Quite a few real food bloggers I follow have posted about their menu plans. Most people seem to find that a set schedule of what food to buy and what meals to make is less stressful. I saw a few example posts about how people have done menu-planning with their lists of food to buy, the meals to prepare and when, even including detail like when to take something out of the freezer. The menu-planning itself seemed to require some planning. Most used a binder or sheet of paper, but some used recipe cards as well.
I sat down and tried to think it through and come up with a way to do menu planning. It’s not very easy for me though. I get a vegetable basket each Wednesday delivered to my door, but I don’t know exactly what’s going to be in it. They post ahead of time what the contents will be, but the company is big on getting the best produce to your door so sometimes if a crop is not ready or the order doesn’t come through, they substitute it with another item. So, planning the vegetable dishes wasn’t going to work. I go to farmers markets on the weekends usually for meat and some extra veggies, and tend to pick up what they have in stock at the time. So there’s no one day I can sit down and plan out a week full of meals. Planning the menu-planning was making my head spin.
Hong knew I was stressing about coming up with what to cook. Our breakfasts are the same everyday and we’re completely happy with that. Lunch is leftover dinners. But coming up with what to cook for dinner was always tough. I do just fine if he suggests a meal he wants, but often we’re both busy and forget. I’m always running out the door to work when I realize nothing has been planned for dinner. This isn’t easy to work with when most of the meat is frozen (in butcher paper) and I might have to pick up ingredients on the way home for whatever I decide to make. For last-minute meals I tended to rely on seafood which cooks quickly, chicken pieces that I can buy in plastic and thaw quickly in hot water, or resort to omelets and bacon as dinner.
Hong came up with a great idea that we just have each day of the week be a type of meat and go from there. It has been working out great. I usually decided what meat to take out the night before, to thaw in time. I’ll either do a slow cooker meal, stir-fry or bake it after work. It seems vegetables are a lot easier to just throw together and meat was the one part of it that was stressing me out. Once you know what meat you’re going to cook, the rest falls in place. And one thing I have learned from Chinese cuisine: any vegetable can stir-fried with just oil and garlic. Lettuce, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, carrots, any leafy greens, can all be stir-fried and taste delicious. We originally were going to start with this type of plan and then if needed move to more of a traditional full menu-plan but so far we haven’t needed to.
Here’s what my menu plan looks like:
- Monday: Poultry night (chicken, turkey, duck)
- Tuesday: Pork or Lamb
- Wednesday: Organ meat (liver, kidney, heart, tongue, or bone marrow rich soup)
- Thursday: Beef
- Friday: Seafood
- Saturday/Sunday: leftovers, meats and veggies on the BBQ, stir-fries with leftover meat
We left it flexible. If I thought of something I really wanted to make the next night but it didn’t fall on the proper day, I would make it anyway and just switch the days. I try to make soup once a week but count that as extra, not a full meal.
Here’s what my shopping plan looks like (in my head):
- Once a month I’ll take stock of the freezer and decide if it’s time to order more meat from local farmers.
- Pick up (frozen) chicken parts, bacon and other ingredients from a health food store once during the week
- Pick up random meat cuts, whole chickens, exotic meats, raw milk from farmers market each Sunday
- Pick up eggs from local farmer every second Thursday
- Get seafood Friday on the way home from work
- Wednesday I have my vegetable and fruit basket delivered.
I’m lucky that in Ottawa everything is pretty close and we have a car. It’s not hard for me to stop at the store on the way home or get to the farmers markets on weekends. Maybe someday I’ll do full out menu planning, but for now this seems to be working quite well.
I’d love to hear how you plan out shopping and/or cooking. Do you plan out meals? Only dinners? And what about snacks, lunches, breakfasts…?