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The Unnatural Cook

a chronicle of weekly meal plans from someone who can't just throw a meal together

The Theory:

I take no pleasure in cooking. I take enormous pleasure in eating and in feeding my family well. So in order to get to the eating and feeding part, I have to get past the cooking part. Meal planning is a way for me to do that successfully. Please use this section inspirationally, not literally – figure out what obstacles you face to cooking, and create your own system to outwit them.

The Plan:

Once a week I sit down and figure out at least seven nights worth of dinners. Often I adjust the day I do this, depending on when I can go shopping. I type up my meal plan on a document I keep on the desktop of my computer. It lists the days of the week and each time I make a new plan I write over the last plan, filling in the meals for the week. Once the plan is set I go through it day by day and generate a grocery list that I type right onto the meal plan.

Nitty Gritty of the Format:

Underneath the meals I keep two running lists: what’s in the freezer and ideas for next week. Sometimes I’ll have four or five of the seven days planned in advance, just from ideas that pop into my head during the week. Each plan relies on a few meals out of the freezer because a) it makes life easier and b) if the main course is already prepared, I can experiment with side dishes to keep left overs from getting boring. Anything complicated I save for the weekend.

Make it Visible:

When the meal plan is finished I tack it up on the blackboard in the kitchen.

I think this is almost the most important step in the whole process! I don’t rely on my memory; the plan is visible and for seven days I don’t have to think about what to eat again. We often switch the meals around depending on what comes up during the week; it’s no hassle because all the ingredients are in the house. Having the plan visible also means that if I’m indisposed, my husband can cook a meal with little effort.

As the week goes by and we run out of grocery items, we write them on the meal plan. It becomes the beginning of next week’s grocery list. The kids are old enough now that they’ve started adding things they want too.

Make Recipes Accessible:

I keep a notebook of recipes in order to help me easily generate ideas and find recipes.

It’s ugly and dirty and it’s a life saver! It’s basically a three ring binder full of recipes slipped into clear plastic sleeves that I can flip through to plan and remove easily to cook. I used to have it organized by meal but that didn’t work. Now I have it separated out into categories: beef, chicken, pork fish, lamb, pasta & rice, soup, vegetables and so on. I have a separate notebook for baking and holidays.

It’s nice to think of the week as a variety of food groups. If I notice I’m heavy on beef I look for chicken or pasta recipes. Again, probably the most important trick I’ve come up with is not to rely on my memory. If there’s a meal we like from a magazine or cookbook or a family recipe I’ve been given, I copy the recipe and put it in my notebook so I only have to look in one place.

I could not pull off meal planning without the notebook.

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