Meal Planning for Spontaneity

by Ivory Soap

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If you’ve known me for more than a month, you know I can’t stick to a schedule.  Every month I find a new and different way to plan something that I then end up disobeying.  I love to stitch, but if I make a*goal* to stitch so many times a week, I WILL NOT HAPPEN.  Deadlines inspire me, but schedules deflate me.  It’s a personality thing.

I’ve been talking to my imaginary butler about it. He says that when I get around to something, he needs to have everything on hand to do it NOW because the mood may not strike again any time soon.  But, if he has everything ready, I’ll do enough work to float the family for a month or more.  He says, when I do it, I do it BIG and it’s easier to go with my personality than to fight it.  He’s so smart.

This summer, I came up with a meal plan that my kids memorized quickly and kept me on track, but we all got FAT.  (Refined carbs and propped up serotonin levels don’t mix, according to my family psychiatrist.) I tried to make up a new plan, but homeschooling is the schedule my life revolves around outside of summer.  I can barely hold onto that one, much less add more scheduling to my life.  So, here’s the most functional way I’ve found so far to make sure we don’t run to Little Caesar’s or get french fries on the way home from Aikido because I don’t feel like cooking.:

Deanna’s Meal Planning for Her Vicious Spontaneous Streak

1.  When the cupboards are bare, I hit all our usual stores in one fell swoop, shopping for month-sized portions, if I can.  Costco, Aldi, Walmart, Kroger, in that order.  I buy *everything* that we can use (lots of medical dietary restrictions) that’s under the benchmark prices in my head.  No meat over a certain cost per pound.  Nuts below certain cost per ounce.  Fruit 1$/pound or lower.  I don’t worry about sales or coupons unless I hit them accidentally.  That’s too much like planning. I do use a list, but it’s just a suggestion. I won’t obey it and my eyes tend to skip things on it that I need.  I just accept that something will be forgotten.

2.  When I get home, I put it all out on the table and look at it.  What can I make with this?  What other ingredients do I need to make it into meals?  What did I forget to get?  I send hubby to the store on his way home to get the two or three things I forgot, like toilet paper…yikes.

3.  Then I start cooking.  The crockpot runs day and night for three days.  Roasting chicken, then the bones for stock, then some hamburger dish for me and hubby, then a beef roast, then a pork roast.  Hey, I’m in the mood, so why not get it done now?  I cook massive amounts of oatmeal and raisins for breakfast the next morning and freeze the leftovers.  I might make grits for lunch, just cause I need piles of that in the freezer too.  While I was browning the ground beef for the hamburger dish, I cooked every bit of ground beef and onion in the house.  While I’m here, I might as well crumble and cook all of the sausage too.  And soak the beans for another crockpot dish.  Whatever strikes my fancy, I make it happen…now.

4.  Once I’m all cooked out and everything that can be precooked is in the freezer, I make a *green list* of meals for which I have everything ready and post on the fridge.  (I got the term *green list* term from a free e-book about spontaneous homeschooling HERE.  It means projects for which have everything gathered.  An “amber list” means everything is almost gathered but you’re missing a thing or two.) When it’s breakfast, I can rattle off the kid options, “grits, oatmeal, toast, eggs, shakes, granola.” Same for lunch, “You can have PBJ, hot dogs, nuggets, pot stickers, lentils, ham and cheese, bean burritos…”  And when I go to look what I want to make for dinner, I have that list too.  As I run out of the ability to make things, I mark them off the list.

5.  Over the next month, hubby will run to the store for milk or something weird we ran out of and really need, but there’s no scheduled shopping trip.  When the cupboards go bare and my creativity has expired, I start the process over.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Maria January 22, 2013 at 8:30 am

You have to do what works for you and your family!

BTW – love the picture in the blog! It reminds me of my grandmother’s kitchen!! 🙂

Kay January 22, 2013 at 10:45 am

I am SO like you, it’s weird! I have so many projects just lacking one or two items. If I had everything I needed together, I could pick up said projects and crochet or sew away—but, instead waste time watching the tube or something. My larder and pantry are okay, but the sewing/craft room, not so much. I will have to do like you and make a list, get the missing items, group the items together, then when idle hands hang from my arms, I can simply go to the project area, and take off!

Lisa January 22, 2013 at 11:32 pm

You have it down so much better than I do! I just started doing a weekly shopping and plan! I couldn’t manage to do a month! I go to Winco. I get large packs of boneless chicken breasts and steaks. Then I freeze them in small packages. 2 breasts will be plenty for the three of us, and one steak can be enough for a stew! Those packs last a few weeks. I don’t pre-cook though. That does sound like an even better idea. I have a very small freezer though, no garage, so no place for a large one. My carport shed is where my canned goods are stored.
I have two teenagers, so they each put a meal (I only do this for dinner, breakfast and lunch are on their own, even though they are home and one is home schooled, I’m not a short order cook! But, yours are probably much younger.) for two days of the week. Main dish, sides, dessert. I fill in the other 3. I rearrange their “days” so it alternates beef, chicken, pasta or vegetarian choices.
I do need to pick up more milk, and fresh items if they want, say, French bread on Friday, since I shop on Sun. or Mon. But, I can get those on my home home from other appointments.
Just a weekly deal is saving me money! And the question “what are we having for dinner?” when I hadn’t even thought about it!

Jamie at Prepared to Eat January 25, 2013 at 7:31 am

haha! Hey, whatever works! I definitely agree with doing all of the cooking while the mood strikes you, because otherwise it is a serious chore. I try to cram in as much cooking at a time as I can, too. I’ve pretty much given up on coupons, since you can’t use too many of them in the perimeter of the store anyway.

Laura Murphy January 26, 2013 at 11:44 am

Wow – this type of activity fits my personality perfectly. I have really enjoyed this blog more than any other. You ladies ROCK!

Maria Ehlers January 26, 2013 at 6:05 pm

I also hate to preplan meals, and work a job with long hours during the week. My stress relief is cooking on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. We get produce from a buying co-0p called Bountiful Baskets every 2 weeks, and I just start cooking what ever I feel like. Sometimes my family likes it, and sometimes they eat bean burritos while I enjoy the borscht and roasted Brussels sprouts! I use the crock pot to cook beans, then do big batches of refried beans and freeze them in 1-cup portions. Our favorite time saver for fresh meals is to dice big batches of onions or sweet peppers, freeze them on a cookie sheet, then put them into recycled Parmesan cheese containers in the freezer: easy to grab and shake into whatever we are cooking.

PAMELA January 28, 2013 at 2:21 am

Love you picture!!!! I have that exact same sink!! I salvaged it out of an old condemned farm house. Now I am waiting to get it all set up in just the right spot. Just not sure where that would be…too many options!
Outside the back porch? In the mud room? In the potting shed? In the milk room? Not sure yet…just excited to have it.
I also have an old baptistry out of a remodeled church that I am going to make into a fish pond. I love to re-purpose, and I think the plexiglas window will be fun.
Thanks for sharing.

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