Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My Menu Planning M.O.

When it comes to menu planning, I am generally pretty organized about the whole affair.

First, I pick out one or two of my cookbooks to pick recipes from. Sometimes I pick out an old favorite book, or other times I'll grab an unused book, or a new purchase! This week, what with family breakfast for easter, I picked out a few more sources than usual.

This week's sources:
Healthy Hedonist (one of my favorite cookbooks)
Healthy Hedonist Holidays (found it at the used bookstore, had never used it before)
Vegetarian Times (special vegan cheese article!)
Olive Trees and Honey (my newest purchase)

I like this system, because it keeps me on top of using my cookbooks, although there are still a few in my library that I almost never use (but refuse to get rid of just yet).

Next, I make a detailed list:
Which item I"m making, and for which days. What cookbook it's from, and what's the page number. List all the ingredients.

Then I go to the fridge and the cupboard and cross off whatever I already have. (Though sometimes I forget this important step, and suddenly I have 3 bags of couscous).

The first shopping trip is to the farmer's market! I do my menu planning on Tuesdays and Fridays, so that I can be all ready for the farmer's markets on Wednesday and Saturday. I buy whatever I can locally at the market, and then I head over to the local health food store. Going to the market twice a week also keeps me up on what's seasonal, and I would say that I buy at least 85% of my produce locally/seasonally. It's always especially exciting when you see the first asparagus, or the first tomatoes (hallelujah!)... but often I make myself wait a week and look up a recipe for that special ingredient, unless it's an easy one to use up.

Last week, with this big shopping list, I needed some specialty items, so I endured the traditional March of the Vegans and went to 4 different grocery stores: Trader Joes for cheap nuts, Specialty Store for candied citron for hot cross buns, Whole Foods to use $10 off coupon, then Local HFS to do the remainder of my shopping! Surely I am not the only foodie vegan to endure this type of shopping marathon.

Moroccan Vegetable Stew with Couscous from Olive Trees and Honey

Next step, come home and do my best to stick to the menu plan! Sometimes I falter, or we decide to go out, or I am too tired to cook, or whatever. Failure to stick to the plan usually results in something slowly rotting in the fridge. Impulse purchases that aren't accounted for in my menu plan usually sit on my cupboard shelf for months. Lately though, I have been reverse engineering a little - looking at what's in my cupboards or freezer, and looking for recipes to use those ingredients before they're unusable.

People are often amazed by my super tidy system, but I find that I waste a lot more food when I don't use this system. So far, I'm not much of an innovator in the kitchen, so sticking to recipes helps me know what I'm buying and why I"m buying it!


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  2. I used to be terrible about menu planning. I'd go to the grocery store (s) and just get whatever looked good with no plan in mind. I did, indeed, waste a lot of food this way. Now, since I am all but unemployed, I shop in my pantry and freezer and pretty much buy only fresh veg/fruit as I need them. I find I am using my cookbooks a lot more and being a lot more creative in the kitchen (of course, I now have a lot more time, as well!) Your system is wonderfully organized. I love lists!!

  3. Anonymous10:48 AM

    Wow, great post! I love organization and not wasting food, so this post makes me very happy. Your list system is much better than mine - I make one long list of ingredients from the recipes that I am going to use, which makes it quicker to shop but sometimes leads to problems. For instance, if I can't find an ingredient, I have to try to recall which recipe it was to determine whether I could substitute something else. I'm going to give your system a try as it seems much better.

    One thing that might be interesting to note for readers is how you incorporate seasonal ingredients in your meal planning. You are very aware of what's in season and pick meals accordingly (such as the asparagus tapenade on this week's menu). It takes some experience to figure that out and also a certain amount of self-restraint. I struggle when I get a new cookbook sometimes and see something really exciting that uses produce that won't be in season for a few months!

    I'm struggling a little bit now that I have a much more productive garden to make sure I don't waste too much food. A few months ago I started an index of ingredients to recipes that I like or want to try, so that I could quickly see what I do with a specific fruit or vegetable. It's quite a bit of work to maintain, though!

    Thanks again, this was a very inspiring post.

    jen e.

  4. I am the same way! I always make out detailed lists and plan my menu to a T. I think it drives my hubby crazy, but when you go to so many grocery stores it's easier to be organized!

  5. Wow, that's awesome

  6. Thanks for the tips! Maybe one of these days I will get organized...

    And I love Olive Trees and Honey- as much for the text and explanations as for the recipes.

  7. Wow, I am in awe of your organization! Maybe it will inspire me to pick up some of your habits.

  8. i like your system. it seems like a good habit to get into.

  9. I tend to plan a few days in advance, but I often buy, then plan. Wednesday is my Farmers Market & Rainbow Grocery day. Trader Joes is nearby, so we walk there, when needed.

  10. Wow I really admire your conviction on this. I have tried to do something similar a few times, but I always end up with way too much food (I guess I should account for leftovers). I'm gonna keep trying though because I am convinced that if I adopt a similar system my life will be easier! I hope!

  11. That indeed is awesomely organized! I really should start meal planning.

  12. Thank you for this post; I really need this to be more organized around meal planning.

    Now, do you have any ideas about how I can get organized in my office?


  13. I've been trying to do something like what you've got going. It really does work, saves money and time.

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  15. I menu plan the opposite of how you do since I'm getting the CSA delivery. I see what I get, then figure out how to use it all up before it goes bad, then shop! It's been an interesting change and I find I don't use cookbooks as much as I used to, but I also feel like I might be experimenting and coming up with new ideas more. And it seems to work for me to go to Whole Foods one week then Trader Joe's and Safeway the next, so I totally hear you about having to go to a bunch of different places.

  16. i used to do menu planning too. i would take out a calendar, and go through my cookbook put the book, and page number on the day (whatever I picked) then write out the ingredients I needed. I tried to keep things different, but the same (ingredient wise). When I was with my partner (long time ago) it worked well, because if i was at work, he could make whatever was on the calendar. it was great. so i didnt get the ... i dont know what to make.. i just say. look at the calendar! haha

  17. Good planning tips. I've hit three stores/markets in one day, but I don't know about four!

  18. Allison9:03 PM

    I stumbled onto your blog 3 days ago (now, I can't even remember how. ha) I have now read through all the posts back to the beginning. You have such a wonderful blog and such an inspiring lifestyle. I found many similarities looking through all of your posts. I discovered the farmers markets here in San Diego almost a year ago now and Sundays at the Hillcrest market is my favorite day of the week. I inevitably come home with more food than I can possibly eat and my boyfriend doesn't really like fruit or vegetables other than bananas and broccoli. I have recently decided to go vegan and your blog is such an inspiration. Thank you so much and I can't wait to see what's next!

  19. I love sitting down with a few cookbooks and planning meals. It's so fun!


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