Last week in my post about preparedness, I mentioned the “need 1, buy 2” principle I use in our pantry. This is one of the ways I adapted my cooking style to accommodate eating home grown foods.
One of the things that initially stressed me about my gardening was my lack of knowledge as to how to plan out meals according to what would be ripe any particular week. I would plan meals around having tomatillos for Salsa Verde and end up with only half of the amount needed, or maybe the green beans were not ready to pick as quickly as I thought they would be. Keeping plenty of interchangeable ingredients on hand that stay fresh for a long time helped me reduce food waste in our homestead kitchen.
The meal plan for the entire month became my goal. I stocked up on enough of the basics to have meals for the next thirty days or so, planning around what should come ripe within those weeks out in the yard. This plan was a little bit of a flop at first. I would have strict, regimented meals, different every night, some with specific ingredients that I would need only for that meal. It added to the waste that I wanted to eliminate. Inevitably our plans would change at some point every week and then another meal would be potentially wasted.
The next system I tried was a bit more successful, adjusting to a theme night of sorts for each weeknight. Maybe Monday was pasta, Tuesday was tacos (naturally!), and so on. This was more successful for our house because I gave myself the freedom in that system to be flexible, and I could still save money and ingredients by thinking ahead just a little. After a while, I adjusted completely from theme nights but kept the repetitiveness of the ingredients. For instance, if I wanted to make a rice dish, I would go ahead and plan to do some sort of rice dish every week that month. That way, I could buy a larger package of rice without worrying about how long it was in the pantry partially used. That meant less wasted packaging coming into the home, more meal security of supplies inside the home, and the flexibility of real life was accounted for.
Now that I have been “legit cooking” (cooking from scratch) for more years, I find it simpler to think ahead more in a favorite ingredients sense than actually planning out meals. I will make sure the fridge, freezer, and pantry have the things we prefer, then I will simply write out a meal plan on Saturday or Sunday for the next week in pencil in my planner. When plans change as they often do, I simply erase that meal and add it to the beginning of the following week, still in my paper planner. This way, we still use what is in the house first.
I keep it simple, with just a few different breakfast options that we rotate among, a few lunch options, and dinner five or six out of every seven nights. Most lunches are leftovers from the evening before, and we have a night as needed that we call hodge-podge because that is what my mom called it when I was a kid, where we basically all just choose the leftovers we want from what is in the fridge.
A sample week would look something like this:
Monday-oatmeal, sandwiches and chips or raw vegetables, chicken & dumplings with carrots
Tuesday-French toast, leftovers, jambalaya
Wednesday-sausage & eggs, leftovers, wings and roasted veggies
Thursday-oatmeal, sandwiches and chips, taco soup with tortilla chips
Friday-pancakes, leftovers, breakfast casserole
Saturday-breakfast casserole (leftover), leftovers or sandwiches, out
Sunday*-ham, corn, crescent rolls, & salad
*On Sunday, everyone fends for themselves for breakfast and we either “hodge-podge” or have plans that evening
I understand that this is not the premiere balanced, healthy meal plan, but it is beautifully flexible for our family’s lifestyle, simple enough to pull off on busy evenings, and we vary ingredients from week to week to keep a variety of nutrients and flavors in our life. We keep snacks on hand that I do not include in my meal planning like applesauce, salsa, raw vegetables, beef sticks, or crackers and peanut butter. Our family does eat meat, but as you can tell, I try to make meals that often I can veggie-load the bulk and use meat sparingly. My exception is weekend meals. Every weekend, I make at some point a meal that is less budget, more decadent. The thought process behind that is multi-faceted. First, a splurge meal at home is still a quarter of the cost of a restaurant one. Secondly, it is often healthier because at home we tend to be more aware of the amounts of oils, etc. we add to the food. Lastly, it is particularly important to me as the homemaker to create an abundance of memories at HOME. With others joining or just us, I want my kids when they grow old to remember home as a place of abundance, joy, and support. We are together most of the time these days, as many families are, and that is one way we choose to add variety to our routines and traditions.
Each month, as the one doing the majority of our family’s meal planning, I work toward feeding my crew a variety of different foods, including trying new dishes regularly. I want to balance feeding them generally healthy, wholesome foods with an awareness of the budget as well as each person’s preferences. We are still building the garden beds at our new homeplace, which is still very much at the homestead-in-the-making stage. This keeps me from planning meals completely around the garden just yet, but I look outside at the few things already in the ground and dream. Even buying from the store, we can strive to eat seasonably and as locally as feasible. We have goals and plans for what we want, but we live and plan as well for where we are. And that’s okay.
Happy meal planning!