Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Planning A Menu

I think that one simple step to take in the interest of eat more filling, satisfying, healthy, home-cooked meals is to plan a little menu.  Nothing major, just a little guiding list
See, I've never been able to stick to a Monday-We-Will-Have-X, and Tuesday-We-Will-Have Y, and so on type of menu.  It was too rigid.  What if I didn't feel like cooking X on Monday?!  What if I was more up to the effort of Y?!  Or what if X isn't what sounds good at the moment?  Or what if something comes up and cooking X on Monday just isn't possible?  These things always derailed my attempts at menu planning.

But then a couple years ago it occured to me that just because I couldn't stick to such a specific menu plan didn't mean I couldn't come up with something that actually did work for me and our household.  And so I did.
 
 So, Matt and I plan menus like this:
We grab a piece of scratch paper and a pen.

We check the fridge/pantry/cold storage for ingredients that need used up sooner rather than later.  The bulk of our meal ideas spring forth from this.   It goes something like:  "We'll we've got half a pot of rice and a bunch of veggies so why don't we unthaw a block of tofu from the freezer and have stir-fry.  What kind of sauce should be make for it?" or "We've got all those potato skins from making gnocchi.  What should be have with potato skins?  Chili?"

We also ask ourselves if there is anything in particular that we've been hankering for.  Something like:  "You know I've really been wanting sloppy joes.  We've got beans, veggies, and tomato sauce.  That would work, right?  All we'd have to do is whip up some rolls."  (And we make a note about needing to bake rolls at the bottom of the paper.)

Lastly, we think about whether or not we marked any new recipes in cookbooks that we'd like to try out.  Something along the lines of:  "There is a potato, peanut, and garlic curry in that 660 Curries book from the library that I think sounds good."  We try to include the name of the cookbook and the page number for ease.


 
 Something that we really strive for in menu planning is that we don't want to have to go out and buy anything special for any of the meals.  Case in point the Baby Potato and Garlic Curry recipe called for a couple spices we didn't have, like whole curry leaves.  So we just adapt as needed.  Curry powder worked just fine.  Or when we made a stir-fry recently with the Kid's Stir-Fry Sauce and didn't have any orange juice around the house we just used a few cubes of frozen grapefruit juice and it was just as tasty.  I think lime or lemon juice would also have been a great substitute.
 

We occasionally fall off the menu-planning wagon, but we always note soon enough that we're eating more poorly.  Not enough fruit and veg.   Too much grain.    Meals put together without the usual care.   Cooking becomes more of a chore.   We can get by like that for a while, but eventually we do notice the difference.  I think that food is so important to daily function and the quality of that function.  Food is fuel and comfort and community.  I think that is worth planning for.

I like the type of menu planning we do because when we start thinking about cooking dinner we just check the list and see what we feel like making that particular night. 

If its a busy night (say, we had a Community Garden meeting or a concert to attend) we might pick whatever is fastest or easiest.  If we have more time we can choose the most in-depth or delicious-sounding recipe.  We cross if off when we're done and the next night pick from the remaining meal ideas.  Sometimes we don't cross off everything on the menu list before we make a new menu so we just transfer over any remaining to the new menu plan.    Or sometimes a really good dish might end up on the list a few weeks running even if it has been crossed off! 

We don't plan lunches as we just tend to eat leftovers from previous dinners for lunch.  Breakfast is dictated by how much time we have before work--larger, more in-depth meals on the weekends, quicker ones on the weekdays.

Planning menus like this is such an easy thing to do that we have found really improves the quality of our meals and makes cooking easier and more pleasant for us.

10 comments:

  1. Beth,
    That is still too much planning for me. I like to cook enough chicken or meat for 5 days, then cook beans or brown rice to last days. I freeze some of these, too. Then, I can make slaw to last two days. I bake about 8 sweet potatoes at a time.

    My meals are never the same during the week since I have varying amounts of leftovers, depending on what it is I cook. I never or rarely cook a whole meal on one day. There is always food to just take out of the refrigerator. I do look in the refrigerator to see what is there and cook or use it before it wastes. Lately, bending to find things is more than I can accomplish, so I have wasted a bit more.

    I guess we all have our limits. We have to find what works.

    I have a friend who picks his daughter up from school, they go home, decide what they want to eat, go to the store and buy it, come home and cook. They are very poor since he lost his job. I wonder why.

    It was interesting seeing how it works at your house.

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    1. Its so interesting how different household function differently! What I find easy for me would never work for you, but I suppose its the same as me saying that Monday-We-Have-X, Tuesday-We-Have-Y would never work for me....it obviously works for a lot of people. So interesting!

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  2. I do the same thing! I can never stick to a menu either so I just make a list of things and think through what is needed and go from there. It really helps, as you say with nutrition, budgeting and less waste. I strive to eat everything or freeze it for what I call "emergency lunches" later.

    I so wish my better half liked more vegetables. :(

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    1. Yes! The freezer! I should have mentioned that sometimes we plan to make extra just for freezing for later. Oh well, fodder for another post, perhaps.

      Maybe you need to try the sneaky chef method for getting your dearest to eat his veg. Have you heard of that cookbook? She purees vegetables and sneaks them into other food. Its intended for kids, but would certainly work for veg-resistant adults! : )

      With Matt and I we have found we could ease into vegetables we didn't like with really small bits of them. Example: We used to run greens through the food processor until they were microscopic and then we'd add them to sauces, stir-fry, breakfast potatoes. The pieces were so small it made it manageable. Now we just coarsely chop and have no trouble with it. We could never have started that way though. Chewing leaves?! Get out! : )

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  3. I love this kind of discussion! I'm fascinated by people's methods of running their houses.
    Your system is pretty close to mine (I blogged it here: http://thriftathome.blogspot.com/2012/11/how-i-plan-menus.html).

    I would love to know what those patties are with the rice and sauce. Looks yum.

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    1. And I just started my own dinner notebook recently!!

      It really is interesting to see how each household has found what works! There are so many varieties of living! I love it.

      I actually am mid-way through composing a recipe post for the bean patties. They are Kidney Bean Kiev (fried bean patties with yummy garlic butter inside). I'll be sharing that recipe soon.

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  4. I think your idea is wonderful. Scott and I should do something similar.

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    1. Thanks, Becky. We've found it SO helpful. And not so rigid that we don't stick with it.

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  5. Chewing leaves...so funny. Actually, I love chewing leaves, cooked or raw.

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    1. : )
      I do, too...now...but boy, that has not always been the case.

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Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and ideas. I value the advice and friendship that you share with me!