when you work full time, making dinner on weeknights can feel impossible.
I developed my meal planning method when Joe and I moved in together. I decided that I would try to cook more often for us- trying to find a balance on the spectrum between eating out and my weakness of cooking for the army that doesn’t exist.
[and when I do cook a load of food, I have learned to either feed my housemates and/or we have lovely leftovers for workday lunches. I also will freeze portions and share with my family in town]
The secret is that a little effort in advance can help a ton. My focus: mostly home cooked, mostly healthy and mostly quick meals on work nights.
chez juniper meal planning:
I try to meal plan on Saturdays then food shop on Sundays. I plan for 4 or 5 meals for the 6 nights: Sunday-Friday. This helps me to not over-buy food and allows for eating out or leftover nights.
details and an example:
1. list of ingredients in the house to use
perishables are a priority- things that won’t last through the week.
I add pantry staples just as a reminder
- sweet potatoes
- pork loin/freezer
- caramelized onions
- bell pepper
2. list of menu items based on recipes and weekly schedule
I take list #1, a stack of cookbooks and my binder of printed-out recipes to the couch and start browsing.
I also use pinterest directly- it’s great to search for “sweet potato and pork recipe” or more broadly “shrimp” or “bell pepper recipe”.
this can be an engaging if not fun and exciting task
it can get overwhelming to see awesome recipes that may not apply to your upcoming week or current skill level- and that’s what post-its and pinning are for. Now you have a recipe to try on a weekend or on a future weeknight.
- crock pot pulled pork sandwiches with coleslaw [leftovers portioned for another dinner or lunches]
- baked chicken with roasted carrots and rice
- [leftover baked] chicken+ pasta+ quick sauce: sauteed bell pepper with caramelized onion and fresh parmesan
- sausage+veggie+[leftover] rice bowls
- oven ranch shrimp and biscuits
I don’t plan specifically what meal for what night- I tried but that was too regimented for me.
Within a completed meal plan there can be perishable items that need to be used first or a meal that I know should be earlier in the week either because I’ll be less tired or it will make a lot of food and have leftovers for lunches.
3. list of grocery items
with each meal added to list #2, I add any ingredients to the grocery list that are beyond what’s in the house.
- root beer
4. bing bang boom you’re done and ready to go food shopping
there are weeks I spend $40 on groceries and others when I spend $100-$150. It just depends on what is already in the house, what kitchen staples need to be replenished [like bisquick] and what types of ingredients I am working with.
When I was on a salmon kick, our grocery bills were more expensive. but we also buy [boneless skinless] chicken breast and ground turkey in bulk at costco and store it in the freezer.
Anything that needs to be defrosted for that week’s meals I pull from the freezer on Sunday and defrost in the fridge.
5. it’s an art
[read as: constant balancing act] to blend recipes that I haven’t tried before with ones that are tried and true.
Here are some recipes I’ve used more than once in my work-night meal planning:
- turkey and provolone sliders
- irish spaghetti
- hashbrown casserole (put together on a Sunday afternoon and bake Monday night)
- oven chicken fajitas
- sweet potato taquitos
- greek yogurt and spinach mac n cheese
- peanut ginger chicken wraps
- oven ranch shrimp with pasta and roasted veggies (or just biscuits)
- chipotle sweet potato salad
- chilled thai noodles
- eggplant, red pepper and sausage pasta
- mini turkey meatloaves with chipotle ketchup
- honey chipotle chicken
- Avocado Mushroom Goat Cheese Pasta
6. pep talk for those who are dubious that they can cook on work nights:
- it gets easier.
- cooking doesn’t always workout the way we want and that’s ok- but that’s usually because of the human element [too tired or too busy]
- habits take time and patience to change.
- this meal planning sounds more complicated than it is.
- it can be annoying sometimes or not happen the way you think its going to.
- but the effort in advance each week can and will help any household’s weeknight meal routine.
7. personal anecdote:
my recurring struggle is getting bored with recipes that I’ve made before. so I experiment either with a new recipe or creating my own dish.
and on those nights when a recipe falls apart or I use garlic salt like it’s garlic powder (blegh!!) I [try to] calmly just salvage what I can and pull the trash can up to the counter for the rest
-and ask Joe to order pizza.
tomorrow’s another day for another adventure in the kitchen.
but my experiences/experimenting in the kitchen is a collection of stories for another day.