posts for Pat: Flexible Meal Planning

You can plan and prepare balanced meals for your family

I can't know today if I will be able to make risotto next week. Risotto involves standing at the stove stirring constantly for 30-40 minutes or so. And it's not good as leftovers, you have to make it when you are going to eat it to get that decadent creaminess.

So... I never plan for risotto. I have broth made, always. I usually have rice, Parmesan and butter on hand. I often have precooked beans and sometimes have precooked meat in my freezer. So... if it's the end of the day and I feel pretty energetic, I might make a risotto.

But I can't ever count on it, which is why I don't like the whole idea of a specific meal plan. Around here, risotto just happens... or it doesn't!

On the other hand, I cook when I feel up to it and usually have canned and frozen meals on hand, so when I'm just not up to it cooking at all, we have good homemade meals ready to nuke.

For me, most days are in-between risotto and not-cooking days. Most days, I can manage a 10-15 minute cooking session to put together dinner.

So How the Heck do I Put Together Dinner in 10-15 Minutes?

Become disabled and you'll find out! (I do not recommend this method!)

It's by doing all the prep work some other time. I do very little cooking in the evening. If I'm energetic, I may do prep work after dinner. But dinner itself, I aim for not more than 10-15 minutes of work each evening.

Most days, I feel most energetic in late morning or early afternoon. There's simply no reason not to chop carrots, celery, onions and potatoes then (if precutting potatoes, leave them soaking in water so they don't oxidize and go all unpleasantly black).

I can sit down at my kitchen table with a cutting board and a knife and watch an episode of my most recent Netflix obsession, and have all the prep work for dinner done using almost no energy, just sitting on my butt watching TV.

I do this about everything - prepare in advance.

I keep a stock of stocks in my freezer - beef, chicken, turkey and ham broth in quart containers. I don't ever make broth to eat, but to freeze. It's a precooked ingredient for fast dinners.

I buy bacon in 3-pound packages. When I thaw it, I cook it all and refreeze most of it. So the majority of the time that we eat bacon, I don't have to cook it, and there's only one cleanup of the greasy mess for multiple times of bacony goodness!

So How Do I Plan?

I have vague ideas about what we'll eat over the next few weeks.

I think about what we haven't had lately, or if there's no baked goods around for hubby, and what I feel like doing in the near future. I might have a new recipe I want to try. So I have a vague plan of what I might make over the next couple weeks.

Before shopping, I will notice if I don't have any whole chickens, some type of beef roast, a few pounds of ground meat and a couple packages of pork in the freezer. I check both my precooked bean stock to see if I should cook some and my supply of dry beans to see what I need to buy. I buy carrots, potatoes and onions in 10 pound bags, as you can make lots if you have them around with a variety of herbs and spices.

But even if I buy ingredients for a specific recipe, I don't plan to make it on Wednesday... I plan to make it... sometime. We'll see how I feel.

A flexible notion of what's for dinner makes it much easier for me to make sure there's something yummy and healthy every day.

Image credit: Adapted from "You can plan and prepare balanced meals for your family" By Unknown or not provided (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.