Get Nerdy, Part 1 – Excel: Get Down Wit It

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Get Nerdy, Part 1 – Excel: Get Down Wit It

As a cooking hater, I’m a HUGE fan of menu planning – IMHO, it’s the number one way to minimize time spent when it comes to cooking/all things related. But before we get into any of THAT, lemme step back a second for all you haters. Menu planning is awesome because it takes me 5-10 minutes to decide what we’re gonna eat for the upcoming week. And the main reason I’m able to do this so quickly is thanks to Excel.

How did people survive before Excel was invented?

I’m sure they managed to survive the same way they did before cell phones existed…

But I can’t imagine living without my spreadsheets. Especially my cooking spreadsheet.

If my house was on fire, I’d probably grab my daughter first. But then I’d grab my laptop, because my cooking spreadsheet is my lifeline. (And yes, I do have it backed up, but I don’t 100% trust clouds or flash drives when it comes to stuff that really matters.)

Anyway, assuming you are familiar with Excel, you know that you can have as many tabs as you want within the spreadsheet. Here are some of the tabs on my cooking spreadsheet: “Dinner Faves”, “Recipes to Try”, “Spending Tracking”, “Menu Plan”, etc.

It is especially important for a cooking hater to try to stay organized when it comes to cooking. It might sound annoying, but having a spreadsheet, or even a simple notebook if you don’t have Excel, will save you so much time.

When I make my food plan for the week, it takes almost no time, because I go straight to my “Dinner Faves” tab, and pick out a few meals we haven’t had in a while. Then I’ll go to my “Recipes to Try” tab, because I try to make at least one new meal per week. (And surprise, surprise, any new meals that are “winners” end up on the “Dinner Faves” tab.)

It only takes a few minutes to figure out the menu plan for the upcoming week.

I used to spend 5 minutes a day, opening and closing my kitchen cabinets, fridge and freezer, trying to come up with something on the fly, only to realize I needed to go to the store to make a real meal happen. And then I’d spend another 10 minutes flipping through a cookbook or magazine, or scrolling through a website trying to pick something out.

Simply having a list of favorites will save you plenty of time, planning-wise. But if you really wanna get nerdy about it, you can save even more time by using Excel the way it’s meant to be used. For instance, Column #1 is my list of “Dinner Faves”, but I have plenty of other useful columns as well… Like my second column, which designates the primary ingredient: Poultry, Beef, Pork, Seafood, Vegetarian, etc.

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I also have a SOURCE column – SO KEY!! I have recipes from websites, recipes from cookbooks, recipes from magazines, recipes sent to me via email, and so on.

But I also have some hater-helpful columns as well. I have a “Time” column, as in “How much time does this meal take to make?” I designate meals as “quick”, “medium”, or “long”. (Note: I only count prep/active cooking time, not overall time. Like a slow cooker meal might take all day, but as long as the prep/active cooking time is quick, I’ll designate these recipes as “quick” meals.)

I also have a “Leftovers” column, as in, “Does this meal work for leftovers?” Some types of meals just don’t reheat well… Like fish or fried chicken. Lasagna on the other hand? Beef stew? Chili? Leftovers are fantastic! And as a cooking hater, I’m a HUGE fan of leftovers. I purposefully plan on eating leftovers one night a week, because that’s one less night I’m cooking.

If you’re familiar with Excel, you also know that you can sort and filter for different types of things, rather than browse the entire list. Say I picked out a chicken dish, a beef dish, and a vegetarian dish for the upcoming week. Maybe I’ll pick a pork dish next. I can filter my list to show me only pork dishes. And maybe the chicken/beef/vegetarian dishes take a while to make, so I might further filter my pork choices to show me only the quickest recipes.

I also have other useful columns that make planning for the week very easy and quick. I have a “Region” column. I like to keep things varied – Not only with the main ingredient, but the region as well. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Italian food, Mexican, Asian, Indian and so on. I also have plenty of American dishes. But I wouldn’t want any one region every night for a whole week straight.

I also have a column for the type of dish: Examples of this would be “Burgers/Sandwiches/Wraps”, “Stews/Soups/Chilis”, or “Pasta”, because I like to keep these things varied as well.

I also recently upped the ante on my nerdery by adding the “PPP” column, as in approximate “price per portion”. I tagged recipes $, $$, $$$, or $$$$. It helps to make a balanced plan for the week, moneywise. If you pick a couple things that cost a lot to make, you might decide to pick a few other meals on the cheaper side. (Or towards the end of the month, if you’ve already spent a ton on groceries that month, maybe you’ll decide you want to make only cheaper meals that last week, so you don’t totally blow up your food budget.)

See where I’m going with this nerdery?

My Dinner Faves tab saves me a TON of time when I’m working on my menu plan for the week: It keeps my budget in check, my prep/active cooking time in check, and the menu varied.

My Recipes to Try tab has a similar set-up. But it’s helpful in an entirely different way as well. How often do you bookmark a recipe online, or see something that looks good in a magazine, or see a FB friend share a recipe you’d like to try, or see something in a commercial or TV show that makes your mouth water?

It’s SO EASY to forget about these recipes, especially WHERE you saw them. Sure, if you remember the recipe, you can just Google it and find it (or something similar), but I’ve tried to get into the habit of entering these recipes on my Recipes to Try worksheet.

In addition to my “Recipes to Try” tab, I also have a “Stuff to Look Into” tab. This tab includes “must learn eventually” dishes as well as very general topics to research, and food blogs/cooking sites I want to check out, but haven’t had the time yet. For instance, I will someday learn how to make a BOMB lobster bisque. I’m also always looking for new one-pot recipes (read: easy clean-up), and I really want to learn how to make an awesome variety of tacos (I love tacos!!) Then there are the food blogs I would love to pore through, but just haven’t had the time YET. So I have a worksheet to remind me of all these different things I’d like to look intoeventually.

Now, certainly, if you’re just getting into cooking, you won’t be able to populate a spreadsheet with Dinner Faves YET. But you can always get your “Recipes to Try” list started. And start with some of your favorite things to eat. As long as they’re not too complicated, this is a great place to start.

One final note – In general, I’m a pretty disorganized person. My house is cluttered, laundry and junk mail pile up, and I leave dirty pots and pans in the sink overnight – the HORROR!! But my cooking spreadsheet? THAT’S something that seems worth my time, as a cooking hater. It makes my whole world a happier place 😊

Stay tuned for Get Nerdy, Part 2 – Leveraging the Power of the Information Age

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