"Hey -- what's this?!" That's usually the first comment I hear when people come to our house and see my two-week meal planner taped to an otherwise blank* fridge.
This is generally quickly followed by "Oh, YUM! Can I eat with you guys on Wednesday?" or similar.
Welcome to the joys of meal planning. I know it sounds completely dorky, TOTALLY suburban, and perhaps a wee bit control freaky. If nothing else, it kills spontaneity. Bad, right?
Since keeping my two-week meal planner, our lives, tummies and bank accounts are so much happier. We do a big grocery shop once every two weeks, then supplement on the "off" week by simply picking up fresh produce. In and out in 10 minutes.
This from an avowed Brooklynite who used to live off late-night delivery. Life is crazy and work/family demanding. I get it. Hang with me here.
Dinner is now a snap, because we know what we're having each night -- and get to look forward to it all day long. Planning allows us to try those recipes we keep finding, then losing, then forgetting. Not anymore. We always make enough food for four people, so we have plenty of leftovers for breakfast and lunch the next day.
We choose to dine out two nights a week. This gives us plenty of spontaneous "what are you in the mood for?" choice and time to go out with friends and family. Swapping nights within a week? Why not? Especially on those tough days when I need sashimi, but it's Tuesday night. No problem. We go out Tuesday and have that night's planned meal on Wednesday. Simple.
The other benefit of meal planning is knowing what's in your refrigerator, freezer and pantry at all times. As I plan and look at each recipe, I make my shopping list based off what I need vs. what's already in stock. I'm super-planny, so I also keep a running list of potential future recipes, what's been really good, and what's in the freezer.
By the end of two weeks, our fridge tends to look somewhat empty (barring my love of Things in Jars) -- and that's the point. Use what you need, use it all, and no more. Hardly any food ever goes to waste, which is very important to me.
For example, last night we had garlic shrimp, spaghetti squash lasagna, and green salad. We specifically buy shell-on, U.S. wild shrimp. Why? Because all of those shrimp shells and tails make ridiculously tasty and quick stock -- for free. We saved every bit and threw it in a freezer bag already containing a lobster shell. I cannot WAIT for next Tuesday's shrimp chowder.
(In retrospect, I realize we should have saved and roasted the squash seeds. Ah well. Next time. Now if only I could figure out another use for the squash shell...)
You can see the plan in action here. You'll note each night of the week has a general theme. This is a GENIUS idea I got from the adorably perky Food Nanny. Once you have themes in place, it automatically makes it easy to pick recipes, rather than staring at a cookbook's table of contents thinking "OK, now what?"
This simple devotion of 30 minutes, twice a month, will repay you in a multitude of ways. Try it and see! Then tell me if it works for you.
As for me, I'm off to make a wee drinkie and marinate a flank steak for tonight's Thai Beef Salad. Mmm mmm good.
* = Non-magnetic surface, you see. About the only sad discovery we made upon buying this house (well, that and the fact that our boat of a car won't fit in the garage -- oops). Otherwise, my travel collection of silly magnets would provide a bit of camouflage for this big white sheet of paper.