It’s January and people are trying to clean up their food act after the holidays, so bloggers have naturally started posting ideas for making weekly menu plans. I have tried and failed for years to either create or stick to menu plans. Many people swear by them and insist they are the key to maintaining a healthy home. Why don’t they work for everyone?
The obstacles I run into are:
- Something other than what’s on the plan appeals to me at the store, and I want to cook with that.
- An unexpected dinner out or change of plans one night throws off the schedule.
- I end up with enough leftovers from one night to craft into something good the next, so I toss the plan for that evening.
- I forgot ingredients I needed and don’t feel like going shopping again.
- My daughter comes home from school and feels motivated to cook, and her agenda doesn’t match the plan.
- The kids are craving Middle Eastern, sushi, or some other special food from a favorite local restaurant and want me to carry in.
Do these things get in your way, too? I’ve been a home cook for close to twenty years, I’ve been pretty successful at keeping the fare healthy and fresh, and at this point it’s just time to stop beating myself up for being unregimented. Instead of an ironclad menu plan, here are a few things that help me keep my weeknight cooking simple and healthy.
First, keeping a wide variety of fresh produce in the fridge at all times. Although I hate wasting food, I would rather throw out a couple things than not have them when I’m feeling creative in my kitchen. Some people like to shop every day. I just don’t, so I go about twice weekly and buy tons of produce, most of which I end up using up. Whatever looks a little sad by week’s end generally ends up in a big pot of vegetable soup—one of the best low-calorie, high-nutrient foods to keep on hand for snacks, lunches, and first courses.
I also keep lots of fresh fruit in the fridge, and I always have lemons and limes on hand, both of which enhance so many dishes.
Frozen food gets a bad rap, but did you know that in many cases it retains more nutrients than fresh? Frozen veggies are flash-frozen soon after picking, so their vitamins are locked in. Many “fresh” veggies found at the store were picked weeks ago and sat on a truck, then sat on the shelf at the grocer’s, their nutritional quality diminished by exposure to light and air. Thus, I always keep a selection of frozen produce on hand.
A pantry well stocked with dry goods is another important tool. There should always be a good selection of whole grains, canned tomatoes and beans, dried and canned legumes, good oils and vinegars, and soy sauce. You know what you like, just make sure to have enough stock in your pantry so you don’t get stuck without a necessary ingredient when feeling creative.
Finally, I purchase fish on the day I’m going to use it, and chicken and meat on the day of or day before. For health and convenience reasons, I rely on many nights on plant protein—tofu, legumes, and beans.
I’m constantly reading recipes online and in magazines, and I just think it’s fun to free associate and cook whatever I want that day. I don’t like having a strict plan—it makes the whole thing feel too much like work, and then leads to a guilt-trip when life gets messy and I can’t follow the schedule. If you’ve tried and failed to stick to menu plans, consider that maybe they’re not for you either, and try a well-stocked fridge and pantry as a more creative, liberating approach.