“Hungry again? I fed you yesterday!” say wives and moms just about every day.
I’m not one of those people who can whip something together at the last minute. I need to have thought about this, even briefly, and have some sort of plan in my head.
The other day was Easter Sunday. On Easter we have ham. Just like on Thanksgiving we have turkey with grammy’s stuffing, Christmas has to be ham, and St. Patrick’s Day is bourbon-glazed corned beef. ST. PATRICK’S DAY IS SO A HOLIDAY!!!! At least in THIS house it is. My children have gotten used to having certain types of food on certain holidays, and if I dare change it up, I throw off their entire existence.
If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s being locked into something without an exit. I NEED OPTIONS! Which is probably why I have always found meal planning difficult. How do I know if I’m going to want tacos on Tuesday? Maybe I’ll just be a rebel and make them on Thursday. MAYBE I WON’T MAKE THEM AT ALL. That will show them! (Who “they” are, I haven’t a clue, but trust me, they’re out there and they stick to strict meal plans).
But let’s face it – sometimes we need structure. And, truth be known, we actually eat way healthier and spend way less when I meal plan. So at some point I realized I needed to be more like my sister, who is pretty much the most organized person on the planet. Here are some things I do that make this task easier for me to handle – maybe some of it will help you too!
Onto the Plan!
- First thing I generally do is take stock of what I have on hand: produce that needs to be used up, dairy products on the verge of eviction, and anything in the freezer that looks like it’s “use it or lose it” time.
- Every so often some of these items will come together in the type of harmony known as a ‘lightning bolt”. Let’s see – we have Mexican cheese and tortillas almost at their expiration dates, throw a little chicken in there and we have chicken quesadillas – quick & easy. I always tend to have pantry items in the house such as yellow rice, black & refried beans, and corn meal, so I can round out the meal. Put that on the Meal List for the week. ONE DOWN.
- I then poll whoever is available. Any requests? If it’s my husband, well, I’m usually shit out of luck. “Everything you cook is great, honey! I’ll eat anything.” <—Yeah, I already know that. Not helpful. If one of my daughters will be around for a meal or two, then they usually have suggestions. SUGGESTIONS HELP, PEOPLE. Just sayin’.
- Next, I pull out my favorite cookbook(s). I have a lot of cookbooks. The one I use the most, however, is the binder I’ve created myself from recipes I’ve printed out from the internet and recipes garnered from family & friends. It’s divided by type of food: appetizer, salad, soup, chicken, beef, dessert, etc., and genre, such as Mexican & Italian. That’s just to make things hard to find. (Hey! I never said I was organized!) I’m fortunate in that if I cook it, my family will eat it. We LOVE to try new things. Usually when I cook something for the first time, I’ll write notes on the recipe, such as “needs more flavor, try adding more basil & parmesan”, or “absolute perfection, don’t change a thing!”. If something is a dud, it doesn’t make the binder 😉 As I peruse the binder & cookbooks, I think about the week ahead – is it going to be especially busy? Late nights? Easier, with time to cook some more involved meals that may require more prep?
- Now comes the hard part. Does any of this look appetizing to me? What about feasible, given the time and plans for the week? If the answer is YES, then that recipe gets put on the meal list and the recipe is either removed from the binder in it’s page protector, or the cookbook name & page number is written next to the recipe name on the list. Why? Because I’m OLD and I will forget where I found this about 7.4 seconds after I write it down. I usually use a scrap piece of paper, but if you want to get fancy, there are plenty of free printables available on the web, such as the one below, found here.
- I do this until I get about 5 or 6 meals on the list. Then I take stock of what I have on hand, and what I need. The “needs” get transferred to the shopping list, along with Angry Orchard, which is my current obsession. Why? Because after all this, I DESERVE IT.
- Finally, it’s time to shop. Don’t forget the coupons! (I always forget them. But I don’t want you to.) Also, if you are in NY, you can’t buy alcohol before 8 am, so you may have to do a separate Angry Orchard run. Don’t ask me how I know this, my insomnia and gym schedule will be the subject of posts further on down the road. I DID mention I was in menopause, right??
How do you handle meals, especially weeknight dinners?