Sunday, December 05, 2010

Having a plan

In September, Real Simple magazine ran a feature which included four weeks of weekday meals. In October, I decided to give the plan a go. Following someone else's meal plan was an interesting experiment. First of all, it relieved me of the task of coming up with what to make for dinner after a long day of commute-work-commute. It definitely got me back into cooking, which I hadn't really been doing previous to embarking on the four week meal plan. It also introduced me to some new recipes that I might not have tried if I hadn't been trying to stick to the menu options. There were some recipes I omitted or altered because they either included foods I don't eat (i.e. pork) or foods that were out of season. And I did spend a lot more money than I do usually because four of the five meals per week involved some kind of meat (which I, of course, buy organic).

Since then, I've come to be a fan of the planned-out-week-of-meals. After a month of eating well without having to really think about it, I reverted back to frozen pizza, boxed mac and cheese — or worse, eating out. So instead of coming up with my own weekly menus, I've been combing the internet, looking for other people's menu suggestions. I've gotten some great ideas, but I've also hit a few hurdles:

• Most menu suggestions involve a lot of meat. My favorite so far, Epicurious' Dinner Rush, features one no-meat option a week, much like that of Real Simple. Which means spending more money than I really want to — and eating more meat than I really want to.

• What makes Epicurious my favorite, though, is the variety of recipes and of flavors. And the fact that it's a little more gourmet than other sites. Many menu suggestions feature pretty blah food — what I often (unfairly) call "midwestern." Corn and bean burritos, slow-cooker spaghetti sauce, and stir-fried greens are delicious, but I'm looking for new, exciting, yet inexpensive and quick recipes. More along the lines of Thai squash curry, Brie and sweet potato flatbread, linguine with clams, and apricot-glazed chicken legs with roast potatoes.

• Other people's meal plans are definitely not going to follow my local/seasonal/organic diet. Which is how chicken paprikash, during week 3 of Real Simple's menu plan, turned into chicken stroganoff. (Tomatoes, which I don't buy once they're out of season, were swapped for a mushroom dish.)

• I've also searched for budget menus and vegetarian menus. Both put me back in the "blah food" category. Budget food suggestions always end up centered around casseroles or pasta, while vegetarian menus tend to involve a lot of beans. (Perhaps I should just start cooking Indian food all the time, which can be budget, vegetarian, and not at all boring.)

Of course, my challenges would be easily solved by planning my own weekly menus. At the moment, I don't really fancy the idea of putting in the extra effort. I have so many cookbooks and read so many food blogs — I never know what I want to make for dinner in the upcoming week. I want someone else to do the planning for me. So I think I'll stick with Dinner Rush, tweaking it as I go to reduce the meat (and the cost). And while I haven't been blogging much, I've been photographing what I've been cooking in the hopes of posting it. We'll see how that goes!

Meanwhile, if you haven't been sold on the idea of weekly menu planning, maybe this blogger will convince you.