1) Find A Routine
I go to the store on Mondays after work. Over the weekend, I choose recipes for the week since I have extra time to poke around the internet and my cookbooks. It helps me to have this weekly routine, and it cuts down on trips to the store. Find a routine that works for you, and try to stick with it.
2) Choose Recipes Wisely
When it comes to choosing recipes, my rules of thumb are:
- Find Recipes You're Excited About: I'm more likely to stick to my plan if I find meals I'm excited to try. I browse food blogs (favorites are Serious Eats, The Kitchn, and Homesick Texan), food magazine archives (Food and Wine), and cookbooks (a favorite for weeknight meals is How to Cook Everything)
- Go for Variety: It's hard to know what you'll be hungry for in advance, so try for variety: vegetarian, meaty, pasta, soups, etc. Then during the week, you can swap around meals based on what you're in the mood for.
- Pay Attention to Cooking Time: I'm not overly ambitious during the week. I keep my lengthier recipes for weekends and pick simple recipes for Mondays, as I'm usually tired after my trip to the store. If there's a night where I won't have time to cook at all, I try to pick a recipe for earlier in the week that will provide leftovers for those busier nights.
3) Write Down the Plan
Ok, great! We have a plan, but now what? I use Google Calendar to keep track of what I'm going to cook each night. I make a calendar entry for each day, including the link to the recipe or what cookbook it's from. As an added bonus, this allows me to browse my calendar archives when I'm low on inspiration OR when I think "Oh man, what was that casserole I made last winter?"
If you're into crafty projects, I also love the idea of creating your own weekly menu board, like these cute and functional chalkboards. Anything that helps keep you inspired and organized (and makes your kitchen prettier) is a good thing.
4) Keep a Grocery List
(Notepad from Rifle Paper Co)
5) Keep Track of What You Have
Another useful trick is keeping stock of what you have hidden away in your refrigerator, pantry, or freezer. If you know you have a head of broccoli on its last legs or chicken breasts stashed in the freezer, it can help steer your plans. It also helps prevent forgotten foods from going bad. I try to keep an up-to-date list in my phone. Others use dry-erase boards or chalk boards in the kitchen, erasing items as they use them.
(Sliding Barn Door Pantry photo from The Kitchn)
6) Make a Default Grocery List
In case of emergency, I keep a "default grocery list". Because sometimes you just don't have time to search through recipes. For those weeks, you'll already have a grocery list to pick and choose from!
Brainstorm some of you favorite, minimum hassle recipes, and list them in a Word document, a note on your phone, a paper list in your purse, whatever works for you. For each recipe, I include the name, the source (link/cookbook), and the ingredient list.
If you're in need of ideas, here are some of my favorites:
Beef and Snow Peas from Pioneer Woman, 2. Ginger and Cilantro Baked Tilapia from Serious Eats, 3. Black Bean Sweet Potato Chili from Serious Eats, 4. Black Bean Sweet Potato Tacos from Joy the Baker, 5. Pinto Beans from Homesick Texan and cornbread, 6. Fish in Foil Packets from The Kitchn
Other simple ideas are rotisserie chickens served with frozen veggies and whatever grain or starch is in the pantry (couscous, wild rice, quinoa), tacos (plain ol' ground beef or breakfast tacos with scrambled eggs, jalapeno, cilantro, and cheese), or salad topped with some vegetables and stick-to-your-ribs proteins (hard-boiled egg, cheese, canned beans, nuts, canned tuna, etc).
7) Try To Be Flexible
I struggle with this the most, but try to stay flexible. Some nights I am so exhausted that I can't even think about lifting a wooden spoon to cook. Other nights we get unexpectedly invited to dinner with friends. Try to cut yourself some slack and enjoy those moments instead of clinging to your meal plan for dear life. After all, cooking is supposed to be fun! Life tends to be a moving target, and it's impossible to plan every single moment (try as I might).