Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Works for Me Wednesdays: Menu Planning for the Consistency Impaired
I always vowed I would not use menu plans, because a) how boring it would be to have it all set down what you would eat three Thursdays from now, and b) it's not as frugal (supposedly) as just shopping from the sales and cooking with what you have.
Sometime after D2 was born, however, my entire food-planning brain fried. I bought things that rotted in the fridge, and then didn't have the right ingredients to make anything I could think of to make. I started cooking too late in the day. I knew I needed to have something written down in advance or supper simply wasn't going to happen.
I finally realized something. Pretty much everything I buy falls into one of three categories: a) It never comes on sale, or doesn't come on as often as I need it (milk, eggs, certain health-food stuff); b) It can be bought in large quantities and stored or frozen when it's on sale (meat, cheese, bread, canned goods--the big-ticket stuff); or c) Something in the same general category comes on sale every week (produce). So menu-planning doesn't have to keep me from shopping the sales.
I sat down and wrote out a four-week plan of our favorite meals. I try to have most of them fit into what I call the "pot-and-a-bowl" category: a pot of main dish and a bowl of salad make a balanced meal. At most, I have to fix biscuits or rice on the side. This cuts down on dishes. Only the "pot" category is written down. I can then adapt the "bowl" in accordance with which produce was on sale this week.
I also wrote two overlapping menu plans, one for hot weather and one for cold weather, using the same basic ingredients. Thus on the day we would have white chicken chili if it was cold, I make a white bean and chicken salad if it's hot. This allows me to adapt to unexpected changes in the weather. And if I just can't stand the thought of what's on the menu, I have enough slack from stuff already stored to fix something else.
Now I only shop the sales for things I will actually use, and I hardly ever forget to take something out of the freezer in time to thaw. There's enough flexibility that I don't get bored. And supper actually gets to the table on time.