Do you meal plan? I really am wondering. My friends who don't usually work from home are finding themselves doing a great deal more cooking than they normally do, and frankly they are getting tired of it. Several of them on our group chat echoed this sentiment and it got me to thinking....what do you all normally do? Cooking every night is the norm for me and has been since I graduated from college. Couple that with my innate need to plan things out and you can see why I honestly never thought about what it would be like to cook without a plan. It made me realize how being unprepared would seriously detract from the enjoyment of cooking. And that is something I hate to see.
I've used the following system my entire adult life. I used it when I was single, I used it when Ken and I were newlyweds and both in the Air Force, I used it when our family expanded kid-by-kid. I used it when we both worked, and when I was the only one working, and when Ken was the only one working. I even used it when neither of us were working and we ate whatever was on special at Walmart (a lot of oatmeal was consumed).
I start with our weekly schedule. Then I take stock of what meat and vegetables we have on hand. For days or nights when I am busy, I plan quick, easy meals, crock pot meals, or meals that I have made in advance and frozen. I put in target dinner times if we have to accommodate someone's schedule and eat outside our usual time. If there's something new I want to try, I plug that in on a day when I have more time. All of this I do in pencil because sometimes life throws you a curve ball or sometimes when the day you were supposed to make meatloaf arrives and you are definitely not in a meatloaf mood, you can adapt. Over the years I've honed my list of pantry staples down to a point where I can throw together a good meal at the last minute if needed.
We keep a grocery list stuck to the side of the fridge so the family can add to it when we run out of something or they want something special. As I plan out what I'm cooking for the week, I take that down and start adding to it. I also take stock of the pantry and fridge and add anything we are getting low on. Then I make my trip for groceries.
With all the planning already done, I simply look at the calendar before I go to bed and pull out anything I need to thaw for the next few days from the freezer. A quick look in the morning to estimate when I should start on dinner prep, and I'm all set. With the thinking done ahead of time, I can enjoy my time in the kitchen more fully.
Of course, there are always set backs. Every once in awhile I get so wrapped up in whatever I'm working on that I lose track of time and we end up eating at 8. But hey -- at least we are eating. And when growling stomachs make the eat late option a no-go, I take advantage of Ken's loving suggestion to give up and order something from one of our favorite local restaurants.
And yeah, I DO love to cook. I also like to plan. So all of this is second nature for me. I just thought maybe I'd share what works for me in the hope that some of you non-planners or disgruntled cooks would find a useful tip. It truly does free you up to enjoy the process of cooking more.