Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Perfectly Practical #110 - How to Menu Plan When You Are in a CSA



Just like last week's natural bug repellent perfectly practical tip, this week's post was also inspired by a reader.

I have said many times what a great thing menu planning is, but I have also mentioned once or twice that it is a little difficult to menu plan around a CSA; the reader agrees.

To quote a great philosopher of the 20th century, your CSA basket is "Like a box of chocolates:  you never know what you're going to get."  Because what's in your basket in dependant upon the weather, the seed, the season, the farmer's neighbor's cows getting in his corn field, etc., you never know exactly what or how much you will receive. 

It's kind of like meal planning around a pantry challenge where half of the canned food items in your pantry have no labels on them.

Menu planning, when you aren't used to it, is daunting.  Joining a CSA can be overwhelming at first.  When you combine the two, it's a recipe for a mealtime meltdown unless you have some strategies in place.

Here are some ideas for menu planing when you are part of a CSA:
  1. Don't panic - This is the number one rule for everything.  Ever.
  2. Start with your protein - Most likely you will buy your meat/fish/meat substitute separately from your CSA so you can plan which proteins you'll be eating for the week.
  3. Next add starches - If you have a certain protein that you like with a particular starch, then plan those two items together.  If you happen to get a starchy vegetable in your box, either swap it out on your menu plan or use it on a different night.
  4. Be flexible - If the farmer says he is expecting a crop of new potatoes for your next basket day and you plan a supper around them only to find the weather didn't cooperate, see tip number one.  Just work around what you have on hand.  This is why we stockpile.
  5. Make ahead what you can - If I get a whole lot of something like sweet potatoes, then I will make tons of recipes and freeze them.  That way I can menu plan for certain on other weeks.  Lots of times, I will cook almost everything in the basket the day after I get it and either have it in the fridge or freezer.  If you don't have time to make a bunch of food at once, make up a double recipe then use half for dinner and freeze half for another night's dinner.
  6. Use the items in a different way - Say you don't like beets, then use them in an unconventional way or trade them with a fellow CSAer.
  7. Write in what you can -  I make my menu plan on Sunday but I get my veg box on Wednesday.  My veggies usually last us a week so I fill in what I can on the menu plan from Sunday to Wednesday and then kind of guess based on what's growing for the Thursday through Saturday slots. 
  8. Don't Panic - Again, I know I've said this before but it is important.  If you do run out of veggies before the end of the week, it is not a travesty if you have to pull from your pantry or freezer or even >gasp< go to the grocery store.  Just be flexible and know that enjoying a no stress meat and one veg meal is far superior to enduring a stressful meat and two veg one. 
With a little forethought and practice, like with most things, navigating a menu plan while participating in a CSA will become second nature.  You just find what works best for your family's situation.

This is part of Works for Me Wednesday.

4 comments:

  1. Love the post! Your plan is pretty much what we've fallen into the habit of doing -- or what *I* have started doing, rather. I just fill in my proteins from the sales ads and what I have on hand...hopefully soon my freezer will be pretty stocked on protein options, too. Our two rotating starches are pretty much either potatoes or rice...and since I've recently found out that Jude is supposedly allergic to potatoes, I am not cooking them nearly as often. Although, we've been been getting an increasing supply of potatoes from the farm. I haven't had too much I can cook ahead lately though...the bulk of our shares have been leafy greens for salads. We do get collards and kale and chard this last time, but my family prefers to eat those toasted up like chips.

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    1. Well thank ya'! I have heard of but never tried toasted kale. We all like those sturdy greens cooked. I may have to give the chips a try.

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  2. AND can I just say, I'm jealous of all that Kohlrabi. We're lucky to get ONE in our box :)

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    1. Oh honey! There have been times where the farmer has called and says he is about to till the kohl rabi under and if I come right then, I can pick as much as I want. I have picked bushels of the stuff and then made kohl rabi every which way possible. I love it since it is so versatile.

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