I love cookbooks. I can easily spend an evening browsing cookbooks, perusing pictures and making lists of all the recipes I dream of making. When I first started meal planning I started with cookbooks. I would go through cookbooks and make a list of seven recipes, one for each day of the week, along with the grocery list that included many ingredients I didn’t have on hand. I also didn’t consider how long preparation for each recipe took, and I would often find myself faced with completed hour-long recipe 7pm. Ugh. I didn’t get really successful at following through with my meal plan until I change my strategy. Now when I am browsing recipes I have two questions in mind:
The answer has to be “yes” to at least one of those questions. Otherwise, that recipes won’t work on a weeknight. Additionally, when I getting ready to look at recipes I always start by focusing on what I have on hand. We might buy lentils on sale one week, so I browse my cookbook indexes, Evernote recipe notebook, and my brain for at least two recipes that use lentils. I might consider what vegetables we have lying around, or what vegetables are in season at the farmers market, and plan at least two meals around those. I always make at least one soup or stew, and that usually comes together with whatever beans I have on hand (I cook big batches of beans and freeze them) and then I sometimes pick a recipe that I haven’t tried before – just for fun. Also, I have learned to only plan five or six full meals in a week, since we have leftovers at least once, sometimes twice.
But all the recipes I use for weeknight meals must either be easy to make ahead of time (like soups, stews, polenta, chilis, and casseroles) or be prepared in 30 minutes or less (usually much less if I chop the veggies over the weekend)
Over time these methods have helped me develop a list of recipes that easily are a “yes!” to one of my questions, and that I can make without following instructions in a cookbook. Here are just a few that I make routinely:
- Carrot Ginger Soup
- Black Bean Chili
- Sloppy Joe Lentils
- Roasted potatoes and waffles (who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner!)
- Pizza (dough is made ahead of time)
- Garlic and Greens Pasta
- Stir-fry with tofu and noodles and whatever veggies we have on hand
When it comes time to sit down and decide what you are going to make for the week, start by seeing what you have, and then consider the questions that matter to YOU as you browse cookbooks. Are meals that take an hour to cook acceptable? Would you rather only make things that can be prepared ahead and reheated? Whatever your questions, make sure your criteria for a good weeknight recipe is clear as you browse cookbooks, Pinterest board, or your own memory! At first it will take a little longer, but within a couple weeks you’ll be able to put together the list pretty simply. Or, if you like to keep a record, check out this meal planning system from one of my favorite bloggers: Crappy Mama!