Wow, it’s been a crazy few weeks. Finals for my students, nap and feeding transitions for my son, a visit from my Mum, family this, friends that… On top of that, my life now seems to be lived in 10 square feet of space 90% of the time, and so I’m just waiting for the day when I get to take a breath.
With all of the busyness of life, I’ve been trying to encourage my husband to help (or at least not hinder) with my efforts at meal planning. To me, this is something that’s often synonymous with eating the same thing over and over again, and having 30 plastic containers in the fridge taking up valuable space. This isn’t what it is to me.
So, first of all, the what. For me, meal planning is simply about making the most of the ingredients that you have. It doesn’t mean that you have to have the same dish for dinner 4 nights in a row. It means that you need to know what you have, and how you can use it.
This brings me to the why. Primarily, it’s cheaper. As a country, here in the US we throw out up to 50% of the produce that we buy. That’s staggering and shameful. Something I have always struggled to understand with my husband is the culture of disposability that seems to be so ingrained in the people who grew up here. I’m not saying that this is the only country where this is an issue, but it seems to be more prevalent here than elsewhere. And so I’m hoping that by planning my family’s meals at least a week at a time, we can avoid throwing out produce that was purchased in a large bag or box for a single meal. Less waste = less money spent = more money for other things. On top of the fiscal aspects, I am one of those people who absolutely needs organization. I am one of those people who looks at pinterest and dreams of that beautifully organized pantry with the matching containers all with their own chalkboard paint labels on them. It drives me nuts when my husband gets home from work and then starts to figure out what we might have for dinner that night, and when plans aren’t made in advance so I never really know what else I can or can’t get done. This is seemingly a genetic thing. I’ve never known anyone as meticulous as my Dad. Even when he found out he was dying, he made lists of people to notify, paperwork to organize, just about everything that could have been needed. Apparently it’s just something that we do.
And so, finally, how. The most traditional thing we eat in England (as far as I’m concerned at least) is a Sunday roast. It could be chicken, pork, lamb, beef… Whatever you like. It usually comes with roast potatoes (a personal favorite of mine) and some assortment of vegetables and gravy. So this is what I like to do. I’ll cook some kind of roast on a Sunday night for us, maybe a couple of friends. Then, I’ll have a plan for how else to use the rest of the meat during the week. If I roasted a chicken, I’ll use the bones to make stock which might form the base for a soup, stew or some ramen (which would also contain some of the meat), and the meat might also go into chicken salad or stuffed peppers, maybe used as a pizza topping. I typically let my husband pick at least one of the meals for the week, so once I know what he wants, I’ll look at other ways to use those ingredients. If he wants something with spinach, then I’ll add a steak spinach salad and a spinach pesto pasta dish (also a good vehicle for leftover chicken!) to the list for that week. What we end up with is at least a week’s worth of food from maybe 10 ingredients (plus pantry staples like spices), and we prevent the situation of the half a bag of spinach sitting in the bottom of the fridge until it’s inedible.
Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to post some of my favorite recipes for using your leftovers, so stay tuned! Also, if there’s a recipe that you’d like, please let me know and I’ll get working on it for you!