of meal planning with you.

Are you a meal planner?  If so, please share your secret weapons!

Bon appetit!

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3 Responses to “52 FEATS – NUMBER 18 (Meal Planning)”

  1. Lori May 2, 2011 at 9:39 pm #

    I’m eager for any/all information you’re going to share on this subject! I started meal planning for my family this year (as part of my “simplify” life resolution! It has helped me immensely, not just in making life less stressful, but I’m saving a TON of money! By actually planning what I am making for the week, I only shop for what I need and I can clip coupons to save on the things we are actually using!

  2. Christeal May 3, 2011 at 12:10 am #

    I break my dinner planning up since I don’t usually have time to sit and think about a whole week. On Sun I plan Mon-Thur, since I usually always go to the store on either a Mon or Tue every week. Then Thur night, I plan Friday-Sun and go to the store on either Thur or Fri. Depending on what all is scheduled that week. I write the menu for the next few days down and put it up on the frig. I also try to prep a lot of my meals earlier in the day if I have a chance. So dinner time isn’t as crazy with me trying to cook and all the kids running around. Who knew that college restaurant experience would come in handy! :). Good luck!

  3. Stacey May 3, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

    Ooooh, shopping twice a week sounds very smart. I currently plan an entire week of meals and shop for all of the ingredients at once. Unfortunately, that means any meals at the end of the week end up with produce that is no longer looking great since it’s been sitting around too long. Since there are only 2 adults and a toddler here, we often have lots of leftovers. I found myself wasting quite a bit of food and I HATE wasting food. I now usually just have leftovers for lunch but when there are a lot of leftovers I put the leftovers on the schedule to have them in 2 days as dinner again in lieu of cooking a new meal. Yay for not having to cook for one night!

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