Monday, July 23, 2007

My Kitchen Systems - cooking

Awhile ago, I posted about my kitchen binder. I love it, and it has been useful, but it has had some drawbacks. For one thing, it keeps getting bigger! As I add more and more recipes, it is becoming rather unwieldy. This has led me to not use it as I should. In addition, as I consider how to improve my household systems, I realize that this would be a good place to start.

I love to cook! I spend an inordinate amount of time looking up new recipes, shopping, cooking, feeding, and cleaning up after cooking, for my crew. I enjoy it, but it takes up so very much of my time. I have been thinking about how I can simplify this whole process. I also believe I waste a lot of money going to the store 2 and 3 (or more!) times a week. Even when I can stick to one shopping trip per week, it still feels somewhat wasteful to me, both in terms of time and money. I have always thought about trying to do "once a month" cooking, and "once a month" shopping. Never tried it, though, as it seems very daunting to me, but I am revisiting the idea. Basically, I have come to realize that I need to simplify things in the kitchen.

For the month of August, the month before school starts, I am going to try to do a monthly menu, with one large monthly stock-up shopping trip supported by 2-3 short shopping trips for fresh vegetables and dairy products. I am taking our favorite recipes, repeating a few of them over the month, and including variations on them. Basically, I have about 20 recipes to use over the course of 31 days. One day per month we will enjoy a dinner out, and one day I'll use to try out a new recipe. Several of these recipes can be easily made ahead, and several of them have components that can be prepared in advance (browning ground beef, cooking sauces, etc...) I will take one day toward the end of this month and do my shopping, and the next day I will do a lot of cooking ahead and preparation.

In addition, I am going to create breakfast and lunch plans. I will keep these simple as I want to leave as much time as possible for school and housework during the day.

My long-term plan is to have seasonal menus. Right now I am in the summer season, so there is a lot of salads and non-oven baked food. In the fall I'll have more soups and stews, etc. I figure if I change up our menus every few months, we won't get bored, but it won't be as much work for me as creating a new menu each week.

In my binder, I will put my monthly menu plan in the front, followed by all my recipes. After that I will put my breakfast and lunch plans. I will include a master shopping list in the back, and possibly a pantry/freezer inventory. I am planning on having a white board or a bulletin board or something like that, either in my kitchen or dining room. I will list our menus by week there, so that the family knows what to expect.

In the coming days, I will post all my plans. My month-long menu plan, the recipes or links to the recipes, my shopping list, and my "step by step" plan for how to get this all done. The tentative plan is to do a big shopping trip in the afternoon on Monday, 7/30, when dh will come home from work early, and then spend Tuesday, 7/31, cooking all day while dh works from home to help me out with the kids. I don't envision cooking very part of every meal in that day, I've got 2-3 meals where I can do most of it ahead (say, cook a filling type of thing for 3 casseroles, then I'll only have to add the toppings and throw it in the oven, make up a salad, and dinner's done. Also brown ground beef, cook and cube chicken ahead of time for those meals I'm not making ahead, that sort of thing....)I'm still working on the details, but when I'm done, I will post what I come up with and let you know, over the course of the month, how it all goes.

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