There was a time in my life when Sunday meant sitting down with my Dinner Diary and mapping out a meal plan for the week. Like this line-up from June 14-18, 2004:
Monday: Fried Sole with Green Beans
Tuesday: Ravioli with Green Salad
Wednesday: Fajitas with Black Beans and Cheddar
Thursday: Curried Chicken with Apples
Friday: OUT (always in caps, always!)
I remember telling a food editor friend about my meal-planning system and her response was not the usual “Why again do you record this stuff in a diary?” but this: “Well what happens if you see a big shiny eggplant at the market on Tuesday afternoon? Are you going to just pass that up if it’s not in the plan for Tuesday night?” She said the word “plan” like she was holding a dirty diaper.
And I remember thinking: How is that a relevant question? Who goes to the market on a Tuesday? Who has time to think about anything but work and Elmo and the soonest possible moment you can rest your face on a pillow (remember: This was 2004; two kids under two) let alone wander a farmer’s market hoping eggplant inspiration will strike. On a Tuesday. (I also remember thinking: Such a huge bummer that Andy does not like eggplant.)
The truth is, as much as I wished I was the kind of person with the kind of life that allowed me to regularly saunter though the market and see what was fresh, what was in season, what inspired me, what I was in the mood for at that very second, I just wasn’t. I’m 50% Italian but I’m 100% American, and instead of first shopping, then planning, I liked things the other way around: First the planning, then the shopping. Even now, seven years later when I’m no longer suffering from clinical exhaustion as it relates to toddlers, I still don’t find myself at the farmer’s market on a Tuesday (or any weekday) unless I plan really really well — and unless there’s no ballet or soccer that week. From June through November, the only day you’ll consistently find me at the farmer’s market is on Saturday. And even then, for me it’s not as much about the shiny eggplant (though I do set aside time for the wandering and the ogling) as it is about the fact that it’s Saturday. Saturday morning, to be specific — a whole glorious weekend stretching out before us. A whole glorious morning to walk to the market with the girls and the dog, grab a good cup of coffee (grown-ups), eat a few powdered sugar doughnuts (kids) on a bench overlooking the Hudson River, catch up with friends who are doing the same thing, and stuff our market bags with whatever looks good. And then, when we get home, we come up with a plan.
Market Report: June 12
Dinners we’re thinking about this week now that we’ve hit the market: Spaghetti with the Little Necks we bought from our Hampton Bays fish guy; Grilled sausage coil, maybe over warm arugula with grilled lemons; definitely something with those baby zucchini and definitely on Wednesday when Andy is out (he loves zucchini about as much as he loves eggplant); we got a bunch of asparagus so perhaps that springy asparagus and pasta I haven’t made since last May according to my diary!? The bushel of sugar snap peas will stay on the counter for grabbing and snacking and tossing on the dinner plate as the girls’ token greens. By the time this post goes live, I’m sure they will be gone.
Love this post. I’ve always felt bad about planning first and then shopping – like I couldn’t legitimately claim a love for food because I do things in this order. But the reality is that the lovely beets I bought last week that weren’t on the menu plan ended up moldy and in the trash yesterday. Gotta stick to the plan!
I grew up with a mother who planned and then shopped and she did it more from a penny pinching standpoint than from a joy of cooking. That woman could stretch a chicken out in dinners for 5 days. Anyways, I live by my menu planning, it is the only way I can cope with a 6 year old and a 2 year old and a full time job. Now if I can just convince my husband to come to the farmer’s market with me then I’d be a happy girl. He just doesn’t see the joy in it the way I do.
(Am I the only one who has to use their fingers to do the math for the security question? Math is not my strong point!)
I hear you and am the same way. I plan my meals weekly and people always comment – what if something pops up and goes against the plan? Well – that’s rare in my life. I’m at work from 8 – 5 , so there isn’t much ‘popping’ up that goes on in terms of creating a different meal that day. That only happens on Sunday mornings when I am gloriously strolling through Whole Foods/Trader Joes stocking up on exactly what I need to make it through my week 🙂 I just don’t have the time to stop at other times! Perhaps someday… 🙂
Amanda, I wrote in my comment last week about having to use my fingers for the security math and have felt just a little shameful ever since. So thank you for writing that above, you have liberated me from the shame!
This post does that for me as well, I always feel like less of a cook (and I’m really not a great one to begin with) when I go to the store with my index card list. But planning is the only way it gets done, and I don’t even have kids yet. I can imagine when that happens I will be relying on those lists even more! I love that you had some time on Saturday to let the farmers market inspire you. Sounds like a great week of dinners.
I was just saying that it is the time of year to switch from planning-then-shopping to shopping-then-planning (though my planning day is Thursday). Partly because of the farmers’ markets and partly because our little local co-op has little sense of consistency – and I am trying to find that endearing rather than infuriating.
I have traditionally been a meal planner like all of the posts above me, but being a part of a CSA recently has forced me to be a little more flexible…This weekend, I tried a new approach for the first time so that I could take advantage of our Sunday morning farmer’s market. I knew I wouldn’t have much of my weekend left by Sunday midday, so I needed to meal plan before the market. I did a brief sketch before the farmer’s market–we’re having buckwheat crepes, chicken stir-fry with garden bok choi, pasta with veggies, and steak and risotto. When I got to the market and they had beautiful golden beets, I got those for the risotto. I picked up broccolini for the pasta to supplement the garden spinach. I grabbed some Japanese eggplant and red peppers for the stir-fry, and I picked up some corn & squash for the crepes. I also picked up everything I needed for several salads and side dishes.
Anyway, I was really excited with this hybrid planning approach.
I love the idea of a dinner diary – so often I completely forget about a delicious recipe or a lovely meal combination from weeks/months ago!
I struggle with this too. I have a toddler and if I don’t plan ahead we end up eating omelettes and macaroni and cheese all week because I couldn’t decide what I would do with vegetables but if I choose specific recipes and the grocery store doesn’t have a key ingredient it falls apart.
Sounds like we live parallel lives on Saturday mornings, but we are on the opposite coast and I have two boys (under 4). I do love your spaghetti w clams recipe and have made it regularly since you posted it even in the dead of winter! Thanks!
I wish I could get my husband and the 10 year old to eat shellfish- I see all these great recipes for clams and mussels and want to try them at home. So maybe I have the opposite problem- I am the outlier who wants the different dinner.
I am a planner too, it’s in my blood and I don’t think it’s going to change anytime soon. I figure that while I”m making a meal plan for the week (also on sunday so I can have Fresh Direct come on Monday morning), I generally know what’s in season and I can loosely plan around that. Many times I can make a simple substitution, like zucchini for eggplant or something, but I save my farmer’s market finds for fruit – I can be flexible on my snacking that way 🙂
I just stumbled upon this site… I love it! I too am a weekly menu planner. It gives me no excuses whatsoever to not cook great dinners during the week and/ or to try new dishes. Because of my menus I am always prepared. As for the Tuesday trips to the market, I must admit -every now and then- I’m guilty.
Cheers to your food diary and planning ahead. I am glad to know I am not alone out there! I have been a follower of D a LS for about a year and was thrilled when this post popped up in my reader. Thank you!