Meal Planning & CSA Produce

This month we subscribed to a CSA on trial. What fun to get a box full of farm fresh, organic produce each week!

It has proved to be a huge learning experience as we’ve tried a ton of new foods including swiss chard, eggplant, edamame, butternut squash, and black eyed peas.

It has also been a huge challenge, particularly in the way of meal planning. I found that many of the vegetables we received have mandated that I change my plans. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But, fall is a pretty busy time for me, so this may not have been the best time of year to experiment.

For instance, two nights last week, we ate something different than what I had planned in order to incorporate the fresh vegetables. Breakfast night and baked chicken gave way for Vegetable Bolognese and Lasagna made with the leftover sauce. Both were delicious, but a little more cooking than I had originally planned.

This week, I’ve got chard, squash, and more eggplant to make use of. As we speak I’ve got beef stew going into which I’m going to sneak some eggplant. Not sure how that one is going to go over, but we’ll see.

Since these aren’t foods that I would normally buy, it’s making meal prep more challenging and time consuming than I would like it to be. And for this reason, I don’t think I will continue our subscription.

Don’t get me wrong — I love the fresh, organic produce. And in some ways, I love the surprise each week regarding what’s in season. However, this way of cooking just doesn’t fit this season in my life. Since it is more expensive than my normal way of shopping, I feel obligated/guilty if I don’t make good use of everything in the box.

And quite frankly, I can’t take the pressure. Proof positive that we each gotta find our own groove.

Our meal plan for the week:

17. Beef Stew with Eggplant, Squash, and Carrots, Mashed Potatoes, Biscuits

18. Pasta with Red Sauce, Sauteed Chard, Green Salad, Cornbread

19. Carnitas Soft Tacos, Beans and Rice, Green Salad

20. Grilled Chicken, Quinoa Pilaf, Grilled Veggies, Squash Rolls

21. Turkey Moussaka, Green Salad and Butterhorns

22. Pizza Night

23. Roast Chicken, Potatoes, and Veggies

What shapes your meal planning and how do you adjust?

Visit I’m an Organizing Junkie for more meal planning inspiration.

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Comments

  1. I totally get you here. For me, I enjoy taking the time to make some effort to try new recipes and ingredients about once a month.

    But with our family going in so many directions, it would be too difficult for me to attempt to do what you are any more than that.

    It’s an adventure, though! It sounds like you and your family learned some things and tried things that you wouldn’t have tried in the “normal.”

    Love the blog!

    ~robin

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      @Robin, I got sidetracked in my own post. I meant to say also that this is something I would have LOVED as a newlywed or even a first-time mom. But, these days, mealtime is often a means to an end.

      I love cooking for pleasure, and I love eating all the moreso. But, I found myself stressed doing it this month.

  2. I totally hear you on the difficulty to mealplan far in advance when receiving CSA boxes. That’s why, when I found out about a farm-stand style distribution CSA, I signed up immediately and haven’t regretted it since! Each week, we go and choose a set number of items (usually around 8-10). Each “item” is defined on that day, usually things such as 1lb of carrots, 1 bunch of beets, 1 kohlrabi or head of cabbage, 2lbs onions, etc. One week we had 10lbs of tomatoes, 4lbs summer squash, 4lbs cucumbers, and that was only 3 of our items!! Anyway, I highly recommend it!

  3. We absolutely love swiss chard in our house! Our favorite way to eat it is sauteed in olive oil with garlic and sliced onions, on top of a whole wheat pizza crust with olive oil and garlic instead of red sauce. SO Good! Then we add feta and kalamata olives, and sometimes sundried tomatoes. All three of my kids (5 and under) love it too! Of course, the sauteed chard is also great on quesadillas :) Oh, btw, eggplant cut into small pieces is also great on pizza. Can you tell we love pizza here?!

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      @brook, sounds really yummy! (And that was the other thing with getting the box each week — I often didn’t have the ingredients I might have experimented with if I had “planned” on that particular vegetable.

  4. I’m so relieved that your experience mirrored mine. I was feeling like a bit of a failure for not being able to keep up my enthusiasm for our CSA. Ours is expensive ($25/week) and we get a lot of veggies my family simply doesn’t care for (beets and a ton of leeks, in particular). I love the local farmers and when this CSA period ends, I’ll continue to buy at least some of my produce from them, but even an every other week CSA box has proved too much of a *surprise* for me! BTW, I’m down the 5 from you in Chula Vista — totally fun to read a local mom’s blog!

  5. Gillian Carman says:

    If you need to use up some eggplant, this soup is AMAZING.
    http://smittenkitchen.com/2010/10/roasted-eggplant-soup/

  6. Don’t know if this might help you use up some eggplant, but this recipe that I found in a Rachael Ray cookbook from the library was a big hit with our family–I served it with some homemade bread (bread machine) and cottage cheese and strawberries on the side. My three year old even like it, zucchini, bell peppers, eggplant, and all!

    Ratatouille Stoup

    3 T olive oil
    1 med onion, chopped
    3 garlic cloves, chopped
    1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
    1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
    1 med eggplant, peeled and diced
    2 sm zucchini, diced
    salt and freshly ground black pepper
    3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
    1 can diced tomatoes (28 ounces, do NOT drain)
    6 C chicken stock
    ½ lb small cut whole wheat pasta
    parsley
    basil

    Heat olive oil in a deep pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, garlic, bell peppers, eggplant, and zucchini. Season the vegetables with salt, pepper, and thyme and cook until softened, about 7-8 minutes, stirring now and then. Add the tomatoes and chicken stock and bring the soup to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer. Stir in the pasta and cook al dente. Stir in the parsley and basil, adjust the salt and pepper, and serve.

  7. Good for you about the CSA!

    I meal plan around my 4year old son’s picky taste. (and I have other children) It is v-e-r-y difficult to do this. This past week I don’t know how it happened but I planned 4 meals that he just doesn’t care for…every night he would ask “what are we having tomorrow night”. In hopes that it wouldn’t be something as equally disgusting in his eyes. I am always open to trying new recipes and tactics to make this easier on myself. I envy the lady above that talked about her children eating swiss chard…I would be happy if he would just enjoy soup..I don’t ask for much!!

    • @Kelley, A lady once suggested to me that I drain off most of the liquid as I ladle soup into my child’s bowl, saying that sometimes kids are more likely to eat the bulk of the soup without the liquid. Sometimes we add shredded cheese on top, too, to make the soup more appealing. It does not always work here, but maybe it will for you! Your 4-year-old should meet my 4-year-old!

  8. csa menu planning can be tricky. I’ve been doing it for 6 years now and finally this summer found a good groove:

    http://fimby.tougas.net/vegan-csa-menu-planning
    Good thing it was only a one month trial. I don’t know many csa’s that offer that.

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      @renee @ FIMBY, thanks for sharing your story! Love how you’ve made it work for you guys. I’m definitely open to the idea, just don’t know if I could do it during the school year. A summer share sounds more appealing. ;)

  9. I have tried something similar, although it was picked up every other week. There was an online group that you could join that would send out an email 3-7 days in advance so I knew roughly what I was picking up. They also suggested recipes and ways to cook the different veggies. I enjoy experimenting with new veggies but the cost was a bit too much for me. While I enjoyed it and even enjoyed trying new things, I really like to menu plan around the sales and then go and shop. It was a great experience!

  10. Totally understandable! And wise of you to see that the way things are going is not working.

    If you are interested, I know of a CSA in the San Diego area that posts on its web site the previous Friday what will be in the box for planning purposes. A friend has been with them for years and loves it, it is bewiseranch.com.

    To be honest, ours does this too, and I am not sure I would be a huge fan without it!

  11. I would feel the same what that you do. It is fun to experiment with new recipes and foods but sometimes you just need to get the food on the table without the fanfare of something new. Plus, my family is just not that adventurous – especially every week!

    I plan my meals around what’s on sale. Pretty cut and dry – I go over the weekly flyer (as a general rule I only shop at one store, Albertsons, all the time. Unless I see some can’t pass up deal somewhere else) and plan my meals around what’s on sale and what I have on hand. It seems to work for us right now.

  12. One thing I do when eggplant is cheap – in the event you have more than you can comfortably use this week! – I flash freeze sliced eggplant that’s been dipped in egg and then breadcrumbs [seasoned as you like] and then when I want to make eggplant parm it’s easy as baking it off with a little cheese and sauce on top – especially appealing here when not everyone eats it

  13. elizabeth says:

    We tried a CSA too and I was very excited bc I wanted the organics. It turned out that being in South FL, we got mostly “tropical” items like jackfruit, carambola, and the like. Honestly i was not sure how to prepare a lot of it. The CSA did try to help with ideas though. I was hoping for more tomatoes, bananas, and greens (which all grow here), but instead I got lots of weird-to-me items.

  14. I’m a huge advocate for CSAs, but menu planning is different because you have to work backward – make a list of what you have, THEN pick out your recipes. I wrote an article about what works for me on my blog: http://thelocalcook.com/2010/05/09/menu-planning-in-season/

    Over the five years we’ve been doing this all those “weird” vegetables seem quite normal. Then again, it’s just me and my husband and we both love to try new foods.

  15. I just moved from San Diego last year, and I got a CSA box there that I loved for its freshness, but I always ended up with extra veggies at the end of the 2 weeks that I simply hadn’t been able to use up. I typically made a huge pot of veggie soup or what I called “beans ‘n greens” (whatever greens I had left over and a can or two of any kind of beans). Once I got into the swing of this, it worked well – I got my veggies on Thursday, so on Saturday I’d make the soup with all the leftover veggies from the previous cycle, as well as any of the new ones that I wasn’t sure I’d use. I’d just toss it all in the crockpot and let it go. Since I was in the kitchen chopping and prepping, I’d chop and prep the new veggies for lunches in the coming week. It worked great for me – I was a full-time student, with little time to cook during the week, so doing the weekly cooking and prep on the weekends was a great option. By the spring, though, I was done with soup, and ended up canceling my box since I wasn’t using up all the extras – it just didn’t work for me at that point.

    Now, I’m in Texas, and I’ve joined a local co-op – we all contribute $30 every 2 weeks, and one person goes to the local farmer’s market and buys in bulk, then we split it and each person takes their share. This way we get good fresh produce, but at much better prices than we’d get at the grocery store. And the shopper (a different person each time) is told specifically not to get more than 1-2 “exotic” items, so we get a pretty standard selection, with just one or two things that we might not know exactly what to do with. It makes planning easy since we know certain things that we will almost always get (potatoes, lettuce of some kind, onions, tomatoes, apples, oranges) and anything that we see on sale and in season in the stores is almost guaranteed to be in the box as well.

  16. You could use your eggplant on the 20th. I slice mine very thin, brush with olive oil ( or veg. oil) and sprinkle with season salt. Place on grill and grill till desired texture – we like ours soft. It is so delicious and EASY!

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      @Christy, great idea! Thanks! I have one left that I’m going to use in the moussaka. But, if we get MORE on Wednesday, I’ll follow your suggestion. LOL

  17. A box of vegetables from the CSA changes the way you meal plan. You definitely have less control, but there is a huge benefit from eating fresh and local produce!

  18. Try making eggplant fries, you kids will LOVE them:

    Cut into sticks, dip in egg wash, then dredge in breading of choice (bread crumbs, flour, or GF corn or rice flours). Spray with pam, and pop into a preheated 425 degree oven until browned. You can also fry them like fries, but this a healthier version. I also prep extra, and freeze before cooking.

  19. AllieZirkle says:

    Have you thought about eggplant IN the mussaka? lol I’m with you, we cancelled our basket this week. It just doesn’t work for our current station in life…

    http://blog.fatfreevegan.com/2007/07/mussaka.html

    :) Allie

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      @AllieZirkle, I thought that by definition moussaka had eggplant. Every recipe I’ve found has it. I intend to cook it down to a puree, though instead of slices.

      • AllieZirkle says:

        @Jessica Fisher, I was thinking you said Turkish not Turkey lol A puree sounds tasty. I know that the aromatics of eggplant are tougher to get used to than “I’m eating eggplant”.

        There is a tree lined street that I run on in the morning. It smells floral, much like eggplant. I have to concentrate on the beauty of the vegetable or I get nauseous. Funny how that stigma of eggplant has carried with me into adulthood!

        :) Allie

  20. We grew several leafy greens in our garden this summer, but only the Swiss chard seemed to do well. The variety we grew didn’t seem all that different from spinach, so we froze a lot of it. It went really well in our chicken/white sauce lasagna I made a few weeks ago.

  21. Ooh, great to read about someone else’s CSA experience too! I just posted part 1 of a 2 part series on our CSA adventures. It was a great thing to try, but like you said, just not for us in this “season” of life.

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