Weekly Menu Planning

My food thing at the moment may seem overly controlled, but I am surprised to report that weekly menu planning not only frees me up (mentally!), but is also proving to be cost-effective. I really, really love not having that every day  oh-geez-look-at-the-time-what-can-I-throw-together-for-dinner panic.

In a nutshell, I jumped on board with a Real Simple magazine article that provided a month’s worth of 30-minute dinners. (I couldn’t find a link to the exact article, but many of the same recipes are featured here at the month of 400-calorie meals article.)

From there, I began instituting a weekly menu planning session with Bella (and a tiny bit with Chad) early on in the week. It’s critical to get the whole week planned out in advance, so that I can have my shopping list ready to go BEFORE I go shopping. Sounds obvious, but since grocery shopping for the upcoming week can start by Thursday (we hit Trader Joe’s, Ralph’s, and the farmers’ market once a week; and Costco every second week) I need to start menu planning by Monday so that it’s done by Wednesday.

This is my sophisticated process: I scribble the days of the week on the back of an envelope. We all fill in the menu at dinner over the course of a couple of nights. I write the ingredients I need on the front of the envelope and carry this list with me all week. Then the list gets plunked on the front of the fridge with a magnet. We follow these parameters:

Monday – Soup and bread

Tuesday – Chicken

Wednesday – Beans

Thursday – Wild Card (ha! usually we go “wild” by making grass-fed hamburgers…)

Friday – Fish

Right now, my favorite resources are the following:

30-Minute Suppers from Cook’s Illustrated (Fall 2010) – (btw, there is a free iphone app for Cook’s Illustrated that lets you access 100 of their best recipes) This issue has proved to be well-worth the $8 I spent buying it off the newstand at Costco. We’ve tried 7 of the 62 recipes and loved every one – in fact, we determined as a family that we should eventually try all 62 recipes.

“Dinner for a Month” Real Simple magazine article (Oct 2009)

and from the library…

The Best of America’s Test Kitchen 2009

The America’s Test Kitchen Healthy family Cookbook

This week’s menu looks like this:

Monday – Corn Chowder and homemade olive bread

Tuesday -  Quick Moroccan Chicken with Green Olives (p 6 of 30-Min Dinners)

Wednesday – Chili and Cornbread (actually, the chili recipe is from the current issue of Cook’s – but instead of buying the whole issue, I just skimmed the article and then took a picture of the ingredients…)

Thursday – Saag Paneer (don’t normally buy cow’s milk, but the recipe in the Best of…2009 looked so delicious)

Friday – Orange-Tarragon Trout with Smoky Green Beans (p. 39 in 30-Min Dinners)

The irony is that after months of following a weekly menu plan, the week I decide to post about it, my planning goes awry. (I think because we were in holiday mode for MLK, Jr.)

Last night we made nachos and guacamole – no bread, no soup.

Sunday night I made a delicious pad thai by using the recipe at the Loving Rice blog (I know the blogger from Bangkok).

And tonight, besides making last night’s soup, I going to make Linguini with Walnut-Sage Pesto – simply because a friend texted me the recipe and I happen to have all the ingredients on hand. I’m going to omit the cheese though, because we’re all being calorie-conscious here. We’ll have the Moroccan chicken next week.

Makes: 5 servings
Prep time: 15minutes
Cook Time: 11 minutes

1/3 cup walnuts
1 9-ounce package fresh linguine (6 ounce dried)
1 packed tablespoon fresh whole sage leaves
1 large garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus additional to taste
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 Tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet & toast until lightly golden & fragrant, about 8 minutes. Let cool.
2. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook the linguine according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water.
3. Combine the parsley, sage, garlic, & salt, black pepper & walnuts in a blender; pulse until finely chopped. Drizzle in the olive oil & blend well. Add 3 Tablespoons of the parmesan; pulse quickly to combine.
4. Transfer the pesto to a serving bowl & add 1/3 cup cooking water. Add linguine & toss to combine, adding remaining pasta water as necessary. Top with remaining cheese & additional black pepper to taste.

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