Editor's note: When we heard about Jennifer Maiser's plan to make a week's worth of cook-ahead meals with a friend as a way of saving money and reducing food waste, we asked her if she'd blog about the project on Serious Eats. Today is the first installment.
I'm really lucky to have a good friend, J., who lives in the same building. Both of us are struggling with how to eat great food at a reasonable price, and have been counting our pennies when it comes to our food budgets. I tossed out an idea last week and she bit: How about if we pool our, cooking together one day a week and taking home our individually packaged food to eat throughout the week?
Both of us see the genius in this: It forces us to plan menus, it's more fun to cook together, and we'll be able to get more variety than if we were to cook for one person. I have never really learned to cook individualized portions, so a lot of things I make end up being eaten all week or wasted. Since January, I've had a resolution of cutting my food waste, and this will help me toward that goal. I quickly get bored with fridge choices, so I need to have a lot of variety in the menu in order for this to work.
Luckily, J. and I have similar tastes. Between her dislikes (curry, olives) and my dislikes (sweet entrées), there is a ton of crossover of flavor. We're both compulsive planners (Virgos), so our detailed emails back and forth work with our personalities. The menu has gone through a few iterations and I think we've settled on our first week's plan. My goals for next week's menu are not to do anything too gourmet or labor-intensive, and to make dishes that we are used to making. I want to get comfortable with this idea before we start introducing new recipes into the mix.
I wanted to create a few entrées and a few sides that could be interchanged with one another so that I wasn't locked into eating one entrée with exactly one side. We're trying to cook for lunches and dinners to get us through the week. Here's what we're planning:
- Baked ziti with spicy sausage and spinach
- Lentil soup
- Pork stew with rice
- Sautéed greens (or similar vegetables from the farmers' market)
- Salad greens and dressing
- Farro salad with various vegetables (dressing on the side to be mixed in on the day of eating)
- Potatoes au gratin
- No-knead bread
With two ovens and two stovetops and a crockpot, I think that this menu is doable. I usually eat savory things for breakfast so I foresee having the potatoes and bread for breakfast. Also, I like that a lot of the dishes are freezable if we overcook. The next step in this plan is to make a shopping list and try to keep it economical.
What do you think, Serious Eaters? Is this this menu too ambitious? Too boring? What's worked for you in your menu-planning forays?
About the author: Jennifer Maiser writes about locally and sustainably grown food. She is the founder and editor of the Eat Local Challenge website and writes at Life Begins at 30, her personal weblog.