Many have said they’re amazed by the meals I prepare each week and that they could never do the same. I disagree. Even though I enjoy spending time in the kitchen trying new recipes and ingredients, and impressing my husband with the latest creation, I realize many do not. With that said, I believe it is possible for others to have successful meals, you just have to plan ahead. So here’s how I go about planning our weekly menu.
Check Your Calendar
Is your social life crazy this week or maybe you have a 20-miler Saturday morning? Either way be sure to plan meals around your busy life. Buying fresh organic veggies and not having the time to prepare a meal is my worst nightmare. Depending on the week I usually plan 3-4 meals. This allows me to prepare enough to satisfy us and have leftovers to stow away in the freezer.
I also recommend keeping a chart of what’s in season in your state. An easy search on the web will give you what you need. Here’s one for North Carolina. Planning meals around what’s in season is a great way to save money and use the freshest ingredients, especially when purchased from your local farmers’ market or plucked out of your own garden. Meals just taste better when made with the freshest of the fresh.
Consult Mother Nature
That’s right, check the weather forecast for the next 5-7 days. Why? If you’re like me, you want to avoid making black bean and sweet potato chili or vegetable and kale soup when it’s going to be 70 degrees outside, and you most likely wouldn’t find raw tacos to be that comforting when its below freezing.
I generally plan standing in the kitchen with my laptop and a few Vegetarian Times on the island. This way I can easily search through the pantry, fridge and freezer to see what is hidden in the back corner or on the top shelf. Keep your pantry stocked with items you use regularly. As vegetarians our stash might look different from yours, however most items will overlap. I usually keep on hand:
- Grains like oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat flour
- Dried whole pasta of all shapes
- Beans, beans and more beans and legumes including black beans, chick peas, cannellini beans, great northern beans, kidney beans dark and light, and black eyed peas
- Canned tomatoes including tomato paste for homemade pasta and pizza sauces, chili and soups
- Natural peanut butter and other spreads like hazelnut or cookie from Trader Joe’s
- Raw nuts including peanuts, cashews, pecans, pine nuts and walnuts
- Roasted red peppers – great salads, pizzas, pasta sauce and gnocchi
- Kalamata olives – great for salads and pizzas
- Chipotle peppers – these are great for tacos, chili and gnocchi but don’t go overboard, they’re spicy
- Raw seeds like pumpkin and sunflower
- Vegetable stock/broth
- Breadcrumbs or you can make your own
- Canola, peanut and extra virgin olive oil
- Vinegars like balsamic, apple cider, and plain ol’ white vinegar
- Edamame shelled and unshelled for salads and stir frys
- Veggies usually corn and green beans
- Fruit either from the garden stored in FoodSaver bags or your local grocer
- Clearly labeled leftovers including the date
- Leftover tomato paste (don’t waste the can)
- Homemade vegetable stock/broth
- Lemons and limes for juicing and zesting
- Butter spreads and sticks
- Fresh parmesan cheese
- Tahini for hummus
- Milk and 1/2 and 1/2 – we prefer soy
- Eggs or ground flax seed for vegans
Organize Your Recipes
I prefer to have my recipes at my fingertips no matter where I am, which is great if you’re traveling and have a kitchen but not your physical cookbooks. Springpad allows me to search for my favorite ginger snap recipe by Alton Brown or that apple and cheddar cheese burger recipe from Cooking Stoned. Here’s my Springpad recipe collection. My friend Katie uses Pinterest and my other friend Michelle who receives Cooking Light has a colored flag method she prefers. Figure out what works best for you and stay organized.
Keep Things Interesting
I like to keep things interesting in the kitchen and on the dinner table. I recommend selecting only 1 or 2 new recipes each week that sound and look delicious. Adding all new recipes would be cray-cray. Not only would it be challenging but also very time consuming as you work through the details of every recipe. And be sure to read through the recipe and comments/reviews before choosing.
A Few More Tips
- If at the end of the week you still have zucchini, squash, mushrooms and some spinach, make a frittata for breakfast or stir fry. Try to use up those leftover ingredients before they go bad. You’re fridge will empty out each week allowing you to organize and clean what’s left.
- I also try to use the same ingredients in 2 or more dishes to save cash and reduce waste. For example, if you’re making tacos with guacamole which uses cilantro, use the other half of the cilantro bunch in a pad thai or stir fry dish.
- Make the recipes with the ingredients most likely to go bad first. This will help reduce waste.
- Read through each recipe. Make sure you know all of the ingredients and steps. If not, Google them for more information.
- If you don’t have a spice like cardamom, search for a substitute.
All in all, make the most of your weekly meals by staying organized, planning ahead, trying something new and having fun with the dishes you make. You’ll be thankful you did. And you just might amaze yourself and your family.
So tell me, do you follow a similar process or do you wing it by going to the grocery store every day after work? I’m curious because what works best for me may not be the same for you. Please share below in the comments.