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Menu Planning – Timing

When you play sports, timing is everything. Race’s are won or lost on speed.
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Passes are caught or missed. Does timing matter in a kitchen? Yes.

I’m convinced the 9-course meal was invented as a French chef was cooking over a single fire and could only make one dish at a time. In our house, my timing issues start with trying to get an entire meal to the table within a 10-minute window, include using food before it goes bad and extend into my meal planning and shopping.

Here are my new tips as I’ve worked on my menu planning and timing this week:

Tip #1: Match my meals to my available preparation time.

Using a slow cooker recipe for the night of swim practice is a much better solution than walking in the house at 7 pm and thinking I’m going to enjoy making a Ceasar salad with grilled chicken from the beginning while everyone’s doing laps around the kitchen looking for scraps. I save my time-consuming cooking for days with large windows of time, like the weekend.

Tip #2: Plan a meal with staggered preparation and baking times.

Sure, Chinese food seems easy, but it can be stressful to have everything cooking all at once, right before eating. My menu cheat sheet now includes time slots like an appointment book. Make Ahead, Active Prep, Baking and Active Cooking are just a few of my labels. This skill definitely takes practice. My family will be the first to tell you about nights when we ate bananas at 5:30 p.m., baked chicken at 6 and baked potatoes at 6:20, my classic White-on-White 3-course meal.

Tip #3: Plan your weekly grocery shopping for maximum enjoyment.

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For me, maximum enjoyment = no kids, coupons/shopping list in hand, fresh restocked produce and no crowds at the store. Why on earth do I want to do my weekly grocery shopping with three starving kids at dinner time? Do I achieve shopping nirvana every trip? No, but I make time weekly to read my ads and plan my meals.

When, you ask? That’s up to you. I plan best when I’m not hungry, as in after my showcase meal on Sunday evening. Knowing that my local market gets new fruit on Tuesday means you’ll probably find me at the store after lunch, with just one child in tow.

Tip #4: Use your freshest food first.

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Sometimes I get caught in the trap of trying to use up last week’s groceries before cooking with my new produce. Guess what? It becomes a vicious cycle spoilage avoidance that perpetuates itself.

Living in Asia taught me the awesome power of buying only what you need for a day or two and spoiled me for fresh dishes. Open-air markets were plentiful. Refrigerators were small. I could pick up just enough food for dinner and the next day’s lunch on my way back to my apartment. Maybe I’m fighting against economies of scale, family-sized meals, and Costco-sized portions, but eating fresh helps me get the most out of my food, even if it means two small grocery trips versus one mega load.

What are your menu planning challenges? Have a timing tip to share?

Now that I’m taking note of my own menu planning habits, I’m on the hunt for technology and tools to make it easier!


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