Two years ago (ish), I arrived home from work at almost 6:00, about 45 minutes later than planned. Instead of “Hi, honey, how was your day?” I walked in to “Where have you been? The kids are starving!”
“You are a 43 year old grown man; if the kids are hungry, feed them!”
“If you weren’t so damn picky about what everyone eats, I would have!”
After getting everyone fed (I think we had breakfast for dinner, an all-time favorite), I made three resolutions:
- As our clan’s official planner, I would tackle weekly menu planning in order to free myself from being the daily ad hoc dinner chef.
- The goal of said-planning would be a net gain of happiness for everyone – less fussing, more enjoyable time together. The associated requirement with this one being that the food on the menus would have to be things my peeps would eat without complaint.
- I would never again criticize my husband for making Hamburger Helper (or bowls of Cinnamon Life) for the children when I had to work late.
And so the weekly menu planning experiment began. My first attempt involved purchasing a dozen or so books with snappy titles like “The Rush Hour Cook,” and “Weekly Wonders.” I hated these books. I’m sure they create a world of joy for many, many working parents, but not for me. I surfed blogs. I priced subscriptions to local meal delivery but couldn’t ever close the deal. I can cook, dammit, and I will not surrender.
Here’s what I came up with:
- A generic set of weekly menus with broad entries like “tacos” and “flank steak” that provide direction even my husband can follow but also allow for day-to-day creativity
- A weekly shopping list to go with each menu plan
- A basic weekly food checklist for inventory management – if we have all of these things on hand, then anyone in the family (even the children) could prepare something to eat
Want to give it a try? Sure you do! First, a few disclaimers:
- I am not a trained chef, nutritionist or other food expert. I’m a mom who had 18 years of good home training followed by a few decades of self instruction.
- The plan is a framework, not a recipe book. I’ll provide notes on, for example, how we make tacos; but if your grandmother’s taco recipe won awards in El Paso, then kick it, sister. I bow to the master.
- It’s possible there are things that are so usual and customary for me that I’ll completely forget to include them on a list or set of notes. Like trail mix and granola, both of which were missing from the shopping list when I first posted them. Mea Culpa. I’m learning, and I’ll get better as time goes by.
Here is the plan for the week of January 7, 2013: 1-7-13 weekly menu planner.
And here is the accompanying grocery list – note that the basics are at the top with the items specific to this week at the bottom; you will not need all of the basics (top portion) for this week’s meals, but these things are always good to have on hand: 1-7-13 grocery list
And, for basic planning, in case you want to go rogue and start down your own planning path, here’s my generic weekly inventory checklist: Weekly Grocery Checklist
Give them a try, and let me know what you think. Notes, below, give my personal suggestions for preparing the dinners. Have more great ideas for improving family meals? Send them my way, and let me know if it’s okay to share them.
Happy eating, and happy new year.
NOTES FOR THE WEEK:
Tacos: We use ground turkey, which we season with salt, pepper, cumin, garlic, onion powder and mild chile powder (direct from New Mexico). We also sometimes cheat and use Ortega. Sometimes for variety we stop at the local barbeque shop and pick up a pound or two of pulled pork shoulder (no sauce) and use that instead. We serve tacos family style with all of the components on the table: warmed tortillas (corn and flour), meat, sour cream, shredded lettuce, chopped cilantro, limes, cheese, and chopped onion. My children detest tomatoes, so I stopped wasting them.
Pork tenderloin: My favorite weeknight preparation is either to grill it (season with salt/pepper, then grill over a medium hot fire, turning regularly, or to roast at 450 for about 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 and cook until done (I use a meat thermometer to check). I cook a double batch of rice (usually jasmine or Texmati) and save half for Thursday night’s meal. If I’m feeling super fancy, but still short on time, I might saute some apple slices in butter and serve them over the sliced pork.
Turkey burgers: I use toasted English muffins as buns; I chop some fresh parsley to toss into the couscous.
Chicken chili: There are plenty of good chicken chili recipes online (try Epicurious for starters). By Thursdays, however, I”m almost out of gas, so I go the super easy route: I simmer flash-frozen chicken tenderloins (no need to thaw first) in a jar of Herdez salsa verde and a quart of chicken stock; I add the can of beans when the chicken is cooked; at the end I stir in a bunch of cilantro, coarsely chopped; I serve over rice with sour cream and cheese on top (I sometimes add chopped avocado, if they look good) and warm tortillas. I’ve also been known to stir into the simmering chili a half a bag of frozen corn kernels.
Pizza: sometimes we make from scratch, sometimes we pop a frozen one in the oven, and sometimes we order out.
Flank steak: I typically coat with garlic/olive oil paste and bring to room temp about 30 minutes before putting on the grill; grill about 5-6 minutes per side, put on a plate and then tent until ready to slice and serve. I serve with chimichuri sauce (parsley, cilantro, mint, olive oil, garlic, kosher salt and a wee bit of vinegar, all whirled in the Cuisinart until smooth). If I make it to the farmer’s market to get some root vegetables, then I roast those. If not, then I roast a bag of Alexia potatoes (my favorite are the spicy sweet potato ones).
Leftovers go better with chocolate for dessert.