The Art of Menu Planning for Two for the Week

Woman watching husband flipping stirfry in the kitchen
Paul Bradbury/OJO Images/Getty Images

With a lot of dishes planning a meal for two is easy. This Web site has dozens of recipes already scaled for two: Herb Broiled Trout, Milk-Braised Pork Chops, and Chicken Saltimbocca are all examples of main dishes for two. And it's easy enough to scale most side dishes for two. Again examples are Spanish Potatoes, and Glazed Carrots with Lemon and Mint.

But sometimes a recipe simply won't scale for two.

Even a small roast chicken feeds four (although Cornish hens are a good alternative and one hen serves two) and while making stew for two is possible it hardly seems worth the trouble. Fortunately, many dishes that are easier made in larger quantities are even better the second time around, like beef stew for instance, and really most soups and braises. In fact, if I'm planning on serving something like Beef Carbonade at a dinner party, I deliberately make it a day or two in advance so the flavors can meld after cooking.

For years, I've relied on leftovers when menu planning. On the weekends, when I have time to cook I like to fix something that I know will be made in a larger quantity such as tuna casserole or a roast chicken. But eating the same meal three or four days in a row gets old quickly. So, I spice it up by devoting time to planning multiple new side-dishes. Let's say I roast half a pork loin, on night one, I might serve garlic mashed potatoes and peas on the side; on night two, I reheat the roast (in the microwave) and accompany it with roasted cauliflower and a green salad; then on the third night, I finish the pork by adding it to a stir-fry and serve over rice.

Now that's three very different meals simpl changing sides but, aside from the night I fixed the roast, none takes more than 20 minutes to make. Note: leftovers will keep easily for five days in the fridge.

One last suggestion: take the time to plan - even quick meals. These days I work at home so time for cooking isn't a problem, I can spend three hours making a braise whenever I want to.

But when I was working 60-hour weeks at an office, planning in advance was essential. Because I typically went to the grocery on Saturday morning, I'd spend some time on Friday nights planning my week's menu and making a grocery list. Then when I hit the store in the morning, I could breeze right through. Then for the rest of the week, I didn't have to devote more than 20 to 30 minutes a day to dinner. It was great because that valuable time was just cooking time: no thinking and no shopping required.

Here's a typical 5-day menu:

Sunday:

Monday:

Tuesday:

Wednesday:

  • Stir-fry of leftover roast pork, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots served over leftover rice pilaf.

Thursday: