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Friday, October 03, 2008

meal planning for the uninitiated

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Now that I'm adjusted (okay, adjusting) to life with a wee munchkin, I find I get quite a few comments about the fact that I still find the time to cook. And people wonder how it is possible to cook with a little one.

Or just how it's possible to get organized to cook in general.

For me, there are a number of key contributors to any success I may have....some are relevant to those with munchkins, and some are just more generally relevant...

1) I have a pretty easygoing baby. She does fuss, but overall, I'm not sleep deprived, she's not colicky and overall, things are pretty smooth.

2) I have a ridiculously awesome soon as he gets home, he makes a beeline for Lil Z and I'm free to make dinner while he and she get caught up.

3) When I'm on the ball, I plan my meals.

The last point is the most generally important one. The most enthusiastic would-be cook would balk if coming home to barren, uninspired cupboards. Meal planning is awesome in so many ways. First, if you're into trying new stuff, it gives you a chance to regiment your sense of adventure and ensure you always get to try something new and fun. Second, it saves you wicked amounts of time at the grocery store - you've got a list, you go in, you get 'er done. Third, you save tons of money! You don't buy too many things that don't get used up, you don't order in because you're just too despairing to cook and you don't end up eating as much cruddy processed food.

I've tried to convert the uninitiated, but people always seem to balk at the idea...I've heard people argue that they don't always know what they want to eat on a given night, or that it seems complicated.

And I'm here to assure you that it's totally not that complicated. So we'll go through what I am hoping to do this week, will all be witness to any success or failure I might have because this is real-time meals folks. All I've done so far is make my list.

My recipes are chosen for taste, speed and healthfulness. :)

How to plan your meals:

1. Pick your grocery store of choice. Ideally, it will be a cheap store. Sure,they aren't as pretty and they don't put your crap in bags...but when you're saving upwards of 30-40% on your grocery bill, you can suck it up.

2. Check out your grocery store's flyer. Canadians, a great site is Flyer Mall, but nearly every grocery store has a website where you can peruse. IGNORE the crap they put in the flyer (usually 80% of it is junk food or processed food). Ferret out the veggies, fruits, meats (if you eat them) and dairy products on sale. Make note of ones you like that are on sale (i.e., potatoes, chicken breasts, whatever). Write down a couple of them, especially if it's a really good sale.

This week, at my cheap store, 10 pound bags of potatoes and carrots are on sale, as well as hot house tomatoes and boneless pork loin. Cool.

3. Pick up a favourite recipe book. You all know my absolute fave (Eat Shrink and Be Merry), but I have a number of other trusty standards - Cooking to Beat the Clock, Better Homes and Gardens, etc. There is any number of cookbooks out there with quick recipes - 30 minute meals (Rachael Ray), Cooking for the Rushed (Sandi Richards), etc. Get yourself a quick and easy book to start with.

4. Go through the book and pick out 4-5 dinner recipes for the week. Generally, we like to aim for variety - one night meat, one seafood, one veg, one chicken, etc. Obviously you don't HAVE to pick from a book - you may have a favourite blog (like mine!) where you've taken note of some recipes (take a look at recipes I've tagged as "QUICK" if you want a short list) that you want to try. Or maybe you like a site like,, Anyway....

I decided to start with Cooking to Beat the Clock. I found four recipes in this book that appealed to me. I found a fifth recipe in Better Homes and Gardens.

5. Once you're written down the names of your recipes and WHERE TO FIND THEM (this is important)....go through them one by one. Before you start writing your grocery list, divide your paper into two columns. The left column is for produce. The top half of the right column is for meat and dairy (basically, the stuff along the back and side of the grocery store). The bottom half is for anything you;ll find in the inner aisles (like canned goods, pastas, etc.). In each recipe, write down ingredients you are missing, and write down how much you need (i.e., 2 peppers, 1 pound of tomatoes, etc.). If you're not sure if you have something, go check the freezer/pantry/whatever so you don't end up buying stuff unnecessarily.

6. Do this for each recipe. The net result is a relatively organized list that is easily divided among two people, or at least if you're on your own will let you go through the grocery store in a more logical fashion.

7. Now the way it works it that you don't really have a set night for a set meal. Monday is not meatloaf night in perpetuity. You have basically a smorgasbord that you can use to work things out for the week. I shuffle my meals around all the time. Even if I've defrosted something in preparation for the night's meal, there's no reason it can't just sit in the fridge for another day or two if you don't want whatever it is you planned that night.

Perhaps over time you'll be the kind of person who develops a list of standards. Perhaps you'll be like me and want different stuff ALL the freaking time. I love trying new recipes!!!!!

Anyway, this is how it will hopefully go down for me this could change, but this is the plan.....

pork tenderloin with figs, brandy and parsnips (I chose this because I think I have pork hiding somewhere in my freezer, I have a whole crapload of figs and I just love parsnips)

panfried snapper with fresh salsa and basmati rice (I have snapper lurking in the freezer, I have basmati rice and fresh salsa is my favourite food)

warm bulgur tabbouleh with feta and chickpeas - I have bulgur and chickpeas and we're trying to eat less meat

clam chowder with potatoes and bacon - saw this recipe and I just wanted clam chowder. It's getting cold so this is the kinda stuff I want!

two-bean tamale pie - this recipe looked cool, I have a corn muffin mix hiding in the pantry and again, trying to eat less meat. Also, I can use up some of the extra cilantro that will be left after making the salsa

It really only takes about 20 minutes to plan things out...and then you'll be set for the week.

Keep tuned in to see how I do. I'll let you know how much I had to spend in groceries (keeping in mind I'm using a lot of stuff I have already) and we'll see if this stuff is any good....

Thanks for reading!


Anonymous said...

Good idea! I used to write out my lists like that when I was buying food for 2 weeks at a time. As for the menu planning, as you said, it allows for flexibilty...if you don't want to cook what you had planned that night then switch it. Certainly it is a more efficient way to shop for food...rather than staring blankly at my kitchen shelves and hoping for divine inspiration! Ciao sweetheart!

Katherine said...

Which cheap store do you frequent in Kanata? Food Basics? I have an aversion to that place but it's probably because my sister in law is a cash supervisor there and I don't want to run into her and make awkward small talk....

I'm so glad you're back to blogging. i missed you. i need to take a page from your books and start some meal planning!!

Anonymous said...

I LOVE that you're doing this blog. I've recently finished school and decided its time to grow up and learn to cook - but the learning process hasn't been the smoothest! This kind of help is exactly what I need, especially since grocery shopping is one of the most dreaded tasks of the week :) Looking forward to seeing the results!

Anonymous said...

LOL at Katherine's comment..I HATE awkward SIL talk!!!!
Anyway...I'm soooo happy you're back blogging! I've missed reading your posts...your baby is sooooo cute, I love her expression in that pic!!!!!!
Welcome back and congrats!!!
Kim in T.O.

Foxy Renard said...

Weird, I have almost the identical process for meal planning and grocery list-making. One other thing I do is put the recipe books I'll be using that week on my kitchen counter with the recipes post-it-ed!

lululu said...

Great idea!!!!
My baby is due next month. I've already been worrying how I can come with cooking mood when baby works are around.
Thanks for sharing!!!

leslie @ definitely not martha said...

deborah - Thanks Mom! :)

katherine - I go to Food Basics...but there's a Price Chopper in Bells Corners that's good too.

thanks all for the comments! Hope you find this series helpful! :)

Unknown said...

I suck at cooking. I'm totally going to try your stuff. Thanks for the info!

Katherine said...

I thought the price chopper in bells corners closed!? Must investigate! It's probably the same distance if not closer to our place than FB.

I really liked Super C on Hazeldean. Too bad it closed :(

Lor said...

My tip: I'd like to to "through the grocery store in a more logical fashion" but somehow the Dictator doesn't let me, and I end up chasing her through the grocery store maze. To avoid this, I've been shopping at late-hour (Superstore is open until 11 on weekdays here!) or 24 hour grocery stores (Sobey's/Dominion) after she's asleep. I may pay a bit more but it's really worth it when it saves my sanity and helps us avoid the grocery stores on the weekend. I hope this helps you when Z is a toddler!

Nathan and Natasha said...

I linked your article to my blog:

I'm trying to get better at meal planning. Thanks for the tips!

Plan to Eat said...

Great post. I like your shopping list categorization ideas. You should check out I originally created Plan to Eat for my wife (a meal planning, money saving mommy like yourself), but we are getting lots of positive feedback since we launched it and we would love for you to try it out.

Sheri said...

I too do the same for my meal planning! I guess it's universal. Check out - the recipes are loaded so you don't have to remember where you found them, you can add your own recipe if you like, the calendar allows you to plug in your recipes and a button does all the work for you by generating a shopping list. The shopping list is interactive and can be easily arranged by store category/location. What used to take me an hour now takes about 5 minutes. Quick and Easy!

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