Thursday, March 1, 2012

Meal Planning: A True Science

Okay so it's not a true science or even remotely close to any science.  But there is an art to how I decide to cook what I cook and when I decide to cook it.  Yes, there are times where I feel especially lazy or especially inspired and I cook just whatever I have available or, on a rare occasion, go to the grocery store in the middle of the week for the sole purpose of grabbing the ingredients for a single meal.

This week has been a very rare occasion all around because I haven't actually cooked at all since last Friday night.  I'll admit it feels very strange as I feel a mixture of guilt, missing cooking, and also enjoying the lack of responsibility....seems like a paradox of feelings, but that's how it is!

The reason I haven't cooked is simply because I haven't been grocery shopping.  You all by now probably have come to an understanding of how I feel about the grocery store.  It's not the shopping itself I can't stand.  It's the people at the store, the waiting in line to check out, the walking to the car with your cart, the returning of the cart back to the cart stand, the way other people DON'T return their carts, and....worst of all.......the dreaded...

unloading of the groceries........dun-dun-dunnnnn.......

I don't feel that I should have to explain further why I can't stand going grocery shopping.  Unfortunately picking out all the yummy food just doesn't suffice compared to all that other nonsense.  But nevertheless it needs to be done soon or my husband will wonder where his wife went.

So without further ado I decided to take a risk at giving TMI and am putting my grocery list on my blog for all to see.  I also have my menu for the next week or so (maybe more) planned out.  I'll post recipes for fork-worthy dishes later.  My advice to anyone planning a menu for a week is to plan very wisely.  (duh)...but what I mean is you will NEVER cook every single meal you think you will cook.  You have to plan for at least 1, if not 2, nights of unexpected plans coming up and not being home for dinner.  You also have to think about perishables (uh-oh there's that P word again) and how long they will sit on the counter or in the fridge before you use them.  You also have to think about the types of food you plan to cook.  Don't plan several recipes in a row that have rice as a side dish or the same meat for every meal.  You'll end up feeling sick of it after the first 2 meals and ditch your menu, which ends up costing you more money in the end.  Also, don't ever think that dried ingredients aren't (almost, for the most part) just as good as fresh.  I would say the only exception to this would be cilantro (you can't beat fresh cilantro) and onion.  Fresh herbs don't last long and it makes it hard to plan ahead when all your meals must include them.  They add flavor, but most dishes taste just as good without them.  (and again, this is in MOST cases--not all!!!!)

Step 1: The planning of the list
The first thing I do is obvious.  Take inventory.  What do I need?  What do I already have?  What do I have that I can use in multiple recipes?  These are questions I have to answer before I can plan meals.  Typically I take out my recipe box and just start thumbing through it.  I try to find 3-4 recipes that share a few common ingredients.  This helps keep me from having to buy things that will just end up going to waste.  Seems kinda obvious, but this was something I seriously had to learn over time.  I shudder at how much money I used to spend on groceries when I first started cooking.  I didn't think about stocking up or keeping things on hand.  I just bought whatever I needed for whatever recipe I was making--no matter how rare the ingredient was or how pointless and tasteless it was.  The most elaborate purchase I've ever made was buying Spanish saffron.  It was $18.00 for a teeny tiny little bottle.  (although it made a DELICIOUS saffron stock and I have since gained a huge appreciation for saffron and try to find other recipes that use it)  Anyway, I try to think about recipes that I know my husband loves and usually I try to pick out at least 1 new one.  It is almost guaranteed that I plan a meal that will create massive amounts of leftovers.  This is so I can freeze them for a future meal and/or my husband can take it for lunch.  Let's just say the man RARELY has to go out to lunch.  I also like taking leftovers for lunch.  However, I don't typically enjoy having leftovers for excessive amounts of cooking!  I try to plan a couple of meals that have absolutely no perishable items whatsoever.  (i.e. meats that can sit in the freezer until ready to cook, casseroles, or pastas).  This way I know I can cook those later in the week and/or even wait until the next week to make them.

Step 2: The writing of the list
After deciding which recipes I want to cook, I start writing out my list.  As I look at recipes, I jot down any ingredients I know I do not have.  After that I make my "regular" grocery list.  This includes breakfast foods, snacks, canned vegetables, and other random staple items.

Step 3: The re-writing of the list
Yes, that's right.  I write my list twice.  The first time I just jot things down as I think of them--sort of like a rough draft.  Then I do a final copy in my neatest handwriting.....omg such a dork....organized by sections of the grocery store.  Since I, sadly, have the layout of Wal-Mart memorized, I usually organize it from top to bottom in the order that I walk through the store.  Produce first, then meats, then dairy, then I go up the aisles.  Canned foods, pasta/rice, spice aisle, bread aisle, etc.....I know I'm not the only person who does this.....And it really really does make it SO much faster and it keeps you from forgetting things!  There's nothing worse than being all the way over in produce and realizing you forgot the sour cream.  They're on opposite sides of the store!  (which means walking through the thundering herd to get to it)

At long list for the "week"  (and by week I mean for sure a week and then some--I try NOT to go to the store every single weekend)

Spinach (fresh, bagged)--I like to take spinach salads in my lunch sometimes
Bagged salad (spring mix)
cherry tomatoes
2 white onions
3 avocado (trick: if you are uncertain as to when you will use them--get them when they're still slightly hard so they have time to soften); Avocados are perfect when they give a bit to pressure and not too bumpy
package of Bella mushrooms
fresh basil
green onions
tangelos (Wal-Mart doesn't have these, so I'll be going to Kroger.  They look like boobs with giant nipples but they taste 2000 times better than oranges.)
Granny smith apples (favorite apple!)

chicken thighs (boneless)
chicken breasts (boneless, skinless)-- I buy the large bag of frozen
ground turkey (for turkey tacos--easy and healthy!)
ground Italian sausage (for spaghetti sauce)
salmon (frozen)
tilapia (frozen)
2 lb. ground 73/27 beef chuck (for meatloaf)

grtated mozzarella cheese
sour cream

corn tortillas

green beans
pinto beans
Fire roasted diced tomatoes with garlic
large can of tomato sauce
1 small can tomato sauce
2 cans tomato paste
2 cans green chiles
spaghetti sauce

plain breadcrumbs
tortilla chips
taco seasoning
Diet tonic water
paper towels
Lean Cuisines

Meals I plan to cook:

  • Avocado chicken parmigiana (new recipe from Pinterest!)
  • honey-soy broiled salmon with zucchini bake (both Pinterest recipes)
  • spaghetti (with homemade spaghetti sauce)*
  • cilantro-lime chicken
  • fish tacos 
  • turkey tacos  (yes....I know....lots of tacos)
  • meatloaf*
  • cheesenip chicken*
*favorites of the hubby

This is probably the approximate order I plan to cook them in, but of course this is subject to change. :)  Happy eating, everyone!

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