Make Ahead

This is the Year You'll Meal-Plan with Success (See How!)

January  6, 2017

Whole Foods called it: 2017 will be the year of mindful meal-planning (also black tahini and tonics and...the color purple?)

Trying not to get distracted by the thought of an all-purple diet, let's return to meal-planning, something practical and wise and we all wish we could be a little better at. Whole Foods says, "People aren’t just asking themselves what they’d like to eat, but also how meals can stretch their dollar, reduce food waste, save time and be healthier."

This is something our founders, Amanda and Merrill, feel very passionately about, so much so that they wrote a book with a game plan for getting there (and really delicious recipes).

After years of trial and error, we figured out that if we want to eat well, we need to plan ahead and do the bulk of our cooking over the weekend.
Real people, Amanda and Merrill, with a plan

So to get you on your way to mindful meal-planning, we've compiled some resources for you (we're sorry we can't send you a book). Below is a video that explains how the plans in A New Way to Dinner work, and the kind of food you'll expect to make (say hello to overnight roast pork). Then scroll on for more tips and tricks; there's also plenty more where they came from here.

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Wishing you a year of happier, easier, more varied meals!

Here are some recipes, meals, and ideas to get you started:

Tell us: What gets in your way of successful meal planning?

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Emma
  • AntoniaJames
  • Lyrajayne
Editor/writer/stylist. Last name rhymes with bagel.


Emma January 6, 2017
Yes I agree I would love to see more basic component recipes and how they can be the building blocks of several recipes! Great idea. PS LOVE the meal planning book. I received for Christmas. Way to go Food52!
AntoniaJames January 6, 2017
I realize that this is not an answer to the question posed, but I'd like to see more articles on and recipes for basic component ingredients (other than rice) that can be made in bulk batches and frozen in smaller portions for use in composing meals. I discovered Mallika Basu's tomato curry sauce last year and have been singing its praises at every opportunity here on the site, and in (Not)Recipes, when I was still posting there.
Might the editors use that recipe as a starting point for an article on additional ways to use that sauce - Basu's article provides some -- but more important than that, how about focussing on other freezer-friendly recipes with 5 - 10 easy weeknight uses per recipe?
I cook or do significant prep for most of our weeknight meals, which are all planned well in advance - though I tinker with the plan constantly, to weave in interesting ingredients, try new recipes, etc. The repetition in the "make this tonight, eat it all week" approach (and in the "New Way to Dinner" menu plans) simply don't work for us. To get the variety that we are accustomed to, I therefore rely to a great extent on components that freeze well. There are many books on make-ahead cooking, but the vast majority focus on whole meals - mostly casseroles, it seems -- which is really not what I'm looking for.
I know that I'm not the only person here who freezes components for building weeknight meals. We would all appreciate, very much, more articles and recipes to allow us to expand these repertoires. Thank you. ;o)
Lyrajayne January 6, 2017
So very true - my daughter and I rely heavily on components that are made early and not on whole meals. Our approach is a simpler version of this (and wow, do I have meal planning/freezer envy), since we've also had minimal luck with meal repetition. And that's before adding school and office lunches in, which pull from the same component pool.
AntoniaJames January 6, 2017
Actually, post the annual year-end insanity, my freezer is rather depleted. See all those "need to make" items? I usually have quite a few more freezer component meal-makers on hand. Slowly over the next few weeks, I'll be building that inventory back up, working it into my weekend (and occasional evening) cooking plan.
In the dead of winter, I can get away with stews and soups 4 or 5 nights a week, and they can all be made on the weekend. In most instances, I make double batches and free half -- though I typically freeze what I call a "base", adding in some of the fresh ingredients on the night that I serve.

I'm interested though, Lyrajane, in what kinds of components you put to work in your kitchen? I think I'll post a Hotline question on this in the next day or two. I'd like to see what others recommend. I know we're not the only ones here for whom the "eat this all week" approach holds no appeal. ;o)
Lyrajayne January 9, 2017
Always in the freezer - beans heavily spiked with cumin/paprika or harissa, beans with herbs and olive oil, lentils, roasted squash, herb sauces (chimichurri, pesto, salsa verde), roasted garlic, mole, pureed tomatillos, Torrisis's sauce (awesomesauce in my house), roasted tomatoes, and cherry tomato confit. Always in the pantry - preserved lemons, olio santo, harissa, anything that holds still long enough for me to pickle it. I make a yeast bread (rustic loaf or rolls, usually) and a batch of flatbread most weeks. We get produce and eggs from my friend's farm and that's typically the basis of our weekly meals. Winter for us means beans and greens, harissa-spiked roasted vegetable tacos, braised meats like carnitas, enchiladas, warm grain salads, seared cabbage. Plus whatever we feel like putting on bread with an egg on top.

It's just the kiddo (age eleven) and me, and she is responsible for all of her lunches and at least two dinners a week, so most components are geared toward a wide variety of mix and match simple meals.