On Meal Planning

I've been meal planning, pretty consistently, since the beginning of October. Each Monday I start a thread in the Loving Food, Sharing Recipes group on BlogHer and invite people to share what they are making that week while I tell them what I'm making.

I've flirted with meal planning off and on for a few years. I can be a moody eater. Why would I want to decide on Sunday what I'm going to eat on Friday. That made no sense to me. How did I know what I wanted to eat?

I started off doing a three day plan. Then a five day plan. Now we do a seven day plan. I don't think I'll ever get to a two week plan. We're just busy enough, and the schedule changes enough, that if we tried to do that I'd be changing it all the time and it would annoy me. As it is we still fiddle with the meal plan almost every week.

Getting on the path to a seven day meal plan was an adjustment for us, but it works. It works really well.

For some reason I thought that I'd have less variety in my diet if we meal planned. Nope! We're actually planning and making more new recipes than we ever have before. We don't try out new recipes every week, some weeks we don't try out any. Then there are other weeks, like last week, where we try out four.  It's easier because we've planned for them and have all the ingredients on hand.

I'm a recipe hoarder. I have a crazy spreadsheet that is just filled with recipes I want to try. Each week when I make my meal plan I think about what is going on, what we have in the house and what I really want to make. Then I go to the spreadsheet and see if anything on there works with what we have. Sometimes it works. Sometimes I go searching for new recipes based on what we have in stock. Sometimes we eat old favourites. But we always eat well.

Honestly, we've always done pretty well at meals. We eat cook good food. Meal planning has allowed to us to eat even more good food...and to eat it cheaper. We are wasting far less food, we have a plan for our leftovers and our grocery list is actually really small each week. For example, here's this week's meal plan. We just do dinners because lunches are either leftovers (for Lee) or something I pulled from the freezer like soup or bagels (for me).

Monday: Baked ham, scalloped potatoes & green beans

Tuesday: Ham leftovers or ham and potato hash -- we'll be freezing some of our ham leftovers so this is probably the only leftovers meal we'll have besides lunch.

Wednesday: Turkey Pot Pie (based on the chicken pot pie from Owlhaven's Family Feasts for $75 a Week)

Thursday: leftovers or something easy like quesadillas or nachos. It's usually just me home on Thursday nights so I call them my "scrounge nights."

Friday: Pizza...maybe. We have ballet tickets so it needs to be something quick and easy.

Saturday: We have company coming so a bigger meal than we have for just the two of us -- Chile verde, cilantro lime rice (I think...unless I do spanish rice, I'm on the fence on that one), homemade tortillas and some kind of salad or veggies (TBD). Salsa (homemade) and chips for nibbles. Raspberry cake for dessert.

Sunday: leftovers or maybe I'll pull something from the freezer (chicken? pork chops?) if I'm feeling ambitious.

This was was our Sunday grocery list:
1.5 lbs tomatillos
2 poblanos chiles
10lb  bag of potatoes
1L half and half (I ended up buying 5% cream instead)
swiss cheese (ended up buying havarti b/c the store was out of Swiss)
10kg bag of flour (about 22 lbs)

As usual we bought a few extras when we went shopping. Stuff that we were almost out of that we found at a good price (decaf tea, my breakfast cereal, bananas) or stuff that we don't normally see so don't put on the list. For example, I found Cuties at a store and it was the first time I'd seen them in Ottawa. They had a sponsor booth at BlogHer Food '10 and I really liked them. (They happened to make a darned tasty Clementini.) Plus, it's fruit. We always make exceptions for fruit and vegetables. We rarely put them on our list but know that we'll always pick up some fruits and veg. We usually go for whatever is a good price and looks good. Plenty of things look good in the flyer but are iffy in store. We wait until we see what's the there to decide. We also picked up some small cans of tuna for the fake husband to keep at his desk for emergency lunches.

Is that all the groceries we'll buy for the week? No. On Saturday we'll have to run to the store to pick up cilantro. We could have held off on the tomatillos since I don't need them until Saturday but we knew they'd be hard to find, if we could find them at all. As it was it took us an hour and three specialty stores before we found them. They've been roasted and blended and are now frozen and ready for Saturday. We'll need to pick up more milk at some point. And we might need more jalapenos. I have some in the fridge but they may not keep until then.

Our purchased grocery list for the whole week is likely to look like:
1.5 lbs tomatillos
2 poblanos chiles
10lb bag of potatoes
1L 5% cream
200 grams of havarti
10kg bag of flour (about 22 lbs)
Limes (I think we got 6)
Decaf tea
Hot cereal
4L Milk
Jalapenos (maybe)
Tortilla chips (maybe...I think we have enough)
Eggs (again maybe, we're running low but might have enough)

Everything else is coming from our freezer, pantry and fridge.  Did you notice that aside from the cans of tuna there's no meat on here? That's because it's already in our freezer.  I firmly believe in a well-stocked pantry/freezer/fridge. I didn't even really have to buy Havarti or Swiss cheese. I could have used another kind of cheese. We have plenty in our fridge.

More than anything meal planning saves me from standing in front of the fridge at 5pm wondering what the heck I'm going to cook and then kicking myself for not thinking about it earlier and wishing I had taken something out of the freezer. It's just made everything easier... and our bellies very happy.