- WCchopper May 11, 2008 11:23 PM
How does everyone plan their meals? How often do you shop? Where do you find inspiration?
I plan my dinners out a month at a time. Near the end of the month, I go to
and print out a blank calendar for the next month. I write down dinner ideas for each night, then create a grocery list for each week on the bottom half of the calendar page.
I never thought I'd like being quite that organized, but I LOVE it. No more "what do you want to eat? I don't know, what do you want?" conversations. No more just going out or taking in when I'm not in the mood to figure out a dinner plan. No more wasted food that I buy and then forget about. It's better on the pocketbook and the figure.
I have a number of dishes that I often make. We seldom have the same dinner more than twice a month. I have a file of recipes that I've saved and want to try, and I usually work in a few of those each month. If they're keepers, they get added to the rotation in future months.
My pleasure. I typically plan out the main element of the meal, but the side-dishes not as often. It's usually either rice, quinoa, or cous cous, and whatever vegetables I have in the fridge of freezer.
Sun--mother's day, and we were traveling back from LA. Road food (and not the good kind, unfortunately)
Mon--Szechwan shrimp, broccoli, and a blend of quinoa and rice
tues--Trader Joe's chicken fingers, frozen corn (Jury Duty, I wanted super fast and easy)
Wed--grilled salmon, roasted asparagus and mushrooms
friday--BBQ Beef (taking it to a potluck, no need to make sides)
Sat--grilled hamburgers, coleslaw, baked french fries
Sun--BBQ chicken breast, leftover coleslaw
Mon--taco salad (with the remainder of the ground beef we used on sat for the hamburgers. Taco salad night always follows a hamburger night closely.)
wed--curried mango quinoa salad, with chicken breast mixed in
Thurs--baked cajun shrimp, cous cous
Fri--bourbon chicken, broccoli, blend of quinoa and rice
Sat--flying out to CO for a wedding
I tend to choose meals that are pretty fast and easy. Most of my planned meals take 30 minutes or less, especially when I know what's coming up for dinner and already have everything defrosted, marinating, etc. I'm also a lifetime Weight Watchers member, so everything is pretty healthy. I'll plan more elaborate meals when we're having friends over, celebrating a special occasion, or if I get a bug to make something particular. But for the most part, it's tasty but not fancy.
Edited to add that I'm not a slave to the menu. Sometimes I'm just not feeling whatever is planned for that night. I'm always happy to swap out a future meal for the night's meal, or ditch the plan entirely and go out to eat. Planning ahead just means that I eat out out of frustration less often ("Oh, hell, I don't know what to make, let's just go out").
Here you go:
Bourbon Chicken (not sure why it's called that, since there's no bourbon in it ;-) )
Core Recipe + minor points
2 lbs boneless chicken breasts , cut into bite-size pieces
1-2 tablespoon olive oil (I used one tbsp.)
1 garlic clove , crushed
1/4 teaspoon ginger
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup apple juice (not Core)
1/3 cup light brown sugar (I used plain Splenda)
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup soy sauce
Heat oil in a large skillet.
Add chicken pieces and cook until lightly browned. Remove chicken.
Add remaining ingredients, heating over medium Heat until well mixed and dissolved. Add chicken and bring to a hard boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
I plan my weekly menu around what's on sale that week at the two grocery stores I go to. I also have a way-too-full freezer mostly containing meat I bought on sale, and little containers of leftovers and side dishes (there's only two of us). I read the sale flyers and make up menus based on their sales and my freezer contents (I keep an inventory list which makes it easy). If nothing great is on sale, I skip that store for the week, believe me we will never starve or be bored.
I have to say, a lot of my inspiration the last few years is right here on Home Cooking, and the rest is from chefs that I deal with every day, they always have a good idea of the current trends. Instead of going out and spending $200 on dinner, I just make it at home, maybe some exotic drinks and I enjoy it as much as going out nowadays.
Since I've been cooking from the Cook Book of the Month right here, I have been planning weekly menus based on which recipes from the book I think the two of us would enjoy. We usually shop twice a week, Wednesdays for the main fresh produce and seafood and Saturday for fresh Italian bread, salumi and cheeses, and again, fresh seafood. We buy our organic meat at a local farm once a month. There are a few regular meals we've become accustomed to. For instance, Monday dinner is usually a macaroni/pasta dish & salad. Weds. & Sat. = fresh fish. The other days are protein + veggie + starch meals. It's all variations on a theme, so the meals are different each month. We don't eat dessert, and usually don't snack.... we're not deprived, though.....
My husband and I alternate who cooks (the other washes dishes those days). I cook M,W,F and he cooks T,Th, and either Sat or Sun. Our main planning is if we want to have something special we get the ingredients when we shop. If we find interesting ingredients, we determine how quickly we need to use them. We're vegan, so we soak beans the morning of the day we want to eat them. We nearly always make enough of each evening meal to have leftovers for the following day's lunch. We generally shop on weekends. I typically drive home past a WFM on Wed and past a TJs on Th (I have a job which involves home visits, so end my day in different neighboring communities on different days), so if we need things then, I stop on my way home.
I plan out five or six meals but don't slot them in to particular days. I consult what's fresh and on sale at the store before I make out my list - also I look to make sure I am using up anything that might spoil in my fridge. I go to a food coop once every two weeks (it's farther away so frequent trips are expensive). I go to the grocery store about every 5 days. All this will change soon when my CSA deliveries start up again. Then I'll base all my menus on what's in the bag.
Each Friday or Saturday, I sit down at the computer and check the sales flyers for local grocery stores. I determine which one has the most bang for my buck and make a menu based on the sale items. Since I live in a household of carnivores, the menus center around the meats on sale that week. This week it was chicken breasts, assorted pork chops, and ground chuck. I also try to plan sides (starch and veggies) based on the produce, grocery, and frozen ads. For items that aren't on sale, I go to SavALot and/or Walmart as they are consistently lower priced than either Scotts (one of Kroger's divisions) or Meijer. Menus are subject to change if I get to the store and see unadvertised specials. I take the menu plan with me along with the grocery list so I can make quick changes.
We may not eat exactly according to that menu because I also try to keep extra items on hand in the pantry and freezer but it really helps me to ensure I have every meal for the week covered! Some weeks, my purchases are minimal because I've stockpiled a lot at home. That's really nice when work is short and we need to spend money elsewhere.
Farmers markets (or farm stands where I live) are different than grocery shopping. I can always fit some extra veggies into any meal. (Or do farmers markets carry more than veggies nowadays?) If it's way too much, then there's always canning or the freezer.
When I see something seasonal, grown locally, I'm usually already looking for it and have tentative plans anyway. This type of produce is best doing the least to it anyway.
Right now, the only produce stands in the area are selling flowers and other garden plants. It's too early for a lot of local produce in Indiana. The very small farmer's markets in nearby towns aren't in full swing yet and offer crafts and a few other goods. I don't waste the gas to go out of the way to visit those until they start offering more I can use to feed my family. Saturday, we spent a good part of the day planting phase one of our two gardens. This weekend, we'll spend more time. As the produce stands and farmer's markets offer more, I'll visit those before grocery shopping to get my vegetables for the week. Hopefully, the gardens will do great and I won't have to buy a lot and still have a good bit to store for winter.
I have a 6' by 13' pantry lined with shelves, a 20 cu ft freezer and a 10 cu ft freezer, and a 20 cu ft fridge (all fridge, no freezer on it). We shop every two weeks and I pore over the circulars before we go so I can take advantage of the best sales. After work every other Thursday we go to the local food co-op, Shaw's, Price Chopper, Big Lots, and Walmart (depending on what we need and what's on sale). We also have a little dinner out before going to the grocery store(s). We have set lists of everything we typically keep in stock, divided up by store and sorted by aisle, that my husband maintains on his PDA. Every Wednesday night we go through that list and check off what we need to replace. When I run out of something I have him add it to the list at that point. We look through whatever coupons we've tracked down and add those, as well.
We buy things on sale in quantities and I divide up larger packages, vacuum pack meats in the right size packages and rotate the stock in the freezer. I also make sure I rotate my stock in the pantry, as well, when I'm putting things away.
We go to the local farmer's market (in season) for fresh local produce, and we go to Costco once a month.
At any given time we could probably go a good two months without going to the store for anything but dairy and produce, without straining too much or having to repeat too many meals. No, we're not Mormons, I just like having choices on hand, and not -having- to go to the store if we don't need to (we live 10 miles from the nearest grocery store and 8 miles from the nearest small family stop and shop place). :)
Right now in my freezer I have venison (various cuts), beef (various cuts), pork (mostly roasts, but also some babyback ribs, and ham), a 14 lb turkey, several corned beefs, roasting chicken, chicken thighs, beef and chicken liver, italian sausage, breakfast sausage, andouille, shrimp, cod, flounder, bacon... hmmm what else... oh right, hot dogs and hockey pucks, along with a few convenience foods that I like to keep on hand.
I have a well-stocked spice cabinet (that is separate from my pantry). I've got all the standard staples in my pantry, except all purpose flour (I mysteriously ran out and have to get more next shopping trip), though I have oat, whole wheat, bread, rice, soy, and corn flour. ;) As well as cornmeal, grits, and maseca (sp?).
So back to the original question, I don't plan menus in advance because I'm able to keep so much variety on hand at all times. I usually get out whatever meat I'm feeling hungry for in the morning so it'll be thawed by the time I get home. If it's a big cut, like a roast, I get it out the day before or thaw it in the fridge for a few days. Sometimes I'll prep things the night before that need to cook over night (like red beans and rice). Or I'll cook something in the crock pot.
Since we're not eating as large portions as we used to, I find myself cooking maybe three nights a week, and we have leftovers the other two nights (during the week), then on the weekend we have company on Sunday (nearly every Sunday), so I'll cook something a bit more special then, and usually on Saturday I'll cook something that's more complicated than I'd like to get into during a weeknight after a hard day roasting over the hot integrated circuits (I'm a programmer). For instance, last Saturday I made ricotta gnocchi from a recipe in the back of a recent Gourmet that was really wonderful (I'm gonna make that again, definitely).
I can't express enough how wonderful it is to have plenty of storage. It makes a world of difference regarding what we're able to have for regular meals. :)
Honestly, I usually decide the day of (I'm the primary cook) The choice depends on what shift I'm working, what we got in our CSA box that week, and how we're feeling that day (it's quite common for one of us to not be that hungry, and the other will just have toast or an egg and cheese sandwich that night)
The only time we REALLY plan is when we have a "project" in mind- a meal that requires both of us and/or some special ingredients and a lot of time, like say, sushi.
I don't think this kind of last minute planning would really work if a) it was more than just the two of us or b) we didn't have the CSA box every week.
Typically we grocery shop on Sunday's, and if we are not going out for dinner on Saturday, a grocery run, and a trip to the butcher shop for items for a Saturday feast is in the cards for Saturday afternoon.
I pretty much plan the weeks meals Sunday morning, and sometimes while shopping at the grocerey store based on what looks good, typically a sale price has nothing to do with the menu. Luckily I am a scratch cook, with years of experience cooking in kitchens when I was younger, so I can cook pretty much anything, which helps the ability to shop & menu plan on the fly.
Saturday, and Sunday meals provide leftovers for a couple of meals during the week, as well as lunches for my wife, and daughter, I do not really like leftovers, unless they are somehow transformed into another dish. Meat is an important part of our diet, and each meal consists of meat as the centerpiece, whether it is chicken, beef, or pork. Fish, and shellfish(crab, shrimp) are also regular menu items.
Inspiration comes from watching t.v. shows(licenese to grill, anything bobby flay, etc.) on bbq, asian food, cajun food, etc. Also inspiration comes from eating out alot, and trying to duplicate memorable dishes.
Like last night, I had the option of some chicken( a whole chicken, and a dozen additional wings for my wife who could eat chicken wings every day it seems) I smoked on the smoker on Saturday vs a grilled cheese with turkey, and some bean and bacon soup. I went with the grilled cheese, and soup, and told my wife she could enjoy the chicken for lunch today. She was happy, and so was I.
Many years ago, I tried planning weekly menus, but after a long string of, "Oh, I don't want THAT tonight, I'll make it another time," and then getting on with something that wasn't even in the plan for the week, I gave it all up. Maybe it was a backlash from the school cafeterias of my childhood. There was always something that made me wish it was Friday. Or Tuesday. Or... Well, I mostly remember not being all that enthused about whatever was being served that day. My middle school/junior high (whatever you want to call it) served incredible Sloppy Joes. There are no equals in the world today. So in those grades, I always wanted it to be "that day."
As a result, I keep my freezers, refrigerator, and pantry all well stocked. A basket of tomatoes, onions, and garlic always on the island as both ingredients and decoration. Oh, and a big box of "survival food" in the front hall closet in case of tornadoes (yes, I'm chicken!). Then I just cook whatever sounds good to me. Last night, for example, I made wienerschnitzel from pork (don't ask how many years since I last made it with the traditional veal), with applesauce and mac & cheese. No clue what I'll be in the mood for tonight.
Did the same thing when my kids were growing up. Well, I've done the same thing most of my adult life. The great advantage when the kids were little was that it precluded them asking if they could eat at Mikey's that night if I was fixing liver for dinner. By the time I was cooking, Mikey's family had finished eating! I hate early meals, and if you don't eat until around 7, the kids forget about watching TV. Ain't nothin' wrong with that!
It was also a great opportunity to get them involved, as in, "What do you guys want for dinner?" Well, actually that was an easy way to get out of cooking altogether since the answer was almost always, "Pizza!"
I plan out 5 meals/ week on saturday morning, while I'm drinking coffee and relaxing. Occasionally my husband will have an idea of something he'd like, a cuisine or a side dish, but it's mostly my ideas. I live in Philly so I head to Reading Terminal and pick up produce, chicken, meats, fish, and cheeses for my menus. Then on sunday I stop by Whole Foods for staples like rice, cereal and orange juice.
It works well for us. We can't get to the market more than once a week, so I try to make the meals that use the most produce earlier in the week, as well as any fish.
The days aren't scheduled, so I come home and ask my husband which dinner he wants.
Our breakfasts and lunches are pretty automated, so dinner is the only thing that requires planning.
the jfood's are not plan-aholics and fortunately it's usually only the two of them and maybe an occasional siting of one of the little jfoods. And they are fortunate that either one of them can hit the grocer or the produce store late afternoon.
On the protein side, meat (beef/pork) is a once a week and poultry/fish the other at-home meals. The exact species is usually what looks good at the fish monger and the beef/pork is usually what is on sale and looks good.
Veggies and fruits are always around so it's usually a simple protein with a salad and a veggie (sometimes a starch, but not into them for dinners, other than sweet potato wedges). During the week is very simple, relaxing time together, catching up on the day and the events of the kids and the world. Sunday nights are normally for family dinner and then it's a bit more fussy.
Friends think the jfoods cook fancy every night and they would be quite surprised how they can whip up a tasty healthy meal in under 60 minutes.
I start thinking about meals for the next week when the new circulars come out, Fridays and Sundays. Whatever proteins are on sale dictate the direction I will start to go in and the what looks good at the green grocer results in the final decision of what to eat for the week.
Most inspiration comes from the whims of my bank account and my own memory of meals past. Walking the aisles at the green grocer or farmer's market, I jog my memory as I scan what's available. If something looks particularly interesting and I have no reference point for it (as is the case with ramps right now), I'll take a cue from blogs or Epicurious.
I shop every couple days (milk, berries, etc.), and plan meals for the week on the weekend. I don't mind eating leftovers as long as it's something I want to eat. I don't plan further ahead because I don't know what I'm going to want to eat 3 weeks from now. I also look at what I have in the fridge that I need to use. For example, I had
leftover fresh asparagus
leftover sharp American cheese
I looked thru a Southern Living compilation cookbook, and decided to make a potato & ham casserole, so I bought
yellow bell pepper
These ingredients varied from the recipe, and I didn't use the recipe to make it ... it was just inspiration.
Someone asked for an example of a menu. This is my list for this week's dinners. Chicken breasts (boneless, skinless), assorted pork chops, and ground chuck was on sale this week.
Sunday - Carribean Jerk (storebought marinade) chicken kabobs with peppers, onions, and cherry tomatoes, baked potatoes, salad, fresh corn on the cob, and cake (not sure of the name of it).
Monday - Chicken alfredo, asparagus, ceasar salad, romano cheese bread (storebought) toasted with garlic and olive oil
Tuesday - hamburgers, potato salad, baked beans
Wednesday - tacos
Thursday - pork chops cooked in homemade salsa, Spanish rice, corn
Friday - Chicken stir fry, teriyaki noodles (storebought)
my dinners for the week.
Sunday: mahi mahi with fried zucchini cakes and roasted tomatoes
Monday: flatbread pizzas with jerk chicken, carmelized onion, red peppers, goat cheese
unused dinners for the remaining nights:
mexican lasagna with corn salad
spinach linguini primavera
grilled chicken breasts with sundried tomato pesto, steamed green beans and couscous
I have a load of cookbooks and a million recipes that I pull out of various magazines and print from websites (including Chowhound, of course). But the papers just became a huge pile that continues to grow.
Last year, I started to keep an Excel file listing the recipes that I make on a regular basis, plus the ones that I want to try, plus the ones that I have made only once but are good enough to keep in the rotation. I'm not talking about things that I make for special occasions or company, but mostly ones that are good for weeknight dinners.
I list the name of the dish and in the column next to it, I list the source (website, magazine or book). The list keeps growing and when I feel like I'm in a rut, I look through my stacks or websites, or wherever else to find new things to try.
At the end of each week, usually around Thursday, I start to think about what I'm going to make for the next week and start to make a shopping list. I highlight what I'm going to make and depending on which day I go food shopping over the weekend, I usually am fine tuning the list until the last minute.
This has been working pretty well for me since I used to make a new dish, and we liked it, but then I would forget about it and it was never to be seen (or eaten) again. This way, I don't repeat things too often, but they don't completely fall out of the rotation either.
It's simple and really keeps me organized. I work full time and have 2 small kids that are both good eaters and I refuse to have them eat chicken nuggets or such every night. I also cook a fair amount of things on the weekends to store in the freezer, and I include those things too when planning so that I make sure I have all of the ingredients.
Wow, some of you are so organized! I do some planning as well (like some of you, around the weekly circulars or during the summer, around our CSA), but also allow for some spontaneity (this typically means having a stocked pantry). I work late and often don't have the luxury of cooking dinner on the spot, so I try to plan for two meals + leftovers a week. Sandwiches and salads can fill in the blanks. Between these two, one usually includes animal protein, the other one does not. This week, it's been a Mexican polenta casserole with beans and veggies, and leek fennel cod.
I get most of my recipes online, which I save to a folder. I try the recipe once... if we dont like it, it gets deleted. If I like it, I write it down in a spiral bound notebook that I keep on top of my fridge. Then, when it is menu planning time, I haul out the notebook, and pick 5 meals that I would like to have that week, and write out the ingredients I need. Then, I go to my online folder and choose one new recipe to try. This way we have something new each week, and dont get bored. I leave one day a week for leftovers, pantry cleanout or going out. Having the notebook really helps, because you can quickly flip through it and find a ton of recipes you already know are good. Sure beats having to flip through a bunch of seperate cookbooks, trying to find something, or forgetting something you made once and really liked.
Putting the book together in the beginning was kind of a pain in the butt, because it took a while to organize everything, but now it is a lifesaver. I wouldnt live without it.
I'm not a planner by nature, but started laying out a week's worth of menus after eating my zillionth bowl of cereal for dinner. Now, I'm a meal-planning convert.
Planning streamlines everything -- shopping, cooking, deciding what to make. Now, I shop for exactly what I need, make creative, healthy meals and the pizza delivery guy is a stranger.
My approach is to spend a few hours during the weekend planning, collecting recipes and shopping (which gives my inner foodie a chance to come out and play). Then, because I need some schedule flexibility, I don't slot meals for any specific day, but I have a list of meals ready and I just make whichever one sounds good, or has more perishable stuff.
First, everything starts at the farmers' market on Saturday morning. I come back from that and list out dishes that naturally spring from what I've bought (e.g. basil -> pesto) and then list the rest of what I've bought. I make the menu based off those ingredients/dishes, the usual factors (e.g. longer-cooking dishes on the weekend, requests from the family, etc.), and dishes with leftover potential earlier in the week so I can eat them at work during the week or use them in other dishes. Once the menu is set I make my grocery list and head off to the mega-mart.
jfood--is this a new feature of epicurious?
I love the idea of planning and shopping a week at a time, but I just find it too overwhelming. Plus, once CSA season kicks in, I'm completely at the mercy of my farmer and the best I can do to keep up is look up (and shop for) lots of recipes featuring whatever I seem to have an abundance of in my CSA box. Our farmer always gives us a list of what he thinks he'll put in the boxes next week so that we can plan our menus...so, that helps. More than anything, though, I use that to gauge how quickly I need to use something up. If I get two bags of carrots this week and see I'm getting more carrots next week, I work even harder to use up a lot of carrots this week...
The only time I do some real advanced planning during non-CSA season is when we take meat out of the deep-freezer to defrost--and we usually do that once or twice a week--then I can count on needing a recipe to use up that piece of meat in a couple of days.
Otherwise, I usually pick out a recipe in the morning or night before and shop over my lunch hour or on my way home from work. Or, I might peek in my fridge the night before and see what needs to be used up, then find a recipe and, again, shop over lunch or right after work for any straggling ingredients.
Also, if I know I have a super busy weeknight evening ahead of me (especially in winter), I might anticipate that and pick-up the ingredients ahead of time to put in my crockpot on the morning of the day I expect to be too busy to cook.
I almost always plan for leftovers, but, that's really more for lunches to take to work than the following evening's dinner.
I found this cookbook in the library called "Cooking for the Week : Leisurely Weekend Cooking for Easy WeekDAY Meals" by Diane Morgan, Kathleen and Dan Taggart. The concept was great, the recipes sounded delicious, but it was just too hard for me to pull it off since they didn't provide a meal for every evening of the week (which meant I ended up going to the grocery store a couple of times during the week anyway) and didn't really provide a full shopping list. Instead, if was one of those shopping lists that assume you have pantry stocked with certain things. I want to know the complete list of what I need--then I can just do a quick pantry check before I go shopping. Also, this was hard for me to execute because it didn't fit in with my diet. I plan to try the book again once I'm done with my diet.
Interesting timing, indeed. And doncha just love their budget-mindedness? For the week of May 19th, morels with asparagus twice in the same week! They say to pick them up at your local farmer's market while they're plentiful. Excuse me, but #1 problem, morels are NOT a crop, they grow wild, and #2, they do NOT grow all over the country. And a twelve and a half pound pork butt to feed eight people? Hearty appetites!
Epicurious can come up with some interesting recipes, but in my opinnion they need to do a reality check before getting into the area of weekly menu planning in times like these. My daughter filled up the tank on her SUV today... $170,00! And there are million-plus dollar houses in foreclosure in this country. Yeah... Morrels as a side dish for dinner tonight, kids! '-)
EDIT: Just did a quick search for fresh morels on the web... $37,00 a pound plus shipping. Unless you want blond morels. They cost more.
Well, Barm, I suspect I'm turning into a serious food curmudgeon. I know how many morels make up a pound. About the same amount that make up an ounce when they're dried. What I was probably reacting to as much as anything else is that I just can't imagine two vegetables that (in my opinion) would diminiish each other by being combined more than asparagus and morels. Morels might be interesting with green beans, maybe with yams or sweet potatoes, my favorite is (how standard can I get?) with beef. But asparagus has such a distinct flavor... The very worst meal I've ever had in my life was when a friend invited us to dinner and had made a "stew" in his ctockpot and added a bunch or two of whole asparagus to it... Never wanted a meal to end as much in my life, but it just seemed to go on forever. Not one bite tasted good. Anyway, I don't think asparagus is a food to be tossed in with just any old veggie that comes down the pike. It's very happy with butter, hollandaise, and when served cold, with a good home made mayonnaise. But I don't think asparagus would do any more for morels than morels would do for asparagus. Yup. Curmudgeon.
I am much more of a daily meal planner. I am at the supermarket so often my co-workers make fun of me. I think the cashiers at my supermarket might make fun of me too. The most meals I plan in a row is two. I still take what's on sale into consideration (who can't in this economy?), but if I get a hankerin' for something I'll go ahead and splurge as going out to eat is "special occasion" these days. I get inspiration from these boards, epicurious, food network, and my own homemade cookbook. I cook whatever I feel like eating that day because DH always says "whatever you want". He was a bachelor for a number of years so he's happy to have someone cook for him...
The BF and I plan our meals with a shared Google calendar. He cooks 2 nights a week and I cook 2 nights a week. We try to fill out the week's meals during the previous week. This gives me enough planning to pick stuff up at the Chinese market on the weekend as well as from the farmer's market if we want.
That way, we can also coordinate so we don't usually have things like pasta two nights in a row.
What's also nice is now we have a history of things we made so if we're ever stuck or feeling uninspired, we can look back and see what we made in the past.
We do what some others have mentioned - planning a few meals at the beginning of the week to make a "menu" of sorts that we can pick from for the week. We do this to keep from looking at a fairly full cupboard, concluding that there is nothing to eat, and ordering a pizza. I am a student, so we are on a fairly tight budget and eating out messes up our budget quite a bit. Most of the stuff we eat isn't very complicated, but it is filling and tasty and generally nutritious.
I go to Costco every other week, and keep a running list of things as we run out. There are quite a few staples we always, always, always have, and I supplement with fresh produce & herbs. Most of our recipes come from Cooking Light, because I am trying to lose a bunch of weight I gained after starting law school...
This week's menu:
Salmon burgers on whole wheat buns with steamed snap peas
Hot brown sandwiches with spicy sauteed broccoli
Chicken tortilla soup
Yogurt/oregano marinated grilled chicken in tortillas with hummus and celery salad
Spicy coconut shrimp soup
We retired early a few years ago and spend a good part of our time at our home in central Mexico. I make a menu plan for the week for 2 reasons. First, there are two supermarkets in our town (I don't like either), the mercado and fresh meat markets (watch out for the whole cow's head in the corner), fish markets and poultry markets. I love the fresh fruits and veggies in the mercado, but I want to put a little more distance between me and animal products, so I have to drive over 30 miles into the city for a supermarket experience and to visit Costco. Second we eat vegan on Wednesdays and Fridays, so that takes a little more planning. We also often eat leftovers for lunch.
Since calling out for pizza or running to the hamburger joint for a quick meal is out of the question, planning is the only alternative.
OK I thought we were the only neurotic ones.
Before having our child we would just wing it, but then my husband went veg and we had a baby so we had to start planning a bit more. I find the weeks I don't plan, with a vegetarian in the house we tend to eat too much cheese and that's not good for anybody. We also alternate cooking - he does M, W, F and I do Tu, Th and Sat or Sun with the remaining day as leftovers or ordering in. We make sure all the weekday stuff is really quick since we both work and have a toddler in daycare. I used to have a two week rotation that had general 'themes' like this - something asian, soup and sandwich, pasta or pierogies, pub fare (my fave night:), big salad...but now we just plan one week at a time on Saturday morning based on the grocery store flyers and what we're feeling like even though it generally ends up being one of those themes. And I always leave it flexible that one meal doesn't have too many perishable ingredients so if something comes up or I get a hankering for something completely different we can switch it up.
So this past week looked like this:
Friday - Veggie burgers and sweet potato fries
Saturday - Pasta with pesto and veggies
Sunday - Big salad (we'd gone for Mother's day brunch and weren't that hungry)
Monday - Fish for me, Soy chicken for him, avocado & corn salad, potato bourekas from the freezer
Tuesday - Stir fried veggies and rice with salmon for me
Wednesday - 2 bean chili and bread baked from frozen dough
Thursday (tonight) - we're going on because in-laws have our son for the night
Tomorrow - ??? (we're going away for the weekend!)
Like several other folks have said, when it's CSA season, we're pretty much slaves to the box. But since I tend to treat that like I'm on Iron Chef and those are my secret ingredients, that's fine with me.
Outside of CSA season, we make a trip to our local greengrocer once every week or two and buy most of our vegetables there. Those form the basis of our meals for the week, but there's flexibility there. There are staples that we buy every week, or whenever we're low: potatoes, onions, garlic, shallots, ginger, lemons, limes, parsley, eggs, cremini mushrooms, carrots, longhorn colby, parmagiano reggiano, etc. Then there are things we buy because they're in season and cheap and tasty. Then there are things we buy because they look good that week and/or we haven't had them in a while: Chinese long beans, baby bok choy, savoy cabbage, brussels sprouts, spinach, green beans, etc.
So once we've gone to Russo's and stocked the fridge, Allstonian and I make a vague plan of what dinners we have the basis for between the fridge, the pantry and the big freezer down in the basement, which is where most of the meat lives because we buy big when it's on sale or when we go to Blood Farm out in Groton. These dinner thoughts are extremely mutable, depending on changes of plans (if we decide to meet at Boston Common and go to a movie after work on Tuesday, we'll probably have dinner in Chinatown after), sudden deadline pressure (I'm a freelance writer, and if a big job comes in on short notice, there's not much I can do about that), and sudden cravings. It balances out, roughly, to we eat out once a week, I cook four times a week and Allstonian cooks two nights a week, although again that can depend greatly on my deadlines. Because I work from home, that means I'm more flexible about when dinner starts cooking, if I decide to do something that takes a while.
As for shopping outside of Russo's, we have a really quite good 24-hour supermarket about three blocks away from our house, so we don't do organized once-a-week food shops or anything, but something closer to the European style: we pick up things we need as we need them. For example, tonight we had the makings for a green salad (the lettuces in my planter have exploded in the last couple of days) and we had some yellow summer squash that we had picked up at Russo's last time and needed to use up. The preparation that sounded good for the squash was grilled and finished with some balsamico, so with that and a green salad, hot dogs sounded good. So we walked over to Shaw's and got a package of hot dogs and some buns, a pint of grape tomatoes because they were the one salad fixing we didn't have any more of, and a quart of Brigham's vanilla because we had some Polar Classics root beer in the bar fridge and floats sounded nice for dessert. We also picked up a few staples that we were either out of (soap for my shaving mug) or were on sale (our brand of paper towels, some Cape Cod potato chips), but we didn't get anything we didn't need because we're careful not to shop hungry. (We'd actually stopped at the Super 88 food court and picked up a couple banh mi that we ate in a nice little secret park in the neighborhood.) We'll probably go to Shaw's two or three more times this week, but each time, we'll probably spend no more than seven to ten dollars.
I am gobsmacked at the idea of planning out dinners for a month. It's such an alien concept that I just don't know what to say about it.
HAHAHAHA! Slaves to the box. I love that. But, you're right, there is a certain Iron Chefness to it, isn't it? What the heck can I do with all this _________. I'm already obsessively collection cookbooks and recipes for CSA season, I've got my green produce-saver disks, my big veggie bin...I'm clearing my crisper drawers...
They are these ExtraLife green disks http://www.chowhound.com/topics/50073... http://www.chowhound.com/topics/50073... Last year I tried the green bags and though they definitely worked, I found them to be a hassle, needing to be washed. Plus, what I had in my fridge was a dis-organized pile of green bags. Though see-through, it still wasn't super easy to identify what is what. This year, I'm going with the ExtraLife green disks plus two faux crisper drawers http://www.sterilite.com/Category.htm... (to supplement the two crisper drawers that, of course, my fridge has).
I'm pretty much the same as you apart from I'm in England and we don't have CSA here. Instead I get a weekly vegetable box delivered from Riverford Organics. So every Friday once it's arrived I have a vague idea of what I'll cook over the weekend, and for the week ahead. It also very much depends on when we're working (the OH will eat dinner at work two or three times a week), and on our social life. I'll visit the butcher's once every couple of weeks, and most other things I will pick up on my way home from work as I live a few minute's walk from a number of good independent shops. I am also addicted to our local German supermarkets (Lidl and Aldi), which are great for bargains! And we have a very well-stocked pantry.
Instead of a laid out menu I keep a list of choices we have on the fridge. Usually there are around two weeks worth of main dishes, sides, and extras.When eat that dish or we use up the stuff to make the dish in something else it gets marked off.It is great because you know what you have all the ingredients to make but are not a slave to it has to be tonight.
I'm a weekly planner. My standard--and indispensable--tool is a Moleskine notebook. My new one (my old one fell apart) has a week's calendar and lined note paper on facing pages (red "special edition" instead of black). There's a pocket in the back for vitamin punch cards and grocery store club cards and coupons, and an elastic band to keep it closed. It fits in the back pocket of my jeans so I can ditch the purse. The calendar helps me with our social schedule and it makes it easier to work on the menu plan when I'm traveling or stuck waiting somewhere. When I used the regular notebook versus the calendar-notebook hybrid, it was a bit easier to keep multiple lists going, like if we are having a party and need a party list and a grocery list. I write the menu for the week at the top and then a grocery list below. Since it's all in one book, too, I can refresh my memory of things we had and liked or didn't like, or I can have my husband look through and pick things he has liked, and avoid too much repetition. As has been mentioned before, this method prevents my overbuying or buying things I don't need. In fact, I came on here this afternon because I was at the farmer's market on Saturday and couldn't resist the morels and now I'm "stuck" with them. I've been doing this for three years now. It makes me happy to have a plan.
This week's menu:
Saturday (Friend for dinner): salmon with green lentils and mustard butter
Sunday: chili (I live in San Fran and it's been chilly)
Monday: parmesan-crusted pork chops, green beans with lemon zest and olive oil
Tuesday: out with friends
Wednesday: antipasti "picnic" (cured meats, olives, dried fruit, cheese)
Thursday: leftover chili
Friday: pork roast with morels, peas
Early in the week we eat the things that go bad fastest and prep things for later in teh week when life feels more hectic. Late in the week I use things from the freezer and pantry.