Monday, August 11, 2008

Mission Organization

Whoops, did I steal that from HGTV? Please forgive me. Actually HGTV, could you pass this post on to FoodTV so they will see what talent I have and give me my own show? Um kay, thanks.

Anyone who knows me, or even those who don't but are reading my blog, knows that I love to cook and bake! So it should come as no surprise to you that I plan my menus a week in advance and search for new recipes the week prior. I have had numerous people ask a) how I do it and b) could you do it for me? Since I've given up the idea of marketing such a service (there really are only so many hours in a day), I'm passing on my skills free of charge - you can thank me later! First, let me start by saying that my way is in no way fool-proof. I have no doubt you'll have to alter my plan to fit your own style and needs. I'll quit rambling now and show you how I operate.

I begin planning next week's menu on Monday or Tuesday. I keep a folder in Word at work that I've divided into different categories, i.e. chicken, beef, pasta, breakfast, sides, salads, cakes, etc. As I read blogs and other cooking sites, I copy any recipe that I might want to try and paste it in one of my said folders. I do the same thing each time I get a new issue of Bon Appetit, Cooking Light, or Southern Living. I used to tear out the pages that had a recipe I liked, but those started piling up and I never used them, so now I go to their site to find the recipe and copy and paste it too. Now I have them all in one place and can add comments or ratings as I try them. If I don't like it, I just delete it from my data bank. The only problem with this is that the recipes are only accessible from my computer at work. So far this hasn't been an issue because I handle all the menu planning at work.

I also have a folder called "menus". I start a new document each week that has my menu at the top of the page and my grocery list(s) at the bottom. As I type my list, I type the grocery items I need below it. I also write these items in the order that they appear at the grocery. Before you call me a freak, realize that my time is precious and this saves me not only time but the headache of forgetting something or going back and forth in the grocery. I generally have 3 lists on the page, one for Meijer, one for Whole Foods, and one for Farmer's Market. Yes, I know that's excessive but it's just how I roll. I have also recently started notes on this page for next week's menu. I often find several recipes to try and can't fit them all in one week, so as to not forget them (as I'm inclined to do recently) I jot them down on this week. I also enjoy getting a head start for next week.

The menu selection is my favorite part but it's also the most challenging. I have to deal with the old Danielle who had lots of time and could try all these elaborate recipes, and the new Danielle who has a child now that has to eat before 6-6:30, thus limiting the amount of time I can spend preparing a meal. This is an ongoing conflict because cooking is a passion of mine and it's hard to turn it off, so to speak. I generally try not to repeat any meat in one week, while at the same time not repeating many recipes either (another work in progress). I start with the main entree and then try to incorporate one green side item and usually another vegetable, unless the main entree has several (like chicken pot pie).

I do allow myself one "challenging" meal a week and that's prepared on Sunday when I have more time. I also try to make Monday's meal such that I can prepare at least part of it on Sunday as well. If there's any other part of any meal that I can prepare on Sunday, I do. I'm not a fan of leaving cooked food in the fridge for longer than 2 days, so I usually don't do much prep work for later in the week. Tuesday and Thursday are the days Wes is at home with Colin and I usually try to make those meals fairly quick. It's ideal if I can find some that Wes feels confident with and thus, he'll be able to start before I get home. He's actually a good cook and somewhat enjoys it, but I'm still working on his confidence level. It's such a tremendous help when he does help! Wednesday my mom cooks and that is also wonderful! Friday's are free-for-all and we usually eat leftovers, out of the freezer, or get a sandwich. Saturday is our day to eat out and man I look forward to it!

I usually try to do the Meijer shopping on Thursday or Friday during my lunch break. I store the refrigerated items in our fridge at work. Then I go to Whole Foods on Saturday morning while Colin is napping. It's nice to have my list in order and ready to go so that I can get in and out fairly quickly. I used to go every 2 weeks but that's not ideal for fresh produce so I switched back to once a week.

Here's this week's example (I'll spare you the grocery listings):

Mom’s b-day: Turkey burgers, tomato jam, beer soaked brats, baked beans, potato salad, slaw, orange cake
Chicken pot pie (August bon app├ętit magazine), salad
Foccacia sandwiches (mine – veggie), corn soup
Shrimp and grits, asparagus

Next week:
Jambalaya with turkey sausage/shrimp, cornmeal cakes
Salmon patties, quinoa torte, Brussels sprouts

I'll post some cake pictures later. It was good but the cake wasn't as moist as I prefer. The rest of the meal was great, with the exception of the potato salad - it was just ok. The beans are one of our favorite dishes. I added a chunk of brie to the middle of the turkey burgers. The brats are a Bobby Flay recipe where you soak them in beer, but I couldn't find the exact recipe online. The slaw is the same slaw they sell at Kroger, but mine is obviously homemade. My mom enjoyed the meal and that's all that matters since it was HER birthday!

Happy planning!


  1. Oh my - I had to read your post out loud to my husband to prove that I am not alone! There were so many things you said that I could have typed verbatim - I too have Word files broken into folders, I section out my grocery list by store - even though I didn't post it like that on the blog, and I hate to keep leftovers longer than two days!

    Thanks for the new ideas - I am still tearing pages out of magazines and loved your solution. I only dream of being as diligent as you are in weekly planning, usually my grocery list and typed plan only happen once or twice a month. Thanks again for the inspiration!

  2. I totally forgot to give you credit as the inspiration of my post! Stay tuned, I will give you your moment of glory. It is comforting to know that I'm not alone - I think we're the normal ones and everyone else is just weird! Once you have children, you'll make the time to do weekly planning or you won't eat!

  3. I hope you are kidding - you don't need to give my any credit - I just posted a menu this week since I stumbled on that planning blog!
    Thanks again for all the great ideas - now I can't wait to find time to clear out all my old magazine clippings. And picking one night to go out to eat would be a budget lifesaver and it'd force me to plan more meals.