Meal Planning 102

 

Whoops! This is definitely not “next week” as I promised in my last post, but life happens, right? I also changed my mind: My “advanced” meal planning system doesn’t really warrant a 201 definition, but I think meal planning 102 describes it nicely.

In Meal Planning 101 I described the system I use to plan my weekly dinner rotation. But if you’re like me, you get in dinner ruts, those weeks (or months) where you seem to be making the same thing over and over and over again. Some folks are perfectly happy to do that, and to them, I tip my hat. But I am so easily bored by food that I really need to force myself outside of my comfort zone.

For a little background, I was a vegetarian (pescetarian really) for two years in high school and also gave vegetarianism a try about a year ago. I have come to realize that my body does best with limited carbohydrates and soy-based products, so being vegetarian became unsustainable for me. Reluctantly (except for breakfast sausage, I missed that stuff so much), I went back to meat-eating. However, I do try to limit my meat intake, particularly red meat.

I aim for at least three meat-free meals per week with at least one of them being dairy- and egg-free as well. This not only helps cut down on the amount of meat I eat (good for health and for wallet), but also forces me to think outside the box. I also have lots of vegetarian and vegan friends who I love to cook for, so it helps keep my roster of meat-free options fresh and current.

I am an unabashed Random.org fangirl. They use background radiation from the universe (for real) to generate truly random numbers, dice rolls, coin flips, and list orders. Random.org offers a free online list randomizer, but I am certifiable so I went ahead and bought the full $2.99 Random.org app from the Apple App Store. I have gotten so much use out of it already that the cost was worth it. OK, advertisement over.

In my Random.org app, I made a list of seven meal types. As previously mentioned in Meal Planning 101, I cook at home 6 days per week with one night reserved for our weekly friend dinner. Having seven options ensures not every week is exactly the same. My seven meal types are:

  1. Red meat
  2. Chicken
  3. Fish
  4. Vegetarian
  5. Vegetarian
  6. Vegetarian
  7. Vegan

So before I sit down to meal plan, I hit “Randomize” on my list, and it spits back the above options in a random order. I write down or, more likely, take a screenshot to save the first six items in the list.

This week it came back with red meat, vegetarian, vegetarian, fish, vegan, and chicken in that order. I write those down at the top of my spreadsheet. Sunday = red meat, Monday = vegetarian, Tuesday (friend dinner, so I skip this one), Wednesday = vegetarian, and so on.

IMG_8711

The next list I use is called dinner types. This is a list of cuisines. Before I started this system, I was making Tex-Mex food at least twice a week and stir-fries every weekend. I just like tacos and rice, OK? But there are so many more interesting and delicious food cultures around the world. I made this list to force me to make foods inspired by cuisines I would never have thought to try otherwise. I also included some other options to encourage me to get creative with familiar food styles or stuff I already have in the pantry. My 24 dinner types are:

  1. Mexican
  2. Italian
  3. Eggs/breakfast for dinner
  4. Sandwiches
  5. Pizza
  6. Clear the fridge/pantry
  7. Salad
  8. Asian
  9. Crockpot
  10. Casserole
  11. Indian
  12. Meat and potatoes
  13. French
  14. Pasta
  15. Southern
  16. Cajun
  17. Mediterranean
  18. African
  19. American
  20. Fusion
  21. Caribbean
  22. German
  23. British (English/Irish/Scottish)
  24. Russian

(I’m open to more suggestions if you have them, too!)

Like the meal types list, I then randomize this list and pick the first six as what I’m going to try to make this week. Then I match them to the meal type I already randomly selected.

I ended up with

  1. Pasta – red meat
  2. French – vegetarian
  3. Mediterranean – vegetarian
  4. African – fish
  5. Clear the fridge/pantry – vegan
  6. German – chicken

IMG_8712

See how this system can cause some interesting challenges? Pasta and red meat is easy with a bolognese sauce, but making something vegan while cleaning the fridge or pantry might be a little tricky. I’m looking forward to the challenge!

So from here I then use the system in Meal Planning 101 where I try to think of or look up recipes for the meal types. I know I’ll need help with an African fish dish, so I’ll search that in Pinterest. But pasta with red meat is something I’m comfortable with, so I’ll likely create a recipe for you all.

I hope you have liked this insight into how I meal plan and keep things fresh in the kitchen! If you have any suggestions or feedback, please don’t hesitate to send them my way.

How do you meal plan? Do you ever find yourself in a planning rut? How do you get out of it?

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