Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Menu Planning

In my last post I had mentioned my painstaking efforts to create a 6 week non-repeat menu. I'd like to take a moment to share more about that and the transition into my more current menu. I've never been the cook in the family. My husband was blessed with terrific cooking skills and has served us masterpieces that I believe belong in a 5-star restaurant. He is, what I consider, an actual cook. I'm a recipe follower. He can go into the fridge, freezer and cabinet and put something terrific and tasty together in no time. Somehow, rules of the trade don't apply to him, either. He can take a steak straight from the freezer to the grill and it will taste great and be plenty juicy. I, on the other hand, have to follow a recipe in exactness. Only after I've tried it once will I begin making adjustments. No recipe - then, I can't cook.

I still remember the day the daunting realization came that for the rest of my life I would need to figure out what to eat for at least one to three meals a day. It was such a heavy load to see before me the need for education, preparation, creativity, and the implementation of all those meals. That's an average of sixty-five thousand seven hundred meals (60 years x 365 days x 3 meals a day) that I would be responsible for providing for my family and me. I had no idea where to start. I didn't know how to cook anything but macaroni and cheese from a box and a grilled cheese sandwich. Circumstances in my life forced me to learn a tiny bit of food preparation, but certainly not enough. My daughter thought all meat was called chicken. Which I don't understand since most of the time we had Hamburger Helper. Once married life allowed for me to stay home with my daughter, I began my quest to learn how to cook. It was a slow, painful, burnt and oftentimes an unpleasant adventure.

For many years I was be a wanna-be cook in the family and would plan out a few meals and make them. Then, I would run out of ideas and lose interest. It was back to my husband at that point. Poor guy! Then, last summer I was on one of those fad low-carb diets and was so hungry it finally motivated me to focus on menu planning a month's worth of meals that I've always dreamed of creating. So, instead of eating, I made a list of all our favorite foods and dishes. Even if it was something we only ever ate when we went out to eat or visited someone who made it for us... it was added to the list. I then tried to combine sides properly with main dishes. I messed that up a lot and appropriately adjusted throughout the year. I advise against having rice AND potatoes in the same meal, or beef stroganoff with mashed potatoes are some examples for my need to adjustments.

Next, I created a blank calendar to begin placing my foods into the appropriate days. I labeled the top of each day with a certain group. For instance, all Mondays were chicken, Tuesdays were Mexican, Wednesdays were oriental, Thursdays were Italian and so on. I did this because one of the complaints I would get when I did cook was "can we have something other than chicken tomorrow?" This way I was sure to spread these types of foods throughout the month evenly.

I spent the winter using this menu, improvising, modifying, and changing it all together. Then, my daughter started showing signs of being lactose intolerant and by June she had her gallbladder removed. Between the two she has to stay away from cheese, milk and excess fat. I really had to change the menu plan. Remember, it was full of favorites that we would find outside of the house at our favorite restaurants. Those didn't happen to always be healthy. They all either had cheese or some sort of initial frying of some sort. I was also hit with raising food prices. I had to change the plan.

As I explained in a previous post, I was shopping and realized I needed to know more fully what an entire month consisted of. I had been shopping weekly up to that point. So, I sat back down and revised my menu with the following considerations. I needed to reduce the frying, take advantage of our new chicken farm with chicken meals throughout the week made from one whole chicken cooked at the beginning of the week (I wish I had thought of that before - I've been spending lots of money on boneless, skinless chicken breasts), cheese can either be omitted or reduced for my daughter's sake (I don't generally use milk 'cause we don't drink it and I don't like it), food storage alternatives could be arranged, I could store many of the items on my shelf, grow it indoors, or preserve it from my garden's harvest are to name a few ideas I was keeping in mind this time.

I plan to post this menu soon. I think I'm close to finishing it. Wish me luck.