How to Plan a Weekly Menu You’ll Stick to

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Between restaurant closures and long stretches of remote work and school, many of us are cooking and eating more meals at home these days, whether we like it or not. But thanks to our busy schedules (and perhaps our exhaustion!), it can be hard to keep cooking from being a chore – and not giving it up altogether for takeout.

For help, we reached out to three food professionals for their advice. Here are their suggestions for creating successful meal plans — which will hopefully be less of a chore, too.

Identify your obstacle

The challenges of planning a menu will be different depending on the person or family, says Laura Keogh, co-creator of Sweet Potato Chronicles and co-author of How to feed a family and The School Year Survival Cookbook. “Some people are really good at organizing but terrible at keeping up, while others are overwhelmed with the process,” she said via email. “If you are honest with yourself about the barrier that prevents you from formulating a plan, then you can overcome the obstacle.”

If you find cooking overwhelming, Keogh suggests sharing some of the burden. In other words, “Bring other people on board to help create the plan and purchases.” She also recommends preparing meals ahead of time, even right after weekend races, rather than later in the week when you find you have less time or stamina.

Of course, there’s a common obstacle for many of us, regardless of our situation: feeling too busy to cook. All the more reason to stick to simple, easy recipes, says a food writer and cookbook author Nik Sharma. Even he’s doing what he can to simplify these days, like relying more on condiments to do heavy lifting. “It’s just a small thing,” he said. “You just added, like, a spoonful of, say, [chili crisp] or… a pickle or something, and tossing it in noodles or rice — that changes everything. »

“If people don’t really like to cook, go for recipes that have large portions so you can just refrigerate leftovers and enjoy them the next day or later in the week,” food photographer and recipe developer Murielle Banackissa said in an email.

Keogh also recommends incorporating breaks into your meal plan. “I like half-cooked meals [that] rely on items you can buy at the grocery store that you can upgrade with items from your pantry,” she said. For example, you can buy a store-bought soup and add rice or pasta to it for extra weight. ”

Pro moves for picky eaters – ourselves included

It can be daunting to plan and cook week after week if we’re not excited about the food itself.

Banackissa advises involving picky eaters in the selection process and helping with meals. “If the picky eater is an adult, let them be responsible for one meal of the week — or a side dish if that’s easier,” she said.

Keogh also recommends getting everyone involved if they want to. At her, that might mean everyone creating a DIY dinner around a common protein. “At the end of the day, we can all sit down with something slightly different, but we used the same ingredient,” she said. “[With the same chicken], my husband will make a grilled chicken and cheese sandwich, I will have the chicken on my salad and my daughter will make a quesadilla.”

And when we get tired of our essential recipes? Change flavor.

Banackissa suggests using spices and sauces for variety, “Play with your spices,” she said. “If you always tend to gravitate toward [blends] like Italian seasoning, why not buy something new and sprinkle it over your roasted vegetables?” She loves Old Bay, Cajun, and Creole seasonings, for example, and bottled sauces. “Sauces can really add flavor. new flavors to your dinner parties and elevate pantry essentials,” she said.

Sharma also recommends experimenting with spices that may be new to you. “Often, you know, tossing [in] a new blend of spices – say, from another country or place – that changes the whole flavor profile of a dish…so you feel like you’re having a new experience every time,” said he declared. For example, you can add za’atar or garam masala to revisit mashed potatoes.

Staying open can help you stay on track overall

Plans aside, even these pros know the importance of being kind to yourself when it comes to cooking at home. “One thing I would say is I feel like people are too hard on themselves,” Sharma said. “Take shortcuts where you can – frozen [and] canned vegetables are fine. It seems like kind of a superiority complex, and then if you don’t follow… those rules, then you’re a failure in the kitchen. That’s not true.”

Plus, staying flexible can also be rewarding. “I think we all like to leave room in our plans to eat things we crave or ‘crave,'” Keogh said.

Thing Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her on @trucnguyen.

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