I have an incredibly low-tech system of planning my meals – and it’s worked for me ever since we started getting our second CSA box. (The first time we got a box I just wasn’t very organized. And also, that basket contained a little less variety so it didn’t require as much forethought.)
We receive our basket on Friday so I use the weekend to plan meals for the week. Although we’ve gotten away from it in the last few years, Friday has always been a take-out treat night- with sushi or Indian curries on my way home from Friday errands.
Also, from our CSA, I very often order a whole chicken, some ground beef, and a couple other organic, local meat options. We have to order those a week in advance so it’s hard to forecast what I’ll want. To keep it simple, I keep some variety. I order about 3-4 large options, which will feed us 6-8 times usually. I do a couple red meats and a couple white.
Step One: Unpack and take inventory. Depending on the time of year and how motivated I am, our boxes are sometimes small and sometimes large. When I unpack, I lay everything out on the counter to really get a look at it and assess how much of each item we actually got (especially how big everything is).
Step Two: Pull out some cookbooks or look back through this blog (which is why I started it in the first place) to figure out how to use the most unusual or exotic items in the basket. I plan those for the earliest meals in the week, even on the weekend. I’ve found that if I ignore the “harder” ingredients, they get forgotten and tossed. Plan to tackle those first.
Step Three: Plan out how I will use the rest of the ingredients. For examples… “I’ll make a pie with peaches, I’ll use the greens in our juices, we’ll just munch on the apples”… etc. When they are all laying out, it’s easiest to decide how I’m using them. (I don’t write this part down, but I guess I could/should.)
Step Four: Pair produce plans with protein. Okay, honestly, this is the least organized part, but it’s what I do. If, for instance, I’m inspired to make Baba Ganoush with eggplant, I then figure out which proteins I can pair with that. And so on… Maybe it seems backwards, but I always feel like it’s the produce that’s complicated – I can always just ROAST some protein and be done.
Step Five: Write it out. This is the part that I get too lazy to do – and then the whole plan falls apart. I use a simple dry erase board that my sister gave me years ago. I generally just write out dinners and lunches. (Breakfasts are pretty simple around here.) Then during the two major times I’m in the kitchen through the week (an hour or so in the morning and a couple hours in the afternoon/evening) I can just look up and remember how I need to prep for the next day’s meals and get started on that day’s.
That’s it. As I said, it’s incredibly low-tech… and a bit chaotic, but it always works for me and when I stick with it, we have very little waste.
How do you plan your meals?