Wednesday, August 27, 2014

While I Always Make a Meal Plan, and Why I Almost Never Follow It 100%

My meal planning style is pretty much pantry principle rather than plan a week and shop for what you need, but I still make a weekly meal plan. For me, waiting until the night before to decide what to make might work, but I am a planner so I like a little more organization than that.

What I don't do is shop weekly or base meals off of sales flyers; the basis of our meals is legumes and grains and those are purchased in bulk and stored in my pantry. We don't eat meat, fish, dairy, or eggs so I don't have to worry about sales on those food items. I cook from scratch; a loss leader sale on boxed macaroni and cheese or canned soup means nothing to me. Once a month I make sure I have all the pantry and freezer staples (oils, sweeteners, grains, legumes, seeds, yeast, baking powder, spices, herbs, frozen fruits and vegetables, dates, etc.) I will need for the month and order or buy what I am low on. I buy basic and loss leader produce every two weeks or so and use those to round out our meals

For planning, I make a master main meal menu and then I customize it for each week.  Right now the master plan looks like this:

Pinto Beans, Brown Basmati Rice, Vegetable

Legumes, Grain, Vegetable

Burritos (Homemade Tortillas)


Pinto or Black Beans, Cornbread Muffins, Vegetable

Use It Up

Pizza or French Toast

Sundays are my personal rest day; I do the basic tidying chores (bed making, etc.) but don't do laundry and don't cook a labor intensive meal. The beans are made in the pressure cooker, the rice in a rice maker, and the vegetables are a mashed avocado and either a cabbage salad or a seasonal vegetable that has been prepped ahead of time.

Mondays are the day I plan to use the various legumes I have in the pantry that are NOT pinto beans. I might make mujadara, split pea soup or a bean soup, baked beans, a legume based casserole, etc.

Tuesdays I plan on burritos because my family loves them and I am working my way through 25# of einkorn flour so I need to make tortillas regularly. I use planned over beans and rice from Sunday.

Wednesdays I reserve for making something that isn't part of our weekly repertoire; it might be a brand new recipe or a favorite meal that doesn't appear that often. For example, if potatoes were cheap at the last grocery shopping I might make Indian spiced potatoes served with rice and dal. I call this our Variety day.

Thursdays I make beans again, pinto or black, and cornmeal muffins so I can make sure I am getting through my bulk popcorn bucket.

Fridays are my Use It Up Day. I check for leftovers that might need to be used, refrigerator items nearing their expiration dates, and pantry items that have been languishing uneaten.

Saturdays we either make pizza as a family, or I make French toast with leftover bread from the week.

Here is an actual weekly menu:

Pinto Beans, Brown Basmati Rice, Cabbage Salad

Mujadara, Sautéed Zucchini, Green Salad

Bean Burritos with Mexican Rice and Sautéed Mexican Squash and Onions

Scrambled Tofu, Field Roast Sausages, Breakfast Potatoes, Sautéed Zucchini
(The tofu and sausages were at their expiration dates)

Pinto Beans, Cornbread Muffins, Roasted Carrots

Miso Soup, Soba Noodles, Cucumber Salad
(Using soba noodles that have been in the pantry and the sale cucumbers I bought)

(The guys weren't home at main meal time, and we attended a party that evening)

It might look like the schedule is set in stone, but since it is pantry based I can be very flexible. If Thursday is a bean day but I see too many unused leftovers I can change the menu on the spot without worrying that anything will go bad. I still decide the night before what the vegetable will be for the next day's meal, checking the produce we have to see what might need to be eaten soonest; I might plan for sautéed cabbage but then see that the zucchini is getting soft, so we'll eat that instead.

I do change the master menu, usually seasonally. For example, in the cooler months there is always a soup night. If I notice the family fatiguing on a meal I will swap it out for something else; recently we all got tired of pasta every week so that has moved into my Variety category. I added the second bean night with cornbread muffins after I did the math to figure out how much popcorn to use weekly and realized I wasn't going to get it used up if I didn't bake a corn-based bread weekly.

I don't bother planning more than a week at a time (I have in the past) because there are too many variables involved and I would inevitably be changing the plan. A week at a time works best for me :)

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