So last week is definitely being filed under “learning experiences.” In last week’s Menu Plan Monday post I started trying to articulate some of the elements of the planning process that seem to help make it work for me. This week I learned a few more gems of MPM wisdom, and while I learned them the hard way (not a lot of meals got made last week), at least I learned them!
The problem stemmed from the very lovely fact that I’ve been enjoying making more elaborate meals these past few weeks. Cooking is a real pleasure for me, and I’ve been loving trying out new recipes and making all kinds of delicious meals with sauces, sides, multiple components, etc. But last week I learned what happens when you’re busy, have a lot of evening plans, and nearly every meal on your menu plan is long and complicated. You don’t cook, is what happens! And not only that, but I would get kind of flummoxed and paralyzed because I had now earmarked all my produce to go into these certain meals, so what was I supposed to cook on nights when I didn’t have time to make those meals? One night I actually canceled plans so I could make one of the meals on my meal plan (that was one of a few reasons, of course, but still it was eye-opening!). Another night I basically didn’t eat dinner (I put an Amy’s in the toaster oven at 1 AM) so that I could keep my evening plans.
It’s ultimately all good though – making a meal plan each week and then seeing how it translates in real life is helping me to gather more and more data, which in turn helps me refine my menus. Here’s a recap of everything I’ve learned so far:
1. Build in nights for eating leftovers and eating out. Don’t plan (and shop for) a menu for every night of the week. Space them out fairly evenly so I’ll have leftovers to cover the nights I haven’t planned out a meal.
2. Don’t have every menu in my plan be an elaborate one. Don’t have every recipe be new. Try to have a mix of tried-and-true recipes, simple new recipes, and one or two more time-consuming and complicated recipes.
3. Balance proteins to come from beans, nuts, seeds, quinoa, and fermented soy, rather than just tofu.
4. Revisit the classic “main dish, side dish” format so I always have my veggies, salads, and sides specifically planned out for each meal. At the same time, don’t get overambitious – the “main dish” is whichever one is the most complicated. The “sides” should be easy-peasy, no-brainers.
5. Check the online prediction of what will be coming in my CSA box (which arrives every other Wednesday). This week only one thing was different from the prediction (celery instead of leeks) and I now have plans for nearly every item that came in my box, so hopefully nothing will be wasted!
6. Check the calendar to see what plans I have coming up. Be ruthless about planning the nights that I’m busy – it may seem boring and uninspired to have canned soup and steamed broccoli, or polenta and chard, but at least I’ll actually make dinner that night and not end up starving or spending money grabbing something out.
7. Take planning to the next level – make more extensive notes about what can be done ahead (e.g. steaming veggies for a rice bowl, making sauces that will keep in the fridge for a few days, etc.). On the nights – or even days – when I can cook more elaborately, it takes barely any extra time and trouble to also put on a pot and steam some sweet potatoes, or whip up an extra sauce. This means on nights when I am pressed for time my meal-prep will be more “assembling” than actual cooking.
8. Plan for a day or two, maybe a weekend day, that really is all about the cooking, and don’t make other plans on this day. Make a nice, multi-component meal for that day and do some of the advance prep mentioned above. I love to spend a whole afternoon in the kitchen! I listen to podcasts of The Splendid Table and KCRW’s Good Food (both free from iTunes) and become a chopping/cooking/baking/cleaning machine!
So with all these thoughts in mind, plus the fact that I’m out of olive oil and won’t be able to get any more ’til May, here is this week’s menu!
Polenta (cooked in rice cooker)
Tuesday (sweet potatoes must be steamed ahead of time, make extra for Wednesday)
Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas (put a bit of soy cream cheese in each enchilada)
Vegan Caesar Salad (Vcon, p81)
“Mish-mash Bowl” with quinoa, avocado, sweet potato, grated carrots, radishes, cashews, sunflower seeds, flax oil, nori, and tahini sauce
Birthday dinner out for a friend
Manda of Asparagus Thin hosts the Gluten-Free Menu Swap this week with the theme of Fusion Food. A lot of what I cook tends to be pretty fusiony, but as luck would have it, this week things are a little more straightforward, actually. I have some Italian flavors, followed by Mexican (with a classic American salad), then good ol’ hippy food, then Middle Eastern/North African with the stew. Do check out the swap for more border-crossing flavor marriages!
As always there’s a huge round-up of MPMs (with a few more vegan folks participating recently!) over at OrgJunkie!