I don’t know about you, but I collect recipes. From magazines. From cookbooks. On line. Anyplace I find something that sounds good I either print it out, rip it out, or more likely now, scan it and save in a computer file. I had 4 4″ notebooks at one point, and decided it took up too much space, hence the technology to file and save.
The problem is, I can’t always remember where I saw a recipe in a book or magazine. There have been times I spent 30-40 minutes paging through a stack of magazines looking for something I remembered seeing.
So I have two ways now to keep better track of recipes, and more importantly, to try them. And I stay more organized for meal planning for the week or month. I tend to write out the menu in my trusty notebook that is always with me – write in pencil so you can modify! Sometimes I also add it to my google calendar on line so I can check it while I am at the store.
The first way to organize recipes for a menu plan
I am not always great at planning out meals for a week, or even a month, but when I am in the right mood, I sit down with my trusty calendar and all those recipes I printed out, tore out of magazines, or have filed away. I try to aim for 2 chicken meals per week, 2 fish /seafood meals per week, one beef, and one pork. The 7th day can be leftovers, a pasta or meatless meal, or even a “just because I feel like having it” meal.
Put all the recipes to try into a folder, and mark each with the date you plan to make it. Put them in chronological order.
I try to make the long cooking, braising, simmering meals on the weekend or a day when I know I won’t be out working.
The Second way
I am doing this version for the month of December. Any of you who follow or go back through my columns know I love my cast iron. So for this month, I decided to take two of my favorite cast iron cook books – the new Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook and the Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook – go through page by page and pick out the recipes I wanted to try, and fill in my cooking calendar. Be sure to mark down the page number and book name! Experience tells me if I don’t do this I will still be hunting for it.
I now have menu ideas for the whole month, trying the things I have wanted to make. I fill in with some family favorites.
Meal planning does a few things for me:
- On a really busy day I don’t stand in front of the refrigerator or freezer and say what can I make tonight? I often forget to defrost meat in time to use it. Those nights are the times I fall back on a meal I have frozen and put away, some meat for hot sandwiches and gravy, or something boxed that I bought.
- In the morning or the night before I can glance at my menu plan and take out whatever i need for the next day form the freezer.
- A plan helps me shop. I usually buy meat on sale or in large economy packages. I divide and freeze in portions. So I will always have chicken, fish and some beef in the freezer. If I know I plan on having a pork shoulder later in the month, I will look for one on sale when I shop, and then put it away in the freezer until I need it. If I see a sale on shrimp, I might buy a couple frozen bags and store them away, and keep it in mind when I plan for the next month.
- I shop every 2 weeks or so – a quick glance at the menu reminds me of a vegetable, canned item or other ingredient that I need to get fresh for the week. I often note on my calendar a specialty item I will need to remember to get for a specific meal.
- A menu also allows me to plan when I know I will be busy. I can get enough ground beef to make two lasagna’s and freeze one to use in 4 or 5 weeks ( see Fox Pines Lasagna recipe), and then on a particularly busy day just pull it out and reheat in the oven. Or make a meal in the slow cooker that will be ready when we walk in the door tonight
- I get out of the rut of making the same things over and over again. I read once that many family meal plans rotate around the same meals every week. I need more variety than that.
- I can learn a new cooking skill or technique that I haven’t done before
- we eat healthier when I have time to plan – no more KFC on the way home (or at least not as often).
- With a meal plan, I use up leftover before they succumb to freezer burn – turkey from Thanksgiving can make a potpie or soup, on night and left over pork roast becomes shredded pork quesadillas next week – you get the idea.
You can keep a list of thee meals your family loves, and rotate them in with new meal ideas. If you actually want to plan out menus a couple months at a time, this will help you remember to include the things your family already likes and will want to eat occasionally.
I like this time to meal plan. I usually do it when the house it quiet, and I am by myself. A cup a coffee, my calendar, and my books or sheets of recipes is all I need. It’s the perfect excuse to sit in the sun at my kitchen island. And I know I won’t be stressing out after an 8 or 9 hour day next week.
Keep those meal calendars and mark which things were great and cross off those you will not make again. Next month, you may have one of those recipes you want to rotate in again.
How do you plan meals, and does this affect how you shop? Or do you shop and then plan to use what you bought? Or maybe a combination?