Well, ONE of the “food posts,” anyway! Lord knows I have enough of them . . .
Geosomin asked the other day how I plan my meals. Because I am a type-A, super-anal-retentive person, I put in a little MORE effort in the beginning, so that I could put in LESS effort overall. First, I got myself a black binder and some sheet protectors. Then I made an Excel sheet with all the days on it, like this:
(Those colums are labeled Meals, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Thurs-Sun are on the next page. And the rows are AM Snack, Breakfast, Coffee, Lunch, Snack, Dinner, Snack.)
Then I bought a wet-erase marker:
THEN I put the Excel sheets into the sheet protector and filled in the blanks (right on the sheet protector) with the wet-erase marker (which really DOES erase with a wet cloth, but it stains, so I use a paper towel). And then it looks like this:
Or in close up:
(The numbers are estimated calories, based on the ingredients I’m using.)
So there’s that. Then there’s the actual, week-to-week “how.” For that, I did some prep work too, I can’t lie. Over the course of a month or so, I kept a running list of things I used ALL THE TIME. I based mine off of the list in Rachael Ray’s Express Lane Meals (go ahead, laugh – her food tastes GOOD and it’s easy to put together), because it was really similar to what I already tended to use. I made some adjustments over a month or so, deleting some of her stuff (I DO NOT NEED 5 pounds of rice on hand at any given time, ok?) and adding stuff of my own (because sun-dried tomatoes are a necessity in my house).
THEN. (And you can just start here, but it’s easier if you have a place to write the meals down and an idea of what’s in your fridge.)
Every week, I peruse a cookbook or two. I just flip through, looking for recipes where I already have most of the ingredients, and those are the ones I pick. (Note: if I’m running low on staples and I know that this week’s grocery trip will be pricey, I start with the sale flyers. I pick the cheapest stuff, and then go straight to the indexes in my cookbooks to find what I can make with whatever’s on sale. That takes more time, but it definitely saves money.) I usually pick out 2 recipes – I’m just feeding me, and most recipes serve 4-6, so that’s plenty to get me through a week. If you’re feeding more people, you’ll need more recipes – or you’ll need to make double the amount of fewer recipes.
I fill out my sheet protector/Excel sheet with what meals I’ll eat when, and add in snacks (so that I know if I need to pick THOSE up at the market), and then list out what I need at the market based on the recipes I’ve chosen. I do all my cooking on Sundays, and just put everything in the fridge and live on leftovers all week. *shrugs* It’s getting a system started that’s the hard part. Once you’re rolling, it’s pretty easy.
I will issue one caveat: the less money you have, the more time-consuming it gets. When I have disposable income, I don’t have to worry so much (although I will always shop sales/coupons/store brands when given half a chance), but when I’m really broke, I track everything down to the penny to figure out how to get the most nutrition for my buck. So just be aware of that.
Also, if you’re into coupons (or if you just really like saving money), you should check out the Coupon Mom. That website tracks not only the advertised sales for grocery stores (and Wal-Mart and Target), but also the UNADVERTISED ones, as well as the coupons from your local Sunday circulars. So you’ll see an unadvertised listing for yogurt, and then next to it will be a note advising that there was a coupon in last week’s circular. You’d be STUNNED what you can buy for super-cheap. Just FYI.
WHEW. So there’s that: one part planning for nutrition, one part planning for money. 😉
As far as Chinese soup goes (which Charlotte asked for), there are two versions. This one takes a little longer, but it’s the “official” version, and honestly, it still takes almost no time (although sometimes I swap out ingredients: baby bok choy instead of spinach, shrimp or tofu instead of chicken – or no meat at all – whatever I have on hand goes in the soup). When I can’t even bring myself to do that though, I make the one below. There are no measurements, because I just start adding things, tasting as I go. Sometimes I like it spicy, sometimes I like it mild. Sometimes saltier, sometimes less salty. Since it changes, I just wing it every time, and it’s never quite the same.
Beef broth (or beef-flavored veggie broth, but the beef flavoring is important – it’ll be 90% of the flavor in the soup)
Nonstick spray or canola oil
Handful of chopped onion (I use frozen)
Udon noodles (optional – if I don’t have any, I just skip it)
Baby Bok Choy – the “baby” part is important (optional – if I don’t have any, I just skip it. Yes, sometimes I just eat/drink spiced broth. Leave me alone.)
Sesame oil (optional, but SO GOOD)
Hot sauce if you feel like it
In a pan, saute the onions in the oil or nonstick spray. Add everything except sesame oil, hot sauce, noodles and bok choy and heat through.
While that’s heating, wash the baby bok choy – don’t chop it, just hold the little heads under running water and separate the bases with your fingers to get the dirt out. Add noodles, and cook them right in the broth. (Um. This only works if you’re going to eat the whole pot right away. Otherwise you need to cook the noodles separately or they’ll get soggy.) When the noodles are ALMOST cooked, add the baby bok choy. Just grab the little heads and tear them right into the pot with your hands. Cook until the baby bok choy is wilted and the noodles are done.
Drip a little sesame oil into each bowl, and add hot sauce. (optional – you know the drill.)
Try not to burn yourself when you slurp that down, ok? 😉