The other week at a girls’ night, a friend asked an innocuous question: Do you still menu plan? The answer was yes, but…
In my explanation, I realized I still planned a weekly menu, meaning I selected a handful of recipes, scribbled them on a scrap piece of paper and made sure I had the groceries to make them. But I had fallen away from a more intentional pattern I used to practice with consistency. That menu planning assigned a specific meal to a specific day. It also had at least 4 – 5 planned “other” items. My other items are either specifically helpful with breakfast or packed lunches (i.e. getting four people out the door going in four different directions), or grab-and-go items that make life smoother when running to soccer practice, needing a small snack to hold us over because catching the sunset is a must, or bites to stuff in a backpack so we can otherwise spend more quality time outside. It may seem inconsequential, but that routine also includes a nicely printed menu hung on the refrigerator, so everyone in the family knows what’s coming up.
When I got home from that girls’ night, I decided to return to my old pattern to see if the additional structure was worth it. Indeed it was! We had homemade dinner as a family every single night that week, and I could tell any after work stress was alleviated simply by not having a choice to make. Assigning a meal to a day also meant I could do prep the evening before, knowing I’d use it the next day. And the legibly written menu on the side of the fridge gave me a small sense of affirmation when I walked by. Feeding people I care about is something I value highly, and feeling prepared for the full week is a worthy accomplishment for me.
I LOVE getting a sense of how dinner time works in other families, and thought perhaps you’d feel the same. Listed below is the exact menu we followed for a week (in this case, Saturday – Friday, with a few other notes you may find helpful). You’ll note some of the recipes are mine, and some come from other sources I’ve linked to. I tend to adapt the majority of recipes I use, so I’ve commented on that where applicable. Also, as I mentioned in a recent post, we are mostly vegetarian eaters, with meat once or twice a week. Both kids (ages 2 and just-turned 11) ate exactly what was on the menu, but sometimes deconstructed, also explained below.
Saturday: Roasted Vegetable Enchiladas – This recipe is one I found on Pinterest, and have used many times over the years. It comes from food blogger Perry’s Plate, and is one of the few recipes I don’t make a ton of adaptations to. I use less salsa than she calls for (mine seems to edge towards soggy when I use too much), and always top with scallions, avocado and plain greek yogurt mixed with a little lime juice, garlic and sea salt. In our family of four, there’s always at least enough extra for someone to have lunch the next day. Chips and salsa are a nice, Saturday-night worthy starter.
Sunday: Winter Minestrone Soup + Beet and Orange Salad – The soup comes from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Foolproof cookbook. I ended up adding more herbs, salt and pepper than she called for, but otherwise stuck to the recipe. I felt like this one got better with age – it made a large pot, so we had a few lunches throughout the week. It tasted more flavorful then.
The salad idea came from Sprouted Kitchen‘s excellent Bowl + Spoon cookbook. I adapted it so much that I’ll probably post my version here in the coming weeks. Her idea for the poppyseed dressing that went with was excellent. This is a good example of deconstructing for the kids – they both had spinach, beets, oranges and pecans, but in separate little piles and without dressing. Works for me!
Monday: Mango Coconut Curry with Chicken – I just posted this recipe, which is adapted from Shauna Niequist’s Bread & Wine, a couple of weeks ago. It is so, so good. To be able to honestly say my kids really liked a curry dish is pretty big in this house! One kiddo opted to have their brown rice on the side. Also, I hid the leftovers to ensure I’d get them for lunch the next day, because it’s so delicious. (Sorry, Kyle!) Several friends and family members have already made this one and agree: winner!
Tuesday: Sandwiches, veggies, fruit, boiled eggs, yogurt or leftovers – I intentionally put at least one meal like this on the list each week. This particular night is designed to be easy and kind of brainless. Cut up carrots, cucumber and peppers. Slice some kiwi and toss with blueberries. Boil eggs while you throw together PB&J on homemade wheat bread. Let’s eat and spend time together! I wouldn’t want to eat like this every night, but the kids always love this night, and we all enjoy a break from copious time spent stirring over the stove or scrubbing over the sink.
Wednesday: The Hippie Tofu Salad – This is another recipe idea courtesy of Sprouted Kitchen and her newest cookbook. I followed her instructions for tofu marinated in tamari, chile paste, sesame oil and apple cider vinegar. She called for millet, but I used both quinoa and farro instead. This bowl has shaved carrot ribbons, sautéed kale and garlic, slices of avocado and a delicious tahini citrus miso dressing (I was out of tahini and used cashew butter instead, which worked great!). This is the kind of meal that always makes me feel fantastic after I eat it.
Thursday: Chicken Thighs with Braised Leeks – This recipe is from the cookbook, Dinner: A Love Story. Are you familiar with Jenny Rosenstrach? If not, head to her blog, Dinner: A Love Story, or pick up her book of the same name. For those of us in the years of family dinners, feeding kids variety and making a point to have everyone at the table eating (pretty much) the same thing, she’s a wonderful resource. Her cookbook reads like a kitchen memoir with recipes throughout. She makes me laugh and nod my head and inspires me. She has a lot more meat in her repertoire than I do, but there are some good vegetarian recipes, and these chicken thighs with braised leeks were a huge hit. The only complaint from my crew was that I didn’t make more. (Locals – the meat came from Creswick Farms, as ours usually does, if you’re looking for a local source!) I served a simple green salad on the side and a plate of fruit.
Friday: Pizza night! We don’t always do pizza on Fridays, but when I plan ahead to make homemade dough and sauce, it’s so easy to preheat the oven, slice up toppings and grate some cheese. Not surprisingly this is a family favorite, and I love how we can all easily get involved with making dinner. During the 10 minutes pizzas are baking, there’s plenty of time to put together a pitcher of green smoothie. Kiddo favorites include the kale-ginger smoothie and the tropical green smoothie.
I mentioned my “other” category for breakfasts and grab-and-go items. I also put lunch add-ons and snacks in this category. This week included:
Life Changing Loaf – courtesy of My New Roots
Walnut-Fig Bars – also My New Roots, from her debut cookbook // Side note – if you have a Starbucks account, the Starbucks app and an iPhone, hop over to the app to download My New Roots’ new app for free (typically $4.99)!
Chopped Kale Salad – one of the first recipes I posted on this site, and still a favorite!
Vegan Crispy Cacao Bites – The last recipe I posted. My people eat these up quickly, so I’m due to make another batch.
Lentil Tapenade – The final recipe of the week from Sprouted Kitchen’s Bowl + Spoon. I love the inspiration her simple, wholesome recipes bring.
There you have it! A week in my kitchen. I work full-time outside of the home, so I do a decent amount of prep on the weekend, or in the evening after kiddo bedtimes. (For example, I might throw the Vegan Crispy Cacao Bites together while Kyle is cleaning up the kitchen, or clean and chop the leeks so they’re ready to go for the next night’s dinner.) I also really, really love cooking; I sometimes describe my time in the kitchen as a form of therapy. Whether that rings true for you, or doesn’t sound like your idea of a good time at all, I hope you’ve found at least a couple of ideas or recipes within this post that you try. There is something universally satisfying at making what you eat, and enjoying it with the people you hold dear.
Don’t mind the unattractive peach-hued tiles on my island, or the old stove in the middle of it. I may not love the aesthetics of my kitchen, but that certainly doesn’t stop me from a hefty amount of cooking within this space!