I, for one, know how a busy week can quickly run away from you. Next thing you know – BLINK! It’s Sunday again. You ask yourself, ” I had SO many plans… what happened to the week?” That’s me. If I’m not focused on the few things outside of work that I want to get done during the week, it just doesn’t happen between kickball, glass blowing, yoga, tending to the garden….. and the list can go on.I feel like meal planning and cooking is similar. If you have a busy schedule and you’re always on the move, it’s hard to take the time to cook, and sometimes even just an easy meal can feel like the biggest chore. Now don’t get me wrong – I love eating fresh food and cooking. I buy the most beautiful eggplant and the most awesome fresh baked bread for that fresh tomato, bacon and lettuce I picked up at the Market. Just sometimes after a 12 hour day, standing in the kitchen to cook is just not going to happen. SO – what do I do to make sure I eat the fresh food I get from the Market and garden each week? Meal planning. A small sliver of my Sundays are usually peering through cookbooks, dreaming about the meals ahead.
The Farmers’ Market is the BEST place to pick up supplies for your weekly meals – especially to keep your meals nutritious, healthy, and preservative-free. If you plan your meals right, you can get all, if not the majority of weekly produce, grains, meats and more at the Market. Sometimes I get a little market happy, but for the most part, I try to use everything I buy within a 2 week period. As easy as this might sound, there are some tips and tricks I’ve learned throughout the years about doing effective meal planning for the week that I’d like to share to help you make the most of your Market meal planning:
1) Keep it simple. Hands down, most important thing to remember. Just because you’re going to the Market and buying beautiful produce, that doesn’t mean that the end result has to be an extravagant meal. Keep it simple, keep it fresh. My favorite easy dinner dish to make is lacinato (dino) kale pesto pasta. I always usually have olive oil and some rotini around, but then food process the kale, olive oil, garlic, red pepper and pine nuts (optional) to make an awesome sauce. Heat the sauce, cook the pasta, mix together in the pot and voila! Dinnertime 🙂 Our executive director makes an amazing filo dough pizza with fresh produce and a sauce. Whatever recipes you seek, don’t forget to keep it simple, especially during the week. Thirty minute recipes or less!
2) Plan around your schedule. If you know that on Wednesdays you go to yoga and don’t get home until 7:30pm, make sure to either cook enough for 2 nights earlier in the week or plan a simple recipe. Always investigate recipes to see if you can double and freeze extras for meals later in the week or even 2 weeks later. Planning 2-3 weeks out isn’t such a bad idea. Just be sure to seek out what farmers at the Market will have in season those weeks!
3) Remember – market produce lasts longer than grocery store produce. I’ll be honest. I’ve left corn in my fridge for 3 weeks and it’s STILL good by the time I eat it. No grocery store corn can beat that! Or green beans – 3 weeks later, still fresh, still delicious. Now, I recommend eating fresh produce as soon as you can, but never fear if you don’t eat ALL the produce you bought in a week. It will last – usually much longer than grocery store produce because the farmer JUST picked that produce, rather than having it shipped cross-country. Lower your footprint, extend the life of your food and support a local farmer. How can you go wrong?
4) Stock your pantry. If you do have to go to the grocery store, focus on purchasing the items you can ONLY find at the grocery store. Bring a big, long list and stock up on all the ingredients you need to make market-fresh meals. At some markets, you can find pasta, dried goods, flour, oats, etc. For example, Brian Severson Farm at the Tueday Downtown Champaign Market has pancake mix, and then I can get some local honey from Two Million Blooms as syrup until Joy of Illinois will have it in mid-August. If you haven’t had honey peaches over pancakes, you’re missing out.
5) Get creative and have fun! Remember – cooking is fun, and you do NOT have to be the next Top Chef. Let loose and try some new recipes and farmer products. Enjoy exploring east central Illinois’ culinary landscape!
The Land Connection has ideas to get you started through our Farm Fresh Now! recipe series. Sign up for the weekly recipe email and gain a new recipe in your inbox each week!
Look forward to seeing you get creative out at the Market today! Come say hello at the Sampling Tent!