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On the Menu This Week

Finally, a post about food! It’s been too long, hasn’t it? I know I should be rounding up all the tasty things we’ve consumed since whenever the last time was I mentioned something on here, but the truth is the idea of doing that is overwhelming enough to incapacitate me.

So, as I attempt to get back in the swing of meal planning (yeah, we have not been so good these last few busy months. We have had a lot of food delivered, and a lot of last-minute trips to the store.) – I thought I’d maybe try to resurrect that thing where I share my menu for the week with you. Here goes.

In case you’ve forgotten, we try to eat one red meat, one poultry, two fish, and three vegetarian meals each week. Designated below as (M), (P), & (V), respectively.

(V) Pasta (our default I-don’t-feel-like-cooking meal: angel hair with marinara)
(F) Crispy Fish with Tomato & Leek Saute
(M) Tacos
(V) Sweet Potato with Beets, Greens, & Almonds
(F) Maple Glazed Salmon with Pineapple
(P) Chicken, Squash, & Chickpea Salad with Tahini Dressing
(V) Ricotta Gnocchi with Leeks & Fava Beans (!!! It’s fava bean season again! Finally! Are you as excited about that as I am? You should be.)

I also bought beets for roasting (and they had golden beets today – score! I saw them and immediately thought of the golden beet borscht we had at Sprout. Anybody have a good borscht recipe?) and tossing into salad greens for any meal which feels like it wants more veggies. We’ll probably have this with the salmon and on pasta night.

This week, Julia is in tech for a show, and consequently not home until Thursday, so I get to eat the things I usually skip because of her preferences/restrictions. For example, tacos! Which I would happily eat on a weekly basis, but she would prefer to have only once every other month or so. Also? Goat cheese. Which I LOVE but she cannot stomach, so I don’t eat it as frequently as I’d like. And that salmon dish with the pineapple? I could eat it all week long; Julia finds it a bit too sweet.

What are YOU eating this week? (If it’s vegetarian and delicious, please share your recipes because I never seem to have enough of those!)

On the Menu This Week

[I know I said I wasn’t posting until Wednesday, but I find myself at my computer planning a menu for the week, so I might as well share.]

Recipes linked where available. Please feel free to vote in the comments as to which meals you want to see pictures of and/or hear me ramble about later on.

Vegetarian
Turkish breakfast – what we call a meal made up of crusty bread topped with sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, hard cheese, and whatever fresh herbs we have on hand. We’re eating this as a picnic on the beach tomorrow, as we celebrate our first anniversary in the spot where we exchanged our vows.
Three-Bean Salad with Gouda
Chickpea Casserole with Lemon, Herbs, and Shallots*
Cucumber & Avocado Ceviche; Coconut Rice with Black Beans, Plantains, & Mango Salsa; and
Mango-Coconut Parfait for dessert (this is for a dinner party girls night sleepover with margaritas – hooray!)

Fish
Salmon and Fennel with Roasted-Lemon Vinaigrette
Garlicky Grilled Basa with Couscous* (we substitute basa for tilapia because it’s cheaper and we like it better and it is very similar and therefore quite interchangable)

Meat/Poultry
Kale, Chicken, and Rice Salad with Cherries
Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Fig Sauce* (OMG. Fig season. YUMMMMMMMMM. If you’ve never eaten a fresh fig, you are really missing out. They are also super delicious when you add them to an apple pie.)

*Some of these are more of a main dish than a full meal; for those we’ll add a mixed greens salad or cook up a frozen veggie like broccoli to have with them.

On the Menu This Week

Photo by Jonny Valiant/Real Simple

I thought it might be fun to put our weekly menus up on the blog. Maybe it will give you some ideas for your own meal planning, or maybe you’ll just pester me for pictures and then I’ll actually remember to take them. [For example, on Friday night, I made this Balsamic-glazed Lamb Meatloaf with Cannelini Bean Salad, but since we didn’t get around to dinner until 10pm, by which time we were starving, no photo was taken. And last night I made Chili-Glazed Pork with Sweet Potato Hash, but I was home alone and remembered my camera after I was halfway done eating, which is not so pretty… so I swiped these pictures from the internet, and I am happy to report that both our meals looked and tasted as good as them.]

Photo by Con Poulos/Real Simple

In any case, here’s what we’re planning to eat in the near future. As I mentioned (I think?), we try to eat vegetarian at least 3 nights a week. To fill out the week, we do 2 fish meals (usually salmon and basa fillets), 1 poultry night (chicken, unless there’s a holiday), and 1 meat (lamb, pork, or beef). Rather than breaking this down by day, I’ll divide by type of meal. Recipes are linked where possible. (You’ll notice a lot of them come from Real Simple. They have great, interesting, easy recipes which include side dishes, so we look there a lot.)

Vegetarian
Three-Bean Chili with Spring Pesto
Southwestern Sweet Potato & Quinoa Salad
Chickpeas with Chard and Pan-Roasted Tomatoes

Fish
Salmon with Lemon-Cilantro Vinaigrette (a favorite that takes less than 20 minutes!)
Crispy Fish with Tomato & Leek Saute; Mixed Greens

Poultry/Meat
Lasagna or Tacos, depending on what I’m in the mood for
Cayenne Chicken with Avocado Salsa; Mashed Plantains with Leeks & Fresh Herbs

A little meal-planning analysis: chickpeas, leeks, tomatoes, avocados, and cilantro are all used in more than one recipe. I always try to use cilantro in more than one thing because the bunches at our grocery stores are HUGE. See my post from the other day here.

What are you cooking up this week?

We Are Stage Managers, And Therefore We Plan What To Eat.

We haven’t always been meal planners. In fact, we only started doing it about a year ago. Friends, if you aren’t doing this, you are seriously missing out. I know it sounds like a lot of effort, and like you have to be really anal and/or an amazing cook to make it happen, but I promise it’s really not that bad. Without further ado, pros and cons and how we do it.

WHY MEAL PLANNING TOTALLY ROCKS:

  • Save Money. When you’ve planned a whole week (or more) of meals, you hit the store with a really functional list. If you stick to it (takes a little practice, and yeah, sometimes I still fail at it) you will avoid most impulse purchases, which means you spend less.
  • Shop less often (and Save Money.) Way fewer stops on the way home because we’re out of this or that or we need to pick up something for dinner tonight and oh god, what do we feel like making and do we have any couscous left in the pantry? Seriously, this point alone could just about convince me. Fewer stops = fewer impulse buys = spend less money.
  • Waste less food (and Save Money. See a theme here?) You only buy stuff that’s going in a recipe plus any pantry staples you’re running low on. If you pay attention when you plan, you can make several meals using similar ingredients, thus avoiding that half-bunch of cilantro rotting in the veggie drawer. Plus, you don’t buy a bunch of grapes and then forget about them. Everything you buy, you use. 

Ok, onto non-financially tangible benefits. 

  • No more frantically wondering what to make. Once you’ve planned, you don’t have to think about it until the next planning period. You just look at your plan and do what it says.
  • Easy lunches plus a portion-control bonus. We make all our dinner recipes to serve four. We serve two portions onto plates to eat, and immediately pack up the other two servings for the next day’s lunch. Let me tell you how long it takes me to pack my lunch for work: however long it takes me to get it out of the refrigerator and put it in my lunch bag. Done and done. If you are not a morning person, this helps. (And maybe it should go above, because packing lunch means not buying lunch which equals saving money.) As for the bonus – because we pack lunch when we serve, not when we clean up, there is no going back for seconds. It forces us to eat the amount we are supposed to. (Not a fail-safe though, some recipe portion sizes are out of control to begin with, so… you gotta watch for that.)
  • Healthy eating just got way easier. When you sit down and plan your meals while you’re neither hungry nor at the grocery store, it’s easy to decide on lean proteins, more fish, less fat and sugar, and plenty of vegetables instead of whatever you can defrost fastest because you got off work late and you’re famished and you just want to eat already.

THINGS THAT KINDA SUCK ABOUT MEAL PLANNING:

  • Less spontaneity. The menu is pointless if you don’t stick to it, so, yeah, sometimes you’re not going to be in the mood for whatever you decided on last Tuesday. And if your spouse did the planning this week and your food preferences differ, you risk a week of meals that you don’t necessarily love.
  • Time spent planning. Particularly if you are not already sitting on a stash of tried and true recipes, this can be somewhat time-consuming. (Though if you keep it up, you will build that stockpile pretty quickly.)
  • You have to cook it. Working on the assumption that your meal plan isn’t going to be comprised of frozen dinners that you only need to pop in the oven, you’ll likely be spending more time and effort cooking than you have in the past. And sometimes, you just won’t feel like doing it and neither will your spouse.

TIPS TO MAKE IT EASIER:

  • Know Thyself. Meal planning does not have to equal gourmet cooking. As you know, we enjoy making fancy meals, but we are busy busy busy like everyone else, so most of the time we are looking for recipes with basic ingredients that take 30 minutes or less. [Should I start a “quick dinners” series?] Because after a long day at work, when you’re hungry before you even get home, you do not want dinner prep to take any longer to make than the pizza or Chinese you’re thinking about ordering would. Know what your personal limits are, in both skills and in time available.
  • Write it down! The menu and the grocery list. And check the list against the recipes twice. And then check the pantry to make sure you’re not running low on anything you’ve put on your mental “I don’t need to buy that because we always have some on hand” list. For real. And it’s homey and fun to keep a menu on your fridge.
  • Shop the sales flyers. Before you plan, glance at the weekly sales from your regular grocery store(s). Plan your meals around what’s on sale (which, produce-wise, also tends to be what’s in season, so there’s some effortless ‘cooking seasonally’ for you) and you will save money.
  • Pick meals that go together. Mentioned above, but let’s say you’re having tacos this week. A bunch of cilantro can be shared with a salmon dish, which can share couscous with a chickpea dish, which can share Swiss chard with veggie lasagna… and on and on.
  • Be flexible. I usually plan 8-10 dinners and do a big shopping trip every other week, knowing that there will be a few nights we don’t feel like cooking or we have extra leftovers or whatever, and those extra meals will be filled in with simple staples like pasta or homemade pizza or even a meal out from time to time. I also plan the number of meals, but not really which day we’ll eat them on. That way I can decide a little more based on what we’re in the mood for. We do 3 vegetarian nights each week, so there’s usually an alternative to a meat or fish dish if we don’t feel like having it. Flexibility ends there though, since to swap out a veggie meal, we have to defrost a protein… Anyway, leave yourself some wiggle room and don’t feel guilty if you don’t stick exactly to your plan.

And that’s all there is to it. Questions? Fire away.