Sexy reader Nyrd06 writes,
"exactly when do you plan your meals? do you plan a week's worth the weekend before? or do you plan for two weeks? I'm curious because I'm looking for more efficient strategies/ routines for planning my meals. It's been especially hard lately because I've been busy this semester plus my dorm this year (and thus the kitchen) is not nearly as big as the one I had last year..."
Well, I typically spend 30 minutes to an hour on a Saturday or Sunday deciding what it is I want to make for the upcoming week. My final choice is a function of what we have in the 'fridge, what I'm craving, what the weather is like, whether I feel fat or not (don't laugh...this actually does play a part), what I think I can find at the local markets, which cookbook I've been reading, what I've recently seen on TV, what friends have suggested...etc. I'll generally have two index cards with shopping lists. There's usually one ingredient which might be hard to find so, if I can't find that ingredient, I have another shopping list for a different dish. Kind of anal but it's saved me on many an occasion.
I do almost all of my cooking on weekends because I have next to no time on weekday nights. I get off work around 6, grab a bus home and get back around 7. I go running most weeknights so there's another 40 minutes. I really don't have the time to go grocery shopping and cook. I need cooked meals already in the fridge.
Let's talk about how I planned for this week's meals: On Saturday, I purchased some apples at the farmers' market. I decided to cook something with those apples. I'm awful at dessert so I needed something simple...so, voila, apple crumble. That part was easy.
For the savory component of the upcoming week's meals, I peeked in the fridge. We had somewhere around 40 eggs, all nearing expiration, so I decided that I needed to do something with eggs. A frittata popped into my mind. My usual frittata recipe involves onions, potatoes and cheese. Eggs=breakfast=sausage so I decided to toss in some pork sausages. I used a combination of breakfast links and mild Italian sausage.
Frittata, even a 14 egg frittata is only going to get me through 6 meals (breakfast and dinner Monday-Wednesday...I eat lunch in the office cafeteria). I knew I needed four more meals so I kept that in mind while on my grocery shopping trip. While at the butcher, I saw some good looking steak on sale. In addition, it was still in the vacuum bag so it would last longer than an unwrapped steak. I talked to the butcher and he said that the steak would be fine until Wednesday night. Great, so I can finish the frittata on Wednesday night, cook the steak, and be set for Thursday and Friday. I need something to eat with steak so I grabbed some salad greens/lettuce. I get a little bored of rice so I grabbed some whole wheat lavash. A ha. An idea...sliced, grilled steak, lettuce...I'll make steak wraps for Thursday and Friday. Done. So, I've got dessert for the week, frittata for the first three days and steak wraps for the last two. Not a bad plan.
I find that stews, soups, braises etc. also work really well for this kind of schedule. Not only are they super convenient (just pair them with the starch of your choice), they actually taste better the longer they sit (up to a certain point...don't be an idiot about it). I guess this is why I make so many chicken curries...they're affordable, go great with rice and work well on my schedule. Also, hearty soup, bread and side salad is a fine meal although I don't do that as often.
Thinking ahead and going grocery shopping with a general plan is absolutely key. I'm definitely not one of those people who goes to the store with an open mind. Nope. If I see a great sale or an ingredient which looks especially good, I'll find a way to fit it in but I generally know exactly what I'm cooking before I go shopping. Just think about your schedule and what you can do with it. Hope this helps.