Do you dread the question, “What’s for dinner, Mom?” or how about, “how long till dinner?”
I used to hate hearing these questions, because I didn’t have a plan and I didn’t have a clue how to answer. And my only thought when someone asked was, “I guess I’d better stop what I’m doing and figure that out.” Then I discovered this easy method that not only saves me time, but it saves me money, too. Using this method, my family gets lots of delicious variety and I can use up food before it goes to waste in both the fridge and the freezer. That saves me trips to the grocery store, and it saves food from getting composted or fed to the chickens. I call it the “Pantry Method of Menu Planning”. I didn’t invent it, but I’ve been using it for 20 years to put creative, nutritious, and inexpensive meals together for my family, so dinner time can be relaxed and comfortable. Using this method, I’ve rarely had a failure, and there’s so much variety that no one gets bored — especially not the cook.
Do you plan your weekly menus? Do you do your shopping based on your menu planning? Do you plan your menus around the sales flyers each week? Or do you just wing it every night – staring into the refrigerator wondering what’s for dinner at 4pm every day? I’ve tried all of these methods of getting nutritious food on the table – and even some I didn’t mention. But the way I found that works the best for me, and takes the least amount of fuss, is what I call the Pantry Method of menu planning.
The Pantry method takes advantage of the fact that I stock up on staples by buying in bulk once or twice a year. My food storage always has rice, quinoa, beans, and in season potatoes or sweet potatoes, onions, and garlic. My freezer has meat that we purchase in large quantities when it goes on sale, or meat that we raise ourselves on the farm. I can, dry, or freeze the vegetables that we grow on the farm, too. And I supplement these with fresh vegetables that I purchase when on sale, as my storage vegetables are used up.
What to ask yourself when using the pantry method of meal planning
Answers these questions when you are staring at the fridge, wondering what’s for dinner. First, what’s in your fridge? What’s in your freezer? What kind of cuisine will work for tonight? Use up what’s in the fridge first. Then start to use what’s in your freezer. Pull spices, beans, nuts, and staples from your food storage to round out the meal.
How it works:
The pantry method of menu planning puts 1 protein, 2 vegetables or fruit, and a grain or starch (optional) on the menu. If the protein is a tougher cut of meat, like farm raised cockerel, it goes in the dutch oven with lots of water, onions, and garlic and simmers on the wood stove from lunch time till about an hour before eating. If you don’t heat with wood, you can use your stove turned on low heat for this, or use a slow cooker.
2 hours before dinner, I add 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar to the broth, to draw the minerals out of the bones. 1 hour before eating I add root vegetables and dehydrated vegetables, and take the meat out of the pot. I strip the meat from the bones, and cut the meat into bite size pieces, adding the meat back to the pot. Just before serving I add frozen vegetables 15 minutes before serving. If I am going to turn the broth into a base for a sauce, like Thai coconut curry – I’ll add the coconut cream and curry spices about 20 minutes before serving and cook it on high to blend the spices well and reduce the stock.
You can use this method for bean soup, pea soup, or chili. The slow cooking is enough to soften the beans. Beans will cook faster if soaked over night and rinsed well, before adding to the dutch oven. Don’t add tomatoes or acid to the water that you are cooking beans. Instead, reserve these additions for after the beans are cooked.
The key to getting variety from the pantry method of menu planning is to alternate the spices and flavouring that you use with each meal. I’ve create a chart just for you to inspire you when you are staring at the open fridge in the afternoon. To use this chart to help you plan your meal – pick a cuisine. Take one protein choice and prepare it for serving – slow cook beans and cheaper cuts of meat, stir fry or roast more expensive cuts and quick fry ground meat. About 45 minutes before the meat or beans will be cooked, add spices, of your choice, from the spices and seed column. Don’t add them all. Just pick and choose the ones that you think will work. Experiment and taste till you get the flavour you want. As you are adding the spices, in a separate pot prepare the rice, couscous, pasta or whatever starch you are adding to the meal and let it cook fully. In the last 15 minutes of cooking, add the vegetables of your choice or cook vegetables in a separate pot or make a salad. Add any fruit immediately before you serve it.
Download this chart and put it on your fridge for handy reference. (Right click on the graphic. Save it)
Here’s a chart to give you a quick reference for different ethnic cuisine and the spices to use:
Pantry Method of Meal Planning – Use this chart to choose spices, meats, starches, and nuts/seed to create a meal.
Spices and seeds
|Thai||chili, cumin, coriander, garlic, peanuts, lemon grass, lime, coconut cream, fish sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, green chilies, coconut oil||Mango, coconut, bananas, durian, pineapple, mushroom, peppers, broccoli, passion fruit,||sticky rice, noodles, rice noodles, spring rolls,||Fish, chicken, sea food,|
|Mexican||jalapeno, cilantro, garlic, cheese, sour cream, , peanuts, coconut oil, peanut oil, vanilla, cinnamon, cocoa, coffee||Tomato, cucumber, banana, mango, limes, lemons,||Maize, rice, potatoes, quinoa||Kidney beans, turtle beans, chicken, beef|
|Indian||curry, turmeric, ginger, garlic, chili, cashews, cinnamon, butter/ghee||Onions, carrots, corn, peas, beans, broccoli, radish, coconut, dates, mangoes,||basmatti rice, Chapattis,||Lentils, peas, mung beans|
|Chinese||soy, ginger, garlic, lemon, sesame, cashew, almond, coconut oil, water chestnuts, peanuts, peanut oil,||Broccoli, bok choy, suey choy,cabbage, carrots, snowpeas, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots,||White rice, sticky rice, long grain rice, noodles||Mung beans, pork, chicken,|
|Italian||oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, garlic, parsley, olive oil, red onions||Tomato, pepper, eggplant, mushrooms, lettuce, olives,||short grain rice, pasta, Italian rolls, ciabata bread,||Cheese, prosciutto, salami,|
|Greek||oregano, basil, garlic, onion, feta cheese, olive oil, dill, parsley, honey, wine vinegar, mint, yogourt, lemon||tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, spinach, squash, lettuce, grapes, raisins, olives||Filo, bread, Naam bread, couscous, short grain rice||Lamb, feta, goat|
|French||sage, rosemary, onion, garlic, red wine, parsley, thyme, tarragon, cinnamon, cardamom, mustard seed, wine vinegar||apple, carrots, beets, green beans, peas, grapes, raisins,||Rice, potatoes, French bread, rye bread, sourdough rye bread||Beef, duck, rabbit, chicken, eggs, cream, butter|
|Middle East||lemon, honey, garlic, chili, coriander, turmeric, sesame, salt, almonds, yogourt,||cucumber, pomegranate, figs, dates, citron,||couscous, bulgar, unleaven bread, pita bread, egg bread, macaroni||Lamb, goat, chick peas, eggs, feta cheese, yogourt|
|English||onion, celery, parsley, vinegar, malt vinegar, pepper, rosemary, sage, dill, anise, Vegemite, flax seed, poppy seed, ginger, cinnamon, mint, mustard||apple, lime, turnips, brussel sprouts, carrots, parsnips, asparagus, currants, raspberries, strawberries, damsons, blueberries, cranberries||bread, mashed potatoes, oats, rye, barley||Beef, eggs, pork, ham, brisket, corned beef, bacon, chicken, cream, cheddar cheese, goose, rabbit|
Now that you have a plan you will be able to fully utilize the pantry method of menu planning to save both time and money. You won’t have to stare at the fridge for long to decide what to cook for dinner. Just print out this chart and tape it to your fridge for lots of variety that is sure to please your family.
Once you have the pantry method of menu planning working for you, you will be able to cut back your trips to the grocery store, too. You will be able to fully utilize the food in your fridge before it goes bad. And you’ll save a pile of money, because you won’t be buying food that you forget about.
Lets do a recap.
First, what’s in your fridge? What’s in your freezer? What kind of cuisine will work for tonight? Use up what’s in the fridge first. Then start to use what’s in your freezer. Pull spices, beans, nuts, and staples from your food storage to round out the meal.
The Meal Plan in Action
So tonight I have lamb chops, from my freezer. I put them in a glass pan in the oven with 1 cup of water in the pan, just to keep the chops from drying out. Lamb chops cook within an hour at 350F. I’m going to do Greek cuisine, so I’ll drizzle the lamb chops with olive oil and lay whole garlic cloves on the chops before cooking and sprinkle with dried oregano. I’ll make a Greek salad with red onions, tomatoes, cucumber, feta cheese, green peppers, black olives, olive oil and wine vinegar. I’ll fry some mushrooms and add them to the lamb chops before serving. About 15 minutes before serving I’ll take a cup of couscous, and soak it in boiling water, according to the package directions. Just before serving, I’ll add some olive oil, raisins, and finely chopped fresh parsley, chives, and mint to the couscous. Mix it well and the meal is ready, with a Greek flavour.
Give this easy menu planning method a try this week. And then go to my Facebook page and leave a comment. Tell me what you made. I want to know how it works for you. Maybe I’ll get some new ideas from your creativity, too.