When you normally plan out a menu, you figure out what you want to have for the week and go shopping based on those meals. When you’re planning a menu with a CSA box, you work backward. Here’s how I do it:
1) Planning is key! I take a look at what will be arriving in my box that week. Then, I set to work. Using a meal planning worksheet helps me out. I also jot down at the end of the week what we actually made. Saving these ideas helps you out with meal planning for next year’s CSA shares. Next, I write out my shopping list.
2) Prioritize which vegetables need to be used up first: salad greens, basil, sugar snap peas, berries, very ripe tomatoes, delicate herbs like basil or cilantro.
2) Keep it simple. Don’t plan out complex meals and new recipes for every night. I try to make a new recipe once a week, but I also realize that I need to keep things simple for the rest of the week. You don’t have to treat your menu as written in stone either. Be flexible.
3) Think about having a set menu plan for every week. Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Pasta Wednesday, Pizza Friday. The day before you pick up your bin, make sure the meal you plan is something like soup or stirfry so you can throw all the odds and ends in. Having a menu plan like this gives you some structure, which ends up making a meal plan easier.
3) If you don’t know how to use something, make sure to take a look at the blog for ideas. If you’re still unsure, post a comment and we’ll figure it out.
4) Prep your vegetables right away. Cut up anything you plan on eating for snacks, so they’re ready to go. If you get beets or turnips, remove the greens right away. Wash and prep salad greens.
5) Keep your fridge organized. I try to make sure that I go through it twice a week. When you’ve got a fridge stuffed full of vegetables, it’s easy to forget about things. I also keep a very basic inventory list of what’s in my fridge, especially things that need to get used up.
6) Cook for two meals. If you’re sautéing vegetables for a recipe, sauté twice as much and use half in a frittata later in the week. If you make a stir-fry, cook extra vegetables to use in fried rice or with soba noodles later on. If you’re roasting broccoli, roast some beets too. Grilling vegetables? Throw some eggplant on there for making baba ghanoush later. Roast spicy sweet potato wedges for a side and roast extra for snacks and to use in tacos later in the week.
7) Remember, you can freeze, can or dehydrate extra produce for out of season eating. You may be sick of summer squash, but grating it and throwing it in the freezer means that come December, you can easily make zucchini bread or mix it in with pasta. I throw whole tomatoes in the freezer to use later – the skin slips right off. I also chop up all the extra greens that are getting wilted, toss them in boiling water for a minute and freeze them. Roast peppers on the grill or under the broiler and freeze them to use later.
8) Keep some spice blends on hand. I make up a big batch of taco seasoning every couple of months. Garam masala is a great mix to keep around, as is curry powder. Three Rivers sells bulk spices, as does Whole Foods. Trader Joe’s sells some great spice blends. Penzeys sells some of the best spices I’ve ever had.
9) Have some easy catch-all recipes at the ready. Frittatas, stir-frys, tacos, salads, etc. I’ll be posting some of mine over the next few weeks.
10) If you get a small amount of something, treat it like a garnish. Throw it in a salad. Or save it for the next week when you’re likely to get more.
11) Get creative – radishes are fantastic with good butter and sea salt on crusty bread. You can grill romaine lettuce or add more fragile lettuces to stir-fries.
12) Keep a record of the recipes you’ve tried and liked. I find using a Pinterest board for this the easiest way. It’s very simple to add a recipe you’ve found on the web, and adding a recipe from a cookbook is as easy as adding a quick cell phone pic with a note about what cookbook it’s from. I’d also love it if you post about a recipe that’s great in a comment here! I’ll be sure to share it with everyone else.
13) Have a few cookbooks that focus on seasonal eating or are vegetarian with a really good index. I’ll share some of mine in a future post!