some thoughts on food and planning

2015-01-08-BakedPastaI drafted this post standing at the kitchen counter waiting for tonight’s dinner to need my attention again. I stood there more because I sit too much than because I made an elaborate meal. I make just about every single meal we eat, though I don’t do much at breakfast, and I don’t (often) do fussy cooking. Yes, I complain about figuring out what to make for the picky-eater and adding in lunch for both of us now that we both work from home took me about six months to figure out, but it doesn’t take a lot of time or money to do it and do so in a healthy way.

I grew up eating at home, if I wanted to eat then my parents or I made it. Yes, money was tight but it wasn’t difficult or expensive to eat at home. Meals were not elaborate, nor were they highly processed, with the exception of a few canned soup based recipes. TV dinners were an exciting treat and thinking back, as exciting and rare as eating out! We ate local and in-season for the most part, not for any idealistic reason, but because that was how it was. My mum spent a few summers working at a farm stand, so that added even more to our local eating.

Over the years as I’ve gained my own experience, I’ve improved at this part of life management. We’ve increased the number of meals at home, I’ve reduced what we spend at the store and believe we eat (for the most part) better and definitely waste less food. For example, last year (aka 2014) we spent 30% less on groceries than the year prior, we spent on average $67 a week for two adults. There’s still room to improve, but overall I’m impressed that I reduced spending last year, E joined me in the home office club so lunch was added to the list (I used to just scrounge whatever) and I still spent less on groceries!

I still rely a bit too much on a few processed foods that I could replace with some small planning changes but I’ll get there. Last year I finally figured out how to replace hot chocolate mix (the issue was long-expired cocoa). My current biggest cooking crutch is a little embarrassing, I rely on pre-made broth that sits in the pantry until I need it, I go through 2-4 quarts a week and don’t have freezer space or a pressure canner to make it easier to store my own. Could I make those 2-4 quarts with a bit of scheduling? Yes, but I’d love to make more than that in a crazy huge batch on a Sunday and meet my needs for a few weeks not just one.

It isn’t hard to plan healthy meals that don’t cost a fortune, and it doesn’t take that much time each week once you get used to it, however I discovered it’s not easy for me to write up what I’ve learned over the years. Today I want to discuss a beautiful and thoughtful cookbook and a new menu planner service that does a nice job at teaching how to meal plan.

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The Nourished Kitchen: Farm-to-Table Recipes for the Traditional Foods Lifestyle Featuring Bone Broths, Fermented Vegetables, Grass-Fed Meats, Wholesome Fats, Raw Dairy, and KombuchasThe Nourished Kitchen
by Jennifer McGruther
star star star star unstar
book source: Netgalley & public library

I first discovered this book through Netgalley, and yes, it’s taken me over 6 months to write up anything about it, so I borrowed a copy from the library to refresh my memory. I think the delay is because every time I’d flip through I’d get really hungry. The photos are absolutely gorgeous and make me want to make just about everything! I find I like McGruther’s philosophy – cooking with an eye to choosing the sustainable, balanced to enjoy food mindfully, unprocessed and unrefined, prepared in traditional ways (fermenting), and being involved in the community. I really do wish I could do more than I do currently do. One year I hope to join a CSA and I try hard to support the tiny local fair-weather farmer’s market in my community. Within the eight chapters there are recipes that cover the spectrum of foods over the seasons, the list of things I want to make is quite long! There are helpful suggestions, tips, and detailed information throughout including choosing ingredients such as olive oil, how to source fish, and a helpful bean and lentil cooking chart. I think this cookbook is most helpful for those looking to learn more about cooking real wholesome seasonal food.

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I’ve kvetched for years about meal planning yet I enjoy the time I set aside on Thursday mornings when I look at the extended weather forecast, flip through my cookbooks, and try to divine what we want to eat for the next week. In the beginning of my adventures for improving my meal planning skills it was nice to subscribe to a service that showed how to put together a week of diverse meals that didn’t necessarily use 100 different ingredients each night. Way back when it was a new service, I used saving dinner and it worked well as I learned how to plan better. I still go through phases when I wish someone would make all the decisions for me, E’s a picky eater who doesn’t want to answer the question of “what might you like for dinner” until about 3p that day. I also tend to fall into a rut during the winter when I get tired of root vegetables and winter squash.

A friend introduced me to Frugal Real Food Meal Plans and I downloaded the two-week trial. While I’ve decided I don’t need the plans right now, I was impressed enough to want to share it with others. What do I like? It provides a full month of planning. That gives options and lets swapping out happen easier than if there’s just 7 different meals to choose from. There are breakfast and lunch options. Where was this a year ago? There are suggestions on how to budget, how to inventory, and how to plan and substitute. It really it is what I do. I’m excited someone has figured out how to write it up in a easy-to-follow manner. I am also impressed with the variety of meals and that it’s easy to convert the recipes to be vegetarian or kosher. I also like the weekly, daily and nightly planning suggestions. Everything about the planning system impressed me.

I didn’t feel right talking about this plan without making something, so the other night I made the Tortilla Soup that was included in the free 2-week sample. It was amazing and there are more than enough of leftovers for lunch. I wish I had further cut the spices for my picky eater, but that’s ok, more for me. Please, check it out, and let me know what you think.

Tortilla Soup