Every Sunday evening, I take a trip to my deep freezers. I pull down a couple of my favorite cookbooks, look over my canned and frozen foods inventory, and make an outline for the meals I’ll make during the week. This gives me the chance to look over my food stores and prepare recipes with what I have on hand, making savvy substitutes when necessary.
In late Fall to early Spring, my pantry is stocked with what I’ve preserved over the harvest season and my chest freezers are full of meat. In the warm months, meal planning revolves around whatever veggies are available in the garden or from my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Since moving to New Hampshire, I purchase grains and spices in bulk. With covid and a young baby, trips to the grocery store are infrequent, averaging once a month or less. My Sunday routine of meal planning is my weekly grocery run.
I prefer cookbooks as my source material. I find scrolling through endless, ad laden food blogs with mediocre recipes uninspiring to say the least. Limiting yourself to a fixed set of recipes can fuel creativity.
This past month, I’ve been amassing a trove of used vintage cookbooks. My tastes lean towards central and eastern European cuisines. In my personal ancestry, I have some overlap with the lands of Babas. I favor these cuisines for their simple ingredients and straight forward cooking techniques. Most of the ingredients align with what I have in my pantry already. I choose vintage over modern cookbooks because the Old World knew what to do with every part of the animal, knew how to utilize every locally available food that was in season, knew that the key to a good meal was the quality, not quantity, of ingredients.
Traditional food preparation often requires starting your meal a day or two ahead of time; soaking grains, feeding your sourdough starter, baking bread, culturing dairy, making bone broth, etc. The kitchen is the center of the homestead and all other activities follow its routine and rhythm.
My goal is to plan two meals a day, Monday through Friday. On the weekends, I have a more free time and can improvise a meal more easily. In addition to canned soups and stews, I have yogurt, eggs, cheese, nuts and dried fruit on hang if time becomes an issue or I need a quick snack.
Here is an example of my week outlined.
Portion your meals so that you’re making enough for leftovers. This ultimately saves you time. What you have for dinner on Tues, can be lunch on Wed. If you make large enough portion sizes at the beginning of the week, you’ll be able to take at least one day off of cooking.
Consider staples you can use in more than one meal. Making rice to accompany a stew can turn into fried rice another day. Extra veggies as a side to meat can go into an omelette for breakfast or lunch. A large roast can turn into sandwiches or stir fry. For the sake of time and convenience, I plan at least one meal each week to be cooked in the slow cooker. Whole chickens, tougher roasts, soups and stews are all suitable choices.
Most of my meals are simple, usually meat and a side. I save bread making and other time consuming dishes for the weekend. I squeeze meal prep in during my baby’s best times of day, in between naps and after she goes to bed.
Dedicating this small amount of time, usually 30 mins, has become a routine I look forward to every Sunday. I increase my culinary aptitude learning new recipes while planning the meals that will nourish my family for the rest of the week.