02 April 2008

Meal planning hack: Cook from a single cookbook all week (or all month)

In my quest to automate the domestic routine, I've fallen into a casual rhythm of meal planning. Every Sunday evening I look ahead to the coming week's activities and map out the meals. I try to work in at least one pantry meal (something that doesn't require fresh produce), and figure we'll scrounge or get pizza on the weekends. I finish up by jotting the meal choices into my calendar and writing up a grocery list. I do my grocery shopping every Monday.

One detail has vastly simplified my meal planning: choosing recipes from a single cookbook for the week. I write the page number of the recipe next to the note in my calendar, and I keep the cookbook on my kitchen counter so every day at 5pm, I'm ready to go.

This week (for the last month, actually), I've been cooking from The Six O' Clock Scramble: Quick, Healthy and Delicious Dinner Recipes for Busy Families. I got a review copy in the mail a long time ago, and only now have gotten around to cooking from it. The recipes are simple, delicious, and healthy, and the author, Aviva Goldfarb, makes reasonable allowances for picky kids. It's a friendly, conversational book, and I'm really enjoying it (which is saying a lot -- I'm a bit of a cookbook collector).

The book was inspired by The Scramble, the author's email-based weekly newsletter and meal plan that takes all the guesswork out of deciding what to cook. If you're regularly stumped when it comes to planning meals and you're open to some dinnertime variety, a service like this is wonderful (another option: Menu Mailer from Leanne Ely of Saving Dinner).

Once I get my routine down, I plan to prepare at least one "stockpile" meal per week (most likely by cooking a double portion of something and freezing it). Do you have any tricks for keeping the weekday gravy train running smoothly?

Related:
Schedule when to use your freezer leftovers
Favorite kids' cookbook? Talk amongst yourselves.

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I have been doing almost the same cooking routine for the last few months. In addition to not having to worry about what to cook it also saves money because I am not walking through the store picking up all kinds of things that aren't needed.

One other thing we do is to have the older kids pick a recipe out of a cookbook and then on that night they prepare the meal they chose. They really seem to love the responsibility and it is just a fun way to spend time with them.

I like to copy all my favorite recipes, especially the ones I know the kids will eat and put them in a binder with page protectors. This makes cooking family things a lot easier. Another idea you could try is one Sunday a month cooking a bunch of meals to freeze for the days you just dont feel like cooking. Thanks for all the great tips.

Mary Green

I joined the Six O Clock scramble website in December - we've been loving it, especially the grocery lists, and being able to customize the week's plan from older recipes. I would say we've liked greater than 80% of the recipes and would make again more than half, which is a pretty great success rate in my experience.

Asha, Thank you so much for reviewing my cookbook! I am so glad you are having such success with the recipes, and am happy to report that the book is now in it's 5th printing. When you are ready for online organization and automatic grocery lists, I hope you'll give The Scramble a try.

I just revisited my copy of the Scramble. I love that cookbook! Take the guesswork out of what to make and just tell me what's for dinner, printable shopping lists, what's not to like? I reviewed it a couple times on our blog.

Sort of related but a different tangent:
I was quite shopping challenged in college to _not_ by the same five things every time I went to the store. So I made up a shopping list (one side is groceries, the other is household stuff) that goes in a clear sleeve and hangs on my fridge. I just use a wet-erase marker to mark stuff on it, then write it down on a paper to go to the store. I took this a step further with my cookbook: when a recipe has earned it's place in our menus, I add it to my typed cookbook and print it out, putting it in a binder with clear sleeves. My recipes are organized into categories, so I only have to reprint the last page of each category as I add a recipe. And with my horrible handwriting, I don't have to puzzle over what I wrote!

We use www.mealmixer.com, it's really customizable. Before it, we were eating out 3-4 times a week (which was unhealthy as well as expensive!) and now, I can count on one hand the number of times we've gotten takeout since New Years. I LOVE IT!

We made a list by looking at our cookbooks and recipe files. It includes all the menus that will provide a balanced kid meal, whether or not eaten in entirety. Each week we look at the calendar and menu list and try to plan about five meals. Ideally, each child and each parent would contribute, but I'm dreaming. The list is written on a white board and items needed at the grocery are bought on Monday.

We have been using the "Cooking for the Rushed" series for some time. We are used to all the recipes now, and this looks like just the thing to add more variety. I'm looking for it this weekend!

We too plan out the week's meals on the weekend. The closest thing(s) to the "one master cookbook" that we use are Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" and "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian." What's great about them is that in addition to the basic recipe (for truly just about everything), he offers lots of variations after the main recipe (especially for turning meat recipes meatless)

I give a hearty second to Liss' "master grocery list." We have a master Trader Joe's list that varies little and always helps us avoid forgetting something.

One other idea is to make a list of your most common/favorite recipes, so when you're stumped for ideas you return to the tried-and-true.

There is a coupon code out for the website subscription. It's GOCITYKIDS - $5 six months or $10 off 1 year!

I'm going to give it a try!

Our favorite way to make dinnertime simple is freezer cooking. However, I don't have the patience to make 5 different meals, so instead I make multiple batches of the same meal and trade with a group of 4 other moms. That way we all have our meal in the freezer and then 4 different meals from the 4 other moms. It's been great for cutting way back on prep time and costs!

I love the Six O'Clock Scramble cookbook. It's been a lifesaver these last few months with two small children in the house. My toddler likes almost all of the recipes we've tried. I also keep our favorite recipes on index cards in the back of my coupon sorter just in case I find myself at the store without my grocery list.

My favorite easy dinner helper is my crockpot. I have written about my love affiar with it on my blog http://www.HomeworkDinnerLife.com

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