Just Precious

Making dinners easier, Step 1: Sign up with a Menu Planner

Posted in Just Precious is Cookin', Uncategorized by Julie Meyers Pron on October 22, 2009

As I said before, I didn’t always know how to cook. And I’m certainly not a chef. But a few handy helpers have made a huge difference in my abilities.

One of my initial problems with cooking was always the planning. 2 pm would roll around and I would have nothing planned. So I’d go with a stand-by, usually tacos or Shake & Bake. But that would always require a trip out to the store for last minute lettuce. If not, I’d just bake a piece of chicken with dressing drizzled on top, which never works unless you marinate it and let it sit for at least 4 hours and toss any canned veggie in the microwave two minutes before we sat down. Dinner was getting later and later. Less and less original. And more and more unhealthy. I recall my husband saying, “I think when I was younger my mom always had at least a meat, a starch and a vegetable on the plate.”

On a very random search for a last minute meal plan, I came across DinnerPlanner, a resource that became my cooking guide for the next year. Yes, an entire year. I didn’t hesitate to sign up for their newsletters (there’s a nominal fee, which is totally worth it because in the end you’ll learn to plan meals, you’ll teach yourself how to cook and adapt and you can create a year long cookbook dinners if you print out each week of meals ).

Each Thursday in 2006 a newsletter landed in my mailbox with 7 suggested meals, a color-coded shopping list and a menu–for the week. I printed it out immediately. Over the weekend I would select 4 or 5 meals*, depending on the week ahead. Following selecting, I pulled out the shopping list and crossed off the items from the recipes I didn’t need. (Of course, I also added my staples). Every Monday morning (and this is key because part of meal planning is living by routine) I took my list to the grocery store, bought exactly what I needed and left. My weekly grocery shop was lower than everyone I knew. And I only went on Mondays, no more wasting an hour every other day to pick up lettuce. And each day I knew exactly what I was going to make, not just that night, but the next night, too.

The meals at most menu planning sites are simple enough to make in less than an hour, often around 20 minutes (though that doesn’t include chopping–we’ll get to that in a few weeks.) But make sure you read the instructions ahead of time. You may need to marinate overnight. Or your dinner could be a roast or to make in crockpot which will take a bit longer. It took me more than two months to remember to check for marinades and messed up my dinner plans way too often.

There are plenty of menu planning websites and cookbooks. Most important for you is to select one and stick with it. Make sure you subscribe with an active e-mail. Trust me, you won’t motivate remember to visit the site weekly.  Give it a few weeks to get used to it and make it your new routine. Then come back here and look for Step 2: Adapting your meals and picking favorites.

*Never plan for 7 days, you’re certain to waste food. Plan for at least one night of leftovers.In addition, I like to plan a pizza night and/or a night out.

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