Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Set Weekly Menu

Since about the middle of Lent, I have been experimenting with a set weekly menu.  It changes based on the Fasting and Feasting seasons of the church and according to the seasons of the year.  This is a rather big shift for me.  I used to be the type that cooked something different nearly every night--or at least planned to cook something different and lived off of leftovers when a dish happened to make a particularly large amount.

This method works, but it involves a lot of planning every week.  I spent at least an hour or more (usually many more, I think) once a week taking inventory of our shelves, leafing through cookbooks to find recipes that would use up our stores and take account of our allergies, and making up a grocery list.

While I enjoyed the variety, there was a far amount of unpredictability.  Some dishes I would put off for many days (or indefinitely) because they just seemed like they would take too much time or effort to prepare.  When making a new dish, I wouldn't know how long it would take to make or how much food we would end up with.

Sometime early this year, I decided that I at least needed to come up with some standard recipes for things like Tuna Casserole or Pea Soup.  I started listing the menus that worked for us after I'd made them.  Then I stumbled upon evlogia and started reading about her set weekly menu for Lent.  Could it be that this woman actually cooks the same lunch every Monday, the same dinner every Thursday?  Inconceivable!

But I was intrigued, and so I came up with a set weekly breakfast and lunch menu and a two-week dinner menu for the rest of Lent.  What a relief not to have to menu-plan every week!

As I cooked through our Lenten menu, I found that certain dishes were just too complicated or too rich to be cooked every week.  Those got dropped from the main rotation.  When I was setting up our Pascha menu, I began with a similar set-up--one week of breakfasts and lunches and a beginning of two weeks of dinners.  However, I never got around to completing two weeks worth of dinners, and I found that it was so easy to shop when I knew that we'd be using up extras the very next week.  The one-week menu have made it easy to shop for a two-week period too, for the weeks I've had to skip a major Errand Day due to my prenatal appointments.

For the Pascha season, I managed to add a working grocery list into my seasonal binder in addition to the menus.  That really makes grocery shopping a snap!  Even if I don't take stock of our pantry the day before Errand Day, I can stuff the list into my purse and do it mentally while I'm shopping.

One fear I had was that making the same thing each week would spoil the kids into not wanting to try new foods.  On the contrary, they rarely like (at first taste) what I am serving or everything on the table anyway.  Serving the same dish (such as Fried Rice with lots of "stuff" in it) every Tuesday evening allowed the kids multiple exposures to this dish over a fairly short period of time.  Last week, my eldest (4 years) declared that she likes "stuff" in rice now, and while she didn't eat everything in the Fried Rice, she ate without complaint!  Huge success!  I've had similar reactions to other meals too.

There have been some adjustments along the way.  I haven't rigidly stuck with a dish if it isn't working for our family.  During our Pascha menu, I'd planned to serve Chicken with Mole on Thursday evenings.  I just got tired of it.  I swapped it for a nearly identical (in many respects) Chicken with Thai Red Curry.  That is something I could eat often!  Fortunately, my husband doesn't seem to care what he's eating (with about two exceptions).  He even usually eats dinner leftovers for lunches (so he's seeing the meals even more often than the rest of us).  In fact, I've checked with him several times, and almost every time he says that he wouldn't even have noticed that we ate it last week if I hadn't told him.

And the best part of all this?  While all this tweaking, planning, list-making, font-choosing, illustration-sizing (aesthetically pleasing is a good thing) is somewhat labor-intensive this year, it will be all done for me next year.  Do you know how excited this makes me??  I will be able to pick up the season's binder, dust it off, do a couple of tiny tweaks here and there, and be good to go!

So far, we have switched Fasting, Feasting, and yearly seasons often enough that I haven't gotten tired of our menu (or if I have, I know we are nearing the end of it).  It seems that this will continue with a small exception of the beginning of the Church's New Year (Sept 1) until the Nativity Fast.  I may extend our Summer Feasting Menu into September and switch at October, even though September 1 would seem the logical time to switch binders.  I'll see what works for us.

Next, I'd like to share some of our menus and recipes!

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