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Why I Don’t Plan Menus

February 8, 2015

I’ve just never been able to pull it off I guess.  But boy, do some folks want to make you feel guilty if you don’t plan your menus.  Scratch cooking is one thing, but cooking from the pantry is another.  We eat pretty much the same things that we always have.  Kind of.  My husband has some food restrictions, like no potatoes, so I either have to change a recipe that contained potatoes, or I cook them as a side.

What we eat varies by season too, since we eat from the farm and what it can produce, or what we can store away.  I can a lot of tomato products, but that’s for winter.  Once fresh tomatoes appear it’s no holds barred – we eat a lot of tomatoes, fresh, out of hand, and on everything.  But we spent a fair amount of time making tomato sauce, salsa and the like.  What happens to those leftover jars of work languishing in the fridge?  Well, lately chili, we had a great bean year last year.  So I soak the beans, cook the beans, and then rummage around in the refrigerator for food items that could possibly go in the bean pot.   A small amount of salsa, some tomato sauce, a drib of cilantro pesto, and a half pint of roasted tomatillo salsa.  In the fridge the partially used jars are taking up space, I can toss their contents into the bean pot like jetsam and they become useful again, and I’m moving my inventory.  Not wasting that effort of growing and preserving, but turning it into something a little unique for that week.  Of course, that means a lot of tweaking, and that would never fit in any menu plan I could write up for my pantry.

But I think the crux of the matter regarding weekly menus is that while I am surrounded by foods of all kinds grown by our own work, I am duty bound to not waste that work.  That cake in the picture, no planning, it’s my mom’s go-to recipe for applesauce cake, but it doesn’t appear on a regular basis on the table.  It appears when we don’t finish that quart of applesauce that we opened to eat with a pork roast.  A bite of roast swiped through the applesauce on the plate, nothing better.  Not too much applesauce, but just enough to give the hint of the King apple blended with spices and vanilla.  Sorta like the same flavor burst when some maple syrup gets on the bacon.  Not much, just a hint of sweet with the salt.   So if I can applesauce in quarts, there just may be a cup or two that doesn’t get eaten at a meal.

But back to the menu planning thing, I just can’t do much beyond the “what’s in my head” schedule of what we eat.  A menu plan would dictate what you buy at the store, a budget if you will.  It makes perfect sense in that regard.  A farmstead pantry though is determined by what you grow in a season and ever more so, what flourished in that season.  Applesauce?  We might go a year or maybe two and not get any apples.  What that means to me, is that in years of abundance, we will can more than a years worth of applesauce.  How much you say?  As much as we can.  52 weeks in a year, assuming we eat a quart of applesauce a week, 52 quarts would keep you in applesauce for one year.  That’s 7 canner loads of 7 quarts, plus some more.  Windfall years mean you might can 150 quarts of applesauce to spread out in lean fruit years.  Once you take on the responsibility for your own food supply you feel the real ebb and flow of the seasons.  When you buy your food, there is no ebb and flow of seasons anymore, apples are available year round in the store fresh for the eating.  Applesauce is something for grandmothers and babies.  Or maybe applesauce is for hungry farmers who don’t plan menus and want some cake once in a while.

33 Comments leave one →
  1. deb permalink
    February 8, 2015 7:13 am

    This is sooooo true…. there is an old wisdom here that is almost completely disregarded in today’s convenience-minded society. I doubt if most people even know that strawberries really dont grow in January, for example… Its sad…. we have become so disconnected with the cycles of the earth and the seasons.
    besides canning tomatos, I have become a real fan of dehydrating them, to the point of being crumbly, then processing them into a powder. This powder (I do seeds and all, but it could be screened to remove seeds I guess) makes an instant tomato sauce. great for thickening chilis or soups with a little tomato flavor, or making pizza sauce

  2. February 8, 2015 7:23 am

    I just sent my seed order to Fedco last week–your post makes me hungry.

  3. Victoria permalink
    February 8, 2015 7:42 am

    We have to have a meal plan, or else we don’t manage to use everything before it goes bad! Part of it may be that two of us are sharing the cooking now (he cooks about 75% of the meals, while the garden and canning are 95% mine).

    But even when I was living on my own, I needed to plan out meals in writing somewhere to make sure I used up everything I had, and had what I needed to cook a meal. Otherwise, things would just sit out in the garden, or rot in the fridge, or hang out in the freezer for two years.

    For me, the weekly plan starts with “What’s fresh in the garden / what do I need to use up”, and from there I get a list of meat to get from the butcher (and the plan might change when I get there and they’re out of a cut of meat), and anything I need to buy from the grocery store (limes to go with a spicy soup, mozzarella cheese for homemade pizza, onions because I just can’t manage to grow any larger than 2″). I’ve actually found that as I shift to more seasonal / local eating, I have to do more planning to use things up while they’re available.

    • February 8, 2015 9:06 am

      Stop! You’re making me hungry!

    • February 11, 2015 6:19 pm

      That’s exactly why I need to have at least a vague meal plan and how I do it. I am in a transitional stage moving away from store-bought food and learning to eat from my garden and meat from local farms. The food seasons are a little bit awkward for me because I don’t can. I have no room in my tiny apartment for the equipment. I hate when I let stuff go to waste, which is really hard not to do when you are only feeding two light eaters! Still have to buy breads and grain products…can’t keep a starter alive (so far…3rd attempt)…also, husband is a midnight snacker and consistently chooses carbs to snack on lol

  4. Rachel B permalink
    February 8, 2015 8:31 am

    I wouldn’t say that if you menu plan, that means you plan your meals and then just buy whatever the recipes call for. Plenty of people, myself included, grow or purchase what we want/need, and then plan our menus around what we have, and remain flexible enough to tweak here and there in order not to waste food. Planning to use what you have is still planning!

  5. Tara permalink
    February 8, 2015 9:04 am

    Thank you, oh wise one. I was just thinking about this yesterday. I simply can’t muster the time, inclination or money to get to town to fulfill a menu plan. We are low on frozen veg, but the roots march on.

    I was just reading a blog article that shared the author’s natural cleaning tips. It’s baking soda and vinegar around here, but that’s not my problem. I want to know how to actually have a clean farmhouse without a maid! Where are the tips on how to keep wood shavings out of your tub, straw off your kitchen floor, cow poop flakes from fluttering off my milk can onto my cupboard? It’s a constant game of catch up and good enough. I won’t even talk about the melting snow puddles all over my floors. What’s your solution? I’m hoping you fall into the acceptance category.

    • February 8, 2015 9:08 am

      Beyond acceptance, we have three large hairy dogs, and right now a cow that is shedding, and straw in every pocket and jeans cranny from bedding the shed. Cue the sound of a shop vac!

      • Bee permalink
        February 8, 2015 1:18 pm

        Tara, I don’t have a solution (although I strongly recommend farm and ranch wives never, never, never carpet floors). Around here it’s a dog, three cats, three grandkids, a husband who is a mechanic and welder and likes to play in the dirt with heavy equipment, sheep, horses, cows and chickens, straw, hay, gardening – you get the picture!
        What I do have, however, is a mindset that keeps me from raving insanity. “What’s alive always takes precedence over what’s not alive.” That means housework is on the bottom of the list, always and forever.
        I might quickly mop the snow puddles to keep the floor from rotting, but that’s the only mopping the floor may get for a month. When I do clean, however, I use the techniques from the Clean Team; this little book is one of the best purchases I ever made:

      • CassieOz permalink
        February 8, 2015 7:34 pm

        Yes! I want to know how to stop all the bits of hay and seeds and stuff that end up hiding in your washing machine, from reappearing on the front of the only semi-respectable t-shirt you’ve tried to wear in the last month. I try to look less like a hayseed when I go for medical appointments but all my ‘good’ clothes are now ‘blessed’ with farm reminders 😛

        • February 8, 2015 7:49 pm

          No help here…I’m the original hayseed 😉

        • Bee permalink
          February 9, 2015 7:17 am

          CassieOz, try a quick brushing with one of those lint brushes. The trick is to wipe it off after each pass so you don’t deposit the chaff onto the next section you brush. The laundry mavens will probably chide us that we shouldn’t wash these things together or that we should clean out the washer between each load — to which I say: “Yeah, right! Fuggedaboutit!” And although I usually dry stuff on the line when the weather’s good, I have to admit that drying tee shirts in the dryer does tend to make the seeds and such collect in the lint trap instead of on my shirts. Of course, then I have to remember to clean the lint trap…

        • Victoria permalink
          February 9, 2015 1:20 pm

          The big thing I’ve found is to run all my clothes (which suffer from 3 different colors of cat hair and the normal household / garden debris) through the tumble dryer with a couple of the plastic dryer balls. After they’ve dried on the line or rack, 10 minutes of tumbling on air dry gets most of the cat hair and lint off.

  6. February 8, 2015 11:15 am

    Shop Vac… farm girls best friend!!! Correction… non critter type best friend!!!

  7. Bee permalink
    February 8, 2015 1:22 pm

    I have a meal plan; it’s just that it’s a highly flexible 24-hour plan depending on what’s in the fridge, what’s ripe in the garden, how many jars of whatever we have that need to be eaten, whether I go out to feed and find a horse in the fence (which sort of clobbers the schedule) and whether I remembered to take meat out of the freezer. In the last instance, it often means bacon and eggs for supper!

    • February 8, 2015 1:25 pm

      Thank heavens for breakfast, it’s what’s for supper! Here is one of mine, whatever falls out of the freezer is what we’re having the next day 😉

      • Bee permalink
        February 9, 2015 7:18 am

        LOL, I’m adopting than one immediately!

  8. Spiderjohn permalink
    February 8, 2015 2:51 pm

    How can anyone not like potatoes?

  9. February 8, 2015 2:55 pm

    I’m lucky if I know what I’m cooking in the morning for that nights meal. I go look in the freezer then wander around the garden. You can’t go too far wrong with home grown meat and fresh picked veg.

  10. Lisa G. permalink
    February 8, 2015 3:24 pm

    You make a good point here. I do well with menu planning, but I’m not a farmer. Still, when I try new recipes, I don’t want to try more than one in a week, because as you say, the food on hand needs to be used up, and that’s where the imagination comes in. I find that new recipes are nice for a change, and they often teach me new techniques, which is good in the long run.

  11. February 8, 2015 7:22 pm

    I’m resistant to all types of planning. Especially the kinds where you have to write things down 🙂

    I love my home made pantry more every year. And somehow, when one staple has an off year, something else fills its place. Except of course tomatoes – I hope I never have to figure out how to survive a winter without tomatoes…

  12. CassieOz permalink
    February 8, 2015 7:36 pm

    “What’s for dinner?” starts with “what needs eating?” around here to. I used to menu plan when I lived in the city, worked full time, had kids at home and got all my food from the supermarket. Oh so different now!

  13. February 8, 2015 8:36 pm

    I menu plan based on what I already have in the house that needs using up (either canned or frozen) or in the spring and summer, what I have that is going to be ready in the garden. If I have to, then I fill in a few gaps from my menu plan with stuff from the store. I also am willing to be fluid. If I have a huge burst of something it’ll get used more than what my menu plan says. Like when the tomatoes or the zucchini go crazy earlier than expected. Very seldom do I plan meals based on stuff I haven’t already got unless it is fish in season.

  14. February 8, 2015 9:53 pm

    My problem is managing frozen stuff. If it’s frozen it’s not going to be in a quick dinner tonight. Do you have a pattern for managing your frozen meats?

    • February 9, 2015 5:32 am

      I’ve got a pretty good habit of remembering to thaw meat out, but if I forget the meal “plan” definitely changes. Omelets to the rescue many a time. I always have eggs 🙂

    • Bee permalink
      February 9, 2015 7:05 am

      I have found that I can cook a frozen roast without thawing (I expect there are some food police somewhere who will be having collective seizures over the idea). It takes longer, obviously, but works just fine. Cook it at about 350 and expect that it will take slightly more than twice the usual time — say five hours for a 4-5 pound roast. It actually makes the meat juicier, as when you defrost first, the juices seep out of the roast and are lost. Of course, this only works if you happen to remember (say about noon) that you didn’t take anything out. You can also use your cast iron skillets to defrost steaks, chops and ground meat. Metal is a good heat conductor, so frozen meat laid in its wrappings directly against the pan will defrost in about half the time. I don’t like using the microwave (if it was up to me, we wouldn’t have one at all, but hubby likes it for reheating and making hot water for tea), and the cast iron method prevents the overcooking around the edges that occurs in the microwave.

    • February 10, 2015 2:39 am

      Frozen meat thaws quickly if you put it in a waterproof freezer bag and submerge in cool – lukewarm water. Won’t help with a turkey, but some burger no problem.

  15. February 9, 2015 8:29 am

    I buy my food from a local farmer. So I definitely experience the flow of the seasons 🙂

    Yes, I could go to a grocery store and get out-of-season food brought in from who-knows-where, but I don’t.

  16. February 9, 2015 9:51 pm

    My wife refers to it as McGiver meals. I have a hard time following recipes and prefer the grab an toss it in method. She was a classic recipe follower until she met me and now out-McGiver’s me in the kitchen. Cooking with what you have on hand is a skill few people seem to have. Think of it as painting for your palate without running to the store. 😃

  17. March 7, 2015 12:56 pm

    Wow! They look soooo good and moist!!! Nice job. I really want a piece right now!

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