Kitchen Control Freak Part I: Meal Planning Strategy

As we sat down to breakfast the other day, Michael observed, “You really just like to be in total control of what you are eating, don’t you?” And it’s true. Whenever we go on vacation, no matter how much I enjoy sampling local restaurants, I tend to flip into “gourmet chef” mode when we return home, as there is something cathartic about preparing a lot of meals and knowing exactly what is going into them. Writing it down, this makes me sound totally crazy. Which…potentially valid point. But, it’s not just a small (medium?) kernel of cray cray driving this preference, it’s a variety of factors:

  1. If one of our main goals is to avoid eating industrialized “food”—and the creepy headlines that accompany it–AND to eat humanely raised meat, it is really hard to know, for sure, what you are consuming unless you source it and prepare it yourself.
  2. As I become more aware of how my body responds (both positively and negatively) to certain edibles, my tolerance/desire/whatever for eating items that disagree with me has gone down to about, oh, zero. Again, this is difficult to manage unless you prepare things yourself.
  3. Of course, you could eat out every day, but the cost of regularly eating high quality food that is prepared for you is a little outside of our monthly budget. And, even then, you don’t know for sure: Michael used to work at a restaurant that advertised local, free-range chicken; it was the cheapest chicken from Costco. [They haven’t been in business for years, don’t worry.]
  4. Over the years, I’ve developed quite a bit of skill in the kitchen. While what I make might not please every palate, I cook exactly what I like. Consequently, going out to eat often leaves me feeling dissatisfied and irritated that the food I got wasn’t better. It turns out I’m becoming quite the picky eater.

So, I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to my food and my kitchen, stemming from strong food preferences and a need to keep our budget in check. Both of these factors drive our regular meals at home. But, with busy schedules and a diet that emphasizes a large amount of perishable meats and produce, it can be difficult to navigate the fine line between ensuring adequate food and avoiding food spoilage and waste (there goes your budget!). What to do? Remember the 7 Ps: Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance (or, the 6 Ps for those of you with cleaner mouths).

That said, saying “plan ahead” is pretty poor advice. How do I do it?

Sunday afternoons tend to be the day that I plan, stock, and prep. Most of the time, we aren’t starting from a clean slate and have various odds and ends in the refrigerator that need to be incorporated into early weekday meals to avoid spoiling. I keep the freezer stocked with meats, some emergency protein in the pantry (canned tuna, salmon, and chicken), and have an overflowing spice/oil/vinegar/dry goods cabinet in desperate need of organization. This gives me a solid base to work with. When I first started cooking every day, I didn’t trust my ability to innovate and made meticulous plans. Since I’ve been doing this for a few years it is a lot easier to get a general sense of what I need, and adjust the menu as the week goes on so I don’t end up with too much or too little of anything.

Another factor in my planning is our produce share. My produce box comes on Wednesday, and while the month/season provides a general idea (i.e. tomatoes in January are unlikely, just like acorn squash in August would be), the exact contents and quantity are unknown until Tuesday night. Consequently, I pin down Sunday night through Wednesday/Thursday, and leave the later meals less clearly planned to accommodate the produce delivery. I then do another mini plan/course correction on Wednesday or Thursday.

fancy template, no?

Looking into my refrigerator/pantry today, we had the following:

  • Need to be used ASAP: plantains, mango, avocado
  • Eat soonish: corn tortillas, cilantro, tomatoes, 2 scallions, green beans, 2/3 can of coconut milk, kale, handful sliced mushrooms, lettuce, 2 pieces of corn on the cob (grilled on Saturday)
  • Other odds and ends: zucchini, apples, 2 bell peppers, 2.5 dozen eggs, onions, sweet potatoes/potatoes
  • Freezer: lots of beef, ~2.5# boneless/skinless chicken thighs, a few pork pieces, chicken stock

After flipping through a few cookbooks to get some inspiration, I came up with the following plan:

The first order of business was to ensure that we ate things most likely to be on their way out before they actually expired, so all of the “needs to be used ASAP” were incorporated into Sunday’s menu in the avocado and mango salad and fried plantains. The remainder of the veggies with more life in them were incorporated into meals on Mon-Wed.

With a general meal template, I started some meat defrosting in the refrigerator, and it was time to figure out what I didn’t have and head to the store. I made a generalized list (bacon/sausage, cheap/attractive produce, chicken legs for Sunday night, etc.) and I hit up Whole Foods (mainly for meats) and Kroger (for veggies/apples). I wanted to make sure I had enough food to make all of my meals, as well as keep stuff on hand for my version of current obsessions like these nori rolls and these delicious stuffed apples.

The haul:

Grocery trip completed, the next step, and the next blog post, is pre-preparation. See you in Part II!

5 thoughts on “Kitchen Control Freak Part I: Meal Planning Strategy

  1. Pingback: Monday, August 20 « Solidarity Fitness

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