Friday, 4 October 2013

Day 5 - One List to rule them all

Ok, so we've talked about our meal plan system, and chosen whether or not to use a list or a calendar.

But, how do we know what to put on our meal plan? We want this to be easy and fast right?
Ok. Here is the magic fairy dust. The part that makes this whole thing worthwhile. Today we are going to talk about how you are going to make meal planning = simple.

What you need to do is simply write down a list of your families favourite meals. These are the meals you have grown up with, the meals you don't need a recipe for, meals you use a recipe for, but that page is probably splattered and tattered. This are your well-worn, time-tested recipes. You can choose as little or as many recipes as you like. But lets give you some guidelines.

You should have at least 20 and no more than 90. Even 60 is a large number. Do you really have that many favourite meals? Also these should be fairly standard recipes, but might play more heavily to your ethnicity or family background. Spaghetti, simple grilled chicken and hamburgers are at home here, but butter chicken, pad thai and cabbage rolls can also be great. Another thing to consider is recipes, that aren't really recipes at all. Your amazing chicken soup that you just create with whatever is in your fridge? That's a non-recipe. It belongs. Breakfast for dinner, grilled cheese & soup and nachos can also work. Just be sure that most things on the list are quick to prepare. Some might need a long time to cook, but they can do so without you standing by. This is pretty important. Do you see what kind of ideas I'm getting at? Simple, favourite meals, that you can make for most weeknights, with a few slow-cooker and sunday afternoon dinners, just for interest and yumminess.

Ok, got your list?

Now, I prefer to organize my list by protein - chicken, beef, pork, seafood & vegetarian. In my world, pork is anything that comes from a pig.

The next part we need to add to our list is sides. Start with vegetables. This can be as simple as "steamed vegetables," which gives you lots of flexibility to full salad recipes. If you are up for it try to vary your sides, maybe even with a different one for each meal. But, again, these have to be vegetables you will actually eat. If you kids or husband, (or you!) will only broccoli and carrots, then include these vegetables each meal. You can decide how to work other vegetables into the meal if you want. Some meals have classic sides, or your family traditionally has certain foods with them. Spaghetti & caesar salad is a great example. This list is not a time to look for exciting and new recipes, it is about the tried & true.

Then from there you can add starches and condiments. You can add appetizers and desserts, but this is mostly so that you can use these same meals for entertaining on casual nights. That part is totally optional. Add each element to the meal, so you don't realize as you scramble to get dinner on the table that you forgot horseradish for your roast beef or naan to go with your butter chicken.

When I initially wrote my list, it was quite un-balanced between the protein categories (21 chicken & 4 fish??), so as I added "experimental" meals, I focused on the more empty categories, so that I could find new favourites. After the initial list was created I have slowly added more detail to this list. And worked on diversifying my vegetable choices. You can revisit this list whenever you like, and add or subtract things as your families tastes change, or you want to change how it works for you.

Ok... so how does this additional list make menu planning easier? Well... you are going to make most of your meals off this list. So when you are doing your planning you can simply grab your list and get most of your meals filled in. And with enough variety it certainly won't seem like you are eating the same thing over and over again. You can add new dishes and stuff too, but only when you want to. And you don't have to haul out your whole collection of cookbooks or view all of pinterest every time you make a meal plan. It will also help significantly when making your shopping list. We'll talk about that tomorrow.

Here is my personal list, shared on Google docs. Because I use Plan to Eat I have simply uploaded these recipes, so I don't have recipe books & page numbers listed. But I would include it otherwise. You need to be able to easily get at this info. Check it out if you want an idea of how to actually organize this list. I love seeing all the cute printables available online, but I think that since this is a working document, printables would make it seem too precious. This is a document that will need to be revised, changed around, erased and scribbled on. Make it work for you.

Tomorrow we are going to talk about why this list makes everything so. much. faster!

What meals made your list?


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