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Food planning and a food journal

Food planning is one of those topics I could talk about all day.  Not only is it something my brain loves to do, it’s not a hard thing to learn and how can you not talk about food all the time.

I learned some time ago, that food planning for a family requires the family’s involvement.  My little family unit – husband, son, me – do a pretty good job of talking about what we like and don’t like but as I mentioned last month, sometimes we have to come to terms with food.  For those who missed the post on planning for a sustainable life – I shared a “story” about how I ate spinach for ages before I realized I didn’t like it.  I’ve slowly learned that there are foods I’ve convinced myself that I like because I feel like I should.  Honestly, you will eat better and be happier if you just admit there are healthy foods you hate.

So to plan our pantry and our meals, I started a few experiments.  Very simple.  The first, I got a piece of posterboard and divided into four sections.  Now this experiment fell a little flat because I didn’t finish it.  The top two sections I labeled fruits and vegetables.  For each side, I created a grid – the left column I brainstormed every food I could think of in that category and then had a place for each family member to make a note.  The idea was to have everyone check off the foods they liked.  It took months to get my family to fill it out even though I tacked it up in the hallway and kept handing them pencils.  The bottom sections, I had planned to fill in with other food categories but I lost my enthusiasm.

It did what I needed it to do because it influenced my canning and will continue to do so.  I was able to see what fruits and veggies the whole family loved – those I need to stock more of.  Those that only one or two people liked, I could stock less.

Then this past winter, I did two things.

The first is I had my family brainstorm some questions with me.  I, actually, wanted to see if this activity would work for a future class I may or may not be teaching this year. What I had them do, was take a piece of paper and answer these questions:
What do you eat when it’s cold?  hot?  rainy?
When you are stressed?  Lazy?
Top ten meals?
Do you have at least 1 – beverage? sweet? breakfast food? nutritionally sound food?

Then I did it myself.  The purpose of the class is emergency food planning but it worked for my pantry as well.  I could see the trends of what makes my family happy.  My son is in a top ramen and hot tea phase so many of his answers involved those but there were still a few things that surprised me.  Such as my son loves noodles with peas – I didn’t know that about him.  He never asked for it.

So with all that information, I sat down with my Ball Canning Cookbook.  I just read through the index (checking recipes as needed).  What it did was give me ideas.  There are many recipes I want to try in that book but I always forget.  So I made a list of all the recipes and “regular” canning I wanted to have in my pantry.  Sometimes a recipe would lead to an idea not in the book.  I would make a note and then took time to find recipes.

From there, I made a chart – produce by season and the amounts that I needed for various canning projects.  Now this is a lot of guess work and mediocre research because I’ve never done this before, I don’t know exactly what month I will find the best deal on, say, strawberries.  I know the season they are cheapest in the store so I ballparked it.  I know that in August, I will be exhausted.

The activities start to snowball.  We moved from produce to other things we want in our pantry.  I researched the best price for grains.  We have planned two vacations around getting inexpensive food – one to visit family in Portland and stop at Bob’s Red Mill, the other a trip to the ocean at Salmon season to get inexpensive fish from a fisherman we discovered on our last trip there.

Now with all this, I started to fear that I wouldn’t be able to keep it straight.  I started a few spreadsheets to track prices and what we were buying so next year I would be able to look for produce when I know the best prices are.  I, also, wanted to track things I learned and recipes.  We don’t want to leave anything to chance.

One day I am sitting at my desk with a pile of various pieces of paper working on a random project.  Well I didn’t need the paper like I thought.  I, also, have a sheet of month stickers that I wanted to create something with but nothing was coming to mind.  One thought leads to another, an hour later I’m at the copy center getting the paper bound (cost me just a few dollars).

Suddenly, I had a food journal.  It’s just a bunch of copy paper with a cardstock cover.  But it’s portable.  I can take it to the grocery store to write down prices as I buy my produce.  I make notes on what I make with it.  Ideas I have, websites I want to remember to order from later and little recipes I discover.

Food planning and a food journal

I even wrote down little strategies to make the work easier, such as using a spoon to remove the pith/peel from an orange (it works amazing fast and who knew).

I used a page to inventory all the spices in my pantry.  I could have used something else but it keeps all my food thoughts together.  I put my canning plans for the year with the journal so it’s all together.  As the year goes on, we’ll write in our successes and our failures so we know not to do that again.

I already had one failure – I burnt my pomegranate syrup and turned it into hard candy.  It’s actually not the worst tasting candy on the planet but I can’t put it in my drinks (and I turned away for just a minute).  Someday, it will be a book I can pass to my son and show off to my grand kids.   I’ll never forget a technique again because it’s there in writing.

I hope this gets you started with your food planning.  You know, it’s never too late.  Start with what is current and plan for the next cycle of what you may have missed.