Iain and I have a good thing going with our meal planning these days and I’d like to start sharing our weekly menus with you each Monday. I’d like to introduce the thought processes and general formula we follow when making our menus before sharing our menus with you. Meal planning is an excellent tool for those seeking to eat more sustainable, locally, economically, and seasonally. Typically, sometime over the weekend we plan the meals out for each week, checking out the pantry, “cellar”, freezer, and garden first to see what is available, and then sitting down with cookbooks and planning the weeks meals. Then we do grocery shopping for anything we don’t already have.
IT TAKES PLANNING – Meal planning prevents that ‘oh no, I’m hungry and don’t have anything in the house to eat’ problem. It keeps us on track eating fresh, local, seasonal, and homemade food. Without meal planning we find it way too easy to find ourselves tired and hungry and suddenly fast food, take-out, or going to a restaurant has way more appeal than it normally would. Going out for food is never as fresh, rarely is it local or ethical, therefore it’s often not seasonal, and it’s usually not nearly as healthy and good for you as a home cooked meal. And, it’s dang expensive too! Iain and I feel that meals out should be a special, deliberate treat, not a rushed decision made at the last minute.
MEAT – As far as meat goes, in the winter we eat out of our freezer. We never buy meat from the grocery store anymore (and we’re saving tons of money by doing that). We have most of half of a pig in the freezer from our pig we slaughtered in the beginning of December. We froze some chickens from the farm Iain works on so we’d have chicken over the winter. We bought an eighth of a cow back in the late summer for our beef supply. Occasionally we’ll have duck from the farm, lamb if we can find a whole one from a local farm we’ll keep in the freezer, and sometimes other things too.
SUNDAYS – Sunday nights are becoming a bit of a ritual for us: it’s always a roast of some sort – roast chicken, beef, pork, lamb, duck, venison, maybe rabbit in the near future. We serve it with some sort of seasonal veg, so these days it’s things like sweet potatoes, winter squash, fennel, kale, potatoes, beets, parsnips, carrots, leeks, cabbage etc. Generally, when we’re cooking our fresh seasonal veg we like to keep it quick and easy, often roasting the veg in the oven alongside the meat, sometimes even in the same pan (which means fewer dirty dishes, yay!). Greens we’ll either blanch and serve with a vinaigrette dressing – an idea we read in Jamie’s Italy – or we’ll saute them on the stove. Usually we’ll have leftovers from this meal, particularly meat, which we try to incorporate into other meals in our week.
We also try to do most of our cooking on Sundays, so that during the busy week, composing healthy, local, and fresh meals is an easy, relaxing activity instead of a stressful, harried task.
LEFTOVERS – Whatever aversion to them you might have, let me spread the good news: leftovers are your friend! Cook once eat twice (or thrice… or more!). They can have a rerun on your plate, or you can remix them into another dish, either way, leftovers are awesome and should not be ignored. Just think of them as already prepared ingredients. Heck, people pay loads of money for pre-cooked roasted chicken pieces in the deli section, and they’re basically just leftovers from a roasted chicken.
Finally, we plan new recipes or more complex meals for days when we have plenty of time for them. We enjoy cooking, and we both feel like cooking should be a joy, so we plan fun and challenging cooking almost as a leisure sport. (I only wish I enjoyed washing the dishes afterward as a leisure sport)
Do you already do meal planning? If not, I would encourage you to try it out.