I'm totally into meal planning these days.
BF and I have been trying to cut back on the restaurants. I'm a little embarassed to admit that for a while we were eating out an average of three nights a week + Sunday brunch with an average meal costing around $60. At the same time, produce in the fridge would go bad because we weren't cooking at home.
One of my new years resolutions was that this needed to stop. First I looked at why it was happening and came up with two reasons:
- We love delicious food made from fresh ingredients and refuse to settle for processed convenience foods.
- When we were hungry we found it easier to go to a restaurant than to think about what we were going to make and then cook. i.e, lazy and disorganized.
So I got organized!!
The new routine is that every Sunday, I plan out our meals for the following week. I look at what we already have for groceries and make a list of everything we need and then on Sunday afternoon we pick up the groceries.Now, each day I have a plan. Knowing exactly what I want to make and knowing that I have all of the ingredients makes it really easy for me to get motivated to start cooking. And knowing that if I go to a restaurant rather than make dinner means that the ingredients allotted for that night don't get used up and will probably end up going bad is a good motivator to keep us from going out.
Here's a quick run down of how I plan out my meals:
At the top of a piece of a paper, I write out the names of the days of the week.
Throughout the week, if I stumble upon any recipes I want to try out, I write them under one of the days, ensuring that each day has no more than one main source of protein and one source of carbs. I also try to have at least two veggies in each meal and usually a dessert because that's my favorite part!
On Sunday I pull out my recipe books and start filling in the gaps. I try to include meals from at least three different ethnicities (My favorites are Japanese, Italian and Thai, but BF likes me to include Indian as well) and one "meat and potatoes" meal. If there are still gaps after all of that, I look to see what carbs are missing (I usually try to use rice, sweet potato and whole wheat pasta each week and use white potatoes, breads or Asian noodles if I still need more ideas), and what proteins are missing (Beef, pork, lamb, eggs, chicken, tofu, fish) and look up recipes specifically containing those ingredients. For any remaining veggie gaps in the menu, I buy whatever is on sale that week.
With all of the dinners planned, it's easy to just make the lunches from leftovers and any extra fruits,veggies and meat we have on hand. For breakfasts, I stock a box of cereal, a carton of eggs, a block of cheddar cheese and some frozen blueberries for pancakes. I make a lot of breakfast carbs from scratch, like pancakes, waffles or crepes. If I do everything right, I won't have to buy any more food for the whole week, not even to pick up a carton of milk.
It's a little complicated to explain, but it's really easy and intuitive to do in practice. I've been doing this for three weeks now and it's made a huge difference in how we eat. Trying new recipes every night means that I have been learning so much about different cooking techniques and flavour combinations which I have found to be very rewarding. We eat a very balanced diet with nutrients coming from all different kinds of sources. The cost savings have been huge, we're now spending about $70/week to feed the both of us (and BF has a big appetite) and we've greatly reduced the amount of food we end up throwing out because we no longer buy groceries we don't need. Also, I think BF appreciates being able to come home and eat in about 25 minutes and then get on with the evening rather than taking an hour and a half to go to a restaurant and eat.
And the food has been awesome! I have been making all kinds of things from scratch using fresh ingredients, like soups, homemade pasta and lots of different sauces. I'm really having a lot of fun with this.
I wanted to share a recipe for a Thai curry soup that I made last night. It is loaded with noodles and vegetables, so I just paired it with some baked chicken thighs for a well rounded meal. The recipe comes from a cookbook that my Mom gave me for Christmas, entitled simply "Thai Cooking".
Recipe: Thai Vegetable and Noodle Soup
2 Tbsp vegetable or peanut oil
1 onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1 large carrot, cut into thin sticks
1 zucchini, cut into thin sticks
4oz/115gm broccoli, cut into florets
1 3/4 pints / 1 litre / 4 cups vegetable stock
14fl oz / 400ml / 1 3/4 cups coconut milk
3-4 Tbsp Thai soy sauce
2 Tbsp Thai red curry paste
4oz / 110g wide rice noodles
4oz / 115g / 3/4 cup mung or soy bean sprouts
4 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet and stir-fry the onion and garlic for 2-3 minutes. Add the carrot, zucchini and broccoli and stir-fry for 3-4 minuts,until just tender.Pour in the stock and coconut milk and bring to a boil. Add the soy sauce, curry paste, and noodles, and let simmer for 2-3 minutes, until the noodles have swelled. Stir in the bean sprouts and cilantro and serve immediately.
It's pictured in a bento here if you would like to see it.