My post about getting bored with eating the same food and trying to plan meals must have really struck a chord with a lot of you. I think I had the most comments I’ve ever gotten on that post, and they were all filled with fabulous ideas. I’m going to do my best here to summarize some of the ideas I received and give you some links to follow that maybe you haven’t seen in the past.
From more than one person, I heard that keeping a binder helps them stay organized and makes planning easier. I’m promising myself that I’ll do this. I’m always trying new ideas from websites, magazines and cookbooks. Then, after I’ve cooked them, it is rare that I remember where I found them and which ones went over well with the family. With the binder method, you either print out a copy of the recipe, tear out the page of the magazine, or maybe direct yourself to the page of the cookbook you got it from. This will be my New Year’s Resolution – get the binder, buy those plastic insert pages, and start putting the good stuff in it. Building up the binder will take some time, of course, but I think it is a great idea for remembering the stuff you like.
Planning, planning, planning. This seemed to be important to many folks who commented. Trying to make up close to a week’s worth of dinner ideas before hitting the grocery store seemed like the common way to do it. That’s what I usually do too, but some days I just don’t wanna! You know what I mean? The task of searching the internet or cookbooks or magazines just seems like more than I can possibly bear, then I end up having a miserable time at the grocery store wandering aimlessly trying to figure it out. I think the binder will some day make this easier.
A suggestion I read about once was to make up a calendar for the month. When you know a bunch of family favorites (whether from in the rolodex in your head or from the magic binder) sprinkle favorites during the month. Fill in other dates with new things to try or with great-buy items from grocery shopping that week. The “month-at-a-glance” idea is supposed to help prevent the ruts that so many of us seem to get stuck in.
The calendar idea makes me think about the seasonality of food as well. Winter is the season of casseroles and stews and soups. In summertime, as Tracy M. put it, the grill is king. Some favorite foods may transcend all seasons. Making the most of what is in season can be a big part of meal planning.
Freezers were a big part of the food conversation as well. Some people mentioned having an extra freezer and choosing meals according to what they had stored away. Making extra of freezer friendly foods such as sauces, soups, stews, and casseroles makes life easier for some folks. My sister even had a little cooking session with friends where they made a bunch of meals together to take home and put in their freeezers ( no, she didn’t invite me! maybe next time! 😉 ).
Freezing meals reminds me of a little story. Excuse me while I digress…
Back in the winter of 1994-1995, I was expecting my first child. Inexplicably, my husband and I decided that was a good time to remodel our kitchen. Meghan was due on March 1, 1995. The contractor said, no problem, it will all be done long before then. We made up some easy-to-freeze meals and stored them away for the days when all we would have was a microwave, plugged in in the dining room, to work with. The kitchen was gutted. Of course, the work took longer than the contractor predicted. Shocker there, right? I got sick of the frozen meals. I got sick of every type of take-out food in my general area. Got sick of the house in disarray. My husband worked the midnight to 8am shift in those days, so he slept from 3pm til 11pm and I was left on my own to grouse about the house. One night, very close to my due date, I couldn’t stand the claustrophobic feeling of my house any more and drove myself to a big mall about 25 minutes from home. I fed myself in the food court and wandered the mall looking at baby items and other things. I ran into another pregnant woman and we asked each other when we were due – I told her about a week. I think she still had a few weeks to go. We wished each other well and went our separate ways.
No this story doesn’t end in my water breaking in the middle of a mall. I got home, chatted with hubby while he got ready for work and I got ready for bed. I kissed him goodbye and settled in for the night. At 5am, however, my water did break. Hubby was in the middle of an arrest when I called his pager (er, he’s the police officer, not the criminal in case anyone was wondering! 😉 ). Meghan arrived 19 hours later, about 5 days ahead of schedule. We brought our baby home to a still incomplete kitchen. No, it wasn’t done by her actual due date either. I spent my first couple weeks at home with a newborn with a houseful of workers finishing my kitchen. Ay-yi-yi!
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.
In addition to the freezer, I heard about deliveries that made for some variety in planning. One commenter mentioned getting a weekly farm delivery! Sounds wonderful. My sister recently joined a local meat CSA (community supported agriculture). The way I understand it, she gets a monthly shipment of a variety of meats. I think she tells them the types of meats she’s interested in receiving, and gets whatever types and cuts are available each month in varying amounts. This has challenged her to find some new ways to use the meats she receives, and in turn helped her get some variety in her menu planning.
Like many of us do, I scour through the internet in search of meal ideas. Allrecipes.com and Myrecipes.com are two great sources. I recently found out that the Pioneer Woman has a visual index of her recipes. This is great for me because #1, I am a visual person. I like to see things when people are explaining something to me, have a diagram drawn or, shocker here, see a picture! #2, most of the time I have no idea what I am looking for or what I want to make. You can scan through the pictures of P’Dub’s recipes and then click on it when you see something that looks good.
Andrea, a friend from high school, emailed me a list of some of her favorite dinners. Many of them are stand-by’s most of us probably make, but she’s given them their own twist. Some are ideas I just don’t think of making. Here’s her list of favorites:
Ginger glazed meatloaf
Roast chicken, which I then turn the leftovers into chicken and biscuits (just leftover chicken, a bag of mixed veggies, 2 cans of chicken gravy thinned with chicken stock if necessary, heated up and served over biscuits). I also then make chicken, veggie and rice soup with the rest of the leftovers.
Spaghetti sauce (either marinara or meat if we haven’t had a lot of meat lately). I usually freeze half of this and we get a total of 4 meals out of it.
breaded pork chops
Orange-ginger pork chops
pork tenderloin seasoned with whatever we’re in the mood for, or I buy the pre-seasoned ones if they are on sale.
Chicken breast sautéed with veggies served with whole wheat noodles
Fish and peppers
I make a lot of soup and we have soup and sandwiches. The soups I make the most are vegetable, carrot-ginger, lentil, leek and potato, butternut squash, lasagna soup
We also eat a lot of fish b/c it cooks quickly. Some favorites are: Salmon with lemon and rosemary, Salmon with onions and capers, crab cakes, steamed mussels
Chicken or beef fajitas
Beef taco bake
Grilled portobellos on salad
Frittatas made various ways
Port marinated grilled flank steak
Stuffed pork chops
Meatballs made various ways
Sweet potato and kale
Red curry pork and noodles
Thanks, Andrea! For a super-easy dinner night, I found out many of you like “breakfast for dinner.” I was so happy to find out I wasn’t the only one who occasionally served up pancakes to the kids on a night when I just didn’t know what else to make!
I thought I’d finish this post with a couple recipes I’ve made recently that I’ve thought were really good.
I made ham, peas & pasta the other night and Meghan actually said,”I wish you’d make this more often!”
I made this recipe that Jennifer blogged about and gave me a link to, a fabulous chicken pot pie:
It was based on this recipe from Fine Cooking magazine, but I tweaked it to my own liking. No parsnips or swiss chard for me, regular celery instead of celery root, plus I added some corn. I touched up the seasoning with just a bit of “Slap Ya Mama” cajun seasoning. Instead of dumplings, I made my favorite cheese biscuits:
Did you ever notice that homemade biscuits can make almost any meal feel hearty and delicious?
I hope this post gave you at least a few ideas for dinner that maybe you hadn’t thought of before! I will continue to share some of my interesting recipes from time to time (but like I said, I am not a food blogger, so don’t worry, I won’t do it too often) or any great ideas that people may share with me. If you are one of the fine folks who mentioned sharing recipes or ideas with me and haven’t had the chance to do it yet, send your thoughts along whenever you have the chance and I will pass them along.