weekly meal plans ??
I am making the leap from someone who works at home (as a writer)to working from an office on a tight schedule.
In addition to having to do major grocery shops- rather than shopping every day- I will also have to do better meal planning, much better.
I would love to hear from people who have a plan- do you set the menu for the week- is it the same every week? do you experiment on the weekends?
How do you shop- master list? at lunch time? on the way home?
This may sound like I have had my head in the sand- but I have worked at home for 10 years and am trying to figure this out.
I have really enjoyed reading other's planning tips - than you for raising this subject!
I have just recently started planning meals now that we have had our first baby and are short on time and money... so expensive to order in! For the amount of money we were spending on not-very-fancy delivery I could have made lobster some nights! I also really missed cooking. So I plan for 4 nights out of the week and shop on Fridays (if I finish work early) or Saturdays so we can have very fresh fish. We love fish and it is usually very fast to prepare. Like others who have responded to you I do pre-marinate and freeze meats in pre-portioned containers or ziplocks to make life easy. If I don't have time to make a marinade I take advantage of some of the ready-made stuff that is available.
I write out the meals I want to serve, collect the recipes if I need them, make the shopping list - which I subdivide into sections of the store or stores I am going to. Draw dividing lines on the page denoting grocery store areas, like produce, meats, aisles, freezers, etc. Then enter each list item in the appropriate area on the page an you will be shocked at the time you save and the items you miss will be reduced dramatically! When I get home I portion out the food as much as possible and do some prep.
Chili is a great dish that just gets better the longer it is around - I highly recommend keeping canned goods around to make this on nights you are stuck. It takes about 5 minutes to make and just sits on low heat on the stovetop for hours on nights you don't know when you'll get to eat. Here's our recipe:
Chop 2 onions, sweat in a bit of veg oil in very large pot. Add:
1 lb lean ground beef, browned, or
1.5 cups soy 'ground beef' reconstituted
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 can kidney beans
1 pkg Old El Paso Chili Mix (ok, I know... but it's so good!! If you have the time make your own spice mix)
Tabasco or dry chili to taste
If you have peppers you can dice them and add with the tomatoes, or frozen corn, or chopped mushrooms... whatever works for you! Dry beans and lentils are great too if you have the time.
Can be served on its own or with pasta, rice, tortillia chips... best the 2nd night.
Another great thing to buy is a whole chicken that you can serve roasted, use the leftovers in sandwiches or salad the next day, and make stock from the carcass. A roast bird takes very little prep as you probably know.
Good luck planning! We have found we eat healthier and save tons of money by planning even for just 4 nights. (I always cook too much anyway so we do eat leftovers some nights)
I've switched to doing this recently. In fact, I've gone into an increasingly militaristic control-freak mode. I've found it helpful both for shopping (don't have to buy as much, uses leftovers more efficiently, a quicker jaunt) and for time in-kitchen weeknights. It also means I actually have started to try the recipes I normally just drool over once and then forget about. I've learned that not only is it good to have things planned, do a slow-cooked big meal over the weekend, but also I like to do lots of prep work too: concocting marinades, cleaning/chopping veg, etc.. I often freeze meats in their marinades. This means that my planning involves not just jotting down meals, but also jotting down as I go the prep work so that way when I'm in the kitchen I can organise that on it's own accord. I'll plan 4-5 meals only, in the knowledge that one of three things will happen on the other nights. Either:
a) so lazy/late it'll be a takeout
b) will want a crappy studenty zero effort affair(I keep pasta and sauce on hand at all times for these nights)/something i've forgotten about/have sudden craving for
c) will have a 'buffet' dinner, meaning that whatever's around and threatening to go off will get reheated buffet-style, and people can slop on their plates whatever they want with absolutely no relationship to each other. I find giving up on the concept of a harmoniously orchestrated meal terribly liberating, as long as your audience knows this is what is happening.
All of this DOES mean, however, that a significant portion of my weekend is based around food. I'm sure someone less food-obsessed could do this more efficiently. I do a leisurely planning on sat morning , going through cookbooks and things, and happily enough 'Saturday Kitchen' is on the BBC while I'm doing it. I go to the various markets/butchers/shops (I find avoiding supermarkets saves me money and ups the quality, but it's time intensive). It also means that my weekend cooking takes longer, b/c I'm not rushing. Be realistic about this: doing prep for the week ahead is not the creative puttering around we all fantasize about during our desk week. It's still tedious, regardless of when you do it. But the planning I find very creative and makes up for it.
My husband and I both work and we have a toddler who goes to daycare. I rush to get home by 6 and have 30 minutes to make a meal before my husband and son come home famished. We eat as a family.
Every Sat or Sunday, I make a list of what we are going to eat, down to the day of the week. This takes into account, dinnes I may not be home, my work schedule etc. I then build a grocery list from that schedule. I live in NYC and have a small, apt sized fridge. For this reason, I think, we never have leftover food from the week before. On Friday night our fridge is generally bare.
During the week is tried and true recipes, for the most part and the weekends are for new and slow cooking recipes such as braised short ribs. There are times when I will cook a recipes that takes longer the night before I serve it but I always plan for it.
I think that having a dinner schedule is less stressful and less expensive. By shopping once a week I am spending less than when I was shopping daily. I do sometimes have to run to the store for items I may have forgotten but I really try not to do that.
Hope this helps and good luck with the job.
Saturday is usually the shopping day for us, so Friday night is when we go through our pantry/fridge and decide what needs to be used up quickly. After looking around a bit, I:
1. Choose a dish or two that will use up a lot of the fresh food left in the fridge.
2. Choose a dish that will use up something that's non perishible but has been sitting in the pantry forever.
3. Think of something I have been craving and will be fun to make (if this coincides with 1 or 2, all the better)
4. Consider a few backups
When I'm at the store, I get whatever fruit and vegetables look the freshest, in addition to ingredients for whatever 3 dishes I've decided I want to make.
I try not to plan too rigidly, since you never know what's going to strike your fancy at the store, what might not be available for your planned dishes, or what might happen to be very expensive that week.
Oh, and never go shopping while hungry! You mysteriously end up with all kinds of things you don't need. I still have a package of dried rice crackers (meant to be deep fried til crispy then put on top of soup) that's over 6 months old. Maybe that will be next week's dish for the #2 category.
As for the cooking part, a large part of Sunday is usually experimenting with new recipes or cooking things that take a lot of prep. Then during the week, I lay out or cut things the night before, reducing the amount of prep time the night of. This way, I find that making a tasty, healthy meal and eating within 45 minutes of walking in your front door isn't a chore.
On Saturday or Sunday, I make a big meal that I can freeze and eat throughout the week for dinner when I am too tired, after coming home from work, to cook. This is usually a soup or lasagna or something that freezes well. That way I can eat it the following week, or anytime in the next couple months.
I also always have some lettuce (that I wash and put in zip lock bags with a moist paper towel) and vegetbales and cheese in the fridge to make a salad any night of the week. Pre-washing the lettuce makes it so much easier. Sometimes after work the last thing you want to do is take out the salad spinner.
When you don't want to eat what's in your freezer, just have some quick 30-minute meals that you know you can easily throw together. (I have a chickpea and tomato stew served over basmiti rice with a garlic sauce that is so easy to make because it's made with mostly canned vegetables.)
For lunch, I just get into the habit of routine. I buy a loaf of bread at the beginning of the week and have a tuna sandwich everyday, with fruit and yogurt. Or, I use that lettuce in the fridge to make a salad with vegeables, egg, and chicken or tuna, and also put in the container a seperate small container of dressing. Or, leftovers from whatever you made the night before.
It's all about finding a routine that works for you. And when you just don't know what to do, it's time to order in!
I plan a weekly menu every week, on the weekend when I get my local grocery flyers. See what's on sale, then I match up with what I have in my freezer/pantry, and plan accordingly. Of course I have years of (husband-approved) recipes in my head. I actually look forward to this! I make 1 or 2 major meals on the weekend (roasts, meat sauce etc) and freeze some if there's a lot and put aside the rest for during the week. Anything you cook on the weekend will probably be good til the next weekend.Also during the week, the days I'll get home late, I'll do an omelette/frittata with any leftover bits and pieces, or grilled cheese with homemade soup (stratchiatelle or Greek lemon-egg can be made in 5 minutes if you have chicken or turkey broth, or freeze little portions of more complicated stuff when you make a pot). I make a few veg. dishes if I make a roast, then I can mix and match all week. I basically plan 6 or 7 meals, but I'm flexible about when we'll have them, I just see how the day goes (I'm on the road a lot so never know when I'll get home).
We've been doing weekly menus for years -- scrupulously when our children were at home (we always tried to eat together as a family), still pretty regularly since they've grown up and live elsewhere. A few minutes conference on Saturday morning before shopping makes the whole week a lot better! A few principles: as others suggest, it helps to do something on Sunday night that you can eat a second time on a busy night. It helps to do something (e.g., a pork roast) from which leftovers can be used in later, quicker meals (lentils, or a rice dish). It certainly helps to keep some useful things in the freezer (meat cut for stir fry, frozen shrimp or scallops) or fridge (a polenta roll). We try to split the cooking according to predictable late nights, to eat healthily (fish at least once a week, a meatless veggie meal at least once a week) and well. Menu planning is a habit worth forming. I'll look forward to seeing more posts on this subject. Thanks for raising it.