planning cooking ahead of time
We often see posts here where people are asking for advice about what to make for a certain event or occasion. These are always fun, but the food one makes for an occasion is different than what one makes for oneself or one's family.
What I'm wondering is, to what degree do you plan ahead of time your daily food, during the week, not for occasions? How do you go about it? What system do you employ, and how well does it work for you? Especially for those of you who are only cooking for one or two, how do you do it?
Thanks in advance for input . . . .
I cook for 2, 5-6 nights a week and work 5 days a week. Like others I plan a menu on Saturday or Sunday and the requisite grocery list then do my shopping. I usually plan on having enough leftovers for one night or leftovers become lunch. This way on Sunday I make a nice, fancy dinner and usually have some time to prep Monday's dinner too. Then on Monday the dinner comes together pretty quickly and I can usually do some prep for another meal or two. This way I'm not crazed when I get home, we eat healthy, balanced (pretty much) meals and can sit down between 6:30 and 7:00. It's those few times when I don't have a plan that I spend time at work fretting over what's for dinner.
I plan our weekend meals while at work during the week. Just in case I have to get an item, and get it started ahead of time, or need to make a trip to the butcher for a special cut of meat or elsewhere for a specialty ingredient. I also plan in advance to make sure I have wood for the smoker, etc.
Meals for during the week are planned of Sunday morning before we go to the grocery store, and sometimes while at the grocery store depending on what may be on sale, or look good. Typically a roast of some sort, that yields a couple days of different leftovers.
I cook for my wife, our 1-1/2 year old daughter and myself. Luckily our daughter eats whatever we eat, so a special menu is not needed for her. Since I am a scratch cook I can be very flexible , and plan on the fly, I typically can cook anything, so that leaves me free to make last minute menu changes.
Living in Manhattan it's important for me to stick to a budget, so at the start of the week I look through the circulars for all the markets convenient to me to pick out proteins for the week. If I have time, I stop by the green grocer to pick out vegetables that are seasonal and therefore also fairly priced. Based on the combination of protein and vegetables, I come up with a game plan for the first four days of the week. Friday I reserve for a pescatarian option based on what looks fresh that day. In general the process has kept me well-fed and my grocery bills obscenely low for a New Yorker.
I have taken 2 basic approaches, although I am being kind of lazy about planning at the moment.
Option 1: Farmer's Market
- shop at farmer's market for produce
- after returning home, plan meals for the week based on produce bought
- go to grocery store for staples and anything special needed for the week's meals
Option 2: Revolving Meals (I used this when I was working crazy hours)
- I made a list of easy dishes for weekday dinners
- I created a spreadsheet with those dishes and their ingredients
- Each week I decided which meals to make and printed out those ingredients from my spreadsheet. That was my grocery list.
I cook for 2, and I end up having leftovers for lunch pretty often. Also, I freeze leftover soup and pizza and pita dough.
My plan is similar to gansu girl.
I look through cookbooks, magazines, internet and pick out about 5 meals. My 5 meals include beef, chicken, fish, vegetarian, and maybe a repeat of one of those. I try to include a recipe that ingredients that I don't use all the time so my family can try something new. You never know what will be a new favorite. I make up a shopping list b/c I hate running to the store for one ingredient. I have found that if I make 5 meals we have enough for leftovers for lunch and maybe one more day during the week. I am feeding 5 of us and try to make it interesting at dinner time. good luck!!
If there's something particular in season or something particular we want to make for which we don't typically keep the ingredients in stock, we try to plan before or while shopping. Other than that, we try to determine in the morning if we want to soak beans (we're vegan so we eat beans a lot) for that evening's dinner. Sometimes we soak beans not yet knowing what we'll use them in. Sun-Thurs. we always try to make enough to have leftovers for the following workday's lunches. Weekends, we generally try to eat up any leftovers and "must go" ingredients from the week.
We determined before we got married that we would alternate cooking days (I cook M,W,F and my husband cooks Tu,Th, and Sat or Sun) and the other does the dishes. (Part of this plan was that while one was cooking the other could be exercising, though we need to get back to this aspect of it.) That way on Tues, I know I don't have to figure out what to make. If one of us has to work late we're flexible. If I'm going to make muffins or bread for breakfasts, I generally plan to make something fairly simple for supper/lunches. Weekends for breakfast we often make things that take a little longer or use more dishes like pancakes or scones.
I pretty much have always planned by market. In that, what is a special, fresh, a bargain that day, makes the meal. I do stock items, again, bought on sale, and keep them in the pantry, freezer or prepped (ie a jar of homemade roasted garlic in olive oil).
But I do cook for one, or at the most two. I did try the keep a menu and shop by it for a month and hated it, and it cost me more.
I plan meals for the week during the weekend prior. I sit down w/recipes, cookbooks, cooking magazines, whatever, and my Palm. I put the recipe name and reference the source into my Palm on the specific day I'm going to make whatever it is - and I often include ideas for a veg. and starch to go w/it. At the same time, I add whatever ingredients I need for that recipe to my shopping list. I go thru all the days of the week and presto, a plan of attack. This has worked well for me for years . . . .
I'm essentially cooking for 2 - our preschooler enjoys a ltd. selection of things - so I cut recipes in half in most cases.