Among the requests/questions I get, this is probably the most common, “how do you decide what to cook every night?”
Maybe you’re a foodie - you love food, love to try new things, love to learn new techniques. Maybe you’re a decent home cook and have your regular repertoire. Maybe you dislike cooking but realize that it’s healthier to cook at home versus getting daily takeout meals.
To all of you I say, let’s do some meal planning, shall we?
Step One is to set a regular weekly schedule for you and your family. Talk to your partner and kids and make decisions that you can all live with, then make a plan (simple example below, NOT our meal plan).
In our house - Monday is “a hunk of meat” night. We usually go to a potluck and we always bring MEAT. So whether it’s tri-tip, brisket, ribs, or kalbi, as long as it’s cooked and ready-to-eat, we’re good to go.
Tuesday is usually MY night - so I make rice, some protein, and some leafy green veggies. My go-tos are quick Chinese entrees, though sometimes I go crazy and make beef pot pie (which takes 2 whole hours). Whatever it is, I know it’s my night to shine. 🙂
Wednesday is “grill night” and my husband grills steaks, pork chops, chicken thighs, burgers, or sausages. Again, paired with a starch & veggie. We do mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes. In the summer, corn is fantastic on the grill. Or sometimes we warm up some tortillas and make impromptu tacos.
Thursday we affectionately call “leftover night” and that’s exactly what it is - we eat the leftovers. BUT, to spice things up, I try to make something new with leftovers. So, leftover pork chops + rice turns into fried rice; or leftover chicken turns into chicken quesadillas. If there is nothing to “invent,” then I try to throw in one new item - maybe some tempura shrimp (see below) just to change it up.
Friday is “kids night” - they usually get to pick what they want (out of what we have in the freezer). Top choices are: make your own pizza (I buy frozen pizza and they add extra toppings); raviolis and sausage, chicken nuggets (frozen) + tater tots (frozen) + broccoli.
Saturday night used to be our standard takeout night, but with food prices continuing its steep incline, we’ve decided to take a step back. Nowadays, I use Saturdays as my “experiment night” - it’s the night I try out something new. Sometimes I try out a new recipe, other times I do a combination: buy Korean fried chicken, then make a salad to supplement. Or I make a mishmash of stuff: duck legs for the grownups and chicken nuggets for the kids, paired with air fried potatoes.
No matter you food/dinner strategy, in general, I’ve found that it’s always nice to have a few staples on hand:
Rice - we cook rice on Tuesdays and eat it for at least 2 meals
Tortillas - turn any meat into tacos or quesadillas
Precooked sausages: great to throw into a fried rice, or a mash or stew
Frozen/easy to reheat starches like frozen green onion pancake, or frozen tamales
Potatoes - I pre-boil these and they’re ready to be baked/roasted/mashed/air-fried
For veggies, I always always have these in my fridge:
Broccoli florets - steam and eat
Carrots - can chop and throw into soups, or dice and throw into rice; OR carrot sticks with hummus
*some* leafy greens that I know my kids will eat: bok choy, kale - easy to saute or throw into soups/ramen
Onions/garlic - good for all kinds of stuff
In my freezer, I keep the following on-hand for quick, easy meals:
Dumplings: my favorite is pork & chives but there are about 30+ flavors at your favorite Asian market
Frozen green onion pancakes or Indian naan
Frozen raviolis or tortellini
Frozen pizza - for make your own pizza night
And finally, enlist the whole family to help! Maybe your husband loves to make pizza; or your kids love to make burgers! I’m teaching my oldest son to make pasta (boil water, throw in pasta, stir, strain) and that’s something he enjoys doing. My husband is great with the grill and he makes a mean burger. And if you have time, why not cook together as a family? It’ll teach your children valuable life skills, and maybe eventually they can take over the cooking for you!
And and and…… for those of you who DREAD cooking. Please don’t suffer! There are a million meal kits + meal delivery services out there. My favorite “cheat option” though? Costco! Between the $5 rotisserie chicken (roast some potatoes and green beans and you got dinner!) and the myriad of meat options (just heat and serve), dinner can be easy as…. Microwaving. Our favorites are (in the freezer section):
In the refrigerated section:
Curry Pulled pork
Beef short ribs
These items are super easy, heat & serve. Throw in some veggies or make a salad, plus whatever rice, potatoes or pasta you have on hand and voila!
What’s your favorite “dinner hack”? What's your meal planning strategy? Share it in the comments!