My family is frugal. We buy in bulk and make a ton of food from scratch. You would think that I would know what’s going to be made each day of the week. I’ve resisted that level of planning. There’s usually something in the fridge to mix and match and my kids manage to pack their own lunch.
But from a time managment viewpoint, I've found that it takes lots of mental and logistical energy to keep thinking about each meal. At times it's nice to think about a menu for family and guests, but most of the time it's a hectic affair. What are we doing today? What does it entail? Is it a trip to the supermarket or farm stand on the way home or is there something from the garden? Is there anything that I have to use up before it spoils? What do we need to thaw, prep, sauté, bake, steam, broil, heat up, marinate, knead, soak, freeze or leave in the fridge or crockpot today?
I'm confident planning all kinds of projects and conferences, but don't ask me what we're having for supper. I've resisted the weekly meal planning because I imagined it was in the realm of fastidious home economics teachers. Planning at this level seemed to lack spontaneity. "No you can’t have that…it's not on the menu!"
Two things came across my desk that changed my mind:
a colleague’s e-publication which recommends planning your meals for the week, including breakfast and lunch. Reading this gave me the first nudge. Yes, I know, I gotta walk the walk.
Eating By The Numbers
The next day another colleague sent me this article about Alegra Cullen, a high school senior. She designed a 4H project to see if it was possible to plan, purchase and prepare meals that met all the recommended nutrition guidelines within a tight budget. She was also committed to helping her family improve their diet and lower the risk for diabetes and high blood pressure.
Alegra outlines the whole process, but started by making sure the whole family bought into this project. She knew it wouldn’t work if they all didn’t pull together. But what made it work was her elegant meal planning.
“I thought there was no chance that four cups of cauliflower, three cups of sweet potatoes and one cup of peas mixed into our curry chicken recipe would taste good. To my family’s surprise, the vegetables, which just soaked up the taste of the curry, created different tastes and textures and made the meal a lot more interesting and healthy. We had similar experiences with many other meals.”
Alegra adressed an issue that we've been grappling with here in our programs, and on a broader scale, nationally: how to dispel the myth that nutritious food is more expensive than processed food. She figured out how to prepare nutritious meals for a family of 4 on a very limited budget, without compromising cultural preferences. And she helped her mother address health issues...with curried chicken? Oh, Alegra -- you rock! I'm planning next week's menu now.