For years now, our weekly menu plans have been shared in this space. I relied on them, enjoyed making them, and discovered many new recipes that became family favorites when searching to fill them. I still frequently look through the archives for ideas. Menu planning is a great thing to do when transitioning to traditional/real/clean eating and cooking from scratch. Having a plan is crucial or else it's too easy to slip back into old eating habits. Once the pantry and fridge's contents have successfully transitioned to one-ingredient items and cooking from scratch has become old hat, menu planning isn't always necessary. If you feel ready to step away from weekly menu plans, here are some ideas to help in allowing more creativity and flexibility in the kitchen before mealtime:
Julia's Kitchen Wisdom is a must-have. Who better to get the basics of cooking from than the legendary Julia Child? This is a little, very un-intimidating paperback that teaches "essential techniques and recipes from a lifetime of cooking." Learn bases for soups, salads, dressings, meat dishes and more and how to vary them in multiple ways. Discover what flavors -- some surprising -- pair well together. Learn easy substitutes for when you run out of a certain spice or other ingredient. Soon, the boldness that comes from knowledge washes over you and sky is the limit!
Stock the fridge and pantry for success. Learning your family's favorite healthy staples (and adding some newness in for fun and discovery) and stocking the kitchen with the necessary ingredients is crucial for cooking on the fly, unless you enjoy grocery shopping on a daily basis. Here are some must-haves for our kitchen:
- Produce. Ours now mostly comes from the garden, but if you are unable to grow most/all your fruits and veggies, subscribing to a Community-Supported Agriculture box will ensure eating local and in-season with ease.
- Dairy. Keeping a steady supply of dairy products on hand (if you eat diary, that is) is a big deal: cheese, cream cheese, creme fraiche, buttermilk, and milk are items our family can't seem to live without. If you are looking to find a good source of local dairy, check here.
- Meat and eggs. Keeping options diverse promotes health and broadens palettes. Each week, try making one dish with beef, chicken/turkey, fish, eggs, and maybe one night branch out and try something new (venison or other game, duck, goose...). Try creating a meatless dinner at least once a week. This is a big relief for the old grocery budget. If you are looking for a good source of local meat and eggs, here is a good resource.
- Grains, starches, and/or grain-free flours. Keep a good amount of these dry staples. We eat about 90% gluten-free and the cheapest way to do this is skipping all the gluten-free products out there and making meals with rice, beans, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. In doing so, the dishes you create will be so much less processed. Using coconut and almond flours sparingly (about twice a week) is a good way to bring variety and boost fiber and protein intake.
- Constantly expose yourself to inspiration. Be ever on the lookout for an intriguing recipe. Subscribe to a few food blogs. Create a Pinterest board to organize yummy finds. Splurge on a new cookbook or magazine every now and then. Even if you don't follow the recipes you find to a T, they can spark new ideas for old, familiar dishes.