Thursday, February 13, 2014

pay day and meal planning

Today is the day before payday. For me, it is a chance to look through the pantry and refrigerator and get organized for the coming week. I am not a naturally organized person; however, over years of planning events, working as a floral designer, catering parties, and cooking for my family I have learned to be. There was simply no other choice!

For me, being organized means sitting down with pad of paper, a pencil, and a very large cup of tea, and making a meal plan and a couple lists. I know that life is going to throw every possible curve ball at me, but starting out organized only helps me keep all those balls in the air and still achieve some of my healthy and lifestyle goals.

I begin by writing the days of the week in the margins of a legal pad, leaving enough space to have separate lines for each meal. I also make a note of any events, birthdays, appointments, etc in the margin underneath the date. I proceed by jotting down the number of people I’m feeding at each meal, so I know how much food to purchase, or thaw, or pull out of the pantry.   

On a separate piece of paper I make a list of anything I have in the pantry or refrigerator that really needs to be used before it goes off. On the same page I note any dishes my family has requested, any dishes I might like to attempt, and dishes that utilize the ingredients from the first list that need to be used before they are no longer viable.

On a third piece of paper, I start a grocery list for the items I will need to complete those meals.

Now that I know who I’m feeding, when, and what I already have in the house, I can plan my week. I put meals that create other meals (leftovers) in the early part of the week, and use those leftovers later in the week. I try have a variety of meals in my plan, not only to serve a balance diet to my family but to avoid fatigue: no one actually wants to each chicken every night of the week.  I also use every resource I have to keep things fresh for me, and the people I’m feeding. I pull recipes from on-line sources, cook books, and favorite stand-bys to keep things interesting. As I make my meal plan, I also jot a note of the source of a recipe, for example: Marrakesh Stew – Martha Stewart “Meatless,” Pg 104. This way I don’t have to remember what book that recipe was in, or flip frantically through the book looking for the right page.

As I go, I scratch off the recipe ideas and ingredients from my list of what I have in the cupboard and fridge, and write anything I need on the grocery list. I also jot a note beside each ingredient if I purchase it from a particular vendor, it is on sale this week, or I have a coupon for that item. 

When I’m all done, I take all three of these lists to the store with me. Using this paper extension of my brain, I can then be flexible to what is available at the store, and what is out of stock. I can also accommodate last minute requests such as my husband saying, “beans are on sale this week, we haven’t had chili in a long time, I’d really like some chili,” which, of course, never happens... 

I can, and probably will, prattle on endlessly about the importance of being organized in the kitchen. Whether you are a home cook or a professional, I truly believe it will make you a happier and a better cook. 

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