Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Meal Planning and Cooking

As many of you know, I am not naturally predisposed to the chore of cooking. There are a few things I enjoy making, more for the satisfaction in the end result than anything else. The actual process I usually find a bit tedious probably because I am not very practiced in cooking. But, things are getting better.

In Fall 2006, when Lance began his CGA program, we sat down and discussed changing our normal meal planning methods. Up until this point it consisted of Lance whipping up something delicious and (usually) nutritious while I did other things, usually chiming in to ask if help was needed at the precise moment that he was reaching for plates to serve. (We now call this the "helper-Jenn" maneouver). Now, I do most of the cooking during the week with a few exceptions.

I find it very difficult to think of things to eat. I think if I'd never met Lance, I'd probably be eating cereal for 2/3 meals a day and be having pbj sandwiches the rest of the time. There's a few things that I've found that have helped.

I'm a very organized person so I realized that it would be easier for me to have a plan ahead of time, rather than try to come up with dinner ideas at the end of each day. So, I started doing meal plans one week at a time. For inspiration, I check out Meal Plan Monday hosted on Organizing Junkie. You can also check out Organized Home or FlyLady for basics of meal planning. (I just linked to the home page, you'll probably need to dig for some meal planning info).

I also found a few recipe sites online that have helped tremendously. Not only do they help me to find new ideas, but I'm also a very computer oriented person and I take to storing recipes in digital format much easier than flipping through actual cookbooks on a regular basis. At first I found a social site called RecipeThing. It was pretty good for sharing recipes and had tagging features so you can categorize recipes in any way you want with as many different tags as you want. There's also a meal planning section and a pantry that can generate grocery lists. The grocery list never really worked for me. Even though you enter foods into your pantry, it didn't really differentiate when you had salt, but the recipe called for "a pinch of salt." So, unless you enter in every possible measurement for common items, they still wound up on your shopping list. The meal planner was useful, except sometimes I'd want something really simple (like Kraft Dinner) but didn't want to input a recipe for it. The only option was to leave that day blank, or drag a recipe from your list over.

What I've just started using, and am absolutely nutty about, is a much more comprehensive site called Meals Matter. The start page has a bunch of tips and recipe meal ideas. They even allow you to flag certain recipes for popular categories (quick meals, crockpot, kids love it, etc.) You can enter meals into your personal cookbook that has sections more like a traditional cookbook would. The only frustrating part of the experience for me has been that they want you to specify how many people it serves and how long to prepare and cook it. A lot of the time I'm unsure about how long it takes me to prepare or it's a flexible recipe that can serve between 4-6 people. But, that is just a minor part of the whole process. The meal planning section allows you to type in a description OR copy a recipe from your recipe book. It also gives you the option of selecting "eating out" for a meal. They allow you to plan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I hope they might add something in there for snacks too. The site is incredibly robust and now that I've copied my recipes from RecipeThing to MealsMatter, it's definitely what I'm going to be sticking with from now on.

A little later maybe I'll post some of my favourite online sites for finding great recipes.

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