CSA intro series: Meal planning

I forgot I had another post in mind for this week, so we’re going a little out of logical order, but I promised meal planning, so meal planning you will get.

Meal planning

Before joining a CSA, I had a set of ingredients that I would buy each week along with a pantry and freezer of staples. These could be put together into a number of different meals – usually protein, carb, vegetable. If I had anything left over at the end of the week, I would take that into account for my next grocery trip. With a CSA, though, you get a new box the following week and the week after that.

When I first started getting CSA boxes, I didn’t meal plan and cooked like I did previously. I would come home, and decide on something to make with what I had on hand. What ended up happening, though, is that I didn’t necessarily completely or efficiently use up the ingredients. I would get my pickup the following week and still have leftovers from the week prior. I found myself throwing stuff out because I hadn’t used it in time.┬áThis is where meal planning comes in.

Benefits of meal planning

These are what I find to be the greatest benefits to meal planning.

  • Enables me to use all the vegetables during the week, so I can start with an empty vegetable drawer for each new box, keeping ingredients fresher and reducing waste.
  • Removes dinner-time stress because I know what I am making every night of the week and can prep elements ahead when I have time.
  • Saves time because I think about dinner one day per week and shop one day per week. Each night, all I have to do is pull up the correct recipe and cook.
  • Can save money by consciously planning budget-friendly meals and being intentional in purchases so as not to overbuy food.
  • Can lead to healthier eating.
  • My favorite benefit, however, and where this blog came from, is that I started cooking much more interesting dishes. Because I had time, I started experimenting more and looking for new ideas. I save recipes for later and get excited at the opportunity to try a new one.

Meal planning process

As part of bringing your CSA home (I’ll post next week on this topic), first take inventory of what you got and make special note of anything that is damaged. This is key for when you sit down to meal plan for the week.

  • As you plan out your menu, cross off what will be used in each dish and make note of what else you need to buy.
  • Plan meals starting the day after pickup through the end of the day of the next pickup (I pick up Wednesday, so I plan meals through Wednesday night of the following week). I never want to come home from pickup and have to scramble for a meal that night. I would rather be putting away what I’ve gotten and planning my meals for the coming week.
  • For the first meals of the week, plan to use any damaged ingredients and anything delicate, like leafy greens.
  • Make the first meal of a CSA box (the day after pickup) simple so you can go grocery shopping.

This is what mine ends up looking like (much less pretty than the top of the page). My meal plan is in Google Docs as a sheet. I make a list of what I got over on the side and start planning. This document is shared between me and my husband so that whoever gets home first can start dinner without question. It is a system we’ve been using for a while, and it definitely works.

Have more questions about my process or your meal planning difficulties? Comment below and I’ll see if I can help.

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