So, this post is actually really hitting close to home with some of the problems and stuff with menu prep tonight as I'm utterly crippled today, yet still having to function and get stuff done. I'm typing one fingered with my right hand (and an occasional tap of the space bar with my left hand) as I did something to my bad arm last night (I think I slept wrong...just a hunch as I woke up the consistency of a human pretzel) and as a result my left side is utterly worthless to me today...it's one big knot of agony that is radiating along my back, into my neck. And I've had to battle a migraine from the pinch nerve it's caused me all day, so yippee for being organized so dinner is taken care of tonight *painful thumbs up*.
The last bit the menu has well...not happened. Even when I made a plan, something would come along (like me not sleeping the night before, not wanting to do prep work involved and just punting when it came to cooking), the menu would get screwed up, which would throw off other meals because I'd plan on left overs and things...and well it would just go down hill quicker than a luge team. So, of course, lost opportunity got me thinking of ways to better improve how I did my menu plan and meal prep. And I came up with a system, I think.
So, changes to the way meal prep and menu planning are going to be done around here? I'm going to go through the menu plan and meal prep first and then move onto other items :).
Problem 1: Pantry Configuration Leading to More Boring Meals
Root of Problem: A hurt arm. Due to hurt arm the idea of crawling around on my hands and knees in my pantry to get stuff off of my shelves to help with dinner prep has been akin to asking me to walk on broken glass some evenings. As a result, I end up asking my daughter to go down in the pantry and get something as a side for dinner. The result of doing THAT is we are blowing through canned peaches like they are going out of style, but still have plenty of other side items in the pantry (she's found she loves them). So, I had to come up with another way to do things to make me more motivated to grab things to go with dinner.
Solution: Empty the shelf in your bathroom that used to house soap bars and other small bathroom items, put those into a small set of rubbermaid drawers (like you'd put in your office on your desk kind of system), line the shelves with cardboard and shove the shelf next to your china cabinet in your hallway. Then, go into your pantry on a good day and get the things you've marked off on your menu plan so far for the month that you want to make and pull the items you'd need for that. Then grab a few sides to go with dinner for the week (the rest will get pulled from the freezer), a quick "punt" meal that you can put together quickly (Chicken Helper "Alfredo and Pasta" and a can of chicken) and you suddenly have a "grab it quick" shelf that is at least on the same floor as your kitchen. As soon as I'm feeling better I'll go into the pantry and grab another box of pasta (I go through the angel hair with my son as I end up making him pasta with olive oil and Parmesan cheese at least twice a week) to stretch the chicken helper out for a few meals (an overlook on my part when I grabbed the stuff eventually).
Problem 2: Finding Inspiration to Make Meals Interesting
Root of the Problem: Eating the same thing all the time.
Solution: This one is still a work in progress, really, but I'm working on it. Pinterest is a great resource, I've found, IF you have an idea of what you might want to make. Looking up "Pork recipes" for instance, doesn't really net you much in the way of ideas. Looking up, "Pork Fried Rice" and suddenly you have got a ton of recipes you could choose from. So, for me, it has been trying to find things to inspire creativity that I can branch off of into different meals and different types of meals.
I got Alton Brown's new cookbook as a Christmas gift and it has really helped to spark some creativity in me, not to mention gave me a bunch of recipes I wanted to try. Reading his love of pressure cookers made me think more about pressure cookers and how much time they can save and then researching it online I decided I needed (not wanted, but needed) one as it will make dinner SO much quicker to cook when I just plain forget to do things like defrost the meat or want to make steel cut oats for breakfast one morning. Not to mention perfectly boiled eggs and things. I got my pressure cooker in the mail yesterday and have been having fun reading up online on all the different ways to use one and bookmarking recipes (now I just need my nice, strong and mechanically inclined husband to put it together for me :).
I've found myself expanding my selection of things like spice and herb mixes and spices period the last bit. I've found that having more things at my disposal actually does improve my chances of making a dish. Oddly enough, I'll sub out main ingredients without much thought in a recipe (I promise not to review the original recipe stating that I changed everything and it still came out great, though ;), but when it comes to spices and herbs...those I consider to be important parts of a recipe that shouldn't really be messed with. So, I'm glad that I am going to have more weapons in my arsenal when it comes to cooking dinner and making it interesting (IF Amazon ever ships a lot of them, that is *grumble*).
Problem 3: Having Easy Meal Ingredients Available (Thus Making Dinner Easy on Busy or Stressful Nights)
Root of Problem: Affording more expensive canned goods, such as canned chicken, even though I use it a lot and would like to buy it on a rotating basis.
Solution: Keep my eye open for good sales on chicken (whole or value packs of thighs and things) and not only freeze it but start pressure canning it too. I've got two pressure canners at my disposal now that I got my dials replaced. I really need to get my feet wet again and start pressure canning more. I used to pressure can when I first got my pressure canner all the time, but when my son required me having to take care of him more and more I kind of just stopped doing it and my pressure canner became a glorified hot water bath canner for years. Now that the kids are old enough that they are in school for a full day...it's time to start getting back to basics and trying to save money by doing things myself versus buying it from the store. My biggest worry is having enough jars to rotate them constantly, but I'll quickly figure out if I need to invest in more or not over time.
I mean I have two big buckets full of beans alone. I REALLY need to start pressure canning them instead of buying canned.
Which side not to me is to find my pressure canning manual in with all of my other books and start to brush up on proper procedures and things.
Problem 4: Baking
Root of Problem: Finding Time to Bake More Time Consuming Things
Solution: This problem was one that I really had to think of for a bit in trying to figure out. See, I'm kind of at this point where I really want to bake, but at the same time I don't want to bake too much, have tons of stuff in one week, gain ten pounds and then not bake for three weeks. Don't ask where I could have come up with that scenario or anything.
I've tried freezing my baked goods, but have found that things like muffins...I end up being the only one who eats them out of the freezer and they eventually get freezer burned, so I'm determined to keep it small in amounts that I bake this year as well. Things that can be stacked flat, or close to flat (like waffles), I'll probably make more of and freeze, but things like muffins or bread is just going to be made on a weekly basis as I need them.
One of the things I really need to start baking more of is whole grain breads. I mean I love white bread, and I love the bread that I can make in an hour and all, but it's not the healthiest option and I have a ton of whole grain flours I'd like to experiment with. I tried the bread machine recipe that my "made for bread machines" flours came with and baked it according to the directions. The loaf comes out with the consistency of a brick. A tasty brick, but a brick. I have an awesome cookbook for breads that my dad gave me a lot of years ago and it has a really good bread recipes in it, but it's all done "the old fashioned way" so it takes a long time with the rises and things needed to make the breads.
So, to combat the need for time to make baked goods and things, I've decided that a baking day is going to have to be on the weekend and is probably going to have to start early in the morning before my kids get up (for the sake of my sanity as my son needs my attention about once every two seconds or so). I might not be able to sleep in, but I'll at least be able to get bread baked, muffins made and cookies baked for the week and things. I think it'll work out alright if I can keep up with it.
Problem: Wanting to Eat Healthier
Root of the Problem: Weighing costs with eating a healthier diet.I will still be posting up my menu plans for the week to keep myself on task and to hopefully share some cool recipes as I find them, but yeah, that's what is going on behind the scenes around here this year. How about you? Menus going well, getting stale or never started?
Solution: Eat more meatless meals, especially utilizing beans and lentils and things more. This will be cheaper if I can make it fly with the family as well. The biggest issue is that I worry about my husband getting enough meat as his body, being active outside and things, needs meat or his mood and health are effected, so it's going to be carefully finding a balance so we're both healthier in the long run for it.