How to Menu Plan

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Menu Planning is something I do every week, usually on Saturday morning. Lies! I actually think about food all week long, all the time. I think about it while I’m writing (What can my characters eat in this scene?) and while I’m doing expense reports, while I’m in meetings, and I especially think about it while running. I actually chant Dough-NUTS! Dough-NUTS! in my head. It’s like a little Gregorian chant goin’ on in there, but with a lot more emphasis on baked goods. Ahem. Have you seen my cream cheese pound cake?

Anyway, Saturday morning is when I write that biz down, and that’s really how the Menu Planning process works. And unlike the hanger process, it’s much more productive and takes less than two hours for the entire week. The whole week! Most people watch more TV every day than that. Amazing.

Step 1: Look at what we currently have in the fridge and pantry. Beans, quinoa, or leftover veggies almost always mean that cassoulet or big bowls are going on the menu for that week. If we want something out of the ordinary, I find recipes that include whatever we have on hand that we need to use. For example, I had a LOT of celery, leeks, and carrots lying around a few weeks ago. Instead of letting them go bad, they became a huge batch of this soup, which went straight into the freezer. This week I found myself with an overabundance of carrots – pickle that biznass!

Time required: 5 minutes. Just five measly minutes to peer around your kitchen and open up ye old refrigerator.

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Step 2: Dream about what we’d like to eat and cook! Pinch of Yum, Love and Lemons, and Everyday Food are my favorites for finding recipes that are healthy, vegetarian, and interesting. We eat veg at this chez at least 85% of the time because it’s good for the earth and good for your man, clap yo’ hands, hey clap yo’ hands! (And good for yourself, too, obviously. But rhyming is important, okay?) This is the fun part because it means I get to troll Pinterest and food blogs and not feel like I’m not wasting my time.

Time required: 15 minutes, but I usually spend about 30, because it’s fun!

Step 3: List! I know people who use Ziplist or other apps, but I usually email Nathan and myself a list, so we can add or delete if we need. We almost always have the basics: spices, garlic, EVOO, and staples like quinoa, soba noodles, veggie stock, etc. When we do run out of those things, they go on a small whiteboard on the fridge. The fridge list gets added to the email list, which takes about .2 seconds.

I also plan out which meal we’ll eat on each day, so if I’m leaving early for work, N knows what to throw into the crock pot or what to have ready when I get home. If I’m working from home, I know how early I need to stop work and start cooking so dinner can be ready for him. This system does rely upon having a partner who likes to cook and who isn’t a dunce in the kitch. Thankfully, I got me one of those.

Time required: 10 minutes to make a list.

Time required to train your S.O. on the cooking process: TBD. You’re on your own with that one, friend.

Step 4: Shop! Also the fun part, even if that means I have to look longingly at sugary cereals, frozen waffles or other weird things that we don’t buy but which inexplicably always sound good in the moment. Never grocery shop hungry. Just don’t do it. Only buy what’s on your list. If you’ve done the above correctly, your list might be longer than a normal list, but you will eat for an entire week instead of walking out with three TJ’s prepared salads and a pack of dark chocolate peanut butter cups and a plan to return to TJ’s next week, after you’ve eaten out four more times.

This week we spent just under $100. For that money, we got 11 meals, in the form of dinners that became leftovers for lunch or became another meal entirely. If we make something in the crock pot and (we’re cooking for two), we can usually add at least four more meals on top of that. Would you like to see an ugly picture from inside my fridge to demonstrate that point? Here you are:

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Time required: 20 minutes if you split up in a tiny Trader Joe’s or a City Whole Foods. Give yourself at least 45 if alone in a Safeway and the lines are long. Why are Safeway lines always SO LONG? It’s a head scratcher, folks. Also, Alone in a Safeway could be the title of a new indie record OR an extremely low budge horror film. It’s yours for the taking and you’re welcome.

There you have it! Soon, people will be coming to your house and looking at your fridge. And you’ll be with me, out for a run with all that time you’ve saved. Chant it with me now: Dough-NUTS! Dough-NUTS!

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