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Cooks: Meal Preparation Strategies/Approaches
Old 07-14-2017, 03:45 PM   #1
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Cooks: Meal Preparation Strategies/Approaches

While reading the thread on meal preparation services I was intrigued by some of the hints that cooks were dropping about their meal preparation process and some of the attitudes that people seemed to be expressing about the relationship of grocery shopping to meal preparation.

So, I guess, the questions I have for you cooks out there are: 1) How do you decide what you are going to cook on any given night (let's limit the discussion to the evening meal or main meal of the day)? and 2) How does your meal preparation strategy affect your grocery shopping?

Although there are days when I just say " I think I want to make ______", my meal prep process usually starts about 3:00 PM when I walk to the freezer and see what strikes my fancy as a protein source. I then check the fridge and pantry for produce at hand. I might also give some thought to the preparation method, in the summer, for instance, this means grilling. This info is entered into a Google search, for instance, Wednesday's search was "grilled chicken mango". One of the first few hits was for grilled chicken with mango salsa served on a bed of rice - sounds good, was good.

This method means that grocery shopping is all about gathering resources. DW and I rarely think about specific meals when we are at the grocery, we are thinking about collecting raw materials for the food prep process. So we buy things that are on sale (especially seasonal produce) and we stock up in large quantities on things that are flexible and keep well, i.e chicken breasts. We also have a large stash of herbs and spices at hand so that we can dabble in lots of cooking styles.

I've really only been cooking since I retired (almost 3 years now) and I really enjoy my approach. It becomes a bit of a puzzle solving process. DW's process is somewhat different from mine, it seems to involve something called "cookbooks", but the basic philosophy is the same.
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Simple Casual Quality
Old 07-14-2017, 04:15 PM   #2
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Simple Casual Quality

I think "Simple Casual Quality" accurately describes our approach to cooking. We eat a lot of fish or soy-based chicken/meat for protein, accompanied by green veggies (brussel sprouts, broccoli, snap peas, salads, etc.). Our prep philosophy is simple & quick so, we bake, broil & sauté. We also love yams & other tubers, which are usually baked. We mix in pasta fairly frequently; again, simple & quick. Like you, I get cooking advice from Google, and have a "Cooking" folder on the iPad for recipes. We also recently inherited a crockpot & are thus far exploring mostly hearty soups (i.e.: potato/corn chowder, etc.).

I will confess that we eat out about 1/3 of our meals; especially breakfast, which we love to do. We frequently have meals out with friends. We also probably eat too much processed food; frozen & organic but, still processed.
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Old 07-14-2017, 04:43 PM   #3
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I'm cooking for just me, most of the time. When I was w*rking, I relied on processed food too much, or cooked something very simple, like a grilled chicken breast and peppers. But now that I'm ER, I have become very interested in the process of cooking. As a result, I am eating more at home, eating better, less processed food, and saving money (some of which I use to buy kitchen gadgets and take cooking courses!).

I subscribe to quite a few favourite cooking channels on YouTube. Some of them tap on my Irish cooking heritage (and take it up a notch) and others focus on cooking from other countries. Some are focused on techniques. That's how I learnt how to make many types of bread. But I went to Tuscany to learn pasta making!

My pantry and freezer compartment are usually now stocked with staples that I can use to turn whatever is left in the fridge into something tasty and nutritious. No longer am I a hostage to wilted vegetables! At least once a week, I will try something new, often an adaptation of a recipe I have seen online. If I don't have a specific ingredient or spice, I consider an alternative, or a different technique. When this turns out well, as it usually does, I photograph it so that I can recreate it in the future. My recipe ideas are often stimulated by whatever is fresh at the farmers' market, or whatever organic meat is on sale at the butchers. When I get it home, I review my favourite chefs to see what they have done with it. I usually make the full recipe and freeze what I don't need for future use. There is very little waste now.

Things I now regularly make from scratch include pasta, various breads, pizza, pesto and lemon curd.

Today's menu:

Breakfast:
Smoothie of banana,strawberry, raspberry and apricot
Homemade poppy seed bread with local lemon honey
Coffee

Lunch:
Kale salad with beets

Dinner:
Butterflied chicken stuffed with ricotta, home made pesto and jubilee tomato (I made this a week ago)
Purée of carrots and parsnips, spiced (also made a week ago)
Vanilla ice cream topped with slow roasted rhubarb with ginger and orange
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Old 07-14-2017, 06:01 PM   #4
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I have been cooking for fifty years and since 40 of them were spent working I have a huge mental list of easy meals that I rotate according to what is on sale in the grocery store . I also add in new recipes or more labor intensive recipes usually once or twice a week .I get the grocery circular and circle what I need and I also keep a running list of items to purchase . Nobody has ever spit out my meals so the must be okay .
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Old 07-14-2017, 06:04 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Meadbh View Post
I'm cooking for just me, most of the time. When I was w*rking, I relied on processed food too much, or cooked something very simple, like a grilled chicken breast and peppers. But now that I'm ER, I have become very interested in the process of cooking. As a result, I am eating more at home, eating better, less processed food, and saving money (some of which I use to buy kitchen gadgets and take cooking courses!).

I subscribe to quite a few favourite cooking channels on YouTube. Some of them tap on my Irish cooking heritage (and take it up a notch) and others focus on cooking from other countries. Some are focused on techniques. That's how I learnt how to make many types of bread. But I went to Tuscany to learn pasta making!

My pantry and freezer compartment are usually now stocked with staples that I can use to turn whatever is left in the fridge into something tasty and nutritious. No longer am I a hostage to wilted vegetables! At least once a week, I will try something new, often an adaptation of a recipe I have seen online. If I don't have a specific ingredient or spice, I consider an alternative, or a different technique. When this turns out well, as it usually does, I photograph it so that I can recreate it in the future. My recipe ideas are often stimulated by whatever is fresh at the farmers' market, or whatever organic meat is on sale at the butchers. When I get it home, I review my favourite chefs to see what they have done with it. I usually make the full recipe and freeze what I don't need for future use. There is very little waste now.

Things I now regularly make from scratch include pasta, various breads, pizza, pesto and lemon curd.

Today's menu:

Breakfast:
Smoothie of banana,strawberry, raspberry and apricot
Homemade poppy seed bread with local lemon honey
Coffee

Lunch:
Kale salad with beets

Dinner:
Butterflies chicken stuffed with ricotta, home made pesto and jubilee tomato (I made this a week ago)
Purée of carrots and parsnips, spiced (also made a week ago)
Vanilla ice cream topped with slow roasted rhubarb with ginger and orange
Mmmmm!

Waiting for an invitation to dinner. 😜
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Old 07-14-2017, 06:08 PM   #6
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I (we when married) always enjoyed cooking. I love the grocery store, that where the food is. I buy what looks good when I'm there and work around it.

Being retired is really cool as I can buy just a little at a time so it's always fresh.
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Old 07-14-2017, 06:18 PM   #7
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I am single, don't particularly enjoy cooking, and eat quite healthy. Simple is best for me. I have 2 or 3 breakfasts and lunches that I rotate and don't mind the limited selection. Dinners are typically a piece of protein--roast or grilled chicken, turkey, steak, fish, roast beef--with a couple veggies, often stir fried, roasted or grilled. I use the George Foreman a lot. In winter I like to make chilis or soups in the crockpot and freeze portions so I always have some to quickly reheat. Honestly, that's about it. I go out to lunch or dinner maybe once a week and get more complex things there. That satisfies a need for variety and I'm happy to go back to simple fare.
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Old 07-14-2017, 07:03 PM   #8
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Dinners during the week tend to be simple. Used to be some sort of meat and a veg or two, until the hub decided to be vegetarian. Now winter meals are typically ethnic (mexican, indian) and summer meals are some sort of starch with whatever veg is fresh from the garden. Sometimes I will make a batch of something like dinner pies (mine: jamaican meat curry pie, his: sweet potato and black bean) that go into the freezer for quick meals. That, and a few quick items are in the rotation: quesadillas, pizzas (made from Trader Joe's mediterrean flat breads), spagetti and sauce. Cookbooks might occasionally come out on the weekends, but weeknight dinners tend to be under 15 minutes of preparation. There is usually some sort of fresh salad, not always lettuce based to go along.
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Old 07-14-2017, 07:50 PM   #9
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There used to be a TV show called "Ready, set cook" where cooks were given a set of ingredients and had to put together a meal.

DW and I play that same game. We'll see what's available in the cabinet/fridge, what is frozen perhaps, what we have for condiments and just pull something together.

What is NOT acceptable is some thrown together meal that doesn't make sense. It has to look good, taste good and not be some sort of goulash!

Of course you need to have your kitchen stocked with all the building blocks (which we do), have a nice supply of vegetables and proteins, but from there, it's a lot of fun and easy to do.
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Old 07-14-2017, 08:14 PM   #10
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I'm an outlier, as I have two school age kids at home.

During the school year, we set the menu one week ahead, and consider cooking time as it relates to arrival home from after-school activities. Very important to my grocery shopping. Highly structured, one of my anchor points during that time of year.

Summer is a different story - I make it up as we go along, but always have choices in the fridge and freezer so there is some variety and balance between carb/fat/protein. Having one vegetarian and a carnivore turns it into 3-D chess

With the oldest working this summer, starting to get a preview of life down the road. Think it could end up more spontaneous when the oldest leaves for school. Might just hang a slab of beef in the kitchen to slice off and feed the remaining carnivores
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Old 07-14-2017, 08:33 PM   #11
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I tend to cook a meal for lunch that will also be for dinnner and maybe another meal if there is enough.

I cook three or four days a week. We eat mostly at home. I enjoy cooking and all the meals are from scratch. DH loves my cooking.

I have a large set of fave recipes that we rotate through, determined by what is available - seafood, fish, meat, poultry. We tend to pick up the same veggies at Costco and rotate through those every couple of weeks. Same with fruit in season.

Usually I figure out what we are going to eat during the weekly visits to Costco. Most recipes aren't that complex and I keep plenty of staples on hand. I might have to pick up a few items at the regular grocery store.

We keep shopping lists on our iPhones, but it really doesn't require that much planning. I don't do extensive menu planning. More like - OK, maybe it's time to make X.....

OK - I did make cioppino today, and I had most of the ingredients on hand including the fish stock I had made and frozen weeks ago. But I did have to buy fresh seafood and fennel and herbs for it.
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Old 07-14-2017, 08:33 PM   #12
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Since retirement I took over the groceries and two years ago all the cooking.

Planning takes both of us and we generally adjust in the fly. We tend to keep a few fallback meals(bacon, eggs, pasta,canned salmon, pancakes).

I took over the cooking when we were losing weight. The plan was a change in what we ate, not a diet. I read a lot of diet B.S. on the net but consistent in everything(woo to medical) was dropping processed foods. I make most things from scratch and just buy basic ingredients.

A few of the posters here have dropped hints, websites and ideas that are very much appreciated.
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Old 07-15-2017, 08:15 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by Marita40 View Post
I am single, don't particularly enjoy cooking, and eat quite healthy. Simple is best for me. I have 2 or 3 breakfasts and lunches that I rotate and don't mind the limited selection. Dinners are typically a piece of protein--roast or grilled chicken, turkey, steak, fish, roast beef--with a couple veggies, often stir fried, roasted or grilled.
Pretty well the same for me. I always have a box of boneless skinless chicken breast in the freezer, as well as individually wrapped portions of fish, pork, and steak. I pick up fresh veggies a couple times a week and on occasion will make a large batch of chili and freeze meal size containers of it. I also have a couple bags of frozen veggies in case I run out of fresh.

I eat out more in summer, but that's because I go out a lot more and will simply pick up something rather than cooking at home. I will also often have lunch at the course after a round of golf. I've been playing a lot this year and have started choosing the salad option rather than having fries 4 or 5 times a week.
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Old 07-15-2017, 08:29 AM   #14
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I eat out more in summer, but that's because I go out a lot more and will simply pick up something rather than cooking at home. I will also often have lunch at the course after a round of golf. I've been playing a lot this year and have started choosing the salad option rather than having fries 4 or 5 times a week.
My summer routine includes two meals per week après golf: one breakfast and one lunch. Fortunately, healthy options are available. The social side of golf is part of the enjoyment.
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Old 07-15-2017, 09:01 AM   #15
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Threads like this make me so glad I don't have a sophisticated palate. I'm very easily satisfied in the food department, so the vast majority of what I eat comes off my Big Green Egg smoker/grill. There's a lot to be said for simple.
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Old 07-15-2017, 09:08 AM   #16
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the vast majority of what I eat comes off my Big Green Egg smoker/grill. There's a lot to be said for simple.
+1

I like your approach to cooking. Simple is good and also helps keep my weight down. I like to grill meat on my indoor electric grill, warm up veggies to go with it, and I'm done.
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Old 07-15-2017, 09:34 AM   #17
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I cook simple meals too. Mostly protein and steam vegetables. No complicated sauce. My husband also prefers one big wash instead of two in a day and he doesn't like repeats. Not the same food in one day. So I have some food I precook and they are in the freezer and some food I made a few days earlier for supplements. In the summer, I do more grilling outside. Very typical California food, lots of outdoor grilling.
When it's too hot and I've spent time in the garden, we go out to eat. Maybe once or twice a week, we eat out for variation because we are probably sick of the same food we've been eating. When we travel we sample dishes that are not in our usual repertoire.
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Old 07-15-2017, 09:40 AM   #18
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I am spoiled by living 3 blocks from the grocery store. Since it's so easy to pick things up at the last minute, I tend to decide what to make for dinner some time in the afternoon and then go get whatever ingredients I don't already have. I do have to be careful not to buy more than I can carry home though.
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Old 07-15-2017, 09:47 AM   #19
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1) check what is in the freezer/pantry
2) check what is on sale at the store
3) plan menus for the week
4) shop for the week.

I have done this forever and its pretty routine. I have several cookbooks with favorite recipes, or we grill outside. Or I grab one of the Dream Dinners bags from the freezer, thaw and prep per instructions, they are simple.
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Old 07-15-2017, 01:35 PM   #20
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1) check what is in the freezer/pantry
2) check what is on sale at the store
3) plan menus for the week
4) shop for the week.

I have done this forever and its pretty routine. I have several cookbooks with favorite recipes, or we grill outside. Or I grab one of the Dream Dinners bags from the freezer, thaw and prep per instructions, they are simple.
I knew a few guys who did this. They did prepared meals in advance based on what was on sale and then threw the frozen home made stuff in the oven. Seemed to work like a charm.
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