It has been a while since I have managed to make a meal plan and follow it. I just got back from two weeks in India, where I did no cooking at all. Before that, I spent the holidays with my family, where I didn’t cook. Before that, I had finals, and before that, there was the week I was out with horrific food poisoning (or whatever), and before that I spent a month living in the lab, spending ten or twelve hours a day thesising. Suffice to say, I am out of practice, and this meal plan took forever. (Two and a half hours start to finish. Eegad.) I’ve learned a lot, in the semester since I’ve started this. I discovered that I often don’t have the energy to cook seven nights a week–so Zack started cooking on Tuesdays, when I have bellydancing. This semester, Brian is taking over Thursdays. Hopefully, I will be able to impart some cooking skills to him that way. (This week I’ve chosen their recipes for them–usually they chose their own).
I’ve discovered that it’s hard for me to strike the right balance of new meals or complicated cooking and old favorites and easy recipes. I try not to plan complicated food on days when I know I am going to be tired. Then there are considerations like preference: Zack doesn’t do mushrooms or coconut milk, Brian can’t eat ginger. Both of them do not consider a bowl of roasted cauliflower to be an appropriate dinner (much to my despair).
I’ve also discovered that I am an incredibly utilitarian cook. I lean heavily towards one-pot meals. The food I make is rarely pretty–I avoid recipes with drizzly sauces or garnishes and the like. (I make exceptions for some of the things Heidi Swanson makes, but I do those rarely.) I cook for efficiency–the most nutritional bang for my time, money, and caloric buck.
I have a hard time balancing various considerations, too. Nutrition, cost-effectiveness, and ecological-friendliness are the big ones that trip me up. Chicken breasts, for instance, are a fabulous lean protein, but they’re meat, and the meat industry in America is deeply problematic from an environmental standpoint. I can buy local, happy chicken, but it’s incredibly expensive. Fish is as bad. It’s really nutritious! However, corporate fishing practices suck. We’re really damaging biodiversity in the ocean–tuna is becoming an endangered species. Farmed fish has its own slew of problems. Occasionally, I can afford to buy the kind of fish that the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch recommends, but not generally. So we don’t eat much fish. It ends up that we eat largely vegetarian, accented with bacon (which gives you a lot of flavor per ounce of meat). But getting the recommended amount of protein is not easy. Beans, incidentally, do not have nearly as much protein as one might think. Cottage cheese is my go-to protein source (after beans), but I wonder if I’m just supporting one bad farming practice (corporate dairy farming) over another bad farming practice (meat farming). I agonize over that kind of thing. I really need to come up with a system to deal with those considerations.
So, the whole meal planning process has been really interesting. I recommend it. Here’s this week’s menu.
Monday dinner: Skillet lasagna
Tuesday lunch: see Monday, dinner
Tuesday dinner: Kale with white beans and bacon on toast
Wednesday lunch: See Tuesday, dinner
Wednesday dinner: in Choctaw. Beet and blood orange salad with fennel.Thursday lunch: Beet, beluga lentil, arugula, and goat cheese sandwiches
Thursday dinner: Whole wheat orchietta with bitter greens and radishes (add chicken)
Friday lunch: See Thursday, dinner
Friday dinner: Cheese tortellini with roasted butternut squash, white beans, sage, and arugula
Saturday lunch: See Friday, dinner
Saturday dinner: Salmon and roasted cauliflower
Sunday dinner: White bean and roasted cauliflower salad (with leftovers for monday)