For us, meal planning becomes far easier when the local farmers market swings into town with an evolving selection of seasonal food. Our food selections for the week start at the market. We call it our “walk-the-market, chat-with-farmers, buy-what-looks-great, and plan-for-what’s-coming” method of shopping. We visit one or more farmers markets a week.
If this walk-around, scout-the-best-system doesn’t suit you, consult a seasonal vegetable chart available from a site like www.farmfresh.org. There you can enter your zip code, select the harvest calendar, and see a full-season chart of what’s expected to be fresh each month. If you combine this with social media updates from your favorite farms, you can plan your meals from your desktop.
Star of the Day!
When asparagus appears on farm stands, we plan meals around that short-lived, local season. Yes, we can buy asparagus other times of the year. But, while nice, the asparagus that appears in the mass market just doesn’t compare to what sprouts from rich Hadley, Massachusetts soil.
In season we tend to eat the freshest crops we can find, as simply as possible. This might mean steamed asparagus with hard boiled eggs and a hollandaise sauce on the side. At other times of year, the star of supper might be tomatoes, corn, or Brussels sprouts.
Watch the Sales
Sometimes we plan our week around something we found on special when we shopped, or at a good price because of a seasonal supply at our fishmonger or butcher shop. In winter we watch for sales on organic vegetables and fruit.
The price for the Faroe Islands salmon (above) was exceptionally good. Penny bought enough for two portions for one meal and leftovers for another. She sous vide cooked our Faroe Islands salmon to 115 degrees and then seared it in a blazing hot pan.
The leftovers became part of our salad bowl-for-two the next day.
Look at Your Schedule
There are weeks when Penny will have time to cook a few meals and weeks when her schedule means that there will be a bit of cooking and a bit of takeout to get us through some busy days. Shopping and cooking take time. If you try to cram both into an already full week, you’ll only add stress to your life.
Find a New Recipe
Most cooks have a handful of meals they make all the time without a formal recipe in sight.
If you are ready for a change in routine or if you have a special occasion, pull out a cookbook or visit a favorite food site and find a variation on one of your family favorites.
If your beef meatloaf is met with yawns, find a recipe that uses a different meat, spice, or glaze. Instead of your usual lasagna, find one that features a new vegetable, sauce, or cheese.
Here’s where it’s important to know which cookbooks, websites, and resources will give you well-tested recipes that work the first time you follow them. Food sites that include recipe testers’ comments along with the recipe are favorites around here. Two sites we trust are www.Epicurious.com and www.LeitesCulinaria.com.
Some cooks accomplish meal planning on the run by standing in front of the open refrigerator and seeing what’s on hand. Others plan a week by having special days like meatless Monday or Sunday roast. You may write out the week’s plan on a blackboard or ad lib around what you found in the marketplace.
All these forms of meal planning are great, especially if, by the end of the week, you and your family have had a nutritious, balanced diet that included a lot of whole grains, fruit, and vegetables.
What's on your Food Lover's Shopping List?
Words: Penny & Ed Cherubino
Photos: ©2017 Penny & Ed Cherubino
(Adapted for BostonZest from one of our Fresh & Local newspaper columns.)