Sunday, April 18, 2010

Menu Planning

Last night, we went to a fabulous talk at my favorite bookstore (ie, the first bookstore I knew was carrying my book). Aviva Goldfarb, creator of The Six-O'Clock Scramble meal planning service, talked about her brand new book, SOS! The Six O'Clock Scramble to the Rescue: Earth-Friendly, Kid-Pleasing Dinners for Busy Families. Aviva worked with David many years ago, and when we found out that she too was obsessed with food and the environment, he was thrilled to reconnect a bit with her.

For those of you who have read my blog for a while, you know I am a dyed-in-the-wool hippie who tries to live in an ecologically sound fashion--and that I often try to challenge myself to create new behaviors that reflect my commitments. Goldfarb's book introduces her readers to the importance of many of the actions my family has taken over the years, from carrying our own bags and shopping at farmers market to eating meat responsibly and beginning to compost. Her book is a great intro to eco-eating for those who are interested in the issue but haven't gotten deeply involved yet.

Although those of us who have been labeled "deep green" or "already off the deep end" may not learn much new green info, the thing I really like about Goldfarb's book is her emphasis on having a plan for the week's meals.

I love to cook and love to invent recipes on the fly. Although I've made detailed plans for Passover or for family visits where things get a bit more challenging, I rarely do more than sketch out a few possibilities for the coming week. Over the last year of so, I have occasionally signed on to Meal Outlaw to try to flesh out a bit of a plan and to spy on other people's methods--but often I wind up logging meals in retrospect.  In my usual real life, I just buy whatever looks great at the market and go from there.

This fly-by-night method works well for my personality about 75% of the time. It is an utter failure at other times. We wind up going out to eat or I talk my 10yo son into cooking or my husband into putting something together at some late hour.  I think I get enough pleasure from the relaxed intuitive cooking during the height of gardening and CSA season that I'm not 100% sure I am ready to totally abandon my method. I suspect that even if I do get hooked on planning, I won't really be sticking to other people's recipes much of the time.

But when I started hearing about Goldfarb's planning method, I was inspired to try something new. I am eager to try out her recipes now that I own her cookbook.  But before I bought it, I spent the past week with a bunch of cookbooks from the library, a pad of paper for making a map of the week, and the commitment to try things this different way.

In poking around online for alternative sources for meal planning, I also found two super-cool blog collectives, Menu Plan Monday and Mindful Menus. Reading the linked posts gave me lots of ideas and further inspiration.

* * *

So here is this experimental week:

Chicken Penne with Pesto and Artichoke Cream
     from Robin Rescues Dinner: 52 Weeks of Quick-Fix Meals, 350 Recipes, and a Realistic Plan to Get Weeknight Dinners on the Table
Roasted Asparagus

Caribbean Vegetable Stew (vegan)
     from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home: Fast and Easy Recipes for Any Day
Brown Rice
Papaya Salad with Ginger-Lime Dressing

Egyptian Pasta en Crema
     from Hands-Off Cooking: Low-Supervision, High-Flavor Meals for Busy People
Assorted Salad Greens with Papaya Seed Dressing

North African Cauliflower Soup (vegan)
     from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home: Fast and Easy Recipes for Any Day
Assorted Salad Greens with Papaya Seed Dressing
Warmed Bread (from the farmer's market)

Butternut Squash Enchiladas with Spinach (vegetarian)
     from Hands-Off Cooking: Low-Supervision, High-Flavor Meals for Busy People
Crunchy Salad

Baked Potatoes topped with Goat Cheese, Sauteed Rapini, Leeks, and Mushroom (vegetarian)
     to be improvised

Macaroni and Yeast with Broccoli (a special request and an old favorite) (vegan recipe)
     from Vegan Vittles: Recipes Inspired by the Critters of Farm Sanctuary
Assorted Salad Greens
Great-Granny's Lemon Pound Cake
     recipe forthcoming

Shrimp Pomodoro over Angel Hair
     from Robin Rescues Dinner: 52 Weeks of Quick-Fix Meals, 350 Recipes, and a Realistic Plan to Get Weeknight Dinners on the Table
Steamed Asparagus

*  *  *

I am hungry already...

Do you meal plan? I'd love to hear more about your experiences!


Chandelle said...

Great post!

I find that a meal plan is absolutely essential if I have a strict budget (which I always do). Otherwise I don't have enough of some things or too much of other things and I end up spending too much money and/or wasting food. So I do make a meal plan.

But I am definitely an intuitive cook, like you said, so I have to stay open, too.

Generally, I first look at the sales and plan according to what's in season and very cheap. So if broccoli is in season, for example, I'll buy a bunch of it and plan a few different meals around it - soup, frittatas, etc. I'll go off of what's in season and affordable to make a list of meals, but I don't plan them for specific nights. I just have some interchangeable ideas. And I always leave open a few nights for totally inspired cooking according to what I find at the farmer's market - that's my favorite way to cook, but like you said, sometimes it just collapses, so having a general plan is really helpful.

Aviva Goldfarb said...

So glad you enjoyed the talk last night and I'm delighted you were inspired to plan your meals! Don't you love the Moosewood cookbooks? Have you connected yet with Mollie on Twitter, @MollieKatzen. She's so amazing, as are you! Andrew was telling me you wrote a really interesting book and I'd love to learn more about it.

Jennifer said...

I am never as good about planning as I would like to be, but I definitely try! I get a produce box every Friday (year-round deliveries from Washington Green Grocers), so that helps me get basic ideas to plan around. And I use google calendar! I created a calendar called Meal Planning, and I put down what I plan on cooking each night (or if we're going out or my husband needs to cook for himself, I note that). I also add links to recipes in the notes sections, or what cookbook I need to use. This works well for us, since my husband can see what we're having for dinner (he has access to the G Calendar as well), and I can plan very far ahead if I want. Works great when I find a new recipe, but know I want to wait until an ingredient is on sale or for a particular holiday- I can schedule a meal for a week or two out, and then just adjust once I know the upcoming sales.

I'm definitely not perfect, but we are way more likely to eat in now that I'm planning more, instead of me getting frustrated and hungry and just making pasta or doing take-out. I also am FAR more likely to remember to make a side dish if I have the main dishes listed out! I don't often put them on the calendar, but I can always find time to steam veggies, so long as I don't have to think too hard about the main entree.

Adrienne said...

Thanks for all the links! Your meal plan sounds extremely tasty.

Over the past year I've gotten pretty good at planning a few meals, but also at having ingredients on hand so I can make up something decent without too much forethought. Half the year it's based around whatever I get from the farmer's market. I'm a single person though, it probably wouldn't work so well if I had to please a family.

The Raven said...

Thanks, everybody.

I love Chandelle's idea of making a flexible list of meals not designed for specific nights. And I love Jennifer's plan of planning the mains but winging the sides--the thing most likely to be based on what looks good in the garden or at the farmer's market. And Adrienne is right on about having the makings for a few super-easy meals on hand in the pantry or fridge. (For us, it is often frozen homemade pizza dough, pasta, canned tomatoes, canned beans, frozen veggies, and lots of grains--and a good curry powder!)

Thanks so much for commenting, Aviva! Mollie Katzen is definitely a hero of mine. Since I was in college, I've been using her cookbooks. The Sunlight Cafe is one of my favorites. And I'm looking forward to teaching my son to cook using her new one! (And best of all, I love her super-cool hair!)

Stephanie said...

I totally agree with what Chandelle said about why to plan and planning around sales, etc.

I just wanted to add that a plan can be a general outline. You don't have to get super detailed with every meal. A lot of times I start with the protein and anything that needs to be used up ASAP, knowing that I'll fill in some of the gaps later with whatever veggies, etc. I have on hand.

Anyway, I shared a couple other things I've learned the last few weeks (along with my menu - which isn't detailed at all this week) over on my menu plan post.

Hope you can stop by!

Ms Bibi said...

Great menu. I love cauliflower soup. The chicken penne with pesto sounds absolutely delicious.

Thanks for linking up to me.

The Tell-Tale Heart said...

What a terrific week of eating this has been! The grilled asparagus early in the week signaled the true beginning of spring and tonight's Mac and Yeast was scrumptious. Thanks for all the great second-serving lunches, too.


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