Meal Planning…and my love-hate for it

Are you a meal planner? Is your grocery list organized by store aisle? Do you even make a grocery list? Do you already know what you are going to have for dinner this Thursday night?

I have dreams in which breakfast, lunch and dinner are all planned for 7 days at a time. In which everything I need for all of those meals – 21 of them…more like 30 if you include kids’ snacks and a dessert in there somewhere – is all neatly organized in my kitchen and waiting to be turned into a Rockwellesque dinner around our table.  You heard the part about “dreams,” right?

In that dream I also have a pantry that looks like this.

And a freezer that looks like this.

In reality, I feel like I go to the grocery store every other day and still manage to stand in my kitchen and not have the things I need to make whatever it is I’m throwing together at the last minute. And these are meals that will most likely be eaten by the boys at the senior-citizen dinner hour while they watch Phineas & Ferb, and then something else I come up with eaten by me and my husband when he gets home from work much later. There’s nothing Norman Rockwell about it. Well, except for how cute my boys are, of course. 😉

And in reality my freezer looks like this:

And my pantry looks like this:

But every once in awhile I say, “OK, I’m going to actually put together a full menu plan for the week and only buy those things at the store and not go to the store again for the week and not order out.” I did that today. The impending start-of-school tends to send me into a panicked flurry of wishful organizational dreams. There’s just something about clean, crisp, empty composition notebooks that make me so optimistic about the possibilities.

And today I was once again reminded of one of the many reasons I always feel compelled to be more disciplined about meal planning. I left the store having spent almost exactly the same amount of money I normally spend, but instead of coming home and wondering what we were going to eat for dinner for the week, I have multiple full meal options. I even managed to plan reasonable dinners for the three nights of the week I won’t be home. Why don’t I always do this?

It’s a mystery.

Well, it’s not entirely a mystery. It takes a nice little chunk of uninterrupted time to sit down and plan out the week, the meals, gather the recipes, make the shopping list. I realize it is an investment of time and, in the long run, a huge time-saver, money-saver, stress-saver. But this is the biggest reason I get lazy about meal planning, says the world-class procrastinator. It’s a really lame excuse.

So in an attempt to hold myself accountable to my menu plan…and maybe inspire some planning support out there (hello?) ….here’s the weekly dinner plan:

MondayPan “fried” catfish fillets with jalapeño tarter sauce, roasted corn and candied-bacon green beans

Tuesday40 Garlic Chicken with mashed potatoes, a green salad and baguette (a crock pot meal because it is a support group night)

WednesdayShrimp Étouffée with orange-ginger green beans (something I can quickly cook and leave for the boys before I’m off to see evening clients)

ThursdayPot Roast with roasted carrots/potatoes and a salad (a dinner that can cook all afternoon and be ready when we all get home from “Meet the Teacher” night)

Also enough stuff for a carpet picnic or two, Noodley and the makings for spring rolls with peanut sauce for the weekend.

Of course I’ll be doing my best to post recipes  for the dishes that aren’t here yet. I must admit I was surprised to see that I have never posted a pot roast…it’s only one of my husband’s very favorite things in the world to eat. (UPDATE) In fact, it is in the menu plan at his request (along with the crock pot chicken and the Noodley.) Isn’t that nice of me to let him have a say?

Here’s two fun resources for menu planning assistance:

Eat Your Books – a truly genius website that lets you search YOUR OWN COOKBOOKS!! How many times have you thought, “Hmmm, I think I have a recipe for that….in one of my cookbooks. I wonder which one?” I love this site and have recently added most of my library to my account. In fact, just today I bookmarked several recipes from one of my cookbooks (that I haven’t looked at in years) as possibilities for next week’s menu plan. Isn’t that optimistic of me? And when I did a quick search for “shrimp” I was surprised to learn I had more than 200 shrimp recipes in my very own shelves. I am definitely not utilizing my own library of culinary resources – I hope this site will help me change that because I LOVE my cookbooks!  (And if you are like my Facebook friends you are currently formulating a Forrest Gump joke at my disbelief that one could do so many things to a shrimp!)

Menu Planning Monday – from I’m An Organizing Junkie.  This is a great place to start and get on-going inspiration for incorporating menu planning into your routine. She swears it changed her life and can change yours, too. (I’m saying this to myself right now. Looking right into the mirror. Wondering why I never listen to me.)

Signing out and launching into my fully meal-planned week. Wish me luck!  (And please share tips, tidbits and resources if you are an experienced meal planner…or would like to become one!)

UPDATED:

From Facebook friends and others…some meal planning resources:

I forgot to mention this previous service which I used and liked a lot –  Relish!Relish!  Another friend uses this service from The Six O’clock Scramble. And Amy from Living Locurto has 24 weekly meal plans with grocery lists in free printable form.

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Another Condiment Intervention?

So last month I was surprised to discover that practically every fruit was represented in jam or jelly form on my refrigerator door.  This past week, this happened:

I had some rice sticks, veggies and pork…and I was thinking, “Thai? Indian? Asian? Hmmm let me rummage around a bit and see what we have…”

This discovery didn’t really make it any easier to decide. I could actually have Thai. Or Indian. Or Chinese. Or Teriyaki. Thanks pantry, that’s helpful.

This is largely due to the fact that my pantry does NOT look like this.

I settled on the Pad Thai sauce…it’s the dish I probably crave most since leaving Seattle. Or maybe it’s pho. No, it’s probably Copper River salmon. Well, anyway, Pad Thai is definitely up there on the list of things I miss. So much so that one of my dearest friends actually sent me this care package several months ago:

Which explains where one of the sauces came from. Now if only I could come up with a justification for the other 53 bottles.

I suppose I should post the pad thai recipe…I made it back in September when I got this package. I’ve been holding out on you. But right now, I have to go clean out the pantry before I’m subjected to another intervention.

Food to Share

I realized today I haven’t really posted any recipes in awhile – even though I’ve been cooking a lot. It hasn’t just been crackers and baby food around here lately! I guess I haven’t given them much thought because I’m doing a lot of simple, easy-to-share recipes…most of which are also easy-to-freeze.

NOT my freezer. But when I dream about being organized, this is what my freezer yearns to look like!

My grandmother has been having some health concerns lately and, as a way to remove some of her daily chores, my mother and aunts and I are taking turns at providing meals for her. So, I’ve pulled out my I-need-to-take-something-to-my-friend-who-just-had-a-baby/friend-who-is-sick/friend-who-just-planned-a-funeral list of recipes. This is a great list to have on hand and, in my dreams where my freezer looks like that picture, I also have one or two of these meals in there ready to be delivered at any given moment.  (Take just a second to laugh with me at such aspiration.)

In my real life, I frantically throw together one of these recipes for my own starving family and put two portions aside for my grandmother (or double it to freeze or take to a friend.)

Containers from French Bull - so cute!

In my imaginary world with my organized, always-stocked freezer, I also deliver my culinary gifts in these cute, non-plastic containers.  A girl can dream, right?

So here’s the first of my Freezer-Friendly New Baby/Sick Friend recipes. Now, these recipes aren’t about fancy-schmancy techniques or elaborate presentation…they are meant to be crowd-pleasing comfort foods with simple ingredients that appeal to a broad spectrum of people.  You probably already make your own version of most of them. And a side benefit is you are likely to have all but a few of the ingredients on-hand at any given time. This is true even if your pantry doesn’t look like my imaginary dream pantry featured here:

So far, this recipe has been my grandmother’s favorite…for whatever that is worth!

Chicken Spaghetti via The Pioneer Woman

(and if you don’t know who the Pioneer Woman is…well, I’m not sure I know what to say about that.)

photo from the Pioneer Woman
Ingredients
  • 2 cups Cooked Chicken
  • 3 cups Dry Spaghetti, Broken Into Two Inch Pieces
  • 2 cans Cream Of Mushroom Soup
  • 2 cups Grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • ¼ cups Finely Diced Green Pepper
  • ¼ cups Finely Diced Onion
  • 1 jar (4 Ounce) Diced Pimentos, Drained
  • 2 cups Reserved Chicken Broth From Pot
  • 1 teaspoon Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
  • ⅛ teaspoons (to 1/4 Teaspoon) Cayenne Pepper
  • Salt And Pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup Additional Grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese
Preparation Instructions

Cook 1 cut up fryer and pick out the meat to make two cups. Cook spaghetti in same chicken broth until al dente. Do not overcook. When spaghetti is cooked, combine with remaining ingredients except additional 1 cup sharp cheddar.

Place mixture in casserole pan and top with remaining sharp cheddar. Cover and freeze up to six months, cover and refrigerate up to two days, or bake immediately: 350 degrees for 45 minutes until bubbly. (If the cheese on top starts to get too cooked, cover with foil).

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More freezer-friendly, easy-to-share recipes coming right up.  Stay tuned. I’ll be organizing my freezer.