Okay, so for a long time I was just doing this in my head. Then I learned it was an actual thing that some people do. Some systems are super complicated, some are very minimal, blah blah blah. It’s gonna take trial and error to find what really works, but here’s what I do regularly:
- Look at my food and see what’s been there the longest.
- Leftovers are included in this. Sometimes I make something that doesn’t use the whole of an ingredient, so I toss it in a container or a Ziploc bag (I love Ziploc bags) and into the fridge or freezer it goes.
- Figure out what I can make that uses these things in a timely manner. Fresh produce took me the longest to get right. The number of times I’ve gone to make something with a pepper I’ve had for a while only to be sludged by rotten pepper-goo upon slicing is truly shameful. We won’t even talk about avocados.
- Develop a pattern for the week. We have fish, spaghetti, something with barbecue sauce, and something akin to pizza (my vice) just about every week. That’s 4 out of 7 days right there. Leftover night makes 5. Wine and cheese night makes 6. Speaking of:
- Have one night that’s super light or super indulgent – or both. Sometimes I don’t feel like cooking. Sometimes I don’t feel like eating healthy. A good way to stave off binging is to give your body what it wants once in a while. In moderation, of course.
- Write them all down. I use little sticky notes. It makes the last step easier when I do it. A whiteboard or chalkboard might be handy, too.
- Organize them in one or both of these ways:
- So that they take into account other things you have to do that day: dance class? Not gonna be home until dinner time? Crock pot chili or stew night. Throw it all together and let it take care of itself.
- So that they use each other’s leftovers. I feel like such a freaking boss when I can make this happen. Leftover rice from teriyaki night, meet cajun style red bean and rice stew.
That’s pretty much it. After that, it’s just cooking. Doing this makes it easy to pull out what I’ll need to defrost for the week, or grab from the store, and it helps with timing, too. No more looking around and trying to decide what to make. I already know, so at the right time of day, I just cook. I don’t have to think about it so much. The planning part is done. Yeah, it’s a discipline of sorts. Yeah, it’s kind of a pain sometimes, even now that it’s a habit. And yeah, I don’t always stick to my menu. But it’s a great place to start. I take care of the boring part all at once and save the daily energy for the really important stuff – like deciding which wine I want with dinner.
Last tip for this post, a very common strategy – because it works a good 80% of the time: If you have kids and you think they’ll be hesitant to eat what you’re making, have them help. Give ’em a butterknife and watch them try to chop some celery (you might have to re-chop it afterward, but it’ll keep them busy for a while), let them sprinkle in that seasoning (put some in their hand if the holes are too big and you think they’ll pour too much), and make sure they get a good whiff of that freshly minced garlic and taste the naked green flavor of fresh spinach leaves… They’re much more apt to try something they had a hand in creating because what would otherwise just be a new food is demystified by the sight of the process – which likely includes familiar ingredients. They’ll be grateful later that you took the time and had the patience to teach them about food. I know because I’m that kid – I’ve been cooking since I was six. My grandma got tired of me asking questions and put me to work.
That’s all for now. I’ve got posts coming on Things I Keep In Stock, Kitchen Sink Stuffed Peppers, and my Windowsill Herb Garden. Subscribe by email for the most timely updates and let me know what works for you. I’m always looking for new strategies to learn and share.