Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Part 3, Lesson 1: Menu Planning

Part 1: "I Don't Have Time to Cook"
Lesson 1: Menu Planning

You know it and I know it: menu planning prevents convenience food.  It's hard not to order pizza when you don't have any fresh food in the house.  If you take some time once a week/fortnight/month to plan your meals and have a shopping list ready to go, you'll really have no excuse besides laziness to open that can of Chef Boyardee.

As you have probably gathered from the weekly master files, my particular approach to meal planning is pretty nerdy.  I use a spreadsheet so I can easily sort my shopping list by day, type, ingredient, or whatever.  Back before we got our groceries delivered I would sort by type so it would make it easier and faster to find everything in the store.  I hate grocery stores, so if I could shave a few minutes off here and there by not bouncing from aisle to aisle, I did.  You sure don't have to use my spreadsheet, or any sort of prefabricated meal planning tool at all.  A pen and a piece of paper work just fine for some people.  If you do want to try out some other meal planners, there are a ton of them if you know where to look.

For the sake of example, let me tell you how I do it.  I use Google Docs to store all my recipes.  As I come across new and interesting recipes throughout the day, they get added immediately.  I try to keep everything labeled according to cuisine and some meal types like soups, salads, sandwiches, and sides.  I'm not so good at keeping up with that, but I've got about 85% of my recipes categorized that way.  Here's an example recipe.  You'll notice at the bottom of the recipe there is a spreadsheet that corresponds with my meal plan's shopping list tab.  So all I have to do is copy and paste that part.  I add these inline spreadsheets as I use recipes so the next time I use them it saves me a ton of work.

Your "Usuals"
Here's an example of a meal plan we used in May.  It was the week of the Kentucky Derby, hence the terribly unhealthy meal on Saturday.  It was delicious.  Anyway, if you scroll over you'll see that the last tab is called "usuals."  We eat homemade pizza and spaghetti a lot in our house.  They're our go-to lazy meals.  They're prepped and ready to be copied and pasted into the shopping list tab.  I encourage you to come up with your own "usuals."  If you've got a few of these in your back pocket and implement a weekly "usuals" night, that's one less meal you have to plan.  It's a huge load off my mind knowing that Thursday or Friday is usually spaghetti night.  We used to have enchilada night too, but that made us fat.

If you look at the "Month" tab (whoops, I guess I didn't update this one for May) you can see how I can take the sting out of a month's worth of meals.  If I have an outline of what I'm going to plan, I can look in Google Docs for a salad recipe one night, something Korean the next, and then a soup, all I have to do is fill in a couple blanks.

This all makes sense to my mind and I'm sure it's on the top end of control-freakiness.  So take whatever parts of this that are useful to you and come up with your own solution.

Planning Snacks
If you're trying to watch your weight, take the time to plan your snacks too. 

If All Else Fails
Copy someone else.

Your homework:
Choose a meal plan template that works for you.  Plan a week's worth of dinners and make a shopping list to go with it. 

Extra Credit:
Plan out all your breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks for a week.

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