Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Three weeks of meal plans in detail

In the comments last week someone was curious about what the week to week looks like with meal planning in the new(ish) system, so I'll recap what I've done the last three weeks. I usually do the meals in the order listed but the days vary and I'll adjust if necessary. I didn't keep track of what days each of these meals were cooked, so I'm working from memory.

meal prep
{week 1 - meal prep - sorry, the planning page was long gone by the time i started this post}

Week 1: Basically starting from scratch because our fridge was bare.
Salad (Monday): Chinese chicken salad with red chile peanut dressing
Meat/lentils/pasta (Tuesday): Soba noodles with sesame-ginger-soy vinaigrette
Easy meal (Thursday): Bean burritos

Planning thoughts: I'd been having major cravings for Take a Bao's side salad, which is their Chinese chicken salad without the chicken. I was torn on whether to go with baked tofu or chicken for the salad protein, but D offered to pick up a rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods on his way home. And then the noodles just sounded good. I'm currently searching for a great soba noodle recipe.

Advance prep: Washed and chopped all vegetables for the Chinese chicken salad and the soba noodles. Set aside in separate containers, labelled. Made dressings for the salad and the noodles, labelled (I store the dressing directly in the containers that come with the blender because they have lids and it means fewer dishes, but obvs it would also work in jars).

Recipe thoughts: The salad was pretty good but not what I was looking for. I may have sliced the cabbage a little too thin and the dressing wasn't exactly what I wanted. Clearly, this means I need to go back and taste test the T.A.B salad several times (strictly for recipe development). The soba noodles were good as well, and might end up on our regular rotation. I think I was more into them than D was, but that's pretty standard with noodles of most varieties.

week 2
{week 2}

Week 2: Random ingredients from the week before - sour cream, cheese, cilantro, tortillas
Salad (Monday): Farro with roasted veg and fontina (doubled the recipe)
Meat/lentils/pasta (Tuesday): Coconut curried red lentils (+ roasted cauliflower and naan from TJs)
Easy meal (Thursday): Frittata with roasted cauliflower, orange bell peppers and fontina

Planning thoughts: I decided our burrito fixings would hold up for another week, although we did have breakfast burritos a few times so that was helping make a dent. I wanted to test out this farro salad and D requested the red lentils, which was perfect because we could use up the leftover cilantro. I figured we'd have leftover vegetables from something, so I decided on a frittata for our end of the week easy meal. The orange bell pepper was a spontaneous addition, because they were on sale.

Advance prep: Minimal this week. I could have chopped all the vegetables in advance but I didn't have much time on Sunday and I had Monday off that week so saving time wasn't a big issue. I roasted twice as much cauliflower as we needed on Tuesday so that I could chop up half and use it in the frittata later in the week, so it was a really quick Friday night meal. I used up the rest of the fontina in the frittata as well.

Recipe thoughts: The farro salad was so good that we were tempted to make it again the next week. I think I'm going to play with it a little and then share my modifications here soon. I'd never made a frittata with roasted cauliflower before but we loved it and will probably do it again.

week 3
{week 3}

Week 3: Random ingredients - orange bell pepper, sour cream, tortillas
Salad (Monday): Orzo with feta and bell peppers
Meat/lentils/pasta (Thursday): Turkey burgers with romaine slaw (+ side salad)
Easy meal (Tuesday): Roasted vegetable quesadillas (based on Moosewood Cookbook recipe)

Planning thoughts: We wanted to use up the last of the burrito ingredients and also the random bell pepper I had leftover from the previous week when they were on sale.

Advance prep: Sunday evening I chopped everything for the orzo salad and made the dressing. I also chopped and then roasted the vegetables for the quesadillas. On Monday all I had to do was boil the orzo, toss it with the veg, the feta and the dressing. The quesadillas were also a 15 minute meal because I had the vegetables waiting. The turkey burgers I made the day of because I never buy meat ahead of time, just in case something comes up and we don't get around to using it.

I also randomly ended up making butternut squash soup that week, because they were on a good sale and I haven't made it all winter. We ate it for lunches and also as a side with the quesadillas and it was a good addition.

Recipe thoughts: The orzo salad is one of our standbys and it was reliably good. I really enjoy those turkey burgers and they're a quick weeknight meal. I always use the mini brioche buns from Whole Foods if we're doing burgers, because they're the best. I've never posted about the roasted vegetable quesadilla recipe because I don't make it often, but it's always in the back of my mind. It's the perfect winter quesadilla.

It drives me a little crazy that this round up is three weeks instead of a nice even four, but we had some big family medical appointments scheduled this week and I knew I'd be tired and unmotivated to cook so I just ditched meal planning altogether and baked a giant side of fish, steamed a pot of broccoli and made some rice on Tuesday and we're going to eat that Tuesday - Friday. After years of experience, I can tell you this - knowing yourself is the best way to succeed at meal planning. If I try to convince myself that I can suck it up and just make dinner even when I know I won't want to, I will fail and order take out and feel guilty about the wasted groceries I bought. I mean, sure, set reasonable expectations for yourself or you'll never "feel" like cooking. But also be realistic and reduce your cooking schedule if that's what it takes for you to manage. 


  1. The last few sentences of this post are dead on, and the exact reminder I needed to hear. I would much rather be realistic than get overambitious and try to use up everything before it spoiled.

    1. Wasting food drives me totally crazy! I'd rather set the bar low and not have to throw anything out.

  2. the idea of prepping food on sunday is intriguing. i plan meals, but my approach is to make a big soup early in the week that i can have for dinner that night and lunch throughout the week, and then plan another meal or two to make after work. we do order out more than i'd like, and i also feel like i want to do more adventurous cooking, so perhaps advance prepping can help me do that. it's also hard to meal plan more than 2-3 meals a week for us because our plans fluctuate so much.

    1. Sounds similar to what we do, if you sub a salad for the soup! Advance prep wasn't such a big deal to me previously, but with a longer commute it matters more. Our plans tend to fluctuate a lot as well (although less now that we have a dog and have to do some advance planning!) so I always keep the planning loose and make sure we can move things around as necessary.

  3. Have you tried Orangette's soba noodle salad? It's my favourite - the peanut dressing is amazing and it holds up so well in the fridge. I almost like it more for lunch the next day! The turkey burgers look so good. Love hearing about what other people have on their dinner rotations.

    1. I haven't but I am printing it out right now! Thank you!

  4. That Farro salad looks yum.

    I made this prawn, mango and soba noodle recipe the other week and it's now my favourite meal. Mango and prawns are SO good together.

  5. I do more-or-less the same thing as you (and am totally inspired by the more extensive prep you put in on Sunday). The thing about knowing yourself is key; once I accepted that (a) pickles and cheese make an acceptable meal when I'm husband-less and (b) I will never make an elaborate meal on Friday nights, everything became a lot easier and I started wasting so much less food.

  6. This post was so helpful, Rachel! I'm giving up going out to eat completely for Lent but I am SO terrible at meal planning. If you feel moved to keep posting about this please do!! :)

  7. really good advice! know thyself. that is really the key. i know that i need at least one restaurant dinner a week or i get discouraged/burnt out. my meal planning could definitely be more structured. right now, i just pick a meat, roast a veggie, and bake some sweet potatoes, and that's about what every meal looks like. it's working for now, but i do have some wasted food from time to time. luckily, i never have to worry about shopping for meat anymore since we have beef and lamb stocked in our garage freezer. if we could get a pig, i'd only need to grocery shop for veggies and fish, and that would be amazing. i give you props for cooking even after a long day of work!

  8. Hi, Rachel! Just curious... can you elaborate on how much of your meal planning includes lunches vs. dinners? Do you typically eat leftovers for lunch when possible? Thanks!

    1. Sure! I plan for about 16 servings of food per week, and that is covered by the three meals. That gives us enough for dinner every night (5x2=10) + 6 lunches of leftovers, which seems to work out best for us (discovered by trial and error). D eats lunch out at least twice a week, so he only needs 2 or 3 lunches to take. I always pack a lunch, so I usually have leftovers a couple times a week (whenever they're available, basically) and salad or soup the other times. I keep soup from TJs in my office and I usually make a giant green salad and bring a portion to work each day. If the salad is my entire lunch, I fill it out with 1/2 cup of beans + an ounce of cheese + lots of veg to make sure it's filling enough.

      If we both took leftovers to work every day for lunch, then I'd up our servings to 20 per week and probably cook a fourth meal (although you could totally do this on three meals, just by doubling a recipe).

      And of course, this only includes the week nights. I like to leave the weekends pretty flexible because I never know what we'll be doing and we're often not home. For meals we eat in on the weekends we usually end up doing eggs or quick quesadillas or something similar.


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