Monday, May 17, 2010

Step 2: The meat of the matter

Now that you have your framework, it's time to actually plan meals for the week. I typically do my planning on Sunday morning, just because it's an easy time for me to get the shopping done. But whatever time works for you... you could even split the week in half and plan just a few days at a time. Once you have the framework though, the planning is pretty easy. Just follow your plan and write in dishes for each day of the week. I like to try a new recipe once or twice a week, but you can also stick with your old favorites. Don't stress yourself out over it, you did most of the hard work when you made your framework, you're just filling in slots here.

I typically just plan main dishes and then wing it on side dishes. Mostly I do veggies for sides, and I pick up a bunch of whatever is on sale, what sounds good to me, or in the summer, I just go with what's growing in the garden. If you get a CSA box on a regular basis, you don't have to look much farther for inspiration. But, here's one of my important shortcuts... keep a few boxes or bags of frozen veggies in your freezer. I usually have some microwavable basics, as well as some seasoned mixes (Trader Joes has some awesome veggie mixes). I know, processed food has a bad rap, but when it comes to the choice between getting some veggies on the table and not getting veggies on the table, I'd go with the microwave. I strongly believe that it's much better to get in the habit of regularly having a vegetable side dish than it is to stand on principal against processed food and end up skipping out on veggies completely. Especially if you have kids, get in the routine, set a good example, put the veggies on the table and get on with dinner.

Whoops... sorry, got on my soapbox for a minute there, back to meal planning. Feel free to plan out your side dishes if that works for you. There are times where I think it's a good idea, like if I'm making greek marinated grilled chicken, I'll make greek style green beans. Or if I'm roasting something, it's nice to do roasted root vegetables and baked potatoes as sides because then everything's in the oven and you don't have to bother with the stovetop.

Once you've got your week planned out, make your grocery list. I like to split the groceries into two trips a week, because I don't trust vegetables and meats to sit around in my fridge for 6 days. Be sure to double check your spice cabinet, buying doubles of spices gets expensive really quickly, but it's never nice to realize you're out of something in the middle of fixing dinner. And, of course, think a bit about what you're going to need for breakfasts and lunches and add that to your list. (I'll cover a bit more about how I handle lunch planning in a later post.)

And there you are, you have a plan, you have a list... get shopping. :-)

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