I know I’ve been scarce again. After doing 5 closing nights in a row, the last 3 being almost like Thanksgiving weekend again, I was beat on Monday and I had just one day off before going back to work. I think I’m still recovering from all that. In fact, my brain is so fried, I wasn’t sure what to write about since all my recipe development lately has been for next month’s Raw event. Then I remembered I’ve been meaning to write about how I do my menu planning. I know I’ve written about it before, but this time I took pictures for visuals. Plus, I have an updated system because of my work scheduling.
A little tangent for a few seconds. I realized as I typed the title for today’s post, that I’ve never really explained the origins of my blog’s name. It is a long story that I will save for later, but I’ll give you a summary for now. Hunter is my nickname given to me by the guys I worked with back home at the YMCA. Let’s just say little ol’ me, 5′ 2″ and 105 pounds at the time, nearly took out six of the guys twice my size at one time while playing a game. Before ever doing martial arts, I knew how to root myself and lower my center of gravity thanks to all the athletes I hung out with in college. I shocked the bejeezus out of them and they tried to call foul. My side won in the end. The Lyonesse part, well…I have a lot of Arthurian novels on my bookshelves. I enjoy reading the many different tellings of the rise and fall of Camelot. The romantic in me? Could be. But heck, I’m one of those strange people who own and has read the complete works of Shakespeare. You draw your own conclusions. I just like where I go in my head when reading them. So that’s it. You can call me Debi. You can call me Hunter. Or you can call me Dianah (a play on Hunter and the name I use in Second Life when I play in there).
Back to menu planning.
There was a time when I could just go to the grocery store, no list, no menu plan and still come home with healthy foods for dinners. I would troll the produce aisle and pick up whatever looked good. Then I’d peruse the meat and seafood where a plan would solidify in my mind. Once I had my proteins chosen, I would sometimes head back to produce for more. This worked when I didn’t mind being in the grocery longer than really necessary.
I moved on to creating a list, rather haphazard like most of us do or have done in the past. You know what I mean. You write down what you need or think of as it comes to mind. I forgot things on the list a lot. I tried crossing things off on the list to keep track of what I still needed, but that became cumbersome.
I got to the point where I just wanted to get in and get out – under 30 minutes. Shopping at places like Fresh Market and Whole Foods helped as they are smaller than places like Kroger and Meijer. I created my list system above several years ago. I group everything by category. First is produce or “fruits & veggies” as I have it written. That’s the first area I hit and systematically go through that part of my list in the store. Next, I move on to “meat” which includes fish and seafood. It’s also the next natural progression in most stores as you shop on the periphery. Then I have pre-packaged items. Those are the food items I have to go into the aisles for. When needed I also have a “non” and a “bulk” category. ”Non” is any non-food item like foil, vitamins, toothpaste, etc. So, when I have that down, I know what aisles or areas I need to head to. ”Bulk” is the bulk bin area, not the bulk paper towels or drinks. I haven’t bought paper towels in years. I have no use for them. Bulk drinks on the other hand…some wine wouldn’t hurt, but we don’t have the space for that. Anyway, that’s where I get my dried beans, nuts, brown rice etc. If you have a bulk bin section in the grocery, you’ll find that those times are generally cheaper than the packaged items. I can either get a pound of dried beans for $1.29 or a 12 ounce can of the same beans for the same price. Some of that weight in the can is the liquid. I’ll take the dried beans any day. They taste better to me, too. Last on the list is dairy. Unsweetened coconut milk, cheese, eggs, and the occasional sour cream, yogurt, or cream cheese. This part of the list is rarely more than 1 or 2 items.
This is where it gets a little crazy. I shop at Kroger for my produce. The Kroger that is pretty much right around the corner from our complex sucks, though. Like major sucks. I can rarely find what I need there. It’s small, old, and dirty. I go there only if I need something fast and I know they’ll have it or if my produce list is small and simple. There is a really good Kroger about 4 miles away. HUGE produce section. ”Natural” food section 4 times the size of the Kroger nearest to us. Bulk wine. Oh wait. No, seriously. I feel like I’m in a wine cellar in their wine section. The only other wine area I’ve seen bigger (other than at a vineyard or winery) is at Jungle Jim’s. I digress though. So, Kroger has pretty much the same produce selection as Whole Foods and it’s cheaper so what I save on that goes to pay for the quality stuff at Whole Foods. I try to stick to buying organic produce if it’s something that we eat the outer skin. Like celery. If it’s something where I peel the skin, I buy conventional. If I can get what I need pre-packaged at Kroger, I will buy it there. However, I have noticed some things are actually cheaper at Whole Foods, like tofu. Go figure.
I buy my proteins, dairy, and anything else I didn’t get at Kroger, at Whole Foods. Whole Foods generally has a better selection of local proteins and wild caught seafood. I will peruse Kroger’s seafood case for wild caught stuff. The Whole Foods I shop has grass-fed beef from a farm down South. Kroger doesn’t have that kind of selection. And, after learning about Kroger adding wheat to their ground beef, I’m really leary of buying anything from their meat department. Whole Foods also has a better selection of free-range chicken and eggs. I miss the local meat and eggs I got from the CSA last year. With my crazy work schedule, a CSA this year is out of the question.
My current planning calendar was born out of the necessity to figure out the menu based on my crazy work schedule. I only know my work schedule 2 weeks at a time. Yesterday, the schedule for the last week of March came out. I write down my work schedule at the bottom of the day blocks. At the top, I write down the dinner menu item. Anything in between is appointments and what not.
I plan dinners according to whether I open, close, or work mid (midday). If I open, I choose things really easy and simple to put together. Generally, those days I work 6-8 hours. If I open later in the week, I know I’m going to be exhausted when I get home, so those usually end up as “Leftover” nights. If I close, the time I go in depends on how simple or complicated dinner will be. The later I go in, the more complicated I can get. Days off during the week are either dinners that are time-consuming or cooked in the slow cooker (which is currently out of commission because I broke the lid and it can’t be replaced because it is “obsolete”) so that I either have leftovers for leftover night or it will be something that will be stretched out for dinners in the coming weeks. For example, a few weeks ago I made Bolognese sauce. I portioned out the leftovers into Tupperware and froze them. Each week I used a portion for a dinner. Those were the super easy dinners after doing an opening shift. Roasted chicken one night turns into chicken salad the next night and any leftovers get frozen for later use in soup or something else. Next week, I’m making a beef brisket to stretch out for a few weeks that will become things like shepherd’s pie.
Planning my menu this way makes it easy on me and easy on Chaz. He knows what to expect and sometimes he helps with the grocery shopping. He usually does a Kroger run on the weekends when I’m at work (weekend meals are up to him) and will take care of what I need on my list if I ask him to. This is especially helpful if I don’t have a Monday off. Or if I don’t want to spend all morning running errands when I only have one day off between work days.
I love the board because it has a space on the left for notes and for to do lists. Right now, I only have a long-term to do list running. I still have artwork and pictures to hang in the master bedroom and master bathroom. Oy. Little baby steps. I need to add taxes to the list. I’m way behind on that. I blame work and being sick and exhausted lately. Do you think the IRS would understand? Me neither. *sigh*
For those of you struggling with menu planning, I hope this was helpful. If you didn’t need help, I hope you enjoyed a little voyeurism of my day-to-day life.