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January Challenge Part II: Menu Planning

CDKitchen Cooking Columnist Amy Powell
About the author: Amy Powell
World traveler; gourmet 30 minute meals; lover of exotic ingredients; winner on FoodTV's Chefs vs City; graduate French Culinary Institute. Her recipes will tantalize your taste buds.
Now that you have committed to eating out less and cooking more at home, whether through your own New Year’s resolution or in taking up the challenge outlined in last week’s column, it is time to follow through on that promise. As much as eating at home for the majority of the week sounds like a simple task, when you take out the frozen food and the prospect of ordering in, the task of cooking that many days a week can seem a daunting prospect.

There is no better way to deal with a potentially overwhelming task than with some advanced organization. Enter the frequent home cook’s secret weapon: meal planning.

For my mother, who is a mother of four, meal planning was part of the weekend ritual. It started with her plotting the meals for at least six days, allowing one day of the week for leftovers. From the meal plan, a grocery list was devised. From the grocery list, hopefully only one Sunday trip to the market would be called for. Then everything would then be set for a week’s worth of cooking.

Just because one is doing weekly meal planning does not mean you should aspire to have an entirely unique menu for each and every week. The stress of creating all new menus, plus the stress of then cooking something you have never cooked before, is not something that you have to put yourself through. Following these couple of ideas, menu planning will not be nearly as tedious as you might've thought.

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1. Ingredients with Multiple Uses: There are a multitude of cookbooks or TV shows out there suggesting short cuts to getting dinner on the table. Most of the suggestions involving partially pre-cooked food are not the best advice in this writer’s opinion. Once piece of advice is worth taking: cooking one meal that can be reused in another later in the week. For example, the night you plan to make grilled chicken, grill a couple of extra breasts while you are at it. A couple of days later shred that extra chicken and use it to stuff enchiladas.

2. Staple Dishes: Especially if you have picky eaters, knowing that there are a few staple dishes that your kids will eat every time is a good thing to know. This does not mean that just because your kids like chicken fingers and quesadillas that those two items appear on every weekly menu. But at least one failsafe dish each week is not a bad idea. Once you know those dishes, just make sure to rotate them so that each dish makes an appearance about once a month.

3. Breakfast for Dinner: It may seem silly, but the ultimate failsafe might just be making breakfast for dinner. No wonder some restaurants offer breakfast all day! Whether that breakfast is omelets, chicken sausage hash, or waffles, there is little doubt your family will eat it up. Sneaky tricks with that breakfast-for-dinner, like adding cottage cheese to pancakes, makes them higher in protein and lower in carbs than your normal breakfast carb-fest. Now if you really want a well rounded meal, trying pairing a fruit smoothie or virgin Bloody Mary with those pancakes to sneak in a couple of fruit or vegetable servings while you are at it.

Making dinner nightly can be challenge enough, let alone making dinner nightly week after week. A routine and some simple advanced planning, not to mention the playful prospect of pancakes for dinner, can make the process smoother, simpler, and whole lot more fun. Having fun while cooking dinner? Now that’s a challenge worth taking.


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