Last Saturday night, at a time when most people our age were out with friends or stretched out on sofas, unwinding in front of TV screens, Tim and I sat across from each other at our dining room table, a laptop and a weekly planner before us, and discussed our menu for the next six days. I’d read Natalie’s blog post on meal planning the day before and, inspired, had told Tim maybe meal planning was something we ought to try. My husband, who, to his credit, is always much quicker to jump on board with my random ideas than I am with his, said okay. We would try meal planning, this concept people say simplifies your work weeks and lowers your family food budget. And while the idea of scheduling a week’s worth of meals is nothing new or revolutionary, and while there’s certainly nothing I write here that you wouldn’t find in a simple Google search, I’m chronicling our first week’s efforts here in this post anyway for two reasons:
1) Whatever the future holds for us, at least in terms of planning meals, I want to remember what the beginning felt like, much the way married people want to remember the newlywed years or moms, their babies’ first steps, and also,
2) While of course, when you begin anything new—whether it’s a job or a treatment or a hobby—it’s nice to hear from the experts, sometimes the ones you most want to hear from are the ones who were also new like you, not so long ago. So for any of you out there who have likewise not known about or personally tried meal planning, I hope this is of some interest to you.
(Plus, bonus reason, 3) Who doesn’t like to peek in someone else’s shopping cart? Here’s a figurative look at ours, last week, as well as some meals and methods we used.)
Saturday Night: Armed with a clearance-rack weekly planner, my Pinterest boards and my latest favorite cookbook, Tim and I planned out our dinners for the next week. Taking into account our schedules (my Tuesday book club, his Wednesday Bible study, our Thursday appointment to take a meal to friends with a new baby), we penciled in which meal would go where. As we picked meals, we checked the fridge and pantry to see what ingredients we’d need and added them to the running grocery list. I also soaked a few cups of rice on the counter for Sunday’s lunch.
Sunday Afternoon: We grocery-shopped together, hitting two stores and grabbing everything on our list (and just the things on our list) in about a half hour flat. Back at home, we unloaded the groceries, cooked rice (more than we needed, so we’d have plenty for the rest of the week) and made lettuce wraps.
LETTUCE WRAPS HOW-TO: Make or buy a couple good sauces as they are key to the lettuce wrap flavor. Tim did one dijon-yogurt-spices version and one spicy blend. Chop up leftover raw vegetables like carrots, onions, peppers, celery; stuff big leaves of lettuce with rice, veggies, sauce and anything else you like. Roll up or eat like a giant salad.
Monday: Ever since I saw Alex and Sonja’s ricotta dumplings, I’ve had them on my mental to-do list. Luckily, we had a container of unused ricotta leftover from last week, which made this meal practically pull together from the pantry.
RECIPE SOURCE FOR RICOTTA DUMPLINGS: A Couple Cooks | Note: if you use einkorn flour in this recipe, note that it will require quite a bit more flour than the original version—closer to 1 1/2 cups.
Tuesday: We put a chicken in the oven during our work day, stuffing a little basil and slices of lemon under the skin and inside the cavity and salting and peppering all over the exterior. A few drizzles of oil and a couple of hours in the oven and we had a perfect bird, ready to have its meat pulled and shredded for pot pies later in the week. Around an hour before dinner, I also made a quick fried rice (method below). Dinner this night was roast chicken, fried rice and a small salad.
FRIED RICE METHOD: Oil a large saute pan or wok until hot. Add one or two eggs and stir rapidly, smearing the pan with the egg and scrambling it. When the egg is no longer wet but not totally cooked, add cooked rice, stirring everything together. Move egg-rice mixture to the side and add chopped veggies (onion, carrots, a little lettuce) to open part of pan, cooking until soft. Stir everything together and add a favorite sauce (we had leftovers from Sunday’s lettuce wraps). Salt and pepper to taste; enjoy.
Wednesday: For this night when we have dinner with Tim’s brother, Nathan, and we knew I would get home a little later than usual, we made vegetable soup in leftover beef broth & roasted sweet potatoes. I also made two pie crusts and refrigerated them for the next day.
HOMEMADE BEEF BROTH: Buy soup bones at the store (they’re labeled as soup bones). Place bones in stockpot and cover with water, bringing to a boil. Keep at a simmer and add water as it reduces, for a total of six hours. Strain broth and reserve for soups.
VEGETABLE SOUP: Saute onions, carrots and celery in oiled stockpot. Add dashes of spices like tumeric, cayenne, cumin and chili powder. Once vegetables are soft and fragrant and spices are toasted, add beef broth and water. Heat fully and taste soup, salting and pepper to taste.
Thursday: Chicken Pot Pie & Salad. We did everything times two on this night, in order to bring a meal to friends. I also planned ahead to soak two cups of black beans for Friday’s soup.
CHICKEN POT PIE RECIPE: Originally from Dinner: A Love Story, published here. Note: If you make the crust with einkorn flour, cut the water in half.
Friday: We’re planning to have soup from The Moosewood Cookbook! (I’ll have to let you know how this one goes.)
Also, snacks during the week: Because our pantry was stocked, it was also easy to make a couple snacks and desserts as we wanted them: energy chunks (Vitamixed oats, almond butter, coconut, chia seeds, honey); Summer Harms’s king-sized chocolate chip cookies (gluten-free! we used ground oats instead of rice flour, however); rice pudding from The Moosewood Cookbook
Some initial conclusions from this first week’s attempt:
(Shanna) We’ve definitely eaten more interesting meals this week, as we’ve branched outside our typical four or five standbys simply through a little preliminary planning. While I don’t love having to come up with meal ideas for an entire week on Saturday, I do love already knowing what’s for dinner each night. Especially this last week, which was busy most evenings, it was a gift to not need to be creative on the spot.
(Tim) I liked having less stress about what we were going to make each night and being able to know how much time to set aside for making dinner. Originally, I thought this would be something that would stifle creativity, but really you can still be creative—meal planning still allows creativity just less spontaneous creativity; you’re planning your creativity for the week ahead.
Other not-related-to-meal-planning stuff:
- A new month means a new header image, which you’ll notice at the top of the site. Happy March!
- A new month also means a new newsletter, which went out this morning and gave details on how the book‘s been doing. Have you signed up for our newsletters yet? Learn more here.
Last thing, because I have to ask: What other tips on meal planning do you have for us? If you do it, how long have you been planning your meals, and why? If you don’t, what turns you off? We were blown away by the feedback on Facebook but we still welcome any and all ideas. Thanks in advance!