Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How to Meal Plan - Part 2

Two cooks of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry

Planning meals is pretty easy - we keep it low key around here and only plan for dinner. Some people plan for two (usually breakfast and dinner) or even three meals a day. I've even seen some planning templates that account for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a snack! That's just a little too much for us considering we don't eat breakfast unless we absolutely have to, lunch is a portion that is left over from yesterday's dinner, and snacks are from the stocked fruitbowl we keep on the dining room table.

One of the sources that I've read, The Book of Household Management, which was written in 1859 describes an average housekeeper's day. One of the things that I noticed was the sheer amount of time devoted to food preparation and planning. There was a twice daily inventory of the kitchen for food that was about to spoil and numerous preparations for meals that were happening that evening or even the next day or two. Luckily meal planning is a lot simpler now. I do try to keep an eye on everything that needs to be used up so things don't go to waste but I'm not constantly trying to beat vegetables that only last a day or two due to a lack of refrigeration!

Here's how we plan meals around here:

1. Plan the meals for one week and post it somewhere handy. I try to put the more time consuming "experimental" meals on the weekend days or on Tuesdays or Thursdays when I know I will have more time in my schedule. I try to keep Friday a simple vegetable catch all (often stir fry or veggie soup) so that I can keep it easy since I get home late and am faced with week old produce that is usually coming close to the end of it's shelf life. I will repeat family favorites each week until we are tired of them and add in one or two new meals depending on how interesting and accessible the cooking blogs were this week!

Here is an example meal plan:

Monday: Spicy Thai Soup - This was my experimental meal for the week. I found this in the November issue of Martha Stewart. It was a 15 minute prep time recipe so I chose to do it on Monday!
Tuesday: Tofu Stir Fry - this is a family favorite and will use up the veggies from last week we didn't use.
Wednesday: Black Bean Soup and Cornbread - This is a wintertime favorite I can make on auto pilot. I have it timed so I make the cornbread in five minutes or less, put it in the oven, and make the soup. By the time the soup is done the cornbread is finished and cooling and we can eat both together.
Thursday: Curried Quinoa Salad - Another family favorite that I can make on auto pilot
Friday: Veggie Soup - Notice how I'm using up the week old vegetables? This is another quick and easy meal.
Saturday: Mutter Paneer - This is a time consuming recipe since it involves making the paneer first and then making the rest of the recipe. I chose to do this one on Saturday because it's a delicious recipe but it takes a substantial amount of time to do!
Sunday: Scrounge! - This is literally what I write on the meal plan. There is almost always one day a week that we don't end up making the planned meal so it gets moved to Sunday. If we do end up making all six then I find things in the cupboard and fridge that need to be used and make something of them. To help me pair ingredients I'll often type them into a google search and see what they come up as in a recipe!

2. Write the Grocery List. Take a look at the things you're making, check the recipes if you need to, and write the list down. Writing a list helps me make sure there are no last minute trips to the Grocery store midweek. Also, it helps me stay on budget when I shop!

3. Put the recipes for the week in one place. Most of my recipes are on my computer so I bookmark them, put them in the bookmark bar on my Chrome browser, and rename them for the days of the week they will be used. For example, my recipes are named "Monday," "Tuesday," and "Saturday" so I know what day I will use them. If it's from a cookbook or magazine I put a book marker into it and put that text onto my cookbook stand.

4. Shop for what you need. Remember to take the list! Stick to the list! We also take a calculator (actually our phones act as calculators) to keep a running total of what we're spending. Pick up some flowers for yourself while you're at it.

5. Every night take a look at the list of meals you've posted somewhere handy. See what you're making and then grab the book you've marked, the computer, or the magazine and start cooking! A little meal planning helps put the kitchen on autopilot!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Benefits of Meal Planning - Part 1

Meal Planning - Part 1: Why should I?

Familen om bordet med madam blå

If you googled "meal planning" you would get a plethora of different hits, hints and maybe helpful suggestions. You'd see things like Once a Month Cooking, How to plan a perfect Holiday Meal, menu services where you pay someone to send you what you will eat for the week or month, and so on. If you went to the cookbook aisle of a bookstore you'd see books that touted meals in thirty minutes, recipes for working women, books explaining how to make everything in a microwave and other time saving recipes.

I love the idea of saving time when cooking. I work long days and when I come home one of the very last things I want to do is make an elaborate three course meal complete with wine pairings. I also know that a lot of women that I know feel bullied by the media, social pressures, and perfectionism so they try to make the perfect meal, spend hours doing it only to be left with the dishes, and give up.

I know, however, that food is often the center of a family and cooking for my family is worth the investment of time in it. I cook around 7 days a week most weeks. I estimate that it takes me thirty minutes to an hour to make each meal and do the cleanup involved. That seven hours over the course of the week is worth the time put into it because I know I'm helping to keep my family healthy by bringing things that are balanced and made from fresh foods to the table.

It's a well known fact that people who cook at home are generally healthier than people who eat out frequently. The ability to control what goes into your body is limited in most restaurants. If you cook at home you can cut the amount of oils in half or use healthier ones. You can include whatever fresh veggies you have and cook them to perfection. You can control portion size, and you can set part of it aside for tomorrows healthy lunch too! Cooking at home generally forces you to think about what you're making and why and how you're making it. You tend to eat seasonally because that's what is in the stores at that time!

Having family meals creates a strong family. The body of research on this topic is vast and a quick google search brings up article upon article about the social benefits of having family dinners. Families who eat dinner together have children who are 42 percent less likely to drink, 50 percent less likely to smoke and the children are less obese than their peers who do not have family dinners. Not only that...you get to know your family better! We have long days but creating a center where you can just talk and discuss what is going on helps keep you in the loop about how the people in your family are doing, what they are up to, and what they are looking forward to!

Meal planning is the avenue to get to all those family dinner benefits. There's no perfect formula for meal planning. Right now I plan my meals once a week and I grocery shop once a week. When I lived with an urban farmer who was constantly bringing produce home we grocery shopped once a month and meal planned when she brought things home. When I lived way out in the country side we shopped twice a month because the trip into town took too long. The most important thing about meal planning was that every day when I got home from work I could look at the fridge, read whatever was listed as the meal for that day, and be confident the ingredients were tucked away somewhere in the kitchen for me to use. Meal planning makes cooking easier than it ever was before.

Meal planning saves you money. We spend $100.00 a week on groceries for a family of two. We would spend $100.00 for just two or three meals out. The math is easy - cooking at home saves you money!

Good resources for adventuring into family dinners and the reasons to cook at home:

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

November Thoughts

Home of mill striker, Utica (LOC)

November, for me, signals the leap from Fall into Winter. The major fall cleaning is done in anticipation of the Holiday season and the change in the weather. The grocery lists are beginning to change to reflect what is in season. We are spending more time at home and less going out in the evenings because of the early dark. We are asleep earlier, too - our lights are usually out by 9:00 p.m and we are tucked in with the cats underneath the down comforter.

Vintage home makers throughout the centuries have used early November to plan and prepare for the upcoming holidays in several ways, and we have done the same in our home. Do you need to be thinking about any of these things in November?

1. Take down any Halloween decorations - I am notorious for leaving decorations up long past their due date. Luckily most of our Halloween decorations double for fall decorations so only a few things need to be put away until next year.

2. Stock the cupboards with things for fall foods and holiday treats - November is really the time when you start feeling the cold and change to winter here in Colorado and what we want to eat changes too. We've already had our first snow day and I was very glad that we had almond milk, regular milk, sugar, and really wonderful cocoa powder in our cupboards to pair up with a breakfast of Gluten Free pancakes while we were snowed in. A swedish blogger alerted me to the concept of dark chocolate covered gingerbread cookies so I put the ingredients for that on the next grocery list.

3. Take out, mend, and prepare any winter clothing that hasn't already come out for fall and put away anything you won't use for the next few months - I own a lot of clothing, enough that some of it has to go into storage in the opposite season. When I lived in Wisconsin I could put it all away for the winter in October and bring it out in April with out ever worrying about it but here in Colorado where it can be 19 degrees at 6:00 a.m. and 60 degrees at 3:00 p.m. I need to keep most of it out but I've already put away things that are absolutely not necessary like outside only swimsuits, sheer summer shirts, and my shorts. In addition to this I pulled out everything that has been waiting for true cold weather, gave it a quick once over, and sewed on all those buttons that were about to fall off.

4. Start thinking (if you haven't already) about holiday presents - This one is pretty quick. Make a list of everyone you have to give gifts to and pick out something that they'd like. If you are making any of them write down what you'll need to make the gift and how much time it might take. If you want to go above and beyond you could put a dollar amount next to each, total it up and see how much you'll need to spend on gifts this year so you can budget for them...which brings me to my next point.

5. Add some line items to the budget for holiday travel and entertaining expenses -Make sure that you've accounted for holiday parties out, holiday dinner parties, traveling costs, gifts, and anything else you need to think about.

Hopefully these five things help you stay on track and enjoy the holiday season more richly!

Three things every vintage home maker needs to be mindful of...

This post was originally posted on my primary blog, Elizabeth Lives.


Someone sent me an email asking me how I keep and run my house. I'm not sure if it was inspired by them stumbling upon the Apartment Therapy post, or if they just looked through the archives of this and came to some conclusion that I'm domestically inclined but I'm finally able to sit down and write you a post about how I keep house.

I've said it once and I'll say it again - I'm an old fashioned housekeeper. My domestic heroines are the characters in Grace Livingston Hill novels who manage to transform a hovel into a place of domestic tranquility, peace, and quiet in days.

I can't give her all the credit, though. I've taken a lot of cues from vintage household management books that I've found that date from the early 19th c. to the 1950's. I've sort of read them in a half serious manner - some of the things, like keeping eggs in some sort of hazardous chemical to preserve them for three years, are so ridiculous and frankly unsafe that I have to laugh. Other things, though, have stood the test of time and the test of my house, life, and busy schedule.

Voorjaarsschoonmaak in het Vondelpark / Spring cleaning in the Vondelpark

The single most important thing that most household management books and I agree on is that you need a routine. Some people need a detailed routine written down on paper. Some people need a morning and an evening routine, a weekly routine or whatever. Whatever type you need, be it written or unwritten, on a post it or in a binder or on your fridge, routines make the home go smoothly. A good old fashioned housekeeper has a routine to make her work go smoothly.

I have a morning and afternoon routine written down and taped to my desk at work for the first five things I do when I get there and the first five things after the kiddos leave but I no longer have a written routine for my home because after doing the (in general) same routine for eight years it's just memorized. I know when I wake up I get dressed, make the bed, and so on. I know that on Fridays I clean out my car and we look over the finances. I know that on Sundays we grocery shop and meal plan. I know that from 5:45 - 6:00 everything stops and I spend fifteen minutes picking up the house. I know that at 6:30 I start cooking. I know that I spring clean in March or April and I put my fall decorations up in October. These things, practiced year in, year out are in my brain and help my home run like clockwork.

Student cooking in homemaking apartment in Lodge, 1917.

The second thing an old fashioned housekeeper has is a sense of the seasons. Knowing the seasons helps us to work with the natural rhythms of wherever we are living from meal planning to cleaning schedules.

One of the things we have the luxury of forgetting these days is the fact that at one time fresh salad greens didn't happen in December. We ate preserves all winter long and ate fresh fruit all summer long. For my grandfather, a child in rural Wisconsin the 1920's, an orange in the winter was worthy of a Christmas present. When we meal plan an old fashioned housekeeper keeps an eye on what's in season at the store and makes meals that fit what is needed in her household's own seasons. Is it flu season? Fresh vegetables, things high in vitamin C, and soups to clear the sinuses might be on the menu plan. Is it a busy season? Quicker meals, things that clean up easily, and food that works for on the go might be on the plate. Is it a time when you need comfort food or special foods for holidays that are coming up? An old fashion home keeper knows the seasons and currents of her household and lives with them.

Waslijnen Volendam / Laundry lines Volendam

Another important thing that is mentioned over and over again is that an old fashioned housekeeper lives and works within her means.

Household finances are infinitely complicated and always have been. Some people have joint accounts. Some people are single and get to manage their own finances. Some people share households but have their own bank accounts. The best advice I can give you is to make a budget that gives every dollar you have control over a place to go before you even get it. Then, the day you get paid move the money where it needs to go instead of just letting it sit around waiting to be spent on something else.

In conjunction with this it's important to budget for what you're actually going to use not just what you wish you spent. JR and I use a spreadsheet that we fill out sometime before pay day together that auto calculates how much we have left to spend. Then, when we get paid we move money wherever it needs to go - bills, savings, fun things, groceries. Finally, it's important to save just a little for a rainy day. Maybe your emergency fund is in a tin in your kitchen among your spices. Maybe, like us, you keep it safe in a savings account. The important thing is that you have one...to be used for emergencies only.

The last thing on the topic of finances is that the adage "Mend, Make Do, or Do Without" still stands all this time later. Get everything you can out of the things you own. Keep your kitchen appliances in good repair and clean and they'll serve you for a long time. A sewing machine overhaul once a month can get those useful things to last into the double decades. Sew that button on your clothes when it falls off and get those pants to last another season. Use scrap yarn and tule to make your own dish sponges. Finally, if you can't afford it right now...be patient and save for it.

(all of the pictures are from the Commons on Flickr...)