Thursday, October 15, 2009

For Angie. Re: food.

Angie (here) is asking questions about how families organize food. Rather than posting a long comment I thought the topic deserved a whole post. (Plus I’m stumped on the signing in thing, sorry, Angie. Techno-Neanderthal)

I have a feeling Angie is more of a linear thinker than I am so I’m not sure how much this will help. The fact that she follows recipes sets us apart to be sure. Meals in our house are very simple. This is the crux of the plan. The simpler the better. If it takes more than 30 minutes to prepare it doesn’t happen. We find excuses to eat out instead, so we plan our menu based on 30 minutes or less. I’d rather spend time with my family on weeknights than in the kitchen. For example, cooking potatoes takes just about exactly 30 minutes so they are just barely acceptable. We don’t eat roasts or casseroles or lasagnas on weeknights. We save them for weekends when we are home longer and have time to play in the kitchen.

Maybe a good place to start would be with this week’s menu. I plan the menu for the week on the weekend when I do shopping. I only shop once a week, no exceptions.

1. spaghetti squash with seafood sauce
2. beef stew
3. pork tenderloin with butternut risotto.
4. chicken stew (Wednesday)
5. something with ground beef. (spaghetti or chilli)

OK, you’ll notice I don’t label the meals by date. This gives us the flexibility of choosing which meal we feel like making usually based on our energy levels that night. Wednesdays we always have company over so I have to plan something specific in order to have enough. I wouldn’t normally plan spaghetti squash during the week but Monday was a holiday so it counts as a weekend meal. I also know that I need to cook some brown rice sometime this week (after supper) so we have it for the pork night. I usually do that on the weekend and have it in the fridge but we got a little carried away making onigiri for the first time ever this weekend (soooo good) and used up all the rice.

After the 30 minute rule, the next guiding principle is season. The menu above is a winter menu. It’s built around warmth and the kinds of food that are available now. A good way to start your meal planning is to think “what’s in season” and plan around that. Guaranteed to be less expensive, healthier for you and easier to find. I don’t buy cucumbers or strawberries in the winter. Right now it’s squash, potatoes, beets, apples and whatever I have in the freezer from the summer. In the summer we eat a lot of fresh fruits and veggies either steamed, stir fried or eaten raw and often barbeque our meats. That’s even faster than winter food.

There are probably cheaper ways to eat. I am always amazed at how much we manage to spend at the grocery store. But I think real, whole food is worth it, and am thankful that we have the resources available to choose that.

I manage to skip most of the inner isles of boxed stuff, ducking in only when necessary. My experience has been that that stuff is more expensive anyway (not to mention less healthy). We have a whiteboard on the fridge with a running list of stuff we’re out of. It’s much easier to remember everything if it’s written down when you think of it during the week. On the back side of my grocery list is the first draft of our menu. The grocery list is split into four sections: produce (fresh), meat/milk/protein, other edible (cans, boxes, jars, frozen) and non-edible (soap, dog food). This drives my husband crazy but I do it anyway. I only want to go through the store once. There are often blanks on the menu when I hit the store – then I’ll write “2 more meals” or “2 more fruits” and decide when I get there based on what looks good or is on sale that day. If I’m really organized I’ll find the online flyer for the store I’m going to and see what’s on sale and then plan around that, but I find I suddenly “need” way more stuff that wouldn’t have hit my list if I hadn’t looked. The biggest savings comes when I can leave the kids at home and quickly run through the store getting only what’s on my list. The more focused I am the less I stop and look at things, and the more I stick to the plan. When I get home I rewrite the menu because it has undoubtedly changed, and post it on the fridge. The theory is that that way anyone could then pick something off the menu and cook dinner. I find it useful to have a reminder of what the heck I was thinking when I bought all this stuff when I get home from work bleary-eyed and not wanting to do anything but flop onto the couch and order pizza.

Leftovers. Leftovers usually end up in my lunch, used in the kids’ lunches or reincorporated into another supper. Our fridge is bare by the weekend somehow, no matter how full it was at the beginning of the week. I keep an eye on the leftovers and could tell you any day exactly what is in my fridge. I hate cleaning moldy containers that much. Today I have about a cup of canned pumpkin to use up and I’m really not sure what I’ll do with it (Risotto maybe?). And we really need to eat up the pumpkin puddings from Monday or freeze them.

So, Angie, I don’t know if that helps answer any of your questions. Your issues are probably different than mine. This really works for us so I thought I’d share.
Please, anyone share if you have a comment on how you feed your family.


  1. I'm the primary cook in the household for the three of us (2 adults, 10yo). The boyfriend will cook lunches and breakfasts on weekends witout complaint. The kid will make herself sandwiches or warm up leftovers. Lunch is invariably leftovers for all of us or sandwiches or salad, for simplicity. I also work at home so I have a lot more flexibility. I can do roasts and casseroles during the week if I'm not too zoned out.

    Because I'm the primary cook I'm also the grocery shopper. Like you I keep a list on the fridge of what's needed and the tentative menu plan for the week. This lets people veto or move things if they really want to.

    I usually aim for one eat out a week, either restaurant, take out or someone else's house. So that leaves 6 suppers. Average supper week in the fall / winter / spring runs (and because I'm at home this doesn't fall on particular days):

    - Roast meat with potatoes, gravy or sauce, cooked vegetable, salad
    - soup, stew or messy sandwiches with leftover meat. Salad and rolls if it isn't the sammies
    - casserole, usually a pasta one like lasagna or a quiche or strata. Salad or a cooked veggie
    - something with ground beef: burgers, tacos, chili, sloppy joes, meatballs and noodles, etc
    - something stir fried or curry like, with rice
    - my experiment of the week or a special request or leftovers, usually picked from whats on sale. It's welsh rarebit next week. This week it was leftovers from the dinner party.

    The boyfriend used to complain (we moved in together this summer) that he is eating more rabbit food than he knew existed but I notice that slowed down the last month or two.

  2. Mmmmmm I want to come eat at your house, tooaquarius! Sounds good.

  3. aw. this is so great. I wish I could live at your house for a week, and EXPERIENCE it all. Not that I would do that to you, its just something are better when we witness them! I guess thats why mothers are the best teachers. I do some similar, I guess I just feel I have so little brain power I want my process to be fool-proof, I HATE being in the gorcery stoer - and even worse forgetting something so I have to go BACK!!! Oh, and I changed my blog so comments are easier now. I hope.