Lately, I'm on a cooking kick. We have this big kitchen, with counters galore, and in the hubbub of life I hadn't cooked much for quite awhile. It's actually been more of a 'lets-take-better-care-of-ourselves' and 'lets-spend-less-on-junk' kind of thing, than a cooking kick. My one and only 2014 New Year's Resolution was 'get healthy'. So this falls in line with that goal.
My daughter, Sarah, suggested a book she was reading. It's called The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, by Kathleen Flinn, who is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. You'd never know she'd gone to a pretty high level cooking school, for the practicality of the book, and I love, love all things practical. Like getting a dog when you travel half the year.....
Anyway, the book is non-fiction, a story of Flinn realizing women these days don't know how to cook, are intimidated by it, and so we fill our carts with junk at the grocery store, spending more than we should, and hurting our health to boot.
I'm pretty deep into the book, which I checked out from the library. It's so chock full of good stuff I've ordered a used copy on Amazon for a whopping $2.63 plus shipping.
Back in the day, when we were feeding three growing kids, I read all sorts of books, trying to cut our grocery budget. I clipped coupons and did everything I could to keep costs down, and everyone filled up. Here's what Flinn has to say about cutting grocery costs, in her chapter 'Waste Not, Want Not'.
'If you want to save money and eat well, worry less about buying in bulk or what's on sale..... the number one way to save money on your grocery bill is to not waste food..... buy less and shop more often.'That pretty much trashes the idea of going to Costo or Sam's to save money by buying in bulk..... (not to mention the beach umbrella or cashmere sweater or latest book you throw in your cart.)
The book says that very few homemakers actually plan meals ahead of time, and hardly anyone plans them for a week at a time. Instead they go to the store and buy what they always buy, or what's on sale, bring it home and it sits on the shelves and expires, or if it's produce they tend to throw it out. She states that we throw away 25 - 30% of the food we buy, wasting $100 billion annually in America alone.
I've got a good dose of planner genes in me, but mostly I'm just practical (most of the time anyway) and a bit cheap. I've tried lots of menu planners, and usually erred on the side of too complicated. After trying this most recent method for about three months, I think I've hit on something that works. Here it is:
I took the first letter of each day of the week and came up with a category of food.
Monday - Make a pizza
Tuesday - Taco Tuesday
Wednesday - When in Rome
Thursday - Take Me Out
Friday - Fire up the Grill
Saturday - Stir Fry
Sunday - Simple and Sweet
On Mondays we have a homemade pizza, but it could be store bought too, or even ordered in. Tuesday is anything Mexican. Wednesday is anything Italian. Thursday is go out for whatever sounds good - to me or him, or both. Friday is grilling night and I'm learning to grill more. It was something I avoided in the past because the gas grill scared me. This past week I grilled shish kabobs! And they were great! We don't go out for Chinese food much since I bought a wok at Walmart for around $20 for Saturday night stir fry. And mine has a lot less salt and NO MSG. Sunday is anything really, really, really easy with dessert to follow. We use any leftovers for lunches during the week, and sometimes I'm cooking extra on purpose, to freeze for my husband when I'm traveling. Lasagna, mexican casseroles and stuffed peppers all freeze great, and he'd never cook those while I'm away. He's more of a 'Big Man's Frozen TV Dinner' type, and we all know how healthy that is....
This menu plan is so simple I can easily remember it. I googled menu templates and found one I like, and printed out a bunch. Every Monday morning I sit down with a menu form, the week's calendar, and within minutes the week's meals are planned. On the back of the paper I jot down whatever ingredients I need to cook those dishes, and I give that to my husband who blesses my socks off by doing our grocery shopping (gotta love a retired husband!). (Note - most of the meals I make don't need much of a recipe.)
This plan isn't set in stone - it's very flexible. This week we're meeting a friend for dinner on Tuesday night, so that will be 'Take me Out' night, and on Thursday I'm making Fish Tacos.
So far, so good. We're eating at home more, and I'm not worrying over making something different 30 days of the month. My husband would be happy if I made spaghetti every single week, loves pizza, and so this is working well for both of us.
If you'd like to learn more, about how to save money on groceries, or how to roast a chicken at home, I highly recommend her book - it's interesting, entertaining, and educational.
Last night I read the chapter, "What's in the box', and was shocked to find out the first ingredient in a box of cake mix is sugar. That means the main ingredient is sugar, not flour, and that cake mix has over 20 ingredients in it, many of which are chemicals. I baked a cake from scratch today, with a handful of ingredients and sugar wasn't the main one; it took no time at all and tasted great. In the recent past if I hadn't had a mix in the pantry I wouldn't have baked a cake. It was so easy! And fun!
I feel like we're throwing away a lot less food, eating more healthy food that tastes better, and our kitchen smells great most of the time.
My husband and I are both introverts, albeit at different levels. It's not our natural tendency to invite people over. Romans 12:13 tells (doesn't suggest) us to 'practice hospitality'. Someone who has been a great encouragement to me, for years now, when it comes to entertaining is Sandy at Reluctant Entertainer. If you can use help in the area of opening your home, what to cook, and all the how to's of that, check out her website. I always come away encouraged to invite someone over.
A great website to use for everyday recipes is Mel's Kitchen Cafe. She's a young mom, with a houseful of kids, so her meals are practical food that families will eat. She's got more recipes than you'll ever use with a great search engine to find what you're looking for. I also learned this week that William Sonoma offers FREE cooking classes on an on-going basis. Just stop by their store and see what's being offered, and sign up for one! I plan to take one next week on making Easter brunch. There are also youtube videos (this link is 28 basic cooking lessons) and Flylady, who calls her crockpot her 'secret weapon' is great for equipping women. (Just choose carefully how many emails a day you want sent to you - I went with minimal, which is usually just once a day.)
If you struggle with planning meals, or cooking overall, maybe some of this will help. If it does, let me know :-)