Monday, September 26, 2011

Meal Planning Club


As I talked about last week in my post about reducing stress, we've been eating out nearly every night in an attempt to keep our house cleaner and to reduce the stress associated with change and transition. Honestly, I think it's introducing more stress into our lives. We're eating food that's not as healthy, we are bringing a baby to a restaurant every night, and we're growing weary of our go-to restaurants.

So I've been trying to figure out how to get back into cooking most nights without introducing a lot of stress into our lives. Meal planning immediately came to mind.

Typically, I plan meals by the week. But then I remembered a post by Amy or Meg about planning meals by the month. That way, you eat something different every night but can reuse the plan for a couple months in a row and then change it with the season.

And then I had an idea. What if twelve of us got together and had a little Meal Planning Club? Each of us could take a month, plan out approximately 20 meals (4-5 per week), include a corresponding grocery list, and link to all the recipes? That way, we could have a year's worth of meals in exchange for the time and effort it takes to plan one month. How fun would that be?

At this point, some of you are rolling your eyes and some of you are raising your hands To those of you who are excited about this idea, here's what I'm thinking:

  1. We will each select 20 recipes from the internet with corresponding links.
  2. All the recipes will be vegetarian.
  3. All the recipes will be relatively healthy.
  4. The recipes will be relatively quick and simple (approximately 30-45 minutes or less).
  5. Each recipe will require a reasonable number of ingredients.
  6. The ingredients will be relatively easy to find at a regular grocery store.
  7. Whenever possible, the recipes will try to reuse ingredients later in the week in order to save money (such as cilantro).
  8. Whenever possible, we will try to use recipes that are seasonally appropriate.

How does that sound? Are 11 of you interested?

I am so, so excited about this little experiment. It would be so fun to collaborate with you.

If you're interested, please fill out the form below. If we can get 12 people together, then we'll move forward with this idea.

Crossing my fingers!



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14 comments:

Ellie said...

I like this idea a lot! I would say another "rule" or suggestion for recipe would be to, whenever possible, find recipes that are flexible and allow for easy substitutions if an ingredient isn't available at the farmer's market or something.

Also, maybe somebody would be willing to put all the recipes into a nifty calendar reference for all of the rest of us to print out and put on the refrigerator?

Anonymous said...

Sara,I thought I would suggest a completely different approach:
I think meal planning and spending a great deal of time planning meals (instead of making them!) can be counter-productive. I cook several times a week without fuss and with a simple, thought out plan and little stress. Neither me nor my friends who cook have "meal plans" or similar planning techniques, we just do it. Here is what I would suggest (and it is not earth shattering, just trying to help focus): Think of a few simple meals you want for the week. Have Matt do the same. (I can send you super easy recipes if you want, Martha Stewart's website has dozens of them for weeknight meals, and you can even sign up for daily recipes to get your food brain going!). Decide which night each person cooks based on their schedule. One cooks, the other cleans up (unless terribly messy, then both can help). Make grocery list and buy all that is needed. Viola, Simple.It really isn't that hard, or cerebral. We also get "assembly ingredients" on hand in case something changes and the person doesn't get to/want to/is able to cook on their night: these are ingredients that can easily be assembled for a quick dinner. An example is, some bagels, tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach etc for emergency pizza bagels with a side of steamed spinach. Or veggie dogs, buns, sauerkraut that we keep on hand for emergency hot dog meal. Sometimes we have egg sandwiches for dinner, with a side of some steamed veggie (pea pods, for example), and there is no shame in that! I think with cooking, the idea is simplifying your life, not overcomplicating it, or making it rigid. I used to try meal plans, thinking they would help me be more organized, but they just made me feel more restricted. Does this all make sense? I hope this helps! Just take it week by week, cook something big (easy soup, veggie chili) on Sunday if you can, for the week--that way you start off on the right/healthy foot for the week and you feel good about that. It is really easy and you will get the hang of it. Also, I sometimes do things in parts which really helps. For example, if I am making carrot-orange soup for Wednesday, I may brown the onions and carrots and cook them in chicken stock on Tuesday night, while I am doing something else, so that Wed is so much easier. Sorry for the long post, I have just read your struggles with cooking so many times and never had the guts to say something--so I finally did and really hope it helps. Let me know if you would like more ideas! I think your "group activity" tendencies are admirable, but sometimes, you just gotta do it on your own and get it done! (: You don't have to be a gourmet chef, but once you get these basics (yes, even pizza bagel meals etc) down, you can slowly start incorporating more elaborate meals into your repertoire, rather than striving to do so from the beginning. Also, in this way, you really only end up cooking maybe three times a week--the leftovers (and we always make more than we need) take care of the rest, and then one day a week we sometimes each out or order in. Good luck!

Amber Rudd said...

Check out onceamonthmom.com. They do the monthly meal planning and all lists for you using foods that are in season and usually on sale. There is a vegetarian menu. I haven't tried it yet but it looks pretty awesome!

Melissa K said...

I signed up. :)

Gracia said...

I signed up, but I'd love it if we could share recipes not published online, just through email. I have a few family recipes that would work perfectly for this, but I guess I can always publish them on my blog and link to it :)

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Anonymous: I'm glad you had "the guts to say something"! I'm always open to feedback, especially if it's coming from a place of genuine caring and concern.

What you're describing sounds a lot like what we do right now. We come up with simple meals for the week, go grocery shopping for all the ingredients, and then make the meals. The difference is that we only eat the leftovers for lunch (since most of our meals make about four servings). Also, Matt and I prefer to cook together and clean up together, since it's part of how we spend time together in the evenings. I'll definitely have to try cooking something ahead of time (like you described with the onions).

My current meal planning process doesn't take a ton of effort every week. I flip through our binder of recipes or my online cache of recipes. Then I list out the ingredients. If I'm in a bind, I just go to the store and pull our easiest recipes out of my butt and remember everything from my head. However, it is a weekly action item on my to-do list, and I think meal planning by the month would be simpler for me.

For me, I would rather front-load my planning and then coast. Especially if I only plan one month and then get to use others' meal plans for the rest of the year!

There are so many different styles of meal preparation, and we each have to figure out what works for us. Some people go to the store and put ingredients in their carts that look good. Then they create their own recipes as they cook each night. Some people just buy staples (pasta sauce, pasta, rice, beans, etc.) and then look in the pantry to decide what to cook. Some people spend Sunday cooking and freezing meals for the whole week.

What works best for me--since I'm not creative at all when it comes to cooking--is picking out easy recipes and buying those specific ingredients. It helps me save money and reduce clutter in my pantry and refrigerator (as well as waste, since things would inevitably spoil and I would have to throw them away). I can do that on a weekly basis, a monthly basis, or a seasonal basis. The thought of sitting down and planning meals for one month to share with 11 other people makes me really happy. I'll probably spend about four hours creating my month's plan and then I won't have to think about meal planning for the rest of the year.

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Gracia!

I definitely have recipes that aren't online. We'll have to figure out the best way to share them.

Shawn said...

I think this is a great idea. I have to admit that as a meat-eater, I really don't know how to make vegetarian dinners. I usually pick a protein and then plan side dishes that complement. Pasta comes to mind, but I'd love to learn more about how to be creative when it comes to vegetarian cooking. Even though I plan to continue eating meat, it would be great to learn how to cook vegetarian and add these recipes to my rotations.

Sara E. Cotner said...

@ Anonymous: I forgot to add that I would love you to e-mail some of your quick and easy recipes!

Mismikado said...

I signed up and I love Ellie's idea of having a calendar. What if we created a calendar spreadsheet with each monthly menu listed and linked in a column and then each group member can just copy and paste and print the menu to the order they want. I could create something like this... here is a 5 min sample i put together to visualize what I mean :) https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AmejbrP6xoiadHJIUHpPWmZTbnl1M0ZvSFhFNnlKaGc&hl=en_US

Tracee said...

Great idea I would totally sign up but *sigh* I'm not a vegetarian. I know couple veggie recipies but most of mine have meat/chicken/fish in them. Can you post some of your favorite recipies from the club though???? We do meatless mondays and i'd love to have more stuff to cook!!

Raquel.Somatra said...

This sounds like a great idea, and almost perfect for me to sign up, since my husband and I eat 95% healthy vegetarian meals as is. The only drawback is since we are on a rather tight budget, we tend to plan our meals based on what is on sale at the store or market, which would make it difficult to plan so far in advance. I second Tracee's request, please post very loved and well received recipes!

Catherine said...

Sounds like a great idea, but as I am not a vegetarian I wouldn't have too much to contribute. Good luck getting a group together.

Kelsey said...

I would like to be a better meal planner! I'd love to hear about what recipes and ideas you guys come up with. One issue I have with evening meals is that Chris is usually so hungry when he gets home from work around 5 that he'll eat a bowl of cereal and then not be very hungry or motivated to cook dinner by the time I get home - arg! If I could just get him to channel that hunger into starting a meal...

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