Wednesday, June 20, 2007


or... in which Betsy admits to some seriously anal-retentive tendencies

I recently got a question in the comments section from Cherylann wondering about a comment that I made on Spin Me I Pulsate about meal planning. So, here's the deal...

I am a working mom, and I serve a home-cooked dinner pretty much every night. How do I do it? Well, I have to admit, it's not that hard for me, but it does require some planning on my part. Here's how it works:

1. Every week, I spend some time going through cookbooks and deciding what I want to cook for the week. Often, as I'm doing this, I'll have the sales circular for the grocery store next to me. I don't totally live by this, but if chicken breasts are on sale, I'll make an effort to cook with chicken breasts to save some money.

Usually I cook about three meals a week, planning for leftovers and for us to either go out one night or do something simple like sandwiches. Later, when I'm feeling ambitious (and when I get all of my books back from the storage place where they're currently residing), I'll post a list of my favorites. I am also a fan of those little cookbook magazine things that they have by the checkout line at the grocery store. It's not the most sophisticated food in the world, but it's good stuff, easy to prepare, and typically fast. I have so many of those cookbooks that I actually started ripping out the recipes that I like. Those are then collected in a little binder so I don't have to go through a zillion little books to find what I need. I also make sure I note what side dishes will go with each meal.

2. After I choose the meals to cook, I make out a grocery list. I have a Word document that has a section for each section of the grocery store, written in the order in which I walk down the aisles. I'll then go through my coupons and see if there are any I can use. If there's a coupon for an item, I'll put a C next to that item so I'll remember. As I write the list, I double check to see if there are any staples that I'm running low on -- milk, eggs, whatever. I keep a bunch of the blank lists in a drawer in the kitchen, and if I run out of something during the week, I put it on the list and post it on the fridge. I also check with Steve to see if there's anything he wants for lunches, snacks, and so on through the week, so it goes on the list, too.

3. At the grocery store, I really pretty much just buy what's on the list. If there's some produce that looks especially good and is reasonably priced, I'll buy it. Snack foods, like chips or cookies, are expensive and I don't really need them in the house, so I tend to just not go down those aisles. I really stick very closely to the list.

4. Usually I do the grocery shopping on a Saturday. Then on Sunday, during Jack's nap, I do a marathon cooking session. I cook all three meals and put them in the fridge for us to heat up and eat during the week. I tend to not cook anything that doesn't reheat well, because if it's only good for one meal, it's not the best use of my time. If Steve really has a hankering for, say, the hoisin pork chops that don't reheat well, then we'll have them for dinner that Sunday night. Casseroles and soups are especially good for leftovers.

5. When possible, I make stuff in big batches. If I'm making spaghetti sauce or chili, for example, it's just as easy to make a huge vat of it as it is just a little bit. Leftovers go in the freezer, to be pulled out when needed. Or, if I'm making grilled chicken breasts for that night's dinner, I'll grill some extra, then we'll make chicken salad sandwiches or put it on a salad. Often, we will have salad with several meals during the week. When that's the case, I will make a ginormous salad. If you put a moistened paper towel on it (re-wetting throughout the week) in the fridge, it'll keep really well.

That's what works for me. It helps that, by nature, I am an organized person. The idea of just going to the grocery store, grabbing what looks good, and hoping for the best when it's time to make dinner... I just wouldn't know how to deal with that. I have heard from other people that they couldn't operate this way because "my husband doeesn't like leftovers." Thank Yoda that's not the case in my house, because leftovers rock. It's a good dinner that you didn't have to cook! All you had to do was microwave it. You don't like it? Fine, then cook me dinner.

Anyone else got any tips or questions?


thordora said...

I'm going to try this-I started making a meal planner. I want to save time and money AND eat better. Cause we all know that the "OMFG I'M HUNGRY!" doesn't help the waistline... :)

cherylann said...

This week I checked out about 8 cook books from the library and a book on meal planning itself. Now, if only I could find room in my freezer!! I think I'm about to jump on your crazy train of meal planning!

newsjunkie said...

Ok I am not a working mom but I totally do almost everything you listed, including the organized list of the grocery store (which I just had to rework since an awesome new store opened a few blocks from my house) and putting "c" next to items for which I have a coupon.