Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Master List

I don’t know when I got so organized about planning meals and grocery shopping. Maybe when I had kids? I used to make a stop at the grocery store almost every day and just make whatever I felt like for dinner that night. These days, it’s different. Each week I create what I call, the master list. I get out my food magazines, recipe box, clippings, cook books, and make a list of what we’ll have for dinner each night of the week. Most weeks I try at least two new recipes along with some of our regular favorites. One night we have big salad (an entrée salad), and one night is something super easy because, even though I love to cook, I still have those nights when I’m just beat from the workday and not in the mood. That’s when we have spaghetti with sauce out of the jar. If we have plans to go out one night, that’s on the list too.

I don’t worry about lunches. During the workweek, they tend to be leftovers, Lean Cuisines, and canned soup. On weekends we make sandwiches, mac & cheese for the kids - really simple stuff. Breakfast is generally cereal and bagels, occasionally pancakes for a special treat. So, the focus of the master list is dinner.

Below the meal list, I make a grocery list of everything needed to prepare the meals and get us through the week. I go shopping, assign days of the week to the meals, and we’re on our way.

I hold onto my list and refer to it throughout the week. If I misplace it or it accidentally ends up in the recycle bin before the week is up, I get quite agitated. I know I must sound super high-maintenance (I am) and structured (I'm really not), but it’s not like I never deviate from what’s on the list. I change around the assigned days for meals or occasionally postpone something to the next week. Sometimes I have a bad week, and I’m just not as motivated to cook on Tuesday (and Wednesday, and Thursday) as I was when I made the list on Saturday. This leads to take-and-bake pizza and fresh vegetables in the trash. The kids are always thrilled to have pizza instead of shrimp and butternut squash in coconut milk broth or whatever un-kid-friendly meal I’d planned, but I feel miserable about the moldy bell pepper that ends up in the trash.

By the end of the week, the list is covered with cross-outs and notes, ideas for next week, pantry items that ran out and need to be added to next week’s grocery list. I love my list, and wait as long as I can, until the next week’s list is ready to go, to toss it into the bin. I guess it’s because food and cooking are my joy, and my master list keeps me from letting that pleasure get lost and forgotten with the busy workweek and craziness of parenting. I can pull it out of my purse at 2:00 in the afternoon, take a look, and see what I have to look forward to cooking that evening. Tonight it’s the shrimp and butternut squash recipe, which I haven’t actually made before. I’ll let you know how it turns out tomorrow, unless of course, we end up with take-and-bake pizza tonight. We’ll see.

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