LocalHarvest Newsletter, January 26, 2012

Welcome back to the LocalHarvest newsletter.

Three years ago this month I started taking a new approach to meal planning. It sounds like an exaggeration, but it really has changed my life. If you're like me, you like to cook, but don't enjoy deciding what's for supper, especially under duress. There is nothing that drains the energy and ratchets up the stress quite like arriving home after work tired and hungry, with no idea what to make. Add a couple of tired and hungry kids to the mix, and it is easy to see why there is often a long line at the drive-through.

My new approach takes about 30 minutes a month, 45 if I get fancy. Around the first of the month - ideally before the new month begins - I sit down with a calendar and jot down a supper menu for every night of the month ahead. Usually I have some idea of which nights are likely to be a little hectic or unusual around the dinner hour, so I can plan simple meals for those nights. ("Tacos and leftover squash") Similarly, I can plan to do a little extra cooking on the weekends if it is going to be a particularly busy week. ("Quiche and salad; bake a squash for Tuesday.") It really is not that hard, but it has changed how we eat. That far ahead, mood and whim do not factor in - it is easy and neutral. If need or craving arise, I can always change the menu on any given day, but usually I am so glad to have it decided that I just make whatever is on the calendar.

The benefits here are many. Looking at our diet a whole month at a time helps me balance out the protein sources and the kinds of vegetables to make sure we are getting a good variety. It helps me anticipate and create a steady flow of leftovers so we always have something to take for our lunches. I have also found that this method helps eliminate food waste. There are just three people in our family, so it takes us a few meals to get through a roasted chicken or a head of cabbage. By looking ahead, I can shop less often and make a plan to use everything.

Once I was asked to share my calendar, and the friend who looked at it was aghast: "But where's the Pad Thai?" Aha! Lesson learned. We all eat differently, so these calendars are highly individualized and, sadly, not transferable. Nor are they as replicable as I had thought they would be. Initially, I planned to only do this for one full year, thinking that I would just save the calendar and repeat it the following year. My family eats quite seasonally, so I figured that the available produce would be similar to the same month the year before. More or less it is, but our tastes change over time, and some years I have more interest and time for cooking than others. So I look at the past year's calendar for reference, but create an updated version every month. It's time well spent.

How do I know? If I am running a few days behind and planning the whole month starting with tonight, it is that square - tonight - that is invariably the last to be filled in. The rest of the month takes maybe 30 minutes, and I spend another 15 trying to figure out what to make tonight. "What's for supper?" Try this idea, and you'll wrestle with that question only once a month.

As always, eat well and take good care. Oh, and don't miss the very cool little video below!

Erin Barnett

From the LocalHarvest Store:

It's the best time of year to think about your spring garden and start ordering seeds! Whether you're looking for your old favorite varieties or something new and different for this year's garden, our farmers have great things to offer. Over 1500 varieties at last count, from seed growers all over the country.

Thinking about joining a CSA to round out your summer veggie options? CSAs are beginning to fill up, so now is a good time to research the possibilities in your area. We have 4600 CSAs in our directory, some of which offer their shares online.

Craving citrus? Several LocalHarvest farmers have great varieties ripe and ready for your breakfast table! We have blood oranges, lemons, honeybells and more!

CSAs Over Time: an animated view

Need a little something fun in your Thursday? Here it is: we used our database of CSAs, and the date each farm told us they started their CSA, and created a short animation. It shows how the CSA movement has spread across the country, starting on the coasts and filling in to the rest of the states. Wait until you get to about 2005 - wow. Take a peek!

CSAware: Get ready for your 2012 CSA season!

For those of you who have been wanting to take a look at our CSA management software, CSAware, this winter would be a great time to do so. We love working with CSA farmers in this way. It is so gratifying to be creating software that really improves the day to day operations and the bottom line on our users' farms. If you have a CSA farm and would like to see the software, let us know and we'll set you up for a tour.