Planning a menu for the week helps me keep my shopping and cooking on track, and also helps me meet my goal to have a home-cooked, healthy meal most nights. By planning ahead, I can also ensure that I’ve got prepared ingredients and leftovers to make cooking easier as the week gets more hectic. I’ve experimented a lot with different menus and dishes, and at least for weeknight cooking, I keep coming back to the same roster of dishes. They cook easily using ingredients I can easily find, but they can be changed up each week for variety.
Here is my basic menu for a week’s worth of cooking, developed with these principles in mind. I do try to remain flexible to take advantage of special occasions, requests from family members or the availability of a seasonal ingredient.
Sunday: baked casserole or hearty soup served with a big salad. Because my Sundays are usually open, this is a good day to do a lot of prep work and make things easier for weeknight cooking. A family dinner calls for hearty comfort food that results in leftovers for lunch or dinner. Macaroni and cheese, baked ziti, chili, ratatouille, potato soup–there are endless possibilities. If I get started early enough, I can even break out the slow cooker. To accompany it, I make a salad using seasonal ingredients, including a salad dressing of the week that I can repurpose for lunches. This gives me the opportunity to prep all the vegetables from my weekly shopping trip.
Monday: sauteed or roasted boneless chicken breasts, potatoes and vegetable. This is a hearty meal that is also quick to prepare. I can vary it with different quick sauces or by adding some cheese or prosciutto, and there are about a million ways to make potatoes. For the vegetable, I stick to what’s in season and look for simple preparation methods. All leftovers can be repurposed for other dishes as the week goes on.
Tuesday: pasta with tomato sauce or broccoli, or stir-fried noodles. All of these pasta dishes are quick to prepare and kid-friendly. This meal can easily be made vegetarian, or adapted depending on what is in the fridge and pantry.
Wednesday: tacos or wraps. This is the perfect night to use up any leftover vegetables or cooked meat, but if no leftovers are available, I can quickly whip up beans or ground meat for a taco filling. Leftover salad and sauces can often be repurposed as toppings.
Thursday: frittata. By this point in the week, the cupboard is getting a little bare, but we always have eggs. Any bits of meat or vegetables remaining can be quickly cooked for the frittata filling, while shredded cheese from the tacos goes on top. Leftovers make a good breakfast or lunch for the weekend. If we don’t feel like frittata, scrambled eggs and bacon or baked eggs are a great substitute.
Friday and Saturday: pizza, sandwiches, grill or special requests. If we don’t go out to dinner, the weekend is a good time to make something fun that everyone enjoys.
Sunday breakfast: I usually try to make a hearty breakfast on Sundays of bacon and eggs, bagels or some other baked treat.
Shopping list: Keeping the pantry stocked is the key to cooking at home. If you open the fridge and see nothing tasty there, you’ll be tempted to order out. Here’s a standard list of ingredients to keep on hand to make an entire week’s worth of meals:
- Produce: fresh fruit for snacking and breakfast; salad greens and vegetables; seasonal vegetable; broccoli; potatoes or sweet potatoes; onions; garlic
- Meat: boneless chicken breasts; bacon, ground meat and sausage for the freezer; other meat that you like for stir-fries or grilling
- Eggs: I buy cartons of 18 to make sure I always have enough eggs on hand for a quick meal
- Dairy: yogurt for snacking and breakfast; one or two kinds of cheese; butter
- Bread: small, soft flour tortillas; breakfast breads; sandwich rolls and pizza dough for the freezer
- Pantry: various dried pastas; canned beans and tomatoes; tomato puree; chicken stock; olive oil and vinegar; salsas, sauces and condiments that you enjoy (or make your own); nuts and dried fruit