“What’s for dinner” is not a question that you want to be asking yourself at 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon. At least for me it’s not. I tried it – and it’s really no fun, especially when you have a little mouth to feed. Dealing with the afternoon chaos at the grocery store is a painful experience, not to mention if it’s meat that’s on the menu (unless you plan on eating at 8:00), dinner is going to be on the bland side without allowing time to marinate. Factor in the mad dash home to prep, cook, and clean? No thanks.
These days I’m all about a weekly meal plan. The plan gets posted on the kitchen chalkboard on Sunday and runs Monday through Sunday. It has been a bit of a game-changer for me: less shopping, less time prepping, less waste, and less money spent on an annual basis. Here’s a sample week:
Monday: Pasta Night – Spaghettini in a creamy garlic-lemon sauce with spinach, plum tomatoes and parmesan cheese. Mondays are a busy day, so I usually try to keep this meal simple (or eat out), use up things in the pantry, and clear out any veggies that have seen better days. Pasta is perfect for those less than perky spinach leaves!
Tuesday: Homemade Pizza (one margarita and one pepperoni) plus a mixed green salad with plum tomatoes and olives. Here’s the recipe for an easy pizza dough. I love this meal because my little sous-chef gets a chance to create her own pizza.
Wednesday: Seared chicken breast and goat cheese salad with cranberries, avocado, toasted walnuts and shaved red onions – I don’t use a recipe for this, but here’s one that uses similar ingredients.
Thursday: Veggie and cashew stir fry over jasmine rice. This is another good opportunity to clear out the veggie drawer, and I usually just go freestyle with this one making sure to include lots of garlic and ginger. For the sauce, a combination of black bean sauce, soy, honey and chicken stock does the trick. A little cornstarch added near the end thickens it and gives it a nice shine.
Friday: Pulled pork enchiladas with refried beans, guacamole and corn. (We made pulled pork on Sunday (check out this recipe) and froze the leftovers for pulled pork sandwiches and enchiladas. Once you grab a tin of enchilada sauce, this makes for an easy, tasty dinner.
Saturday: Yellow Curry over rice. Here’s the recipe we’ve been using lately – I love it because it’s mild and super kid friendly. (I deviate a bit from the recipe and use a Thai yellow curry).
Sunday: Roasted mushroom Risotto with seared flank steak. We make risotto so much around here that I don’t use a recipe any more, but I think this one looks tasty. And don’t even get me started on flank steak. It’s so good. Marinate it in a little canola oil, black pepper, garlic, rosemary, and salt. Sear it, and serve it sliced with the risotto.
A few things I consider when planning a weekly menu
- What’s currently in my fridge and pantry? I take a visual inventory and start planning from there, using the commercial kitchen rule of thumb, FIFO: first in, first out.
- What’s the weather forecast for the week? If it’s going to be grey and soggy, soups, stews and belly warmers. Sunny days call for easy breezy salads and light pastas.
- Have I planned meals that allow ingredients to perform double-duty? i.e. parmesan cheese is required for Monday’s pasta and also for Sunday’s risotto.
- What’s going on in the food world? It’s fun to indulge in a little time reading Bon Appetit, scrolling Pinterest or food blogs – why not add some excitement to the rotation?
- Hectic days (or nights) call for meals on easy street. I like to plan a couple meals that I can make with my eyes shut.
- Have I included a vegetarian meal? It’s amazing how tasty a meatless meal can be – and the options are endless. Just ask Pinterest!
- Can I double the recipe on any meals, freeze it and make for a quick, easy, and nearly dish-less meal the following week? Casseroles, burritos and soups work well.
- If we’re splurging on a meal one night where do we make up for it? Enter veggie (read:cheap) stir fry or grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup.
- Can any of the meals turn into a lunch the following day? I love making extra chicken breast at dinner and then turning it into a chicken salad sandwich the following day by adding mayonnaise, dijon, green onions and plum tomatoes, that on a nice slice of bread with arugula is right up my alley.
- What nights will my husband be home late? As much as we miss him, we love our girls “seafood nights” – he and les poisson have never seen eye-to-eye.
At this point, we do not do a breakfast or lunch meal plan. For nearly a month straight J has asked for a muffin (I make them and keep them in the freezer) and a cup of orange juice at breakfast. It’s all she wants, so I’ve been going with it. Lunches are pretty straightforward these days. We tend to eat a lot of cheese and avocado quesadillas (on whole wheat tortillas), soups, egg salad sandwiches, chicken wraps, and smoothies.
I like the idea of a bi-weekly plan or even (super ambitious) a monthly plan, but space is always a consideration with city life where stocking up isn’t really feasible. Plus, it’s nice to see what kind of cravings strike. Now that the weather is getting a bit warmer I feel a salad trend coming on…because I really want to squeeze into one of these this summer!
Have a delicious day…
p.s. A menu planning app – I don’t have it but I’m tempted to try it!
*top image via Pinterest