I'm a lucky girl. My husband LOVES to cook. He talks fondly about the Christmas when my mother gave him a cast-iron skillet and his life changed forever. Sundays at our old apartment were a sight -- 3 or 4 dinners at once, plus bread and some sort of pie. During the week I would get home too late to help keep baby out of the kitchen long enough for a nightly dinner-prep, so we just filled the fridge on Sundays and ate "leftovers" all week. It was amazing.
But then we moved. Chris still cooked, and I sort of felt guilty about being home but not being able to prepare more than a PB&J or spaghetti on nights when he had to stay late. Mostly because, while we make a meal-plan, Chris didn't always follow specifically and I didn't know what he was thinking on any given day. But then his co-engineer fell ill and Chris is now doing the work of two. Coming home on time is not in the cards at the moment. So I'm now in charge of dinner.
First step was to clean up the meal-planning software. We use Plan to Eat, which is AWESOME. OMG, totally worth the money. They do 30-day free trials, so try it out and see. It takes some setting up, because you have to get your recipes IN there, but once you can plan and cook right from the site, ... amazing. You can drag and drop your recipes into a calendar, and then it will generate a shopping list for you based on your meal plan for the week. It combines similar ingredients ("sugar" and "Granulated sugar") and totals up the measurements. You can save several stores, so you can mark certain items for Stop and Shop and certain items for Big Y (or certain items to the "sale only" store, which is what we do -- things that we'll need eventually, but for the moment only need to buy if they're on sale). The mobile site is great, and you can check off your list as you shop, and the "Cooking View" for the recipe pages is awesome for cooking -- step-by-step pages that highlight the ingredients one at a time. It imports recipes from mainstream cites like Cooking Light and MyRecipes, and for blogs pages and non-mainstream sites, there is a "bulk importer" where you paste in the text and it translates into the recipe format. If it would only come up with a way to scan a recipe from a photo or something, that'd be brilliant.
For planning, you can set the recipe's course (main course, side, breakfast, etc.) and cuisine (mexican, asian, etc.) and main ingredient (chicken, beef, rice/grain, etc.). Chris hadn't been using those, so step one for me was to go through all our "main course" recipes and set the main ingredient and cuisine, because that's how I like to plan -- every week gets Breakfast for Dinner (Friday), Fake-Out (Saturday, more on that later), something new/difficult/fancy (Sunday), and pasta (Wednesday). Thursday is leftovers. I love mexican, so each week gets a mexican dish, alternating main ingredient (chicken, pork, ground turkey, pasta). I don't love fish, but know it's healthy or whatever, so every other week there's a fish. I'm fine with at least 1 or 2 chickens every week, and then I fill in the rest with ground turkey, pork, vegetarian.
Next, the freezer. We buy meats in bulk and separate them into baggies for quick defrosting. But the rest of the freezer was a mess, literally. I needed to find out if we had frozen jalapenos for my corn salsa, and an hour and a half later I had a way-too-precise list of the entire contents of our freezer. (Side note: when we have another baby, we're getting an apartment-sized chest freezer, no matter where we live. Fill it with dinners pre-baby, fill it with breastmilk post-baby. When baby's grown/weaned, sell it on Craigslist. Boom.) Now that list is posted with a dry-erase marker, and the goal is to keep it updated so one does not need to stand in front of an open freezer digging for what you want, AND to be able to take a photo of the list before leaving for the store, because there is ALWAYS that moment of "Oh! ___ is on sale! .... but I can't remember if we have any in the freezer." Of course, this plan involves everyone pulling their weight, so we'll see how it goes.
After that, the pantry. Same issue -- we buy in bulk, but live in an apartment, so it's packed pretty tightly in the room off the kitchen (where most people put a washer/dryer). This one took a a little longer.
The hard part here will be keeping track WHILE I'm cooking -- I jump in there to get the tomato paste, but I have to either mark it down then (while I probably have something on the stove), or remember to go back later. We'll see.
Finally, we're going to actually mark down which recipes we like and which were a flop, instead of remembering "oh, that one with the greenbeans and the sauce, I didn't like that one." For example, last night's pasta with spring vegetables with cream sauce looked great until it told me to add bread crumbs, which sucked up all the sauce and basically made cheese globs. Tasted fine, but globby cheese is not Chris's thing. So after dinner I went back and took out that ingredient (and switched peas to something else ... I'm seriously married to a toddler), so next time I won't have to remember that that's the part we didn't like.
Let's get cooking!