Sunday, January 30, 2011

Meal Planning and the Pantry for One

Unlike my mother, who usually plans meals for the whole week and mostly sticks to the plan, I tend to have only the vaguest ideas about what I will eat during the week. Often I'll make some kind of dish in the weekend that lasts me for multiple meals through the week. Too frequently, I end up with some forgotten vegetables and fresh herbs wilting their life away in the fridge. I hate throwing food out so some may end up in a soup pot, but too often some of it hits the trash.

I wouldn't feel so bad if we had a decent composting program here, but that went the way of the dodo. To be fair, I think a green waste collection program is pretty tough in a city where most people live in apartments. There is no garage or outside bin where you can store the stuff until it gets collected.

Anyway, that's a side issue. The real issue is that I want to do a better job of planning my eating so that I can reduce waste, make better use of the things I have, reduce the amount of food I need to store in fridge, freezer and cupboard, and ensure that I eat balanced meals throughout the week. Many of my Dutch friends manage with only one small cupboard as the pantry, a small half fridge, and no freezer. I assume the only way they can do it is to cook with a very limited variety of things (no jars of Thai curry paste, hoisin sauce, and harissa accumulating in the fridge). That would be difficult for me. My spice cabinet and pantry are ready for almost any cuisine.

Ah yes, the pantry. My pantry would be do for a family of 4! But a family of one still needs the same basic things on hand. Even when I plan a pasta dish, for example, I still have 2/3 of the pasta that needs to be stored and used up. And perhaps the next past dish I cook uses a different kind of pasta (whole grain instead of white, lasagna instead of penne).

This is of course, a luxury issue. We have so much choice in our supermarkets, and as an individual cooking for one, I can indulge almost any whim, trying out new products and brands, spontaneously deciding what I want to cook or eat, almost whenever I want. But sometimes it nags me that this behaviour seems to be lacking in respect to those who produce the food, and to those who can't afford what I can.

So this year, I want to make better use of my pantry and reduce its size. This should be an inspiration to creativity!

Pantry items to be used up


Pasta and Rice


Chickpeas, dry
Chickpeas, canned
Black beans, canned
Yellow split peas
Green split beas
Brown lentils
Le Puy lentils
Urid dal
Cappucijners, canned
Black beans, canned

Penne, whole wheat
Macaroni, whole wheat
Thai red rice
Risotto rice
Pandan rice
Brown rice

Thai red curry paste
Thai green curry paste
Mango Chutney x 2
Sambal manis
Sambal badjak
Sambal brandal
Red pepper paste

Meat (Freezer) and Dairy


Lamb kidneys (fresh)
Entrecote (defrosted)
Stewing beef
Ground beef
Ground beef, lean
Cottage cheese
Old gouda
Culinary cream
Cream cheese
Yellow onions
Green pepper
Red pepper
Butternut squash
Corn, canned
Spinach, frozen
Pumpkin soup
Puff pastry
Rice wrappers
Wonton wrappers
Dried apricots
Dried figs

Meals for week of 31 January 2011

Morocaan Roasted Vegetables, for week-day lunches
Celeriac soup for lunches, freezer
Low-fat Falafels for pre-dinner nibblies
Sunday:   Lamb kidneys in mustard sauce with mashed potato-celeriac
Monday: Pepper steak, with stir-dried green pepper. tomato, onion, mashed potato-celeriac
Tuesday: Vegetable dal and rice
Wednesday: Beef stir-fry with red peppers, Pandan rice
Thursday: Steak and kidney pie, spinach, mashed potatoes
Friday: --Plan a mostly vegetarian week of meals for next week!


  1. Yesterday, I made a big long comment and it disappeared into cyberspace when I tried to post it. I'll try again, and resort to email if this doesn't work ...

    Oh, I relate to so much of your post!

    Meal planning. I used to try to do a weekly plan. When I was working, it seemed much easier to follow and a bit of a relief not to have to think what we were going to eat each night after work. But things do happen and the plane was just a guideline. Nowadays, I just make a list of 10-15 likely candidates for the week, based one what's in the house needing to be used, anybody's itch for something specific, what's needing to be used in the freezer, what's up with Cooking Italy, the phase of the moon, etc. If I get five of those choices cooked, I think it's a major accomplishment. E.g., yesterday, I'd defrosted a pair of coquelets for dinner, but didn't feel like dealing with them. Late in the day I defrosted a pair of duck scallops (which, like turkey scallops, defrost very quickly because they're so thin) and that was dinner. (The little birds are marinating right now for tonight's dinner.)

    Pantry: Yes, ours is too too full, considering we're only two people. It is nice however when we're snowed/iced in for days and day. We may run out of fresh veg, but we'll not go hungry and it will be pretty tasty.

    Whenever I clean a bit of pantry (I have a rotation where sections get done at least once in 6 months), I leave on the counter things that need to be used soon and toss the way-out-of-date stuff. (I've just done a section today. Any ideas for a tin of squid in ink?)

    Beans are the area most needing thinning. For some reason, I'm just not cooking beans very often, but relying on cans. Why? I don't know. It's not like it's a problem to cook up a sackful and freeze them in 2-cup portions, like a can. And I seem to have lentils out the kazoo (those are in the next section to be cleaned). They must have gotten bought several times inadvertently. Good thing we like them. (Barley is another recent favorite -- another jar in the pantry. Like most grain things, it does go bad, though, so has to be tossed when it starts smelling off.)

    I've also got lots and lots of pasta, but we go through this pretty quickly. Maybe there are one or two oldies (lasagna, anyone?). I do try to minimize the number of open sacks, though, so not every shape is "available" at any time. Odds&ends go into soup, etc.

    Since we got the chest freezer, I indulge my list-keeping side by keeping an excel sheet, ordered by date, that indicates the type and location of the freezer contents. Things get added at the bottom and taken off the top.

    Our fridge is so full, we often hang sacks of veg outside to keep cool. I do like your bakjes in the fridge to hold all the miscellaneous jars of whatnot. I'll keep my eyes out of more of these.

    Good luck with your project! It will be fun and challenging, I'm sure!

    Lamb kidneys? How was that?

  2. (Goodnight, I just wrote a lot! Sorry. And it would have been lost again, if I hadn't copied it before I tried to post. Blogspot has a problem in this area, I fear. :-( )