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Menu Planning

Fellow chowhounds who participate in COTM (cookbook of the month) are chatting away on a separate thread about some of their favourite recipes. Many have realized that their home cooking/cookbook "obsession" has led them to spend very little time doing repeats, and lots of time trying new things. I am one of these people who try's something new most nights, and while I find this fun and challenging, I do find that the menu planning can be complicated, and a little less rewarding. Of course I like to have a week of new meals ahead of me, and of course I love browsing my books, but at some point I actually have to sit down and plan the darned menu and make a grocery list.

So I am wondering, how do the rest of you plan a menu. I grew up in a house where my mother somehow did most of the shopping without a list, had a standard rotation of tasty meals made from a stock list of items that she pretty much always had on hand, which meant that she could decide the morning of what the plan was for dinner. I definitely see the advantage of this, but I do yearn for variety, challenge, and new dishes.

For me the solution is that I spend about 1.5 hours a week with a pile of books, my iPad, the EYB site, and my menu planning/grocery list app, and I create a menu of mostly new meal items, aiming to have meat no more than 4 times per week (that is our goal), which means usually one fish/seafood night, and 2 vegetarian nights. I often plan some left over heavy meals early in the week (pasta/stews etc) so that we can have lunches, and will usually plan for a bit of advance or project (involved) cooking on Sunday.

The grocery list becomes essential because I am mostly making new things so I rely heavily on my shopping list as I don't know off the top of my head what is going into tomorrow's phat tai for example.

So what do you all do, are you mostly planning, flying by the seat of your pants, a mix? Have you abandoned attempts at new dishes based on the effort to get it all planned out?

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  1. I haven't used a recipe in years. I've even started baking and just rely on ratios for weight.

    As far as shopping goes I just write down the items that are on sale.

    5 Replies
    1. re: carrytheone

      Well, whether you use "recipes" or not has been and is constantly discussed here. And "ratios" are probably the ultimate "recipe." But if you write down what's on sale, don't you also write down any ingredients that you will need to make a specific dish? As delys said, if you're regularly making new dishes as the COTMers are, seems like it would be a necessity.

      1. re: carrytheone

        Cool, do you plan meals based on what's on sale or do you just buy on sale and then sort out what to make on the day?

        1. re: delys77

          I'll try to answer you and c oliver. I don't write down items I'll need that aren't on sale. I can run the recipe through my head in the store.

          Mostly I plan meals based on whats for sale, unless I have a request for a meal or theme.

          I pretty much wing new meals and try to apply techniques I've worked on in other dishes. All my recent 'new to me' recipes are classics that need 3 to 4 ingredients. Ie bread pasta doughs. I've been doing well with them so I'll probably spend another 6 months to a year exhausting my patience to master the technique. By then I'll get on to the next thing I've always wanted to cook. Just running out of cuisines!

          1. re: delys77

            For me, the answer could be either if I had mental note of what would be on sale the following week. The local market I frequent most makes the next week's circular available on Saturday....the new deals start on Sunday. That gives me the option of holding off on purchasing any items I know will be cheaper next week.

            As a general rule, I purchase meats only on sale., especially Beef. Pork and Chicken can always be had at reasonable pricing. As for menu planning, I cook the meat once and use leftover for other meals, which could include sandwiches, salads, topping for soup and sliced meat for mains.

            For example, I know if I find a turkey breast on sale, the first meal would be a traditional dinner....followed immediately by a Club Sandwich for the next meal...or a topping for something like a Cobb salad.

          2. This thread is very timely as I am trying to become more organized and less wasteful with my cooking. I'm single and I spend far too much money on food because I don't plan ahead and I talk myself out of cooking with stuff I have on hand. This leads to lunches out and numerous trips to the grocery store so I can make what I "really" want. Looking forward to the discussion!

            4 Replies
            1. re: gemvt

              I could probably waste less if I had more structure as well. I always think I could eat purely off my pantry and freezer for 5 to 7 weeks with maybe $30 of eggs/milk over the time. But for some reason I'm always indulging on more impulse buys!

              1. re: gemvt

                I am also single and have been using pantry finds for lunches lately. For example i had a bizarre amount of lentils and coconut milk- a quick look through bookmarked recipes and some websites and i made an amazing coconut milk lentil curry with what i had! All i needed to buy was scallions. I ate two servings for lunches and froze the rest for the next time i'm tempted by delivery because there is "nothing to eat". My five jars of nut butters are turning into an ongoing project..... ;)

                1. re: Ttrockwood

                  My weakness is vinegars. I have nine, all different. Yikes.

                2. re: gemvt

                  i fully support eating what you "reallly" want.
                  often it costs no more than whatever you have sitting in your pantry and you will get so much more pleasure and satiety from it.
                  life is too short to eat what you don't "really" want.
                  (unless, of course, all you want to eat is caviar and lobster with truffles)

                3. I do menu planning to cover meals for about a week and a half for my husband and I. I sit down at my computer and browse different websites, mostly skinnytaste.com since we're trying to eat healthy. I usually plan for about 4 meals, with leftovers planned. I write what meals I'm making at the top of my list, and then write next to those meals what ingredients I need that I don't already have on hand. From there, I divide my list into the following categories: Produce, Dairy, Meat, Dry Goods, Frozen, and Misc. That way, when I do my shopping, I'm not running back and forth all over the store. I usually plan for at least one new meal a week and at least 1 soup per week to take for lunches.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Oboegal

                    Sounds very well planned. I definitely agree that a well segmented list makes things much easier at the store.

                  2. I just want to add that we still need to plan for 1 more trip to the store for things we run out of, such as bread, milk, eggs, etc. But at least we're not going to the store every other day like a lot of people do.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: Oboegal

                      I go grocery shopping once a week. I keep a list during the week of things we have run out of, etc. I plan what to get based on the store ads that week, what is on sale, and markdowns I find at the store. I have a plan for dinners for the week, including leftovers and one or two nights eating out, as that is our schedule. I have several favorite recipes I rotate, and my freezer and pantry is well-stocked so I can typically make most things without having to run to the store during the week.

                      1. re: Oboegal

                        I plan for the week, knowing that I will stop mid-way through the week for things that need to be very fresh during Lulu's ballet class. But I tell you, when I go out of the store with 4-5 bags full of groceries, sometimes I get the oddest (to me) comments. Things like "you think you can eat all that?" or "Geez, you havin' a party or something?" I mean, is it really that rare for someone to shop for (most of) the entire upcoming week?

                        1. re: LulusMom

                          Uh that doesn't seem odd to me :) I usually leave with a ton of bags. As I kid we'd leave the store with the back of a wagon full of bags and I'm an only child.

                          1. re: fldhkybnva

                            Thank you! I'm always sort of mystified by these comments. Then again I live in a town of college students and retirees, so maybe they usually only shop for one or two meals at a time?

                          2. re: LulusMom

                            What a strange comment! I usually have 3-5 bags and my cart is NEVER full. I look like I am buying nothing compared to most folks.

                            I hate when people comment on how much food someone is buying.

                        2. I am like many COTMers a recipe follower generally. My "menu planning" generally consists taking some "protein" out of the freezer, looking to see if I have other things to make dish. If not, I make a list and off to the grocery. The great news about a well-stocked pantry is the shopping list is generally VERY small.

                          Tonight's dinner was not a recipe. Sand dabs that I dusted with flour and cooked quickly in butter. Made a little 'sauce' of butter, white wine and lime juice (didn't have any lemon). Steamed spinach and some corn cut off the cob from last summer. So I'd say, generally, the protein drives the menu. But not always :)

                          6 Replies
                              1. re: c oliver

                                How is taste or texture any different from a Flounder or Grey Sole?

                            1. re: c oliver

                              My parents are on a constant quest for sand dabs! They won't make them at home due to all the tiny bones (i don't understand either) but are always checking restaurant menus looking for the best ones.....

                              1. re: Ttrockwood

                                I found them at WF in Reno some months ago. I wrapped them, two to a pack, in plastic wrap and then vacuum sealed. Ate the last two tonight.

                                @four, here's a link:

                                http://articles.latimes.com/1985-05-1...

                                They're SUCH a CA fish. And considered pretty special. I was pleased to find them at WF.

                              2. re: c oliver

                                How could it be not a recipe? Just kidding.

                              3. Thank you for starting the thread, D! Just dipping my tow in tonight and will be back soon to take part in the discussion.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: herby

                                  Menu planning is one of my toughest. I have a tendency to cook three things that I do well :)

                                  1. I'm the main cook in our house and since I know the likes and dislikes. of the family members, the weekly sales on the meats at the grocery stores often dictate what I cook. I have a repertoire of family favorites plus I try out new recipes that appear promising, depending on time and ambition. I have never really participated in the COTM or WFD threads. By the time I see them the thread count seems to be in the hundreds.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: John E.

                                      WFD isn't my cup of tea. COTM I love but will generally 'hit' it a year or many more later. If I were disciplined enough, COTM would be my fave way to go. So many great cooks.

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        I'm just not that into cookbooks.

                                    2. My menu planning is fairly loose - we shop at the local traditional market, so what I buy depends on what's in and looks good.

                                      My husband cooks half the time, so we will consult briefly about our plans for the meat - ie, I might get chicken breasts and pork belly, while he picks up ground pork and salmon - so we know we aren't planning to cook the same thing. Sometimes I have an idea ahead of time of a particular meal I want to do, other times I make it up as I see what's available. Often it's pretty vague - "Hmmm, I'll roast that pork in some way". Veggies are usually what looks good, plus standards we buy every week (onions, cucumber, potatoes, green beans, shitake, red and green pepper, daikon, leafy greens, carrots, celery, lemons). We always have rice and other grains, pasta, polenta, canned tomatoes, chicken stock, garlic ginger etc. on hand, plus things like coconut milk and curry paste, and Japanese curry blocks, for quick meals.

                                      I will often cook seafood the day of shopping, when it's nice and fresh, and use frozen or canned ingredients later in the week (frozen beef shank, sausages, canned tuna, etc).

                                      My cooking style is very improvisational/by eye, at least on weeknights, when there isn't time to cook new stuff from a cookbook. I'll usually plan out what I want to do on the bus home from work. Weekends have time for more elaborate stuff, and sometimes I'll do something the night before, if it needs long stewing or cooling.

                                      1. On Saturday or Sunday, I ask Mr Autumm how many nights I have to feed him (if he has dinner meetings, etc) and if there is anything he would like to eat over the course of the next week. A typical example reply would be a meeting Tuesday, so I have to feed him 4 nights (the night off is easy, leftovers for me and the kiddo or blue box). Fajitas, fish, and something with chicken are typical responses. Usually he gets 2 out of his 3 requests, the others being overridden by leftovers. I match what I have on hand with what is on sale, and dinner is served.

                                        1. I don't really menu-plan per se, I live alone in a tiny nyc studio with limited pantry space.
                                          I make a list only of basics i have run out of (coffee, oatmeal, breakfast berries, etc...) and it may read something more vague like "veggies for juicing" or "yummy snacks".
                                          I go by what looks good and or is on sale in the produce section first. I buy a few proteins (tempeh, beans, tofu, etc) and on the weekend i cook to have some basic prepared things on hand for mix and match meal assembly.
                                          For example, i would sautee fresh greens while i warm through already marinated and cooked tempeh, or defrost some homemade tomatoey soup and add in vegetables i roasted over the weekend and some quinoa i had prepared.

                                          For recipes i want to try i see what i have on hand to decide which one to make next- i can't afford to buy each and every ingredient of a complicated recipe, but if i have a bag of canellini beans and find a recipe that uses them then i will most likely prioritize that recipe and make it on the weekend.

                                          1. For work, I plan my clients' menus for 1 to 4 weeks at a time. So, menu plan and shopping list are a must! Also, I try to have one "favorite", one "request" and one "new" item in each menu plan.
                                            But at HOME... we both like to cook, and we live near three supermarkets which feature local produce and meats. We like to eat out casually, and also have pretty loose personal schedules. So, all of this is to say, we rarely plan more than a day in advance, unless we have a desire for a slow-cooking item. Sometimes we glance at the grocery store ads, and make a rough plan to use a "special". Some weeks I deem that we use only pantry goods, except for fresh vegetables. I guess we don't actually "plan". But frequent shopping isn't a burden.

                                            1. I usually restock staples that I've run out of. My grocery list is usually 75% the same from week to week. I then recombine the ingredients in different ways for variety and also what happened to be fresh that week. I'll pick 2 or 3 new ideas a week and buy whatever extra ingrediebts I'll need for those dishes. If it involves fresh produce I plan the meal for a particular day. If not I keep it on a list of dishes I'd like to try and get to it whenever. I'm more of an idea person so dobt really use recipes. I usually end up incorporating new items randomly. For example I bought black bean sauce with mapo tofu in mind but realized I had no green onions and ate all the tofu so it found its way into braised cabbage so in effect I still tried a new dish.

                                              1. I could have written your exact post. Most nights I make something new or something without a recipe. I always shop with a list and I do take time to plan. I used to rely heavily on te circular to money manage but now I buy on sale and then plan from the freezer. I have some staples on hand and a few tried and true meals that I add to the rotation. I eat out on the weekends some so I only need five meals or so. One or two items must have leftovers for lunch. We do fish and meatless once a week each.

                                                1. We usually food shop on roughly a five day cycle and always plan menus beforehand.

                                                  We attempt variety - a vegetarian night, seafood, meat, etc. We also attempt variety between trying new recipes (cut from magazines or taken from our cookbooks), old stand-by recipes that we know work and "simple" things that don't need a recipe. The starting point for all this is what's in and fresh and needs using up, followed by what's in the freezer. It's about a twenty minute job from start to finishing with the shopping list.

                                                  1. Odd woman out here. I ( or my wife) shop from a list for staples but rarely plan meals ahead. We buy what looks good in terms of proteins and vegetables and then make meals around that. We waste very little food. We shop for produce two or three times a week . We buy on sale only if it is an item we would have bought anyway. Because we only buy what we really want we are generally eager to eat it.
                                                    We visit the fish market once or twice weekly and cook what looks good.
                                                    We often use new recipes but they are decided upon according to what we have not the other way around.

                                                    1. I'm awful at meal planning, but I'm dipping my toe into this thread to try to learn what other people do that works, hoping that I might learn something.

                                                      I've always thought the key for me would be to have a well-stocked pantry and a solid repertoire of dishes (both pantry and non-pantry dishes) in my head to chose from to make it possible to deal with any interruptions to my plan for the week. But, that assumes that I have a) a plan, b) a well-stocked pantry and c) a good repertoire of dishes to choose from. I never seem to be able to have a, b and c together at anyone time.

                                                      Even when I "plan ahead" I seem to end up having too much food (that we get bored with and/or waste) or not enough food (and end up scrambling.) If I try to plan and shop for an entire week's of meals ahead of time, I end up with way too much food. It's just too overwhelming for me.

                                                      ~TDQ

                                                      21 Replies
                                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                        HI TDQ, not sure of your family situation but can any of the left overs be repurposed for lunch? In my case I am a heavy planner and my husband isn't a huge fan of sandwiches so we often have the leftovers for lunch. For example, yesterday's asian noodle dish is going to be tomorrow's lunch. Often times I space out the left overs by a day so that we aren't eating the same thing two days in a row.

                                                        1. re: delys77

                                                          Oh yes! We are definitely leftovers-for-lunch people! Like you, I try to make sure we have enough variety that we aren't eating back-to-back of the same meal.

                                                          ~TDQ

                                                          1. re: delys77

                                                            I should add--so, a dish that "serves" 4 at our house usually turns into 2 dinners and two lunches, with the adults eating the bulk of the food and a tiny bit going to the preschooler. He doesn't eat much.

                                                            ~TDQ

                                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                              Lol you are much more disciplined than us then. Admittedly we are a same sex couple (two men), but I often find I have to up quantities as serving sizes indicated in the book aren't quite big enough.

                                                              I am also usually plate dinner, but my husband will go back for seconds and this means lunch servings may be diminished due to his healthy dinner appetite ha ha.

                                                              1. re: delys77

                                                                We're a two-sex couple :) and I have to sometimes tell Bob that I AM planning on leftovers for a particular meal.

                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                  lol, I'm sure it happens with all sorts. I actually said the same thing to the husband yesterday. "Sweetie, unless you want to go hungry at lunch tomorrow maybe you should get away from that pot".

                                                                  1. re: delys77

                                                                    So much better to use a term like "sweetie," than "a-hole" :)

                                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                                      For those of you who like to plan meals ahead, how do you know what you will want?
                                                                      I rarely do, so it works much better for us to keep the foods we like around, the meats mostly frozen, and go from there each day as our desires clarify.

                                                                      1. re: magiesmom

                                                                        In my case if I/we don't "feel like" having what the planned dinner is we simply take a left turn and have whatever we think we'd prefer. No problemo. We have all but stopped take away meals given our predisposition toward fresh, seasonal, organic, etc., food. Somehow I think take-out restaurants are Not buying organic chicken/meat/sustainable fish and vegetables, and using way too much sugar & salt. LOL

                                                                        1. re: Gio

                                                                          Yeah, but sometimes that carne asada burrito from our fave place just hits the spot. Everything in moderation including moderation :)

                                                                          But, yes, if I'm not in the mood, there's little that won't hold for at least one more day. It's probably easier for us since there are just two of us. One porkchop is enough meat for the two of us so there aren't vast quantities of things sitting about.

                                                                        2. re: magiesmom

                                                                          This is how I operate too. I keep everything around and decide on a few day time scale.

                                                                          1. re: magiesmom

                                                                            Luckily, if I have chosen things that are new I very rarely don't feel like having them.

                                                                            1. re: delys77

                                                                              For me what I want varies wildly so planning always makes me feel deprived:(

                                                                              1. re: magiesmom

                                                                                I have a couple ideas, suggestions my husband makes of things he would like to eat in the near future, so I try to make one or 2 of them for sure. Last week he asked for a baked pasta something, something with bacon, and chicken. (He always asks for chicken, don't get me started. . .) So one night we had leftover stuffed shells, another was BLPs (used roasted red peppers instead of the moldy tomato) and we have white chicken chili leftovers from the meal I made for my SIL while she babysat.

                                                                                He's happy, as he likes predicability but I still have room to interpret his requests, or if work/commute are long, I can do an express version too.

                                                                            2. re: magiesmom

                                                                              My plan is pretty flexible so I can switch it up easily. Between work and kids I can't get dinner on the table unless I've already worked ahead of time to narrow the options. All the meals I plan are things I like and want to cook, usually driven by what is seasonal and what cookbooks I'm most excited about using at the moment, so I don't feel constrained at all.

                                                                              1. re: Westminstress

                                                                                When I had a kid at home I planned much more. It is a great joy for that aspect of mothering to be over.

                                                                                1. re: magiesmom

                                                                                  I have two young ones, and I'm just waiting for their palates to mature. Wife's repertoire is mac and cheese, hot dogs, shrimp, broccoli, and pasta roni. I have successfully instilled in my 6 YO daughter to stay away from the "shiny box" food. Eating all fresh food involves going to the store more often.

                                                                                  I tend to cook spicy food, but then I got on a French kick with sauces. My daughter said (ge four) "Dad - it's not spicy, it's good!"

                                                                            3. re: delys77

                                                                              That never seems to work for me. Even when I remind my husband (who sometimes works from home) that I doubled a recipe to serve as two meals, I also have two teenaged sons who clean out the fridge in the middle of the night. I'll wake up some mornings to find the milk gallon empty, an entire loaf of bread gone, and my second meal from leftovers also among the missing. I'll miss them when they leave for college, but my grocery bill will plummet.

                                                                              1. re: lisaonthecape

                                                                                Anyway to designate certain items snack friendly for the middle of the night? I know my mother would have been upset that we were so inconsiderate finishing off something. We had other food we could snack on either healthy like veg and dip or unhealthy like frozen bagel dog but no leftovers or ingredients would get used up by raiding the pantry.

                                                                              2. re: delys77

                                                                                I've said that!! Husband seemed stunned at the idea that leftovers *might* come in handy (you can tell who packs Lulu's lunch).

                                                                    2. After all these years, I have enough old favorites to cover us til eternity, but still can't resist trying something new every month or so too. I have by necessity become pretty good at subbing ingredients so as not to buy some exotic item that will be used once and then sit and rot. It's like doing a crossword puzzle!

                                                                      I buy what's on deep sale, especially when it comes to meat. Meaning some weeks I don't buy any at all. I might use my purchases immediately or I might freeze them for later use once I have them. I have a master list with everything on hand, since I have two freezers and things can easily get lost.

                                                                      Every week I'll make one, or at the most two, meals with meat. They will be eaten once more, sometimes repurposed as something completely different, and then the leftovers are stashed in the freezer as homemade TV dinners. Once a month I gather five or six of those and we do a few nights of "smorgasbord", as Mom called it. Better than eating the same thing over and over again til it's gone, or thrown out because you're sick of it.

                                                                      This is how I shop: read the supermarket flyer for this week after next weeks arrives (a two or three day overlap), see what's the best deals for each time period. The fluctuations in price week to week are amazing. Then I write down what I'm going to make with these ingredients. Most are stored in my head already, but I will google for something new too.

                                                                      I always write up a weekly six or seven day menu but the days to be served aren't written in stone. I give my husband a lot of say in what he eats, so I often serve two different entrees, two different soups and so on. It all works out in the end. And that is why I need the "menu", so I can read him the specials of the day/week without forgetting anything. There is rhyme and reason to what comes out of my kitchen, and when and why. I can only imagine tons of waste if I didn't do it so carefully.

                                                                      1. I am a single who lives in a studio too. I plan for two weeks, and shop with a list if I am using recipes. I use recipes a lot, but sometimes I just get into a cooking "funk" and rely on salads, soups, cottage cheese, fruit, etc. Nobody argues with me. LOL.

                                                                        I was a stay at home mom for many years and meal planning and shopping and cooking were a huge part of my time; I enjoy cooking, but I also enjoy not having to feed anyone but myself on a regular basis.

                                                                        We have a barbeque potluck every Friday and I have planned my contributions for the entire summer already and have a list. I really enjoy cooking for others, but for myself, sometimes it is meh.

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: laliz

                                                                          I hear you, if it is just me I often eat out.

                                                                          1. re: delys77

                                                                            eating out and eating well is one of the benefits of living in a diverse city like los angeles.
                                                                            we have a ton of relatively inexpensive ethnic mom 'n pop restaurants here that make a wide variety of inexpensive, yet delicious food.

                                                                            toying with the idea of going to my favorite ethiopian place tomorrow night . . . . (that's meal planning, right?)

                                                                        2. What a great thread. I've been struggling with this very thing recently as we've moved from a country where our lack of car meant I shopped daily to one where I have a car and I shop weekly. I'm also guilty of trying too many new recipes and I've become concerned about getting the right balance of food groups and cooking methods. For example, not too many stir-fries or pasta dishes in a week.

                                                                          My brand new approach for menu planning is to have a two week cycle with the goal of getting plenty of variety. We enjoy one dish meals and only like to eat meat once or twice a week. I also am keen to get better at cooking Korean food and would like to delve into a Spanish cookbook I own.

                                                                          Week one has:
                                                                          A salad, a soup, a Middle Eastern meal, a Korean meal, a pasta, a grain based dish and a BBQ or roast based meal.
                                                                          Week two has:
                                                                          A salad, a soup, an Asian meal, a Spanish meal, a bean based meal, a tofu based meal and a braise.

                                                                          I then attempt to plan exactly what the meals are before I go shopping based on what's likely to be seasonal. I use cookbooks, websites and Eat Your Books for inspiration and recipes. If I see some amazing looking seasonal produce while out shopping I'll change my plan on the fly. However having a soup and salad each week means it's easy to enjoy what produce looks best - it also allows me to incorporate what our little garden produces.

                                                                          1. I have a book type calendar, At-A-Glance in fact, and during the week I list on various days what I think I'd like to make (or what I think we'd like to eat). Sometimes it sticks and I make no revisions or sometimes I list several optional meals as the week goes by. I do this either 1 or 2 weeks in advance depending of how I'm cooking. That is whether or not I'm using a cookbook. This method also is handy in preparing our shopping list. This has worked for me for about 20 years now.

                                                                            I like this method because I can see what I didn't cook as well as what I want to. Also I can list meats and vegetables that are in the larder and place them on certain days to make sure they're cooked in a timely manner.

                                                                            70 Replies
                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                We make it a point to ONLY shop once a week. When we were first married I shopped every two weeks. But, once we had children I found once a week was better.

                                                                                BTW: That At-A-Glance has one page for each day so there's plenty of room. I go back later and tick off what we did eat.

                                                                                1. re: Gio

                                                                                  I get so overwhelmed with a once a week grocery visit. I wonder if I need to first try to shop, say, for four days at a time and then gradually expand it to an entire week?

                                                                                  ~TDQ

                                                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                    If you concentrate on fully stocking the pantry so you are mostly shopping for fresh foods, it is easier.

                                                                                    1. re: magiesmom

                                                                                      Much. And since the majority of the 'meat' we eat was previously bought and frozen, a shopping list is a very compact thing.

                                                                                    2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                      It would probably be a good idea to incrementally increase. I have actually been considering going to a weekly shop for produce but then moving all other shopping to every two weeks. I like the idea, and it would save time shopping. I think the main reason I haven't done it is the menu planning. Since I am usually trying new stuff, it might be too much to sit down and plan out that many new meals in one sitting.

                                                                                      1. re: delys77

                                                                                        I don't get the desire to cram ever more dishes into one's repertoire any more than I do having the same meal rotation week after week, a la Homer Simpson's "pork chop night". There's got to be a happy medium in there somewhere. If I make something I think is really outstanding, why would I *not* want to have it again soon? Not a problem in my case since I live alone and it's easier to cook larger amounts (think chili, soups) than
                                                                                        most one-off meals.

                                                                                        If you're cooking for only one or two, unwillingness to have the same thing more than once would preclude popular dishes like roast chicken, muffins, or pie. As it is, my repertoire, like my waistline, is too large. There are many meals that I like that I have not made in months or years. I shop by what is in season and/or on sale, and decide what to do with the groceries later. I check the quick-sale racks in each department before putting anything else in that department into my cars. Two days ago, I stuffed and roasted a 6# chicken bought at 99cents/#. This is my third day eating it. I'll have it again tomorrow, then freeze the remainder. I have yet to make stock and soup from the carcass and the raw back that I froze. The soup will go into the freezer since I've had enough chicken for the time being.

                                                                                        1. re: greygarious

                                                                                          Speaking for only myself, I don't really want to cram more dishes into my repertoire as much as I want to develop a repertoire. I've cooked from a zillion recipes but haven't perfected many.

                                                                                          If you're asking why a person enjoys cooking from lots and lots of different books and recipes (which would describe me and perhaps a lot of COTM'ers) it's a good way learn about different dishes from different cuisines. And, also, control the quality of the ingredients. Finally, it might be the only way you can eat that cuisine.

                                                                                          I live in a relatively small metro area. Some cuisines just aren't well -represented here. For instance, I'm aware of one Turkish restaurant, and it's dreadful. I'm aware of one "Spanish'ish" restaurant. But, I like Turkish food and I like Spanish food, so if I want it, I must cook it myself.

                                                                                          ~TDQ

                                                                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                            TDQ, do you have cookbook "Turkey" by L. Kitchen? Very nice Turkish recipes and many are easy to make as in not too time consuming.

                                                                                            1. re: herby

                                                                                              No, but I'll have a look, thank you!

                                                                                              ~TDQ

                                                                                            2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                              I was mainly responding to the OP, which repeatedly mentions focusing on cooking new recipes, and having to buy non-staple, perhaps unfamiliar, ingredients.

                                                                                            3. re: greygarious

                                                                                              Sometimes if I am especially overwhelmed by meal planning, I try to divide into categories. We do try to do "Meatless Monday", which narrows the field. Taco Tuesday would be another, or "Mexican Tuesday" to be broader. I'm not religious about it, but our rough schedule looks something like this:

                                                                                              Monday: A meatless dish, usually with eggs
                                                                                              Tuesday: I often cook chicken, because I bought it fresh on Friday and I don't want to go bad.
                                                                                              Wednesday: pull some fish or steak out of the freezer
                                                                                              Thursday: Exhausted! Something super easy, like sausages and sauerkraut, or burgers.
                                                                                              Friday: I shop, so whatever I feel like cooking, but have been chasing the toddler by myself all day, so something relatively easy (Thursday or Fridays are most likely to be takeout)
                                                                                              Saturday: Night most likely to try a new or more complicated recipe
                                                                                              Sunday: Usually some sort of "family" recipe that might take too long for a weeknight but is in the repertoire - something like meatloaf, or roast chicken, that can be repurposed for lunches early in the week.

                                                                                              I use the Cozi App to plan meals and shop, and they go right on my calendar. I'm not rigid though - if traffic is terrible on Tuesday, I might eat the sausages then, pop the chicken in the freezer for next week, improvise an extra omelet or takeout ...

                                                                                              1. re: Savour

                                                                                                "Taco Tuesday would be another, or "Mexican Tuesday" to be broader."

                                                                                                This - my husband and 3yo want Taco Tuesday, every.single.week. I've successfully negotiated to a rotation between tacos, enchiladas, burritos, and quesadillas, so we only have tacos once a month!

                                                                                                1. re: truman

                                                                                                  My husband would eat Mexican everyday. There are so many other options out there though. Last night we had tortas which are a sandwich.

                                                                                                  Rolls, mashed avocaod and lime, refried black beans, queso fresco, marinated beef, pickled onions and jalapenos.

                                                                                          2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                            That is definitely the way to go, TDQ. Anything that's overwhelming risks causing you to ditch the whole process.

                                                                                            And the tips and techniques you'll develop from doing three or four days will be applicable if you decide, once comfortable, to extend your ambitions to a week.

                                                                                            The crucial stress-buster is avoiding the what-to-do-tonight decision with a blank slate, by having one or several pre-planned options already written down. As you noted in the COTM weeknight thread, the blank slate is paralyzing exactly because there are *too many* options.

                                                                                            1. re: ellabee

                                                                                              Our planning doesn't have to be day specific. If you are in the mood for something switch the day. I never have to ask what is for dinner during the week, I only have the 4 options on my menu. We go to trivia once a week and weekend is up for grabs or eating out.

                                                                                            2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                              Should say right off that my meals involve a high proportion of existing favorites. In fact, one of the minor benefits of planning for me is the spur to actually cook a few of the new recipes or dishes that I've flagged somewhere, by scheduling them in. Otherwise they'd stay in the forever future of "sometime soon".

                                                                                              My major impetus for planning is to minimize waste while basing the cooking on locally grown foods as much as possible. But whatever your priorities, planning can help you achieve them.

                                                                                              A couple of tools that make it easier:
                                                                                              1 - A record of your meals, ideally in a format that makes it easy to see a month or so at once.
                                                                                              2 - An inventory of food on hand.
                                                                                              At a minimum, this means the most urgent perishables, prepped items, and leftovers. A freezer inventory with dates lets you can use up the older items while they're still good, free up space for a few new items, and get a rotation going. Sometimes you may want to look over the pantry & fridge for jars and tins that were used once or never, in order to make use of them before they age further.
                                                                                              3 - A compact list of favorites (compiled by reading over your meal history). Star particularly easy ones.

                                                                                              Sitting with these, you can plug in a few suitable favorites over the next week. The blanks can be filled with new things to try. If you're planning three or four days ahead, that means there'll only be one or two recipes you need to build a shopping list from (and plan out the prep for, especially anything well in advance like soaking beans or defrosting a big cut of meat).

                                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                This is what I do. A big shop on Sunday for staples and fresh ingredients for a few meals. Then I usually make a quick stop midweek to replenish supplies. I have to do this anyway as my fridge is too small for a weeks worth of food and the bags would be too heavy for me to carry.

                                                                                                1. re: Westminstress

                                                                                                  I kind of think this is where I would end up, too. I just feel like my fridge just isn't big enough, partly because a week's worth of groceries requires three gallons of milk as a starting point... I wonder if what I'm really lacking is kitchen and storage space rather than an ability to plan.

                                                                                                  ~TDQ

                                                                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                    A lot depends on where you do your food shopping, and how much of a savings in gas and time it is to do once a week versus twice.

                                                                                                    The time you save with a once-a-week trip might be eaten up when you get home, in re-organizing and stuffing things into the fridge and cupboards. And there's more pressure on a weekly shop (must get *everything* we might need), so the added stress might cancel out the human-energy savings. There's also the reality that some of the most perishable items are a few days older by the end of the week than they'd be if you shopped twice.

                                                                                                    A little more space in the fridge pays off in easier, less stressful cooking all week long.

                                                                                                    1. re: ellabee

                                                                                                      Also, we segregate our food shopping from "other" shopping, like laundry detergent, TP, and such. Wife will do that once every couple of weeks, and I do the food shopping. It's a clean break.

                                                                                                      1. re: rudeboy

                                                                                                        We also segregate our household from food shopping. Totally different budget line items.

                                                                                                2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                  I shop once a week. Use the circular so you know what it on sale see what you are running out of and if space permits keep a backup in the pantry. Things that spoil easily are eaten early in the week. Prep everything you can when you get home. Examples: portion out things you want to freeze, prep and store lettuce so you will be likely to use it. I have a celery keeper so I wash and cut celery store store in the fridge. When planning start with freezer and pantry items you are looking to use up. Plan to keep a few things on hand for lunches and snacks. I keep a list of what is in the freezer on the fridge.

                                                                                                  1. re: melpy

                                                                                                    I'm exhausted just reading about it.

                                                                                                    ~TDQ

                                                                                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                      with you there, TDQ. It's all I can do to put away the shopping haul. This is a strong reason to shop a couple of times a week rather than one big trip.

                                                                                                      Further prep of any kind -- such as for that day's meal -- needs to wait until I've recovered, off my feet and ideally with a glass of something fortifying.

                                                                                                      Advance prep sessions are very useful, and can even be enjoyable -- but only if they happen on a different day than any grocery/market shopping.

                                                                                                      The only exception to this for me is the occasional "chicken day" at the local foods store; I usually order two or three whole chickens, and given our weeny freezer this means prepping one for roasting that evening, cutting up the others for parts to freeze, and making stock with the remains. I did that last week and was really beat by the time I got the cooled stock into the fridge. Serious uptick in yearning for stand-alone freezer...

                                                                                                      1. re: ellabee

                                                                                                        I think you over estimate how much work I am really doing.

                                                                                                        Keeping track of what we are "out" of is maybe a 3 minute chore tops. I open the fridge, the pantry and one cabinet. There might be something on the list I added when I thought of it or maybe not.

                                                                                                        The circular, I don't always use this but if my freezer (not a large deep freeze) is lacking I will see if something is on sale. I almost never buy "packaged" fun food that my husband likes so I really only need a page or two (produce, meat, fish). This is another 2-3 minutes. I do it online. and pick what I want to buy.

                                                                                                        The lengthy thing for me is choosing the meals. I make something new almost every night but if I didn't it would take 5-10 minutes. I can spend hours picking and choosing because I enjoy doing that and that is my spare time activity. I drag it out on purpose. If I didn't and still wanted to cook new things 15-20 minutes picky and dealing with the ingredients.

                                                                                                        I spend between 30-90 dollars a week for two of us. $90 means we bought meat, fish and things like toiletries and TP. $30 means I have either the meat or the produce already. I spend 30 minutes in the store if I am not back tracking but typically more like 45 because I don't organize my list or I can't find something because they keep moving things and the salesfolk don't know where it is either. I think I spent 15 minutes just looking for kitchen twine or someone who knew where it was a few weeks ago when I tried making braciole.

                                                                                                        Based on the amount we are buying I have generally 4 bags of groceries. Things to prep stay on the counter (usually this is one thing maybe two). Everything else I can put away in five minutes.

                                                                                                        If the prep is lengthy, I may wait until I have free time. No prep takes longer than 15 minutes and that was cutting, pounding and weighing meat into small cutlet portions. Typically the prep is rinse and put in a bowl, or cut end off, rinse and put into container. I might prep 0-5 minutes.

                                                                                                        The when to eat what is usually pigeon holed by our schedule. Right now we are trying to eat fish once a week and because I have an exercise class at 7:30 on Tuesday we eat fish on Tuesdsay because it is light. When I used to take an earlier class I could eat after but now it is too late. Something that makes several servings I eat earlier so I don't have to plan any lunches if possible. If nothing will have leftovers then I have to plan those as well. What keeps the best also dictates these things.

                                                                                                        1. re: ellabee

                                                                                                          "Further prep of any kind -- such as for that day's meal -- needs to wait until I've recovered, off my feet and ideally with a glass of something fortifying." LOVE this!! I thought I was the only one slurping down a beer after putting away the groceries.

                                                                                                          1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                            You are not alone, LLM! I love to have a glass of wine somewhere in the kitchen as I cook. Usually use a glass and not the wine kind because it is steady and won't get knocked off too easy, and it looks handsome in a work-horse kind of way :)

                                                                                                        2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                          Yeah, when I get home from the store I am in no mood to start prepping a bunch of food. Just finding room in the fridge & getting everything out of the grocery bags into their respective places is so exhausting. I end up making a sandwich & calling it good.

                                                                                                          My problem is not so much menu planning, but a need to keep my fridge items organized so I can see what is actually in there. The other day I found 3 types of leftover moldy cheese, each on a different shelf, pushed behind something else. Big waste going on in that box that I must get a handle on.

                                                                                                          If I knew what I had on hand, I would be more efficient at planning what to cook.

                                                                                                          1. re: cstout

                                                                                                            Make a list and keep it updated, it works well for me might be worth a try.

                                                                                                            1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                              Actually, for awhile, I kept a small magnetic whiteboard on the fridge listing out the food that was in there, both leftovers that were available and things that I was planning to cook for meals. So, it might look like this:

                                                                                                              Pork roast for crock pot (Thurs)
                                                                                                              Chicken for Nigella recipe (Fri)
                                                                                                              Ground beef for meatloaf (Weds)

                                                                                                              Leftovers: grilled sausages
                                                                                                              Ham

                                                                                                              Snacks: apples, cut watermelon, cheese sticks

                                                                                                              Then we'd just cross off as we used stuff up.

                                                                                                              It worked really well. And then my dry-erase pen, the one with the perfect size that fit in the little holder, disappeared and that was the end of that.

                                                                                                              Seriously, I've let something as small and as dumb as replacing a dry-erase pen interfere with my system!

                                                                                                              ~TDQ

                                                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                DQ, your daughter must be quite young if you do not have an endless supply of these dry erase pens cluttering up your house!

                                                                                                                1. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                  But, my dear, it's not ANY OLD dry erase pen, but the skinny, fine-pointed one that perfectly fits the pen holder attached to the board...

                                                                                                                  ~TDQ

                                                                                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                    You need some good old fashioned scotch tape and some string, my dear.

                                                                                                                    1. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                      I know. It's a stupid barrier, right?

                                                                                                                      ~TDQ

                                                                                                                2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                  I tried fridge inventory and found that it was too much work for little return... Freezer inventory, on the other hand, has been god-sent. I keep a speadsheet on my computer, one page in size. It is divided into categories that make sense to me. It hangs on the side of the fridge by little magnets. I also have a paper shopping list pad hanging there and clip a pen to that (as it goes missing, I just clip a new one). I cross and add items by hand and once the sheet gets messy I update on computer and print fresh copy. It is very simple, allows for various stickies to go on with recipes, etc.

                                                                                                                  1. re: herby

                                                                                                                    I wouldn't really call this a fridge inventory --it's not at all comprehensive-- as much as a short list of key perishable items I want to keep track of. It's basically the main protein for all of the weeks dishes (which, eventually become leftovers of that dish) and produce I might forget about. Maybe a couple of toddler snacks. It's usually not more than about a dozen items. Then when either of us goes to the fridge wondering what to do for a meal, we consult the list. It's easy to cross stuff off as you go.

                                                                                                                    Funnily enough, I've never had luck maintaining a freezer inventory.

                                                                                                                    ~TDQ

                                                                                                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                      I see what you mean. I do something similar on a scrap of paper as I figure out what to make based on what is in the fridge. White board is ideal - you just need to stop by Michael's or whatever you have in your neck of the woods and get yourself that special erase pen :)

                                                                                                                      1. re: herby

                                                                                                                        OK, I just ordered one from Amazon. Thank you for the helpful nudge to stop making excuses. :)

                                                                                                                        ~TDQ

                                                                                                                  2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                    TDQ - ha ha, we are our own worst enemies. I too had a list on the fridge with a magnet, worked OK, but after awhile, got lazy in updating the thing. End of story.

                                                                                                                    1. re: cstout

                                                                                                                      Why do we sometimes resist doing those small tasks that would save us so much time and stress?

                                                                                                                      ~TDQ

                                                                                                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                        You need to stick with it a bit and then it becomes a habit and very useful one. That what happens with my freezer inventory - it happens automatically :)

                                                                                                                          1. re: herby

                                                                                                                            Me too. I swear the online document is amazing! Less prone to smudging.

                                                                                                                            1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                                              Do you both have printers at home? I don't. Maybe this is my problem. I have to wait until I'm back at work to print something like this out, which is just too much time delay for something like this.

                                                                                                                              ~TDQ

                                                                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                I have printer at home and it is a truly useful tool. It scans and copies and prints! If I have a book out of the library I can either scan or copy recipes that I want to keep even if just to test drive before buying the book. I can print a photo or an inventory list or whatever.

                                                                                                                                1. re: herby

                                                                                                                                  I need to get my home printer working again. Long story, but my operating system is 75 million years old and at some point, my laptop and my printer stopped talking to each other. I really need to get a new computer, but that's a different problem for a different say. It would sure make my life easier in lots of small ways, though.

                                                                                                                                  ~TDQ

                                                                                                                          2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                            TDQ: the answer is that these tasks are BORING and not how we want to spend the precious time we have here on this earth.
                                                                                                                            for many of us the entire process of undertaking of the development and execution of a "plan" for meals is not worth the effort.
                                                                                                                            look at it as your unconscious leading you to a more fulfilled life.
                                                                                                                            some people just don't get anything out of this kind of stuff, or at least, don't get enough out of it for it to be worth the effort.

                                                                                                                            1. re: westsidegal

                                                                                                                              It's true that planning's not worth the effort for everyone. But can't agree TDQ is in that group -- she had a fine fridge-contents system going, that will only need the right dry-erase pen to re-start. <g>

                                                                                                                              That's a pretty small effort for a big payoff in timely use of leftovers and perishable ingredients.

                                                                                                                              Throwing away food gone bad is not only boring, but unpleasant and expensive. Not the way most of us want to spend the precious time we have here on this earth, either.

                                                                                                                              1. re: westsidegal

                                                                                                                                Wow, I don't think menu planning is boring at all! Feeding people (and doing so in a fun, interesting way) is a joy.

                                                                                                                      2. re: cstout

                                                                                                                        I had same issues before - leftovers going bad. Now, i look through the fridge once a week before grocery trip and I keep my leftovers in the glass containers so I can see it

                                                                                                                        1. re: cstout

                                                                                                                          My fridge got better when I got a fair number of condiments out of it so I can actually see...a little. This thread is good:

                                                                                                                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/911827

                                                                                                                          1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                            I try to keep as may of the condiments in the door as possible. Makes it easier. Having them all collected in one area in the rest of the fridge is also helpful. In my traditional fridge at our last house we adjusted the shelves on the bottom to be taller to keep our beverages like a gallon of milk down there. The things we didn't want to bend to investigate could then be higher. Now we have the french door variety so it isn't as big of a deal.

                                                                                                                            1. re: melpy

                                                                                                                              I think that half of my fridge is condiments. I don't know WTF they're all doing in there.

                                                                                                                            2. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                              I've got a plastic box (shoebox size) of condiments that takes up a ton of room on the top shelf of my fridge. In addition to what's in the door, of course. Funnily enough, in the past week or so I've decided I have to do something else with that plastic box. Either pare down or throw away some stuff or put it in the spare fridge downstairs. I like having easy access to the stuff in the box but the truth is, I often forget what's in there.

                                                                                                                              Thanks for the link. Sounds like I'm not alone in my hoarding of jars and bottles.

                                                                                                                              ~TDQ

                                                                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                OK, plastic box of condiments is gone. Everything questionable has been purged. I'd be sad, except that my fridge looks positively huge now.

                                                                                                                                My new little fridge white board (with the special, perfect-sized pen) arrived and was immediately claimed by my toddler. I had to reclaim it from him. First of all, it's not washable. And second of all, it's essential to my process!

                                                                                                                                But, now I understand what happened to the first pen...

                                                                                                                                ~TDQ

                                                                                                                              2. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                OMG, from a news article linked in that thread "The suggested refrigerator storage time for condiments (sealed in their original containers) is about three months. This doesn't mean that at three months everything in the door will be rancid and will make you sick if you eat it. It's a suggested time frame for optimal flavor and freshness."

                                                                                                                                Actually, I'm kind of revolved by some of the suggestions in the thread that people combine a little bit of this with a little bit of that. If you keeping doing that for generations and generations of condiments, how do you know you're not eating a tiny bit of something that is just way, too disgustingly old.

                                                                                                                                ~TDQ

                                                                                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                  Visited that site & got some good ideas. Thanks.

                                                                                                                                  When I have dregs of jams or jellies, I just spoon them out in a dish & set the dish out for the honey bees or butterflies. They love it.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: cstout

                                                                                                                                    Now there's an idea to love--the bees and butterflies idea. I re-read my comment above and noticed I said I was "revolved" about some of those ideas. Meaning, what? I've been going in circles about them? No, typo, I'm revolted by some of them. HA! I do sense a major spring/cleaning/purge coming, though...

                                                                                                                                    ~TDQ

                                                                                                                                    1. re: cstout

                                                                                                                                      I'm envious of those who can put out food for the critters. We have a pretty severe problem with bears breaking into homes. As they say "A fed bear is a dead bear" so we put out nothing. Ever.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                        Oh gosh, bears - I thought I had problems with coons, possums, skunks & porky pines.

                                                                                                                                        I still put out the sweet stuff since it is usually gone by night time before the creatures start moving around.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: cstout

                                                                                                                                          You know I am a true city girl when my first reaction to your post is, oh, how fun, bears...possums, porky pines....I wish I could experience this.

                                                                                                                                          Grass is always greener I suppose.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                                            Hey, but you probably have rats :) LOL.

                                                                                                                                            A couple of years ago I commited two mortal sins. I left meat defrosting on the kitchen counter and I left the window over the sink open. At 2AM I heard a sound, went downstairs and scared Mama Bear back out the window!!! Turned on the outside light and she and her two cubs were sitting under a tree about 20' feet from the house. Nonchalant as you please. Didn't get the meat though which I served to guests the following night without telling the story. I counted it as a 'three second rule' type event.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                              Rats in the BBQ only. I have to wrap it in cellophane before putting on the cover. Haven't used it in months. Will cross my fingers when I go to check it in the hopes the wrapping was enough. Cleaning it for rats is a nightmare.

                                                                                                                                      2. re: cstout

                                                                                                                                        the high-fructose corn syrup sometimes found in those jams and jellies is not necessarily good for the bees.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: westsidegal

                                                                                                                                            I did not know this, thanks for sharing about high fructose & bees - guess I'll stick to rotten bananas & such.

                                                                                                                                      3. re: cstout

                                                                                                                                        Every week on garbage day we look at each shelf and see if there is anything to chuck out or use quickly. If it went bad it gets pitched, this is getting more rare to the point that it might be once a month that something goes bad. Then anything we want to use right away is moved to a more visual spot and I might make a note on the side of my grocery list that I want to use up that item for when I meal plan. Since it is done on garbage day it doesn't smell because it is going to the curb. Takes less than 5 minutes. Sometimes the washing of a jar or tupperware is needed and things go down the disposal instead of the trash.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: cstout

                                                                                                                                          My life changed for the better when I started a whiteboard on the side of the fridge to inventory what's there (and put up shopping lists). At the same time I got zealous about labeling and dating every container. Both are now habits, and there's a LOT less waste.

                                                                                                                            3. Usually over a beer or in bed Sunday night I'll ask if she has any requests for the week. She'll generally throw out a couple generic ideas, like "soup, and maybe some kind of fish," or "breakfast for dinner," along with a more specific request like turkey tetrazzini. Depending on how the week ends up going I bat somewhere between zero and a thousand.

                                                                                                                              I used to only buy what I needed for a day, but now that the better grocer is a bit more of a trek I'll usually at least pick up some extra meat or fish when I make it down there.

                                                                                                                              1. How do I menu plan? What's my system? I have been trying to answer this question for years.

                                                                                                                                First thing to know about me is I am a researcher by nature so I like to learn everything I can about a subject before moving forward. As a result, I am a bit of a collector - bookmarking websites, checking out books from the library, buying cookbooks, clipping recipes, taking notes, testing recipes, etc. etc.

                                                                                                                                Prior to kids, I would create elaborate menus and then tackle them. Go to as many stores as needed. Make components and freeze them until I had everything I needed to move forward. Cost, time and difficultly be damned, if I wanted to try it or learn about it, I did. And I didn’t mind if it took me all day and all night to do it.

                                                                                                                                Once the kids came into the picture, I obviously couldn't cook like this on an ongoing basis. So soon I would be ear marking recipes, planning menus, stock piling and then, later that week, repurposing, or worse, throwing out my loot. After about 2 years of doing this, I tried to change my strategy. Tried. Did not succeed.

                                                                                                                                My biggest problem is staying motivated. I feel a bit manic depressive in the way I approach cooking. I'm either all in, or, I am so not into it that I can barely think of something I would be willing to put in my mouth, let alone cook. That's where the cookbooks and cookbook collecting comes in to the mix. They keep my creative juices flowing. As long as I have a cookbook that I am interested in (or a blog, or some other source) there will be food on the table.

                                                                                                                                I still spend an inordinate amount of time reading through cookbooks. When I find something I can't resist and I am in the right mood, I go right out and get the ingredients. And, if the planets align, I cook them. But more often, I bookmark, hope to make some or most of what I've bookmarked, and shop with those things in mind. I shop once a week (on Mondays) and restock all the essentials for lunch boxes and morning breakfasts and other staples. I supplement on Wednesdays or Sundays with trips to the Farmer's Market (this is more like a therapy session for me, not a necessary shopping trip). If we are having fish, I hit the fish market the day of that meal. If we are having Indian, I hit the Indian Market for Masala the day of the meal. I do not mind all these shopping trips if the menu is something I am making because I am excited about it. It only feels like drudgery if I am doing this for sloppy joes and the like.

                                                                                                                                I do all this planning and shopping knowing that a good part of it will go unused and get thrown our or composted. (Sigh). I don't feel good about this, it is just my reality. Life gets in the way. Between school schedules, work out schedules, work schedules, tutoring, after school activities, religious school, doctors appointments, schlepping people to their social engagements (including me), lots of the time I don't feel like cooking. On those nights, we have things like tacos or frozen ragu or El Pollo Loco or rotisserie chicken.

                                                                                                                                On the better nights, we have a more balanced meal - a Chez Panisse driven meal - with lots of farm fresh produce, farmer's market meat and something ridiculously healthy for dessert. On those nights my husband doesn’t sigh about all the dishes, and the kids usually sigh about too many veggies and no real dessert. The menu might be a burrata salad followed by pumpkin risotto and affogato for dessert. If it just me and DH, it might be just a great big salad and a glass of wine. Then things get busy, and we don't eat again like this for a week. So most often, I end up serving compromise food, things everyone is willing to eat.

                                                                                                                                If I haven’t been clear to this point, I do make lists, I do try to menu plan, but more often than not, I end up over planning or cooking by the seat of my pants.

                                                                                                                                1. I buy on sale & in bulk. We have a separate freezer which is (almost) always stocked with boneless chicken breasts, ground beef (we grind our own), boneless pork loin & chops, pot roasts, salt cod, Italian sausage etc. From there it's really what's on sale that week. We go shopping for sale items, produce & staples. Usually whatever produce is good that week dictates the meals.

                                                                                                                                  Fish & seafood I buy & cook the same day so that's always a decision that day.

                                                                                                                                  Sometimes I find deals @ the grocery store. Last week they had 8oz containers of mushroom for a dollar each. they were spotty but made excellent cream of mushroom soup. This week loin lamb chops were on special for 50% off....

                                                                                                                                  So - how it works for us is that the kitchen is stocked so we can pretty much have whatever we want.

                                                                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                                                                  1. re: JoeBabbitt

                                                                                                                                    You freeze your baccala? Do you purchase it frozen?

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                                                                                                      Usually I buy it in bulk - 3 or 4 pounds at a shot. I rarely use more than a half pound at a time so that lasts a while. It's not frozen when I buy it but I keep it in the freezer cuz there's more room in there.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: JoeBabbitt

                                                                                                                                        I never thought of freezing baccala. Do you buy it sealed in plastic? I just buy filets from wooden crates.

                                                                                                                                        Can you provide some recipes or ideas for baccala? It seems you utilize baccala in quantities I have never seen before and I only have one family recipe for cold baccala salad. I love it and would really appreciate some alternate ideas!

                                                                                                                                        Sorry for the OT.

                                                                                                                                  2. I contact my local butcher to find out what he has in that is fresh and on sale. Typically I plan my menu around sale items for the week. Keep it simple. For menu inspiration, I consult the internet, and when all else fails I resort to traditional favorites. Subscribe for recipe updates from your favorite food blogs. You will be surprised what type of inspiration you will find in weekly recipe updates!

                                                                                                                                    1. So, for those of you who plan a week or two worth of meals in advance and who use recipes, how do you determine how much to cook? For instance, I'm pretty much planning for 20 weekday meals per week, 5 lunches and 5 dinners for two adults. So, do you find 5 recipes that serve for and plan on cooking those? I swear that when I do that I just end up having so much food.

                                                                                                                                      Also, how do you plan the cycle of your proteins so that your meats that you buy on your big weekend shop are sill good by Friday? Do you always eat seafood and chicken early in the week go vegetarian by the end of the week or are you always defrosting stuff?

                                                                                                                                      ~TDQ

                                                                                                                                      9 Replies
                                                                                                                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                        We no longer have pre-schoolers, but what I do is to buy the proteins on sale at either the grocery store or 'club' store. I cook the main protein over the weekend and we work on it over the week. The other thing we do is to eat previous frozen homemade meals out of the freezer. The other way our evening meals are prepared are quick cooked meals that involve fish or things such as tacos.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: John E.

                                                                                                                                          I only shop for one week, never two. It here are two of us and depending on the meal they typically serve 2,4 or 6. If two I don't expect leftovers, 4 can either be leftovers or repurposed. Generally 6 servings are definitely lunches to take to work. I package individually so I can just grab and go. Example, I made turkey and spinach enchiladas. We ate them for one dinner, and five lunch servings.
                                                                                                                                          We plan usually the same item or severL different leftovers for lunches all week. Maybe wraps or sandwiches if I don't expect leftovers. I work at a school so if I strike out with leftovers and don't have food to pack I can buy lunch for $3.25. For meat some have dates that are good until Friday. I will possibly make those later in the week. I prefer not to freeze fish so that is early n the week. Chicken we often freeze the pieces so and thaw. Typically I know I want to make certain things close to certain days so I pick out food to thaw the night before. Meatless can go anywhere. Larger batch food is early in the week so that way the leftovers go to lunches. I don't usually plan breakfasts and keep things like oatmeal, fruit, milk, eggs and cereal I'm the house. Sometimes we have yogurt sometimes not. I make sure that I try to use up,food that is going to go bad first. I will freeze individual portions of leftovers if I have to. This is extremely rare.

                                                                                                                                        2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                          I freeze all meat / fish the day I buy it, except what I plan to cook that night. I later (often months later, since I buy in bulk when on sale) put it in the fridge to defrost overnight.

                                                                                                                                          Like you, TDQ, I'm planning meals for 2 but also include weekends. I found that I need to specifically put the name of the "leftover" dish on the weekly plan for either lunch or supper, or it doesn't get used. I cut most recipes in half and still have enough for a second day. I look for and plan ways to recombine side dishes with mains so it's not an identical meal.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: MidwesternerTT

                                                                                                                                            I had some sand cabs (a little West Coast fish) that I bought at WF some months ago. I first tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and THEN FoodSaver'd. They looked and tasted the same the last two as the first.

                                                                                                                                          2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                            I never plan more than two or three new meals per week. The rest of the week is leftovers, or something simple like a frittata using leftovers, or soup and sandwich.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: coll

                                                                                                                                              Planning for two or three meals per week - that is about perfect since so many variables enter into the week. Planning too far in advance causes waste of food, Yes, we can all do the plan ahead for the week, try to stick to a ridged menu plan, but I am here to tell you "it ain't gonna happen".

                                                                                                                                              Get past those 3 days & plan for another 3 or 4, budget stays pretty well in order & after 3 meals, you are ready to shop again for the remainder of the week. Winding down to a week end starts very flexible menu plans, no heavy meals, maybe a night out & few items to get the next week started. Simple & not too stressful.

                                                                                                                                            2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                              Prioritize your proteins. A whole chicken lasts longer in the fridge than breasts. A London Broil longer than ground beef, etc. You are correct, towards the end of the week we use more previously frozen ingredients. Fish is always purchased and used same day.

                                                                                                                                              If you find that you have too many leftovers, throw the protein for tomorrows' dinner in the freezer so it doesn't go bad on you, rather that prepare more food you don't want or will end up throwing away.

                                                                                                                                              We don't really plan for lunches. Hubs takes leftovers, and we purchase cold cuts to have something on hand, in case there aren't any leftovers. I am home so I usually open a can of tuna or subsist on coffee all day.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                As I'm pretty sure I've already mentioned, I always plan fewer meals than we will actually eat to account for the fact that sometimes life gets in the way of cooking. The other thing you could do is plan for some meals in the later part of the week that rely almost entirely on frozen or pantry ingredients. That way if you don't get to that meal, you won't have wasted food.

                                                                                                                                                For shopping, I buy most of my fish, pork and beef at my farmers market on Sundays. The fish I cook Sunday or Monday. The meat is already frozen so I toss it in the freezer and use it later in the week and sometimes it is weeks before I use it. Chicken and salmon I would pick up during my midweek stop, with salmon always cooked that night and chicken that night or the next. I probably cook meat twice per week. We usually have a few egg, bean or tofu based meals each week -- these are cheap, healthy and can safely hang out in the fridge for quite a while.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                  Weekly shopper here with a quick stop for fresh herbs, etc. midway through the week. For every meal I just go ahead and make it for 4 people. My husband usually eats more than 1 person's worth, and any leftovers can either go for Lulu's lunch or his, or be added to scrambled eggs, etc.

                                                                                                                                                  Yes, absolutely, seafood gets eaten the day of shopping or the next day, unless it is frozen (and then it can be at the end of the week). If I'm thinking of having a fish dish later in the week, it gets picked up on that mid-week shop. Vegetarian things do tend to get saved for later in the week (we often have pastas on Thursdays, for instance). I don't buy much frozen stuff (shrimp, vegetables pretty much covers it), and only freeze things like braises, stews, soups - and those in big enough quantities that they will make for an emergency meal if there is a snow day, etc.

                                                                                                                                                2. If you're only spending 1.5 hours weekly on the planning, you're doing very well.

                                                                                                                                                  For me the key is to actually have the meals assigned to a day and written down - not a mental list (my brain cells have better things to do than to track that) and not just a list of "make it sometime" recipes -- too many choices and dithering when mealtime rolls around. For flexibility I'm ok swapping one day's planned meal with another.

                                                                                                                                                  I keep my plan on a two-column, 8 row spreadsheet that I print and post on the fridge. Easily marked-up and reprinted when needed during the week (e.g., when leftovers stretch to 3 meals instead of 2, or day-swaps when time for cooking the planned meal isn't available). At the bottom of the page I note planned baking that often carries over for several weeks. I also keep a running list of USE UP for produce or canned goods I have in abundance, to remind me to plan those in as side dishes or ingredients.

                                                                                                                                                  I don't use EYB, but keep an online recipe folder of "try this sometime" recipes as well as favorites and add one or two to the plan each week when I already have most of the ingredients on-hand or know already (due to pre-shopping/searching) exactly where I'll find them. I title files with main ingredients for easy searching.

                                                                                                                                                  If a recipe calls for specialty ingredients, I'll shop this week for tentatively planned use next-week. If the ingredients aren't carried by my grocery store, the recipe usually won't get added to the menu. It took me 3 weeks to get around to finding all the ingredients for a COTM (Dunlop - Every Grain of Rice) meal I wanted to make. Which reminds me -- I never got around to actually using the potato starch.

                                                                                                                                                  10 Replies
                                                                                                                                                  1. re: MidwesternerTT

                                                                                                                                                    A spreadsheet? Are you an accountant or engineer? Lol. My brother has a master spreadsheet for food shopping also; he's a Comptroller.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                                                                                                                        My wife in an engineer (as am I). She keeps a spreadsheet of her gas mileage. Has so for eight years. Dutifully writes the mileage on the receipt and immediately enters into spreadsheet. In eight years, the milage has been between 25 and 27 MPG. She doesn't cook. I don't understand her and she doesn't understand me. I can cook something wonderful, and since I don't write anything down, I can never recreate it. The combination of my creativity and her diligence works, though.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: rudeboy

                                                                                                                                                          Have you pointed out the MGP-mania to her?!? And, shame on you, for not writing things down :)

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                            Yes, but she has this admirable confidence that there's absolutely nothing peculiar about it. Enviable trait that I wish I possessed. The only recipe I have ever written was for redfish courtbouillon. This is why I will never have my Dream Cafe!

                                                                                                                                                          2. re: rudeboy

                                                                                                                                                            My father used to chart my milage as well. He was very upset when I moved away and refused to keep up the practice.

                                                                                                                                                            Sounds like you and your wife balance things out, both bringing your own set of skills to the table. That is the way it is at our house as well, and I suspect, in most marriages that work. It is hard to appreciate that which you already do well yourself, but when someone else can effortlessly accomplish something you can't even began to comprehend, you are constantly wowed by (or wowing) your spouse.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: rudeboy

                                                                                                                                                              "She keeps a spreadsheet of her gas mileage. Has so for eight years."

                                                                                                                                                              Holy cow! That is so anal (ocd, organized, insert preferred adjective here). I am so envious of her!

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                                                                                                                                Comes in handy if you need to report it on your income taxes for business. I was always admonished by my accountant to keep records but somehow never did.

                                                                                                                                                                Unless I got that wrong and it's that she calculates her gas mileage? Luckily my car does that for me ;-)

                                                                                                                                                            2. re: Jerseygirl111

                                                                                                                                                              Correction - it's actually a 2-column / 8 row "table" inside a Word document. Grin. But (guilty as charged) my degree was in Mathematics.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: MidwesternerTT

                                                                                                                                                                Long lost computer-geek cousin here - mine is a 3 column 7 row table in a Google Doc. That way I can look at it from anywhere (at work, when I'm wondering what's for dinner, while shopping in case of last minute changes, etc). Partner can look if he decides to care about what's for dinner. ;-)
                                                                                                                                                                The extra row is for notes like "saute extra onions for tomorrow", or "getting home late - make something easy".

                                                                                                                                                          3. I think the proximity to the market is a huge factor, as well as one's inclination to enjoy shopping. I live 2 minutes from my HEB, know all the people working there, and my meat man will set aside things for me. I like to take my 6 year old girl and see her socialize in public. I tend to talk to other shoppers, and since I know where everything is in my store, I often help them find things. Kind of makes me want to do shopping every day for that evening's meal. I usually get a premonition of what I want that night at 2 PM, often based on ideas generated in this wonderful Home Cooking board! If I consider a move, that will be a huge factor. If it were a 20 min one-way trip to the market, then things would be different.

                                                                                                                                                            1. We shop on Saturday and freeze most of the meat the same day. If we've bought fish it's consumed for dinner that evening, and Sunday's roast gets put in the fridge. During the week if we need meat for an upcoming meal it thaws in the fridge. Usually. There are certain days that, for convenience sake, have assigned meals on the same specific days each week. For example: Macaroni Mondays, Stir-fry Wednesdays, Quick&Easy Fridays. This does not mean that we eat the same food each week on those days. No, there are hundreds of variations of the same meals.

                                                                                                                                                              My husband, for some reason known only to him, recently decided he wants sandwiches on Sunday nights. So that's what we'll do from now on, or until he has another bright idea. Therefore, tomorrow night we'll have Martin Yan's five-spice pork stir-fry in a ciabatta roll with appropriate condiments, and a salad. I really couldn't care less because I know that whatever it is we'll like it since I'm the one deciding. LOL

                                                                                                                                                              1. Here's what happens:

                                                                                                                                                                Wednesday: I start asking my son and husband what we all want for dinner next week. I get blank stares and mumbles.

                                                                                                                                                                Thursday: See Wednesday

                                                                                                                                                                Friday: I start a list of any staples we need, coffee creamer, milk, rye bread, yogurt, eggs etc. I look at the sale circular that starts Sunday and begin to make suggestions, "chicken breast is on sale, how about whatever?" I am now looking on CH or other food blogs for ideas for meals.

                                                                                                                                                                Saturday: I threaten the men that tomorrow is food shopping day and we only have 3 meals planned out of 6. My son declares he cannot eat another meal based on ground beef, which is my desperate fallback when I run out of meal ideas. Luckily, it is Lent so Fridays become pizza day. Saturday meals we usually wing it.

                                                                                                                                                                Sunday morning: I complain we only have 5 meals planned and begin to throw out wild suggestions. My husband says whatever is fine with him and my son says he will just eat frozen pizza if he doesn't like what we are having. I write ground beef on my list.

                                                                                                                                                                Sunday afternoon: My hubs and I go food shopping, fighting the hoards also shopping on the first day of the sale. We do this because otherwise our Shop Rite will not have restocked sale items on any other day, which screws up planned meals. Also because I live in a "resort area" if you try to shop during the week the bennies will have wiped out many items (Seasonal).

                                                                                                                                                                My list is written in the order of the store aisles. If I ever lose my vision, I could still shop with no problem as long as they don't renovate.

                                                                                                                                                                I absolutely use recipes for new ideas. Meals in my old rotation, meatloaf, pork chops, tacos, breaded chicken cutlet, I no longer need recipes for.

                                                                                                                                                                I will propose pad thai today!

                                                                                                                                                                5 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                                                                      Our "ground beef" equivalent is a rotisserie chicken. Eaten hot the day I buy it, remainder stripped from bones and half ot that usually becomes chicken-salad and the rest is frozen and used later in a casserole, salad or soup.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: MidwesternerTT

                                                                                                                                                                        That is a great idea. I would love to have chicken as my fall back. I love, love, love chicken salads! Unfortunately, my son only eats breasts, no chix salad and none of us like the rotisserie chicken from our supermarket. Costco, otoh, full of salty goodness!

                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                                                                        me too (lol at "write ground beef")

                                                                                                                                                                    2. My wife and I plan for 7 or 8 days at a time. We have a grocery delivery service that we use that's awesome. So we start by planning dinners based on anything we have that needs to be used, prioritizing the stuff that would go off soonest. We have built out several dinners we like based on various ingredients (example: fish tacos and salmon cakes both go with sides that use fresh green cabbage as the main vegetable) so that we can use various ingredients without having to repeat the same exact meal week to week. We also have standard go to meals when one or both of us is working later (which happens a lot). So spaghetti and meatballs (frozen meatballs and previously made or jarred sauce) and enchiladas (which has the benefit of making freezable leftovers for both lunch and a later, toss it in the oven dinner). We plan out the meals, then fill in the shopping list from that. Add in our staples (coffee stuff, coffee, juice, bread, citrus...) and that's the deal.

                                                                                                                                                                      We usually do one new dish a week although it's almost always a rif on something like a chicken stew or gumbo or something like that.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. I live 20 miles away from my preferred grocery stores and hate to make extra trips into town, so I plan out of necessity. I do my shopping on Tuesday evenings, while my boyfriend is in class. We carpool, so I'm stuck there anyway, and this way he doesn't have to trudge around the store with me.

                                                                                                                                                                        I do my menus a week at a time (using Pepperplate), with Wednesday being the start of a week. I try to get it all figured out on Monday, as this is also the day that I'm finalizing the produce orders at work; that way I can make sure I order extra of things I want. This week I came home with two lovely savoy cabbages, one of which will be dinner tonight.

                                                                                                                                                                        Anyway. I am by no means a meal planning master. I would say about 50% of my meals go as planned. A lot of times they get pushed back a night (I'm tired/have a headache, meat didn't thaw as quickly as I'd hoped) or they never get made at all (roasted chicken for tonight got booted in favor of a cabbage saute with pasta). I try to plan to use up perishables like cream and wine, but I still end up throwing too much away. :/

                                                                                                                                                                        One of the major flaws in my plans right now is that almost every recipe is a new dish. I have such a hard time doing repeats, even if it's something I love. I'd say only 2 or 3 meals each month are something I've made before. I'm trying to get to a place where only one (MAYBE two) recipes a week are a new adventure.

                                                                                                                                                                        35 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Kontxesi

                                                                                                                                                                          Wow, thanks for the recommendation for the Pepperplate Planner. I keep a weekly spreadsheet of meal plans linked with the Google spreadsheet of my current pantry and freezer stocks. I have used Pepperplate to store recipes but never noticed the Planner feature. My current method is OK, but this is so much easier. It's soothing to my very organization driven soul.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                                                                                                                            Yeah, I was using Excel before. Pepperplate is much simpler. :) Plus, I can access it on my phone in case I forget what i'm doing.

                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: Kontxesi

                                                                                                                                                                            Oh -- I recently discovered that you can freeze cream! I was tired of it always going bad, I figured popping it in the freezer couldn't be worse than pouring it down the drain. I froze it in 1/4 cup increments and the frozen cream seems to work fine for soups, sauces and mashed potatoes. Since I never seem to use much at a time, this was a good solution for me.

                                                                                                                                                                            For white wine -- try dry vermouth instead. A good quality bottle (like noilly prat) is inexpensive, the flavor and quality are totally consistent from bottle to bottle, and it keeps forever in the pantry.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Westminstress

                                                                                                                                                                              I always keep a bottle each of $2 buck chuck (TJ's wine) in my cupboard for using in recipes. I like it better than the vermouth, and it is so inexpensive, it is hard to complain if a little goes to waste.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                                                                                We don't drink, but I like to cook with wine, so I buy the 4 packs of little individual serving size bottles (like the kind they serve on airplanes) of red or white at the grocery store.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Michelle

                                                                                                                                                                                  We do drink but I still buy these because they're often perfect for a recipe and I don't have to pilfer the stuff my wife likes for a sauce. :)

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Michelle

                                                                                                                                                                                    Same situation, same solution. I still can't finish one of those little bottles most of the time, though!

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Kontxesi

                                                                                                                                                                                      I just tried freezing and using wine cubes this week and it was great.

                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: Westminstress

                                                                                                                                                                                  Cream, buttermilk and ricotta all freeze well enough to add to a casserole dish or baked goods. My freezer is FULL of tiny little cups of this and that: tomato paste, chipotle pepper with adobo, you name it!

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: coll

                                                                                                                                                                                    I froze some tomato paste at the recommendation of someone here, which was a revelation. I hadn't done cream, though, so I might have to do that.

                                                                                                                                                                                    I've seen people freeze wine in ice cube trays. I've been meaning to do that, but I don't have trays! I'll need to get some.... I get the little four packs of small bottles of wine, so that helps me reduce waste a bit.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Kontxesi

                                                                                                                                                                                      I started buying tomato paste in a tube and never looked back - it is good until it's gone.

                                                                                                                                                                                      About ice cube trays. I like silicone baby food trays much better. They are easy to store and have lids. Also very easy to empty - just push on the soft bottom and the cube comes out.

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: herby

                                                                                                                                                                                        Tube tomato paste is handy but costs 6-8 times as much as canned. I freeze canned in small jars but others freeze dollops on an oiled tray, then put the frozen splooshes in a baggie.

                                                                                                                                                                                        No ice cube trays? Use styrofoam or plastic egg cartons to freeze wine and other liquids, pop them out into baggies.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: greygarious

                                                                                                                                                                                          My local cheap-o store has the usual imported tomato paste in a tube for $3 next week. 4 z which I believe is the size of a can? No thanks, I'll stick with canned for 50 cents, and freeze the leftovers.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                                And #10 too but what does that have to do with the paste?

                                                                                                                                                                                              2. re: greygarious

                                                                                                                                                                                                Thanks, still lots cheaper though. I do buy anchovy paste and wasabi paste in tubes, but tomato paste isn't as hard to find luckily.

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: greygarious

                                                                                                                                                                                              I freeze tomato paste wrapped in plastic wrap like cookie dough. When you need some, slice off a "coin" and throw it in the pot. A log about 1" diameter means 1/2" slices are about 1 T.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: truman

                                                                                                                                                                                                Smart idea - thanks for the details.

                                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: coll

                                                                                                                                                                                          I keep chipotles in adobo for months in the fridge.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                            I often keep them for a few weeks to a month as well. I give them a sniff and a visual inspection and if they seem good they go into dinner.

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: delys77

                                                                                                                                                                                              If they grow "stuff' then out they go, but I've not had that happen.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                                I've had some in the fridge for probably 6 months and they're fine but my fridge is pretty cold.

                                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                              And mine have gotten moldy after that length of time, so into the freezer they go. And before you say it, yes my fridge is at the correct temp.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                                I puree the chipotles in adobo and then freeze it like that. can just lop off a little bit to put in a recipe.

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: ccbweb

                                                                                                                                                                                                  I used to freeze them individually on a baking sheet with a dollop of the sauce but now I just remove them to a jar and I'm good to go. My fridge is at 38.

                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                                  They do seem to last forever. I try not to go more than 3-4 weeks. I need to freeze though.

                                                                                                                                                                                              2. re: Westminstress

                                                                                                                                                                                                Actually, according to the spirits board, vermouth doesn't keep forever. Months. No more.

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                                  good to know. i've never had a problem -- maybe mine doesn't last that long! we have a lot of white wine around too but if it's good i'd rather drink it and if it's bad, sometimes it introduces off flavors i don''t like. i've recently switched back to vermouth and so far i prefer it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Westminstress

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Vermouth is fine in the fridge for an extended time, especially when used for cooking. Only oxidizes badly at room temp, but that begins the minute you open it. It will last way longer than white wine, since it's fortified.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    I find my French vermouth to be longer lived than some others, which is why I choose it. I do go through a couple of bottles at the least per year though.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                                        I've taken plenty of college level classes in beverage, but thank you for the thought.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: coll

                                                                                                                                                                                                        I agree coll, I leave vermouth open much longer than is recommended, and it's always fine for cooking. I find it really convenient to have around for when you need a little splash of alcohol for a recipe. It may not be the best vermouth it can be at that point, but it's always just perfect for my recipe.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                                      This business about vermouth not keeping is surprising. I'm trying to figure out if it just never stays in our kitchen that long or if I just don't notice.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                                                                                        I keep vermouth in the fridge for as long as the bottle lasts. Make martinis for people with it and no one ever complained. It is possible that my friends and I have very poor palate and therefore do not know better. I recently run out and just bought a new bottle; tastes the same to me as the old one did :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                2. I tried to plan each meal for a week and it was very stressful. I was going to the store a lot, wasting lots of food, time, and money and still buying lunches, which are expensive here.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Now, i do this instead:

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Buy meat in bulk from farms: side a beef, side a pork, lamb, chickens, frozen wild caught fish from costco

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Friday night - produce shopping

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Saturday: Making broth and having a nice dinner as I have time to cook

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Sunday morning: cooking spree. I cook several items that can last 3-4 days and prep veggies (lettuce ready to be used in salads, tomatoes, cumbers, etc washed, celery and carrots pre-cut for the week, etc)

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Normally I have these guidelines
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Soup (large pot that lasts a week)
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Beef or pork dish (a large roast or stew)
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Chicken dish (roasted, fried, rotisserie)
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Fish dish on Fridays (no leftovers needed for lunch)
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Roasted veggies
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Some sort of dip with veggies
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Grain (quinoa, rice, lentils, etc)
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Boil eggs for breakfast / snacks / salads

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Then, during the week I just reheat, add fresh green salads or open a pickled goodie, pack lunch. This way I can shop and cook once a week and have my nights fairly free. Plus I save money by not going to the store every second day and not eating out a lot :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                  19 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Allenkii

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Allenkil, your plan is reminiscent of Tamar Adler's approach from An Everlasting Meal. I try to adhere to this approach as well, doing the heavy lifting when time allows, using and repurposing leftovers so they spill over into the rest of the week's meals and school lunches, and having a good pantry available for quick meals, but it sounds like you have made it a ritual. This is my goal.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Oh, really? I didn't realize this. I was just so tired of
                                                                                                                                                                                                      a. spending too much on eating out.
                                                                                                                                                                                                      b. wasting time to stop at the store on almost a daily basis (not talking about buying not needed groceries and having lots of waste)
                                                                                                                                                                                                      and c. never having free nights as I was cooking every

                                                                                                                                                                                                      I have been doing this for a little over a month now and it works great! I am definitely going to continue with this approach.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      For example, yesterday I cooked:
                                                                                                                                                                                                      - bean / split pee soup with a ham bone and beef
                                                                                                                                                                                                      - beef, potato, sweet potato stew
                                                                                                                                                                                                      - marinated chicken (hubby has a day off today so he will roast it by the time i get home. really - he needs to put it into the oven)
                                                                                                                                                                                                      - boiled quinoa and rice
                                                                                                                                                                                                      - pre-washed everything for salad
                                                                                                                                                                                                      - pre-cut celery, carrots, cucumbers and made hummus for snacks
                                                                                                                                                                                                      -made and frozen bunch of cookie dough
                                                                                                                                                                                                      Since we are going to eat beef stew and chicken for rest of the week, for dinner yesterday I grilled some pork chops with salad and home made bread and on Saturday we had some fish :) So, we still get variety, but I also get free time, and extra $ :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Of course, as it stops snowing here, my stews will be replaced by stakes and BBQs, including steaks than need marinating - flank, skirt. I can marinate beef on Sunday for later in the week, same with chicken :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: Allenkii

                                                                                                                                                                                                        How long does your Sunday morning cooking spree take?

                                                                                                                                                                                                        I don't know why, but for some reason your "fish dish on Fridays" seems like a revelation to me. Mostly because of your point about leftovers. A meal of seafood is going to require a trip to the fishmonger anyway--why not make it Friday?

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Also, I know this is a dumb question, (but that's never stopped me from asking before) but do you know of any reliable rules of thumb on defrosting times for frozen meats? I swear they always take longer to defrost than I think they should.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        ~TDQ

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                          It largely depends on what I am cooking that Sunday and how helpful my husband is being (sometimes he helps me cook, other times he cleans), but usually I am done cooking and my kitchen is clean again by 1-1:30 at latest. I sleep till 8 or so on weekend and then have my coffee and “breakfast” while I cook :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                          The key for me is to start with clean and uncluttered kitchen. We have also invested in expensive knifes, enough pots and pans and I have a ton of prep space, so I can space out and cook several items simultaneously. Last week, for example, I was done by noon and I was all alone in the kitchen (well, my dog and TV :)). Yesterday, my husband put the pre-marinated (or brained to be more precise) into the oven, and while it was cooking, I have vacuumed, dusted, de cluttered around the house – its great!

                                                                                                                                                                                                          I do fish on Friday as I don’t like having fish leftovers and I would never bring fish for lunch to work (scared for my life lol)

                                                                                                                                                                                                          I usually defrost the meat that I need for my stock on Saturday on Friday night. I just leave it in the sink overnight and make stock next morning. And on Saturday night I will pull meat from freezer that I am cooking with on Sunday and leave it in my sink. It usually is defrosted and still cold in the morning.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Allenkii

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Much the same as my routine. It helps to have a well laid out kitchen with ample room.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Allenkii

                                                                                                                                                                                                                I use leftover fish in a tuna salad equivalent. Never heated.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Really? Can you elaborate...I'm intrigued but not sure how to proceed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Well, let's say I have a little leftover cod. I'll break/flake it into smallish chunks, mix in a little mayo, a dot of mustard, small squeeze of lemon/lime juice, a few capers if I'm feeling wild and crazy and, voila, I have "tish salad" for a sandwich or a salad.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I do the same with salmon, cod, etc. Also good as a fish cake.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: herby

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I'll have to try this technique. Thanks for sharing, both of you.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Actually it's NOTHING like TISH salad :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Ok, now I have to ask...what is Tish salad? Tuna fish salad maybe?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: dkennedy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              The "T" and the "F" sit right beside each other :) But for economy of words I like that :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    How are you defrosting? Most things I can take out the night before and put into the fridge to thaw and they will be ready to heat the next night. Very large items like a whole chicken (not leftover) is an exception.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: melpy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I usually plan 2 days to defrost but my fridge is cold. If I'm home I just leave the meat out, usually on a cast iron pan.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. I work almost full time and have two small kids so I try to do all my weekly grocery shop in one go - ergo, menu planning. I keep it easy on weeknights and splash out on weekends. But yes, with the time and the books and the ipad and the ...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  One thing I try to do is have one or two nights a week where what I'm cooking isn't super perishable. Like tonight's dinner - eggs sardou - was on the menu last week and didn't get made for a variety of reasons, but the artichoke bottoms are canned, the spinach is frozen, and I always have eggs. And another night is some frozen fish I never defrosted (I didn't feel like cooking a lot last week.)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. 2 full time working adults. I do the planning, he helps with cooking. I do fairly thorough menu planning. Allowing that we'll probably eat out one dinner per week or have a night that we need to use unexpected leftovers, I usually plan for 3 meals, making each last 2 nights. Lunches are usually either sandwiches like tuna salad or simple vegetarian grain salads. I have eat your books and use evernote for recipes not indexed there.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    We do grocery shopping once per week, our preferred store is a 10 minute drive and carries almost everything. We have a tiny grocery downstairs, plus several international groceries near our work or home where we can go mid-week if we have to.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    A trick that I've been using for a couple months now is mostly monocultural eating in a given week. We really like exploring and new recipes, and doing this has made it faster and more economical to do it. For example, we ate 2 Pakistani and 1 South Indian meal last week, this coming week is Japanese. I enjoy the challenge of making multiple nutritionally balanced meals in a week from the same cuisine. It tends to reduce food waste, as well.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. Since I cook with a lot of French influence, I try and keep on hand the base ingredients for Escoffier's mother sauces. Lots of homemade stock in my freezer.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Depending on what vegetables I have fresh and available, or herbs (e.g. dill, tarragon, chives, etc.), I will formulate a dish with the protein added on as an after-thought based on cooking technique (e.g. braising, searing, etc.).