A working mom’s weekly meal plan needs to be organized, flexible and quick. We turned to food writer Raquel Pelzel, who has written about food and cooking for many years (her writing has appeared in Cook’s Illustrated, The Wall Street Journal, Saveur, and Fine Cooking), to find out how she manages her weekly meal plan. Even with that impressive resume, her approach to meal planning is refreshingly simple and combines what we’ve talked about several times already: a little organization, list-making and strategic grocery shopping.
Here’s How Raquel Organizes Her Weekly Meal Plan
Even though I work from home, I often find myself in the predicament that other working moms do--it's 5:00, what's for dinner?!? Thankfully I *mostly* plan out the meals over the weekend. I say mostly because people need to give themselves some flexibility to allow themselves to be creative or satisfy a craving. I don’t like planning meals out more than a few days ahead. Food goes bad, your cravings change. That said, if I see a great deal on a pork shoulder or boneless chicken thighs, I’ll buy them and freeze to use another time!
Thursday or Friday
Usually on Thursday or Friday night I'll give my fridge a once-over. The key here is to know what you’re doing with leftovers before you hit the store over the weekend to do the week's shopping. I like starting a week fresh with a beautiful canvass of fresh veggies and meat to choose from. Weekends are a perfect time for throwing together leftover chicken, beef, and veggies into a breakfast hash, pasta, an omelet, savory crêpe, quesadillas, enchiladas, breakfast burritos, and rice or noodle stir fries.
Over the Weekend
Planning the week: After I know what is going on with the remnants and leftovers from the week prior, I sit down to make a list. Instead of just writing down meats, veggies, etc., I actually think about what I want to eat. Am I craving fried chicken? Smothered pork chops? Green beans? I also consider what is happening this week--am I involved in events at night? Will my husband be home for dinner or at a screening (he runs the indie DVD and vinyl company Factory 25). Does my son have a dinner play date with a friend? These all influence what I’ll be making during the week.
I’ll sit down and sketch out the week:
Monday: broiled drumsticks/wild rice/brown buttered green beans with almonds.
Add to meal plan/shopping list:
- Chicken drumsticks; spices; aluminum foil; oil
- Wild rice; shallots; chicken broth; olive oil
- Green beans; kosher salt; butter; sliced almonds
I’ll keep the daily rundown on the left side of the shopping list and then expand on each dish on the right side. So for broiled drumsticks, I think about what I need. Do I have chicken in the freezer? Do I have a spice mix I want to use or am I making my own? Do I have wild rice? Etc. I'll do this for three or four days of the week. I’ll also include any pantry items I might need to make the meal—olive oil? More salt? Did I run out of flour? That kind of thing. You could rewrite the list into categories, like dairy at the top followed by produce, meat, dry goods. But I don’t bother—generally I just work off the list as I write it (above).
Raquel’s Meal Planning Tips
1. Use fresh produce and meat early in the week. Generally speaking, it’s smart to use up fragile vegetables early in the week and save the hardy veg for later since they keep better. So early on in the week I’ll plan on using my green beans and fresh spinach, while later in the week I’ll roast cauliflower and sweet potatoes.
Same goes for protein—everyone does meatless Mondays, but really you should save your meat-free meal for later in the week when you might not have optimally fresh protein in the fridge!
2. Keep it flexible. I’ll usually plan out three to four of the week’s meals this way. I save one to two meals for “inspired” creations—those times when I’m passing a farmer’s market and get romanced by a gorgeous head of broccoli or some pristine day-boat wild bass! I almost always hit some type of greenmarket or food store once mid-week. Maybe to replenish milk or mini bagels for the kids, or perhaps I’m just walking by a shop with an alluring display of spices or a gorgeous piece of meat and I’m tempted. This is when the 4th and 5th meals come into play. It’s the impromptu supper.
3. A good pantry meal. Sometimes the impromptu supper doesn’t happen. But instead of calling for takeout, I hit the pantry. Lentils are a standby in my pantry. With an onion, some cumin, and lentils, you have a hearty, delicious, cheap, and super healthy meal. You can add chicken or sausage, or nothing at all. Eat with toasted pita chips or a baguette, or toss with pasta and Parmigiano cheese. Super satisfying and tasty. Or ladle lentils over rice and make a quick raita with plain yogurt and chopped scallions. A squeeze of lime and pinch of salt and cumin and you have a wonderful meal.