I think an impediment to the prevalence of whole, fresh food (and thus, local food) in our diets is the lack of home cooking. And one impediment to home cooking is reluctance and intimidation toward meal planning. This is an easier obstacle to tackle compared to lack of time or money. Though, as meal planning skills improve, good eating will become more efficient and economical.
I’ve come to enjoy meal planning. This is how I do it:
My meal planning routine comes down to lists: 1) frozen food; 2) food I want to make; 3) shopping lists to fill the gap between what I have and what I need.
1) frozen food list
I keep a list of the contents of the freezer. This was initially a way to save energy by reducing the amount of peeking in the freezer. But it has also turned out to be a helpful way to plan meals and make shopping lists.
2) list of meals/dishes
My meal planning routine includes time for flipping through cookbook indexes looking for ways to use ingredients I already have on hand (for example, now I would look for recipes using a lot of potatoes or cucumbers) or I anticipate getting from the food co-op or farmers’ market (like eggplant). Or I look through saved websites or blog posts for recipes that sounded promising or exciting. I bookmark the cookbooks and write down the recipe names on a piece of scrap paper, sometimes noting the recipe source so I can easily find it later. I usually try to include a meal or two that uses non-perishable or frozen food like pasta or meat from the freezer. There might be a lack of fresh food, but I know we have the makings of a meal, even when the refrigerator or pantry look bleak. For example, meatloaf is always an option since eggs, tomato paste, frozen ground meat, and breadcrumbs are staples.
These meals aren’t planned for certain days, but there is usually a balance between quick-and-easy and more elaborate recipes. Once the planning and shopping are done, I usually decide what to cook a day or two in advance, depending on my schedule and the status of my fresh ingredients.
As I make the list of meals, I reference the frozen food list and refrigerator contents, while making note of any items I need to buy. Which leads us to the third list:
3) shopping list
I try to group items on the shopping list by source: farmers’ market, Buy For Less, ethnic grocers.
Do you have a meal-planning system? Please share. What are your go-to meals or staple ingredients? What delicious meals have you prepared when, at first glance, it seemed there was no food in the kitchen?