Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Another Official Post

I'm renewing my love of meal planning and once every week or two cooking. Frankly, once a month cooking has never really worked for me, and I'm OK with that. I know Gabriella used to do Freezer Food Friday, so her blog is a great place for some recipe's and ideas to get your juices flowing. I'll post a couple recipe links, but today, I'm going to focus on my method:

Break it down: Think of your month in terms of weeks. A week is really just 5 days. 5 big meals for each day of the work/school week, one day to eat left-over’s and one day to cook what you’re “in the mood” for. The beauty of creating a meal plan, is that you can re-use it indefinitely! The biggest tip I can give you is to get in a routine. Try to plan your menu, shop, and prepare foods at the same time each day, week and month. I usually don't worry too much about lunches. I buy sandwich stuff, keep mac and cheese on hand and occasionally make up a batch of chicken salad people can use during the week. Lunch kind of falls into place around here.

Get the right tools: You will need:
3X5 index cards
Zip-lock Bags, every size from Sandwich to 2 Gallon.
Sharpie Marker
Tin Foil
Waxed Paper
Sharp knives
At least two cutting boards
Large pans/platters

Get a game plan!
Start with a clean kitchen. Always. If your kitchen sink is full of dishes, you will not feel like cooking and adding to the mess. Once you have a clean work area, drag out your calendar, pen, 3X5 cards and recipe box. Sit down and give yourself plenty of room. Look at your month and see where events like birthdays, late meetings and unusual circumstances fall. I recommend planning at least a week at a time, the more planning you do, the less time you’ll spend overall.

GO!: On each card, list a dish you’d like to serve for breakfast, and a meal you’d like to serve for dinner. Keep in mind your calendar needs, and realize that we are going to prepare dinner once, maybe twice, a week! The only meals you’ll make during the week will be breakfasts. For your dinners, focus on meals that will freeze and reheat well. This isn’t as difficult as it sounds. Marinated meats are a staple in our household.

Make up about 14 cards with breakfast/dinner combinations to start. As you go, use one card to make your shopping list for purchasing the groceries you’ll need.

Stick to the plan!: Whether you plan to cook and shop weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, it pays to have at least one month worth of completed index cards. Even if you choose to go to once a month cooking, it will still payoff to spend 20-30 min each week making sure your plan is in order and you have everything on hand that you need. During your planning session, once you have several cards made up, all you have to do is re-mix the cards and you have a brand new menu!

When it’s time to go to the store, start with a clean fridge and pantry. I usually try to plan my shopping day so that I can do the bulk of my prep work when I put the groceries away. Before I leave for the store, I set up several work area’s with the recipes and equipment I’ll need when I get back, and I make sure I will have room in my fridge and freezer to store them. When I return from the store, the meats are placed in one area, the dairy products put away and I prepare the meat dishes before I put them in the fridge or freezer. I don’t always cook each one, marinated meats are dumped in a pan or put on the grill the night they are served, mini meat loaves and stuffed chicken and pork chops are individually frozen, uncooked, on waxed paper in jelly roll pans, then transferred to ziplock bags until the night before they are needed. If I make dishes where the meat is in sauce or might not freeze well, I will go ahead and cook them, then store them in ziplock bags in the fridge, and just use them early during the week.

Some recipe's to get you started:

Salisbury Steak I make this into meatballs and cook before freezing or refrigerating.
Stuffed Chicken CutletsThe dark horse I didn't expect the family to go nuts over. These are SOOOOOO good.
Pamela on Recipe Zaar Has a bunch of recipe's for OAMC, the chicken cutlets came from her, and we also loved the Honey Glazed Dump chicken.
Amish Baked Oatmeal Don't forget breakfast! I make this with regular oats instead of quick, use 25% less sugar than called for, double the amount and cook overnight on low in the crock pot. To die for. My kids think it's dessert.

1 comment:

Gabriela said...

Oooo, thanks! I love new recipes.

And, I admire all moms that cook breakfast. My kids get toast, cereal, or instant oatmeal for breakfast.

(thanks for the plug too! once I stop hating food, grocery stores, cookbooks, my kitchen, etc. I will post some more recipes. That may not be until March though at the rate I'm going.)