Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Menu Planning for In-Season Eating

Yes, I'm on a food kick right now. It started when Jayme, over at Tales From the Coop Keeper, inspired me to organize my recipes. I'd been frustrated with this for a while because almost all my recipes were in a file folder and it had expanded to over 5" wide. Downloaded from the computer, torn from magazines, or formated on a computer program, I used these recipes regularly, but they were not very accessible. (As usual, I forgot to take a before picture of my file folder! How convenient.)

Jayme had an ingenious idea to use several notebooks with each holding different types of recipes. You know how I like notebooks! And I did have one that housed recipes. But it wasn't big enough. So, I set about sorting all those recipes so that they would fit into 5 different notebooks (at least for now - I may have to go to 6 or 7 notebooks when it's all said and done).

For covers, I downloaded some favorite photos, most of which are Michelle's lovely photo art from Give A Girl A Fig (thanks, Michelle!). She has an awesome knack for capturing still life through the lens of a camera. Soon she's going to have some of these available in her Etsy shop in the form of notecards. I can't wait!!

Next, I started inserting dividers. Actually, I still need to get some more of these, but I did get a start. Within each notebook are several categories. For Main Dishes I have chicken, turkey, beef, fish, etc. In the Vegetables notebook, I have one for each vegetable that I like to cook with (a few are going to be grouped together, like greens). And so it goes throughout the remaining notebooks.

Also, in the Vegetable book, I added a list of in-season vegetables by month. This handy reference allows me to know ahead of time what might be coming in my box from the farmers. It can also tell you what to look for at the grocery store. Often you'll find the in-season produce is less expensive, looks better, and hopefully is somewhat local. This particular chart is from Southland Farmers Market Association which is in Southern California. If you want to view this list, click here. But it would be best to find a list for your area in order for it to be really helpful.

Last year, I started retyping some of my favorite recipes using Mac's iPages program. I just love things to look... lovely! Each time I cooked a recipe that my family wanted to have over and over again (what my husband calls "a keeper"), I just quickly sat down after dinner and retyped it and added a few pictures using the pre-made template on iPages. I think they came out looking great! They certainly inspire me to cook. Here's a couple of examples:

Of course, I still have some just printed up from websites like Food Network and my favorite, Recipezaar. I just punched a hole and added them as well. You can see I make notes on these to remind me of substitutions or changes, ideas to try, and how the family likes it.

Once the recipe binders were set up, I spruced up my Home Management folder that I use. This is where I keep my menus, billing information, a printed copy of the family calendar (I use Google Calendar because it is free, easy to use, and my husband can view it from work and it send him reminders!), schedules of routines, etc.

Inside, I added a pocket for recipes that I will be using for the week. I won't keep them all in there, but new recipes or recipe cards will go into this pocket. It also will house notes for the week such as invitations I don't want to forget. I may add a plastic sleeve to keep these two items separate. We'll see how it goes.

And finally, my new menu planning page. This is what I really want to talk about today and what I'm most excited about!

When you eat produce from the grocery store, you pretty much can eat whatever suits your fancy for the week. But, if you are eating local, in-season foods like I discussed yesterday, then it's a whole different ball game. You can't just open up a cook book and say, "Hmmm... that looks good. We'll have Asparagus on Tuesday." Nope. You eat what you get. (My daughter likes to say, "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit"). Actually, it's a treat! But it does require learning to plan in a different way.

On my computer, I quickly came up with a page to help me get my brain together to make an actual plan for the week. Since I live out in the country, I can't be running back and forth to the store for one or two ingredients if spinach ends up in my produce box and I want to make a certain soup with it. And if my garden is producing eggplant this week (I wish!), then I need to eat eggplant maybe two or three times in different ways this week. I've tried flying by the seat of my pants, but dinner is usually late since I'm trying to decide what to make and I'm frustrated if I don't have a couple of ingredients I need.

Update: For a free download of this Menu Planning Guide... 
(Click here and it is located at the bottom of that page)

As you can see from above, the form has a column for what is available for the week (AHO Produce Box - I can change this to "Garden" in the summer). Next, are some boxes with the days of the week followed by a space to write a grocery list. I added Breakfasts and Lunches because I usually need a reminder to eat certain things at those meals. My mind is usually a lot more focused on the evening meal, but we do eat three meals a day. Also, when I'm planning items for the grocery store, I inevitably think of an errand I can run at the same time.

When I start to plan, I begin by writing down all the produce I have on hand or will have. Then I start looking at recipes. This is why I added dividers to my Vegetable recipe binder so that I could quickly see all my recipes that use eggplant or whatever item I'm planning to use. Next I add the recipe to the column, glance through the recipe and see what I'm lacking, and write it on the grocery portion. Now, I might get those items at my local Organic Farm, but none-the-less, I write them here. I don't have a tear off page to take into the store, but since I'm eating locally as much as possible, there isn't a huge list. I can easily transfer this or remember it (NOT!). Actually, I jot it on a paper to stick in my purse or I email my husband at work to pick it up.

I don't want to bore you with a bunch of details, but I think you get the idea. But what I do want to drive home is how easy this has made the process of actually planning with in-season foods. I need a plan, I can't function without a plan,... I love a plan! Can I hear an amen?

Making big changes in a family's food journey can be so disrupting that we give up. No need for it to be so! Eating in-season won't allow you to plan a month at a time, but you can plan ahead enough to keep your kitchen running smoothly.

I hope this helps more of us stick to a commitment to eat locally produced in-season foods. Ciao!


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