Several of you have asked about constructing a food calendar. It's a basic process, but I'll try to paint a picture for you here and to give you insights into my "creative" process. But before I begin, here are a few pointers.
Pointer 1.) Do not plan to cook every night! I recently read a magazine article that gave menus for every night for an entire month; how overwhelming! This is real life here. Plan for leftovers.
Pointer 2.) Limit yourself. I'll explain more on this below, but limits are good. They push us to become better cooks.
Pointer 3.) Be aware that someone may ask you to dinner and threaten to interrupt your calendar. Fellowship is so important! People should come before schedules. Try to be willing to move things around, or if you've already bought the ingredients and, say, the meat is going to go bad if you don't cook it that day, invite them to your house for dinner! Real life has interruptions!
1.) Create a blank calendar using a program such as Microsoft Word or Publisher. You can start with as little as one week and up to six months. Think of this as your canvas.
2.) Go ahead and throw on there any food-related special events, occasions or holidays. If you have a Supper Club at your house once a month, put that on there. If you are hosting Thanksgiving, that would be good to include as well.
Look at these beauties! Please don't leave them on the shelf! (Ignore that Pat Conroy library book!)
3.) Pick three to four nights a week that you want to cook. I have tried both, and right now I am on the three night plan (Monday, Wednesday and Friday). Next, limit yourself and choose a genre or theme for each cooking day. For example, for the next four months, we will have soup each Monday, breakfast for dinner each Wednesday, and a seasonal meal each Friday in our household. Here are some other genres you can employ: international cuisine night, meatless meal night, seafood night, crock pot meal, etc.
One point of limiting is to encourage you to try some new dishes. If we are having soup every Monday night, we don't want to eat the same soup over and over again. So, I have to branch out and look for new soups to try.
Another facet of limiting your genres is to give you some structure and guidlines as you develop your calendar. You will only have to look in one section of a cookbook to find all of the breakfast recipes. It is also freeing because you will know generally which days are busier than others, and you can plan the easier fare for the busier days. For me, I have class on Mondays and Wednesdays evenings, so they have easier preparation nights (theoretically). I do not have class on Fridays, so I can spend more preparation time and get my fill of seasonal fall and winter fare.
4.) Here comes the fun part: choose your menus! Pull out all of your favorite cookbooks. Go to your favorite blogs. Go to allrecipes.com. If you want to challenge yourself, pull out the cookbooks that you don't normally use. Using them as a guide, go through and fill in your calendar.
I usually do not note where I found the recipe or idea for the meal; for example, I might have run across a Shrimp and Grits recipe in a magazine and put it on my calendar. When it's time to cook that meal, however, I have no recollection of which cookbook or website or magazine inspired that night's menu. This is usually not an issue for me because I have no quams about finding a new Shrimp and Grits recipe to use. However, if you have a specific recipe that you want to try, it is a good idea to note the recipe source on your calendar.
Printed internet recipes, magazine clippings, photocopies of my mom's handwritten recipes, and notecard recipes from my grandmother are organized in notebooks.
5.) Print out your calendar and hang it on your refrigerator, but remember that things might change around. Be willing to mark through menus, or move them to the next day. Friday night meals might be pushed to Saturday night or Sunday lunch. You might not even get to a meal; throw that meat in the freezer for a later date!
I know that this seems like a long process, but if you're to this point, then you're pretty much done! Use your calendar to make out your grocery list each week!
Here is a sample month (click to make it larger):