I’ve long admired people who plan menus, and I have tried to emulate them in fits and starts and with varying degrees of success. The problem is that I am somewhat extemporaneous in my cooking style (which is to say, I am seemingly unable to follow recipes without changing things and I like the flexibility of doing something entirely different at a moment’s notice) and prone to discouragement if I don’t stick to lists and schedules I’ve set for myself.
At long last I have developed a solution that works for me. I survey what I have on hand in the freezer and pantry, check what’s on sale at the store that week, find a few new recipes I want to try that use those ingredients, fill in the rest with tried and true recipes and plot out a week or two of dinners.
But wait, you say, isn’t that just regular menu planning???
No! See, I always thought that you were supposed to take your lovely menu plan and then, you know, stick to it day by day in the order you designed it. I got totally stressed when something came up and I could not stick to the plan. In case you’ve wondered, being a Type A perfectionist is really awesome. Now, instead of viewing my meal plan as an immovable axis along which all of existence turns, I have given myself permission to mess with it.
For example, in the randomly chosen week pictured above, I planned to make Cassoulet on Monday. However, once Monday afternoon rolled around, I realized I had forgotten to soak the beans overnight. Then, after scanning the recipe, which I rarely remember to do in advance, I realized that I had no duck confit. Yes, I am one of those rare people who does not keep duck confit on hand. Go figure. Since time was of the essence, I made a big arrow on my menu plan and moved Cassoulet to another day, switching it with the less time intensive beef and barley dish. By the time Cassoulet rolled around again, I remembered to soak the beans and found another recipe that used bacon instead of duck confit and it came out fine.
Another day, I realized that the leftover German beef, spaetzle and red cabbage meal I had made the week before was going to go bad if we didn’t consume it, but I didn’t feel like having the whole meal again so I made the leftovers into soup and that worked out great since I had forgotten to defrost the chicken for another meal. Later in the week I stopped craving Indian food and started craving Korean food, so I switched up the curry and chapathis plan entirely and moved Indian food to the following week. No harm, no foul, no stress.
By the end of the week I had changed every single day except for Tuesday. And that’s ok! The benefit to having a flexible plan is that I can change my mind or make a substitution and I still have an idea of what I have on hand, which keeps me from needing to make extra trips to the store, and I avoid making the same thing too often.
If you menu plan, how do you do it?