One of the many, many things I’ve learned from my mom is the value of making a weekly meal plan. As a single mom with four busy kids and two jobs, she didn’t have time to go to the grocery store several times a week, let alone make fussy meals. But we never ate fast food. Most of what we ate were simple, nutritious meals with the leftovers transforming into a different meal later in the week. Yay Mom! Don’t know how you did it, but you rule.
When we first joined a CSA, I began doing weekly meal plans every weekend for the coming week. It started as a necessity because we were quickly becoming overwhelmed by fruits and vegetables stacking up in our crisper. This has created all sorts of other benefits in addition to helping us use up our CSA vegetables and eat more locally. One huge benefit is that we only go to the grocery store once a week (sometimes not even). This saves a lot of money and a lot of time. The grocery store on Sunday afternoon is remarkably empty. We have also cut down on our food spending by only eating out when we plan to – as opposed to getting takeout when we both get home from work totally famished with no idea about what we will have for dinner.
Early in our eat local campaign, we invested in a large vertical freezer. This allowed us to buy local meat and chicken in bulk, along with freezing fruits and vegetables at their peak. The meal plan has helped us use what we have in the freezer more effectively because we know when we need to take meat out of the freezer.
Eating local for us has also meant using a lot of dried beans and legumes. Cooking dried beans is not a fast process, but once cooked, you can store them in the refrigerator for about a week. We typically cook them on the weekend and use them in a couple of meals throughout the week. We would be buying cans of beans if it weren’t for the meal plan.
Part of our meal planning process also includes assessing what leftovers we still have and devising ways to use them up or freezing them. We used to throw away a lot of stuff we forgot about. Now, most everything gets eaten for lunch, reused, or frozen for later. The frozen stuff often comes out when one of us is out of town and the other doesn’t feel like cooking.
I admit that I like making lists (and occasionally add things to lists that have already been done just to cross it out) and a weekly meal plan is one more list that I get to create every week. But…. it is really functional for helping us eat more locally.