Friday, January 6, 2012

Planning meals

I recently received a call from my girlfriend.  She has been following my blog and commented that I have such an easy time with cooking.  She continued on to say that she has a very hard time planning meals, grocery shopping, and finding meals that her picky boyfriend will eat.  She works full time and has an amazingly adorable nine month old monster of her own.  She asked for my advice on how I get it all done.  I realized that this is probably a common problem for many women.  Therefore, it became an inspiration for a post.
1.  I do one BIG grocery shopping trip a month.  I try to hit it on a week that our local store has a lot of basic necessities on sale and combine it with as many coupons as I can.  I will even buy items that I get good deals on, that I don’t normally cook with.  I use this opportunity to stock up on a variety of proteins (usually bulk boneless chicken breasts, pork chops, and ground turkey), veggies that have a fairly long shelf life (root, frozen, canned veggies, tomato sauces, etc), pastas, rices, shredded cheese, and cooking/baking necessities (flour, sugar, corn meal, stocks, etc).  I try to buy one or two specialty items that will last a while too – that way every time you shop, you build up your supplies (i.e. stone ground mustard, a bottle of red wine, cider vinegar, spices).
Staples I always have a stock of: Bisquick, Italian dressing, dry soup or dressing mixes, plain canned tomato sauce, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, bread crumbs, frozen corn, one bottle each of red wine and a dry white, beef stock, chicken stock, carrots, potatoes, onions, canned beans (kidney, black, and cannellini) chicken, pork, ground turkey, a variety of spices and spice blends, olive oil, flour, sugar, eggs, cornmeal, Pillsbury pie crust, taco seasoning packets, tortillas, and low fat shredded cheese.  With these things you can pretty much make anything.
2.  I take one night on a week or weekend and plan 3-4 meals.  I make sure that these are meals that will have leftovers that can be eaten as is or repurposed into something else (i.e. extra cooked chicken breasts make great chicken salad sandwiches the next day, or you can slice it up and put it on a fresh salad the next night), that way you don’t have to put a lot of time cooking time consuming meals every night.  Also, take advantage of your time, if you are in the kitchen cooking and have already made the mess, cook extra – make mashed potatoes as a side one night, but make enough so you can use it to make Shepherd’s Pie the next night (again, a cheap, easy dish – ground meat, corn, and mashed taters), if you are baking chicken, you might as well cook more than you will need for the recipe, you can use baked chicken for just about anything).  I usually write these on a list on the fridge so I remember what I am going to make.
3.  Once I have all my meals planned, I sometimes need some fresh veggies or fruits.  As these don’t have a long shelf life, I have a tendency to swing into the grocery store or local farm stand to grab these so I don’t have veggies rotting away and getting tossed (wasteful of food and money).
4.  Cook your meals!
5.  Optional – if I am in the mood and have a content/sleeping baby or Red is home, I will go on a day long cooking spree and throw stuff in the freezer.  In my experience, pasta dishes freeze the best (usually lasagna), many soups, stews, and chilis freeze well too.  Also, remember that meat can be frozen once it is cooked.  I’ll bake extra chicken and throw it in the freezer as well.  Just remember to seal your food with as little air in the package as possible.  If you have a vacuum sealer, whip it out, it will extend the amount of time something can live in the frozen north. 
I would like to add that cooking does come easy to me, NOW.  I never helped my mom cook dinners when I was younger and have just put in the time to learn how to cook.  If I’m bored, I read cookbooks or peruse the internet for recipes and ideas.  Also, I love to watch the Food Network.  I spend a lot of time in the kitchen and trying new recipes that are out of my comfort zone.  Hey, everyone screws things up once in a while, and I can honestly say that I have thrown plenty of meals away that just came out horrible.  Don’t be afraid to experiment!
Happy cooking!


  1. Great tips! I'm trying to do more "freezer cooking" or something along those lines. I just recently bought a vacuum sealer and have been using it like crazy! This past weekend I took some time to portion out some chicken and meat and mixed up some cooking soups and spices in a freezer bag to use on days I want a crock pot meal. Hopefully those will come out good, we'll see. And if they do, I'll blog about it! :)