New Mama Musings

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Meal Planning 101

During the first part of my childhood my mother prepared a dinner for us every night. Dishes like pork chops, spaghetti, tuna noodle casserole, liver and meatloaf were all served with an oh-so-appetizing side of canned vegetables. Some of the meals I liked, some I didn't, but it was dinner and I ate it.

As I got older and my sisters all moved out of the house, dinner became a much more casual (and often pre-packaged) thing. I guess this is why I never really learned how to cook or plan meals.

When I moved out on my own I ate a lot of noodles with jarred spaghetti sauce, bagels with cream cheese and Little Caeser's pizza. I also became a vegetarian. Shortly thereafter my now-husband and I moved in together. I tried to cook for the two of us (and his children) but encountered several obstacles.

My vegetarianism and his carnivorism were at odds, to begin with. But I think I could have worked with that had he not been such a picky eater. He would eat nothing with onions, garlic, tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers or any other number of items. (To be fair, the first three items made him physically ill). Most soups, stews and casseroles were out of the question. His kids were nearly as fussy.

I finally gave up and just cooked for myself. The only time we ate a meal together was take-out night, which officially was once a week but unofficially, well, let's just say the people at Qdoba had memorized our order.

For a while I was vegan, too, which made things even more difficult. My mom (who of all people should have cut me some slack) would often ask what I was making for dinner for me and my husband, not quite getting that we each went our own way when it came to mealtime.

But now we have a child together, and I really want Henry to experience a shared family dinner. My recent return to the land of meat-eaters and my husband's progressively more adventurous palate have made this goal seem attainable.

In the past few months I've been trying out recipes in the hopes of finding a decent number of meals my husband and I both like. So far I've come up with about ten. I also have a number of recipes for meals I like (because I'm not willing to give up my favorites, and because I want Henry to experience all kinds of food).

At some point I'll work on accompaniments (since veggies from a can only cuts it as a side dish if the year is 1977), but for now I'll concentrate on the entree.

I've typed these recipes up and put them in plastic sheet protectors in a binder, with a list of them in front so I can see all the meal options at a glance.

With some proven recipes in hand, I'm going to plan out our meals on a week-by-week basis:

  • One day a week we'll do take-out;
  • One day a week I'll make something I enjoy but my husband doesn't (I'll do that on Wednesdays, so my stepdaughter -- who eats almost anything -- can share it with me and Henry);
  • Two days a week we'll do leftovers.
That leaves about twelve days a month for shared meals. Since I have ten "shared" recipes right now, I'll make all of those each month and experiment to find more for the other two meals.

I hope to double (or maybe triple, if I'm feeling really zany) some of the recipes so I can freeze the extras. I'll keep track of freezer meals in the recipe binder and use those on days I know I may not have time to cook.

To make the actual weekly meal plan I'll use a calendar printed off the computer and divide each day into two sections. On the top section I'll write the dish I plan to make (or "take-out" or "leftovers") that day. On the bottom section I'll write the prep work I need to do for the meal for the following day (while my husband watches Henry or after Henry goes to bed), like cooking chicken, cutting up vegetables, soaking beans, thawing a freezer meal, etc.

After planning out the week this way, I can compile a list of all the ingredients I need to make the meals and write out my shopping list accordingly. Then I can shop once a week, instead of running out to the store several times a week as I think of things we need.

This is all probably really obvious to most of you. Heck, it seems obvious to me after writing it all out. But although my mother must have done meal planning in order to get dinner on the table for a family of six every night, it's not something she ever shared with me. I wish she had, though, and I intend to include Henry in this process so he knows what's involved with planning a meal.

When my son grows up the people at the local take-out place may know his order by heart, but it won't be because his mama didn't raise him right.


  • Excellent planning! I didn't know that you were eating meat again. I'd love to know what 10 recipes you have that don't include garlic or onions! I can't imagine...

    By Blogger bfmomma, at 9:32 PM  

  • You are too damned organized. I was so floored by your list post that I couldn't even peel myself back into a sitting postion to comment. Granted, I do many of those things too. But lots of them I don't -- which means they go undone in this household, lol.

    Anyway, I would love to take such an efficient approach to meal planning, but I don't have it in me. I usually go to the store with a general idea of what we might eat in the next 4-5 days, and keep some basics on hand (like rice, spaghetti sauce, etc.), and if we're really scraping bottom and can't come up with anything, then take-out it is (maybe twice a month, with Qdoba being high on the list). It works well for us, but it's easy to fall into a rut of eating the same few things all the time. To change that, I've challenged myself to buy a new veggie (i.e., one that isn't part of our normal rotation) at least twice a month. This has recently brought kale and brussel sprouts onto our table (both were delicious, BTW), and forces me to try new entree recipes as well (such as potato-kale-sausage soup -- yum!). It definitely helps that both my husband and daughter are more adventurous eaters than I am (and I'm not too shabby myself).

    If I think of any favorites that you might like (and that meet your requirements), I will let you know ...

    By Anonymous gearhead mama (aka S), at 9:49 PM  

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