Tips And Tricks For Menu Planning

I hate running errands. I try to go to the grocery store once a week, rather than several days after work. When I’m done with work, I just want to get home, put on some comfy clothes, pour myself a glass of wine and make dinner – preferably while chatting with Josh or catching up on some shows. To avoid multiple runs to the store, I try to come up with a menu for the week and do all my shopping at once.

Here’s a couple things I keep in mind when I’m putting together my weekly menu:

Menu planning tip #1: use ingredients you already have. Veggies & cheese could = a frittata. Tweet This

Use The Ingredients You Already Have

Have anything to use up? Are there some sad looking veggies in the crisper? Maybe a few odds and ends of cheese? How about making a frittata or pasta dish with them? Josh and I signed up for a CSA bin from New Roots this year and it’s been a good challenge for me. We get an email on the Friday or Saturday before the every-other-Wednesday delivery, letting us know what will be in our bin this week. We have the option of subbing items out as well as the option of adding in some staples, like garlic or ginger. Besides getting to cook with seasonal, organic, mostly-local produce (all really great things!), I have to be creative and consider how I’m going to incorporate them over two weeks.

Know Yourself (AKA Be Realistic)

How busy is your week? How many lunches/dinners will you be home to cook/need to cook? Are you really going to want to cook an elaborate meal on Friday night, after a long work week? Me, not so much. I might have grand plans to cook a big, fancy meal when I’m menu planning, but when it comes down to it, I’d waaaaaay rather have leftovers, go out to eat or order in. Save the big, fancy meal for when you have more time – maybe a weekend or a day off.

Back To Those Leftovers

Leftovers are one of the best parts of cooking. This might sound judgey, but I cringe and genuinely have no understanding when I hear people say they ‘just don’t eat leftovers’. What?! Why would you throw away perfectly good food that also saves you from having to cook later on?! I. Don’t. Get. It. **end of rant** Anyways, give yourself a cooking break and use those leftovers. You can either have two of the same meal over the course of a week or get creative with some of the remaining dishes. Pulled or shredded pork can double up in tacos one night and then bahn mi sandwiches later on. Cook a pot roast for a meal and get some French dip sandwiches or a hearty beef and vegetable soup out of it as well.

Have A Few Tried And True Go-To Recipes

I try to put a few new recipes in my weekly menu, but like to have some solid recipes to fall back on – recipes that don’t require much thought and you know they’ll turn out well every time. Pinterest is always a quick and easy resource, especially if I get to the store and need a little last minute inspiration. I also love Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen blog/cookbook and have found lots of great recipes there. Her Harvest Roast Chicken with Olives, Grapes and Rosemary is solidly in the go-to recipe pile.

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds (1 1/3 kg) chicken parts (thighs, drumsticks, and/or breasts), with skin and bones
  • table salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup (90 grams) seedless grapes
  • 1 cup (130 grams) pitted Kalamata olives
  • 2 small shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees with a rack in middle. Pat chicken dry, and season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat oil in an ovenproof 12-inch heavy skillet (use a cast-iron skillet if you’ve got one) over medium- high heat until it shimmers. Working in two batches, brown the chicken, skin side down first and turning them over once, about 5 minutes per batch. I like to take a lot of care in this step, not moving the chicken until the skin releases itself and has a nice bronze on it.
  2. Return the pieces to the pan, skin side up, and surround the pieces with grapes, olives, and shallots. Roast the chicken in the oven until it has just cooked through and the juices run clear, about 20 minutes. Transfer the chicken, grapes, and olives to a platter, then add wine and chicken broth to the pan juices in skillet. Bring liquid to a boil, scraping up any brown bits, until it has reduced by half, for 2 to 3 minutes. Strain sauce, if desired, then pour it over the chicken. Garnish with rosemary and see how long it takes guests to offer to slurp the sauce up with a spoon.

I recommend giving menu-planning a shot. What’s to lose, except a few extra trips to the store?! Share your menu planning tips in the comments.