Monday, January 7, 2008

Adventures in meal-planning

I’ve discovered in the couple months since I resolved to revolutionize dinnertime, which had grown bland, stale and predictable, in our house, that the most difficult thing about cooking is trying to decide what to make – enough ahead of time that I can get the necessary ingredients at the store. Often, I’d wind up in the store without a plan for the week, buying the same old staples for the same old meals whose ingredients I’d memorized because I’d made them too many times.

So I started finding recipes in cookbooks and in my recipe files and worked on a dinner rotation that now stretches almost 50 meals long. I re-insert quick dinners some of the time and make many of the meals stretch out over a couple nights (we never throw away left-overs in our house), so I just recently got through one “rotation.” And now, just as I was preparing to start over on meal one, I learned from my cousin and his wife in Colorado about “The Six O’Clock Scramble,” a meal-planning Internet service that’s healthy, fast, family-friendly and somewhat in tune with the season – so that’s tempting me to add more meals to the rotation or disembark from my list altogether. I’m sampling a week’s worth of menus this week for free – and I may at least buy the cookbook by week’s end if we like the meals as much as we enjoyed last night’s easy and yummy Goddess chicken with artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes (see the recipe here). I’d like to add more simplicity to my cooking regimen.

But it won’t be as simple as following one person’s meal planning lock-step. There’s too many good, healthy cooks out there that I’d like to be learning from. I discovered as I was catching up on my cousin April’s blog this weekend that she too was experimenting with meal planning in Seattle. Her meals are filled with more farm-fresh vegetables and generally healthy sounding stuff than just about anything on my list and I got to thinking that I might buy this cookbook, which she swears by, in part to see if I too can convince my family to eat such things as kale and cauliflower (so far not much luck in those departments) if I come armed with the right recipes.

So my dinner rotation may grow 80 meals long – or it may get filled in with more seasonally appropriate, interesting, healthy or just plain yummier dishes along the way. Whatever happens, I’m just glad I’m no longer making the same old lasagna every other week.

Here’s our dinner rotation (minus the side dishes) so far, with things newly switched around to try to keep the chicken, fish, turkey and vegetable-based dishes coming at fairly well-spaced intervals (Rob has a red-meat allergy that keeps all things beef and pork-based off-limits). I’m forcing some still untested fish recipes into the equation because we don’t eat enough fish, plus a couple other recent recipe discoveries -- but most of the meals are Will-tested and approved. My next step is to type in all the non-staple ingredients out to the side so I've got a one-stop resource for grocery-list making.

If you’d like a recipe, just ask, and I’ll leave it in the comments on this post.

First the sources:

RB = My recipe box (largely comprised of old favorites from my mom's meal repertoire)
VP = Vegetarian Planet
FG = Fields of Greens
EBF = My old edition of the Enchanted Broccoli Forest
HC= The Healthy Cook
C = My recipe files on computer
VE = Vegetarian Express Lane

Then the meals:
Spinach fettucine with sun-dried tomatoes (FG p. 136)
Grace's meat pastry (with ground turkey, onions, carrots) (C)
Cheese Souffle (RB)
Curried Chicken (C)
Lentil and Pasta Soup (HC p. 124)
Baked salmon (RB)
Penne with Red Pepper Sauce and Broccoli (VP – p.251)
Meatloaf (with ground turkey) (RB)
Spinach Calzone (RB)
Chicken in tomato and basil sauce (RB)
Corn chowder (HC) (with potato, zucchini, corn)
Fried Tilapia and crispy rosemary potatoes (C and VP)
Eggplant Parmesan (RB)
Sloppy Joes (HC)
Mac and Cheese (RB)
Chicken Paprikash with Broccoli (HC p. 213)
Black Bean Chili (RB)
Jenn’s La Barbouille (C)
Tuna casserole (C)
Spinach Ricotta Dumplings in tomato sauce (VP p. 312)
Quiche with broccoli (EBF)
Homemade Chicken and noodles (RB)
Chickpea burgers (C)
Hamburger Stroganoff (RB)
Homemade Pizza (RB) with spinach, fresh tomatoes, mushrooms
Chicken Enchilada casserole with tomato soup (RB)
Salmon loaf (Rob hates it but Will likes it and that’s what really counts) (C)
Spinach manicotti (RB)
Crockpot barley with ground turkey soup (RB)
Pad Thai (p. 277 VP)
North African Veggie Stew (FG p. 192)
Ground turkey lasagna with spinach (RB)
Curried brown rice with mushrooms and peas and chicken drumsticks (HC and RB)
Broccoli Soup (VE) and grilled cheese sandwiches
Fillets Neapolitan (C)
Spanokopeta (RB)
Homemade spaghetti and meatballs (RB)
Tortellini tomato spinach soup (C)
Baked Chicken nuggets (C)
Roasted Winter Vegetables with cheesy polenta
Baked rigatoni with broccoli (VP. 293)
Maple glazed salmon (C)
Winter Veggie Curry or Spring Veggie Curry – (FG p. 186 or p. 190)
Rosemary Crockpot Chicken (C)
Stir fry with tofu and vegetables (HC p. 297)
Chicken and spinach pasta bake (RB)
Black bean burritos w/ corn, tomatoes, zucchini

What cookbooks, recipes, Web sites or basic strategies have become essential tools for your meal-planning?


The Six said...

Annie, I'm so glad you are giving The Scramble a try, and glad you enjoyed your first meal! A neat feature of our site is that you can use my weekly plan, or customize your plan with our database of 150 (and growing weekly) tried and true Scramble recipes, and it generates a new grocery list for you, so you can save a big step in your process. I look forward to reading more about your adventures.

Jen Furtado said...

Sometimes I have a lot of things in my pantry (like cous cous or polenta or silvered almonds or ) or odds and ends leftover from the farmer's market and I just search engine for the "ingredient + ingredient recipe" and sometimes come up with gems. Often the site 'Epicurious' comes through for me. I've logged in and created a recipe box collection so I can generate shopping lists, which is great, but the downside is that I am always trying to cook more quickly and with fewer ingredients than many of their recipes.

I have pizza in the dinner rotation - my two daughters love cheese pizza - and I especially like that I can add mushrooms and anchovies to my section and keep it more simple for the kids. Homemade pizza is really easy to do and easy on the budget.