Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Menu Planning 101: Part 1

I've been trying to think of the best plan of attack for menu planning...there are so many avenues that can be gone. But I think what we'll do is just forge straight ahead down one way, one method of doing so, and then we'll come back and try a second method. And maybe a third method or a fourth method, as far as it will take us.

Today we are going to walk through planning a menu for two days. It may not sound like much to begin with. But we're going to connect the two days together through common ingredients, to keep waste at a bare minimum. To me, that has been one of the toughest parts of menu planning. You plan a dinner, and buy the right ingredients, but then you have all this miscellaneous left over, and it goes bad before you can get around to using it.

The first step, is to decide what is going to guide your planning decisions this week. Do you already have something in the fridge that needs to be used up? We should start with that. Are you on a slim budget this week? We should pull from the freezer and pantry then. Maybe you have a craving for a particular cuisine, let that be your starting point then. Another method would be to just begin with one recipe- one that you've been wanting to try, pull it out of your pile and let that be day one and we'll go from there. Or maybe it's -40º outside and you're thinking a hearty soup will be perfect for dinner- then that would be your starting point. That's how it's going to be for me today. Today, It truly is -40º with the wind chills, so I am going to menu plan day one with soup. Specifically, a recipe from Cooking Light for Cheddar Chicken Chowder. Let's look at the ingredient list, shall we?

2 bacon slices
Cooking spray
1 pound skinned and boned chicken breast -- cut into bite-size pieces
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup diced red bell pepper
2 garlic cloves -- minced
4 1/2 cups fat-free chicken broth
1 3/4 cups diced peeled red potatoes
2 1/4 cups frozen whole-kernel corn
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups 2% low-fat milk
3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese -- (3 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

First, we write down on Day 1: Cheddar Chicken Chowder, and we always include the source of the recipe in our notation, so we know where to find it when it comes time to actually make it. So my entry will look like this in my notebook:

Day One: Cheddar Chicken Chowder, CL Annual 2002 pg. 340

Next I will make a list underneath that entry of ingredients in the soup that are not always on hand. So in my case, I need to write down Bacon, Chicken breast, red bell pepper, red potatoes, and cheddar cheese. The onion, garlic, chicken broth, corn, salt and pepper I have on hand at almost all times. The other things I don't always have on hand, so they will likely go on my shopping list. So now my notebook entry looks like this:

Day One: Cheddar Chicken Chowder, CL Annual 2002 pg, 340
Bacon
Chicken Breast
Red Bell Pepper
Red Potatoes
Cheddar Cheese


Now we need to find a recipe for our second day. The key to the second day is to find a recipe that may use one or two of the more perishable ingredients on your list. In this case, the perfect recipe will have red bell pepper, cheddar cheese, or red potatoes in it. Bonus pounts if it uses the bacon and chicken breast (which extras of freeze nicely if we don't use them all). I score by looking through my recipes and deciding to make Herb Roasted Mushroom, Chicken and Vegetables. Here's that ingredient list:

1/3 cup olive oil
3 teaspoons dried rosemary, crushed
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-1/2 inch pieces
1 pound fresh white mushrooms, halved (about 6 cups)
1 pound small red potatoes, halved (about 3 cups)
3 medium onions, cut in wedges (about 3 cups)
1 large red bell pepper, cut in 2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
6 large garlic cloves, peeled

My next entry is going to be much smaller, and it will be underneath the Cheddar Chicken Chowder.

Day Two: Herb Roasted Mushrooms, Chicken & Vegetables, Mastercook
Mushrooms
Dried Rosemary (check this one)


Everything else in the recipe, I will already have from the Chowder, or will be on hand. I make a note to double check and make sure that I have dried rosemary as well, 3 teaspoons is a lot, and I'm not sure I'll have enough. So let's look at my new list, and then I am ready to make my shopping list, and I also have a few more thoughts about these two days and how they will automatically turn into four!

Day One: Cheddar Chicken Chowder, CL Annual 2002, pg 340
Bacon
Chicken Breast
Red Bell Pepper
Red Potatoes
Cheddar Cheese


Day Two: Herb Roasted Mushrooms, Chicken & Vegetables, Mastercook
Mushrooms
Dried Rosemary (check this one)


My shopping list will look like this:

Bacon
2 pounds of Chicken Breasts
2 Red Bell Peppers (3 if on sale)
1 1/2 pounds small red potatoes
1 block of medium cheddar cheese
2 large packages of mushrooms
Dried Rosemary
Flour tortillas
Sour Cream

You'll notice the two additions at the end. I've decided that since I have all these ingredients already in the house, that it will only take some tortillas and sour cream to turn these into quesadillas with some salsa I already have in the pantry. Leftover roasted chicken and vegetables will make wonderful quesadillas, so now I have a third day planned that I hadn't intended to. And finally, that fourth bonus day? The Cheddar Chicken Chowder makes plenty- more than enough for my family to eat out of the pot twice. For us, the trick is to not eat the same thing two days in a row, so my week will end up looking like this:

Day One: Cheddar Chicken Chowder, CL Annual 2002, pg 340
Bacon
Chicken Breast
Red Bell Pepper
Red Potatoes
Cheddar Cheese


Day Two: Herb Roasted Mushrooms, Chicken & Vegetables, Mastercook
Mushrooms
Dried Rosemary (check this one)

Day Three: Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Quesadillas

Day Four: Cheddar Chicken Chowder Repeat


Just like that, we've got four days menu-planned, and we'd only intended to really do two. One of the things that I've found really helpful with menu planning is to think of the leftovers, and most often, how they can be transformed into something completely different. The roasted chicken and veggies will be delicious the first night- the second night I'll want different flavors. So by adding the cheese we already have, the salsa, sour cream and tortillas, we've given it a whole new flavor from south of the border. The chowder is served three days apart, so no one will mind eating it twice- especially if accompanied by homemade bread.

And look at how small our grocery list is too! Part of that comes from having a well-stocked pantry, and that does take some time to get to the well-stocked point. My pantry staples will be a part of a future post here with Menu Planning 101. I have two posts in mind for the week ahead- one will be planning out a whole week at one time. The second post will be devoted to attempting an organization method for recipes. (Of course, on second thought, maybe that will take more than one post.) As a reminder, Menu Planning 101 will take place on Wednesdays and Saturday's for now.

2 comments:

laknightca said...

I love your system, but my family would not be happy having chicken (or whatever) four nights in a row, even though the dishes are quite different. I generally have to menu plan using different proteins on consecutive nights.

Erika W. said...

You're absolutely right, of course. I do need to change up the proteins as well, but we do often have two nights in a row of the same...but then I have to make up for it by staying away from that protein for a short while.

That being said, my four days won't necessarily be consecutive either. I could get away with 1 and 2 together, and then maybe a pizza night or a night out, and then days 3 and 4. (One of the many reasons I don't always assign specific meals to specific days.)

I'll do better with the week-long example, keeping the proteins in mind.