At the end of January, I find myself having completed 1/12 of my challenge to cook 292 different evening meals in 2020. 31 days in, and how have I fared when it comes to meeting my targets? How has the experience met my expectations so far? Perhaps more importantly, how are my family enjoying the journey?

Despite being away from home on business for four days this month, and caving early when respite presented itself in the form of the offer of a takeaway, I’m on target.

I set out to ensure that 80% of the meals I cook in 2020 are different. In January, every meal has been different representing 81% of the days in the month. Of the 25 different dishes (of the remaining 6 nights, I was away on business for three, ate out for one, had one takeaway and one night we enjoyed leftovers), 48% were meat based, meeting the target of 50% or less. Vegetarian recipes were used for 40% of our meals with the remaining 12% including fish. We need to eat more fish!

Advance planning has been absolutely critical and is proving to be a highly enjoyable part of the process (when it can be undertaken at leisure); thumbing through recipe books, surfing food sites online and thinking more generally about what culinary challenges I’m up for. I start this process almost as soon as the groceries for the week ahead have been delivered, and this advance planning helps cement purpose and gives direction.

Things can, of course, get thrown off course. It’s in these moments, for example when the butcher or fishmonger can’t supply your key ingredient (or someone inadvertently eats it), requiring on the hoof adaptation and the willingness to flex, that my goal starts to feel stressful. A well scoped weekly meal plan is therefore paramount.

It’s also noticeable that my weekly food bill is decreasing. I’ve spent more on less meat and fish, but the cost of my grocery shopping overall has decreased. Again, I believe this is a result of pre-planning which effectively minimises potential food waste.

While there have been a couple of occasions when the children have picked at their plates, feigned satiety and then whined for cereal, (parsnips, cashew and spices being a prime example) most of the time, they have welcomed the variety and experience of trying different things. My daughter's favourite evening meal of January was cabbage rolls.  When I asked why, she sent me this note from her iPad

I continue to enjoy myself in the kitchen, testing my cooking mettle and extending my culinary range and knowledge. (Or at least that's what I hope!)

As we move into February, I’ll be dishing up Ottolengi’s sweet and spicy beef and pork pie (Saturday 1st), his chicken with a crisp corn crust (Sunday 2nd), Nigella’s lentils with tamarind and dates (Monday 3rd). On Monday and Tuesday night it will just be my son and I at home so I’m estimating there will be sufficient leftovers to cover Tuesday’s supper. On Wednesday 5th I’ll be cooking a South Indian cod curry with roasted cauliflower and harissa chickpeas with lemon pangrita planned for Thursday.

I’m already salivating at the thought!