I have this love/hate relationship with cooking. When I'm in the groove, I enjoy trying new recipes and experimenting in the kitchen.
More often of late, though, I find myself cringing in the kitchen, gritting my teeth and forcing myself to come up with some sort of meal. Sometimes I feel like I'm barely holding on to my sanity.
I'm not sure what it is. The hard, hot labor. The fact that my daughter will hardly eat anything, no matter how much thought or energy I put into it. The repetition of it - having to come up with something every couple of hours. And unlike cleaning, where you can enjoy the results afterward, after I've cooked I feel fat and have a mess to clean up. It just seems like a no-win situation with no end in sight.
I've done all the pep talk - how I'm blessing my family and all that. It doesn't work.
I've tried several menu-planning sites, including Menus 4 Moms (with some free options) and Saving Dinner. And they are both great, especially for jumpstarting my menu planning and giving me an easy grocery list. In fact, I still look at the Menus for Moms options every week.
But not all of the recipes work for us. We're vegetarian, with vegan preferences. We need EASY. And FAST. And I have a very picky daughter. Plus, we're not home every day of the week, so if I go straight off the shopping list, we have TONS of food and it starts to go bad before I get it all cooked.
And the planning part is what I enjoy of cooking! It's the execution I hate.
I've tried doing a simple menu. Rice one night, pasta, the next, soup on Fridays. Boring.
So here's what we're doing now that seems to be working:
- I keep a shopping list on my iPod touch (ShopShop) and keep it updated as we run low on staples (including routine breakfast items) that I know we use all the time. (I don't have a master list of staples, because, you know, I just KNOW what I use. If I had a master list, I'd have to take time to do an inventory of staples all the time, and I need another task like a hole in my head.)
- I've got four (different-colored) plastic 10-pocket folders. One folder for each week of the month. The idea is to use the first 7 pockets for 7 menus. The last three pockets have excess dessert, entree, and side dish recipes.
- I'm signed up for a few recipe mailing lists, so I'm regularly viewing new recipes.
- As I see recipes I want to try, I print, copy, or cut them out. I find a "reasonable" spot for each recipe in one of the folders. (For me, reasonable is having one balanced meal per day, no more than 3 desserts per week; not having soup two days in a row, etc.) If there are no openings for the recipe, it goes into one of the back three pockets.
- Each week, the day before I go grocery shopping, I pull out the next week's folder. I make sure there is a balanced menu in each of the first 7 pockets - if I'm not going to be home every day, I'll skip a few days. If I need more recipes, I'll look through the back 3 pockets and/or look up more recipes.
- I do a quick scan of each recipe and add all non-staple ingredients to my shopping list. It REALLY DOESN'T take long. I just have to make myself do it.
- I'm flexible with the recipes. I may do them in different orders, make one meal for lunch and one for supper, etc. Or I may make something entirely different, just using the same set of ingredients.
- If we love the recipe, it goes right back in the pocket for next month's rotation. I make personal notes on it for the next time.
- Some recipes are worth keeping but not necessarily something we want each month. So I'll stick it in the applicable back pocket to rotate in another month.
- If we don't like the recipe, I throw it out.