Monday, April 20, 2009

Meal Planning: A How To

A long time ago I had tried my hand at monthly meal planning-and noticed that readers were really interested in this. I guess that with the economy the way it is, people are working hard at being more mindful of what they are spending or consuming.

I never really did follow up on that post. Monthly meal planning is difficult for me; often I get bored with my pre-planned list and change things, often resulting in it not working as well as it should. Weekly planning seems to work much better for me, because it's just more flexible. I'm a bit of a fickle cook who enjoys following her taste buds more then a meal plan.

How I plan my weekly menus:

There aren't a lot of cookbooks in my house. Generally all my recipes come from either Every Day Food, Canadian Living, friends and family, my own head, or the Internet. When my magazines began piling up, I went through all of them and removed the recipes that I wanted, typed them up, printed them out, and slipped them into plastic sleeves in a binder. I love this! Mostly because then when I need them, I just slip the plastic sleeve and all from the binder, clip it to my fridge, and then it's right beside my workspace. Awesome!

When I get a new magazine and look through it, I mark the pages with recipes that I want to try with a labeled sticky note . This makes it really easy to remember which magazine had the recipe I wanted, and when trying to figure out what to make for a week I just grab the magazines and can see the tabs without going through the whole thing. It can be really frustrating trying to find that recipe at 4:30 pm when I need to get cooking!

Next, I keep in mind what I HAVE. Usually I have a good idea what is in the freezer or the cupboards, but I take a quick look before I start planning and note what I have a lot of and could be used up. Sometimes I get lucky and have almost all the ingredients for a dish before I even go-bonus!

On Friday night, or Saturday morning, I sit down with a coffee and plan my meals for the next week. Here's a sample menu

-Asian peanut chicken wraps with veggies and dip
-Baked ravioli and sauce, garlic bread, salad
-Beer braised beef with garlic mashed potatoes, veggies
-Home made pizza

Notice I have only four main meals? This is because I only really cook dinner from Monday to Thursday. Friday, Saturday and Sunday are nights where we eat leftovers or stuff that I have made and put in the freezer that is quick for anyone to heat and eat. It might be soup, burritos, chili, etc. My guys aren't really into eating leftovers if they sit in the fridge but if I pop them into the freezer and on a Saturday there's not much else around to eat, suddenly they look very appealing. What's in my freezer right now?

-veggie soup
-Hot Cross Buns
-chocolate chip oatmeal cookies
-lamb soup
-chicken noodle soup
-beer braised beef stew
-turkey bolognese pasta sauce
-spicy clam sauce

With a teenager in the house I find it really handy to do this; sandwiches just don't cut it for lunches, and so Jake can just take something from the freezer, defrost it, and take it to school.

Next comes my all-important list, because I really can't shop without one. Often this list is started mid-week as we begin to run out of things, and it's hung on the fridge. I even have a specific layout for the list-the four planned dinners are listed at the top, so I remember what I'm making. My main staples are always listed first on the left hand side of the page (milk, bread, coffee) . Below them are the 'extra' items needed to make that week's dinners. On the right hand side I list all the produce together, and below that is all the meat. In the bottom right hand corner is all the household products. I find that categorizing my list into sections makes it much easier when I'm actually in that section of the store.

Once the list is made, it's off to the store!

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