TJ and I were at Publix a couple nights ago, standing in the produce department, while I tried to pick a good mango. We had gone for our biweekly date night and were both very full from dinner. TJ said he doesn't see how I can possibly be thinking about what to cook tomorrow or the next day or next week when we're full right now. "But that's the thing," I said. "You're full now but we'll all be so hungry on Friday night and will love having this mango on top of our Lentil Curry." And then he told me he appreciates that I can keep that view so our family doesn't end up eating cereal for dinner due to lack of planning.
I've shared this quote from Elizabeth Berg's novel Durable Goods before, but I love it, and I never get tired of revisiting my favorite quotes:
It was a whole thing for her, rich and satisfying, planning what we would eat each night. She worked to make things match. She clipped recipes constantly, filed them in scented envelopes, used them like friends.
I don't file my recipes in scented envelopes, but I do have a system.
I keep all my recipes (either torn from magazines or printed from websites) in clear plastic pages in various binders. I flip through the "Main Dishes" section primarily and think about what we've had or haven't had to eat recently. I think about what I feel like eating or cooking next. I think about having leftovers for lunches. I think about meat to thaw. I think about "not meat everyday." I think about company. I think about the weather. I think about veggies to use up. I think and think and think.
It usually takes me a couple nights to get a week's meal plan made and the corresponding grocery lists compiled. The first night is fun. That's the night I start with a clean piece of paper and write out the days of the week and cross-check our calendar for particular happenings on any of those days. That's the night it feels easy and fun, when not every decision has to be made, when not every recipe has to be matched to the insides of my pantry and fridge. That was last night.
Tonight is when it's harder. Tonight I have to fill in the blanks. Tonight I have to make final decisions and commit to what I'll cook. Tonight I'll have to get up from my seat at the table ten times to check on this or that in the pantry or fridge. Tonight I'll feel like I'm tired of everything I cook and wish I had time to explore new recipes. But because there isn't more time, I'll work with what I have. I'll work to make things match, and eventually I'll get my lists just how I want them.
And before long, I'll get the shopping done too - here, there, or otherwise. I haven't figured out a system to recommend for procuring the groceries. But because the eating never stops, neither do the grocery trips. Sometimes it's a mango and a few other things from Publix added to a date night. Sometimes it's a trip to Woodruff Road for three stores in a row: Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and Costco, in that order. Sometimes it's a stop at Walmart for index cards, straws, baby food, ketchup, and Rice Chex. But always, it's the very productive and affordable visits to Aldi I'm the most grateful for.
And when all the pieces come together again this week, no one has to eat cereal for dinner and the Ginger Restaurant can stay open for business.