#The100DayProject: The Real Meal Plan (or How to Create the No Food Waste Puzzle)

Did you miss me?  Despite my NON-posting the last few weeks (oops!), I have still been incorporating the “no food waste” mantra in a lot of my meal planning.  Today, I decided I needed to at least check in and show you what my typical set-up is – don’t worry it isn’t fancy and I don’t have any fancy photo shot with perfect lighting and arrangement.  Actually I kind of just held up my camera and snapped it…

Real Deal Set-up for Menu PlanningI do this to show a real and honest side to what I’m doing and show this isn’t fancy or rocket science.  And this is typical Lots of lists, books, scribbles, and more lists.  My husband REALLY loves when I do this at our kitchen table – I usually try to do it when he is in semester fun and doesn’t mind the “creative energy/aka mess.”

So what is in my (ahem) “Creative Energy” Pile?

  • Cookbooks

You will see a good variety here in the photo and it does change a lot. You will see I have the trendy “local” ( The Grit Cookbook), wishful thinking (Julia Child), and a reliable soldier (BH&G Cookbook – 1960 edition).  You will also see a Publix mag/flyer which I use for culling up those mini side recipes or inspiration of the moment when my brain hurts (and I am procrastinating!), plus my Ball Blue Book of Preserving. (more on that one later).  I trade out these each week if possible for variety.

I love my cookbooks and despite the digital age, I have a TON by most standards.  They are housed on two bookshelves in my kitchen.  TWO.  I used to have an entire bookcase but after a while I realized I was housing cookbooks and they looked real pretty, and pretty dusty.  So I started marking when I used a cookbook and at the end of a few months looked to see WHAT i actually used as “go-to’s.”  Before you start hyperventilating, I didn’t THROW any of them away that weren’t used.  In some cases I had maybe one or two recipes I used in the big volumes so I copied those into one of those “fill your own recipes” spirals they sell and consolidated down the dinosaurs on the shelves and the many slips and photocopies that would fly out of my pages or off shelves.  The ones I had a bunch of recipes used, I kept on the shelves.  AND for those I was “safe-keeping” (hoarding!) and wasn’t using I passed on to other cookbook loving friends, family, and “new generations.”  Now, I still do keep a few that are treasures including a Golden Book from 1950 and a Disney Cookbook received on a WDW trip back in the ’90s.  You’d be surprised the good recipes you can find in a kid’s cookbook – I still use a french toast, vegetable soup, and banana bread recipe from kid’s easy cookbooks.  Now I’m not digging for recipes and have them on-hand.  My “most-loved” is on my cookbook stand in the kitchen, Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.  It is a COOKING BIBLE.  I use it when I’m confused about a process or just need reassurance, or a “save my sanity” last minute dinner recipe when an ingredient is missing, or I MAYBE messed up planning.  It happens.

  • Ball Blue Book of Preserving

I’ve included this b/c I’ve just recently gotten over my fear/phobia (is that a thing?) of canning/preserving.  Not sure why I was so freaked out – exploding jars, messed up processing, messy prep, swift timed steps?  Yeah, that gets the procrastinator in me bookmarking recipes and “how-tos” obsessively and a husband that likes to point out the MANY beautiful canning jars I own.  So what? I collect mason jars in multiple sizes.  It’s my thing.  But when the hubs was recently on a gig weekend, I buckled down and made myself get through a recipe and it WORKED!  Nothing huge, strawberry orange preserves but it worked and now I have pretty jars of goodness.  So I’m keeping this book with me, especially as the garden is growing.  (Yahoo!)

  • My lists – shopping, substitutes, extras, ingredients, freezer/pantry stock, meal plan, scratch

Yes, those are a lot of lists.  In case you haven’t noticed, I love to plan.  And make lists. OF other lists.  It is a weird obsession, I get it.  Don’t hate.  However, I do actually use these lists and they have been responsible for keeping my own plan in check, and relieving having too much extra food shopping or WASTE.

Shopping list is a no-brainer.  Our process here in the hacienda is the item is first written on a small magnetic whiteboard with the reminder, If Not Written Down, You Don’t Get it. Then transferred to the shopping list I use.  This was a big step for us in marital communication.  It used to be I kept a shopping list on the fridge, but the hubs didn’t ever want to mess up my meticulous plan and often I would forget or not be aware we ran out.  Not easy when you arrive home with all the grocery bags and someone says, hey, don’t we have those pita chips/hummus/tuna/apples? It used to get me so unnerved after I had successfully planned the shopping and we were MISSING something 5 minutes after I walked in the door.  Ugh. This process takes care of if you have a fave thing run out, you use this.  Think of this as my original Amazon Dash. LOL.  It works b/c when I start the planning, first I check the board and transfer what we need – or even better, know it is on sale or coupon – to the main list. If not transferred, it remains.  Once the item is shopped, it is wiped off the board.  I got tired of cramming everything on a small note pad or sticky notes, and losing items or losing it in my purse.  Yeah…. Instead, I found ONE list I liked when I was doing a photo order, and got this personalized one for free.  Now, that may seem goofy and trite but for someone who loves the planning it is nice to have a fun shopping pad to list on.  It is the little things.  Plus, my handwriting is actually legible, which makes it easier when I am at the grocery store. For instance, Navy Jeans, is clearly now Navy Beans.

Extras/Substitutes. When I started the food waste/meal plan process with the project, I started including a new list – my “Extras, Substitute” list.  This is good when I find a cool recipe and work on using what I DO have and if not, it goes on the extra list.  After sitting there, if I can’t live without the ingredient or item, I’ll add it.  But this way I really have to consider it.  It stays with my meal plan stuff and is often crossed out and re-written on but so vital now.

Meal Plan/Freezer-Pantry Stock Lists.  These are my workhorses.  They stick together and I use them most.  I now list ALL my relevant freezer items/pantry stock on a sticky pad which attached to my meal plan.  It has a lot of writing and crossing but I keep myself on track AND have cut back on lots of my extra items/spending.  This list stays at home. I used to take it with me, but one time I accidentally lost it on my grocery run and thought I would have a fit right there in the Kroger aisle.  My grocery list and coupons in envelope are the only items that go to the store with me.  Not even my coupon holder.  I found I was buying more “matching” everything in the categories b/c it was expiring! No need for that, if I need it, it goes in with me and I use it.  If not, I either file back in the envelope for the holder OR leave for another consumer near the product.  But the menu plan is on a magnetic clip and that goes on the fridge.  Sometimes it includes an ingredient and prep – that helps the husband out and he now knows and does prep stuff to make dinner easier to get on the table.  Especially if I leave late or get stuck in commuter traffic.

Online. I will still use Pinterest and look up a lot of my recipes on-line.  However, this ended up taking more time – you know how you can lost pinning…And I was pinning more than I was planning.  Not good when you are limited on time already.  I now set the timer, review and get my planning done within an hour.  My goal is to get recipes on the chart for the WEEK.  If I feel like overachieving I can do a month or a few weeks.  But the ONE WEEK is the achievable goal.  And not only am I not food-wasting, I’m not time-wasting.  Some people may use all online to streamline, I just found I was wasting time that I could be doing something ELSE.

For some, this is WAY too much time.  However, I find the meal planning therapeutic and enjoyable.  Just like reading a real book, the cookbooks really get my brain waves popping.  I’m not a gourmet cook, but since I have a better process in place I’m more apt to try a new recipe or technique.  I do a lot of choices so the husband can get in on it – I keep it simple.  I like the planning, he hates it.  However, he has even started tagging a few nights for his own creations.  I love those nights.  AND we’re not spending to go out b/c I know very few people who LOVE to come home and announce WHAT CAN I CREATE WITH THESE THREE INGREDIENTS?  We’re not Bobby Flay, or the Iron Chef.  My brain hurts from decisions or meetings, I’m not trying out for the Food Network, just trying to get a good meal on the table.

How do YOU plan out your process?  Any tips or best practices you use?  Please share below, I’m always looking to make it easier.  Bon Appetit!



One Comment Add yours

  1. Nathalie says:

    I’m like you when it comes to planning and also canning… I have the Ball’s canning book and I tried to make orange marmalade from the oranges that grew it my backyard for the first time this year (it wasn’t a Ball recipe, though). That actually worked pretty well. But then I tried to make grapefruit marmalade and it was a total fail. I haven’t tried canning again since. Sigh. I ought to. I use my dehydrator a lot, instead.

    My planning process has changed. I used to look up recipes in my many cookbooks and binders (I clip or print lots of recipes and file them in binders by main ingredient such as “beef”, “pork”, seafood”, “veggies”, etc.) and then I’d buy what I needed for the recipes. I found that I spent way too much money that way.

    Nowadays, I get free cooking magazines from the library’s donation pile and clip recipes (even though I have tons of them in the cookbooks and the binders already!) while I’m exercising on my recumbent bike. Then I look through all the clippings for something that I’m interested in cooking, but I shop my pantry, freezer and garden first and I substitute ingredients for things that I already have. This has saved me tons of money since I’m well stocked and I buy items when they’re on sale, not when I need them for a recipe. So I use chicken drumsticks instead of chicken breast meat, regular pasta instead of egg noodles, etc. Most of the time, it works out perfectly.

    I keep my shopping list in a spreadsheet on Google Drive. That way if I forget to print it, I can access it from my phone. My family is trained to tell me when they’ve used up something so I just jot it down on my list since I’m on my laptop a lot (if not, I just ask them to email me from their phone so I don’t forget to add it to my list). I also only shop once a week so I ask them if they need anything specific the night before. My spreadsheet helps me a lot because I also input the prices (I also keep a price book in Google Drive since I shop at several stores) and the coupons/rebates that I expect to be using. This way, I make sure that my shopping will hit as close to the $50 a week that I allow myself for food items.

    The most important thing is to find a system that works for your family. My system has evolved a lot throughout the years. When the kids were younger and we had more of them at home, I just kept a list on the fridge and everyone added to it. I just didn’t have the time to type it up! But then I also went to the supermarket every morning. Yikes! I’m glad those days are over!

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