Shh… don't tell anyone I'm poor. They all think I'm living frugal and green just like everyone these days. This is a blog about a senior citizen living a frugal life, on a fixed income, in a low income food desert, and passing along knowledge from lessons learned. Some she learned from her Grandma Mama many years ago and some learned only a few days ago.
There are people who look into a pantry and see only cans, jars, and dry stuff. When I look into my food storage I see full meals complete with side dishes. Some people may look in the freezer to see only frozen lumps of things wrapped in plastic but I see meals ready to cook. Each person has their own way of seeing. Is the glass half full or half empty kind of seeing.
I hate menu planning. I’ve tried many different ways over the years. None worked for me because they were to rigid and didn’t account for the way I obtain my food. I had better success by keeping my food storage well stocked and then shopping it each day for meal ideas. Shopping the pantry is similar to shopping a store on the way home from work.
However; I did say I’d be willing to try menu planning once again to go along with my new cooking for one in tiny pots. I knew I needed a menu plan that would let me shop my pantry. A plan that would be simple and flexible for days when activities or eating mood changed. I believe maybe this will be the plan that works for me. I must say though that the only difference between what I’ve always done by shopping my food storage and what I do now is pieces of paper. What has always been done in my head each day is now written on pieces of paper. I convinced myself to think of this as an eat down the pantry challenge or maybe a no spend challenge instead of menu planning.
All food regardless of how I obtain it is put away when I bring it home. That’s when I do my basic menu planning. For example let’s say I bought a package of meat. When I bought it I had some ideas of what meals I could make with it. As I’m re-packaging and putting that meat into the freezer I write down the meals I have in mind on a sheet of paper. When I put away the vegetables I get from the food bank I write down how I will use them in meals.
After all the food is put away I sat down with that sheet of paper and a bunch of file cards. I copied the meal ideas onto the file cards. One meal, one card. I have pink cards for breakfast meals. Across the top is the main part and underneath is reminders in case I need to mix something ahead.
Blue cards are for lunch meals. Sometimes I include the recipe ingredients on the cards and that way I don’t have to look it up. If I’m out of something in the recipe I substitute something else or just leave it out. Lunch used to be leftovers from the evening meal the day before. I doubt there will be many leftovers from now on.
Yellow cards are for dinner meals. I stopped cooking in larger pots which means I no longer have large amounts of leftovers to deal with. I was only fooling myself when I’d say they were for freezer meals or for saving energy. My old way of cooking was causing me to gain weight and/or feel guilty when I threw food away. My new cooking for only one person does allow a little cooked extra while the oven or the skillet is hot. I call it planned leftovers that are to be the start of another meal. For example a couple of extra slices bacon cooked at breakfast to be used as seasoning in a recipe that evening. What I have to be very careful about is avoiding the temptation to eat those planned leftovers before time to cook the meal.
So that I don’t become bored with the same main ingredients several days in a row I merge the cards of planned leftovers with at least one day separating them. I would probably bake both a chicken and a roast in the oven together to save energy. I’d have the baked chicken on day one and the beef roast on day two. Then, using the planned leftovers from both, I’d plan other meals and alternate them. Now that I’m cooking with smaller pans I buy much smaller cuts of meat. I look for a really small roast or a very small chicken. If possible two pounds or less.
I have green cards for desserts. I like a sweet as a snack in the evening. I have white cards for make ahead mixes or miscellaneous tips to remember. An example of make ahead mix might be a seasoning blend or some magic mix.
Next I put all the cards with all the meal menus into a file box. I made dividers by gluing two cards together. As I said before, the only difference between what I’ve always done to plan meals and this new way is the paper with ideas written down. I’m giving a physical presence to my thoughts.
Now here’s how the cards are supposed to work for me. Let’s say it is Sunday evening. Before bedtime I decide what my meals for Monday will be. That’s when I put items from the freezer into the refrigerator for safe thawing. Let’s say on Monday morning I have fasting lab tests scheduled which means I can’t eat breakfast but I’ll be home in time for lunch and be home for dinner.
I take out the front menu card from lunch and the front menu card from dinner but not one for breakfast. I also take out the first menu card from the desserts because I don’t have any made and I’ll be wanting something in the evening. I’ll be having BLT for lunch using planned leftover bacon from breakfast Sunday morning. I was very tempted to eat the extra bacon but I resisted. I might also set out the ingredients that go in the meat loaf planned for Monday dinner. As well as the pan and putting the ground beef in the fridge to thaw. Well now there is my menu plan for Monday. The cards are kept on the counter as a reminder when I prepare each meal on Monday.
Lets say now its Monday evening and time to plan the meals for Tuesday. I return the meal menu cards from Monday to the file box but they each go to the back of the stacks (reversed) because those meals are done and the food is gone from storage. The color cards make it easy for me to refile.
Tuesday I will be home all day so I get a breakfast menu card, a lunch menu card, and a dinner menu card from the front of each. I don’t need a dessert menu card because I have leftover dessert from Monday. I only use a new dessert card when I need to prepare a new one. Tuesday morning I’ll be having oatmeal pancakes with a syrup sauce made with the scrapings left in an almost empty jelly. The spaghetti for dinner will be made using leftover meatloaf in a meat and tomato sauce.
Ok, let’s say I had pulled the next dinner menu card from the front but I really wasn’t in the mood for that spaghetti meal. No problem. I put it back in front and get the next menu card in line. Let’s say for some reason my day changes and I’m not home for the dinner meal I planned. I save that menu card for the next day. See how it works?
I keep certain basics in stock all the time such as flour, beans, pasta, butter, cheese, potatoes, onions, eggs, powdered milk, and canned tomatoes. I call these items “my back up plan” meals. On days when I’ve forgotten to take something out of the freezer I’m able to whip up a simple meal with the staples.
I’ll keep the cards after I’ve had the meals because I tend to fix the same food combinations over and over. Each time I put away food I look through the already used cards for a meal that can be repeated. I do have some duplicate cards because I repeat some meals. For example when I buy a package of Italian sausage there are five in a package. Cooking small means five meals with Italian sausage. Three menu cards might be the same meal with the other two different. I do merge these cards among other cards to avoid repeating two days in a row.
I said I’d give meal planning another try and this is it. These cards are just to help me remember what I had in mind when I bought food or got food from the food bank. I had the color file cards laying around doing nothing so I used them to make my meal plan look pretty. I don’t see why this file card planning wouldn’t also work for someone who pre-plans meals. The part I like best about my new menu planning is the flexibility for when things change.
Sorry this post became so long. I’m interested in your opinion about my menu planning. Do you plan this way? Have you found a menu plan that works better for you? Do you make planned leftover ingredients for other meals?